By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch has been interested in sports as long as he can remember. He went to a laboratory high school on the campus of the University of South Carolina, which exposed him early to the community that collegiate sports can build.
For the next two years, Hatch will be an integral part of building that community on a national level as chair of the Division I Board of Directors.
Division I is facing a “critical” time with the reform effort kick-started a year ago by NCAA President Mark Emmert, Hatch said. “We hope to make the NCAA as streamlined and dynamic as possible so it can work on behalf of the schools and the student-athletes,” Hatch said. “We will push for higher standards so we can credibly uphold the ideals of student-athlete well-being and academic success. As an Association, we will hold ourselves accountable; make sure we are doing things the right way and call out the ones who aren’t.”
A history professor by training, Hatch earned degrees from Wheaton Co llege and Washington University in St. Louis and served as a post-doctoral fellow at both Harvard and Johns Hopkins. After accepting a professorship at Notre Dame, he rose through the ranks and eventually became provost. He was named Wake Forest’s President in 2005.
Hatch believes his training as a history professor will serve him well in his leadership role with the NCAA. He understands the unique nature of the American higher education system and big-time athletics.
“I understand the good of that, but also the complexities it raises and the problems it can cause,” he said. “Athletics can really help an institution. When used correctly, sports can be a great builder of reputation. It creates a huge loyalty among the community, among the alumni. As a historian, I see that.”
Wake Forest joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953, which totally changed the trajectory of the institution, Hatch said, from a small private school to a household name all over the country.
What a sports program does for a school is similar to what participating in Division I athletics can do for a student-athlete, Hatch believes. College sports build character and impart life skills that few other experiences can provide, he said.
“I am impressed by the number of companies that look specifically for former student-athletes because of the skills they have learned – teamwork, perseverance, self-awareness – through participation in sports,” he said. “It provides a training that few people beyond the military really get. You are pushed outside your normal comfort level. Few students have the same opportunity to experience that.”
Hatch, a basketball fan who long before he was named president at Wake Forest attended the ACC tournament just for fun, said his interactions with the tradition of college athletics have been nothing but positive at the two universities that employed him.
Serving as Board chair will not be an unfamiliar experience for him – he spent several years as chair of what was then called the Division I Committee on Athletics Certification. As that program Hatch led for so long morphs into something new called the Institutional Performance Program, he believes it will help the Board with its job of keeping the ideals of college athletics at the forefront of the presidents minds when decisions are made.
“The goal is that member institutions of the NCAA really do perform to its ideals. Beyond that, we all need to be in a constant state of improvement,” Hatch said. “We are here for the student-athletes.”