Ball State's process for finding a new athletic director

Ball State Director of Athletics Beth Goetz (right), claps as the Ball State fight song is played after the field hockey match against Saint Francis University Aug. 26 at Briner Sports Complex. The Cardinals won 2-1 over Saint Francis in their season opener. Eli Houser, DN
Ball State Director of Athletics Beth Goetz (right), claps as the Ball State fight song is played after the field hockey match against Saint Francis University Aug. 26 at Briner Sports Complex. The Cardinals won 2-1 over Saint Francis in their season opener. Eli Houser, DN

$26,942,849. That’s Ball State University’s Athletic Department budget.

The next Ball State Athletic Director will be in charge of $26,942,849.

With Beth Goetz leaving for Iowa, Ball State University officials are now in the process of searching for the next athletic director to lead the department. 

“I know there's a thought process, and it's too bad Beth [Goetz] left, and that's very true because she did do a wonderful job here,” Interim Athletic Director Ken Bothof said. “I think Ball State will be excited about the type of candidates that will be attracted to this position because of the work that's been done by all the people in the athletic department. It's in a better position, I think than it was four years ago when Beth came into it.”

Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns also held Beth Goetz in high regard. Mearns hired Goetz in 2018. During her tenure, she saw the success of many teams winning the MAC, and teams going to the NCAA tournaments.

“Beth Goetz, you've heard me sing her praises as an outstanding leader for that department and a leader on campus,” President Mearns said. “And I think she has demonstrated over four years that you can raise the profile that we can compete in the Mac and compete nationally.”

Deputy Athletic Director Shawn Sullivan was another name to praise the leadership of Goetz. Alongside seeing success on the field, Goetz was also named Nike Executive of the Year for the 2021-22 year.

“You know, Beth came in mid-2018 and really created a pathway for our department of strong leadership, empathy and a strategic vision to move us onward,” Sullivan said. “That's kind of what our mentality of onward came from. I was sad to see her go, and she was a terrific leader and [I’m] certainly happy for her to advance her career over at Iowa.”

Mearns stressed the importance of having the athletics department be an asset to campus life, whereas other institutions’ athletics is more isolated. 

“What I think is really positive about our athletics department is they feel it is fully integrated into the life of the campus, which is what I like,” Mearns said. “So we want another leader of athletics to understand that relationship, that partnership. That being integral to the future is very important to us.”

This is not Mearns’s first time working with Bothof. Mearns hired Bothof to be the athletic director at Northern Kentucky where Mearns was previously president. 

Before Ball State came calling, Bothof retired for a mere two and a half months before he got the call from President Mearns. 

Ken Bothof at a Northern Kentucky University press conference Jan. 5. Bothof was been named the interim director of athletics for Ball State University Sept. 9. Northern Kentucky University Athletics, Photo Courtesy

“So he explained all of those things to me, and really [Mearns] just said, ‘I think your leadership would be important here for the administration of the university during the time of the search.’ He does a great job in terms of ease [and] can be very convincing at times but also provided me [with], I think, an opportunity to get back on campus in the fall which is kind of nice to be here and involved from that standpoint as well.”

Bothof also talked about the relationship he has had with Mearns over their years working together and that both wanted the athletic program to align well with the institutional core values and vision. 

During his time here, Bothof is set to make $300,000 for the current fiscal year. 

When Beth Goetz left, so did Karin Lee, who was a deputy athletics director. 

“When you're down two people, it's really hard to just name an internal interim [athletic director] I think because now you are expecting people with other jobs now to do even more, so they already are going to need to do that.”

A deputy athletic director does a lot of things, Sullivan even described it as being a “mini general manager” for their respective sports programs. Sullivan oversees women's cross country, track and field, women's golf and men's basketball.

Sullivan’s role is marketing and strategic initiatives. He deals in marketing, tickets and communications for day-to-day operations. 

Mearns gave three qualities that are foundations to Ball State in what he is looking for in an athletic director here at Ball State. 

“We want somebody who understands that we measure success in athletics really across all three dimensions,” Mearns said. “Competitiveness, academic excellence and how they represent our institution on campus and in the community with character and integrity. So that's who we're looking for.”

Bothof described what is important as an athletic director. He stressed the importance of understanding the university’s expectations and how the role of an athletic director fits into the school’s strategic plan and that they understand the importance of their role on campus through the strategic plan. 

“Obviously, I think the ability to hire head coaches that also are a good fit institutionally, that understand that alignment, but it's important that the head coaches that are hired understand that alignment as well. So those experiences and doing that through your career, I think are extremely important.”

Sullivan talked about the importance of Bothof. He said that Bothof has been a great extra set of eyes, and with his previous work at other schools, his listening and insights have helped in his interim position. 

Ball State has hired the search firm TurnkeyZRG to recruit candidates for Ball State in their next athletic director hiring. Ball State is paying TurnkeyZRG $60,000 for the search.

TurnkeyZRG is actively working with schools like Miami [Florida], Auburn, Ole Miss and Clemson, to name a few. On the professional side, they are helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Mets, Dallas Stars and many other major market teams. 

“The two first steps which we've undertaken is, I formed a screening committee that will help me evaluate the candidates,” Mearns said. “And then secondly, we've hired a search firm that has a lot of experience in the area of athletic directors, coaches [and] athletic staff to assist us in recruiting and evaluating those candidates.”

In November, Ball State will prepare the leadership profile that is best fitting and TurnkeyZRG will, in return, do active recruiting in December. President Mearns is hopeful the process will conclude in late January or early February. 

“We’re looking for somebody pretty special, Ball State has had a long history of good ADs, and so I'm confident we're gonna get a great pool,” Mearns said. “And hopefully, continue that important tradition.”

Bothof, who was hired with the help of a search engine, described what that process was like. 

“It really will vary somewhat by campus [the athletic director hiring process]. At Northern Kentucky, they utilized a search firm to help them more so with the logistical aspects of a search,” Bothof said. “In terms of setting up interview schedules [and] helping identify individuals that may have an interest with the good alignment of qualifications for the position itself. Working with the university, administrators, university leadership and others to help define what that role looks like for, at that time, Northern Kentucky University.”

Mearns also stressed the importance of being able to hire adequate coaches and the integral role of an athletic director’s relationship with a coach. He talked of Goetz’s hire of new head basketball coach, Micheal Lewis, as a great example. 

Mearns said in the process, there are three head coaches who are on the screening committee that will evaluate and give their input on candidates. 

“We'll work here to support that change and whoever that individual is when they get on board and get them up to speed and be as supportive as we can whenever that person comes into that chair because it's an important one,” Sullivan said.

Contact Elijah Poe with comments at or on Twitter @ElijahPoe4.


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