Incoming AD Jeff Konya brings experience, innovation

Incoming AD Jeff Konya brings experience, innovation
New athletic director Jeff Konya at an introductory press conference Jan. 10. / Photo by Albert Tamura

By John Hagerty, deputy sports editor

Northeastern University’s new athletic director Jeff Konya has lived a nomadic lifestyle over the course of his career.

Konya, who will begin his tenure as NU’s athletic director Feb. 1, has worked in university athletic departments from Michigan to South Dakota, California and Texas.

Some might see his frequent career movements as a red flag, but Konya is confident that his past experiences are among his biggest strengths.

“Some people look at that type of a track record and say ‘oh my god, well what is that about?’” he said. “What I see is, I’ve experienced so many great mentors and leaders and so many universities and how they run things. Now I can compare and contrast.”

After spending his formative years in Rochester, New York, and attending Princeton University, Konya decided to go to law school at the University of Iowa. He thought he might become a sports agent.

Seeing an ad for a graduate assistant position in Iowa’s athletic department was a random occurrence, but it ended up altering the direction of his professional life.

“I saw it and went for it, but it was really random,” Konya said. “I didn’t go to Iowa law school thinking ‘man I can’t wait to work for the Hawkeyes’ — I went to law school, I saw an ad, got the job. And then everything changed.”

Konya never ended up becoming a sports agent, nor did he take the bar exam after graduating from law school in 1995. He had found his passion — intercollegiate athletics.

He singles out his role as a graduate assistant, or GA, at the University of Iowa as the most impactful moment in his career.

“I got involved on the ground floor back in the mid ‘90s with Iowa and at that time it was still kind of a mom and pop shop,” he said. “I had a lot of responsibilities for being a GA and from that point forward I really liked athletic administration and thought that would be my niche.”

Konya has certainly found his calling in athletics. Throughout his career and especially during his three-year run at Oakland, he has been a marketing and fundraising maven.

During his tenure with Oakland, he increased external financial support for athletics by 60 percent, set records for ticket sales and attendance and was selected as one of Under Armour’s Athletic Directors of the Year for 2016-17 by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

Konya has been an iconoclast his entire career, unafraid to think outside the box and find new ways to engage and collaborate with school communities to build excitement for athletic programs. In 2015, Konya called on Oakland’s student body to decide the color and design of their new basketball court. They were the first school in the country to choose a court’s design via Twitter poll. In doing so, Konya created a buzz around Oakland’s campus.

“There were a lot of students talking about it, excited about it, wanting to know which one won,” Konya said. “The core of it is more about connecting with student organizations and building traditions. And asking the students what they want out of their game-day experience. I think so many folks just don’t have that conversation.”

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun said he noticed Konya’s penchant for forward thinking right away during the university’s search process.

“I was immediately struck by his energy, his entrepreneurial spirit and the innovation that has defined his career,” Aoun said in a Jan. 10 statement.

At Northeastern, Konya hopes to upgrade the student athlete experience including through facility improvements.

“I would love to be able to enhance the game day through the facility,” Konya said. “I would love to create different student-athlete experiences, and allow them to feel first class in a lot of ways.”

Konya met with coaches and athletic staff this week to assess strengths and weaknesses of the department as it currently stands and brainstorm for the future. His zeal for improving the athletic department has already made an impression on women’s basketball head coach Kelly Cole, despite not having spent much time together.

“It’s an exciting time for Northeastern and the athletic department and we’re excited to have a fresh look,” Cole said. “He’s bringing some energy and some great experience.”

In addition to improving life for student-athletes, Konya confirmed that an NU athletics rebrand is imminent.

“The ‘N’ logo, I don’t know how distinctive it is in the national marketplace, but I think it certainly has some penetration in the regional markets and on campus,” he said. “There needs to be a more sophisticated way where we can capture the essence of Northeastern athletics around the branding principles. Around hashtags, a different look, a different feel, I think there’s a lot of opportunity.”

As Konya tinkers with how the athletic department operates, brands itself and builds a following on campus and on social media, he will rely heavily on his varied experiences from his lengthy career in collegiate athletics.

“I have a wealth of information and experiences in different environments” he said. “I have the flexibility to rely on my experiences and use them in real time. I see it as a huge advantage, I really do.”

It helps, Konya feels, that Northeastern has a strong foundation to build on.

“I’m really excited about Northeastern and what we can do there,” he said. “You feel the energy when you’re on campus. And now if athletics can be part of the puzzle, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

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