by Chris Bahn on Monday, Mar. 29, 2010 12:00 am
Bev Lewis has been part of the University of Arkansas athletic administration for more than two decades. She served as the women's department athletic director for 19 years before Jeff Long took over and unified athletic operations for men and women.
Lewis now serves as an associate vice chancellor and executive associate athletic director. She is hands-on in the day-to-day operation of the department, which has an operating budget of nearly $60 million annually.
Lewis oversees more parts of the athletic department than any administrator other than Long. She handles Title IX compliance issues and women's sports, plus she recently took on oversight of media relations and news media and is in charge of the department's strength and conditioning programs, athletic trainers and doctors.
Because of her experience and level of involvement, nobody - including Jeff Long - has more institutional knowledge of the athletic department. Before moving into administration, Lewis was the women's track and field and cross country coach.
Arkansas Business has deemed Lewis among the most influential women in Arkansas as the preceding list of her achievements and responsibilities indicates.
ArkansasSports360.com recently caught up with Lewis to discuss her role in the department, the changing landscape of college athletics and why she has "The Best Seat in the House."
ArkansasSports360: A lot of folks probably know you were in coaching before administration, but might not know the story behind it. Your coaching career was beginning to take off when you stepped away. Why make that move?
I had been a college athlete. My dream had always been coaching. I knew I wanted to coach. I felt athletics had really impacted my life and I wanted to give that back to young people. I loved what I was doing in coaching; I'd just figured out what I was doing and had the teams competing on a national level. Chancellor [Dan] Ferritor was going through a bit of a transition in the athletic department and asked if I would consider both. I did and it was a tough year because I was pulled in so many different directions. I'd have a coach and a student-athlete waiting outside my office. Who gets priority? That's a tough choice. At the end of the year I knew there was no way I could keep doing both. I was given the choice, and I really felt like as an administrator I was coaching the coaches. I had the ability to have an impact not just on athletes in specific sports, but the whole department. I think I felt like I could make decisions that could impact a lot more student athletes than just the ones I was dealing with. I enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoyed setting goals, planning down the road, being involved in multiple aspects within the department and moving the department in a certain direction.
Well, you couldn't ask to be more involved than you are now, right? What is the key to giving proper attention to each of the many areas you're overseeing?
Obviously, it helps working with good people that you know can handle their areas very well. You have to get feedback from them and help them learn when to come ask for something or when to proceed without your direction. I think continual follow-through is key in anything you do in life. You can't let things slip through the cracks.
Arkansas is now two years removed from merging the men's and women's athletic departments. That was a challenge for everybody. Looking back, are you happy with the process?
If you look across the nation where departments were combined, I think it probably went better here than anywhere else. Most places, I think, it was very contentious. Jeff had some very tough decisions to make where you had two heads of everything and had to either choose one or bring someone in from the outside. I think he did a good job of blending it together. I think you are always going to have continual tweaking. Any time you have, as you say, a major operation, you are going to have turnover and you're going to have change. I don't feel it's all put together yet, but I do think it is moving in the right direction.
What was the biggest challenge of that process?
I think just having two heads of areas and trying to make those decisions was tough. And one of the toughest things for a lot of people was the physical moving. I was one of those fortunate people that didn't have to move, but if you look at all the people in the departments and all the rearranging we did ... that was a challenge. We were all so spread out and you were never going to combine until you moved people together. Overall, I think we're headed in the right direction.
How much have your job responsibilities changed since the merger?
I picked up some men's sports. And it's evolving. Last year I had men's track, men's golf. This year I have men's track and men's cross country in addition to nine of the women's sports. I had oversight of a lot of the women's sports and support areas previously. Now I've picked up responsibilities with media relations, training, the weight room and some of those areas.
Do you want more? You had so much to begin with, but it seems like you continue to add responsibilities.
I'm having fun with it. Whatever way Jeff feels like I can help, I'm happy to help in that area.
From where you sit, what is the No. 1 challenge facing the department now?
I don't know that you can say there is a No. 1 thing. Some of that you'd have to get from Jeff and see what he says the direction is. I'd think, across the board, we are trying to give our student-athletes a great experience in all aspects. We're looking out for their health and safety all the way. We're trying to make sure our coaches have the resources to be nationally competitive. That's what we're doing with our facilities master plan and the broad scope of what we need to do to be competitive in the best conference in the country. You're looking at the total student-athlete experience and working to build a program the state of Arkansas can be proud of.
Getting gymnastics to the UA was something you were very involved in eight years ago. How gratifying is it to see the national success the program has had in such a relatively short period of time?
It's fun. Probably, as I look at my career here, the most fun I've had is adding golf and softball and volleyball and gymnastics to the program. I felt like the SEC was the best gymnastics program in the country. We had local interest with a number of clubs in the area. I felt like there was interest and if we found the right coaches we could jump in and be nationally competitive. You really had to have the right coaches and the facility. We were fortunate enough to build this facility.
It starts with the coaches. Hiring Mark and Rene [Cook], we got two coaches from Stanford that wanted to compete with the best and put their own footprint on the program. They had very specific goals. Then, getting the donation from [Bob and Marilyn Bogle] and raising [$6.1 million] for this [gymnastics] facility and letting the coaches design what we feel is the best facility in the country. The coaches, the facility and the conference are the best in the country. That is appealing to athletes.
It sounds like that was a rewarding process for you. What do you consider the most rewarding part of working in athletics?
For me, I enjoy the coaches and student-athletes having success: being a part of seeing a record fall, a top five finish, a Final Four. Being a part of athletic success is probably why we got into the business of athletics to begin with.
Is it still that simple? The money, the stress, the priorities seem to have shifted. This is big business now, so is the thrill of the game still really there?
You still are touched by great accomplishments and achievements. I'm still touched by what student-athletes do, just the energy that student-athletes have. It is all so new to them. That rubs off.
Does the emphasis on Title IX compliance change at all now that two separate departments have been combined? How has that eased or burdened the process?
It's a lot easier now. It's gotten a whole lot easier. When you have two organizations and you're trying to compare budgets, you're not counting things the same. Yeah, It's a lot easier now. I think it makes it easier. We've always done a very good job at Arkansas of being out front. We added sports when we felt it was necessary to provide more opportunities. We've made sure that we're doing a master plan, and we're looking at what we can do for soccer at the same time we're looking at football and women's basketball and men's basketball. I think it makes it easier. You're moving together instead of one moving and one reacting.
Title IX is there for the student-athletes, primarily. How does Title IX impact decisions that are made on a coaching or administrative level?
I wouldn't say it does if you're looking at quotas and that sort of thing, but it's more of looking at coaching salaries, making sure they are equitable, male-female. What are you providing male-female student-athletes?
With coaching salaries, you take lots of things into consideration - be it the marketplace, the revenue generated by a sport. Is the job similar? I think there is an understanding that men's and women's basketball are different, but should men's and women's tennis be different? I think that's how you look at it.
This Arkansas Business issue is all about "Women of Influence." What does that phrase mean to you?
I think of someone that's been blessed with an opportunity to influence a lot of people, work with people and hopefully make their lives better. I think people that influence others have typically been blessed with a leadership opportunity and hopefully have a chance to mentor others and give people a good experience.
Who fits that role in your life?
When I think of it in my life, two people come to mind. And these aren't in the traditional business sense, but one would be my mom. I think she taught me not only faith in God, but believing you can do anything you want. She is someone who led by example. She was always putting others before herself. She would never say a bad word about anybody. Everything that came out of her mouth was encouraging and building up. That was a wonderful thing for me at any age. A recent example would be Marilyn Bogle. She has just been full of grace. She also thinks of other people first. Her family comes first. She's always looking for how to do things for other people. That's an example of someone who looks beyond herself into what they can do for others. Those are the people who influence. I don't think of it as "Who do you oversee?," but "What can you do for others? What lives can you touch?"
Finish this sentence - Bev Lewis has the Best Seat in the House because ...
I consider it an opportunity to be around coaches and student-athletes. It's a great opportunity to have an impact in their lives and in shaping the direction of the program. Working in athletics has never felt like a job. I think it's been fun. It's not an area you work in if you don't have a passion. It's an emotional, highly charged environment, which makes it a great experience. It will never be a dull job.
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