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Q&A: New Bates A.D. Jason Fein on the NESCAC, his Yankees, and Commons pizza

Jason Fein is the college’s new director of athletics, coming to Bates from Drew University. His rise through the AD ranks is a bit distinctive — in the same way his Brooklyn-bred New York sports loyalties are distinctive here in Maine.

While a traditional path to becoming an AD is through the ranks of coaches, Fein began his career in sports information and media relations, first at his alma mater, Brooklyn College — his bachelor’s degree was in athletic training and his master’s in sports management — and then with the College of Staten Island, where he became director of athletics in 2006.

While at Staten Island, Fein received a rising star award from the College Sports Information Directors of America. He’s also worked in media relations at the professional and international levels, for the New York Yankees for a number of years and at the 1996 Atlanta and 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.

He was appointed AD at Drew in 2008. In 2015–16, he was named Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Division III Athletic, as well as the ECAC Division III Administrator of the Year.

Director of Athletics Jason Fein poses in the Alumni Gym lobby adjacent to his office shortly after his July 1 arrival at Bates. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

His approach to athletic administration, he says, begins and ends with communications. “Communication ties into every administrative thing we do,” he says.

Meanwhile, his goal is for the athletics program to match Bates students’ ambitions. “Obviously, our students are very high-achieving academically and very high-achieving athletically — they want to do it all, and they can do it all at a school like Bates.”

We spoke with Fein recently about his career and his thoughts about Bates athletics.

You had an successful career at Drew. So what attracted you to Bates?

In the Division III world, where I have spent most of my career, NESCAC is the tops, and I’ve also heard great things about the institution. Admittedly I don’t know too much about Maine, but I know Bates has a great program and Bates is a great school. We’ve had a lot of success recently, and I just wanted to come and try to be a part of that.

What are your impressions so far?

Beautiful! It’s August and it’s 44 degrees this morning, so I guess I might as well get used to a little bit of chilly weather. But everybody has been super-friendly. We’ve got a great team here at Bates. We have great coaches and a great staff. I am so happy to be up here.

What’s been the biggest surprise so far?

Just how much of a team everybody is. Everybody talked about the family atmosphere when you get to Bates, how everyone is a big family. You think, well, maybe they’re putting on a little bit of a show for you during the interview process.

But everyone — from the president to the great staff in Dining Services and Facilities Services — was welcoming and warm. Not to say that people in New Jersey and in New York, where I’m from, aren’t warm! We love them too.

How has your background in sports information influenced your approach as director of athletics?

Communications, marketing, promotions have always been of interest to me. I’ve always been interested in how events worked. I was a PA announcer. I did the radio broadcasts. I still try to be as active on social media as I can.

Jason Fein talks about the importance of communications in his work.

To stay in touch with what today’s student athletes are all about, you’ve got to be tied into the communications, and social media is obviously a huge part of that.

I’m always trying to push us as far as what we do online — with the website, with video, and live-streaming. It’s so important, and it’s the way student athletes — and everyone really — communicates now.

So I think communication ties into every administrative thing we do. How is our communications affecting our enrollment, our recruiting, and our alumni support? That’s been a big part of my life, and it continues to be a big part.

What opportunities does a Division III athlete have that a Division I or Division II athlete might not?

There’s nothing bad to say about Division I or Division II. It’s just a different world that we live in in Division III.

I think that student athletes in Division III arrive expecting to have balance in their entire lives, whether it be time for school, for their sport, or for other pursuits. They want to have that balance.

But it’s also very, very important that they pursue their sport at a high level. Division III gives them the opportunity to do that, and a NESCAC school certainly gives them the opportunity to do that, as our rules encourage pursuits outside of athletics.

Overall they all want to achieve at a high level, and they want to win, and we want to help them be successful in whatever it is they are doing.

I know you’re a big Yankees fan, and you’ve had the opportunity to serve as the post-season media relations coordinator for the Yankees during their World Series wins. What was that experience like?

You just outed me as a Yankee fan to all of New England! But that’s OK. We’re New Yorkers — loud and proud.

Working with the Yankees was honestly a thrill of my life. I grew up a Yankees fan. So it’s very cool from a college athletics perspective to be a bit on the pro side. I’ve also done work on the international sports side, with the Olympics, which has been a great experience.

The Yankees are near and dear to my heart, and anybody, whether you’re a Yankee fan or a Sox fan who just wants to hear some good stories, come over to my office, and we’ll talk.

So far, I’ve gotten a couple of looks in the supermarket with my Yankee T-shirt. But you know, I’m used to the Red Sox–Yankees rivalry being a heated rivalry but a good-natured one among fans.

Did you ever meet the late Mr. Steinbrenner, as Derek Jeter called him?

I met Mr. Steinbrenner several times. And I’ve been yelled at by Mr. Steinbrenner. Nobody would ever question his passion and his love for the Yankees and the game. Actually, when you got to know him a little bit, he was a really generous, great guy. And I will say this, when you did have kind of a negative encounter with him, he did come back to make sure the next encounter was positive.

What opportunities do you see at Bates?

I think we can make some immediate little improvements in branding and marketing. The bigger things are our facilities, some of which are showing their age. We are going to get together with the administration and see how we can look, long-term, at our athletics facilities and our athletics program as we continue to strive.

Director of Athletics Jason Fein snaps a selfie with the Cote family after his Opening Day welcoming remarks to student athletes and their families at the Clifton Daggett Gray Athletic Building on Aug. 28. Jackson Cote ’21 (center) of Wilton, Conn., is an aspiring rower. (Theophil Syslo/Bates College)

At this point, we’re talking about incremental changes from the standpoint of our teams. We’re 20th in the nation in the Directors’ Cup, which is an amazing achievement. But we don’t want to go backward; we want to keep pushing forward.

What is your favorite sports memory of all-time not involving the Yankees?

Probably the first conference championship that I won as an assistant coach with our basketball team at the College of Staten Island.

I was not a conference-championship athlete by any means. So that was a great achievement: being able to work with those student athletes, see it through to the end of the season, and get to the NCAAs and get to that national stage. We got featured in The New York Times.

What did you get out of your college experience at Brooklyn College, and what do you hope the Bates student athletes get out of theirs?

I think the message is pretty much the same. Obviously a lot of things have changed in the years since I’ve been out of school. Social media — everything being on display — is certainly one of them.

Obviously, our students are very high-achieving academically and very high-achieving athletically — they want to do it all, and they can do it all at a school like Bates, which is why I enjoy being at a liberal arts school like this, where really you can do everything.

Our job in the athletics department is to give the student athletes the best possible sports experience, just as a faculty member wants to give them the best possible academic experience, and Student Affairs wants to give them a great social experience. I think we all work together really well on that, and that hasn’t changed, whether it’s me in school a few years ago or someone in school now.

How has social media changed the way we follow and consume sports?

It’s actually gotten to the point where sometimes I find myself with the same eight-second attention span as they say that students have now. If I’m looking at ESPN, I get these little 90-second video clips — very rarely will I sit down and watch like a full episode of SportsCenter.

Social media has changed things dramatically. And everyone is a member of the media now. Aside from having all these great options, you also have to filter out what is good for you and what is not good for you. It’s changed from the days where you’d pick up a newspaper. I used to read the paper from the back page forward, starting with the sports page.

I know that the New York area is known for its pizza, have you found any worthy iterations of pizza up here yet?

That’s a great question. I’m definitely a New York pizza and bagel snob. But I have to admit Commons has perfectly good pizza. Commons does a great job and the food is really, really good.

The vegan bar is terrific, which I never would have thought of because I am not a vegan! I have an 11-year old son. His favorite is the wall of cereal, so to each their own.

Last question. Fill in the blank: You will consider your first year at Bates a success if…

If our student athletes achieve at a high academic level and at a high athletics level; if our fans and parents and alumni have a good experience; and if we can make just a couple of improvements that folks will notice when they come out to a game, either visually or as part of their fan experience, that they notice and go “Oh wow, that was great!” — then I’ll consider it a well-spent first year.