James J. Phillips - Vice President for Athletics & Recreation
James J. Phillips became Northwestern's 21st director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation on April 14, 2008, bringing with him a track record of success at the Division I level and a commitment to the values Northwestern always has maintained in collegiate athletics. Four years into his tenure, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro elevated Phillips to the position of Vice President for Athletics and Recreation.
One of 10 children from a middle-class family and a native of the Portage Park neighborhood on Chicago's northwest side, Phillips has proven to be the perfect fit to lead Northwestern's 19-sport program in the nation's No. 3 market. His deep Windy City roots and family orientation are an integral part of his core philosophy of providing student-athletes with a "world-class experience" that enables them to thrive academically, socially and athletically.
While successfully elevating the profile of Northwestern Athletics in Chicagoland, Phillips has simultaneously garnered the respect of his peers across the college sports landscape. In February 2015 he was elected to chair the new National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Council, and serve as the representative athletic director on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, the first-ever sitting athletic director to serve on the Board. Phillips was previously selected to serve as the Big Ten Conference's representative on the Division I Council and is currently the President of the National Association of Collegiate Director's of Athletics (NACDA), the first Northwestern A.D. to hold the position.
Over the course of his Northwestern tenure, Phillips has completed a two-year stint as the Athletic Director Chair of the Big Ten Conference, representing the league's A.D.'s on the Executive Committee of the B1G Joint Group, while simultaneously working as a member of the Rose Bowl Management Committee. He is also a current member of the NCAA Awards, Benefits, Expenses and Financial Aid Cabinet, and is serving as an athletic mentor in the NCAA Pathway Program.
In June of 2009, Phillips was asked to serve on the NCAA Champions Forum panel, a group of football coaches and athletic directors making an effort to increase the hiring and awareness of minority football coaches. He is a member of the NACDA Executive Committee, the NCAA Fellows Leadership Development Program, the Boards of World Sport Chicago as well as GENYOUth, and previously served on Chicago's bid committee for the 2016 Olympic Games. Phillips is an adjunct professor of management and organizations at Northwestern's world-renowned Kellogg School of Management, where he instructs a course in Comprehensive Perspectives for Leading a Sports Entity. He has previously lectured in the Northwestern School of Continuing Studies' Master's in Sports Administration program.
Academically, Wildcats student-athletes have had banner years with Phillips at the helm. In the NCAA's most recent Academic Progress Rate (APR) data, Northwestern had a Big Ten-record 15 teams earn Public Recognition Awards for ranking in the top 10 percent of their respective sports nationally. The 79 percent (15-of-19) of Wildcats programs receiving the honor is the top mark in FBS for 2015. Northwestern has surpassed 200 Academic All-Big Ten honorees each of the last five years, including in 2014-15 when a school-record 228 NU student-athletes earned the distinction.
Northwestern continues to be among the nation's leaders in community service under Phillips, who in 2011 oversaw the hiring of NU's first assistant A.D. for community relations. All of Northwestern's nearly 500 student-athletes participated in at least one philanthropic initiative during the 2014-15 academic year, with the group as a whole totaling more than 5,500 hours for the fifth-consecutive year. That emphasis on outreach has also included athletic department staff since 2012 during the annual Staff Service Day in late May.
Further improving the student-athlete experience, Phillips facilitated the 2012 institution of the unique NU For Life program managed by the assistant A.D. for career enhancement and employer relations. The innovative four-year program is dedicated to guiding student-athletes toward their professional passion, connecting them with desirable internship and job opportunities, and preparing them for lifelong success after their playing careers are complete.
Phillips has pursued an aggressive plan to ensure success for Northwestern on and off the field of play, embarking on a number of major projects during his tenure. One of his first actions was to begin the implementation of a Department of Athletics and Recreation re-organization that was completed in January of 2009. The athletic department's existing infrastructure was broken into three key areas: internal, external and student-athlete welfare.
In the external area in 2010, Northwestern launched the first wide-ranging marketing campaign in the history of the athletic department. The ongoing campaign, with the tagline "Chicago's Big Ten Team," aims at building brand awareness and driving ticket sales over a multi-year time frame. Northwestern athletic competitions and events in Chicago have become a regular occurrence under Phillips, raising the awareness of Northwestern's brand throughout Chicagoland. In 2009, the Wildcats baseball team defeated Notre Dame at U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox. In 2010, Phillips signed a deal for Northwestern to face Illinois at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20 in what was the first football game at the "Friendly Confines" since 1970 and the first college football game at the venue since 1938.
Phillips then solidified NU's relationship with the historic North Side franchise, announcing in 2013 a reciprocal event and marketing agreement with the Cubs that provides opportunities for numerous NU programs to stage competitions at the venue. The series officially began on April 20, 2013, when Northwestern defeated Big Ten rival Michigan in the Friendly Confines and continued in 2014 when the Wildcats' seven-time NCAA champion women's lacrosse team hosted the first-ever college lacrosse game at the ballpark, defeating the University of Southern California.
Phillips launched the first master facility plan study in Northwestern history in November of 2010 and, in 2012, announced approval by the Board of Trustees to build a major complex for athletic and recreational activities and a new parking structure on the north end of NU's main Evanston campus. The centerpiece of the complex will be an indoor multipurpose facility to provide room for major events, training and competition space for varsity programs and enhanced recreation areas that will affect all members of the Northwestern University community.
The first elements of the new complex opened in 2014 with a brand-new sailing center and a renovation and 30,000 square foot expansion of the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. On Feb. 25, 2015, Northwestern broke ground on Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium, which will include updated competition venues for field hockey, lacrosse and soccer, and Chap and Ethel Hucheson Field, a new outdoor football practice field alongside Lake Michigan.
NU's current athletic facilities also have received significant upgrades in recent seasons, most recently in the form of new, state-of-the-art videoboards installed at Welsh-Ryan Arena and Ryan Field in 2014, and a new baseball playing surface at Rocky Miller Park in 2015.
Additionally, under Phillips, Northwestern and Under Armour began a historic and unprecedented multi-year partnership in 2012 that designates Under Armour as the official outfitter of the university's athletic program. The partnership represented Under Armour's first outfitter agreement with a Big Ten Conference athletic program. A leader in performance apparel, footwear and accessories, Under Armour outfits all of Northwestern's 19 men's and women's varsity athletic teams.
Along with the landmark Under Armour agreement, the department has signed major corporate sponsorship deals with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, BMO Harris Bank, Gatorade and Coca-Cola while transitioning to Learfield Sports as its multimedia rights holder in March of 2011 and re-branding the entity Northwestern Sports Properties (NSP). That group has tripled NU's corporate sponsorships in the last two years.
NU's paid football season-ticket base grew to an all-time high in 2014 after doubling over the previous five seasons. In 2013 the Wildcats hosted an ABC primetime telecast against Ohio State on Oct. 5, the same day on which ESPN's College GameDay staged its ultra-popular telecast from NU's Evanston campus for the first time since 1995. On the men's basketball side, season ticket sales reached a record number in 2014 and have increased by nearly 40 percent over the last four years.
Phillips has spearheaded an overhaul of Northwestern's Athletic Development team to establish positive trends in donor cultivation and engagement, with giving to NU Athletics surpassing $100 million in FY13. Athletics and Recreation has embarked on an aggressive $285 million campaign as part of the University's comprehensive "We Will." campaign, raising more than $170 million toward that goal in less than two years. In 2013-14, the unit unveiled a revitalized Wildcat Fund that to date has resulted in almost 1,200 new athletics donors, while also welcoming 30 charter members to the Otto Graham Society, created to serve as the catalyst for leadership annual giving to support NU student-athletes' pursuit of a world-class experience.
On the field, Northwestern has achieved historic success across the department. The football program earned a bowl berth in five straight seasons from 2008-12 -- most recently recording a victory over Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2013 -- while women's lacrosse has won seven of the last 11 NCAA Championships and appeared in 10 straight national semifinals from 2005-14. Women's tennis compiled an incredible string of 16-straight years with a Big Ten title from 1999-2014, women's fencing has an active string of 16-straight top-10 NCAA finishes, men's soccer captured Big Ten regular-season championships in both 2011 and 2012, and field hockey won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 2013 (regular season) and 2014 (tournament). In Phillips' time at Northwestern, women's lacrosse, softball, men's golf, women's golf, women's fencing, men's soccer, women's tennis, field hockey and wrestling all have won team or individual conference championships.
In the spring of 2015 alone, six of Northwestern's seven in-season sports had NCAA postseason representation led by a quarterfinal appearance for women's lacrosse and a program-best 10th-place result for women's golf. In a sign the future is even brighter still, all four of NU's spring women's sports won their respective Big Ten Freshmen of the Year awards: Hannah Kim (women's golf), Erin Larner (women's tennis), Selena Lasota (women's lacrosse) and Sabrina Rabin (softball).
To sustain that success, Phillips has worked to solidify the leadership of each program, securing Pat Fitzgerald (football), Kelly Amonte Hiller (women's lacrosse), Tim Lenahan (men's soccer) and Emily Fletcher (women's golf), among others, with contract extensions. In June of 2009, he inked Fitzgerald to a new seven-year deal, then extended that contract to 10 years in May of 2011, keeping one of the finest players in school history on the Wildcats' sideline through at least 2020. Amonte Hiller took charge of the women's lacrosse program when it returned from club status in 2002 and is now locked up with a contract that will see her through the 2021 season. Lenahan has mentored his program to NCAA tourney appearances in eight of the last 11 seasons, twice reaching the NCAA quarterfinals, and claimed the aforementioned Big Ten titles. Fletcher is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, winning the award in 2011, 2013 and 2015 while leading her program to two Big Ten championships and three-straight top-15 NCAA finishes in that span.
In addition, Phillips elevated a pair of young Northwestern assistants to head coaching positions, naming Jarod Schroeder the men's swimming and diving head coach in 2009 and NU graduate Drew Pariano the wrestling head coach in 2010. In March of 2014, Pariano guided redshirt freshman Jason Tsirtsis to the 149-pound NCAA title -- the first national championship won by a freshman Wildcat wrestler -- as the Wildcats earned a top-10 national finish in the team standings. Phillips also recruited sought-after head coaches Tracey Fuchs (field hockey), Joe McKeown (women's basketball), Michael Moynihan (women's soccer), Abby Steketee (women's swimming and diving) and Chris Collins (men's basketball) to Evanston. Fuchs had arguably the most successful playing career in the history of USA Field Hockey and delivered a Big Ten championship to Evanston in her fifth season. McKeown came to the Wildcats after 19 years as the head coach at The George Washington University, where he took his team to the postseason 17 times. Moynihan arrived at Northwestern in 2012 following a remarkable 15-year stint as the head coach at Milwaukee where he coached the Panthers to 13 Horizon League championships, including 12 in a row, and nine NCAA tournament appearances. Steketee is a Northwestern alumna who build Nevada from the bottom of the WAC to third place in the Mountain West Conference in just three years, earning the 2015 MWC Coach of the Year award.
At the time of his hiring, Collins was one of the most highly regarded assistant coaches in the country after 13 seasons on the bench next to one of the game's coaching legends, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, at Collins' alma mater. In addition to helping Krzyzewski win 356 of 428 games in his 13 seasons on staff, Collins also was an assistant during gold-medal runs for USA Basketball at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics before returning to his native Chicago to become the Wildcats head coach.
Individually, student-athletes have won the Tewaaraton Trophy in women's lacrosse (Hannah Nielsen, Shannon Smith), the Big Ten Wayne Duke Award (Mark Ison and Drew Ratner), the Hodge Trophy in wrestling (Jake Herbert) and the Big Ten Conference awards for male and female athletes of the year (Jake Herbert in 2009 and Shannon Smith in 2011, respectively).
Prior to arriving in Evanston, Phillips served as Northern Illinois' athletic director for four years beginning in 2004. During that time, the Huskies had unprecedented athletic success and consistent academic achievements. On July 1, 2006, Phillips was promoted to associate vice president, in addition to his director of athletics title, after already being recognized by his peers in the Mid-American Conference with his selection to serve as chairman of the MAC Athletic Directors' Council. He was honored with the 2007 General Robert R. Neyland Outstanding Athletic Director of the Year award while at NIU, and was a member of the NCAA Women's Basketball committee during his time in the MAC.
Phillips was extraordinarily successful in fundraising and marketing at Northern Illinois. He spearheaded the fundraising and construction of the $14-million Yordon Academic and Athletic Performance Center at NIU, the largest capital project in the athletic department's history, and led several successful fundraising campaigns for athletics. In addition, the Huskies opened an indoor practice facility for baseball, softball and men's and women's golf, and began construction in the spring of 2008 on a new soccer/track and field complex.
During Phillips' tenure in DeKalb, he was instrumental in scheduling high-profile football games against Michigan and Ohio State that resulted in national television appearances for NIU. He also negotiated playing the University of Iowa in 2007 at Soldier Field in Chicago as a home game at NIU, a game that sold out in less than a week. In addition, Phillips negotiated a multi-year radio rights agreement for WSCR-AM (The Score) in Chicago to carry football, men's basketball and a weekly NIU live radio show discussing all Huskie athletic programs. Phillips also negotiated a television deal with Comcast SportsNet Chicago to carry football games and a weekly show called Inside Huskie Sports.
A 1990 graduate of the University of Illinois, Phillips started his career as a manager and student assistant in Illinois' athletic department. He earned a master's degree in education at Arizona State University while serving as a restricted earnings basketball coach during a period in which the Sun Devils reached the postseason in five-straight years.
Phillips also holds a Ph.D. in educational administration from Tennessee, which he completed in the summer of 2007. Phillips served as an assistant athletics director with the Volunteers until 2000. He directed a $12.4 million annual athletics giving program, and was directly responsible for identifying, cultivating and soliciting all major gifts and donations for the Volunteer athletic program. He helped originate the first-ever capital campaign for athletics at UT that raised more than $50 million for endowments, facilities and programs. In addition, he supervised several athletic programs and a variety of other areas.
Phillips then moved to the University of Notre Dame in 2000, where he served as associate director of athletics and senior associate director of athletics for external affairs. During 2002-03, he helped launch the Rockne Heritage Fund, which became the first athletics annual fund that directly benefited student-athlete grant-in-aid scholarships. In addition, he managed the ticket office, various corporate sponsorships, athletic programs and a weekly Irish radio show. At the same time, Phillips played an integral part in the funding of a new $24-million, 96,000-square foot athletics facility. At Notre Dame, Phillips directed all phases of the athletics community relations program and helped develop new institutional and departmental advancement programs.
Phillips and his wife, Laura, have five children: Luke, Madeline, Meredith, John and James.
The Phillips family (clockwise from top left): Luke, Laura, Madeline, Jim, John, Meredith and James