Peter Roby leans back in his chair in his office in International Village, reflecting on the men’s hockey team’s Beanpot championship last week. What does it mean to him? The team breaking its 30-year drought is among the top moments of his 15-year tenure at Northeastern, including the past 10 as athletic director. But what that moment meant to so many other people made it just as—if not more—rewarding.
“It’s so great what it meant to so many people,” Roby said. “Part of our goal here was to put our student-athletes in the position to reach their full potential and achieve their goals, and we wanted them to have that experience and joy of winning the ultimate game.
“You want them to get rewarded so they can have that shared experience that no one will ever be able to take away from them. That’s what I’ve always tried to focus on, and I get the most joy out of seeing them and our fans celebrate and having pride for being Northeastern Huskies.”
The university is hosting a retirement party for Roby on Tuesday afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Curry Student Center West Addition. He completed his tenure as athletic director at the end of January and will retire from the university on June 30, though he intends to keep teaching at Northeastern. His successor, Jeff Konya, was introduced last month at a press conference and officially began on Feb. 1.
A vast legacy
Roby’s legacy is highlighted by student-athletes’ success on the field and in the classroom. It’s one of integrity and compassion. And it’s one of dedication to helping others reach their potential.
“We’ve built what I think is a really successful athletics program that has the best of both athletics and academic values.”
Under Roby’s tenure, Northeastern has captured nine regular season conference championships, 17 postseason conference championships, two women’s Beanpots, and eight New England Championships in track and field. In addition, 15 teams reached their respective NCAA tournaments; several individual performers qualified for swimming and diving and track and field NCAA championships; and the men’s rowing team advanced to the IRA Championships nine times in the past 10 years.
What’s more, Northeastern alumni continue to compete on the national and international stage—including four alumni in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games—and the university made history when its baseball and volleyball teams visited Cuba in December 2016 for a cultural exchange that included both competition and community service.
In the classroom, student-athletes have maintained a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better in each of the past 20 semesters, dating back to 2007. The Huskies’ 3.226 mark in Fall 2017 was the highest on record for a fall term.
Northeastern’s classroom success ranks high at the national level as well, highlighted by a 93 percent graduation rate in 2016, an all-time high for the university and tops in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“We’ve built what I think is a really successful athletics program that has the best of both athletics and academic values,” Roby said.
He has also instilled the value of community service—which is at the heart of the athletics department’s mission—in student-athletes and staff.
Cheryl Murtagh, who retired this fall after 30 years as Northeastern’s field hockey head coach, praised Roby for his rapport with student-athletes. “You knew he cared about your sport, and that he cared about the kids,” she said.
Murtagh said Roby always made her feel valued and respected, both personally and professionally. She particularly noted his presence at the team’s game in late October when the Huskies shut out Drexel to clinch a spot in the CAA tournament. “He knew the significance of the game and how much it meant to me, and he was there,” Murtagh said. “After we won I remember he came across the field toward us with a big smile on his face.”
Men’s basketball head coach Bill Coen described Roby as a nationally respected leader who’s represented Northeastern in a first-class manner. He said he’s personally grateful for having served under his principled leadership and thoughtful mentorship.
“Without question, Peter will leave an outstanding and impactful legacy here at Northeastern,” Coen said. “I will forever remember him for his lofty principles, his sense of fairness, his unwavering advocacy for student-athlete welfare, and his compassion for his coaches. He consistently tried to improve this university and, more importantly, make the world a better place.”
Serving as a university’s athletic director doesn’t come without challenges and tough decisions. Roby said the university’s move to end its football program in 2009 was among the most difficult. “And yet,” he said, “for as difficult as that was for all the players and families and staff that were impacted, I’m really proud of how it was handled. There’s one thing to make a difficult decision. There’s another to manage it and do the right things after the decision. Just the way we all worked together and that our only focus once we’d made decision was to do it as respectfully and compassionately as we could.”
‘I’ve had a good run’
Prior to serving as athletic director, Roby led Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, where he championed the role sports can play in bringing about positive social change through research, education, and advocacy. In October 2007, he was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute of International Sport.
At the national level, Roby also served a five-year term as a member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, a 10-member committee responsible for selecting and seeding the NCAA tournament field. He’s also played a significant role in the NCAA Pathway Program, which is designed to help elevate senior-level professionals in athletics administration to athletic directors.
“Without question, Peter will leave an outstanding and impactful legacy here at Northeastern.”
In the classroom, Roby is currently co-teaching a communications course in sports and the media with associate professor Alan Zaremba. He’s also taught in the College of Professional Studies for more than a decade since establishing the Master’s in Sports Leadership program with former athletic director Dave O’Brien. Roby said O’Brien, who passed away in 2014, was a close colleague and friend who introduced him to the athletic department. “I owe a lot to Dave O’Brien,” he said.
After retiring, Roby said he hopes to remain involved with Northeastern and maintain connections with the many people he’s worked closely without throughout his tenure. Retirement will also bring more opportunities to hone his golf game and spend more time with family, including gardening with his wife Sandra.
“I’ve had a good run, and it’s time for somebody else to appreciate that,” Roby said.