Athletic director forums conclude with Costello

Athletic director forums conclude with Costello

By Aaron Graff, @Aarongraff_DE

The youngest of the four SIU athletic director finalists has ideas that fit with the times.

Leon Costello has been the deputy director of athletics at South Dakota State University since July 2014. Before that, he held multiple positions at the University of Northern Iowa between 2002 and 2010, including associate athletic director and external relations.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education-sports science from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and a master’s degree in physical education-sports management from Western Illinois University.


“We can win [at SIU],” Costello said during his open forum Friday in the Student Center Auditorium. “The foundation is laid here. There’s nothing that’s broken. May there need to be a few tweaks here and there? May there need to be a re-focus in vision? Yes. But it’s not broken.”

Costello said he would have to clearly explain goals and a plan to the department. He said he would hold people accountable.

“I would need to come in and do basically a SWAT analysis,” Costello said. “I need to know what the strengths and weaknesses are of the department. I need to know what those opportunities are. I need to know what the threads are. What that will do is help build the strategic plan. I want to be able to sit down with each and every sport program and I need their list of priorities spelled out. We’re going to talk about the objectives of maybe what I think, and then we’re building towards the same common goal.”

He said he would like to create “champions for life” through student athletes, meaning good grades and athletic performance while attending school, and setting up success for the future.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts to higher education would affect all of SIU, including athletics. Costello said he has some experience dealing with budget cuts at UNI, but not as much at SDSU, where he went through one round of cuts.

When Costello was named a finalist for the position, he said schools at SIU’s level deal with budget issues all the time because they do not have as much revenue. He said he would first look for ways to boost revenue to offset the cuts.

Costello said he has had some ideas outside the box at SDSU. He made an auction that generates $500,000 in a single night, which creates 32 or 33 scholarships.


The auction included experiences on the field, such as a trip with the team.

He also said he would like to boost free marketing tools, such as Snapchat. He said he might put a T-shirt somewhere on campus and post a picture. The first person to find it would get to keep it. It would boost a following, which would then see game times.

Costello said he would give business cards to football players to give to students in classes to promote games and events. He said passionate students attending games would excite other casual fans and get more butts in the seats, leading to more money.

He said he has not thought of a contract he would need yet, but considers himself qualified for the job.

“My experience for myself is basically being an athletic director,” Costello said. “I think the only thing I don’t have is the title.”

He said it would not be his department, it would not be the coaches’ department, it would be the university’s department. 

Aaron Graff can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 256.