A “dream job” has turned into a reality for the newly appointed athletic director at Florida A&M University.
FAMU officials announced on Tuesday that Tiffani Dawn-Sykes, a Virginia State University graduate, is the university’s new vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics.
Wednesday morning, faculty, staff, students, county commissioners and student-athletes gathered in Lee Hall to meet Sykes during a press conference turned Zoom introduction.
On the stage sat President Larry Robinson Office of Communications Director Keith Miles, Interim Athletic Director Michael Smith, and Shawnta Friday-Stroud, dean of the School of Business & Industry who led the search for a new permanent athletic director.
Sykes, scheduled to start on Jan. 4, takes over a department that is on probation with the NCAA and has been unable to sustain stable leadership. She is FAMU’s eighth permanent or interim AD in the past decade.
Sykes becomes the second woman athletic director behind Sarah Hill-Yates, who led the department from 1977 to 1988, and who Sykes paid homage to.
Sykes said that this moment has been a dream come true.
“This is my dream job. I never wanted to be just any AD, I always wanted to be the athletics director at FAMU,” Sykes said. “I am passionate about intercollegiate athletics because I know firsthand what access to higher education through sport can do to transform one’s life and their legacy.”
Sykes comes from an extensive and impressive background with experience in compliance and eligibility work such as:
- Executive senior athletics director for varsity sports/SWA at Dartmouth College
- Assistant athletics director for compliance at Grambling State University
- NCAA eligibility specialist at Norfolk State University
- Director Of compliance at Chowan University
- Sports management specialist at the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association
- Interim assistant sports information director at Grambling State University
- Sports information director/senior women’s administrator at Virginia Union University
- Assistant athletics director/sports information director/senior women’s administrator at Saint Pauls College
During Wednesday’s press conference, Sykes was met with questions from student-athletes wanting to know how she will hit the ground running and ensure that she has the best interests for the athletic department.
Sykes said that her immediate plan to maintain compliance is to utilize President Robinson’s Athletic Action Plan, presented at the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Oct. 5.
She said that with her many years of working with college athletics and compliance, she plans on capitalizing on the relationships she has cultivated with people at the NCAA to bring education to the student athletes to protect [FAMU] from further challenges.
In August, 88 FAMU football players signed a letter that contained information regarding issues that the team wanted to bring to the attention of the athletic administration.
This came shortly after 26 players were ruled ineligible prior to a matchup against the Tar Heels of North Carolina.
Acknowledging the issues that made national news, Sykes said that she does not want to speculate on these “challenges” until she is present on campus to give everyone she meets with an opportunity to be transparent. She said she is looking forward to learning more about what she can do to support FAMU athletics and the university.
The common message Sykes shared was being present and using her experience assisting and leading to represent the athletes.
“The first team that I sit down with is the softball team. So many members of their team came out to try and get to know me and I want them to know that I heard them and I appreciate them,” Sykes said.
With the rise of eligibility issues within athletics, student-athletes raised the question of what will Sykes do to ensure that as many athletes as possible are up to compliance with eligibility.
“Prior to me arriving on campus, I plan to schedule meetings with academics and compliance. I think it’s very important that they are on the same page and that they have the same information so that they can properly advise the student athletes,” Sykes said.
FAMU began its search for a permanent athletic director after former AD Kortne Goshé left in April with six months remaining on his contract.
In September, three finalists were named only to be narrowed down to one about a month later.
President Robinson said that he took enough time to make sure that he sorted through those finalists to hire the right candidate.
“She understands the special needs that we have as an institution and understands the special needs of our students so that made her my final choice for this position,” Robinson said.
Sykes has already made strides to make her presence known within the FAMU community.
Sykes said that she has paid her dues to become a lifetime associate member of the FAMU National Alumni Association, submitted membership fees for a Lifetime Booster, and made a donation to community advancement shortly after accepting her new position.