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A Historic Step

As Big Sky’s commissioner, Andrea Williams busts diversity barrier

College sports reached a significant milestone April 29 when the Big Sky Conference announced its choice of Andrea Williams as its new commissioner – the first time an African-American woman was chosen to lead an NCAA Division I conference.

While the historic ramifications were not lost on Williams, she believes it’s more important to show she is ready for the challenge of leading a conference.

“It is 2016, and you hope people were making decisions and having conversations based on people’s experience, knowledge, education and background,” says Williams, who started her new job July 1. “You hope things like gender and race don’t come into play. A commissioner position is very coveted. There are only 32 of them (in Division I) in the country.”

Williams worked in the Big Ten Conference for 15 years, including as associate commissioner of football and basketball operations. Managing the conference’s two largest revenue-producing sports helped prepare her for the next step.

Williams grew more comfortable with the Big Sky during the interview process. The selection committee included presidents, campus athletics administrators, faculty representatives and a student-athlete.

“The people are what drew me to this position,” says Williams, who earned a master’s in sports administration from Ohio University in 2016.

It’s been quite a journey for Williams, who originally planned to work in television as a sports announcer or news anchor when she graduated in 1997 with a speech communications degree from Texas A&M University, College Station, where she played both basketball and volleyball.

She interned at CBS Sports in New York City, but her stops at the Southern Conference and the Big Ten Conference in 1998 changed her thoughts about
her career path.

“I had the opportunity to work in administration and on championships,” Williams says. “That’s what introduced me to sports management, and the administrative side of intercollegiate athletics.”

Williams worked for the Big Ten from 1998 to 2004 before taking a director position at the NCAA’s national office, where she worked with the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship. She returned to the Big Ten in August 2006.

In her new position, Williams plans to conduct internal audits to see if the expectations and personnel are a good fit for the conference. She also plans to make visits to all Big Sky Conference schools in the coming months to get a better feel for the conference and its members.

“I want to get to know the people and the culture,” Williams says. “What is unique is that the Big Sky spans over nine states, and it will be interesting learning the different culture and traditions each campus has.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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