Oakland University’s Director of Athletics Jeff Konya, signed a five-year contract on June 27. Konya joined Oakland Athletics in 2014 after spending time with Northeastern State, Memphis and Bucknell.
“I’ve been talking with the leadership at Oakland for a while, and I am really thankful and appreciative for this,” Konya said. “They like the direction we’re going in, and I think we can continue to move forward as an organization.”
The job of an athletic director does not just revolve around administrating different sports. They are also brand representatives for the university and in charge of making sure the institution has a tremendous student-athlete experience as well as a great fan atmosphere.
Over the past three years as athletic director, Konya has set several plans in motion, ranging from marketing and fundraising to community engagement. At the start of the 2014-15 school year, Konya and administration held a brainstorming session where they formed a strategic to plan build upon the foundation already established at Oakland Athletics.
One of the major strategies that came out of this meeting was the marketing campaign “See the Bear, Be the Bear, Wear the Bear,” or as it is often referred to on social media, #WEARtheBEAR.
“I think our marketing and branding around the ‘Wear the Bear’ has yielded great results,” Konya said. “Our social networking was last in the league, and now we are first in terms of our engagement opportunities. Fundraising is up, our game attendance is up, our collateral revenues are all up and we’ve been on national TV more times in the past three years than the previous decade. So, I think a lot of those touch points that came out in that session have been realized, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
In his first year at Oakland, Konya established the annual Black and Gold Awards at the Fox Theatere. These awards celebrate the excellence of student-athletes in competition, the classroom and the community. This past year, the BGAs were televised for the first time and featured big names to present the awards such as Brad Galli, Justin Rose and Mickey Redmond.
“So far we have gotten a great response from the student-athletes, the coaches, the community fans and supporters that have attended” Konya said. “I think it’s a difference maker for us in terms of bringing together all of the student-athletes’ stories and their collective experiences to the forefront in a really formal and energetic way.”
Another accomplishment Oakland Athletics reached under the leadership of Konya includes its three straight McCafferty Trophies. Every year, the Horizon League school that finishes with the most performance points based on how its teams finish in the 19 championship sports is awarded the McCafferty Trophy. The 2014 school year was the first time Oakland won a conference all-sports title. The three straight trophies make the Golden Grizzlies the first school to do so in over a decade.
Aside from competition, student-athletes have been excelling with their grades. Oakland currently leads the Horizon League in All-Academic and Honor Roll selections. Concluding the winter 2017 semester, athletics earned an organization-best grade point average of 3.3. In order to manage this, a few different strategies were implemented, including creating a dialogue with faculty, being proactive with scheduling so there was minimal conflict and academic counseling.
“The credit really needs to be with the student-athletes and our academic team as well as the overall university,” Konya said. “We have an extended athletic committee that is basically our compass for all academic issues that works with our department. They have had some great suggestions through the years. Our coaches are brought into how important the student part of the student-athlete equation is. This is helping us in terms of future recruiting because parents and student prospects know that if they come to Oakland then they can be successful in the classroom and competition.”
Due to the success Oakland has seen in recent years, Konya was recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, an organization that acknowledges athletic directors for positive contributions and commitment to their work with the schools and communities. Konya was selected as one of Under Armour’s Athletic Directors of the Year for 2016-17 this past March.
“[Being selected] was flattering, but I also think that it was a testament to the good work done by the entire organization,” Konya said. “It’s not ever the product of one individual, it’s always the collective of the village. I am appreciative of everyone’s hard work that led to that.”
He explained that athletics at Oakland University still has a long way to go, but the organization is still working with its proposed strategic plan. However, even with work still needed to be done, Konya says that the culture surrounding athletics sets them apart from any university.
“The best part of my job is just interacting with the people involved with Oakland on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I think we have some of the best student-athletes in the country. I think we have some of the best students as a university with our support. I love being in higher education because there is always topic of conversation, especially in and around athletics. That’s something I look forward to each and every day.”