Outgoing America East commissioner sounds off

By Michael Smith
As she pivots to an opportunity outside college sports, Amy Huchthausen talks about “tension in the system.”

Amy Huchthausen can’t help but laugh when reminded of what she’s leaving behind. Name, image and likeness; the restructuring of the NCAA; conference realignment; transfer portal — those are just a few of the challenges facing college athletics.

 

“It’s a turbulent time,” Huchthausen said as she enters her final week on the job.

After a decade as commissioner of the America East, a mid-major conference based in Boston, Huchthausen resigned to go to work for a fintech startup called Stavvy. She’ll be chief impact and culture officer for the business, which was started by two of her friends from MIT and intends to streamline the process for home loans and refinancing.

Huchthausen’s resignation was a surprise for several reasons. Conference commissioners, especially those at the Division I level, tend to retire, not resign. Those gigs are highly valued for their stature and influence. Huchthausen also brought much-needed diversity to the highest levels of college athletics and the 2016 SBJ Forty Under 40 honoree was widely respected by her peers.

Ultimately, though, Huchthausen had spent 22 years in college athletics and she was ready to try something new. She was in Charlotte last week for an event to honor former ACC Commissioner John Swofford and shared her thoughts on what she calls “the tension in the system.”

On leaving college athletics: “I was always curious about what the real world was like, because I don’t know that college athletics operate like the real world.”

On the state of college athletics: “There’s just tension in every single direction. A healthy amount of tension is good if it avoids you becoming complacent or stagnant, but we’ve got it coming from every direction externally and I think we have it more internally as well between schools, conferences and the NCAA. That’s really troubling.”

On athletics as a reflection of society: “Everyone is picking a side, you’re picking a camp, and if you try to change your mind, you get criticized. That’s just really, really unhealthy. I get it, the pressure on these institutions and the demands on commissioners are higher than ever.

“But if you don’t have trust there to manage through some of these complex issues because of this infighting or elevated level of tension, it makes it almost impossible to get anything done.”

Is the right leadership at the NCAA to take on a restructuring? “What they do in the private sector is put together a skunkworks team and put some people in hiding and work out a problem and innovate something and then bring it back to the system for review. I think some version of that has to happen.

“But we are as guilty as any other industry for creating working groups and task forces and commissions to solve problems that don’t ever really get solved. We have lots of examples of that just in the last five years. There’s got to be a call to get the brightest minds around the table. That’s really difficult because all of us that work in the industry, we are affiliated with a conference or a school, It’s really hard to take that conference or school hat off.”

What was your reaction to NCAA’s NIL legislation failing? “I was disappointed, but not surprised. We’re past the point of being able to control our destiny. As soon as we turned our fate over to lawmakers at the state or federal level, we ceded responsibility to lead. You should never want state or federal lawmakers to control your destiny. That’s a failure on the part of the association to have not prepared better. Most reasonable people would say we probably saw this coming, but we did nothing to react until it was too late.”

On the NCAA being slow to act: “Remember that UCF kicker (Donald De La Haye, in 2017) who was doing those creative kicks on his YouTube channel and was declared ineligible? Those are the little cues. When you look back and see that that’s the way young people are consuming media and it’s coming into our industry and we have rules that conflict with that, we need to figure out how to adapt. And yet we just wrote that off as some isolated thing.

“People saw that coming and that’s what’s frustrating. We see it coming and because we’re such a reactive system, we just sit there. … When the first raindrops fall, we wait until the hurricane is 50 miles away before we do something. That’s just not a healthy way to govern or lead.”

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: November 16, 2021

Meet the Mets new GM, Endeavor beat the Street in Q3 and Guaranteed Rate expands its sports sponsorship portfolio.

SBJ I Factor: John Brody

SBJ Spotlight: November 10, 2021

This episode looks at the hottest news in the industry, including how sports deal are helping crypto enter the mainstream; the NFL’s social push and the buy-in from players; why so many networks are bidding for next Premier League rights deal; and Angel City FC’s hot start on the business front.

Shareable URL copied to clipboard!

https://sbjcd02.centralus.cloudapp.azure.com/Journal/Issues/2021/07/26/Upfront/Colleges.aspx

Sorry, something went wrong with the copy but here is the link for you.

https://sbjcd02.centralus.cloudapp.azure.com/Journal/Issues/2021/07/26/Upfront/Colleges.aspx

CLOSE