James J. Phillips became Northwestern’s 21st director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation on April 14, 2008, bringing with him a track record of success at the Division I level and a commitment to the values Northwestern always has maintained in collegiate athletics. Four years into his tenure, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro elevated Phillips to the position of Vice President for Athletics & Recreation.
One of 10 children from a middle-class family and a native of the Portage Park neighborhood on Chicago’s northwest side, Phillips has proven to be the perfect fit to lead Northwestern’s 19-sport program in the nation’s No. 3 market. His deep Windy City roots and family orientation are an integral part of his core philosophy of providing student-athletes with a “world-class experience” that enables them to thrive academically, socially and athletically.
While successfully elevating the profile of Northwestern Athletics locally, Phillips has simultaneously garnered the respect of his peers across the college sports landscape. He was elected as the inaugural chair the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Council in February 2015. In this role he serves as the only athletic director on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, the first-ever sitting athletic director to serve on the Board. Phillips was previously selected to serve as the Big Ten Conference’s representative on the Division I Council. In February of 2016, Phillips was honored as the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year in FBS.
During the course of his Northwestern tenure, Phillips has completed a two-year stint as the Athletic Director Chair of the Big Ten Conference, representing the league’s A.D.’s on the Executive Committee of the B1G Joint Group, while simultaneously working as a member of the Rose Bowl Management Committee. He is also a current member of the NCAA Awards, Benefits, Expenses and Financial Aid Cabinet, and is serving as an athletic mentor in the NCAA Pathway Program. He has served on the NCAA Champions Forum panel, a group of football coaches and athletic directors making an effort to increase the hiring and awareness of minority football coaches.
He served as the president of NACDA, a member of the NACDA Executive Committee and a mentor in the NCAA Fellows Leadership Development Program, Phllips serves on the boards of World Sport Chicago as well as GENYOUth, and previously served on Chicago’s bid committee for the 2016 Olympic Games. Phillips is an adjunct professor of management and organizations at Northwestern’s world-renowned Kellogg School of Management, where he instructs a course in Comprehensive Perspectives for Leading a Sports Entity. He has previously lectured in the Northwestern School of Continuing Studies’ Master’s in Sports Administration program.
Prior to arriving in Evanston, Phillips served as Northern Illinois’ athletic director for four years beginning in 2004. During that time, the Huskies had unprecedented athletic success and consistent academic achievements. On July 1, 2006, Phillips was promoted to associate vice president, in addition to his director of athletics title, after already being recognized by his peers in the Mid-American Conference with his selection to serve as chairman of the MAC Athletic Directors’ Council. He was honored with the 2007 General Robert R. Neyland Outstanding Athletic Director of the Year award while at NIU, and was a member of the NCAA Women’s Basketball committee during his time in the MAC.
A 1990 graduate of the University of Illinois, Phillips started his career as a manager and student assistant in Illinois’ athletic department. He earned a master’s degree in education at Arizona State University while serving as a restricted earnings basketball coach during a period in which the Sun Devils reached the postseason in five-straight years.
Phillips also holds a Ph.D. in educational administration from Tennessee, which he completed in the summer of 2007. Phillips served as an assistant athletics director with the Volunteers until 2000. He directed a $12.4 million annual athletics giving program, and was directly responsible for identifying, cultivating and soliciting all major gifts and donations for the Volunteer athletic program. He helped originate the first-ever capital campaign for athletics at UT that raised more than $50 million for endowments, facilities and programs. In addition, he supervised several athletic programs and a variety of other areas.
Phillips then moved to the University of Notre Dame in 2000, where he served as associate director of athletics and senior associate director of athletics for external affairs. During 2002-03, he helped launch the Rockne Heritage Fund, which became the first athletics annual fund that directly benefited student-athlete grant-in-aid scholarships. In addition, he managed the ticket office, various corporate sponsorships, athletic programs and a weekly Irish radio show. At the same time, Phillips played an integral part in the funding of a new $24-million, 96,000-square foot athletics facility. At Notre Dame, Phillips directed all phases of the athletics community relations program and helped develop new institutional and departmental advancement programs.
Phillips and his wife, Laura, have five children: Luke, Madeline, Meredith, John and James.