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Mark Jackson begins his second year as the Villanova University Director of Athletics in 2016-17. Jackson is responsible for providing executive leadership, strategic direction and oversight for all of Villanova’s 24 sports and more than 500 student-athletes. He is also charged with managing the department’s fiscal affairs, personnel, strategic planning, facilities, general operations and public relations. As part of the university’s senior leadership, Jackson is a member of the President’s Cabinet and is the direct liaison between the Athletic Department and the broader campus community.
Villanova is a member of the BIG EAST Conference and the Colonial Athletic Association Football Conference, and also competes in the Colonial Athletic Association (rowing) and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (water polo). In addition, club sports and an extensive intramurals and recreation program fall under the auspices of the Athletic Department.
Since being named the Director of Athletics on August 25, 2015, Jackson has made a commitment to excellence in every facet of the student-athlete experience. His first year leading the program was extremely successful on all fronts, as Villanova maintained its position as one of the nation’s elite institutions for its combination of academic prestige, athletic achievement and community service.
The 2015-16 academic year was highlighted by the men’s basketball team winning the second national championship in program history, while head coach Jay Wright was named the Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year. Men’s basketball was one of four Wildcats teams that advanced to national postseason play in 2015-16. The women’s cross country team earned a berth in the NCAA Championships and the volleyball team made its second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The women’s basketball team also returned to national postseason play and reached the second round of the WNIT. Villanova finished the year ranked No. 74 in the NACDA Directors’ Cup, including second among BIG EAST programs and fifth among FCS football schools.
Other accomplishments for the Athletic Department in 2015-16 included three BIG EAST team titles, with the men’s basketball team winning its third straight regular season crown and both the women’s swimming & diving and men’s indoor track & field teams repeating as BIG EAST champions. As a whole, the Wildcats athletic programs combined for 15 All-Americans, 12 Conference Players of the Year and 194 All-Conference honorees last year.
Villanova student-athletes continue to rank among the nation’s best in academic performance. A record 13 teams earned NCAA Public Recognition Awards for ranking in the top 10 percent of their sport for multi-year Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. Villanova was one of only seven Division I schools who play FCS football to have both its football and men’s basketball teams earn public recognition awards this year.
As a group, the Wildcats student-athletes have maintained a grade-point average above a 3.0 for 26 consecutive semesters, including a mark of 3.233 for the 2015-16 academic year. During the Spring 2016 semester, all 24 of Villanova’s varsity programs had a team GPA over a 3.0 for the first time ever. There were 15 student-athletes representing nine teams who had a perfect 4.0 GPA for the term. The 2015-16 academic year also saw two student-athletes earn Capital One Academic All-America recognition, while a total of 28 student-athletes were named to their sport’s national all-academic teams. Villanova also led the BIG EAST Conference with 302 student-athletes on the conference All-Academic Team.
In just a short time at Villanova, Jackson has played a key role in the record growth of the Villanova Athletic Fund. In April 2016, Villanova announced a $22.6 million total leadership gift from alumnus William B. Finneran ’63, for the advancement of its strategic plan for a renovation of the Pavilion as well as programmatic support for the men’s basketball program. This marks the largest gift ever to Villanova Athletics and propels the University forward, adding to the momentum generated from winning the 2016 national championship.
Another high-profile undertaking is nearing completion, as the West End Zone building in Villanova Stadium is set to open in September 2016. This $18 million project will create a brand new home for the Wildcats football team and will benefit all student-athletes with a centralized athletic performance center. The West End Zone project provides important amenities that meet the growing athletic performance demands for Villanova student-athletes. The new facility will house the Wildcats sports medicine operations and “The Howie Long Strength Training Center,” while other amenities include a new football locker room, coaches’ offices, equipment room, academic support suite, a 100-seat meeting room and a reception/training table area.
Jackson helped to secure an anonymous $1.3 million gift, the largest ever to a Villanova Athletics women’s program, for the construction of a new home venue for the field hockey team at the Proving Grounds in nearby Conshohocken, Pa. This transformational gift provides a new home for the field hockey team and positively impacts both the competitive and recruiting landscape of the program. A similar project is underway at the Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth, where the baseball team plays its home games. Through the generosity of alumni and friends of the baseball program, artificial turf is being installed on the infield and behind home plate in time for the start of the 2017 season. The baseball turf project is a significant improvement to the Wildcats home field and will greatly enhance the game-day experience of the Wildcats student-athletes.
In addition to his responsibilities on campus, Jackson is involved with several external committees outside the university. He is currently the chair of the BIG EAST Athletic Directors Committee and the Big Five Athletic Directors Committee, as well as the Co-Chair of the Collegiate Sports Summit For Athletic Directors.
Jackson came to Villanova with nearly 20 years of experience and a comprehensive knowledge of all sports and the associated support that is necessary to sustain a high-level collegiate athletic program. He most recently served as the Senior Associate Director of Athletics and Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Southern California, where he had responsibility for the university’s flagship football program along with baseball, women’s lacrosse and support services, including sports medicine, strength and conditioning, nutrition, security and equipment and apparel operations.
Some highlights from his USC experience include oversight of more than $125 million in capital projects, playing a key role in a $300 million fundraising campaign for the USC athletic department, and managing the USC athletic department’s dealings with a multi-million dollar renovation of the Los Angeles Coliseum. Prior to USC, Jackson worked at Syracuse University as the Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director, where he oversaw all aspects of athletic administration and support for 20 men’s and women’s programs. At both USC and Syracuse, he was responsible for expanding the partnerships with key sponsors.
Jackson also developed a strong relationship with the NCAA, assisting with the development of a robust compliance program on campus and working with the NCAA senior leadership to plan and execute an annual Collegiate Sports Summit. He also has experience at the professional level with the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots, serving as Director of Football Development with Oakland from 2007-2008 and as a coaching assistant with New England for three seasons (1998-2000).
Jackson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and played defensive back at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He received his bachelor’s degree in government from Colby in 1995 and a master’s degree in public policy from Trinity College in 1997. Jackson, 43, and his wife, Tricia, are parents to four children: Grace, 15; Hannah, 13; Kevin, 11; and Sean, 9.