Cheryl Levick steps down as GSU athletic director

Georgia State athletic director Cheryl Levick announced Friday that she will transition to a new role as special assistant to university president Mark Becker. She will remain as athletic director until beginning her new role July 1.

In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Levick cited three reasons for the change in roles:

  • After conversations with Becker during the past few weeks, it was agreed that the university needed someone who could make at least a five-year commitment to the university to help advance the Turner Field proposal. Levick didn't want to commit to that.
  • She said she has non-threatening health issues that she has put off, but needs to be taken care of.
  • She also wants to gather best practices used by other athletic departments and compile them, along with her experiences of more than 30 years, to develop a model curriculum.

Levick, 62, will remain on salary until June 30, 2015. She received a base salary of $290,000 this year.

“I’m very proud of the commitment of every member of this staff to go after some incredibly ambitious goals over the last five years,” she said. “Starting football, going from FCS to FBS, from the CAA to the Sun Belt, and then be successful in the Sun Belt.

“We really had to push it. We pushed recruiting, we pushed our athletes to reach for higher goals, and we did it. And we didn’t shortchange our academics. We’ve had a 3.0 (GPA) or higher for 12 consecutive semesters. We had the highest overall Graduation Success Rate in the Sun Belt. I’m proud that we walked the talk.”

Levick said she has a checklist of 30 things that she hopes to accomplish by the end of June. Becker is expected to name an interim athletic director before June 30. A national search will be held to find Levick’s replacement. Becker on Friday thanked Levick and said he hopes to have the next athletic director in place by the end of August. He said a search firm will be used, but a contract with one hasn’t been signed.

“She’s done a great job and been very committed to Georgia State,” Becker said. “We have a very different athletic department now than we she arrived, a much better one, a more accomplished one.

“She has done what everybody hopes to do, which is go out on top.”

Levick faced several challenges when she was hired in 2009.

She inherited an athletic department that was starting a football program, but was bringing in what Levick said was less than $50,000 a year in fundraising. The team practiced at a local public school.

Levick, first football coach Bill Curry and the administration established an annual major gifts program that has since raised millions of dollars to continue improvements to a football practice facility that opened in 2010, as well as new locker rooms for men’s and women’s basketball.

“I’m really proud of where we are,” she said. “We have the potential to raise much more.”

With Becker, Levick helped shepherd Georgia State from the Colonial Athletic Association and football on the FCS level, to the Sun Belt Conference and the FBS level. She also was responsible for hiring current coach Trent Miles.

“I will always be grateful to Cheryl for giving me and my family such a great opportunity here at Georgia State,” Miles said. “We hope that her health improves, and that she is OK.”

Though the team hasn’t had success — winning just one game in the past two years — and attendance has been an issue — the team used a charitable ticket program last year to ensure it met the NCAA minimum of an average of 15,000 in announced attendance at home games — she is confident the program is on the right path.

One of her regrets is the possibility of not being able to see the team play in a bowl game.

“The timing didn’t work,” she said. “It was on my bucket list. By nature of these circumstances, it’s not going to happen.”

She also was responsible for hiring Ron Hunter to coach men’s basketball. The team has had two of the most successful seasons in its history in Hunter’s three seasons. This year, they won the Sun Belt’s regular-season championship. Overall, teams have won five Sun Belt titles since joining the conference in 2012.

“I will always be thankful for Cheryl,” Hunter said. “She hired me. As a coach, you get nervous because you are going to get a new boss. But my first reaction is I want Cheryl to be OK.”

Additionally, new sports have been added. Sand volleyball courts were constructed near the GSU Sports Arena to house that sport, which was added under Levick’s supervision. Women’s swimming and diving is expected to start in the coming years.

“She has put her heart and soul into this job for the last five years,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a more tireless athletic director. They all work it 24 hours a day, but I think that she lives, breathes and sleeps Georgia State athletics.”

Levick said her resignation should have no bearing on the three projects her department has been working to raise the funds to construct: a strength-and-conditioning facility for football, practice courts for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, and an academic center.

But it’s the facilities at Panthersville that are one of her regrets.

She said she hoped to find a suitable location to move baseball from its current home, which is 10 miles from the downtown campus. She said she looked at 10 sites, but none were suitable.

The Turner Field proposal, put forth by Becker on May 7, would be a new home for football, baseball, soccer and track and field. Becker kept the details of that proposal under wraps to most in the university until just before he unveiled the plans to the AJC. Levick said how Becker handled the proposal played no part in her decision.

“The decision to step down was very personal,” she said. “We wrapped everything else around it.”