Giles off to McMaster

Former CFL president Jeff Giles will be picking up [Larry Moko, The Hamilton Spectator] the reins of McMaster's athletic program after Therese Quigley leaves this summer to take the helm at Western. Giles is an interesting figure and his years in a variety of roles with the CFL were full of highs and lows; his team was able to reignite a passion for the game in a younger audience and get the league on a sound financial footing, but they also were involved in the muddled U.S. expansion era and ran into some severe boardroom clashes. Some are quite high on his involvement, though: as David Grossman of the Toronto Star wrote, Giles "was once credited with saving the Canadian Football league, the oldest professional football league in North America, from near collapse." By the way, Giles' book Bigger Balls: The CFL and Overcoming the Canadian Inferiority Complex is a terrific read for anyone interested in an insider's perspective on the CFL of the 1990s.

Giles has a strong background in a variety of sports-related areas, which should help him do well at McMaster. He's a former Queen's track and field athlete and graduated with a B.A. and a B.P.H.E., so he knows the university sports and recreation world. He's got a solid grasp on the business and marketing side of the game from his time with the CFL and the years he spent as the president of the Toronto Argonauts. He's a chartered accountant, so he should know the numbers game quite well, and he has strong potential fundraising connections with key Mac alumni like David Braley (owner of the B.C. Lions) and Ron Foxcroft. He's worked as a corporate turnaround and restructuring specialist, which should give him some valuable insight into what parts of Mac's programs are effective, which need more help and which should be pruned. He's also well-connected in the business community from his recent role as president and co-founder of MedProDirect and his time as an author/motivational speaker, and his CFL connections could prove very useful in marketing Mac football. He told the Spectator he's always been a big Tiger-Cats fan; could some cross-promotion be in the works?

Giles is entering an interesting situation, though. In her past 24 years with the program (18 as director), Quigley did an excellent job of turning Mac into an athletics powerhouse in several sports (you can find a partial championship list here) and building several state-of-the-art facilities; I've seen the indoor ones first-hand on a couple of road trips and have been very impressed. Quigley will not be an easy act to follow. To make matters worse, some of the Marauders' most significant recent success has come in lower-profile sports such as volleyball. They've acheived a lot of success in selling students and the community on these sports, but wider-scale attention usually only comes in football and men's basketball. McMaster is decent in the big-ticket sports, but they haven't been dominant lately. However, he does have a nice $10.5 million athletics and recreation budget to work with (by comparison, Queen's had a budget of around $6.5 million this year), several strong coaches, great facilities and a passionate and engaged community of alumni.

It will be revealing to watch and see what Giles does with McMaster. In the above Spectator article, two of his top priorities are listed as "To expand the opportunities for intramural, club or inter-university athletes to participate in sport." and "To strengthen athletic programs by providing financial and coaching resources." As anyone who's been following the wake of athletic reviews [myself, Queen's Journal] around the OUA knows, those goals of increased participation and sustained excellence in competition are often diametrically opposed; the first requires cutting more slices into the financial pie, while the second usually involves investing larger amounts of resources into a few sports (often the higher-profile ones) and letting the other ones fall by the wayside. Which goal Giles gives precedence to will largely determine the course of McMaster's athletics programs over the next several years.

However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Giles' tenure to follow will be what he does on the external front. The other two priorities he enumerates in that article are "To elevate the profile of university sport in Canada and avoid losing CIS teams to United States NCAA leagues" and "To continue to integrate McMaster into the community for events such as the Pan Am Games." Those are bold goals for a new athletic director, but they sound much more realistic when you consider the scope of his responsibilities with the CFL. The portrait of Giles that emerged from Bigger Balls was of a brash, confident, unconventional young marketing guru, willing to think outside the box and try a vast array of initiatives in the hopes that one of them would work. Giles annoyed the traditionalists (perhaps never more so than with the "Bigger Balls" campaign itself), but he brought fresh thinking to the game and sold a new generation on it. It will be well worth watching to see if he's able to bring that excitement and avant-garde thinking to the CIS.

There are a lot of similarities between the CFL at the start of Giles' tenure and the CIS today. Both leagues were facing significant threats; financial instability in the case of the CFL, defecting schools and financial issues in the case of the CIS. Both leagues were relatively minor presences on a national scale, with their products undermarketed, underwatched and underattended. Giles made significant improvements to those areas during his time with the CFL; it remains to be seen what he'll be able to do in the CIS.

(By the way, Giles is not the first guy to make the CFL head office to CIS athletic director transition. Michael Lysko went from CFL commissioner to director of athletics at Western, where he made some pretty impressive strides [Sports Business Journal] in three years before leaving to become a vice-president of marketing partnerships at Intersport.)
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