Inside Pitch Magazine, Winter 2016

Inside Interview: Craig Keilitz, ABCA

ABCA Executive Director Craig Keilitz on his state of mind, the states he's been in, and the state of college baseball

By Adam Revelette

Craig KeilitzInside Pitch: What has your experience in college athletics been like?

Craig Keilitz: I always wanted to be involved in college athletics, certainly after seeing firsthand just how much my father [Dave, who served in college athletics for 50 years as a coach, athletic director and ABCA executive director] got out of it.

I played multiple sports in high school, but enjoyed baseball the most. I had an opportunity to go to play baseball at Central Michigan University, where I earned my undergrad. From there I had the chance to go to Ohio University, where I got my Masters in sports administration. From there, I got an internship at Florida State University and was down there for a year. That led me to the University of Michigan, where I stayed for four years as the Assistant Compliance Director and eventually Director of Compliance. After that I came down to Wake Forest University to work with [Director of Athletics] Ron Wellman. I was there for nearly 12 years in three different positions, first in compliance, then as Associate AD for Internal Operations, and then Associate AD for Marketing. I was named Athletic Director and Vice President at High Point University after that, where I stayed for six years.

IP: What has your mindset been throughout the journey?

You know going into athletics, coaching or administration that [moving around] is probably going to be what happens. As opportunities arise, you take them, and you want to work with great people and at good institutions, places that you’re proud to work for. I’ve been really fortunate; I’ve never been any place where I thought it was time to leave. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve loved what I was doing, I certainly wasn’t looking to move, it just kind of happened. I’ve loved every place I’ve been, every job I’ve had, and it just keeps getting better than better. And that’s the honest to goodness truth; I couldn’t feel any stronger than that!

IP: Talk about the process of being named the Executive Director of the ABCA in 2014.

CK: When I talked to my father after he announced his intentions to retire, I never thought about being the ABCA Executive Director. I had my career path and I knew what I wanted to do, I was living it and enjoying it. My wife and I and my brother and his wife went down to surprise my mom and dad at his last convention. We were down there and got to be a part of the dinners and the going away parties, and it hit me like a ton of bricks- this is that I wanted to be doing. It was as clear as day. I had the opportunity interview in Dallas with the committee, and when they offered me the job I knew I was making the right move. It’s been a phenomenal past year and a half; it’s been everything and better than I dreamed it to be.

IP: What is your typical work week like?

CK: Our role is to serve the coaches. We help organize the convention and all the things that go along with the yearly membership. Our job is to hear the voice of the coaches and to help quarterback, to make their jobs easier and support the student-athletes. The one thing I always remind our staff about is that we work for our coaches; it’s not the other way around. That’s led to a lot of the things we’re doing now.”

My typical work week is all over the board. I have six young men that are tremendous at what they do. My job is to help them do their jobs. We spend a lot of time selling sponsorships and working with our ABCA convention exhibitors. Marketing campaigns, working with coaches, speakers, awards, working with the MLB, USA baseball, the NCAA and legislation groups, there are just so many aspects to it, which makes it fun and exciting every day. A lot of it is communication with the coaches and administrators on how we can help our student-athletes.

IP: How does the ABCA convention fit in to your day-to-day operations?

CK: [The convention] is the pinnacle of what we do: educate coaches, bring them into the ‘fraternity’ and get them together. It is probably what we spend the most time working towards and it goes hand in hand with our membership drive each year. It looks like we’ll have the most members in the history of the ABCA this year, the convention looks to be the biggest it's ever been. Our sponsors are worldwide and they help keep our prices down, which in turn helps them identify with our coaches and sell more goods. We have well over 300 companies that exhibit with us in more than 145,000 square feet of space. We are over where we were last year (which was the biggest year for sponsorships to date) by about 20%. It’s absolutely amazing what’s happening with that.

IP: How do you go about implementing new legislation in college baseball?

CK: Being an Athletic Director, I was very much aware of many of the issues that are going on in college baseball right now. The first couple months of the job, I met with several conferences and spoke to hundreds of coaches about what they would like to change. We also put together a survey and talked about the different issues- we had eleven different pieces of legislation involved in that- and 91% of our Division I coaches responded to the survey, which is really unheard of. As we proceed, we know that we’re fighting for what the majority would like.

IP: What are some specific legislation items you’re working on right now?

CK: In 2006 and 2007, there was quite a bit of talk from Athletic Directors about reducing the number of baseball games, because of the poor academic success that baseball was having in general with graduation rates and the APR. Our APR has gone from 943 to 973; it has improved tremendously and our coaches have done an incredible job with that.

Because of that, we’ve talked to the NCAA about changing the 25% [minimum] aid. Our coaches have expressed that they would like to remove or relinquish that piece of legislation; we’re the only sport in the NCAA that has [the minimum 25% aid to student-athletes] and a maximum number [27] of student-athletes on athletic aid. We’re working on that every day.

IP: How about some items that are ‘on deck?’

CK: There are four pieces of legislation that we’re pushing very hard to happen in the next cycle- the minimum 25% aid, the maximum 27 players on aid, adding an additional coach, and adding four fall games that would not count against the 56-game regular season. That comes directly from the coaches and what they would like to see happen.

The litigation that’s happening around our country, with sports in specific, is really a scary proposition. For a coach to get sued for doing nothing wrong and doing their job well is really sickening to me. Every member will have a $1 million liability insurance taken out on their behalf which is free to the coaches, it’s part of their membership. The thing that I think a lot of people don’t realize is that even though a lot of college coaches are covered by their university, it’s in limited instances. For example if a college coach is doing private lessons, helping out with the local little league or working with a summer club team, they will not be covered. We’re really excited to put that forward, it’s one of those things that you don’t think about until you need it; you may not get really excited over it but you’re glad you have it.

IP: Fill us in on the new legislation that addresses outside camps.

CK: 88% of coaches have said that it’s something that needs to be changed. They need time to spend with their kids, they need time to spend with their families, and they need some down time. Most importantly, other people are making money off of our coaches and student-athletes. Coaches would rather be employers instead of employees. I’m hoping that a coach that would make $500 from working a couple camps can host their own camp on campus and give that money to their assistants, stay at home and spend time with their family.

Another big advantage is that it gives the high school player some time off to rest their arm. I think we all believe that spending 12 months a year trying to throw 95 miles per hour is leading to our arm injury problem that is happening all over the country. There needs to be a time when these kids are not just showcasing their talents, when they are learning the game and practicing.

We will never push an agenda that’s not in the great majority of what our coaches want, regardless of what I think or what other people in our organization think. We never act alone and not everyone is going to agree with everything. If it’s not the vast majority of what our membership would like to see, we’re not even going to entertain it.

IP: What are your observations about the college baseball family as a whole?

CK: It’s such tight-knit community. When you have a head coach at a Power 5 Conference at the convention working with a 25 year old high school coach and talking to them like they’re long lost friends, that’s really special. The connection- or ‘fraternity’ if you will- that we have in our sport and certainly with our membership is spectacular and it’s something that I’m very proud of. I don’t think that happens as much in other sports, and I’ve seen it over and over in college baseball.

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