The Number of Women Hired into AD Roles in 2017: INCREDIBLE!

It’s half-time of 2017 and momentum is definitely in our favor. In just the first half of the year, we’ve already seen 19 women hired into athletic director and commissioner roles across all divisions, and we've matched the 2016 total number of women named to Division I athletic director roles, at six.

Touchdown dance!

In just the last two weeks alone, three more intelligent, confident, and accomplished women were named to top athletics posts, Mary Ellen Gillespie, Marie Tuite, and Donna Woodruff, who joined Samantha Huge (William & Mary), Heather Lyke  (University of Pittsburgh), and Desiree Reed-Francois (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), who were hired earlier this year. "The number of women hired into Dl positions this year is significant, and very telling—it shows that change is coming," says our CEO, Patti Phillips. "We could talk all day about why the numbers overall are so low and have been slow to change. But I think it’s more important to focus on and celebrate the fact that we are moving the needle."

And celebrate we will! Join us in congratulating these trailblazers. 

Mary Ellen Gillespie was one of nine candidates in the running to be the athletic director for the University of Hartford. She happened to be the only female. But it wasn’t her gender that made her right for the role. Greg Woodward, the Hartford president-designate, says, “She won it hands down. No one thought about the fact that she was a woman.”

Previously, Mary Ellen was athletic director at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Prior to that, she held athletic and campus leadership roles at Bowling Green State University, Purdue University, the University of Iowa, and State University of New York at Plattsburgh. She’s a member of the NCAA's Division I women's basketball committee and the Division I-AAA Board of Directors.

Mary Ellen wowed a 10-person search committee to secure the athletic department’s top post. The Hartford president added, “Her background in various areas of higher education leadership, including several years in senior-level Division I athletics administration, brings us a nationally recognized expert to lead Athletics to the next level of success and visibility.” 

Marie Tuite was named athletics director at San Jose State University. The school recognized Marie as one of a handful of women to lead a NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision program. SJSU also cited her background that blends five years at the NCAA head office, athletic leadership roles on six college campuses, teaching, and time as a collegiate basketball and field hockey player.

"We searched nationally for the best athletics director we could find—and we found her right here," says SJSU President, Mary Papazian. “Marie demonstrates a genuine commitment to the success of all students, to our university's mission, and to the principle that athletics should be woven into the fabric of the university."

A member of the university’s search committee echoed the president saying, "I’m delighted that we have found in Marie an outstanding leader who clearly and aptly demonstrates what we’re seeking: an enthusiastic, committed, hardworking, and forward-thinking athletics director firmly focused on the success of all our students during their time here and after graduation.” 

Donna Woodruff was named assistant vice president and director of athletics at Loyola University Maryland. The university called out her expertise and successful track record of strategic planning, fundraising and alumni relations, at Villanova University, Penn, and most recently Stony Brook University, where she was deputy director of athletics.

“Donna has a tremendous depth and breadth of experience and brings a vision that will truly help Loyola University Maryland and Greyhound athletics continue to gain national prominence,” says Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., Loyola’s president.

Another cool fact about Donna? She was Women Leaders' (formerly NACWAA's) Administrator of the Year in 2011.

We salute these tested and proven winners, and the 16 other women who have been hired into AD or commissioner roles across all conferences this year. And we've raised the percentage of women in athletic director roles at Power Five conferencesSandy Barbour at Penn State University, Jennifer Cohen at the University of Washington, Heather Lyke at Pitt, and Debbie Yow at NC State—to 6.15 percent from 4.6 percent last year, so although this is still way too low, we are moving in the right direction. 

"I believe presidents, chancellors, and search committees are keenly aware that they need leaders that reflect the populations of their institutions, and are working harder than ever ensure diverse candidate pools," Patti says. "As that continues to happen, more women will continue to win these jobs!" 

What are you doing to be next? Attend one of our leadership programs to make sure you’re ready when called!

It’s only half-time. We have the momentum. Congratulations to ALL women ADs and commissioners hired this year, and let’s continue to make 2017 one for the record books!

Division II
Rachel Burleson, Franklin Pierce University
Debbie DeJong, Long Island University, Post
Kathy Laoutaris, Concordia College
Jessie Rosa, University of Auburn at Montgomery
Wendy Snodgrass, Clarion University

Division III
Shanda Ness, Thomas College
Pam Roecker, Regis College
Mary Beth Spirk, Moravian College
Christa Racine, Drew University

Kris Dunbar, Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

Brooke Cushman, Lewis and Clark College

Sarah Kurpel, Penn State Brandywine

Chelsey Wartburton, Utah State University Eastern