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Friday, June 21, 2024
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Meet the new AD

Joni Comstock became AU's director of athletics Dec. 15, taking over the position left vacant by Tom George, who resigned in July. Comstock spent the last three years as the athletic director at the University of North Carolina at Asheville after spending the previous 11 years in the Purdue University athletics department. She spoke with The Eagle about her goals and the state of AU sports.

The Eagle: You have a background at Purdue and UNC-Asheville, both public universities. Now you have a change of scenery at AU. What made you want to switch to a school like this one?

Joni Comstock: First of all, as I have gone through my career, I've tried to really look at three things that were the values that I wanted at an institution. First of all, a very strong academic institution, one that had just what I considered good character and high integrity. With that piece of it, I mean obviously following the NCAA rules, and then also creating integrity in the kind of experience that we provide for the student athletes. The third thing is that a school that has pride in its athletic program and wants to be better and wants to support its athletic program. I believe that American has those things.

Eagle: What are the first things you've been doing to establish yourself in this department?

JC: I'm trying to get around campus so that I become more familiar with the physical environment. I've started introducing myself to a number of administrators, some of the faculty, and I've spent a great deal of time trying to get to know our staff within the athletic department. So I would characterize my first 30 days as listening a lot and reading a lot.

Eagle: Some students have concern about the lack of school spirit at sporting events. Are there any plans to build spirit?

JC: I think the athletic department can contribute to the campus life, the campus culture, and the campus pride. So, we are going to formulate over the next 30, 60, 90 days a plan as to how to really reach out more to the students, to the faculty, to the staff and really, I guess, invite them and hopefully engage them to come to the events.

Eagle: Did you see anything at Asheville that built spirit that you think would work here?

JC: What I have observed is that the bottom line with getting more spirit and getting more people to events is that you have to impact at, really, just the grassroots level. What we're going to have to do is we're going to have to have the coaches, our staff and the student-athletes out speaking to other campus groups, making impact and inviting other campus departments and units to come to games. It's going to have to almost be a one-to-one sort of grassroots. I don't think there are any magical [ways to create spirit]. You can only give away so many T-shirts.

Eagle: What do you think is the biggest challenge for AU athletics today?

JC: Without a doubt one of the things we have to do as a department is build on the relationships we have both internally and externally to support us. We have a lot of former students, a lot of former student-athletes who went through AU who haven't continued to have an interest in the institution, haven't had an interest with the athletic program. We need to reconnect with those people and strengthen those relationships so that they come to events, come back to campus and know on a regular basis what's going on with the individual sport programs, and hopefully that will translate into whatever kind of support.

Eagle: You're coming at a time when the athletics budget is being reduced, including the removal of 15 Swimming and Diving scholarships. Have you faced similar situations previously?

JC: I think each athletic department that I've been involved in, everyone believed that they didn't have that amount of resources that they needed to have. I think as the leader, it's going to be very important for me to help the staff and the student-athletes here focus on what we do have and how to build from that foundation rather than worrying about all the things that we don't have. It's all about who you're comparing yourself to and I think that we have a foundation of resources and staff and talent in our students to be very successful.

Eagle: You are the fourth athletics director at AU in the last four years. Do you feel responsible for establishing stability in the leadership here?

JC: I think it's very important that we do that, and I'm certainly coming here with the thought of staying a long time, working with the staff and with the University to continue to build this athletic program.

Eagle: Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

JC: I think a couple of things that become very important to what we do here is we have to create a very clear plan for the kind of athletic department that we want to be. And then we have to go out and be really good messengers and communicators in telling that story, describing that vision of who we want to become. I think if we can do that, we're going to have people who will so quickly want to jump on and be a part of that vision and that plan. We're having success here, but we haven't communicated that and we haven't been clear about from this point forward, where do we want to go. But if we can do that, the sky's the limit. I'm totally convinced.

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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