EDGE Q&A: Mark Wharton reflects on first year as UTC athletic director

EDGE Q&A: Mark Wharton reflects on first year as UTC athletic director

July 1st, 2018 by Jay Greeson in EDGE

New University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director Mark Wharton speaks during a news conference in the University Center on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Wharton comes to UTC from Penn State University, where he worked for four years as Associate Athletics Director for Development.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Last August, Mark Wharton was formally introduced as the athletic director at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He was energetic at his opening news conference, which is typical for a new hire.

But one full year in — a year met with mixed results on the field, the retirement of a Hall of Fame coach, and a continued strong showing in the classroom for the Mocs athletes — Wharton has just as much energy for Year 2.


Favorite lunch spot in Chattanooga: River Street Deli

Riverwalk or Coolidge Park? Riverwalk

Vacation pick: Camping or the beach? Beach

Have you adjusted to Chattanooga humidity? I am from the South, I love it.

Favorite professional athlete? Bucky Dent

Do you see beer sales across Finley this season, next season or is it years down the line? That is a challenge. My philosophy is to ease in to it and experiment. We are easing into it on a broader scale, however, I do see it as a possibility in near future.

UTC athletic director Mark Wharton speaks during a news conference in the Hall of Fame room in McKenzie Arena following the announcement of women's basketball coach Jim Foster's retirement on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Coach Foster ends his 40-year career, 5 of which were spent at UTC, with 903 wins, the seventh most all-time in NCAA Division I women's basketball history.

UTC athletic director Mark Wharton speaks during a...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

In truth, he may have a touch more. He took a moment to answer some questions from Edge Magazine about the last year, the Mocs moving forward, the future of the NCAA and some of his favorite things about Chattanooga.

Q: Mark, what title do you prefer: Coach, A.D., Mr. Wharton or Mark (and why)?

A: I believe everyone has a role in the Athletics Department and everyone is extremely important to our success. I just prefer, Mark.

Q: What were the biggest surprises — good and bad — from your first year running your own athletic department? If you could have had a mulligan, what would it be?

A: I knew the community support was good, but I underestimated how much the community wants UTC athletics to succeed.

I don't think this is a bad thing, but we need to continue to focus on improving our facilities. The bones are good, but we have to work on upgrading and providing conditions for our student-athletes, coaches and staff to be successful.

In the 10 months I have been on board, I have been fortunate to be surround by people who have been at UTC for a while. They have all helped guide me through this transition. The Athletics Department is successful, but there are some things we can tweak. At this point I don't think I have needed to pull the mulligan out.

Q: I am curious about how you divide your time as the leader of the UTC athletic department. If I asked you to rank fundraising, planning and day-to-day operations, which of those takes the most of your time? Does that need to change?

A: Day to Day – I feel I need to be present and available to our student-athletes, coaches and staff.

Fundraising – Our senior leadership is very capable and it has allowed me to get out and meet people to start building relationships in the community. The community has been very welcoming to me. In fact, in my time here, I don't think I have eaten lunch alone more than three times.

Planning – We are about to embark on a facilities master plan for athletics that will guide us in our facilities needs. We are also about to start the formulation of a strategic plan that will guide the direction of the Athletics Department for the next 5-7 years.

Q: After a full school year here in Chattanooga, what is your No. 1 goal for your department for the 2018-19 seasons?

A: Creating resources to provide conditions for success while building a culture that supports our student-athletes, coaches and staff.

Q: How is the marketing challenge different for UTC than your previous stop at Penn State, where the sports teams are likely the No. 1 industry in Happy Valley?

A: With a small marketing shop, I feel like we have opportunities that we can take hold of to market our program. We are about to announce a new Fan Council that will create and develop ideas from the community, campus and alumni to better represent our programs and attract more people to our games. Most importantly, we have to win. Fans want to follow a winner.

Q: With all the hand-wringing about college athletics in today's 24/7 news cycle, what do you believe is the biggest issue facing those running athletic departments?

A: The arms race. It is escalating the gap between Power 5 schools and the rest of college athletics.

What's the biggest change you would like to see the NCAA make and how would that effect UTC athletics?

Addressing the transfer rules in college basketball. There are advantages and disadvantages to it, but with over 1000 transfers last year last year, it is a great concern for all of college athletics, specifically college basketball.

Q: From the power conferences to the FCS to Div. III what do you suspect college athletics will look like in a decade? Will it be similar or completely overhauled? Is this business sustainable for those outside the big money conferences, why or why not?

A: I think for the Power 5 and the Group of 5, there needs to be change. In the FCS world, I think it will be very similar. We will continue to fight for resources and try to create enough exposure to allow schools like to UTC to exists and be successful.