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First Person: Dartmouth alum Roby returns as new athletic director

  • Coach Peter Roby with the 1988-89 men's basketball team at Harvard University. Courtesy Harvard University

  • Peter Roby (42) competes for the Dartmouth College men's basketball team in an undated photograph. Courtesy Dartmouth College

  • Peter Roby

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 3/12/2021 9:35:03 PM
Modified: 3/13/2021 10:38:48 PM

HANOVER — When Peter Roby agreed to return to his alma mater to lead its athletic department, one of the first calls he received was from a former Ivy League basketball rival.

Paul Cormier had two stints coaching the Dartmouth College men’s hoop program, the first of which brought twice-a-year matchups against Harvard teams Roby led. Cormier owned the upper hand back then, winning eight of 12 encounters before both men moved on from their respective sidelines in the early 1990s. They’ve remained friends since, while Cormier worked college and NBA jobs as Roby advanced in college sports administration.

“He was always one of my good friends; I have a lot of respect for him for what he built here,” Roby said Tuesday. “It was tough for me to enjoy the Dartmouth success, because he was always kicking my brain in. I’m glad that he was here for that time, because he did a good job.”

Roby’s new responsibilities go well beyond the hardwood.

The 1979 Dartmouth graduate returned as interim athletic director a month ago and inherited a number of significant issues. The biggest is the reintegration of five varsity programs (men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s lightweight crew) cut by President Phil Hanlon and former AD Harry Sheehy last year that were reinstated in January under the threat of Title IX sex discrimination litigation. Three of the affected head coaches are returning, but trust remains to be rebuilt between them, their athletes and the school.

In a half-hour phone interview, Roby — the former AD at Northeastern who was working for the NCAA when Dartmouth came calling — discussed his priorities for a job that’s scheduled to end in June 2022. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Valley News: Take me through the timeline of how you ended up back in Hanover.

Peter Roby: For the last year, I had been a strategic consultant for the NCAA for leadership development. During most of my time at Northeastern, I was someone who worked with leadership development with the NCAA as lead facilitator for one of their major programs for aspiring ADs. After my tenure at Northeastern, I stayed in contact with them and they reached out and asked if I’d take this on. I’d gotten an apartment in Indy and walked to the NCAA office every day. I was in Indy for the short term when COVID hit. …

I scooted back east while I was still doing the program and working for the NCAA; what I was doing was all virtual. My son had gone with me to close the apartment and ship my things back — that was in late January, early February — when everything broke loose (at Dartmouth). I knew about what was going on as an alum, then the call came in from Phil Hanlon asking if I might consider coming back to help. I was honored and flattered to be asked. I didn’t want to say no to my alma mater.

VN: What do you see as your most pressing challenge right now?

PR: I think the first thing is we have to reassimilate the reinstated teams and make sure that those student-athletes and coaches are feeling welcomed, feeling respected and feeling integrated back into all that we do in the athletic department. I’ve been meeting with teams via Zoom. I’ve had some conversations with the coaches. We’re in the midst of active searches for women’s golf and men’s and women’s swimming coaches, and now with Belle Koclanes deciding not to return, we have an active women’s basketball search going on as well. Those are the things I’m most focused on right now.

VN: What is your role in reinstating the five cut programs?

PR: What I asked from President Hanlon was that I have the chance to be deeply involved in shaping the future of Dartmouth College athletics and those recommendations to the president and the board of trustees. That’s what I’m planning on doing. I’m doing a lot of observing and talking with people for their perspectives and talking to peers at the Ivy level. I’ll try to put a vision together of what I think would be best in terms of the athletic program and see where that leads.

VN: What kind of charge do you have from Hanlon’s office to reduce your budget? How will you go about doing that?

PR: I can’t get into specifics, and some of it is a moving target given the realities of COVID. There’s belt-tightening going all over campus, and athletics is not immune to it. We want to take on our part of the responsibility, and we will do the best we can. Also, we have to do what is fair to those reinstated teams and what is fair in terms of giving our teams an opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

VN: The college agreed to support the five programs for four years when they were reinstated. Will all of Dartmouth’s 35 varsity sports teams remain after that?

PR: I don’t have any idea what we’ll look like four years from now, but I don’t get into this situation to eliminate teams. I got in to support teams. As I told some of the teams in that situation, I’m not going about my work here expecting or thinking that I will eliminate them in four years. I’m going to try and figure out ways to support those teams and make those recommendations.

VN: Was it necessary for the college to have a Dartmouth person take over the department’s reins?

PR: No one person will solve these issues. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea that I’m a savior; I’m not. I will need to do all I can to communicate my expectations and values and work collaboratively with so many people in the athletic department and across the campus to stabilize things and move in a positive direction. That’s the first thing.

I think it’s significant that I have a Dartmouth background. Given what they’ve been going through, it is important that someone who has been around the college and loves it would be at the helm, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I will do all I can to use understanding and appreciation for what makes Dartmouth special to galvanize the community on behalf of the student-athletes at Dartmouth.

VN: Does this mean your tenure could continue past June 2022?

PR: My focus right now is to do the best I can while I’m here. I have things that I’m considering in terms of my life and lifestyle and my family and other things, so I have to weigh all that, but I’m not going to make any decisions yet about what the future holds. I’m in here with both feet. As much as my title is interim, I’m the athletic director and I’m going to make decisions that are in the best interests of Dartmouth, the athletic department and the student-athletes in our charge. I will worry about what comes later when we come to it.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

Correction

Interim Dartmouth College athletic director Peter Roby’s term is scheduled to end in June 2022. An earlier version of this Q&A gave an incorrect ending date.




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