American Athletic Conference’s Tom Odjakjian Named 2019 Recipient of SVG College Pioneer Award

Industry legend has been a powerful force in college sports media dating to his days as ESPN exec

The Sports Video Group is proud to announce that Tom Odjakjian, senior associate commissioner, broadcasting, American Athletic Conference, has been voted recipient of the 2019 SVG College Pioneer Award.

He will be celebrated at the SVG College Summit at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta on May 30. The SVG College Pioneer Award celebrates those who have innovated in the fields of video production and technology at the university level and have advanced the industry at large.

Odjakjian is one of the most influential media executives in the history of college sports. His career has seen him play prominent roles in both sides of the business, having served both a major media company in ESPN (1981-94) and a conference office at the Big East Conference, which later became the American Athletic Conference (1995-present).

“Tom’s career, both at ESPN and the AAC, is defined by the kind of vision, spirit, and leadership that embodies the SVG College Pioneer Award,” says Ken Kerschbaumer, co-executive director, SVG. “It’s hard to believe that there was a time when college sports like basketball and football was not a mainstay on TV, but Tom helped change all that during his time at ESPN. And today he continues to innovate, moving the AAC forward as it looks to reach new fans in new ways.”

In executive roles at ESPN, including as director of college sports, Odjakjian was responsible for negotiation, acquisition, scheduling, and budget supervision for the network’s collegiate sports programming. He is credited with being the architect of ESPN’s Championship Week for basketball and Bowl Week for football.

Odjakjian’s presence was so impactful that, in 1990, he was named one of the four most influential people in all of college basketball by Sporting News and, in 1994, was named The Most Influential Person in College Sports by College Sports magazine.

“There are few people at the executive level that have shaped college sports video, particularly on national television, more than Tom,” says Brandon Costa, director, SVG College, SVG. “Without his programming prowess, the college-sports-video–production landscape would look drastically different today. His hard work and leadership have opened the door of opportunity for so many of us who were fortunate to come after him.”

In 1995, Odjakjian moved to join the staff of a collegiate conference office, becoming an associate commissioner at the Big East Conference, serving tthrough the heart of its glory years. When a tumultuous period of conference realignment hit the Big East particularly hard in 2010-13, the Big East fractured, and its staff shifted to oversee the newly formed American Athletic Conference. Odjakjian played a critical role in building the new conference from the ground up and gaining it national prominence in only a few short years.

Today, Odjakjian is The American’s primary liaison with its television partners. He’s the conference’s primary point person for a number of significant television agreements, including current partnerships with ESPN and CBS Sports. Under the current agreement, all conference-controlled football and men’s basketball games are televised, with nearly 90% of the football games and more than 90% of the men’s basketball games available on either national broadcast or national cable platforms.

Odjakjian is a 1976 graduate of Lafayette, where he played football and baseball. In his early career, he served as associate commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference and as assistant sports information director at Princeton University.

The SVG College Pioneer Award is selected by a panel of past Pioneer Award honorees, current and former SVG College Summit chairmen, SVG staffers, and members of the SVG College Advisory Committee.

SVG College Sports Summit Pioneer Award Honorees:
2019: Tom Odjakjian, American Athletic Conference, Big East Conference, ESPN
2018: Rick Bagby, Clemson University
2017: Chris Taylor, Ball State University
2016: Jim Nachtman, Pennsylvania State University
2015: John Kvatek, University of Central Florida
2015: Jeff Schmahl, Texas A&M University, University of Nebraska
2014: Rick Church, Michigan State University
2013: Mark Rodin, Florida State University
2012: Ken Norris, University of California, Los Angeles

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