With just a week to go before the fall sports season, University at Albany has a new high-energy chief of its 19-sport athletic program.
Mark Benson, a 45-year-old former senior associate athletic director at Old Dominion University, takes over for the retired Lee McElroy. Benson was introduced at a press conference Wednesday at UAlbany’s Bob Ford Field.
Both he and his boss, UAlbany president Robert J. Jones, pulled no punches when describing Benson’s primary duties: putting fans in the seats while expanding and developing more streams of revenue.
“The No. 1 reason we chose Mark over all the other great candidates we had was because of his enthusiasm and passion,” said Jones. “But his innovation and his ability to understand the keys to development was huge. He was definitely the best of all the candidates in that department.’
“It is important for UAlbany to engage an athletics leader who has demonstrated a background for combining success in sports with high academic achievement. Mark Benson is well qualified to head a program that values the integrity of the collegiate athletic experience,” Jones said. “We have an outstanding athletics program with many benefits, and a great legacy on which to build.”
Benson said he was impressed with how far UAlbany has come in a short time — very similar to the rise of the ODU athletic program.
“The first thing that jumped out at me when I researched UAlbany was its competitive excellence. The school has won 74 conference championships since it became Division I,” said Benson. “There is strong support from the university administration and the athletic administration. What the school has done is a testament to what Lee McElroy did here.”
Benson said he plans to pursue more out-of-state and international student-athletes while still staying true to the school’s New York base. He wants more community engagement, and plans to have the school give more back to the community.
“I’m asking all the teams to pick a project in the community and join it,” he said.
“The other thing that is very important is to grow our resources. We have to work on our fan bases, as well as improve our season ticket base and annual fund. I thought I would be a good fit here because of what I did at ODU.
“Also, the last piece of the puzzle is that the City of Albany [and surrounding cities] has 900,000 people to draw from. That’s more than enough to help support the football, basketball and lacrosse teams. We need to check into our past and work with the 40,000 alumni we have right here in the area.”
Benson was praised by his former employer and by the new league commissioners he will work with in a UAlbany press release.
“Mark was instrumental in orchestrating ODU’s meteoric rise to FBS football in just five seasons, while helping us sell out every home game we played,” said ODU athletic director Wood Selig. “While ODU will greatly miss his substantial contributions and leadership, we are thrilled he will realize is professional goal of becoming a DI athletic director at a high-profile academic institution. UAlbany is getting a rising star in the college athletic industry in Mark Benson.”
“Mark Benson’s leadership will guide the growth of athletics at UAlbany,” said CAA commissioner Tom Yeager. “We know he’ll apply his commitment and vision to the student-athletes, academics and the university.”
“I’m pleased to welcome Mark to the University at Albany and the America East Conference,” said AE commissioner Amy Hutchausen. “UAlbany has a robust athletics program, and he takes the AD title at a perfect time to build from a position of strength, both within the conference and nationally. I look forward to working with him as he moves the program forward.”
Benson, a North Carolina State University graduate, also worked at Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. as an educational channel manager. He and his wife, Hunter, have three daughters: Vandy Grace, Lydon and Hannum.
Benson said the ODU and UAlbany athletic programs are very similar in the way they have expanded.
“It looked like a meteor, but it was a slow process at ODU,” he said. “I feel a sense of collaboration here. We will take a grass roots approach and encourage our coaches to become part of the fabric of the community. There is a great foundation for success here.”