Jim Wright, ’69 MA ’70, has built his career on good impressions.
“Make yourself known,” said Wright, former director of statistics for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. “You never know who you’re going to meet or who you’re going to impress with the work you’re doing that may help you down the road. Don’t blow the opportunity to make a good impression on someone you might come in contact with later.”
One of his first friendships at Ball State materialized between commas and red pens of an editing class. His newfound pal was a Ball State Daily News managing editor in search of help on the news desk. He offered the outgoing Wright a job. The Connersville, Indiana, native worked a variety of positions — including copy editor, features editor, sports editor, managing editor and advertising manager — for The Daily News from 1965 until he graduated with a master’s degree in journalism.
From Student to Service
With the Vietnam War raging on, the newly minted graduate enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He worked as the assistant sports information director for the Air Force Academy, where he made his second meaningful career connection; he met a man named Tim Simmons, head SID for Southern Colorado State College (now Colorado State University—Pueblo) in Pueblo, Colorado.
Wright said he attributes most of his professional career to the “down-to-earth, funny, lover of stats.” Both men shared an interest in baseball and the statistics associated with “America’s Game,” often competing as to who could compile the most detailed stats for their respective teams.
Moving Forward, One Arena at a Time
After Wright left the service in 1974, Simmons recommended Wright for his position at Southern Colorado, as Simmons transitioned to Colorado State in Fort Collins. A year after Wright moved to Southern Colorado, Simmons again recommended Wright for a position, but this time for the NCAA. Wright found his sweet spot in the NCAA’s statistics department, where he worked for three decades before retiring in 2013.
When he started, the NCAA compiled statistics for only three sports: football, men’s basketball and baseball. Today, the NCAA statistics office compiles statistics for every sport in every division (DI, DII and DIII), a total of about 90 sports.
Before modern technology, this process would be done by snail mail, typewriters and ditto masters. Today, Wright estimates that all the national statistics are online within 3-4 hours of the last DI contest each week.
“I take a lot of pride that our staff does this astounding job of tracking just about every student athlete,” Wright said. “They maintain all the record books, not just who’s the top this week, but the leaders of all time. Our job requires both expertise in journalism and communications, and also the ability to know how an earned run average is compiled, or what appropriate minimums are required to qualify for national stats or records. That dual knowledge is what we always require.”
Two Worlds Collide
Wright coordinated with media during NCAA championships, acting as a liaison among schools and media covering the event. His team handled anything related to the press box and public relations functions associated with the championship.
“My journalism background helped me work with member school sports information staff as well as the media,” Wright said. “Because my department maintains so many stats and records, these entities frequently look to the staff to interpret the numbers, add context to their significance or even point out achievements that might result in feature stories for a particular team or individual.”
A highlight of his career: The baseball buff served for 25 years as media coordinator for the College World Series, hosted in Omaha, Nebraska each year.
“I still have great memories of the event,” he said. “It was my late mom who observed that the nearly three-week experience, including prep time before the event, took a lot out of me. I’d always call her after I returned from Omaha. I went out two years ago and was amazed at how many people who worked with me are still helping run that championship.”
Keeping Up With the Cardinals
Wright retired after 38 years with the organization. Once a month, he meets with his former staff for lunch to “keep up with what’s happening.” Reflecting on his career, he emphasized the importance of connections with others.
“Whether it’s a fellow intern or just another student, they may remember you when they’ve moved onto a career,” he added. “Then they can recommend you for a job when there’s an opportunity at their company.”
Wright lives in Greenwood, Indiana. He still keeps up with sports, his favorites teams being the Cincinnati Reds and Ball State baseball, football and basketball. He said he checks Ball State’s athletics department website each day for the latest news. In his retirement, he enjoys taking trips to visit old friends, reading one of his 33 magazine subscriptions, and listening to his extensive music collection — a combination of more than 8,400 CDs and vinyl records.
by Alexandra Smith '18
- Student status: First-year graduate student, MA in public relations
- Expected graduation: May 2020
- Hometown: Elkhart, IN
- Fun fact: When I'm not reading or writing, I'm running. I've done four half marathons and one full marathon.
- Future goals: I would like to work in social media for a company like Ironman Triathlon or Disney.