J Batt portrayed himself as many things Monday afternoon as he introduced himself to Atlanta media as Georgia Tech’s 10th full-time athletic director.
Among other descriptors, he is husband to Leah, father of Fitz and Graham, a former college soccer player and an inveterate coffee drinker. Perhaps most pertinent to his new position, he described himself as “a college athletics idealist” and also made reference (as did Tech President Ángel Cabrera) to his role as a fundraiser.
The former was at the heart of his interest in pursuing the opening to succeed Todd Stansbury. The latter figures to be central to his contributions to the Tech athletic department when Batt, who was previously the executive deputy athletic director at Alabama, begins his new position Oct. 24.
“It’s the reason I’m here,” Batt said. “Georgia Tech represents the very best of world-class academics and world-class athletics. To be very clear, this is a unique advantage for Georgia Tech in the marketplace and amongst intercollegiate athletics. It’s something we plan to celebrate and recruit to going forward.”
Cabrera spoke to the latter quality, put on display in his oversight of a 10-year, $600 million capital campaign at Alabama that began in August 2018 and in a little more than four years had reached more than 85% of its goal.
“We need additional resources to be able to be as competitive as we want to be,” Cabrera said. “That’s an area where he brings incredible experience.”
Cabrera called Batt, 40, a “perfect fit” who quickly emerged from a field of qualified candidates. The search, starting with Stansbury’s dismissal, was completed in less than three weeks.
“When we found this gentleman right here, that made the decision very easy and a lot faster than anticipated,” Cabrera said.
Tech is in need of a leader in the athletics department who can lead development operations in a meaningful manner. Tech is below average in the ACC in spending in athletics in general and football in specific. It began the fiscal year with its reserve fund in a $12.1 million deficit. For Tech to truly compete with the elite in college athletics, it will likely require the athletic association to not only catch up financially with its competition in the conference and nationally, but then continue to keep pace.
Tech’s academic rigor and international reputation as a research institution have few peers among NCAA Division I schools, one half of the product that appealed to Batt. On the fields of play, Tech has had its moments on the national stage but has some ground to cover to catch the likes of Batt’s alma mater North Carolina (47 NCAA championships, including one he contributed to as a member of the 2001 soccer team), Virginia (31), Duke (17) or its in-state rival in Athens (31). Tech has won one NCAA championship (women’s tennis) and four in football.
“I think the pitch with Georgia Tech at the end of the day is that this is the perfect model for what intercollegiate athletics should be,” Batt said. “This world-class academic institution with world-class athletics is something worth investing in.”
It is a message that Batt’s predecessors have also spoken, perhaps Stansbury chief among them. Speaking similar words, Stansbury, a proud alumnus and former football player, was able to lead a $125 million capital campaign that ended a little more than $50 million past its target. What may separate Batt – or it is at least Cabrera’s plan – is his ability to compel even greater investment.
To that end, upon his hire being announced Friday, Batt said he spent time over the weekend speaking with Tech donors and forming relationships. Among his first steps in office will be developing a long-term plan for revenue generation and development and working with institute leadership to find ways to work across campus. It is notable that Batt will be a part of Cabrera’s cabinet, a seat that Stansbury did not enjoy.
Asked about his comment at the Sept. 27 news conference introducing interim AD Frank Neville and interim football coach Brent Key that he said he was committed “to doing anything that needs to happen to return our (football) program to the place where it belongs – among the best in our conference, among the best programs in our country,” Cabrera said he stood by his words and offered further detail.
Cabrera said he and Batt will work together to identify appropriate resources and areas that need investment. Cabrera said he and Batt had had “great conversations” with institute administration, the Georgia Tech Foundation and donors. In its 2021 annual report, the foundation reported assets in excess of $2.4 billion.
Batt said that, during the interview process, the institute’s commitment to athletics was made clear.
“Obviously, we have a great leader in J,” Cabrera said. “J is by no means going to be alone in this. We’re all in this together.”
(By the way, Batt’s given name is Jason. He said he became Jay in elementary school – later shortened to J – when he was in a class with three Jasons.)
Regarding the first item on his agenda – hiring a football coach to replace Geoff Collins – Batt said the process will be encompassing. As a first-time AD, it’ll be his first time making the final call on a decision that could define his tenure, and he’ll do so in his first weeks on the job.
“It’ll be broad, based on all my different experiences,” Batt said. “I think, at the end of the day, I’m going to use my entire network of intercollegiate athletics contacts to find the perfect fit for Georgia Tech.”
It’s possible he may have that candidate at Tech already in Key, who has led the Jackets to a 2-0 record. While Key also came from Alabama – the two were in Tuscaloosa together for about two years – the two had limited interaction, if any, Key said Monday, saying he had been in a bubble with the football team.
Asked how he’ll consider Key as a candidate, Batt said only that “When we get here, we’ll dive into it.”
Cabrera was bullish on the experience and knowledge that Batt has gained in the sphere of the Crimson Tide football program and coach Nick Saban. He said that experience “will serve us incredibly well as we’re looking for who should be the permanent leader of our football program.”
Tech has its permanent leader of the athletic department. Let the fundraising begin.