Greg Christopher was hired as athletic director in March. We asked him about himself and his vision for Xavier sports as the University enters the Big East.
Q: What attracted you to Xavier?
A: Really three things. First and foremost is the institution. It’s a first-rate institution with a values proposition that, quite frankly, our society needs. Secondly, it’s the athletic part. There’s a tradition and a history of winning here, and there are the resources to be successful. Selfishly, as an athletic director, the thing you want the most are those resources. They give you the ability to be successful on a national level. And then, from a family standpoint, my wife and I spent at least six years in this corner of the state, so we knew what a great area Cincinnati is.
Q: How familiar are you with the Jesuit ideals? That a nun has the authority to tell a coach his star player isn’t going to play.
A: That’s different from what you might see at a public school. I think a lot of the private schools have that type of a values proposition. But I don’t care if it’s a nun, the president, the coach, the athletic director—the short version is there’s accountability. If you’re a student-athlete and you come to a Xavier, you adhere to that. That’s part of why you are here, that accountability. Is that going to turn off a few recruits? Perhaps. But if it does then I don’t think they would be great fits for Xavier anyway.
Q: You created the Falcon Leadership Academy for student-athletes at Bowling Green. What is that and can we expect something similar here?
A: I would never be presumptuous enough to take something we did at Bowling Green and bring it here to Xavier, but after I accepted the position Fr. Graham laid out three or four priorities for me and that was one of them—some form of character development/leadership that is specific to student-athletes. Another prong about why I was attracted to Xavier is that in terms of a leadership academy, that already exists here. I think what will probably happen is we’ll take what the coaches are already doing, what’s already being done on campus and incorporate a few new things and develop it into something that is specific to student-athletes.
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Q: What were the other priorities you were given?
A: The first was anything and everything related to revenue. As we move to the Big East and all that come with that, the message is clear: Athletics needs to generate more revenue on its own. There will certainly be an institutional commitment, and that’s not wavering, but what are the opportunities we have to generate more revenue? The second was all things Big East. It’s a big moment for the institution, a great opportunity, but it also comes with some challenges. We just need to make sure we are big enough for the stage, that we are an equal partner and not just a tag-along. The character development of our student-athletes. And the fourth was to create a strategic plan. You have a lot of things coming together to make that important right now: The University just finished its strategic planning process. You’ve got a brand new athletic director walking in the door on the heels of an AD who was here 15 years. Take that plus the Big East layer and it’s time to develop a new road map for athletics.
Q: You helped raise $111 million at Purdue and $60 million at Bowling Green. So we can expect you to do a lot of fundraising as well?
A: It clearly needs to be a priority, but that is true for any Division I institution. And it’s not as simplistic to say going out to people and asking for money. It’s looking at really how are we integrated and cohesive across the board and how we drive revenue or look at revenue within athletics. And even beyond that within the institution. The fact is there’s a business side to what we do. You can’t gouge your customers. That’s not the message I want delivered in any way shape or form. But are we as efficient as we can be in operating from a revenue standpoint?
Q: You mentioned the Big East as a priority. Can we compete?
A: I’ve been to two Big East meetings so far, and you sit around that table and a couple of things jump out at you. First and foremost, we’re in the right group. Conferences ought to be about ideology and being with like-minded institutions. And I think that’s why the new Big East makes so much sense on a lot of levels. Second, it’s terrific for Xavier in that joining the conference is strategic not just from an athletics standpoint but from an institutional standpoint. Ohio and the Midwest are not tracking the right way from a demographic standpoint to try to grow an institution. So you have to look a little more national. And the Big East is in the right markets for Xavier going forward. And then the third part that readily comes out as we talk is that we are built the right way. Every single school in the Big East, the bandwidth of budgets is really tight. We’re not the top budget in the Big East, but we’re also not the bottom. We probably have some gaps that we’re going to need to address. We’ve also got some places that we’re absolutely built to compete. Are we going to walk in the dominate? No. The bandwidth is too tight. But I think we can be very successful out of the gate.
Q: How will joining the Big East help grow the institution as whole?
A: It’s not easily measurable, but you don’t make this kind of a move if you haven’t thought it through from an institutional standpoint. Absolutely it’s about getting Xavier visibility in some key markets that are important to the University. We have to think more nationally from an admission and enrollment standpoint as we look out over the next 10, 20, 30 years. Also it reframes the institution a little bit in that when you look at our peer groups, it’s not just a more external group from the athletic standpoint, but also the academic standpoint. For the institution, to maximize this, let’s make sure we’re visible from an academic standpoint, not necessarily the students in the classroom and their engagement from a research standpoint, and also making sure they are using the platform to get the Xavier message out.
Q: Will Xavier add any new sports?
A: Each school has its own sports portfolio and that will be something we do take a look at through the strategic plan. Do we have the right sport mix, especially under the ender equity standpoint? The good thing is all of our sports are under the Big East umbrella—we won’t have any orphan sports off in different conferences. I think it’s a good portfolio of sports that we do have, and now it’s our job to make sure they keep getting better.