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Mark Jackson is in his third year as the Villanova University Director of Athletics in 2017-18. Jackson is responsible for providing executive leadership, strategic direction and oversight for all of Villanova’s 24 varsity sports and more than 550 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.
Jackson’s commitment to excellence in every facet of the student-athlete experience has fostered an environment that has allowed the Wildcats to be successful on all fronts in the first two years of his tenure, while maintaining Villanova’s place among the nation’s elite institutions for the combination of its academic prestige, athletic achievement and community service.
Villanova has been presented with the BIG EAST Conference President’s Cup in each of the first two years that this across-the-board honor has been awarded. The President’s Cup recognizes the BIG EAST member school that has excelled at an elite level in athletic competition, academic performance and community service. In just two years at the reigns of the Wildcats athletics program, Jackson has overseen a national championship in men’s basketball, an individual national title in men’s cross country, six BIG EAST team titles and six teams who have advanced to national postseason play.
During the 2016-17 academic year, the men’s basketball team returned to the No. 1 national ranking and won its fourth consecutive BIG EAST regular season title in addition to winning the postseason conference tournament for the second time in three seasons. The women’s basketball team won 20 games for the fifth consecutive season and reached the semifinal round of the WNIT for the first time. Men’s cross country student-athlete Patrick Tiernan capped his record-setting collegiate career by becoming the second Villanova men’s athlete to win the NCAA cross country title. Other highlights from 2016-17 included the football team returning to the FCS playoffs and the men’s soccer team reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The women’s swimming & diving team won its fourth straight BIG EAST crown in dominant fashion.
Villanova student-athletes consistently make the grade in terms of academic performance, and their success in the classroom has soared to new heights in the last two years. A record 15 teams earned NCAA public recognition awards in 2017 for having a multi-year Academic Progress Rate (APR) score that ranked in the top 10 percent of their sport nationwide. There were just seven Division I programs to earn as many as 15 public recognition awards, and that total also was the most among BIG EAST schools. Villanova was also one of just seven schools to earn recognition in the high-profile sports of football and men’s and women’s basketball.
As a group, the Wildcats student-athletes have maintained a grade-point average above a 3.0 for 28 consecutive semesters, including a GPA of 3.256 for the 2016-17 academic year. Jackson debuted the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll in 2016 to recognize student-athletes with a semester GPA of 3.2 or higher. In the first two semesters since this honor was created, there were 345 student-athletes recognized for the Fall 2016 semester and 336 honored for the Spring 2017 marking period. In the most recent academic data announced by the university, Villanova had 23 varsity teams achieve a GPA higher than a 3.0 during the Spring 2017 semester. A group of 20 student-athletes representing 12 different teams achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA in the spring.
In just a short time at Villanova, Jackson has played a key role in the record growth of the Villanova Athletic Fund. The past year has been particularly significant, as the Andrew J. Talley Athletic Center opened in November 2016 and was followed by groundbreaking in May 2017 of a comprehensive renovation to the Pavilion. This latest project was made possible by a $22.6 million total leadership gift from alumnus William B. Finneran ’63 in April 2016. This marks the largest gift ever to Villanova Athletics and propels the University forward, adding momentum generated from winning the 2016 national championship.
The opening of the Talley Athletic Center created a brand new home for the Villanova football program and benefits all student-athletes with a centralized athletic performance center. The building houses the Wildcats sports medicine operations and “The Howie Long Strength Training Center” in addition to an academic support suite, a 100-seat meeting room and a reception/training table area. Other amenities include a new football locker room, coaches’ offices and equipment room.
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 was completed in September 2016 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 was installed on the infield and behind home plate. Outfield wall padding was added in March 2017. These collective enhancements greatly improve the game-day experience of the Wildcats student-athletes.
The success of Villanova’s athletics program in 2016-17 came on the heels of a remarkable 2015-16 campaign which was highlighted by the men’s basketball team winning the second national champion in program history. Head coach Jay Wright was named the Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year and the men’s basketball team was one of four Wildcats teams that advanced to national postseason play. 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. Villanova finished the year ranked No. 74 in the NACDA Directors’ Cup, including second among BIG EAST programs and fifth among FCS football schools.
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, 44, and his wife, Tricia, are parents to four children: Grace, 16; Hannah, 14; Kevin, 12; and Sean, 10.