Guest Blogger: Tom Hart, USA South Athletic Conference Commissioner

Has it really been 18 months since  Alfreeda Goff of Spelman Johnson sat across the table from me in a hotel room in Atlanta to discuss the conference commissioner position I was about to interview for? Things have moved quickly since that afternoon. I was hired in April 2016, met with the USA South Presidents Council in May, worked side by side with retiring commissioner Rita Wiggs in June, and picked up the keys to a conference car (more on that later) in July. So far, my transition from collegiate athletic director to conference commissioner has been extremely rewarding.

The USA South Athletic Conference currently has 19 members and spans from A to V (Alabama to Virginia). As a new commissioner, I believe it is critical that I establish productive working relationships with conference presidents, athletic directors, director reports, coaches, and, in some cases, student athletes. In that spirit, I embarked on a tour of the USA South last July, August, and September. Though this initial trek took place over the course of three months, the process of establishing effective communication continues throughout the year. In fact, the car that rolled off the lot in July 2016 already has over 35,000 miles on the odometer!

Among my top priorities was addressing the need for staff support. Associate Commissioner  Mike Christie does a fantastic job of updating the website and managing social media, championships, and hand book issues. With six new schools joining the conference in two years, there is only so much one person can do. So, hiring Kara Stevenson to assist Mike with digital media responsibilities was priority number one.

Speaker and author Jon Gordon often emphasizes the need for effective communication in high performing teams.  To help improve communication throughout the conference, we introduced Basecamp for sport/committee interaction. Basecamp is a digital project management platform that allows coaches to be involved in discussions, update calendars, create a to-do list, and provide other group members with general announcements. Basecamp has provided a common location and language for all members of the USA South, unifying our conversations and information distribution.

The final approach to enhanced communication has been the emphasis on gathering in person. With a conference as large as the USA South, bringing coaches or students together provides an opportunity to build relationships outside of the competitive arena. These in-person meetings have been extremely beneficial to our coaches and student athletes. Indeed, 27 student athletes converged on the 2017 NCAA Convention in Nashville and spent many hours together listening to a presentation by Jason Selk on Relentless Solution Focus, attending NCAA and USA South programming, and acquiring new skills they could take back to campus. Coaches of all sports have been involved with Coaches Summits that bring coaches together based on sport. Again, NCAA grant funding has proved invaluable to these initiatives.

It has been a busy year, and as we head into year two, communication will continue to be a priority, with the hope of generating a few more smiles and a few less miles!