New director looks for big change in first year

by Samuel Evers / Beacon Staff • September 3, 2014

New Athletic Director Patricia Nicol
New Athletic Director Patricia Nicol

After spending the summer reaching out to the campus community, Patricia Nicol said she is optimistic about her inaugural season as athletic director at the Division III level. 

“We expect to be better,” she said. “The staff, the coaches, we all need to be held accountable in the effort to improve because that’s what it is going to take to bring this program to the next level. I think we know how to do it, but no one can do it alone.”

Emerson left the Greater Northeast Athletic Conference last year to join the more competitive New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, or NEWMAC. In its first season, despite a few notable wins, teams struggled to adjust. Nicol said that although increasing the number of wins in the Lion’s second season in the NEWMAC would be pivotal, meshing the Emerson athletics department with the rest of the school’s culture will be a greater priority. 

“The value and contribution a successful athletics program can make to a college sometimes is not understood,” Nicol said. “And my objective is to reach out and embrace the college community and build relationships with students outside of the department.”

She stressed the importance of holding events through the department as part of this plan, noting how persuasive free food and T-shirts can be to a college student.  

  Nicol also hopes to bring a concrete identity to Emerson athletics. She called this plan the most unusual challenge she’s had in her career. 

“Most college athletics have a strong identity,” she said. “That’s not to say we didn’t before, but I want to market our department and change the culture. I want our student athletes to be in the same conversation as other large components of the school.”  

As part of this effort, the athletic department plans to create and unveil a new logo later this semester, according to Nicol. Over the summer, the department unveiled a new logo, but quickly erased it after numerous complaints that the quality wasn’t up to collegiate athletics standards.  

Emerson’s athletic department had gone nearly two years without a permanent AD, dating back to former AD Kristen Parnell’s resignation on May 25, 2012. Stanford Nance, now the senior associate director of athletics, filled the job on an interim basis, and was one of four finalists for the permanent position. 

The College’s search for a new AD ended in March when the Rhode Island native and University of Rhode Island graduate was brought in. Nicol, who has 24 years experience at the Division I & II levels, spent the last 10 years as AD for Division II Southern Connecticut, where she was a finalist for Division II Athletic Director of the year in 2010. 

“She’s very collaborative,” said Nance. “She has a lot of experience and a lot of ideas. Her effort in getting everyone involved and hearing ideas has been impressive.” 

Bill Gould, the women’s basketball coach, said that while Nicol’s resume is impressive, it’s her understanding of a small athletic program like Emerson that makes her an ideal fit.

“During the interview process, Nicol talked about being a runner at the University of Rhode Island, and despite being a Division I program, she said that in reality, it was more of a Division III experience,” said Gould. “She wasn’t on scholarship and she wasn’t on chartered planes; she dealt with a lot of the same issues athletes at Emerson deal with.” 

The end of the drawn-out search, along with Nicol’s credentials, have garnered positive reactions from athletes. 

Senior Julian Rifkind, one of two athletes that made up the 12-person search committee tasked with finding a new AD, said Nicol’s ambition stood out in the hiring process. 

“It’s obviously good to have experience,” said the journalism major, “but she showed the tenacity and willingness to step up and make quick and positive change.”