Notre Dame executive deputy athletics director Mario Morris has been hired as the NCAA’s vice president of administration and chief financial officer, the organization announced on Wednesday.
Morris, a former starting linebacker at Alabama, where he won a national championship in 1992, was hired by outgoing NCAA president Mark Emmert, and will replace retiring CFO Kathleen McNeely on Sept. 12.
Morris is taking over the NCAA’s finances at a tumultuous time in college athletics, when conference realignment and lucrative television contracts, along with name, image and likeness, have changed the landscape. The NCAA is also in the midst of historic change, as a transformation committee is in the midst of restructuring the organization. The NCAA eventually has to hire a replacement for Emmert, who hired Morris.
Morris said he took the job with an understanding that he will have an expanded role as CFO to “make sure that college athletics has a sustainable financial future.” Morris said he wants to use data analytics and do more forecasting and modeling. He also said he wants to explore more options with NIL, NFTs, and sponsorships.
“One of the things I was looking for when I was approached with this role, was to make sure that I was going to have an opportunity to play a part in helping the transformation of the NCAA,” he said, “and also taking a look at different revenue generation strategies, something that I’ve been involved with at Wisconsin and here at Notre Dame. And so that was just really important for me, to make sure that this wasn’t just the sort of the traditional CFO role. We have to be more involved in revenue generation and thinking more strategically.”
In spite of all of the uncertainty facing the NCAA, Morris said he believes in the future of the organization, and its continued role in governing college athletics.
“College athletics changed not only my life, it changed the trajectory of my family’s life,” said Morris, who is the oldest of eight children. “It’s lifted us, and I see what it does for other student-athletes. … I believe in it, and I believe that you have to have governance. I think there’s decisions on where that governance lies. There’s some that probably lies at the institutional level, some that lies at the conference level and some that lies at the national level. And I think we’ve got to figure that out – what’s really important for the NCAA to be regulating – and do that well.”
Morris, who received his law degree from Wisconsin in 2006, currently serves as an adjunct professor at Notre Dame and Wisconsin, where he teaches courses in NCAA governance and compliance, budget and financial management, licensing, marketing and commercial sponsorship, and legal issues in higher education.
He said he read the Knight Commission’s report on separating FBS football from the NCAA – an idea that has been gaining traction amongst leaders in college athletics. Some have suggested the College Football Playoff run FBS football.
“… My original reaction was, ‘there’s no way,’ but the more and more I think about it, that’s a potential option,” he said. “I think all of the options are on the table right now.
“Whatever organization it is, whether it’s the CFP or other organization, governance is hard,” Morris said. “It’s complicated, and it’s not easy. Sometimes we may want that, but until you get down into the details, you really don’t understand sort of everything that goes with it. Football is a different sport. It comes with a lot of other complications. We need to be thinking about it, we need to be thinking about how we can do things differently, but I would be cautious, because governance is hard, and there’s a lot that goes to that.”