As a 10-year-old, Todd Stansbury already had his sights set on getting a football scholarship to the Georgia Institute of Technology. Never mind that he was a hockey player in faraway Oakville, Ontario, who was only 5-foot-2 and weighed 127 pounds.
“Me going to Georgia Tech on a football scholarship was pretty far-fetched and was only topped by the fact that I’m now the athletic director,” Stansbury, 59, said during a talk at a Rotary Club of Buckhead meeting held at Maggiano’s Little Italy on Jan. 27.
Having switched to football when he got to high school, he enrolled at Georgia Tech in 1980, starting as a linebacker and graduating in 1984.
Four years later, after a stint in banking, he came back to Tech as academic advisor for the football program, and from 1991 to ’95, he was the assistant athletics director for academics. Thereafter, Stansbury was employed in a similar capacity at universities in Houston, Tennessee and Florida. His last job was with Oregon State, which sued him for breach of contract when he accepted the position of athletic director in Atlanta in late 2016.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” he said. “I was the first in my family to go to college. Neither of my parents graduated high school, so the opportunity to come to Georgia Tech on a scholarship really changed the whole trajectory of my life.”
Stansbury’s first impression upon returning to his alma mater left him nonplussed. “Those football players were on spring break. There was not a book in sight. I was incredibly impressed with their ability to ride tricycles off the high dive and throw beach chairs into the pool and sundry other things,” he joked.
Things have changed a lot since then. Nine Yellow Jackets teams under Stansbury’s direction have earned Directors’ Cup points based on National Collegiate Athletic Association standards; Tech has a multiyear Academic Progress Rate higher than the national average in every sport; and its graduation rate stands at 89 percent, according to figures published by the institute.
“I look at intercollegiate athletics as just a vehicle to develop young people,” Stansbury told attendees at the luncheon. “We are in a unique situation in higher education in that we still have a carrot and stick. Most kids will do anything you ask him to do just because they want to play a game and so it’s up to us to ask them.”
He added, “That’s the other thing about intercollegiate athletics. In this country it’s probably the most misunderstood enterprise. Most people think we are in the entertainment business, which we are not. We are in the education business, and it just so happens that we can use the entertainment value of a couple of our sports that will pay for the entire enterprise.”
Stansbury touted innovation programs such as a GPS unit worn by all footballers during every practice and game that tracks effort, distance, heart rate, and whether they are being overtrained. “It’s a lot different from when we played, that’s for sure.”
Georgia Tech is different because it’s an engineering school, Stansbury said. “People want us to be MIT during the week and Alabama during the weekends, but I believe that it can be done,” he said. We can compete at the highest level in everything that we do. The Georgia Tech brand is about excellence and it means we can’t just pick our spots — we’ve got to be on top of everything.”
The rigor of the institute continues to be an issue “but we need to embrace who we are,” he said. “It’s a tough place to go to try to be a student-athlete because you have to do a year of calculus or whatever, but I don’t know anybody who goes to college and thinks it’s going to be easy.”
“In fact, when you’re the only institution in the country in which every sport is above the national average in every academic category and you’re graduating 89 percent of your student-athletes whose average GPA is 3.0, to me that’s not surviving, that’s thriving.”
–Kevin C. Madigan