Jackson officially takes over as NIAA executive director

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As of June 1, Tim Jackson officially took over as the NIAA’s latest executive director. Jackson, who becomes the sixth executive director in the organization’s history, replaced Donnie Nelson at the helm.

Jackson is originally from Sandusky, Ohio, and graduated from Bowling Green State University.

He has served as Clark County School District director of athletics and previously applied for the executive director position in 2021.

Jackson spoke with Nevada News Group sports director Carter Eckl following the first day of the summer Board of Control meeting.

The following questions and answers were lightly edited for brevity. 

Q: I heard you reference your 100-day plan at the end of the Board of Control meeting. Is there anything you’d like to expand on with that 100-day plan and what you’re really focusing on in your first 100 days? 

A: I’ve got to tell you the 100-day plan is vital in the transition because I really want to hit on building relationships with people. I am a firm believer in that. Building relationships starts with communication and the 100 days are about building those relationships, figuring out what I need to know that I don’t know. I am excited about building those relationships. Contacting and sitting down and having a conversation with board members, with a legislative member that wants to sit down and talk, our students, our schools. I am an open book when it comes to that and I’m willing to listen and that’s important to me. I think that’s one of the most important aspects of that 100-day plan — meeting people, talking to people and building a relationship.

Q: Would you say you have a top three list of priorities you’d like to accomplish in the early stages? 

A: I don’t know if I would call it a top-three list. I think everything is vital. I am also a firm believer in your concern is a top priority, no matter what. Your area of focus should always be what we are looking at. I think if I were to say a top three it would be getting a feel for where the Board is and where the Board wants to go. I will tell you another major concern of mine that I want to address early on is staff. Not only is Donnie leaving, but we’re losing Jay (Beesemyer, who is the NIAA’s associate director with an emphasis on finance, officials and coaching education program) in a month-and-a-half. We’re losing over 50 years of institutional knowledge and relationships they built. People picking up the phone and calling these guys knowing they will get an answer. One of the things for Donnie’s plan for his exit was to keep that phone. I was a firm believer in that. People are going to reach out to Donnie and Jay. People still need to know that they are there for them and they can feel that sense of ‘Tim isn’t coming in and throwing the baby out with the bath water. Tim is coming in and understands those relationships are there and he wants those to be maintained and he wants to help build those, as well.’ I think those two are really important.

The last one I’d say is … there’s no question where I am from. I am from Las Vegas, Nevada. I want people to understand that I am not just from Las Vegas. I am from Nevada. I want them to understand I am here for Nevada. I want Nevada kids to have the best athletic programs they can possibly have. Those programs are the same programs I had when I grew up and they helped me develop into the person I am today. I believe in that and I want to foster that this is good for Nevada. It’s not just good for one region over another. I have to overcome that. It’s a preconceived notion that I am from the south. I am not. I am from Nevada.

Q: Since being selected to be the next NIAA executive director, are there any eye-opening things you’ve learned while working under Donnie for the last couple of months? 

A: The breadth of knowledge that Donnie has. He has a wide array of expertise in a wide array of areas. That was eye-opening to me. Sometimes, my circle of concern may have been very narrow to certain things when I was director of athletics in Clark County School District. Seeing Donnie is able to have that wide lens. The other thing that has been interesting, too, is the generous nature of Donnie. He is a great father and a good man. He has been so good to me in this transition. The next two weeks as we are working side-by-side as the final weeks (of) the transition, I am going to be a sponge and learn as much as I can from Donnie and absorb all the knowledge I can. While also realizing he’s a phone call away. That right there is a very comforting detail.

Q: You applied for the job previously when Donnie got it. Do you feel like you’ve had a growth or anything new you’ve learned in those last couple of years since Donnie took over? 

A: I don’t think any interview that you don’t get a job is a bad interview; I think it’s a learning experience. You must take what you learned in that experience, much like losing in competition. There’s no such thing as a bad loss. You lose, you adjust and you move on. That’s what I did. What areas did I think I didn’t present to the board? What areas was I lacking or weak in? What can I improve? — and I looked at doing those things. I became more involved in the local aspect of athletics for the NIAA within Clark County. Instead of trying to cover a wider area, look at some of those areas you need more expertise at. I also looked at things on the national level. I am a member of the NIAAA (National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association), which is a governing board for athletic administrators and directors. I am on the certification committee, working hand-in-hand with other administrators that are going through the processes or trying to hone their craft. Working that angle so that I could get better at it and bring that with me for the next round of interviews. I don’t ever believe you would ever apply for a job twice if you didn’t think you could do it, but do it better than the first time you applied. … My hope is to do this job as well as I can, but better than if I would’ve been the guy the first time.

Q: Jumping back to the Reno-Las Vegas divide, how do you view a way to potentially bridge some of the difficulties there? Urban versus rural difficulties? 

A: I think communication is first and foremost. Today, we had a young lady who is a student-athlete on the board and she was talking about the number of students who graduated in her class. I had just worked graduation in the Clark County School District. Seeing the number of students we walk across the stage compared to the number of students they walk across the stage gives you a better understanding of the vast differences our state has. We are a geographically large state, but we are also a large state in the differences between our schools. We have some schools that are going to graduate seven or eight kids and we have some schools that are going to graduate 700 or 800 kids. When you say that out loud it doesn’t really ring true, but when you see it you can understasnd it. The concerns that the 1A and the 2A bring to the table may not be the same as the 3A or 4A schools, but in the end one common thread runs through all of those concerns and that is they want it better for their kids. That, to me, is how you bridge that gap. Understanding and sharing your knowledge, or sharing your lack of knowledge, about their problems or concerns or ideas or their solutions. It comes from a place of knowledge and concern and care within their own community. So I think that’s how you bridge that gap, making sure they understand you are going to listen, work with them and you’re going to try and make it better just like they are.

Q: Where do you see things being a year from today? 

A: When I was working on my 100-day plan, I thought to myself this is just 100 days, but this point may be 100 years. Some of the things I saw that I wrote in my 100-day plan will not end in 100 days; they’ll just simply start. I am looking forward to coming back in a year and reviewing where I was, where I am, where the association is, where the Board of Control is, where the schools are, where we are with realignment, where we are with the North and South divide as you mentioned. Where are we and how have we grown? At the same time, I never believe a plan is written in stone. Have I adapted? Have I improvised? Have I improved? What failures did I have and have I repeated those failures? I am a firm believer in make a mistake once, that’s okay, but make a mistake twice and now you’re developing a bad habit. I want to make sure we are moving forward. In a year, I want to look back on the 100 days just kicked off the next 100 years. That’s a way big extrapolation, but it’s a starting point as we move forward for my tenure in this role.

Q: How have you viewed Nevada’s realignment process and any adjustments that you plan on making there? 

A: I sit on the realignment committee as a consultant. I have been involved in realignment for many, many years. Both on the committee and off the committee, in different roles and different purposes. The one thing I want everyone to understand about realignment is there’s not a perfect answer. There is no such thing. It’s getting it as close to perfection as possible. If you think we as a state are going to perfect realignment that would make us one out of 50. No state perfects it. I think open and honest communication, I think sharing information, I think valuing input, and I think listening to other people’s ideas, which is where we are at right now. I think Bartt Davis is doing a great job as the chair of that committee by pulling information from other entities and sharing it. Realignment will always be difficult. No matter what you do, no one is 100 percent happy or satisfied with where it is. I firmly believe we can always do better so I don’t think it’s ever going be a finished product. I think we have some good, solid bases we’ve been building for the last few years. I think we can keep building on those bases. I think eventually we are going to get an alignment that works well. We have some pockets of it that are working very well right now. We have some very competitive divisions and state championships games. We have schools experiencing success that they haven’t experienced before. I don’t mean just schools winning state titles. I am not about hanging banners in gyms. I am talking about fielding programs, graduating our students at a higher rate than any other group or demographic in your building. Those are successes that come from athletic successes and realignment has helped foster that over the last few years and I am very proud of that.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that lay ahead for the prep sports scene? Is it realignment? Is it officiating? Is it scheduling and buses? I guess I will leave that open ended to you.

A: I think you just answered the question with your points. Listen, scheduling will always be difficult. Transportation will always be difficult. Securing enough officials will always be difficult. I want you to notice those three things are definitely not kid based. Those are adult problems. I think that’s the other thing we need to focus on. We need to make sure adult problems don’t impact our kids. As adults, it’s our job to solve those problems. I think the participation numbers increase across the board. After we came out of the pandemic we saw our numbers steadily increase, but I think they need to continue to increase. Student involvement in any activity or extracurricular is vital. Those are kids that we make sure graduate. I think that’s a funny way to say it, but it’s true. By putting these things in place, we are making sure those kids are going to graduate. We are an extension of the classroom, that’s the other thing. I think one of the aspects that I would like to work on with the school is reminding them and reaffirming with them that the athletic fields and pools are extensions of the classroom. Make sure that our coaches are the leaders of those young men and women in that realm. They are teaching them that this is a life skill and life lesson. That is one of the things we will always face as we work with our coaches, schools, officials, and our transportation and our schedules. We are providing for our kids skills that they are going to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Q: Do you see any new potential NIAA sports coming in the near future? 

A: We have 23 varsity-level sports right now. I think there is always going to be discussion or an area we can get better at, or maybe look at revamping. I am never opposed to that conversation. What I don’t ever want to do is not offer something for a reason that doesn’t make any sense. In other words what I am saying is, I would never tell a group that would come forward saying ‘hey can we look at this? No that’s not a good sport for Nevada.’

My thought is, if the kids are interested in it we should discuss it. That doesn’t mean I am going to say we should approve every sport, obviously. If there are kids that are interested in it, maybe it’s time to have conversations about those sports. You said lacrosse, field hockey. There are a lot of sports that the NFHS sanctions that we don’t offer. Maybe, we look at some of those. I am always open to a conversation. I know we have facility issues, but once again that’s an adult issue we need to overcome. We have scheduling issues, maybe the fields are too used during one season or the weather is not conducive. We get snow in Reno so it’s probably not a good idea to schedule a sport that can’t have wet surfaces in the winter. There are sports out there that are developing and emerging. Pickle ball is one that is out there. Flag football for young men, there was a public comment today about that. Lacrosse has always been around in our groups and schools as club sports. I am always amenable to talking about potential adding of sports for more opportunities for kids.

Q: I did notice that Florida recently announced that NIL will be available for students. Is that something you plan on seeing come to fruition in Nevada as well? 

A: Right now we have an NIL policy that was adopted by the board a couple years ago. I think as that develops, it’s something that we need to watch carefully. We need to make sure we stay compliant with our regulations and our state statues when it comes to that. NIL is something that is emerging and developing rapidly nationwide. I don’t want to commit to one side or the other on NIL at this time. I want to make sure I have all the information available and I also want to make sure I am informed of what NIL looks like at the high school level. We are an amateur status organization. NIL is new ground. Its uncharted territory. Paying attention to what other states do and getting all the best information out there that we can is important. NIL is something that is on the horizon, obviously, it is out there and we need to make sure we are compliant and we follow our regulations. Also be aware of what is going on in other states and what they are doing with NIL. If I’m not mistaken, California has had an NIL policy in place for many years for their athletes. This whole thing with the NCAA kind of opened the floodgates. Right now we are watching them navigate those waters. We know as well as everybody else those waters will start to trickle into our amateur status sports in high school athletics. We just need to stay abreast with what is going on.