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Episode 055 – Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Commissioner Chris Graham

Posted on Jun 22, 2017 by in Podcast Episode | 1 comment


Chris talks Division III v. Division II, treatment of officials, and the fastest growing sport.


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Hey everyone and welcome to the All-Star Leader Podcast, where together we learn about leadership from the best and brightest, and keep it fun by connecting it to our passion for sports!

I’m your host Daniel Hare, and today we are talking with the Commissioner of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Chris Graham. Chris is in his fourth year at the RMAC after serving 14 years at the Midwest Conference, most recently as its Executive Director.

Chris was also an all-conference baseball and basketball player at Ripon College in Ripon, WI, before beginning his journey up the college athletics ladder in the field of sports information.

This is Chris Graham. Chris thanks so much for coming on the show!

Interview Questions:

  1. Tell us first about Ripon College. How did you get there and what was the experience like?
    1. Harrison Ford is most famous alum
    2. Small/private liberal arts college; in the Midwest Conference
    3. Rich athletic tradition; worked on campus there for several years before getting into conference work
  2. You’ve now had significant experience at both the Division II and Division III level. What distinguishes the two, and if you were looking to advance in a college athletics career, how would you go about determining which was best suited for you?
    1. Very different from D1 where money and legal issues prevail
    2. Some anonymity depending on where you are, though Division II more and more has exposure through television and being the largest school in its region.
    3. Amateurism works and is special and there’s a place for it. D3 and D2 are secure in that; the partial athletic scholarship model of Division II sets it apart.
    4. Tweet which said D3 athletes should stop talking about accepting offers, but in fact that is what they are doing, even though there isn’t athletic scholarship. There is plenty of opportunity for financial aid, including academic.
    5. Most parents putting money into summer and club sports for their young kids are not going to see a return on that investment, and would be better off pursuing academic aid. Creates an identity for the young person defined entirely by their sport.
  3. Among the various schools and athletic departments you have the opportunity to observe over the years, what are some of the traits you’ve noticed in those who are regularly successful?
    1. Take the finance piece out of it
    2. Someone who can inspire, who has a consistent model they believe in, and can get kids to believe in you and your system
    3. Believe/trust in their people
    4. You sell folks on the opportunity to do something special
  4. You began your career in the sports information / media relations side of the house. And now with social/digital media there is both pressure to and opportunity in shifting skills, resources and priorities to those emerging tools and platforms. How have you seen that play out in your conference office as well as on campuses from a culture change standpoint, and what can our audience learn about how best to address a changing landscape?
    1. When he started in D3 he used a mimeograph
    2. Now infographics are big; get photo from website, add graphics, etc. The student-athletes deserve that
    3. You almost have to have a full-time video person in the office, but few have the resources to do that.
    4. Good but challenging stress on campus sports information departments because of the new tools
    5. Control and target your content; getting it out in greater depth with the audience.
    6. Dallas Stars guy was let go from ESPN and is now doing content directly for the Stars
  5. When you first became the Commissioner of the Midwest Conference, what was the most important initiative or goal you pursued and how did you accomplish it?
    1. First full-time employee the league had ever had
    2. Goal to get policies/procedures that would enhance student-athlete experience at events, etc.
  6. Same question but at the RMAC.
    1. Different situation
    2. Things were in pretty good shape; did want to attack issues with officiating; Similar concerns across the division at other conferences; lack of people willing to do it and not enough training;
    3. Think about how we treat officials…do we treat anyone else or any other profession that way
    4. Our expectations are too high for officials; we expect them to be perfect; and even more than that, we don’t know what the right call is but think we do
    5. (How are you treating people; that’s really what this is about)
  7. Something I like to ask all our guests who have worked in conference offices: how do you go about getting individual schools to put their own best interest aside for the greater good of the conference? (if at all?!)
    1. Delicate process
    2. Fortunate to have good presidents and ADs who are reasonable and buy in
    3. Make sure that everyone understands the conference mission statement and values; mission statement is on the back of name tents
    4. Ask the question: what are we here for? Can’t we agree on…?
    5. ADs have to advocate for their coaches and programs, but then look at the best interest of the conference.
    6. Flip the roles and consider whether you would go for what the other coach/program is saying
  8. Before we wind up with our rapid fire questions, I do want to ask you about the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. How did you get involved with that and what does the organization do? Can you speak to the growth trajectory of lacrosse and where it’s heading as a sport over the next 10 to 20 years?
    1. Fastest growing sports on the women’s side
    2. Officials needed!
  9. Five rapid fire questions
    1. Name one trait or characteristic you look for when you hire someone.
      1. commitment
    2. What habit has been key to your success?
      1. listening
    3. Most important app or productivity tool?
      1. Jpeg to PDF app: camera 2 PDF
    4. Resource recommendation (book, podcast, etc.)
      1. @jonsolomonaspen on Twitter
    5. One parting bit of advice for our audience?
      1. It’s a game.

Find Chris on Twitter at @CMGrahamRMAC.

Thank Yous/Acknowledgements:

  1. Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Group – music
    1. More here.
  2. Jonathan Davis – production
  3. Clint Musslewhite – voice over

1 Comment

  1. I’d like to thank former Commissioner Joel Smith and current Commissioner Chris Graham for giving me the opportunity to work in the conference office.

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