Final Four boss suddenly exits NCAA

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Mark Lewis’ departure from the NCAA was a lot quieter than his arrival in April 2012.

At the end of August, Lewis left his role as the NCAA’s executive vice president for championships and alliances to take a job out of sports in Montana. 

It’s an odd career twist for Lewis, who previously worked on marketing the NFL and Olympics. Before joining the NCAA, Lewis was president of Jet Set Sports, a global hospitality and event firm based in New Jersey.

The NCAA was widely criticized when it ousted Greg Shaheen just more than four years ago and essentially replaced him with Lewis to oversee its championship events in addition to media and sponsorship deals. 

In 2012, broadcasters Billy Packer and Dick Vitale called the NCAA’s decision to oust Shaheen “sad” and a “bad move” in Twitter messages. Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski told that Shaheen’s removal was a “huge loss for our game.” And reporters for CBS and ESPN—the two main broadcasters of NCAA championship events—tweeted that the decision was “puzzling,” idiotic” and a “damn shame.”

But Lewis, 49, was later praised in some circles for his work at the NCAA.

Lewis helped negotiate an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension with CBS and Turner Sports to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament—widely known as March Madness. He also played a big part in negotiating several corporate sponsorship deals for the association. During his tenure, Lewis signed deals with three new NCAA corporate sponsors, growing that list from 14 to 17.

Sources inside the NCAA told IBJ the announcement came as a surprise to NCAA employees—even those working directly with Lewis.

Lewis could not immediately be reached Wednesday for comment.

Lewis told Sports Business Journal that he was leaving to take a private non-sports job in Montana. 

“I’m changing my life, basically,” Lewis told Sports Business Journal. “I’m not going to be in sports anymore. It wasn’t like a lightning bolt hit me. It just evolved.

“Working on budgets and business plans and the end of the fiscal year, I’ve just been thinking about my life, my wife and my 7- and 8-year-olds,” he added. “It wasn’t like one day I woke up and said, ‘I’m leaving.’ It’s just time for me to start doing things differently.”

In addition to the CBS deal, Lewis, a former University of Georgia football player, was best known for his successful effort to get the NCAA and its member schools to cover travel costs for athletes’ families to attend the men’s and women’s Final Four and the College Football Playoff Championship. The payments of $3,000 to $4,000 started last season.

Lewis also worked to downsize press row at Final Fours so that players’ family members could sit closer to the court. 

Lewis told Sports Business Journal he began talking to NCAA President Mark Emmert about a career change in July. 

NCAA sources told IBJ that the position Lewis is vacating will remain unchanged and that a search for a replacement will begin soon.

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