A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Man on a Mission

By Michael Sandler on July 13, 2015

To understand Brad Edwards’s vision for Mason athletics is to know one thing: He doesn’t like to lose.

That competitive spirit is what propelled him to the National Football League at a position he had never played until college. Now, that spirit is what drives him at the Patriots’ Field House off Route 123, where his top priority is to build a men’s basketball program that can compete in the Atlantic 10 (A-10) and is relevant in March.

Athletic Director Brad Edwards. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Athletic Director Brad Edwards. Photo by Evan Cantwell

“Our vision is to put our program in the best position to make a run at a national championship,” Edwards says.

In April, Edwards showed that he is serious, hiring Dave Paulsen as the team’s next coach. Yet he knows that finding the right coach is only part of the strategy for building a winning program. The university must also get behind that coach and players with smart investments that show Mason is committed.

His Vision

For Edwards, it starts with the coach. After that, his vision for success begins with building a new practice facility for the team, so players aren’t competing for court space and an academic support center, so they can study and get help from tutors and learning specialists. The team should have its own strength and conditioning coach, as well as nutritionist. The team should also have the best forms of travel, so players are rested and minimize their time away from class. Finally, he envisions a renovated Patriot Center that offers a first-class experience with such features as a video scoreboard that can show instant replay, advanced lighting, wi-fi, and public areas, so the Mason Nation can congregate without missing the action.

Those may sound like perks. But Edwards says that’s the landscape Mason is competing against in the A-10 and the price of winning consistently.

Take Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU): The Rams are considered among the strongest teams in the A-10 and a top-ranked team nationally in recent years. They also outspend Mason by at least $2.5 million a year, much of that coming through the university’s foundation.

Edwards is determined to close the gap. Right now, gifts and ticket sales represent roughly 25 percent of the team’s budget. He’d like to see that double.

“I’d love to see us in a position where we generate about half of our need on our own,” he says.

To keep things in perspective, he reminds people that Mason’s top sport is basketball.

“We don’t have [football], and at this point we are not going to have that. So the investment in basketball, considering the absence of football, is not really that great, especially when you look at the return on investment.”

A successful basketball team that competes deep into March does much more than pack the seats at the Patriot Center and lift spirits on campus. It delivers a powerful wallop of free marketing. An appearance in the Final Four alone is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in ad buys. More realistically, a team that consistently wins in the A-10 will receive a greater share of the 145 national TV opportunities divvied up among the league. Consider this: last season, VCU had 25 of those appearances; Mason had just 7.

“You are looking at 175,000 to 200,000 plus average views per contest just for a regular season game,” Edwards says. “The A-10 championship had 1.5 million viewers.”

Taking Risks

Edwards is also willing to take risks and go against conventional wisdom to achieve his goals. He wears the proof of that on his right hand.

Long before his two interceptions in Super Bowl XXVI, Edwards was a high school quarterback who had committed to play at Florida State University. It was then that one of his high school coaches offered some unsolicited advice:

“You are good enough to play quarterback in college. But you could go to the NFL as a safety.”

Some might have dismissed the coach. Not Edwards. He did the unthinkable. Called Florida State and asked to switch positions, even though he had never played defensive back before. The Seminoles were already stacked with players who had—including a promising recruit named Deion Sanders. Their answer was no.

So Edwards called the University of South Carolina, a runner up in the recruiting war. The Gamecocks said yes. Four years later, after learning the position and earning second-team all-America honors, Edwards proved his coach right. He was selected in the second round of the NFL draft as a safety. He played nine seasons at that position and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Washington Redskins.

“I always want to do things at the highest level,” Edwards says, recalling the best piece of advice he was ever given: “You have one life, make it count!”

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