With a 4.43 GPA and stellar ACT scores, Marcus Blossom had his pick of colleges across the United States when he was a high school senior. The offers of an academic scholarship came from far and wide.
Blossom, however, wanted something else: He wanted to play basketball at the highest level, Division I. Unfortunately, Division I coaches across the country didn’t want him. Blossom did not surrender his dream that easily, though; he kept searching and he found a school that was going to give him a full academic scholarship and a legitimate opportunity to play basketball at the highest level.
That’s how Blossom found himself in Boston at Northeastern University, the first step on a path that led him to Holy Cross, where he was named director of intercollegiate athletics in May.
The youngest of eight children, Blossom grew up in Matteson, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, and was an outstanding basketball player at Rich South High School, averaging 20 points per game his senior year for a team that finished with a 25-5 record.
Yet it wasn’t enough to attract the attention of the so-called big-time coaches.
“I thought I was a good player, but I couldn’t get a lot of offers,” Blossom says. “My coach, he probably sent tapes — it was VHS tapes at the time — and letters to over 100 Division I programs.”
Blossom did have an offer from Wagner College on Staten Island, but New York wasn’t for him. He could have been a non-basketball scholarship player at Illinois or Northwestern, but playing time was not guaranteed and would be hard to earn.
“At Illinois, I got a full academic presidential scholarship and the only balance that I would owe: $8,” he says. “Eight dollars to go to the University of Illinois! It’s a great school, a Top 50 school. My mom said, ‘You can go to Illinois for $8!’ But she knew I wanted to play basketball.”
He finally connected with Northeastern, a school with an inconsistent basketball history and one that was not winning at that time. Blossom saw an opportunity, and the Northeastern coaches were willing to give him a chance.
Jay Young, now the head coach at Fairfield University but then a Northeastern assistant, was dispatched to Chicago to see him play.
“It was probably the easiest recruitment ever,” Young says. “I liked what he did. It was an easy decision because it didn’t cost a [basketball] scholarship. At minimum, you have a great kid on your team.”
When Blossom got to Boston, it quickly became apparent that he was going to be more than a great kid at the end of the bench.
“Before the season, you start working out with the guys and I was right there,” Blossom says. “I called my parents back at home and said, ‘I’m going to be playing this year.'”
He played off the bench that year and eventually became the leading scorer his junior year. He accomplished it with a combination of toughness, aggressiveness and relentlessness.
Marcus Blossom ranks 12th in Northeastern’s all-time points scored list with 1,475.
Frank Martin, head coach at South Carolina, is known for his tough demeanor. He was an assistant at Northeastern when Blossom was a senior.
“He was our best player,” Martin says. “I bonded with him because of how competitive he was, the will to win that he had.
“[One time] I put a new drill in at practice. I said to myself, ‘We’re wasting our time; we’re getting nothing out of the drill,’ so I jumped in to demonstrate how to do the drill properly. The guy I picked to go against was Marcus because I knew he wouldn’t back down.”
Majoring in finance, Blossom finished Northeastern’s five-year program early and was ready to move into the world of stocks and bonds. Then fate intervened.
“My graduation from Northeastern was on Sept. 11, 2001,” Blossom says. “Graduation got cancelled, obviously. That changed my career. The markets changed, that was during the Enron scandal. Stocks dropped. I couldn’t get a job selling securities, in finance. 9/11 changed the course of everything.”
He accepted a job as a corporate accountant in Chicago, but it wasn’t what he really wanted to do. “I did that for three years. Good money, good career, but it was boring,” he says.
He started to think about athletics as a career and contacted Kevin Porter, an administrator he admired at Northeastern. Porter pointed him to a graduate program at West Virginia University, where Blossom earned a master’s degree in sports management; he later earned an MBA at the University of Rhode Island.
Blossom had found what he wanted to do. He became part of the athletics administration at several schools — Central Michigan, Providence and Brown — before landing at Boston College, where he was responsible for athletics budgeting and financial operations; he was the CFO for the Eagles.
“The numbers part is the easy part,” he says. “The challenging part, the part that distinguishes a good athletics administrator from a bad one, is communication. It’s all about communicating the why, how important certain things are.”
He’s also used to carrying a heavy workload. “He was our CFO, but Marcus did a lot more than that,” says Martin Jarmond, Boston College’s director of athletics. “He was also the sports administrator for men’s basketball; that’s huge. He oversaw other sports, too, and our recreation and intramural department, human resources, the ACC Network.
“To show how heavily involved he was in our whole department, when he left, I announced a re-org,” Jarmond continues. “Four different areas [he handled alone] went to three different people. That’s the breadth and influence he had.”
Marcus Blossom meets with students after he first arrived on campus. Photo by Avanell Brock
At Holy Cross, Blossom has transitioned from CFO to CEO, two roles that he says share the same foundation.
“[At BC] my role was to lead while making critical decisions that put us in the best position to be successful while also putting the overall experience of the student-athletes at the forefront,” Blossom says. “That is very similar to my role here at Holy Cross. The scope is simply broader, and I’m in a different seat on the bus — one that makes me ultimately responsible if we are successful in achieving many of our goals or not.”
And his aim for the College’s 27 Division I programs is clear: “The goal is to be the best program in the league.”
Written by Joe Sullivan for the Fall 2019 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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