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January 8, 2010

Logging on - A look at the role of the Hokies' information technology director

By: Matt Kovatch

Take a minute to stop and think about how much time per day you spend looking at a computer. Truth is, we live in a wireless and computer-dominated world now, and as the director of information technology (IT) for Virginia Tech athletics, Tommy Regan is doing his part to keep it all chugging along smoothly. He’s the one who keeps tabs on all things computers for the student-athletes, coaches and administrators of Virginia Tech athletics, and he recently shared some tidbits about his role in the department.

It's a lot different working in athletics.

“I’ve worked in other areas of the university, and what I find in athletics is that people are generally very happy. They love the sports they work in, working with the kids, coaching, keeping track of the information and helping our fan base to understand what is going on here. They feel like part of the team. It seems to be a more energized environment because you’re always changing seasons with different sports. It’s an always-changing environment and each sport has different IT needs, so it makes for a challenging and entertaining role for me.”

All of Tech’s full-scholarship athletes get hooked up …

“I believe it was 1997 when Virginia Tech started a program that required all students to have a computer. At that point in time, the athletics department had to find a way to furnish computers to its full-scholarship athletes, and so, that’s one of the roles of my office. If you arrive at Virginia Tech on a full scholarship, you’ll get a computer for the time that you’re playing and studying at Virginia Tech. We have roughly 220 full-scholarship athletes and they all have computers. The way it is now, we have a two-and-two program. They get one as a freshman and then a new one as a junior. It keeps them up to date and it keeps them functioning.”

… but they’re not the only ones who need help.

“Part of the issue is that students, like those in the general community, get computer viruses all the time. What I’ve tasked my office with doing is, for any student-athlete who goes here and is involved in a sport or program, full scholarship or not, we’ll be glad to help them with their computers because they have their own needs, too. Virginia Tech has a support mechanism for computers, but it’s not really a walk-in service; it’s more of a “they’ll help you on the phone” kind of thing. So we try to take care of all the student-athletes because they are a part of the program and we want to help them be successful.”

I try to predict the future.

“Part of my job is to surf the Internet and meet with various vendors. I’ve made a lot of connections over the years and I’ve tried to bring those connections here to see how they can help out the athletics program. I’ll talk with Microsoft and our other suppliers about what technology is out there, and from time to time, I’ll take part of my budget to get a test bed of various technologies. Some of the things I’m interested in right now are touch-screen displays because they are getting relatively cheap. I’ve tested Tablet PCs and touch screens that might help not only the coaches to diagram plays, but also the fans to interact with highlights, history and things like that. I’ve also tried to develop contacts among my counterparts in the ACC so the IT people at all the ACC schools can have a way to get together and talk about technology that might help the conference and the individual schools to move forward. It’s interesting in that I can keep looking ahead to see where technology will plug in and benefit the organization.”

I even have a role on game day.

“For football games, my assistant, Chris Mayer, works down in the photojournalists’ room and I work upstairs in the press box. Our role is to make sure that all of the visiting reporters, broadcasters and photographers get on the network and are able to submit their stories and check information back and forth. We register all the media, including the television production trucks, and make sure that they don’t have any problems. They use our communication network services group to get their wireless connection, but there are always tweaks to be made before, during and after the game.”

Being around athletics keeps things fun.

“I enjoy working in athletics. It’s got some very hard-working and caring people who have a lot of drive and desire to be successful. It’s a different challenge every day. One day, we’re cleaning viruses, and the next day, we’re planning on distribution of a new network throughout the building. It’s a changing and challenging environment. Hokie sports have a very good support base, so it’s entertaining to work with them and figure out how to make their experience better as we go.”