USC Upstate’s senior associate athletic director for external operations has been on the job for just under two years. His timing couldn’t have been better; the Spartans just ended one of their best seasons ever.
Lenny Mathis was working as an assistant athletic director at Wake Forest University when he spotted an opening at Upstate. Having served as an associate athletic director at Spartanburg’s Wofford College for nearly 15 years, Mathis recognized the potential of the position with the Spartans and the opportunity to return to a place he and his family had long called home.
Mathis’ wife, Amanda, was recently named executive director of the Spartanburg Area Conservancy and they are raising three children, Tripp, Virginia and Vivian (ages 7, 6 and 3, respectively.) Mathis says he and Amanda have enjoyed rejoining the community, and when the family wasn’t on campus this spring rooting for the Spartans, they were at Tripp’s Little League games, cheering on his team.
Mathis brings extensive marketing and management experience to USC Upstate but admits the job isn’t all fun and games. “Certainly, our industry and the demands on administrators have changed dramatically since I started in 2003, but it is that adaptation to the challenge that keeps us hungry,” he says. “To be able to pursue my professional goals in a place my wife and I hold so near and dear really is a dream come true.”
What was it about USC Upstate that prompted your return to Spartanburg?
In our 14 years of living in Spartanburg, we always found it to be such a welcoming and collaborative community. This is a place that allows you not only to be involved in impactful community projects, but to be a leader. Personally, it was enticing to have the opportunity to return to a community we already loved and had watched grow exponentially from afar. Professionally, to be able to lead an external unit, to help build the USC Upstate brand, is amazing.
What does an associate A.D. for external operations actually do?
In short, my position oversees communications – commonly known as sports information — athletics marketing, and video services. My team handles athletics press releases; statistics and social media messaging; live television event production, which includes more than 70 events annually, primarily broadcast on ESPN+; and the in-venue Game Day fan experience.
What makes Division 1 athletics particularly fun for you?
Interestingly, I really never imagined that I would be in Division I athletics. After graduating from USC in Columbia, I was focused on a career in minor league baseball. I had that path in mind because I believed in the impact the minor teams can have on their communities, something I experienced myself as a child attending games in Sumter, Columbia and Charleston. Then, out of the blue, I got the opportunity to work in college athletics and quickly realized that I now had an opportunity to work with hundreds of student-athletes, dozens of students who would help execute a “Game Day game plan,” and potentially have an impact far broader than baseball alone could provide.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities for USC Upstate Athletics?
We’re at such a great time in our history! Like many institutions, we have some facility needs, but overall, we are blessed with great venues. We have a tremendous coaching staff and an energetic and positive administrative team led by Daniel Feig. As a university, Upstate is fairly young and there is a whole host of things we can still build here. To be clear, we need to have success on the field, and you saw that this year with a number of our programs. That positive energy breeds tradition, and through tradition, we build affinity and community.
Are there challenges we’ll need to overcome?
I don’t wish to oversimplify, but I believe that our primary challenges lie in establishing or re-establishing meaningful connections with our alumni, particularly our former student-athletes. Our division works closely with University Advancement and Alumni Relations, and together we’re building better data, while reaching out to alumni to assist us in tracking down those we’ve lost touch with over the years. We must reconnect emotionally to those student-athletes from the “Rifles era.” We have some bridge-building to do to bring those proud Rifles around and to make them proud of our Spartans. Lastly, we will need to be more aggressive in asking for financial support, through both direct program support and our U Club, which benefits our entire department. But you can’t put the cart before the horse. We can tell the most compelling story in the world, but first we have to ensure that our story reaches a broader alumni audience.
What do you enjoy most about working with student-athletes?
What I find the most fun is connecting people from the community to our student-athletes and our campus. When young athletes come to campus and find something that sparks them to want to achieve success on the field and in the classroom, then we’ve played a small role in changing the course of their lives. What could be more rewarding than that?