Women Leaders in College Sports, in Partnership with the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU, Announce Latest NCAA Division I, II and III Athletic Director Research Findings


July 21, 2021

Meg Dowd
Women Leaders in College Sports
[email protected] 

Julie Tenney
Arizona State University
[email protected]

Kansas City, Mo.— Women Leaders in College Sports (Women Leaders), in collaboration with Executive Director and Distinguished Professor, Glenn Wong, and Stephanie Jarvis, Lecturer, from the Allan “Bud” Selig Master of Sports Law and Business program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University (ASU Law), are excited to make public their updated research findings on the career trajectory of NCAA Division I, Division II and Division III athletic directors. 

Women Leaders began this partnership with ASU Law in 2017 to better understand the hiring trends and career characteristics of men and women administrators who are hired to athletic director jobs, across all NCAA Divisions. Specifically, both parties aimed to learn more about the paths, education and experience levels attributed to those hires before they landed the designated position of athletic director.
"Our mission  to  develop and advance  women  at all levels remains strong,  and the research provided by Glenn Wong and the team at ASU Law is so very important  for our organization, and the entire industry”  says  Patti  Phillips, CEO of Women Leaders in College Sports. “ The  research  highlights important  hiring trends in the industry, which allows women to be more strategic with career decisions.  We are thrilled to continue this partnership and utilize ASU’s research to invest in Women Leaders everywhere.” 
The data used in this research was strictly compiled from public data and reflects only readily available information from each institution’s website and additional online resources. Wong and his team navigated hundreds of websites to collect information on all current athletic directors at every Division. The data gathering process was completed on April 30, 2021 and is reflective of all athletic directors to that date. Any changes to personnel in those roles after that date will be recorded in next year’s report. 

“The Allan “Bud” Selig Sports Law & Business Program at ASU Law is once again honored and privileged to have the opportunity to share its research with Women Leaders in College Sports,” says Wong. “The data shows that diversity hiring has increased over the past few years, and we are pleased to see this upward trend and hope that the research has helped to shine a light on this important topic. We know that this data is extremely useful to Presidents as they continue to try and expand diversity in college athletics leadership roles. The data regarding academic backgrounds and work experience will also be useful to aspiring Athletic Directors as they try and position themselves as the best candidates for these leadership roles” 
The following research update (2021) provides reporting on trends across all three NCAA divisions. Women Leaders in College Sports continues to use this information to supplement its existing professional development curriculum. The organization’s members are encouraged to make informed career-promoting and advancement decisions based on this curriculum provided during educational opportunities at Women Leaders.  
Summary of Updated Hiring Trends for Athletic Directors:  

Division I 
  • Overall, the upward trend continues for women in Division I, making up 13.3% of all athletic directors in 2017 to 14.8% in 2021.  
  • From April 2020 to April 2021, 8 of the 47 (17%) new athletic director hires were women. 
  • Overall, minority females represent 27% of Division I female ADs. This has stayed consistent for the last 3 years. 
  • 30% of all newly hired Division I ADs represent ethnic minorities. 
  • Power 5 institutions now have 6 female ADs. This is the most since data collection began in 2017. 
  • Athletic Fundraising, Athletic Marketing, and Operations/Facilities experience have been the top three experiences found on the resumes of ADs since 2017. 
  • Overall, the percentage of graduate degrees has decreased from 97% to 83%; however, the percentage of graduate degrees for women has increased from 84% to 88%.


Division II  
  • Women make up 23.1% of all Division II athletic directors. This is the highest documented percentage since data collection began in 2017. 
  • Minorities make up 15.4% of all Division II athletic directors, the highest percentage in this category in the last four years. Before 2020-21, the percentage remained consistently around 13.6%. 
  • In 2020-21, women made up 36% of new hires. This is down 6.5% from 2019-20, but still higher than the two preceding years. 
  • Minorities represented 30% of all new Division II hires. This is the highest percentage in the last 4 years by 9.5%. 
  • The percentage of new hires with Division I experience has steadily decreased since data collection began in 2017 (when the percentage was 55.4%) to new low of 32%. 
  • The dominating field of prior experience among new hires is compliance. 
  • 88% of newly hired athletic directors have a graduate degree, a new high in the four years that this statistic has been tracked.

Division III  
  • Overall, women make up 32% of athletic directors in Division III. This percentage has been stagnant over the past four years. 
  • 13 of the 33 (39.4%) new Division III athletic director hires have been women. The female new hire percentage has been slightly fluctuating over the past four years with a slight decrease of 3% between 2017-2018 and 2020-2021. 
  • Division III schools are hiring more minorities. 19.4% of new hires this year were minorities, compared to 7.6% in 2017-2018 and 10.3% in 2019-2020. 
  • 92% of female ADs have a graduate degree in 2020-2021 compared to 87.5% in 2017-2018. 
  • 26.9% of the new Division III athletic director hires had experience at the Division I level, recently decreasing from 38.2%. 
  • The majority of female ADs’ top work experience was in compliance compared to operations/facilities for male ADs. 
Learn more about the Leadership Hub, Women Leaders’ dynamic and expansive leadership resource center here.

About the Sports Law and Business Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

The Sports Law and Business program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is the only graduate program in the country that strategically combines law, business, and athletics to teach and prepare the next generation of sports industry leaders. The program features an innovative curriculum, experiential learning and faculty experienced in both the classroom and within the industry. 

The Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is one of the nation's preeminent law schools, focused on offering students a personalized legal education. Ranked No. 1 in Arizona since 2010 and No. 25 nationally by U.S. News & World Report, ASU Law offers students the opportunity to tailor their education, to match externships to their interests and career services resources to help land their ideal jobs. Additionally, ASU Law's LEED Gold certified building in downtown Phoenix is steps away from the legal, political and economic heart of Arizona. For more information, visit law.asu.edu.

About Women Leaders in College Sports

Founded in 1979, Women Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA) is the only nationally recognized collegiate professional membership organization whose mission is to develop, connect, and advance women leaders working in intercollegiate athletics. More than 3,800 members strong, Women Leaders promotes the growth, leadership, and success of women as athletics administrators, conference commissioners, professional staff, coaches, and student-athletes. Read about the recent advancement landscape for women athletic directors in CEO Patti Phillips’ May 2021 USA Today op-ed, and follow Women Leaders on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @WomenLeadersCS.