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Northwestern creates role dedicated to new frontier of college athletics; appoints Dr. Derrick Gragg vice president for athletic strategy

University to begin search for a new director of athletics and recreation
Derrick Gragg
Since Derrick Gragg’s appointment in June 2021, Northwestern’s varsity programs gained success including national championships in field hockey and lacrosse. Gragg will remain the University’s athletic director until the next AD begins. At that point, he will assume his new role.

Northwestern University today announced the creation of a new administrator-level position dedicated to the oversight of the University’s athletics strategy and approach to the new era of collegiate athletics. Dr. Derrick Gragg, current Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation, has been appointed to the role with the title Vice President for Athletic Strategy. He will remain the University’s athletic director until the next AD begins. At that point, Dr. Gragg will assume his new role.

Northwestern, along with many universities nationwide, is navigating a dynamic environment and historic moment that will fundamentally change what it means to be a student-athlete. What began with Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rights and conference realignment has accelerated with the House v. NCAA settlement, which for the first time creates a pathway for direct revenue sharing with collegiate student-athletes. In his new role, Dr. Gragg will focus on advising the president and athletic director about how Northwestern can be a leader in how it approaches this new landscape while addressing the new challenges it presents.

“Derrick has been an asset to Northwestern over the last few years, and our athletics department has achieved some remarkable accomplishments under his leadership, both on and off the fields of competition,” said Northwestern President Michael Schill. “In addition, after an investigation found hazing in our football program, Derrick helped us recover and set the stage for a new era of excellence.

“We are thrilled that Derrick will bring his vast expertise and institutional knowledge to this new role. Derrick will be instrumental in helping Northwestern navigate the emerging opportunities in intercollegiate athletics and the rapid transformations underway,” Schill added.

The search for a new Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation will begin immediately. Dr. Gragg will assist in the transition period once a new director is selected, and will have an advisory role in the selection of the new AD.

“It has been an honor to serve as Northwestern’s athletics director, and I am proud of what we have accomplished together, with incredible staff and coaches working hard each and every day to provide a world-class experience for our student-athletes,” said Dr. Gragg. “I am looking forward to my new role amid this new era for college athletics, and I am committed to ensuring that Northwestern’s tradition of excellence, on and off the field, continues. I will work closely with the new athletic director, President Schill and the Northwestern administration to ensure current and future Wildcats benefit fully from this evolving college athletics environment while staying true to our broader mission of academic and personal development for every student-athlete.”

Since Gragg’s appointment in June 2021, Northwestern’s varsity programs gained success including national championships in field hockey and lacrosse; the men’s basketball program reached the NCAA Tournament for the second and third times in school history; the softball team won the Big Ten regular season crown in back-to-back seasons and earned the 2023 Big Ten Tournament title; and the 2023 football team became the talk of the country with a 7-5 regular season record and bowl win, earning new head coach Dave Braun Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. The Cats captured a record number seven conference championships during the 2023-24 academic year.

Northwestern continues to steadily climb in the LEARFIELD Directors’ Cup rankings, a measure of overall athletic department success, and student-athletes continue to set records in academic achievement. Northwestern is the only Big Ten program — and one of only seven in the country — that won a bowl game this past season and won at least one game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The University ranked 30th in the LEARFIELD Directors Cup for 2022-23, the department’s best performance in more than 15 years. In the classroom, Northwestern's most recent overall 98% graduation success rate (GSR) is tied for the top mark across all Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions. Northwestern's overall 98% GSR matches the department's and Big Ten's all-time record.

In 2023, Gragg introduced R.I.S.E.: Northwestern: A Strategic Plan for Excellence, which defined the department’s mission, vision, values and strategic priorities after engaging in an inclusive process that solicited input from constituents across the University. In the classroom, a record number of Northwestern student-athletes earned Big Ten Conference Distinguished Scholar recognition.

Prior to coming to Northwestern, Gragg served as Senior Vice President for Inclusion, Education & Community Engagement at the NCAA, where he was the national office ambassador promoting the Association’s core values of diversity and inclusion. He also served as Vice President & Director of Athletics at the University of Tulsa for seven years, preceded by a seven-year tenure as Director of Athletics at Eastern Michigan University.

Gragg also worked in the athletics administrations at the University of Arkansas, the University of Michigan, the University of Missouri and at his alma mater, Vanderbilt University.

An experienced lecturer, presenter and adjunct faculty member, Gragg has published several articles and editorials on intercollegiate athletics including a nationwide study on sports-related gambling. He has been a presenter and panelist at events such as the NCAA Future Coaches Academy, Emerging Administrators Academy, College Athletics Leadership Symposium (CALS) and the NCAA Annual Convention. He has taught over a dozen college courses, including “The Business of College Sport” as a part of Northwestern’s Harvey Kapnick Center for Business Institutions.

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