Late last year, the University of Central Florida welcomed Danny White, vice president and director of athletics, to the team.
White has scored a number of successes in college athletics in the role of director of athletics for the State University of New York at Buffalo, senior associate athletics director at the University of Mississippi, and associate athletics director for development at California State University – Fresno and Northern Illinois University. He was also a student athlete, playing basketball at Towson University and then the University of Notre Dame.
White came to UCF with a love of sports and a purpose.
The Main Goal
White’s five-year plan includes building UCF into a top-25 athletics department. He says the school is just outside of the top 50 now but there is huge potential based on competitive advantages and the talent that stretches across all 16 sports.
He is starting with figuring out what it will take to build each sport into a top-25 program, which means different things for different sports. But across the board, he says it will involve ensuring the head coaches and their staffs are equipped with the tools they need to recruit and develop student athletes into high-level competitors.
This opportunity to construct an athletic department, hiring coaches and developing student athletes into the stars he knows they can be, is ultimately what drew White to UCF.
“Most of the athletic departments that can be top-25 good, they’re kind of already there,” he says. “But to me it’s so much more gratifying to be a part of building something than taking over a ship that’s already at the pinnacle level.”
Excelling in Education
The leaders of UCF’s athletic department are dedicated to developing student athletes first as people. After all, White says, “At some point, it doesn’t matter how old you are, the ball stops bouncing.”
White wants to ensure that each student athlete is equipped from a maturity standpoint to be successful in life after athletics. The first step is to develop them as students. UCF’s student athletes are pushed to be competitive in the classroom and on the fields of play, and it shows.
The average student athlete grade point average has been above 3.0 for the past 17 straight semesters, and UCF is ranked No. 1 across the country among public institutions when it comes to the graduation success rate for student athletes.
“If you can’t count on your athlete, whatever sport it may be, to show up for class on time and be diligent and responsive to that professor, then you can’t count on that person on the court or the field when their teammates and the whole fan base is leaning on them to do something right and execute a play the right way,” White says. “Those things have a very strong correlation, so we want academic and athletic excellence.”
Engaging the Fans
White says an immediate goal for the athletic department is to sell out the home opener against South Carolina State on Sept. 3. Once that has been accomplished, the attention will turn to selling out game two against Maryland on Sept. 17.
Currently, the department has been focused on planning an all-day event for this fall so the fans can welcome the team back. He hopes that alumni who attend will share their experience with others in their communities and that it will inspire more alumni to be a part of UCF sports. White says that building a strong fan base will create a home field advantage.
“College football has become bigger than just what happens between the four quarters,” he says, noting that fans should expect a family-friendly event with the pageantry seen in college football throughout the country.
Another important aspect of building a top-25 athletic department is keeping former student athletes involved, and not just the ones who have made it to the major leagues. While fans love to see the return of high-profile players, continued involvement in UCF athletics also benefits the current class as former players have been in their shoes and can show current players the ropes.
“The athletic department is theirs for the rest of their life,” White says. “We’re only going to be as strong as our connectivity to our alumni, and former student athletes are a part of that.”