James J. Phillips became Northwestern’s 21st director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation on April 14, 2008, bringing with him a core philosophy of providing student-athletes with a “world-class experience” that enables them to succeed academically, socially and athletically. In September of 2012 the Board of Trustees elevated him to Vice President for Athletics & Recreation, an title reflecting his University-wide responsibilities.
In June of 2012, Phillips was honored as the Under Armour Central Region Athletic Director of the Year. As a sign of the respect he has earned from the industry and his peers, Phillips was elected 1st Vice President of the National Association of Collegiate Director’s of Athletics (NACDA) in June of 2013, and will serve as the President of NACDA in 2014-15 — a first for a Northwestern AD.
Phillips recently served two terms 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 he simultaneously worked as a member of the Rose Bowl Management Committee. He is also currently the Big Ten representative on the D-1A Athletic Directors Association, on the NCAA Awards, Benefits, Expenses and Financial Aid Cabinet, and as an athletic mentor in the NCAA Pathway Program.
Academically, Wildcats student-athletes have had banner years with Phillips at the helm. In each of the last three years more than 200 Northwestern student-athletes have earned Academic All-Big Ten recognition. In the NCAA’s most-recent Academic Progress Rating (APR) data, nine NU programs earned perfect 1,000 scores in the multi-year rate while an additional six teams had perfect 1,000 totals for the 2011-12 data cycle. The Wildcats football program led all Division 1 FBS & FCS schools for the third straight year, posting a 997 score for 2011-12. Fourteen varsity programs were honored by the NCAA with Public Recognition Awards for being in the top-10 percent of their respective sports with their latest multi-year scores. In 2012-13, for the second straight year, every Northwestern student-athletes participated in some form of community service, with the group totaling well over 5,000 combined hours for the fifth consecutive year.
Phillips has pursued an aggressive and progressive plan to ensure success both on and off the field of play, embarking on a number of major projects at Northwestern. He engineered the first master facility plan study in Northwestern history in November of 2010 and the first phase of that plan, a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose athletics and recreation facility on the shore of Lake Michigan, was approved by the University Board of Trustees in September of 2012.
Northwestern also launched the first wide-ranging marketing campaign in the history of the athletic department. The campaign, with the tagline “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” aimed at building brand awareness and driving ticket sales over a multi-year time frame. In 2010, Phillips signed a deal for Northwestern to face Illinois at Wrigley Field on November 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. The two parties expanded on that agreement in 2013 with an agreement to play five future football games at Wrigley over the next several years, as well as additional Wildcats athletics events. In April Northwestern baseball formally kicked off the partnership with a 3-0 win over the University of Michigan at the historic venue.
The 2012-13 athletic seasons also marked the beginning of a historic and unprecedented multi-year partnership in 2012 that designates Under Armour as the official outfitter of Northwestern’s athletic program. The partnership represents Under Armour’s first outfitter agreement with an athletic program that competes in the Big Ten Conference.
Northwestern’s revenues are at an all-time high under Phillips. NU’s football season-ticket base is at its highest in 13 years after growing more than 60 percent over the last three seasons. Men’s basketball season ticket sales are up 34 percent over the last three years, and Northwestern has posted the sixth-largest increase in the nation in average attendance over the last four seasons. 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).
On the field, Northwestern has achieved historic success across the department. The football program just completed the third ten-win season in school history with a victory in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, women’s lacrosse has won seven of the last nine NCAA National Championships, women’s tennis has compiled a string of 15-straight years with a Big Ten title, and men’s soccer has captured back-to-back Big Ten championships. In Phillips’ time at Northwestern, women’s lacrosse, softball, men’s & women’s golf, women’s fencing, men’s soccer, women’s tennis and wrestling all have won team or individual conference championships.