Rick George, the sixth full-time athletic director in Buffs history, is now in his eighth year at CU Boulder. Here he talks about transforming CU’s facilities, leading in a pandemic and taking Sundays to cut the grass.
In 2013, you were the president of baseball operations for MLB’s Texas Rangers. Then the athletic director (AD) role at CU opened. What about it appealed to you?
Having been here before, my wife and I had a love for this place. Our youngest daughter was born here. I always wanted to be an AD. The only two places I would be interested in were Illinois — because I played there — and Colorado. When the opportunity presented, we jumped.
The Athletic Complex expansion transformed campus’ sports facilities. What were the challenges of the $156 million project?
When I got here, our facilities were way behind. We had to raise a certain portion of the money before we could break ground. Our donors really stepped up and got behind this project. We broke ground on May 2, 2014. We wanted it done by football season. The day before our first home game, we were still finishing things. I was a little nervous.
It started as one project and ended as another. We hadn’t contemplated the Sports Medicine Center, then our doctors approached us. We weren’t going to build a track in the indoor facility, but [track coach] Mark Wetmore came to me. We built a rooftop terrace, which has been home to many weddings.
What are the most important elements of a successful collegiate athletics program?
Leadership and communication.
Do you have the chance to connect with each student-athlete?
Before the pandemic, I would go down to our Crawford Club, where our student-athletes eat every day. I say hello to whoever is down there, just to see how they're doing, and I host a once-a-month session that we call Rockin’ with Rick (it wasn’t my name choice). I usually feed them stuff our nutritionist doesn’t like. We can talk about anything. It’s an opportunity for them to have access to me. Boulder Buffs, our peer advocate program in Psychological Health & Performance, came out of these gatherings.
Have the last few months with COVID been the most challenging period in your time at CU?
It has been by far the most challenging experience I’ve had in my almost 40-year career.
What have been the guiding influences as you navigate this time?
I want to continue to provide proper support for our student-athletes. That’s been a real focus of mine. Health and wellness are first and foremost as we make decisions.
What ultimately were the factors for the Pac-12 deciding to postpone most sports until 2021?
The Pac-12 Medical Advisory Board listed three major concerns they had about starting competitions. Community prevalence of the virus in much of the Pac-12 footprint, a need for more information on long-term effects of the virus and a need for increased testing resources were the main reasons why postponing all competitions to the spring was the best path to protect the health and safety of our student-athletes.
With most sports competitions postponed through the end of 2020, how will fall student-athletes continue their practice and workouts?
Our facilities will continue to remain open for workouts throughout this fall. We will provide for our student-athletes in all areas just as years past. We will follow Pac-12 and NCAA guidelines when it comes to allowable practice hours, and we feel confident those can start very shortly.
You’ve worked in football, the PGA and MLB. If all three are playing on a Sunday afternoon, what is your TV on?
I’m out cutting the grass and doing yard work. It’s my therapy. I don’t watch a lot of TV during football season because I’m usually at a game and the same during basketball season.
How often have you ordered takeout from local restaurants since the pandemic began?
Two or three times a week. We’ve got great friends and partners that own restaurants. A lot are suffering. People are losing their jobs, and we don’t take that lightly.
Do you have a personal fitness routine?
I ride my road bike. I had my knee replaced, so I’ve been rehabbing with an exercise bike in my office. That’s my routine.
Condensed and edited
Photo by Glenn Asakawa