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Case Study: Decision Making During A Pandemic

By Dr. Kevin Blue

Janine Janice Smith, Director of Athletics at Newfound State University – a fictional NCAA Division I institution,  must lead her department under a cloud of uncertainty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020. Already under tremendous pressure due to the cancellation of spring sports and the NCAA basketball tournament, she must make a series of important financial and operational decisions that will have far reaching effects on the future of the NSU athletics program.


An examination of the Newfound State’s financials shows the difficulty of planning ahead during this time. Smith has created a financial projection to help her decision-making, but her projections could still be inaccurate by millions of dollars if certain assumptions changed as the fall approached. When could student-athletes return to campus? Would football be played? Could tickets be sold? What would the implications be for media rights agreements if games were impacted? Would the NCAA men’s basketball tournament be played? What should reasonable expectations be for fundraising, given the uncertainty in the economic environment?


The case study compels participants to work in groups and engage in issues of internal operations, organizational strategy, and financial planning.  It also examines the psychological and leadership aspects of making difficult decisions during a crisis.


To supplement the information contained within, AthleticDirectorU has also conducted interviews with athletic directors Shawn Heilbron of Stony Brook University and Dan Radakovich of Clemson University. The interviews serve to provide case participants with real world prospective on how each navigated the same challenges and questions presented in the case while leading their own departments.


Please read the case, watch the leadership interviews, and consider who what you would do if you were in the shoes of Newfound State’s athletics director. If you are interested in additional details and exercises, please see the accompanying teaching note.


AthleticDirectorU Case Study – Decision Making During A Pandemic


Leadership Prospective Part I:

Shawn Heilbron – Director of Athletics – Stony Brook University


 Leadership Prospective Part II:

Dan Radakovich – Director of Athletics – Clemson University



Case studies have become a primary teaching tool in business schools. Students are expected to read and analyze the case before class, and the professor facilitates a discussion about it using an accompanying teaching note which outlines the concepts that the case aims to teach.


Case studies can also be a useful professional development tool for staff in the workplace, and help individuals learn about the problems and decision-making situations that are encountered by people in leadership positions. In addition, case studies are a good opportunity for senior staff to think about how we would handle certain situations that could arise.


AthleticDirectorU advises anyone interested in completing the case study in a group setting to avoid reading the teaching note below until instructed by their designated case group leader. If you are completing the case study in a solo setting, then you should read the teaching note after completing the critical thinking exercises presented in the case.


AthleticDirectorU Teaching Note – Decision Making During A Pandemic