Bill Petitt Spins Journalism Career into Dream Job as Athletic Director
Bill Petitt, athletic director of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at UT Dallas.
When Bill Petitt began his career more than 30 years ago, becoming a college athletic director might have seemed like an improbable dream.
The path to the athletic director’s office at most universities in those days was usually taken by longtime coaches. There was no such typical route for Petitt, who assumed the reins of UT Dallas’ Department of Intercollegiate Athletics last summer. Instead, he began his college athletic career in the world of college media relations.
“Through the years, I’d been around enough athletic programs to know that the athletic director’s job was changing,” he said. “And I thought I might someday like to try that. Of course, I figured that opportunity would probably come at a small college somewhere, not at a university with over 20,000 students.”
Being a college athletic director today — even at the NCAA Division III level — involves much more than pushing papers and shaking the right hands. “An intercollegiate athletics program is a major, multifaceted operation,” said Petitt, who worked at three larger Texas universities before joining the UT Dallas staff in 2007.
Don’t ask Petitt to write out a detailed job description of his new position though. Listing all of his duties would be a daunting task.
“That’s a tough one,” he admitted. “There’s just so much to it. You’re dealing every day with so many people on so many different levels — coaches, student-athletes, administrators, parents, sponsors. I told my wife, Julie, that I went from having two children to more than 300 overnight.”
Petitt was selected for the position last June after six years as the University’s associate athletic director for external affairs.
“Building relationships and finding new resources for the program is a top priority now,” Petitt said. “People imagine, since we’re a large university, that we have unlimited funding. But that is not the case. In order for us to continue to provide a first-class athletic experience for our student-athletes and serve the University as we do, we continually have to find outside means of support.”
Petitt’s interest in a career in sports began as a youngster. “I was always kind of a sports nut, even as a little kid,” said Petitt, who grew up in Lubbock, Texas. “I used to hurry home from school and get my homework done as fast as I could, just so I could listen to Texas Tech basketball games on the radio. I even kept a spiral notebook with a stat chart for each game.”
Petitt points to the American Southwest Conference Championship basketball tournament and NCAA regional games hosted by UT Dallas in 2014 as a “tipping point” in the excitement over athletics on campus.
As he grew older, Petitt worked at both the newspaper and the radio station at Texas Tech University, putting him in touch daily with members of the Red Raiders sports information staff. It was a networking opportunity that would pay off immediately.
By the end of his senior year, Petitt was married to Julie, who was an aspiring radio personality, and he was looking for his first full-time job. A former Texas Tech administrator who moved to West Texas State University (now known as West Texas A&M University) in Canyon encouraged Petitt to pursue an opening there in sports information.
“I started on homecoming weekend at a Division II school with a one-man shop. All of a sudden, I’m working around the clock — writing press releases, putting together game programs for the printer and learning how to do statistics on the fly. This was before everything became computerized. It almost killed me,” he said.
The head athletic trainer at WTSU was Chris Gage, who later became UT Dallas’ athletic director. Their paths would cross again during their careers.
After three years at WTSU, he followed Julie to Midland, where she had taken a job at a radio station. Since there wasn’t a college with an athletic program in the area, he returned to his journalism and broadcasting roots, working at both the Midland Reporter-Telegram and radio station KCRS.
Five years later, his wife’s career took her to a major market radio job in San Antonio. Petitt — still anxious to get back into college athletics — was realistic about the situation. After working at newspapers and radio stations in both San Antonio and Kerrville, he finally got the break he was looking for — an assistant sports information position opened at UT San Antonio, a Division I program.
“It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for,” he said, “but I was back in the college environment, and I was ready to make the most of it.”
Spring 2015 edition of
UT Dallas Magazine
This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of UT Dallas Magazine.
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Within a couple of years, their family had grown to include two small children. Julie was ready to get out of the radio business and he wanted a more career-oriented opportunity. The head media relations job opened up at UT Arlington in 2003, and the Petitts made their 12th move in 15 years.
Four years passed before Gage called and convinced Petitt to move into full-time fundraising at UT Dallas. Petitt figured that his quickest path to an athletic director’s chair was through fundraising, and he found himself named interim athletic director in January 2014 when Gage announced his retirement.
“I figured I had a few months to finally get to do what I’d always wanted to do,” he said. “So, I approached (the job) like I thought it needed to be done.” By the summer, he was chosen for the position on a full-time basis.
“I feel very blessed and very thankful for this opportunity,” Petitt said. “I think people at UTD are just now starting to realize what athletics can bring to a university. We bring special people to this campus — smart, focused, goal-oriented students. And, athletics is a great focal point for building campus unity and spirit.”
Petitt points to the American Southwest Conference Championship basketball tournament and NCAA regional games hosted by UT Dallas in 2014 as a “tipping point” in the excitement over athletics on campus. “We set records for the largest crowds we’d ever had, and the crowds were really into it,” he said. “I think we brought a lot of spirit and enthusiasm about the school to the student body, and that enthusiasm has carried over.”
One of Petitt’s first priorities when he took the job was to open the lines of communication with all the coaches and other administrators.
“I think you need to have an open relationship with everyone in order to get things accomplished,” he said. “I wanted to make sure everyone understood we were all on the same page here and working toward mutual goals. I think that really helped me make some decisions about the direction we wanted to go.
“We still have a lot of room to get better,” he continued. “Our facilities are good, but there are a lot of universities we compete with that are building new, gorgeous facilities every day. We also continue to look at adding new sports programs if those programs will help us attract more of the same kind of kids.
“I want UT Dallas to be thought of as one of the top Division III schools in the country, and I think we’re on our way there,” he said. “There was a really strong foundation built before I got here. I’m just trying to find ways to build on that.”
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].