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Kent State Names Joel Nielsen Director of Athletics

University Communications & Marketing
Kent State University President Lester A. Lefton introduced Joel Nielsen as the university’s 10th director of athletics at a morning press conference on Thursday, March 25.

New Athletic DirectorKent State University President Lester A. Lefton introduced Joel Nielsen as the university’s 10th director of athletics at a morning press conference on Thursday, March 25. Currently the athletic director at the University of South Dakota (USD), Nielsen succeeds Laing Kennedy, who is retiring on June 30. Nielsen will begin at Kent State on May 15. Details of his contract are pending.

“Joel was tremendous in my one-on-one interview with him and was a unanimous first choice by the search committee,” said Lefton. “For more than 20 years, he has made college athletics his life, including most recently shepherding South Dakota through the difficult transition from Division II to Division I, and I couldn’t imagine sitting in front of you today with a better candidate.”

“Obviously I’m thrilled to be here today,” said Nielsen. “I’d like to thank President Lefton and search committee chairman Yank Heisler for including me in the process. This was a very attractive position due to the tremendous leadership of Laing Kennedy. Under Laing’s direction, Kent State has gained a national reputation as a truly comprehensive program, both athletically and academically, and I look forward to building on that great tradition.”

During his seven-year tenure at South Dakota, Nielsen, 47, spearheaded the department’s transition to Division I. He secured membership for USD football in the Great West Football Conference in 2007 and has the Coyotes on track for membership in the Summit League for all sports except football starting in 2011. Nielsen also played an active role in the organization and creation of the Great West Conference for all sports. He worked closely with the USD Foundation in developing strategic fundraising models that will provide the necessary resources for the Division I transition in addition to serving on numerous committees on campus.

Nielsen was responsible for making significant changes and introducing departmental initiatives after his arrival in Vermillion, S.D. in 2003. He worked closely with the Athletic Review Committee in initiating a progressive and comprehensive plan for South Dakota Athletics, addressing competitiveness, funding and compliance. Nielsen worked with USD’s administration and an external licensing company to develop a new athletics logo and trademark program. He also spearheaded the relationship with Daktronics Sports Marketing to bring a $2 million scoreboard enhancement to the DakotaDome.

Before taking over at USD, Nielsen served for two-and-a-half years as athletic director at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, overseeing a 20-sport athletic program, which included two sports (men’s ice hockey and women’s soccer) at the Division I level.

From 1993 to 2001, Nielsen was the associate athletic director at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he was in charge of the administration and management of the athletic department’s external relations. Prior to Wake Forest, he was an assistant athletic director at Illinois State in Normal, Ill. (1991-92) and served as an athletic development assistant at Northern Illinois in DeKalb, Ill. (1990-91).

A doctoral candidate (leadership and educational policy studies) at Northern Illinois, Nielsen earned a B.S. degree in business finance (1985) and an M.A. degree in sports administration (1991), both from Minnesota State University (MSU), Mankato. At MSU, Nielsen played football and baseball before becoming a graduate assistant (1989-90) for Head Football Coach Dan Runkle.

Nielsen and his wife, Sharon, have three daughters: Kasey, Kelly and Kory.


Kent State Athletic Directors

1923-24    Dr. Arville O. DeWeese
1925-33    Merle E. Wagoner
1935-43    G. Donald Starn
1943-45    Vacant (World War II)
1946-56    Trevor J. Rees
1957-70    Dr. Carl E. Erickson
1970-76    Milo R. (Mike) Lude
1976-80    Donald E. Dufek
1980-93    Paul V. Amodio
1994-10    Laing E. Kennedy
2010-       Joel Nielsen