It’s a new era for Penn Athletics.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the office at the end of Weightman Hall has a new tenant.
Nearly three and a half months after her position was announced, new Athletic Director Grace Calhoun began her term at the beginning of July. Calhoun had previously been the Athletic Director at Loyola University Chicago and is Penn’s first female athletic director.
With the departure of Steve Bilsky, Calhoun’s predecessor, Penn Athletics finds itself at a unique crossroads. While some sports have been highly successful, others find themselves in funks unbefitting of Penn’s tradition.
Calhoun is now tasked with finding the right direction for the athletics program and navigating it into a new age.
As one of very few non-Penn-affiliated athletic directors, Calhoun believes she will have a different perspective, but also a unique set of challenges in transitioning to the new environment.
“As a non-alum, there’s a lot more that I need to observe and understand, but yet one of the things I made clear in exploring the job is that I think it’s a real advantage for me that I’ve been at seven institutions,” Calhoun said.
“I’ve seen a lot of different ways of doing things. I’ve been sensitized to the fact that certain things just can’t be cookie-cuttered and smacked down in a different environment and be made to work.”
Calhoun’s experience and attitude toward student-athletes will be an important aspect in defining her presence as athletic director. The Brown graduate has worked in assorted roles in athletics since graduating, with roles at Florida, Dartmouth and Indiana.
Though her first few weeks on the job have been filled with meetings with coaches and familiarizing herself with the personnel at her disposal, Calhoun is optimistic about the change she can help enact in her first year at Penn.
“I think what I can say at this point is that I do want to make some visible statements that we will be moving ahead,” Calhoun said. “We will be elevating the caliber of our programs and certainly looking to contend for championships in all sports.”
In doing so, Calhoun sees the branding of Penn as one of the primary areas that the Athletic department can improve.
The numerous facilities renovations in the past handful of years have served to improve the overall appearance of athletics at Penn, though Calhoun acknowledges that there is work to do in terms of improving the relationship between the student body and the student-athletes.
Student apathy has been a nationwide issue in the past decades and Penn has been no exception.
The Line, one of Penn basketball’s traditions in which students sleep overnight outside the Palestra to get season tickets, has seen great decline in recent years after being one of the defining events for Penn basketball during its heyday.
Though just like the rest of the challenges she faces in her first year as Athletic Director, Calhoun plans to take a measured and patient approach.
“One thing that I know from having been through a transition once before is that you don’t want to come in and ‘ready, shoot, aim’,“ Calhoun said.
The opening weeks of Calhoun’s reign are now coming to an end and there has been very little opportunity for change to be made, yet the new Athletic Director’s goals are clear.
“Much as President Gutmann is doing with the campus and trying to elevate things to a higher level of excellence, we want to do the same things with athletics.”
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