2016-17 was arguably the most impressive year for Bates Athletics. Women’s rowing won the NCAA Division III Championships. Several men’s and women’s track and field athletics earned All-American honors. The program placed 20th in the Learfield Directors’ Cup final Division III standings, a national ranking system of the country’s most successful varsity programs.
So what’s next? Well, to kick off what will hopefully be another exciting year, Jason Fein has joined the Bates family as the new Director of Athletics. He comes to Bates from Drew University, a small liberal arts school 45 minutes from New York City.
I had the opportunity to chat with him about his plans to improve our Bates athletics program.
Q: When did your passion for sports first start to develop?
A: From the time I was probably 6 or 7, I would say sports was a big part of my life. I had this idea when I was a kid that I was going to be the first lefty second basemen that was going to play for the New York Yankees. I had a coach early on that was like, “you know that is probably not going to happen…You either need to play first base, right field, or come up with another way in.” Which I really appreciated and he is a mentor to this day. We both knew that I was not going to make it to the majors or to a big college as a player. That was not going to be my path in but I knew that sports was still a passion. I didn’t know how it was going to translate into my future but it was always kind of in the background. When I was a kid, watching Yankees games, I would always keep the score. In high school I ended up taking a sports medicine class that really changed my focus.
Q: What drew you to Bates and how have you been finding the transition into the new work experience?
A: I knew a lot about Bates, Bowdoin, Colby and the rest of the NESCAC schools because nationally they are so well known. Not only just for academics, but athletically it is arguably the top conference in the nation for Division III. I strongly believe in the mission for DIII and you know the whole student athlete experience. I had a really good experience at Drew but I thought it was maybe the right time to try and make a change. The morning that I interviewed at Bates it was 5 degrees, the day after the blizzard. I am going “Where am I? What am I doing?” It is pitch dark out!” But everybody was just terrific. Everything that the students, faculty, and staff want to do to progress athletics forward sold me and I thought “Now I really want this…We have to make this happen.”
How am I finding it now? It is definitely an adjustment just from a lifestyle standpoint. You don’t have that big city feel close to you. That being said, everybody has been very welcoming and friendly. I live right here in town and I can walk to campus. Everybody has reminded me, to quote Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.” You know I am looking forward to experiencing that. You get a genuine feeling when you are here about people. Pretty much what you see is what you get. That works for me.
Q: How are you going to tie what you have accomplished from previous work experiences at Drew University to your time here at Bates?
A: The way I see it is that we have about 460 schools in DIII and, theoretically, at the core of what we do, we are all pretty much the same. The mission statement of the experience that we give to a student athlete is all about balance. Our job is to give the students the best possible sports experience they can have. That being said, although the mission is kind of the same, at Bates it is just a little bit of a different scale. At Bates you are really on the national stage all the time because even if you do well you are a student athlete competing in the NESCACs, which is arguably one of the most competitive DIII conferences in the country. Bates was ranked 20th last year in the Director’s Cup, a ranking system that is used to measure athletic success across all DIII conferences. What we want to do is not just be happy being number 20. Not just be happy just being Bates. We want to be Bates and be proud about it and loud about it and say to the rest of the NESCAC, we are coming for you.
Q: After taking in a taste of the Bates athletics culture this summer, what are your goals for this year and future years?
A: My first goal is definitely to just get to know the lay of the land. I really want to see what the athletics culture is like and kind of assess where to go from there. Some of the students have told us some of the things they would like to see improved, social media being one of them. We just started an Instagram for the department and within a week there were already over 350 followers. We are going to redesign our athletics website which I think is going to be really exciting for fans. We also just signed a webcasting deal with a broadcasting company so now we will have all of our home events streamed professionally with graphics and announcers. As a department we will also be working on our organization, specifically finding a central place for all of our rules, regulations, policies, and procedures. Many students and staff have mentioned that the fitness facilities and weight room need some TLC so we are working with the administration to see if we can make some improvements there. Ultimately, my goal for the first year, aside from hoping that everybody has a really good experience, is that we have a plan going forward for the next three, five, seven years in order to keep pushing us forward in the NESCAC conference.
Q: How do you envision the fan culture at Bates to grow?
A: I think that our contests and our games should be a fun atmosphere. I hope that game day, whatever sport it is, means something to folks. Athletics events are a gathering point, another place for people to experience the richness of Bates community. We have talked about maybe having a DJ at basketball games as opposed to just playing an iPod with music. That can also be a contest. Maybe students are the DJs. There is a lot we can do and I really want to get feedback from the students and the student athletes. I really feel like that is a place where social media allows you that kind of instantaneous feedback whether it is Twitter, Instagram, anything like that, people can reach me on Twitter and give me an idea.
Q: How do you balance meeting with every team and meeting with individuals from each team?
A: It is definitely a challenge because we do have so many teams. We have had some meetings that I have asked for but I am going to make sure I get out to every team [so that they] will see me at least once at something and when they do I will give them the opportunity to provide some feedback. The best feedback will really be from our student advisory committee because that will give a direct line to our administrators and I will be able to be at those meetings. I will also be out at the games. There will be times when I can’t because I will have meetings but I definitely encourage our student athletes, when they see me out on the Quad or at Commons, just to stop and say hello. I know we have a large student body but I would love to get know everybody. If students see me I would definitely love to chat because I want to know about their experience.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: This year will be a learning and growing experience but I am just excited to be here and part of the Bates family.