Sport Management Alumni Lead CCAA

Allen Hardison ’19 has succeeded Mitch Cox ’98 as commissioner of the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), the most successful Division II intercollegiate athletic conference in the U.S.

Although the two graduated 21 years apart, they share a commitment to building a well-respected and professional organization that supports excellence in college athletics.

Sport Industry Leadership

Cox served as commissioner for five years, during which he led the conference through some of its greatest challenges, including navigating the COVID pandemic and bringing tournaments back to campuses, standardizing CCAA championships across sports, and increasing participation opportunities. Bill Fusco '95, the chair of the Sport Management program advisory board, and former director of athletics at Sonoma State University, applauded Cox’s advocacy for student-athletes: “In his role as CCAA commissioner, he always placed student-athlete wellness first. Mitch’s leadership, dedication, passion and communication skills served the CCAA and its member schools well during his tenure as commissioner.”

Hardison joins the CCAA after serving as chief operating officer of World Team Tennis, where he led the league’s business operations, including media rights deals and sponsors. He was previously the general manager of the Orange County Breakers and the Austin Aces, during which time he completed the Master of Sport Management program at our Orange County campus. Hardison is looking forward to transferring his sport business capabilities: “Scaling, finding revenue opportunities, executing at a high level, and providing sound leadership are things that any sport organization would find beneficial… I cherished every minute of my time as a student-athlete, and I am so thankful to be in a position where I can make a positive impact on the lives of these outstanding young women and men. To me, the CCAA has always been the premier Division II conference in the nation, and we look forward to continuing that tradition on and off the playing surface.”

Relationships Make a Difference

Hardison was drawn to the Master of Sport Management program to align his network with that of other successful alumni and the program’s professors. He believes that these relationships, including with Cox, have been beneficial as he transitions to his new role. Similarly, Cox believes that he was appointed commissioner in 2018 because of the quality of the relationships he had built within the league, having served as assistant director of athletics and then associate director of athletics at Chico State University. Gayle E. Hutchinson, president of Chico State, agrees and points to Cox’s steady guidance and outreach, which strengthened relationships and participation. Cox remembers: “Even though I was coming in as a ‘Chico guy’, I had built up enough credibility with administrators and coaches throughout the league that there was an inherent trust that I would do the best I could for the conference.” Cox’s advice to Hardison? Listen to the more experienced members of the conference, listen to the staff, and listen to the other commissioners. Ask questions, don't be afraid of stupid questions because there's no such thing. Don't feel a need to make changes right away – settle-in and decide what works and what doesn't.

Advice for Sport Management Students and Alumni

“I loved going to work and people who work in this business love it as well.” Cox is a firm believer in “paying your dues” early in your career, and therefore understanding that starting in the sport industry “is not about the money.” He advises sport management students and alumni to do what they love: “You have your entire life ahead of you to work. Do something you enjoy. The money will come later.” Cox will be taking a well-deserved break before considering his next contribution in the college sport industry.

Hardison agrees that students should learn as much as they can, as early as they can. This type of experience is often found in smaller organizations, where one can gain more and varied responsibility. For leadership roles, he suggests gaining general expertise in all the aspects of the industry, including corporate partnerships, event operations, media rights, box office, accounting, player services, ticket sales, and “everything else in-between.”