Interview with Dr. Kevin McGinniss
Bryan Haggerty of SportsDegreesOnline.org interviewed Dr. Kevin McGinniss to discuss his background, insight on the industry, and the advice he has for young people entering the field of Sports Management, and what it takes to climb the ladder within organizations and how to start your career in a way that will set you up for success.
About Dr. Kevin McGinniss
Dr. Kevin T. McGinniss assumed the position of Assistant Professor, Graduate Coordinator and Director of Sport Management within the Department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management at his alma mater, Southern Connecticut State University in August 2016. He owns a strong educational and professional background that includes more than 40 years of professional experience as an educator, author, coach, and athletics administrator. Dr. McGinniss came to Southern Connecticut from the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) where he served as Commissioner, President & CEO. Dr. McGinniss’ experience in higher education administration also includes serving Southern Connecticut State University as its director of athletics development and director of alumni affairs. An authority on Sport Pedagogy and Sport Administration, the focus of Dr. McGinniss’ scholarly research has been in the areas of Sport Management and Athletics Administration. He has authored numerous articles including “Cultivation & Stewardship – Key to Obtaining Enduring Support for Your Program” CoachStreet.com, April 2000; “Administrative Support: Key to the Success and Survival of the High School Athletics Director” Sport Supplement, Spring 1999; and “Fun on the Fairway – Golf outings are a staple of fund-raising. But are you getting the most out of yours? Athletic Management, June/July 2002.
Bryan: Dr. McGinniss – your career has taken you through so many different levels of the sports world. When was it that you decided to pursue a career in the sports industry?
Dr. McGinniss: The world of sport was very different when I was coming out of high school, looking to go to college and thinking about what I wanted to do professionally. In high school to be honest with you, I’ll say this right now, academics was not on the top of my list. I played three sports and I was lucky to have the opportunity to play football, basketball and baseball [growing up] in a rural part of Connecticut. [At that time], only a relatively small percentage of my senior class in high school went on to college. I really wanted to follow my passion, and sports, from what I knew at that time, was my passion. We all played high school sports for the love of the game. But many kids now, don’t get me wrong, they also play for the love of the game but many of them are pursuing athletic scholarships and looking at it as a vehicle to get into the college of their choice. I went to Southern Connecticut State and at that time it was probably the best teacher preparation [university around]–certainly in the northeast. What I wanted to major in was physical education. Interesting enough Southern Connecticut was [also] one of the best schools for [physical education as well] at the time. [Back then], there were no sports management programs of any kind. Sports was really my life [during those years, and]… that’s why I wanted to pursue a career in sports. My first six years I spent out of college, I spent [working at] the high school level. I was a high school teacher, coach and athletic director and kind of emerged [as quite successful at that level, so I then} had opportunities to go on to the college level.
Bryan: At the college level, looking at where you have spent time – Southern Connecticut, URI, Quinnipiac, Mercy College and Lehman College in New York and then you eventually became the ECAC Athletic Conference Director. I guess all of those steps were taking you farther away from working directly with athletes and working on the sidelines. What was that like for you career wise? Was that as fulfilling for you as you started making those steps away and what was it like generally?
Dr. McGinniss: I look back and I got into the profession because I wanted to work with and help young people. I was very lucky [to land] a head high school basketball coaching position when I was twenty two years old. We lost our first four games, but then we won our fifth game and ended up winning twelve of our last sixteen games and went to the quarter finals [of the] state tournament. I really established myself [after that turnaround] and I was offered the opportunity to coach at my alma mater Southern Connecticut State. We got to a point in my last year coaching at SCSU that we won twenty games and received a postseason bid. Then I had an opportunity to be a division three head coach at Lehman College and I took that opportunity and that program, which struggled for years but in a short time [after I arrived we] were very successful. Then at the same time I got married. To be honest with you, I had opportunities to take coaching to the next level but that was during the time of the restricted earnings for coaches. I had opportunities to go to Division I [which at that time] the salary for the restricted earnings coach was $16,000. [Soon I found myself] the head coach of men’s basketball at Lehman’s College (which is a 24/7 job), the Director of Athletics at Lehman College (which was also a 24/7 job), I was teaching six credit hours a semester […] and I was driving over an hour and a half commuting each way because we weren’t in a position to relocate, [and taking courses toward my doctorate at Columbia University two nights a week. Now people look at me like I was crazy, which I probably was. […] I’ve always been able to teach where I had been as an adjunct and as a part time professor, to keep my roots there and to keep closer to the student athletes. But even in administration I’ve always been close with the student athletes. That’s the core of how I emerged from coach to administration.
Bryan: Looking at the next generation of young people considering a career in sports, what should they be expecting as they enter the sports industry? And what is life like in the sports industry generally these days?
Dr. McGinniss: That’s a really good question. Many young people coming out of high school, entering college and wanting to go into the sports industry really don’t know what to expect, and it’s not their fault. I’ll tell you what’s interesting too, they all have their eye on the prize, which is fine. They may come in as a sports management major wanting to be the next general manager of the New York Yankees which is great but there are a lot of things you need to do to position yourself to get there. I tell students I work with now, there’s an old saying, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know.” But I’ve put a different spin on that, “it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” That’s more than semantics but I’ll build on that a little bit. I ask students now too, this is one of my favorite questions, “what’s the best job in the world?” I get answers all over the place but what I circle back with is they need to have the mindset that the best job in the world is the one you have. If you want to work in the sports industry – somebody said this to me a long time ago – it’s not nearly as important what you’re doing (as many young people get caught up in titles, etc.) it’s where you’re doing it and who you’re doing it with. And what you need to do is get into the network. If you want to work in college athletics, you need to get on a college campus in an athletic department. When I first started coaching basketball at Southern Connecticut, I was really a part-time basketball coach. I actually taught as an adjunct, I had just finished my master’s degree when I got hired back there to coach, I locked the field house up three to four nights a week, I worked in game management and operations at the football games and soccer games, etcetera. I would have swept the floor [if they asked me to]. I have never in all my years hired anybody off of a resume. Mike Tranghese said this a long time ago when he was the former commissioner of the Big East. He said you always need to have a short list. It’s not that you’re trying to run anybody out of a position, but if you lose somebody as an administrator, whether it’s in an administrative position, management position or coaching position, who’s on your short list? Who are you going to have, to fill that position? So it’s important that people know who you are. If you want to work in college athletics, you need to get involved. I think what I was saying before is when I first got hired at Southern Connecticut to coach basketball, I was really a part-time basketball coach, I had just finished my master’s degree so I was able to teach as an adjunct. Donna Lopiano who is on our staff and has been noted as one of the most powerful women of sport said one time, “if you’re a young person [and you want to work in college athletics] then get involved in professional organizations.” Join the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), go to conferences, meet people, find a mentor, let people know who you are. I’ve heard this a long time ago, you can’t really chase a resume especially in this day and age. It’s so competitive. Distinguish yourself and continue your education. Always look to learn from other people.
Bryan: That’s fantastic advice there. Looking specifically at the state of degrees these days and the program at Southern Connecticut State, what is your sell for people who are graduates or potential graduates of sports management programs? Why do you think this degree field or this professional field could be an excellent choice or a good start for young people out there who were passionate about sports or who were athletes themselves? How do you think this direction could be a good fit for them?
Dr. McGinniss: If you are going to go to school I think you should study something you are passionate about. If you study sports management, that’s the business of sport!? Whether you are taking sports finance or sports marketing, it’s still finance and still marketing. There are a lot of transferable skills. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to work in the world of sport, it’s the best training you can get but again you want to pursue something you are passionate about. If you are passionate about sport and have the opportunity, get your degree in sports management. You want to set yourself up and position yourself to go out and get a job. One thing that is so important, granted everyone’s personal situation is different, but this generation doesn’t seem to understand what it is to volunteer. I had a young man who didn’t go through our program, but was looking for advice and had a degree in sports management. I talked to him about a part time job in sport, I won’t say where it was, but he came back and said, “I don’t want that. I want a full time job.” But you have to start out somewhere. For me, wanting to be a teacher and a coach, summers in college I played ball but I also coached. I used to help out coaching with the Babe Ruth Baseball Team and I used to coach my high school basketball team in the summer league. So when I got out of college, people knew I wanted to coach and I was approached with a coaching opening. Again, it’s a great field but right now during the pandemic there’s not so many opportunities. [But looking forward beyond the pandemic], I think it’s a golden opportunity. Once we get through this pandemic, one of the areas that’s going to have the openings is certainly going to be the world of sport, the world of hospitality, the world of events, etcetera. [Many of] the people that were furloughed or retired early were the more veteran people, so I think there is going to be a lot of entry level opportunities once we get over the hump here.
Bryan: I was thinking the same thing generally. I think a lot of people that were in the business might have found another position, and like you said a lot of people chose early retirement so it could be a good time. It might not be right away but at least the end is near. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Dr. McGinniss: The other thing too I tell young people about the world of sport. To get your foot in the door and get an entry level opportunity, many times you have to volunteer. I learned that a long time ago. And even if you get a job, it might not pay much but there’s the old saying too, “don’t chase money, chase your passion and the money will come.” If you are willing to do that, it will take care of itself. Again, everyone’s different. They get caught up in the money or titles and things like that. If you are going to pursue an opportunity or career in the world of sport you really can’t get caught up in that.
Bryan: I think that’s good advice as well. Looking specifically at South Connecticut State’s programs, you guys offer both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in sports management. Can you tell us some of the highlights of the program, and in your opinion what do you think sets your program apart from similar programs?
Dr. McGinniss: We are actually a relatively young program however, we’ve really emerged to a level of prominence, especially regionally. One thing I will say is that even our location is tremendous. We’re midway between Boston and New York and if you look at the world of sport, the opportunities that are there, you can’t get much better than that. And our faculty I will tell you is second to none, especially when we are able to offer online courses. We have a great partnership with Yale University Athletics. Ed Mockus, who is just retiring as the senior associate director of athletics at Yale has been on our staff teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses. Donna Lopiano who was the director of women’s athletics at the University of Texas for seventeen years, the president and CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, and recognized as the most powerful woman in sport at one time, and actually a Southern Connecticut Alum, is on our faculty. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. Jeff Hathaway, the former director of athletics at the University of Connecticut and Hofstra University is on our faculty. Ed Manetta, as I mentioned is the former director of athletics at DePaul University and St John’s University, is on our faculty. Betsy Goff, the former lead council at ESPN and IMG teaches our undergrad sport law class. Donald Tutson who’s the chair of the Connecticut Bar Association Sports and Entertainment Section is on our faculty. I could go on and on in that respect. We have a faculty second to none, we also have a wonderful advisory board which are not just names. These are people I’ve had relationships with over the years. For example Kevin Gilbride who is a Southern Connecticut alum, spent twenty five years in the NFL and was the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants and for the last two Super Bowls, was also this spring, the head coach of the New York Guardians. Oliver Luck who started up as the commissioner of the XFL, who I have a relationship with, signed a preferential exclusive internship agreement with us and the XFL. A dozen of our students actually worked and got paid working with the New York Guardians at MetLife Stadium. Unfortunately the pandemic caused an early end to that season. Then at SNY and the gentlemen there, we developed a great relationship with them. They had the Connecticut Ice, ice hockey festival and tournament at Webster Bank Arena last year with the four division one Connecticut hockey teams. We had a dozen of our students work that with front line positions [with them], and they really had a great experience. Our location is great, we have a great advisory board, we have a great faculty plus we’re very affordable. Certainly as a state university, our undergrad tuition is very very competitive. We’ve been able to get our students some very good internships, etcetera, so we’re good and I’m proud of that.