I think I was one of many - maybe even most - Auburn fans who found myself scratching my head this afternoon when I first saw the news. The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics had named Auburn's Jay Jacobs one of three "Athletics Directors of the Year."
I feel I have to make an early caveat, here. I'm not as big a detractor of Jay Jacobs as many folks. I think Jay does a ton of great things for Auburn and he's a good man. That being said, I'm still shaking my head in wonder at first over "Athletic Director of the Year."
On the surface, I honestly can't think of what would justify this. What has Jacobs really done in the past year that warrants such an honor?
If you really step back and take a look at it, though, you can see some of it. We, as fans, just look at the way the revenue sports have performed on the field. Do those leave a lot to be desired? Hell yes, they do.
But, those aren't all that goes into Athletics. There's student-athlete welfare. There's fundraising. There are all of the other sports at Auburn.
The Equestrian team won a national title. The gymnastics team went to the NCAAs. The softball team was a game away from a national title. The tennis and soccer teams had record years. Softball saw a serious increase in attendance and some pretty big upgrades to Jane B. Moore Field. Plainsman Park got some pretty good upgrades. The overall student-athlete GPAs are doing really well.
These three paragraphs from the official site's article linked above have a lot to point to on the "hey, there are good things in Auburn Athletics right now:
Auburn finished the 2016 academic year ranked in the top 10 percent of the NACDA Directors Cup standings, while five Auburn teams enjoyed best-in-history seasons. During Jacobs' tenure, Auburn has won 12 national championships and 27 conference championships.
Academically, Auburn student-athletes are performing at record levels. The average cumulative grade point average of Auburn student-athletes is 3.17, the highest ever. A total of 397 student-athletes received the Top Tiger Award last year for having a 3.0 GPA or higher, a 57 percent increase over 2011.
Auburn Athletics' facilities have been transformed during Jacobs' tenure, with more than $200 million in new construction and facility improvements. Auburn Athletics finished FY 2016 with record revenues and the department operates with a healthy surplus.
I don't have visibility on other programs around the nation to know what they're doing. I do know that even with all of Auburn fans' sarcastic (and, yes, absolutely, well-founded) complaints about the giant scoreboard, the "best fan experience in the country," and how the Big Three have been performing in recent years, there are still a lot of really good things going on in Auburn Athletics.
Of course, there are also some bad things, too. The ticket scandal and lawsuit come to mind. I'm not sure we've really seen the end of that and it's fallout, just yet.
But, for looking at the overall picture of what's going on with the student-athletes themselves and the facilities they use and play in (other than the glaring lack of a football-only facility that no one at Auburn really seems to care about/want) and without really knowing the situations at other schools around the nation, I do have to say that maybe - just maybe - this is a justified award.
Of course, it's also sponsored by Under Armour, Auburn's apparel company. That probably doesn't hurt, either.