Ryan Matthews, Winthrop’s Managing Editor, chatted recently with Bob Fortosis – Director of Athletics at Eckerd College – about Division-II resources, alumni relations and technology.
What is one challenge that you’ve overcome at Eckerd College and one future challenge you see you’d like to surmount?
College athletics is an enterprise very much characterized by “haves and have nots.” There is no doubt that Eckerd College is one of the strongest (I think the best!) liberal arts colleges in the United States, but it is not a place that has funneled millions of dollars into athletics over the years. There are certainly many colleges who have more athletics department resources. The biggest challenge facing me when I came to Eckerd College 10 years ago was to affect a culture change in my staff and with my student athletes.
This change was a shift in focus from what resources we did not have to all the things we did. And we wanted to use this as the starting point to building something special at this phenomenal institution. Coupled with this culture change was a need to get my team of coaches and staff out of their silos and to understand that we are each a vital and contributing part of the mission of this college. It is not us versus them—it’s all “us.” I feel that we have done a good job of this.
Looking forward, I am focused more and more on engaging our family of Eckerd athletics alumni in a more focused and philanthropic way. Alumni tell me all the time that their years of competing and studying at Eckerd was transformational, that they grew significantly as people. I’d like to open doors for them to be at home on our “front porch,” and likewise to invest in the lives of those students who have followed them.
What aspect of your tenure at Eckerd are you most proud of?
You know, the thing I love most about this place is the quality of all our students—including our student athletes. Eckerd College draws students who are so bright, with quick, nimble, creative minds—and our student athletes are typical Eckerd students. I’m proud of our students because they are true student-athletes. They care deeply about what happens in the classroom and simultaneously they are able to transition to the fields and courts while competing at a very high level in the toughest D2 conference in the country.
I must add that I am deeply proud of my staff as well. We have assembled a highly talented group of professionals who care immensely for their respective sports and love winning, but they are people who love their student-athletes more than what happens on the field. This is how it should be in our business.
What has most surprised you during your tenure?
This is a tough question. Nothing has really surprised me during my time as AD at Eckerd. I think that in this career you are confronted each day with myriad unique situations and circumstances. These situations are as unique as each individual student, and this is what makes the job interesting and meaningful. The sum of all past challenges, decisions, difficult predicaments, and crises all work together to better inform the proper responses to those issues on the horizon. I think that after 20 years as a college AD, I’ve seen just about everything, and I don’t often find myself surprised much anymore.
What’s your best advice for a new or hopeful AD?
I would advise a new or hopeful AD to never lose sight of the main point of all that we do. This career is about using the forum of intercollegiate athletics to change lives—to intentionally contribute to the mission of developing engaged, creative, critically thinking, empathetic, global citizens—without this, we’re just playing games and that is a more limited way to be spending our lives.
How has technology impacted the planning and the execution of goals for Eckerd College?
Technology touches virtually everything we do as ADs: marketing, promotions, social media, recruiting, websites, live streaming, fundraising—and much, much more. I really value the impact technology has had on my ability to communicate with speed and accuracy.