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WIU’s Tanney speaks to students about careers in athletics

Barry McNamara
Western Illinois University Director of Athletics Matt Tanney (tie) spoke to students in Jen Braun’s kinesiology class on Wednesday. Braun is pictured on Tanney’s left.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College students receiving an introduction to the kinesiology profession gained valuable insight into life as a college athletic director.

The students heard from Western Illinois University Director of Athletics Matt Tanney, who discussed how he balances internal and external responsibilities, as well as whether some NCAA athletes should be paid.

Tanney spoke Wednesday to a kinesiology class taught by instructor Jen Braun, who called him “an honorary alum” of the College as his father, Don ’79, and brothers Mitch ’06 and Alex ’11, are Monmouth graduates.

Tanney told the students that an athletic director’s responsibilities are far-ranging and are often unseen.

“You get to give student-athletes an opportunity to compete, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make that happen,” said Tanney, who started working at WIU six years ago as an associate athletic director. He progressed to “second in command” deputy athletic director and then to interim athletic director before being named head of athletics in January 2016.

“It’s hard to describe what I do on a daily basis,” said Tanney. “I enjoy, more than anything, interacting with our student-athletes.”

Tanney explained that within his school’s athletic department there are several internal and external responsibilities. Internal duties include such areas as human resources, facilities, budgets, equipment and compliance. Tanney came up through the latter side after earning an English degree at Wabash (Ind.) College and a law degree from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He said his law degree is especially helpful when it comes to compliance duties.

On the external side are such areas as communications, marketing, ticket sales, development and the fan experience.

“I encourage you to start getting experience and exposure,” he said to students who want to pursue a career in athletic administration. “Pick an area you think you’d enjoy and grow and develop your skills. You work your way into an athletic director position. It’s not something that gets handed to students right after they graduate from college.”

During his presentation, Tanney also explained how the NCAA’s contract with television networks to broadcast its “March Madness” Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament “essentially funds the entire (NCAA) operation.”

“That was an $11 billion deal – that’s billion with a ‘b’ – for 14 years, and after a few years, they tacked on another eight years for another $8.8 billion,” he said.

In response to a student question about whether college athletes should be paid, Tanney said “there’s an argument to be had” for paying athletes in the Football Bowl Subdivision, as well as their big-school counterparts in men’s and women’s basketball, because of the millions of dollars in revenues those major sports generate.

“Every other sport, I wouldn’t entertain it,” he said.