Boston College has been hiring athletic directors at a rapid clip lately.
At the third introductory press conference in the past five years, the latest hire, Blake James, said Thursday that this will be the last one for a long time. He believes he is here for the long haul.
“I think it really goes to actions,” said James, 53. “I’m sure all the guys that were here before said the same thing, that they’re going to stay here and they’re going to be here.”
Citing opportunities to leave the University of Miami, where he was AD for nine years until late last year, James said, “I’m someone who is viewed as very loyal and true to who I am as a person. This is an opportunity for my wife and our family to be a part of a special family, and as I said to [BC president] Father [William] Leahy, I plan on being here through retirement, and I’m just looking forward to getting started and getting down that road.”
On July 1, James will officially begin work and succeed Patrick Kraft, whose two-year stint ended this spring when he departed for Penn State. Kraft came after Martin Jarmond, who left for the same position at UCLA after three years.
In James, said Leahy, BC found someone who met all the criteria it was looking for — not just expected longevity, but skill and experience in collegiate leadership, mentorship, and academic achievement of student-athletes, nimble when it comes to responding to issues in intercollegiate sports, and “a person known for his convictions and commitment to personal and institutional integrity.”
James outlined his mission in broad strokes.
“We’ll strive for excellence in all that we do in alignment with our Jesuit mission and values,” he said. “We will compete for championships with integrity, we will provide a world-class student-athlete experience, we will retain and attract tremendous coaches and staff, and we will do it all together as a BC community.
“As many of you know, we’re in uncertain times in college athletics. But I’m confident that Boston College will help shape the future.”
There are 31 sports under James’s purview at the Heights, a far larger assortment than he had at Miami and at Maine, where he was AD from 2005-10. He said he’ll try to attend as many practices and games as possible while not neglecting his fundraising duties. Sometimes he’ll be able to combine the two.
“You’ll see me be visible at as many events as I can work on my calendar,” said James. “Obviously, football is a big one. Men’s basketball, hockey … I think your revenue sports generally are going to get bigger crowds, which generally lead to maybe I’ll have more time there with potential donors or current donors.
“But with that said, every one of our students’ experiences is important to me and I want them to know that we genuinely care about not only their experience, but them as people, and part of that is supporting them.”
A perennial challenge for BC and the other Division 1 sports programs in Greater Boston is competing for attention with the pro sports teams in town.
While James was savvy enough to point out that the Miami Marlins aren’t the same draw as the Red Sox, he believes that he walks in with helpful experience, having vied for attention with the Dolphins, Heat, Panthers, Inter Miami CF, and pro tennis tournaments.
The Name-Image-Likeness issue, with student-athletes now free to seek endorsement deals, is already creating controversy on campuses across the nation, with booster groups at sports powerhouses making their presence felt.
James alluded to a recent spat between football coaches — Alabama’s Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher — as one sign that the topic will not go away.
“It’s important that we are aligned with the values we have as an institution and that we take an approach that puts our students in the right spot to take advantage of the opportunities that exist for them,” said James, who favors a federal law regulating the practice over the state-by-state approach.
James, who also once worked at Providence College, said what he’s most looking forward to in moving back to New England is “a fall season where it’s fall temperatures.”
“To be outdoors — whether it’s a soccer game, a field hockey game, a football game, whatever it is — on a nice fall day, there isn’t anything better,” he said. “I think it really resonates college sports.”
And in another nod to his new surroundings that earned him applause from the BC community in attendance, James showed where his loyalties now lie.
“Just for the record,” he said, “I do think the Celtics are going to win tonight.”