Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Donna Talbot


The focus of this study was to understand the career paths and experiences of Division I-A Athletic Directors. There are only 120 of these coveted positions in the country. The limited research on how to obtain this position led to this investigation.

This research examined the career paths of 10 Division I-A ADs male (five African American and five White) and their experiences reaching their position. A qualitative phenomenological approach was used as the methodology. One-on-one phone interviews were conducted using open-ended interview questions that elicited information from each participant. The Social Cognitive Career Theory and Critical Race Theory were the theoretical frameworks used as the lens in the data analysis process.

Data analysis produced three major themes and several sub themes, some of which were supported by previous research. As in other studies, the majority of the participants were former college student-athletes and coaches, and they also held graduate degrees. Some of the necessary skills and experiences to obtain an athletic director's position were business acumen, networking skills, and volunteering opportunities. Although, participants agreed that the skills and experiences were important to acquire, some participants also acknowledged the importance of being "called" to the position.

In addition, the data reveal several factors pertaining to the lifestyle of an athletic director. ADs work extended hours, have supportive families, and must have thick skin and a sense of humor to handle the negative criticism from fans and alumni. Moreover, an emergent theme for holding this position was having the "right fit" with the university and the athletic department. According to the participants in this study, race was not a factor in obtaining their current athletic director positions.

According to the Social Cognitive Career Theory, all the participants demonstrated high self-efficacy based on their education, skills, and experiences they acquired in pursuing and obtaining their Division I-A athletic director positions. While none of the participants openly acknowledged the role of race in their careers, a few of the African American ADs shared specific stories about the impact of race as they pursued or considered accepting their positions.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access