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Vol. LXIV, No. 30
 
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
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LEAGUE LEADER: Robin Harris has gotten off to a positive start in her first year as the Executive Director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, following Jeff Orleans in the post as league commissioner. Harris’ passion for sports and her previous experience as an NCAA administrator and collegiate sports attorney has made her a good fit for the position.

Combining Love of Sports with NCAA Experience, Harris Enjoys First Year as Ivy League Commissioner

Bill Alden

Robin Harris attended most of men’s basketball home games during her college and law school years at Duke University but she wasn’t a Cameron Crazy who painted her face blue or camped out overnight to get the best tickets.

The Bronx native, however, was crazy about sports long before she headed south to Durham.

“I had a huge sports interest; I am a big sports fan,” said Harris. “I was born in the Bronx in the shadows of Yankee Stadium and grew up as a Yankee fan. I have always enjoyed watching sports.”

While in law school, Harris decided to combine her passion for sports with her legal training.

“I talked to a professor at Duke who taught sports law; I started to get ideas and explore a career in sports,” recalled Harris.

“The more I learned about intercollegiate athletics and the regulations, the more interested I became. I got an internship with Duke in the compliance department. I got an internship at the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) office in compliance. I wrote a law review article on NCAA enforcement regulations coming out of the Tarkanian case (involving UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian). The pieces all kind of fell into place and I got the job at the NCAA.”

Harris went on to work nine years with the NCAA, focusing on infractions in the beginning of her tenure and then shifting into governance and making policy. She then moved to the Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller where she served as senior counsel and co-chair of its collegiate sports practice.

In 2009, Harris came back east to take over as the Executive Director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, following Jeff Orleans in the post as league commissioner.

Now, after a year on the job, Harris believes she has found the best of her previous worlds.

“The Ivy League is a fabulous league; it really meshes with the focus on D-1 athletics but keeping it in balance with the academic mission of the universities,” said Harris, 45, in a recent interview in the conference room at the league’s Princeton headquarters.

“I believe in that; it stems from my background at Duke and what I saw there. I believe in our values and I am not looking to change those in any way and so it was just a really good fit. When I worked at the NCAA, I worked a lot with the commissioners and particularly the commissioners at our level. I thought it was a really interesting job because we get involved in national policy issues but we also get involved in policy issues for our own conference.”

In getting up to speed on the Ivy League and its issues, Harris headed out to the trenches in her first months on the job.

“I spent a lot of time last fall going to each campus; I did a listening tour,” said Harris.

“I spent about three days at each campus and it was invaluable in learning the unique characteristics of each school and meeting the people. We are the most homogenous league in D-1 because we have eight private schools focused on academics, sponsoring athletics at a similar level with a similar number of sports. Yet, when you peel it back a little and look at each school, each has its own unique environment, characteristics and culture. This has been a learning year for me; learning the league; learning the issues; learning our polices but also trying to advance and do new things.”

One of the new things that took up a lot of Harris’ time was overseeing the league’s inaugural lacrosse tournaments. Cornell hosted the men’s event while Penn was the site of the women’s tourney.

“Both events were run extremely well,” said Harris, noting that there is moratorium in place as to the possibility of holding Ivy tournaments in field hockey or basketball.

“I think the student-athletes and coaches had good experiences. It was nice to put the finals on TV; we were also able to stream all four semis. We are continuing to evaluate how the lacrosse tournaments are doing; trying to make that even more successful.”

Harris believes she has been successful in her role mediating between league coaches, athletic directors, deans, and presidents.

“It has been fun; I really enjoy that,” said Harris, referring to her work as a go-between for league officials.

“It is similar to what I did at the NCAA. I am working with different constituent groups and figuring out how to help them. If the ADs or a coaches group wants something, it has to be communicated up the chain to another entity. I try help the group that wants to advance a proposal and put it in a way that makes it more likely to be well received so that’s been a very good experience.”

Having experience in different areas of the NCAA world has helped Harris deal with the multi-tasking that comes with being a league commissioner.

“It is a very dynamic job; it makes it a lot of fun and challenging,” said Harris. “I can come in one day, thinking these are the things that I am going to get done and then, no I am not, because there is a phone call. I have learned on a Monday in basketball or football season, I might be dealing with an officiating issue.”

The most fun part for Harris in her year on the job has been the chance to interact with the Ivy student-athletes. “On each of my listening tours, I met with the student athletes,” said Harris, who tries to get to as many games as her schedule will allow and has enjoyed presenting league championship trophies.

“I really enjoyed sitting down with them; it was the highlight of every campus visit. We are here for the students; that is why we are doing this. It is a great opportunity and experience for them; it is all about the student athlete.”

In an effort to give the country the opportunity to see more of the Ivy athletes, the league recently entered into a deal with the Versus network to broadcast a six-game, two-year package of Ivy football. Harris is currently pursuing a national TV agreement to show football, basketball and possibly lacrosse and soccer games.

“It was a big moment for the league to say we do want to move forward, we are willing to let a TV network with a league package to have access to all of our games and pick,” said Harris.

“I am looking at a more global, comprehensive initiative. We are going to take time to do that. Broadcast today includes internet and streaming as well as TV. We want it to be multi-sport and we want it to be comprehensive.”

Harris is enjoying her time leading the league. “I think this is a really natural place for me,” said Harris, who lives in the Hopewell area with her husband, Max, and their five-year old twin daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa.

“Without knowing it, all of my paths have led me to this position. It is a good fit for me; I am really happy.”

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