For Day Four of Women in Sports Week, Sports Editor Dan Madigan talked with UConn Athletics Chief Operating Officer Beth Goetz, who is a a few months away from wrapping up her first year at UConn. Prior to coming to Storrs, Goetz spent time at Missouri-St.Louis, Butler and Minnesota before joining athletic director David Benedict’s staff in June of 2016. In her interview, Goetz touches on her role at UConn, the success of UConn’s women’s programs and the future of UConn athletics.
DM: You’re UConn’s senior woman administrator (SWA). What does that entail?
BG: So Senior Woman Administrator is actually just a designation, it’s not a job responsibility. That’s a designation that was created by the NCAA and is given to the senior most woman in an organization. There are some similarities from institution to institution in terms of certainly being an advocate for women and those types of things, but it’s not a responsibility in and of itself. That designation though does give you a place in the governance structure of the NCAA, meaning conferences have SWA designations, there’s also slots in NCAA committees that can be filled by someone with an SWA designation.
DM: You serve as the chief operating officer of UConn athletics. What is an average day of work like for you?
BG: I have lots of meetings. I oversee a lot of internal operations. Everything from the business, HR-type things, facilities projects, event management, liaison with academics – so it’s a lot of what happens each and every day, sort of the behind the scenes components, which results in a lot of meetings, typically. You get a lot of work done in terms of following procedures, creating policy and sort of navigating the annual cycle of sports. We all work with every sport to some extent but we do have some sport-specific responsibilities. I oversee football, for example, and I have a handful of other sports as well. So depending on that cycle, it can certainly change your day-to-day. And then I’m part of David (Benedict’s) leadership team. We’re engaged in sort of the big picture conversations and implementing the strategic vision for the department.
DM: What’s it like to be a part of that leadership team with Benedict and Vic Cegles?
BG: I’ve actually been very fortunate in my career, I’ve worked with very empowering athletic directors and he’s one of them. He engages us in the process and wants feedback and input. That’s a really fun team to be a part of. He includes us as much as he can, whether it’s in our area or not, we get to be involved in those conversations and that’s a great opportunity for us to be a part of the vision.
DM: You’re approaching the end of your first year at UConn. What have you liked about it so far, and what gets you excited for the future?
BG: I don’t know what’s not to like about college athletics, and then the opportunity to do that at UConn is just incredible. I think anything starts with people. We all do what we do because we’re passionate about the experience student-athletes have. I’ve had the opportunity to be a student-athlete, to be a coach and now to be on this side of it. Watching them compete day in and day out, and obviously people think about the wins – following the women’s program, what an incredible run for Geno and that team continues to have – but it doesn’t change your enjoyment whether that program wins the championship or you’re watching a different sport that is struggling, because you’re still helping to support them from a competitive standpoint and as young men and women. Every institution is really unique, so to say that this one’s any more unique than anywhere else is probably not a fair statement, but everyone is special for a different reason. One of the things I felt almost immediately here is the sense of community that exists, not just in athletics, which it certainly does, but on campus. We’re not a small school, and maybe it’s because we’re the flagship of the state of Connecticut, and maybe that’s because we’re not competing in a way like Michigan and Michigan State do, but you get a real sense of community and pride in what the University of Connecticut does.
DM: You were a student-athlete and coach before joining the administrative side of athletics. What lessons do you take away from that time and apply toward your job today?
BG: As an athlete, I was so grateful for the opportunity to participate. I don’t know if it’s fair to say that athletes today aren’t, but there weren’t as many opportunities then and the decade before me had even fewer. I was really grateful for the experiences I had and the opportunity and access it provided me to education, which was really the key component. You can still remember what it feels like to win the big game or the day you aren’t in the lineup exactly how you thought you’d be.
From a coaching standpoint, what I learned is that I was not a very good coach. I’ve had the opportunity to watch the best in the world. Obviously on our campus we have several of those in their sport. Geno transcends the type of sport, but the impact he has and the way he approaches a game is incredible. In my career I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to work with the best in the business in several different sports. When I was at Minnesota, Hugh McCutcheon is a great women’s volleyball coach. He’s the best at what he does. And (at Butler) watching how Brad Stevens approaches a team. There’s dozens right here at UConn, whether it’s Nancy Stevens, who has built that (field hockey) program, and Jim Penders. What he’s done at baseball is amazing. It’s hard to play baseball in the Northeast. There aren’t many Northeast schools that develop the level of success consistently and the guys he’s putting in the pros. And Ray Reid, you could go on. I wish I had the opportunity to be ingrained in someone else’s program, maybe I would’ve been able to better serve student athletes.
DM: What’s it like to see the women’s programs here at UConn continue to be successful?
BG: It’s been fun to see the community embrace all of them. Certainly women’s basketball has a loyal fan base that buys season tickets and comes to every game, but even extending beyond those that come and attend, I haven’t met anyone in the state that does not track women’s basketball, no different than following the Patriots or men’s basketball. That’s not the case in many college communities, so that’s pretty incredible. I think it’s really special. I do believe that women that participate in sports have a certain level of preparation to be successful at the next level. I don’t mean the next level playing, although that is true for the the Breanna Stewarts in the world, but I mean the next steps of their life. There’s research out there now that talks about how many C-suite women play sports and what the impact has. I think you can learn those skills in other organizations but I do think sports offers us the chance to fail often, which I think is a big piece. For women in particular, learning to battle a little bit, not being afraid to fail, working through conflict so to speak, not often is that seen in society in other ways that you get in sports. When I get to see the level of success that the student-athletes here are having here across all the sports that we sponsor, I think that’s really neat because it’s going to mean great things for them and our communities in the future.
DM: What do you see as the future of UConn athletics given its current position?
BG: I think the one thing that is an absolute is that we as a university, we as an athletic department, and we that make that department up – Geno and Benedict and Kevin (Ollie) and Randy (Edsall) – are going to continue to make this the best athletic department it can. There are ways to increase revenue and push the envelope, and we’ve had a lot of success, but we don’t want to talk about the success we’ve had, we want to talk about the continued success that grows. So you commit to the things that you can control, and in doing that you position yourself for opportunities in the national landscape.
The American is a great conference. You saw lots of success on the football field and we’re excited about the additions they’ve made with the intent to help men’s basketball, certainly it will help several of our sports depending on what Wichita brings to the table. But I think we control those things and we get better every day and every year. That way, we are positioned for whatever the national landscape has in store for us. There’s a lot of people that would trade histories with UConn in a second. That’s a great thing to have and we ant to continue to build that and make that the case. We define how successful we are. It’s not just about the label of the Power 5 and what anyone else wants to try and define us as. It doesn’t change the national championships or Final Fours that we get to attend.