"THE CONVERSATION" Episode #10 With Zak Ivkovic, Executive Director Of The CUNY Athletic Conference

February 19, 2020

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Photo: CUNY Athletic Conference

Zak Ivkovic became Executive Director of the CUNY Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) in 2003, after working for the conference in different capacities over the prior 13 years. Under his visionary leadership, CUNYAC has become the brightest, most advanced and innovative Division III conference in the country. Its membership consists of 15 institutions that compete in 24 NCAA and NJCAA men’s and women’s sports.

His initiatives have transformed almost every aspect of the conference and bolstered its profile with the public as well as within CUNY, the greatest urban university in the world. They have helped member schools recruit better coaches and athletes, student-athletes develop leadership skills and achieve academic, as well as athletic success, and raised student pride and spirit at member schools.

The conference’s annual professional development seminars for coaches familiarize them with new rules and the latest tools to help student-athletes succeed and become better people upon graduation. Its annual student leadership seminar, produced collaboratively with the conference’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, brings in outside professionals to speak on topics requested by students such as personal finance, mental health and resiliency, social media use and injury prevention.

A Hunter College alumnus and four-time CUNYAC Men’s Soccer All-Star, Zak spearheads brand building and fundraising efforts that have raised the conference’s visibility and provided the means to grow existing programs and initiate new ones. He helped the conference secure automatic qualification for NCAA Division III championships in ten sports.

In addition, he arranged for the conference’s basketball championship finals to be shown live on ESPN3 and Facebook Live, augmenting its presence on CUNY-TV. This has provided CUNYAC student-athletes increased exposure worldwide, and has now expanded to all team championship sports.

CUNYAC has enjoyed several fundraising successes through Zak’s efforts. Corporate sponsorships have generated more than $400,000 annually and a golf classic that has raised more than $500,000 since its inception five years ago. Current sponsors include Army ROTC, Municipal Credit Union, Hospital for Special Surgery, Pepsi, Bob McCloskey Insurance and Modell’s. They receive widespread brand visibility and promotion at conference events.

Support from fundraising helps CUNYAC produce between 70 and 80 events annually, including tournaments, All-Star luncheons, receptions and the annual Michael Steuerman Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner. In addition, it presents the HSS Scholar-Athlete of the Month Award to recognize high-achieving student-athletes who excel both in the classroom and on the playing field.

The conference is able to use the best facilities available within New York City for its tournaments. They include the National Tennis Center, the Armory Track & Field Center, Icahn Stadium, MCU Park, the APEX Pool at Lehman College and Nat Holman Gymnasium at City College. In addition, CUNYAC conducts the annual MCU Intramural Championship series, with CUNY college student teams competing in 15 events, and gives away two free tuitions as part of the StudentsFirst Rewards Program.

CUNYAC’s innovative Goodwill Tour brings scholar-athletes, student leaders, coaches and administrators to different countries as the Commissioner’s vision to incorporate study abroad service trips. In addition to demonstrating and teaching their respective sports, participants perform humanitarian work and ?engage in cultural exchanges while they develop leadership skills. The tours have brought the CUNY banner to the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Argentina, South Africa, Italy and Cuba; as well as a Rebuild in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina.

One of the newest CUNYAC programs begun under Zak’s leadership is the Inclusive and Adaptive Sports Initiative for Recreational, Intercollegiate and Competitive Athletics. Launched late in 2017, its objective is inclusion of Paralympic-eligible athletes onto existing teams, competitions, and championships, with reasonable sport-specific accommodations and to start a wheelchair basketball team. Eleven non-profit organizations, CUNY offices, municipal agencies and the U.S. Olympic Committee have partnered with the CUNYAC for these efforts.

In addition to his CUNYAC responsibilities, Zak spreads the CUNY name and influence through his extensive service on collegiate athletics boards and committees. Those included the NCAA Olympic Sports Liaison Committee, Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and Division III Championships Committee and regionally on the ECAC Board of Directors, where he chaired its Inclusive Sports Committee and was on its Championships and Strategic Planning Committees. Outside collegiate athletics, he supports several humanitarian organizations, and advises the Circle of Hope Children’s Foundation and the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League, while still playing competitive soccer.

He also is a successful television producer who received a B.A. in mass media while at Hunter. During the summer of 2018, he produced “Something in the Water,” which tells the stories of Luka Doncic and Džanan Musa, two basketball standouts from the former Yugoslavia, who became the latest players from that regional pipeline to be drafted into the NBA. So far, the documentary has had 4.4 million views on Facebook Watch.

In addition, he worked five summer Olympic Games for NBC Sports and earned an Emmy for his work on the 1996 Games in Atlanta. His sports event production credits also include several World Basketball Championships, six U.S. Open Tennis Tournaments and the 1994 World Cup.

Zak (or Žarko in Serbian) resides in Queens, N.Y., with his wife, Nevena, son, Alex, and daughter, Sara.

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