by Conor Gereg
Life behind the scenes of high-level Division I basketball isn’t glamorous. Only the task-oriented, impeccably organized, and fervently driven survive. Pull back the curtain of college basketball and you’ll see each team’s DOBO, the Director of Basketball Operations, keeping the engine going.
The job of DOBO is part travel agent, graphic designer, practice planner, dining services coordinator, and financial advisor–just to name a few of the responsibilities attached to the job. The namesake fails to credit how demanding the position truly is—it’s not a director so much as it’s an orchestrator, a maestro that maintains the team’s pulse through each grueling season.
“It’s always been a really demanding role,” Winthrop’s Mitchell Hill told College Hoops Digest. “You truly find out if you want to coach or not once you are a DOBO. I’ve been a video coordinator and a Graduate Assistant as well, but neither of those compares to the responsibilities and pressures you feel [as a DOBO].”
Only a small part of basketball, the rest of the job requires a skill set that reaches into nearly every corner of a program’s success.
“DOBO’s today need to be efficient in other platforms [beyond just basketball],” said Siena College’s Matt Miner. “Today, every recruit wants their coveted commitment graphic. Social Media and your program accounts are desired to be verified and the aesthetics and following of your accounts must be consistent with the norm. However, most Division I and II programs don’t have designated media members on their staff. Therefore, DOBO’s need to be able to use programs like Photoshop, Indesign, Instagram, and Twitter while being high-level performers in Powerpoint and Movie Maker.”
The casual fan watching a game sees a DOBO’s work coalesce in real-time yet very few are aware of a job that’s almost always overlooked by those who aren’t privy to life within the locker room. When we asked Winthrop’s Mitchell Hill to outline his duties, it becomes abundantly clear: few positions are as indispensable as each program’s DOBO. Mitchell, and most DOBOs, are responsible for a range of obligations: “Team travel (buses, flights, hotels, food), on/off-campus living liaison, campus dining liaison, gear coordinator, budget coordinator, social media coordinator, home/away game ticket coordinator, manager/graduate assistant coordinator, camp coordinator, recruiting mail-out/graphic coordinator,” Hill said.
Winthrop’s Mitchell Hill, and DOBO’s across the NCAA, are also tasked with organizing each student-athlete’s day, ranging from, “daily scheduling, weights, practice, study hall, community service, campus events, etc.”
As if the job of DOBO isn’t challenging enough in a traditional season, 2020-2021 compounded these responsibilities as COVID’s result. Nearly every team throughout the nation experienced some sort of interruption due to the pandemic and when schedules were inevitably changed, altered, and adjusted, the job of the DOBO became even more essential.
“I joke with people all the time that last year my title was actually, ‘Director of COVID Operations.’ COVID and all of the protocols made the ops role 10X harder,” Hill added.
Throughout this past season, each conference determined its COVID testing protocol. For Hill and the rest of the teams in the Big South, this meant a litany of logistical challenges. “[We tested] 3x a week in-season,” Hill said. “Tricky part here was working with the athletic training staff on when they could test, but then it also had to make sense for us with our players’ class schedules, practice time, and weight time.”
How about once players arrive for practice and physical contact came into the equation? The stakes are even higher.
“At mid and low-major schools there just isn’t enough personnel to clean the benches, balls, ball rack, court, etc. before and after practice, shoot-around, and games,” Hill told us. As chaotic as life proved to be while on the court, this was only a small component of COVID’s burden.
“I don’t know about other schools, but we weren’t even allowed to eat on our bus,” Hill said when speaking of the challenges in travel throughout the pandemic. “So, in terms of travel, I had to bake in all of this time that typically we wouldn’t have to worry about. We made sure and spaced kids out on buses and in hotels. We roomed kids that had previously had the virus with those that hadn’t so chances of transmission were lower.”
And if players contracted COVID? This too falls onto the shoulders of the DOBO. “ [Bringing] our kids food if they were in contact-tracing or if they had the virus, making sure they have everything they needed to be taken care of,” Hill said.
“The worst part of it all is that you couldn’t control any of it,” Hill added. This past season Hill served as the DOBO at Western Carolina, a team that endured multiple COVID pauses, before joining Winthrop, this spring. “You could be elite at all your areas and someone still gets COVID and you feel responsible for your team being put on pause.”
“On Monday you could be looking at getting ready for a two-game road trip, only to find out Wednesday that you’d be playing a home series instead,” Miner said. “You had to be adaptable, efficient, and remain unfazed, ready to deal with any changes to the schedule. When something like this happens, you need to cancel meals, hotels, transportation, and beyond. Similarly, you need to refocus and then get ready to plan the new scheduling change.”
This past season we saw games canceled just moments before tip-off and teams go into 14-day pauses when team members came into contact or contracted the virus. The attention to detail for any DOBO this past season reached a fever pitch.
“Everyone had to get their temperature checked daily. A magnet system was put on the locker room door so that no more than 5 people were in the locker room at one time,” Minor said of this past season at Siena. “Practices early on needed to be constructed so that only a certain number of players were in the gym at once. Balls need to be wiped down and cleaned after every use. Office space needed to be constructed so everyone had their own space.”
“Stools and game chairs needed to be spaced out and tagged with nameplates so everyone was far away and always sitting on the same seat. Water bottles need to be filled and cleaned so that we were not using a shared water cooler. This is a list that could go on forever,” Miner said.
The beauty of the college game is that so often those at the front of the bench, the head coaches the associate head coaches, have climbed the figurative ladder before earning their position as program heads. The role of Director of Basketball Operations isn’t just a trial by fire but instead a proving ground for the game’s next generation of leaders.