Not only does Shelley Binegar have a “cool” job, but she also has her dream job at East Carolina University. As the Associate Athletic Director for External Operations and SWA, she has the self-described fun job in the department. Shelley gets to work directly with the alumni, donors and students in an external facing role for the athletic department. She deals with the public to let people know about Pirates events and creates a fun environment at those events. So glad Shelley made the time to share some advice and her career path that has led to her landing at East Carolina, where she has been the last three years.
Have you always had a passion for sports? I did, I can always remember playing sports as a kid and particularly soccer. I remember playing soccer at an early age with my best friend. I think we were like four or five years old.
What did you think were cool jobs during your formative years? I thought I would always be a teacher because that is what both of my parents did. Although at one time I told my mom I was either going to be a cab driver or an astronaut.
Share a brief history about your career path? I went to college at Bowling Green and pursued a degree in Sport Management. I was in the College of Education and once I saw the curriculum catalog, I knew that was what I wanted to do. So it was definitely early in college when the light bulb came on that I wanted to work in sports. Before going to college, I didn’t even know you could work in sports or get a degree in sports management. As part of the program, I did internships every summer at Ohio University in Athens, which was also my home town and where I grew up. It was a volunteer position and I did whatever was needed, that included everything from making copies to getting coffee. The program also required a semester long internship which I did after my senior year at the University of Maryland in their athletic department. It was an unpaid position in the ticket office and it was a great experience.
After I graduated and finished my semester internship, I decided it would be necessary to pursue my master’s degree. I was fortunate that the number one program in the world was in my home town, so I applied and got accepted into the Ohio University Sports Administration program in Athens. While at Ohio, I worked in the ticket office as a graduate assistant and continued to build my resume. After I received my master’s degree in 1999, I started looking for full time work.
My first job was in Madison at the University of Wisconsin as a ticket office assistant making $20,000 a year. I was there a couple years and was fortunate to be a part of a massive ticket office with 10 full time employees and 40 student workers. It was very successful time in the UW athletic department and we got experience working a Rose Bowl, WNIT and a Final Four, all invaluable experience during that period.
At that point a friend of mine had left the ticket office at Ohio University (Doug Knuth –current AD at Nevada) and gave me the heads up about the position. I applied and became the Ticket Director for Ohio Athletics at the age of 23. It was overwhelming at times, but a great experience and a lot of fun. I stayed in that position for four years. I learned so much in my time there and established a great lifelong mentor in Tim Van Alstine who was the Assoc AD there at the time.
Then, I decided it was time to move on and try something different, so I took an Assistant AD position in the ticket operations at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. They were in the process of going from Div 1-AA to Div 1 A so they wanted to amp up their ticket office. It was also a unique opportunity to go to a fairly new school that had only been around for 40 years with a football program that had only been up and running for five years. Early in my time in Boca, I also picked up responsibility of the Owl Fund, which was their annual fund, and so I was able to hold both a ticketing and fund-raising title. FAU was a great learning experience and I was in that position for three years.
Next thing I know, I received an unsolicited call from Tim McMurray at Northern Illinois University who had seen my bio online and was looking for an Assistant AD of Development. Luckily, I had picked up some of that experience while at FAU and so it was an easy transition. It was my first opportunity to get out of the ticket world and 100% in to fund-raising. It was also a great way to get back to the Midwest and closer to where my family was living. I was there about a year when my AD Jim Phillips moved on to Northwestern and so I got my first experience with a change of leadership at the top. Jeff Compher became the new AD and it was great learning his management style. Looking back, I feel it was beneficial getting experience from two great leaders and learning leadership skills from both of them. Originally, I was in charge of the annual fund, but eventually Jeff allowed me to take on additional responsibilities running the marketing department. It was new to me and I was a little nervous at first, but I became the Assistant AD for Marketing and Development. Eventually, I took over both the development group and the marketing department as Jeff pushed me to grow. I also was able to start being a sport administrator and overseeing some additional sports. I really owe Jeff a lot as a boss and a mentor for pushing me into new areas and through some comfort barriers. It was also an interesting time to be at NIU because we ended up hiring 13 new coaches while I was there and so I learned a lot on that front as well. I ended up working for Jeff at NIU for five of the six years I was there. It was special working for someone who probably believed more in me than I believed in myself.
My next stop was my current role at East Carolina University. Jeff Compher had moved there as the new AD and so it was natural for me to follow and take on a new position as Associate AD of External Operations. At East Carolina, I got completely out of fund raising and now have responsibilities for marketing, ticket operations, media relations, video technology and the liaison for IMG. I did that for about a year and then took on the additional responsibility of SWA. This job has been a real eye opener and unbelievable amount of professional growth.
Who inspired you along the way or did you have mentors? I think mentors are extremely important and don’t always have to be a boss or someone older. Mentors may be peers or someone even younger. My first mentor was Tim Van Alstine at Ohio. He was the first person I approached when I was 18 years old to be a mentor. Tim really took me under his wing and allowed me access that in retrospect was unbelievable. He taught me so much and helped me understand some of the realities of college athletics. Hopefully I picked up some of his traits and habits along the way. I still reach out to Tim and feel like he will always be there for me.
My next mentor was Jeff Compher, who I talked about, who always believed in me and still to this day pushes me and has confidence in my abilities. Another unique mentor I have is Jeff’s wife, Cathy, who has been so invaluable to me. Jeff and Cathy are a true team and I have appreciated her counsel and advice. I think people underestimate the role of an athletic director’s spouse and the true job they have on campus.
My final mentor may be a bit of a surprise because he is younger than me, but it would be Martin Jarmond. He worked for me at Ohio in the ticket office, but over the years as he has grown, I have looked at him as a mentor and friend who I can count on for advice and friendship.
Career highlight or accomplishment you are most proud of? It would have to the BCS Orange Bowl year at NIU in 2013. When Jeff was hired in 2008 it was a very high priority and an ongoing focus to be the first MAC school to break into the BCS playoff. Watching the announcement with the players and staff was a moment I will never forget. It was five years in the making and just a very special time where all the hard work by so many people paid off.
What is your dream job? I have it right now. I love what I am doing and always dreamed of having the responsibilities I hold now and working for the perfect boss.
If you took a different career path what would it have been? I think my plan B would have been teaching. Maybe even a PHD, so I could have been in higher education at the university level.
Advice for a kid going to college today who wants to get into sports? Your career starts on day one of your freshman year. If you are not volunteering or gaining experience from day one you are behind. It is so important to gain experience early and be able to differentiate yourself on the day you graduate or start looking for a job. I don’t care what your degree is in because marketing, communication, journalism, business or sports management can all work if you have the right experience when you walk out the door.
Advice for making it in the sports industry? Never leave the office before your boss does. It is about being present and available so you become invaluable. It allows you to learn, be included and gain new experience if you are present after most people go home. If your AD yells down the hall and wants to know who is around, you want to be that person that speaks up. That additional experience allows you to learn and become a valuable employee that gets promoted.
Advice for a good work/life balance and dealing with the grind of sports industry? You have to let go of the guilt. When you do finally leave the office at the end of the day or at the end of the week you have to let go. There are times you may have to do something during the day but that doesn’t mean you don’t come back and work hard when you return. Just let go of the guilt and get your job done.
Now some fun quick hitters to get to know a different side of Shelley……
Name your dream foursome for dinner? I would prefer spending time with people I know over celebrities. So I would have to go with my dad for sure (great story teller), my long-time friend Biz Zimney (a personal chef so could cook the meal), my sister, and Austin Quick (a friend who is now a priest).
What is your favorite movie of all time? Pretty Woman
Favorite book? Anything by Nora Roberts
Top 3 favorite athletes of all time? Dennis Rodman, Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi
What was your favorite TV show as a kid? Charlie’s Angels
Three items you would take to a deserted island? A lighter, fishing equipment and my pillow
Favorite game to play as a kid? Monopoly
Hobby that would surprise people? I collect nutcrackers, currently 40+ and counting
Do you have a favorite charity you volunteer with or support? I think everyone should donate blood. I do it every 56 days and think it is a great cause that is easy to do and saves a lot of lives.
Childhood idol? My parents, I always looked up to them as role models.
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