A Q&A With Shonna Brown From Conference USA

What are your responsibilities as associate commissioner for business affairs/CFO of Conference USA?

As a member of the senior staff, I provide leadership and serve in an advisory capacity on all Conference business including, but not limited to, budget and finance, championships, external relations, student-athlete engagement, governance and personnel oversight and management. My direct responsibilities include preparing the annual Conference budget; managing human resources for the conference staff (e.g., benefits, payroll and grievances); cultivating and pursuing opportunities to increase revenue; managing sponsorship, media and facility contract fulfillment; and serving as a liaison to the Board of Presidents, Athletic Directors’ Council and Budget Committee.

Shonna BrownShonna Brown

What are the short and long term impacts COVID-19 has had and will have on Conference USA and its member institutions?

The immediate impact was of course on scheduling and limiting allowable team activities. The long-term impact will continue to be in the areas of safety and the economic impact due to increased expenses and a decrease in revenue.

What do you think the biggest challenge has been in your role during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The biggest challenge has been keeping up with the medical guidelines and ensuring the safety of our student-athletes. We have held weekly medical advisory group calls over the past year. We talked to our student-athletes to make sure their voice was heard as we developed operational policies. Our student-athletes have had to deal with a lot of mental health and physical health issues over the past 12 months. Since I work at a conference office, it is imperative that I effectively communicate with all member institutions to ensure we all have the same understanding and with policies changing so frequently. It has been a massive undertaking, but we have done it and have only gotten better as a result.

How does diversity come into play in your role?

In my role overseeing HR, I make it a priority to have a diverse pool of candidates for every position we hire. Personally, I take it upon myself to mentor women and underrepresented groups. I know I did not get where I am today on my own and it is imperative that I help those that come after me. As a Black woman in a C-Suite position, it is important that I use my position to open doors that may have been closed to others like me in the past.

What can non-Power 5 conferences like Conference USA do to compete with the major conferences financially?

I believe the key is not to try to compete with [Power 5] conferences financially. The goal is to be the best conference we can be. When we are successful at managing our resources, we provide   first-class experiences to our student-athletes and other constituencies. This allows us to be competitive athletically and academically.

This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.