The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Athletic department welcomed Brian Barrio to the Retriever Nation in December, from his former position as athletic director for Central Connecticut State University. Along with his previous athletic administrative experience, Barrio has an educational background in communications and law, one he used as associate commissioner for the America East. In this position, Barrio worked with the America East’s nine universities to enforce NCAA compliance regulations and to oversee the welfare of student athletes.
By combining his knowledge of athletic compliance with his history of connecting with student athletes, Barrio looks to expand the reach of UMBC’s Athletic Department into the greater UMBC community.
After watching the men’s basketball team beat the University of Virginia in 2018, as well as softball and the men’s lacrosse conference championship wins last spring, Barrio said he knew that something good was happening at UMBC. As soon as he arrived at the school, he began meeting with the coaches and athletic staff to find out exactly what the foundation of UMBC’s athletic success was built on.
Besides hearing about the camaraderie between student athletes and coaches on different teams, Barrio was pleased to learn how much importance was placed on academics.
“I’ve been overwhelmed with how seriously everyone in the athletic department takes the academic mission,” Barrio said. “It’s really heartening to me because that’s kind of my background and what I’m about.”
This focus on academics is something that Barrio states is missing from many college athletic programs across the country. In the face of scandals, like the University of Missouri’s three-year probation for having a tutor do the work of 12 student athletes and the University of Oregon’s two-year probation for falsifying the grades of track and field athlete, Barrio believes these incidents would never happen at UMBC.
However, Barrio argues that the classroom is not the only source of education. To him, the playing field, the pool and the track are part of a “co-curricular education” that is equally important in the development of UMBC’s student athletes.
“We teach things like work ethic, accountability and teamwork,” Barrio explained. “Things you may not learn in your chemistry lab, but are important to becoming the person you want to become.”
This additional education comes as part of Barrio’s holistic approach to athletics. Unlike other athletic leaders, Barrio believes that a student athlete’s experience in college athletics should be transformational, not transactional. Rather than viewing student athletes as a source of revenue, Barrio sees them as people. With this perspective, Barrio is more concerned with how the athletic staff, particularly the coaches, are enriching the student athletes’ lives. Coaches are an integral part of a student athlete’s life and, to Barrio, they should remain so, even after a student athlete’s four years at UMBC conclude.
“One of the things that I tell coaches all the time, and I’ve told all our coaches already, is if five or 10 years after your student athletes are leaving your program, they’re not inviting you to their wedding, then you’re doing something wrong,” Barrio said.
While continuing UMBC athletics’ academic success and the enrichment of the lives of student athletes, Barrio hopes to improve on areas where the department is struggling, such as revenue generation and budgeting. Barrio is pleased to see how much UMBC Athletics accomplishes on such a small budget, but believes there is still a lot of room for growth.
“A dollar that we spend more efficiently is as good as a dollar that we raise, so we’ve got to become really smart and really efficient,” Barrio explained.
With this attitude, Barrio hopes to rework the way that UMBC athletics markets its games to students and the community, as well as how the department spends money. For marketing, Barrio believes the department needs to fine-tune its message to UMBC’s unique student body. Instead of focusing on what works for other universities, Barrio challenges the athletic marketing team to advertise its games in a way that speaks to UMBC’s more academically oriented audience.
UMBC’s Athletic Department has experienced steady growth since 2018 and Barrio hopes that a new perspective on how the department operates will only serve to accelerate that trend.