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ACU names Allen Ward as ninth director of athletics

By on July 16, 2018 in Sports with 0 Comments

Allen Ward, who led the athletics program at Murray State University the past 13 years, has agreed to become the ninth director of athletics at Abilene Christian University, ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert announced at a Monday afternoon press conference.

During his tenure at Murray State, the Racers have captured 39 Ohio Valley Conference championships and participated in NCAA Tournament play 29 times. Under Ward’s leadership, MSU has been one of the top overall athletics programs in its league, finishing in the top three in the OVC Commissioner’s Cup race six times since its inception in 2009, including second place each of the last two years.

“There was a tremendous amount of interest in this job from across the nation,” Schubert said. “Allen brings a significant depth of NCAA Division I experience from a highly successful program. Murray State has had great competitive success, and it’s also seen tremendous growth in the academic performance of its student-athletes. As I got to know Allen throughout the course of the hiring process, it became clear that he exemplifies the spiritual fit we are looking for in the leader of our athletics program.

“We are looking forward to Allen’s leadership,” Schubert continued. “We have a tremendous staff of coaches and administrators and I believe we have an opportunity over the next several years to make great strides in Division I.”

Ward replaces Lee De Leon, who announced in late May his resignation to accept a role in athletics administration at Purdue University. Ward’s first day on the job in Abilene will be Monday, Aug. 6.

“I’d like to thank Dr. Schubert and the members of the search committee for the invitation to join the leadership team at this extraordinary university,” Ward said. “My family and I are excited for the opportunity to join the Wildcat family and fully immerse ourselves on campus and in the community. I look forward to returning to Texas, and I envision great things for ACU.”

“My vision for ACU athletics will be simple: provide every opportunity for student-athletes to win a championship and ensure they earn their degrees,” he said. “At the same time, we will all work to promote a culture in which our young men and women develop intellectually, physically, and most importantly, spiritually. Preparing Christian leaders to make a real difference in the world through athletics is our objective.”

Ward has spent 27 years in collegiate athletics, including serving as the director of athletics at Murray State since March 2005. The Racers play NCAA Division I FCS football in the Ohio Valley Conference and its men’s basketball program is annually one of the top mid-major programs in the nation.

Murray State – a university of almost 10,500 students – has won 25 OVC conference championships in men’s basketball and reached the NCAA Tournament 16 times, including last spring when the Racers lost to West Virginia in the first round. During Ward’s tenure at MSU, the Racers won six regular-season men’s basketball championships, four conference tournament titles, reached the NCAA Tournament four times (2006, 2010, 2012 and 2018), the NIT (2011 and 2015) and the collegeinsider.com Tournament (CIT) in 2014.

When Ward joined MSU athletics, its overall Academic Progress Rate (APR) score was 911. Last year it grew to 986. Student-athlete graduation rates now consistently outpace the general student body with the 2018-19 difference expected to be 14 percent.

External support is at an all-time high at Murray State, highlighted by receipt of the largest gift in the history of the program – $3.3 million for the naming of the Community Financial Services Bank (CFSB) Center. Ward was at the helm as MSU’s athletics facilities were transformed by more than $13.5 million in enhancements, touching virtually every sport.

Under Ward’s leadership, the Racer Club was established as MSU’s annual fundraising arm, varsity softball was added as a sport, additional staff was added in key areas vital to student-athlete well-being and achievement, a comprehensive Title IX plan was developed to ensure compliance, and numerous events were digitally broadcast live and in HD each season.

“I’ve been blessed during my 13 years at Murray State to experience remarkable success,” Ward said. “And the credit belongs to a great group of coaches, an incredible staff, top-notch student-athletes and a passionate fan base. Those same elements are evident at ACU, which means there’s great promise for the Wildcats in Division I.”

Ward takes over an ACU athletics program that in 2018-19 will be in its sixth year as a Division I affiliate and second year eligible for all Southland Conference and NCAA post-season tournaments. The 2018 season will mark ACU’s second season to play at Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium, its first on-campus home for football since World War II.

Last year the Wildcats won the Southland Conference championship in women’s cross country for the second time in three seasons and finished sixth in the conference’s Commissioner’s Cup standings. ACU has finished sixth each of the last two years after a third-place finish in 2015-16 and a sixth-place finish in 2014-15. The league-wide competition measures its best overall programs and ACU has finished in the top half of the standings each of the last four years.

In the last five years, the Wildcats won Southland titles in women’s basketball (twice), women’s cross country (twice) and men’s tennis. The track and field program has been revitalized and sent 14 athletes to the NCAA West Preliminary meet in May. Squads from women’s soccer, volleyball, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis and softball all qualified for Southland postseason tournaments in their first year of Division I eligibility (2018-19), with the volleyball team advancing to the championship match despite being seeded eighth. And the men’s basketball team posted its first winning regular season since 2007-08 and earned a bid to the CIT.

In the classroom, ACU student-athletes boasted a cumulative 3.17 GPA for 2017-18, the highest such mark since Abilene Christian began tracking the measure. The re-branded Wildcat Club – the official athletics fundraising organization – has contributed more than $6.25 million through the Wildcat Annual Fund, capital and endowment gifts, as well as donations to sport-specific funds. The club’s membership grew to 980 in 2017.

“I’m so looking forward to using the powerful tool of NCAA Division I athletics to tell ACU’s story and help it achieve its mission,” Ward said. “What intrigues me even more is the opportunity it provides to impact others for Christ. We have a higher purpose at ACU and I’m a firm believer that intercollegiate athletics is the front porch to ACU’s life-changing message.

“ACU will be recognized as a leader in the Southland Conference in all that we do,” he said. “From winning championships to graduating student-athletes, I am fully committed to working closely with an incredible group of coaches, staff and student-athletes to position us for success. It’s a team effort and it starts at the top with Dr. Schubert. His support ­– coupled with the passion of Wildcat fans everywhere – is a recipe for accomplishing something very special.”

Ward, 51, joined the Murray State program in March 2005 after serving the previous 14 years in several roles at the University of North Texas, including the final seven years as senior associate athletics director.

A native of Rolla, Missouri, Ward earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from William Jewel College and went on to earn his M.Ed. in physical education and sports administration from Wichita State University in 1991. He and his wife, Sharon, have two children: Nathan and Nicole.

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