There was a strong feeling among the Syracuse University faithful that, based on the acrimonious breakup with former athletics director Mark Coyle, his successor should be someone from within the family. Well, that message seems to have been taken to heart, as the University today named 1980 graduate John Wildhack as the new AD for the Orange.
Wildhack isn’t just a Syracuse graduate (with a degree in telecommunications), he’s also a Buffalo native. If the directive was to find someone with ties to New York State, then Wildhack certainly fits the bill. So now you’re probably asking yourself: who is John Wildhack?
As I mentioned, he’s a 1980 graduate of SU, and has been working ever since then for some little company called ESPN. He’s got a long, impressive resume from his time with the Worldwide Leader, most recently having served as Executive Vice President for Programming & Production. He started his career as a production assistant right after graduating from SU, and has ascended through the ranks ever since.
And yes, I know what you’re thinking: that means he has no experience as an athletics director, or even in an athletics department. The other red flag some people might note is that his ability as a fundraiser is basically unknown, but he does offer one enormous opportunity: he gives the ACC its best shot at finally forming an ACC Network.
I mean, who better to spearhead such an operation than a guy largely credited with the growth of ESPN2, who produced ESPN’s first ever televised regular season college football game in 1984 and the network’s first ever televised live NFL game in 1987?
Fundraising may be a question mark, but an ACC Network could prove to be enormously lucrative. Bringing in one of the highest executives at ESPN to finalize a deal with that network seems like a no-brainer. After all, as Chris Carlson pointed out last October when an ACC Network deal got pushed back, a conference-specific network is a huge financial boost to the member schools.
And Wildhack is just the guy to spearhead something like that. This is a guy who, per his resume, oversaw “all rights negotiations and managing relationships with rights holders for all ESPN entities. These include ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPNU, ESPN International, ESPN Radio, ESPN.com, ESPN3, ESPN Mobile Properties, print and more. In 2009, he added responsibility for strategic program planning for all the ESPN television networks, ESPN on ABC and ESPN’s digital platforms.”
Frankly, it sounds like this is the task for which he was specifically hired to lead the charge. He’ll be able to find his way as an athletics administrator, of course, but it’s the potentially exorbitant influx of money that would come from an ACC Network that has to be near the top of the list of most appealing factors in his hiring, along with him having such strong ties to Syracuse University and the state of New York.
“John is an entrepreneurial, outside-the-box leader who brings an unparalleled set of skills and experiences to the director of athletics position,” Chancellor Kent Syverud said. “As a leader at ESPN, he has demonstrated a keen ability to identify and implement strategies aimed at elevating the entire organization. That record of success, combined with his extensive history of building and inspiring teams, will allow him to immediately and positively impact the lives of our student-athletes. This is a new day in the life of the Department of Athletics. I look forward to watching John, in collaboration with our talented coaches and staff, bring his bold vision for the department to life.”