|Title:||Director of Athletics|
|Alma Mater:||St. Mary's (Minn.), 1992|
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View 2012-13 Zips Athletics Annual Report
Award-winning academic success. Unprecedented competitive excellence at the conference and national levels. Enhanced revenue generation, fan participation and facility development.
These are the hallmarks of Zips Athletics under the leadership of Tom Wistrcill.
Wistrcill, now in his fifth year as the Director of Athletics at The University of Akron, has challenged the Zips to think bigger and to better itself in every facet. All of the successes of the past four years – in the classroom, in competition and across the community – are trumped only by even loftier future aspirations outlined in the department’s ongoing strategic planning process.
During every department function, public speaking engagement, prospective student-athlete visit and media interview, Wistrcill reminds his audience of the department’s two primary goals for each student-athlete who attends Akron: to earn an undergraduate degree, and to have a positive and meaningful experience as a Zip.
To ensure those goals are met, Wistrcill has deliberately focused the department on its 450-plus student-athletes while growing, and cultivating, the UA fan base to support Zips Athletics at an even greater level. The traditional audiences – donors, ticket purchasers and sponsors – have increased considerably and consistently each of the last four years, while in the newer modern metrics, such as followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook, UA has exponentially expanded its scope and reach. In fundraising efforts, Wistrcill and his staff have demonstrated their commitment to excellence, raising $3.2 million for a top-notch soccer facility worthy of the national championship-caliber student-athletes competing there.
The student-athletes on Akron’s 19 varsity teams are supported by more than 100 coaches and staff, whose focus on the school’s athletic achievements is second only to their attention to academic excellence.
Retention and graduation rates, as well as grade-point averages, have risen as the Athletics Learning Center provides UA student-athletes with an academic program that the rest of the University has adopted as a model for student support. For the first time in school history, Akron won the Mid-American Conference’s Institutional Academic Achievement Award with a 3.14 student-athlete GPA in 2010-11.
In June 2013, a school-record four programs earned public recognition for finishing among the top-10 percent within their sport of all Division I programs in the recent Academic Progress Rate. During the APR’s eight-year era, the Zips have had 13 teams honored – 10 of which occurred over the last four years. In the latest APR report 17 of 19 Zips programs exceeded the national multi-year average, and all 19 posted averages above the NCAA’s target score.
The Athletics Department also has focused on helping its student-athletes improve outside of the classroom and contribute to the greater Akron area. The creation of a student-athlete development curriculum, including a revised freshmen workshop series and a new diversity mentorship program that pairs minority student-athletes with former letterwinners and business leaders in northeast Ohio, spurred more than 5,500 hours of community service performed in 2012-13.
Success has carried over onto the field of play, as the Zips won six conference titles in the last academic year, including sweeps of Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament crowns in Men’s Soccer and Men’s Basketball. Men’s Outdoor Track and Field and Rifle (smallbore) each repeated as conference champions as well.
Eight different programs during Wistrcill’s tenure have captured divisional or conference titles – including three women’s teams for the first time – for a total of 22 conference championships over the last four years.
And that does not even touch on the greatest athletic achievement in Zips Athletics history: winning the 2010 Men’s Soccer NCAA Championship, the first team national title in school history and the first by a MAC program in 40 years. In each of the past four years, Men’s Soccer has reached the NCAA’s Sweet 16, including two championship-game appearances.
The Men’s Basketball program also has established a new standard of excellence, advancing to the NCAA Tournament three times in the last five years and earning its first Top-25 ranking as a Division I program. Keith Dambrot, who signed a 10-year extension before winning the 2013 MAC Coach of the Year Award, has led the program to back-to-back regular-season titles and into the conversation of being among the most consistent programs in the country, thanks to winning 22 or more games each of the last eight seasons.
Women’s Basketball won the 2013 MAC East Title and advanced to the conference tournament championship game, both firsts in program history, before participating in the WNIT. In its winningest season ever, head coach Jodi Kest’s program earned just its third postseason appearance (yet second in the last four years).
Wistrcill has spearheaded innovative fundraising, marketing, ticket sales and social media tactics to not only capitalize on these successes but also set up an even brighter future for Zips Athletics. An ambitious “Drive for 5” campaign, designed to increase the Z-Fund to 5,000 annual members by 2015, was launched in December 2012, and a comprehensive Priority Points System will be unveiled in the fall of 2013. The number of Zips’ donors has increased 60 percent during Wistrcill’s tenure.
Facility development also has occurred consistently over the past four years. A completely renovated soccer complex, First Energy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field, features more than 1,100 reserved chair-back and bleacher-back seats, a modern press box, new grass surface and permanent lights, restrooms and concession stand – and was the result of $3.2 million in fundraising efforts. Two additional weight rooms have been constructed, one each in Rhodes Arena and InfoCision Stadium. The Men’s and Women’s Basketball programs each received new team lounges equipped with large flat-screen televisions, oversized couches and recliners, team video equipment, study areas and a kitchenette. Plans are in the works for a new Track and Field locker room and an outdoor Tennis complex, and discussions are ongoing about renovating or building a new basketball arena and baseball field.
Driven to fill these facilities, in 2009-10 the Zips became the first school in the MAC to generate more than $1 million in ticket revenue, repeating that feat each of the past three years. Football suites and loges are sold out, Men’s Soccer has a waiting list for its reserved seats and Men’s Basketball will sell out the lower level of Rhodes Arena on a season ticket basis this fall for the first time.
Akron has remained on the cutting edge, being among the first handful of Division I programs nationally to create a full-time new media position (summer 2010) and to outsource ticket sales (spring 2011). Innovative marketing efforts, including Social Media Night promotions and a partnership with the LeBron James Family Foundation, among others, secured two gold medals and one silver award among all Division I athletics departments in 2013 from the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators. UA’s main Facebook account has more friends than any other school in the MAC, and department staff members have presented at national and local conferences about its innovative Twitter feeds and social rewards programs.
Zips fans can be assured that the revenue generated by the department is being used wisely, thanks to Akron being named the 2011 national champion of the Excellence in Management Cup, presented by Texas A&M's Laboratory for the Study of Intercollegiate Athletics. The Cup quantitatively evaluates NCAA Division I athletic departments' financial efficiency based on its return on investment by use of a formula weighing conference and national championships in comparison to the department's annual overall budget.
With new buildings and an increased budget, finding and retaining the right leaders to oversee those resources has been a point of emphasis. Under Wistrcill’s watch, Akron has hired new head coaches for seven programs, including tabbing Terry Bowden to lead Football in December 2011. He has made additional head-coaching hires in Baseball, Football, Men’s Golf, Men’s Soccer, Women’s Soccer, Swimming and Diving, and Women’s Tennis.
Before joining Akron in September 2009, Wistrcill served for
three years as Senior Associate Athletics Director at the
University of Minnesota, managing ticket sales, marketing and
licensing for the 2009 grand opening of the $288 million,
51,000-seat on-campus football stadium, which sold out its first
year. He assisted in the Men’s Basketball head coaching
search process that resulted in hiring Tubby Smith from Kentucky,
and negotiated contracts that guaranteed $121 million to Gophers
Prior to joining Minnesota, Wistrcill was the General Manager of Badger Sports Properties at the University of Wisconsin, where he was responsible for managing $8 million in annual sales and marketing ventures for the Wisconsin athletics department. He developed and implemented several major first-time sponsorships at Wisconsin, including the development of the Badger Radio Network through Learfield Communications.
Wistrcill has served as commissioner of two NCAA Division II conferences, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in Minneapolis, Minn., and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., from 1994 through 2000. He also served as vice president of sales and marketing for VarsityOnline.com and is a former general manager of the St. Louis Quest, a franchise in the Women’s Professional Volleyball League.
Wistrcill, 43, received his bachelor’s degree in media communications in 1992 from St. Mary’s University (Minn.), where he captained the men’s basketball team. He earned a master’s degree in 1996 from the University of St. Thomas (Minn.).
He has been married for 20 years to Kelly, a former swimmer at the University of Minnesota who finished her undergraduate studies as a soccer student-athlete at St. Mary’s. They and their two sons, J.T. and Jack, can be found cheering on the Zips at every home event.