For the first time in a several-weeks-long vacancy, Pitt’s athletic department will once again have an athletic director. And for the first time in history, the new AD won’t be a man.
Pitt confirmed rumors that surfaced online Sunday night in an ESPN report at a press conference yesterday — the University chose former Eastern Michigan University Athletic Director Heather Lyke to fill the same position here at Pitt. Lyke’s hire comes nearly a month after the departure of former AD Scott Barnes, and makes her only the third woman to serve in the position in Pennsylvania and the first at Pitt.
Lyke’s achievement is undoubtedly important, and Chancellor Patrick Gallagher made reference to Women’s Empowerment Week as he introduced her at yesterday’s conference. It will be beneficial to finally have someone in the director position who’s had a different perspective in college athletics. Her personal experience playing softball at the University of Michigan means she knows what it’s like to be an athlete in a program with less funding and less attention than football or basketball.
But her gender identity doesn’t mean we should ask anything of her that we wouldn’t ask of any other athletic director: a strong focus on maintaining an inclusive environment, reducing violence against women and making sure that funds are spread fairly.
Her strong fundraising record at EMU is encouraging, especially since it means she’ll continue what Barnes started at Pitt. And her commitment to doing the grunt work and working hard to prepare for long-term athletic program success — she obtained passports for football players to travel to the Bahamas Bowl nearly two years in advance of the game — bodes well.
But some elements of Lyke’s past work experiences are somewhat less promising. While her tenure saw EMU’s football program go from one of the worst in the Mid-American Conference to attending a bowl game in a matter of two seasons, it came at a massive cost. Under Lyke’s tenure, the school spent more than $33 million per year out of the University’s general fund on sports — mostly on the school’s football team.
That kind of focused attention to football turned EMU’s program around, but it’s not what Pitt needs right now, especially not at the expense of other programs.
Lyke’s demonstrated focus on improving fundraising techniques should be used to the benefit of all parts of the athletic department — not just the big moneymakers. Plus, we hope she will lobby for issues that affect women in athletics, including violence against women and disparities in funding.
It’s far too early to assess how Lyke plans to bring changes to Pitt’s athletic department or to maintain the status quo. Some of her largest tasks once she gets into the thick of her work will be more to bring stability to an athletic program in chaos and to recoup after an unequivocally disastrous basketball season, and it would be unfair to be harsh during her first few months.
As she moves forward, we hope that Lyke shows more of the vision and determination that she had at her previous employment than the shortsightedness of an exclusive focus on the men’s basketball and football teams would show. If Lyke truly wants to be successful here, she won’t simply keep doing more of the same.