Under the leadership of Associate Vice-Present and Director of Athletics Sean T. Frazier, Northern Illinois University Athletics has reached historic milestones competitively, academically and socially, honored the legacy of success built by previous generations, and realized record successes in revenue generation.
Frazier begins his sixth year at NIU in 2018-19 with the Huskies’ momentum firmly on the upswing, a clear direction established and continued emphasis on providing the best possible experience for NIU’s 400 student-athletes in 17 sports programs, while serving all of the many publics that make up Huskie Nation, including donors, season ticket members, alumni and students.
Under Frazier, the Huskies have claimed two honors unprecedented in the school’s history, most recently in May 2017 when NIU won the Mid-American Conference’s Fred Jacoby Trophy, presented to the top women’s athletic program in the MAC, for the first time in school history. Leading the way in pursuit of that victory was the Huskie volleyball team, which claimed the fifth Mid-American Conference Championship of the Frazier era when they won the 2016 MAC Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
NIU has also produced multiple All-Americans under Frazier’s watch, including the first two in Huskie women’s track and field history with Hope Schmelzle’s sixth-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships followed by Jehvania Whyte’s earning indoor and outdoor All-America honors for her performances at the NCAA Championship meets in 2018. Football defensive end Sutton Smith became just the second consensus All-American in school history in 2017, and is the fourth Huskie to earn first team All-America honors in football in the past five years.
In December 2015 the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association (MOAA) selected NIU Athletics as the 2016 recipient of the NCAA/MOAA Diversity and Inclusion Award. The award recognizes and celebrates the initiatives, policies and practices of colleges, universities and/or athletic conference offices that embrace diversity and inclusion. For Frazier, whose roots in the topic of racial relations and diversity run deep, the award was especially significant. In 2014, he was honored with the Distinguished Service Award for his leadership of MOAA. Since arriving at NIU, he has assumed a leadership role on campus, serving on multiple committees, including as a co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.
Frazier also led the charge as NIU Athletics successfully executed a number of landmark events in 2016-17, including the Huskie Chi-Town Showdown football game versus Toledo at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, and prior to that, the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Golf Championships at Rich Harvest Farms, “the Home of the Huskies” in Sugar Grove, Illinois.
Throughout his time at NIU, Frazier has worked tirelessly to engage the campus and local communities, expand the Huskies’ fan base and connect with alumni, whether strengthening the Huskies’ foothold in Chicagoland by bringing a home football game to the city where more than 150,000 living alumni reside, or instituting the Huskie Fan Advisory Board to seek ideas and opinions on how to improve the fan experience. Since arriving at NIU, he has assumed a leadership role on campus, serving on multiple committees, including as a co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. In the fall of 2017, he began co-teaching a course in college athletics in NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
In 2015-16, Frazier established the Victor E. Ball, the Huskies premiere fundraising event, which puts a face on athletic giving and specifically, Cost of Attendance fundraising initiatives. This past April (2018) the athletic department was fortunate to partner with the NIU Naperville campus with appearances by Chicago sports stars Dan Hampton, Bill Buckner, Bill Wennington, along with NIU alum and panel host Barry Rozner. The third annual Victor E. Ball was the best yet, with a 71% increase in dollars raised for Cost of Attendance. Since its inception, the event, has raised almost $525,000 in support of Huskie student-athletes. From the inaugural evening at Rich Harvest Farms to the first-of-its-kind event at the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center on campus to last year’s Victor E. Ball at the NIU Naperville location, the elegant evening showcases NIU’s student-athletes and has grown into one of the “can’t miss” events on the calendar.
In 2017, NIU launched the “Campaign to Sustain” – a major fundraising initiative focused on ensuring NIU Athletics’ ability to carry on its rich tradition, while lifting future Huskies to new heights and instilling NIU alumni and the campus community with pride. As of June 2018, the Campaign, which includes opportunities to support Cost of Attendance scholarships and capital projects, has raised over $1 million in support of Huskie student-athletes and sports programs.
In terms of revenue generation, the Huskie Athletic Fund (HAF), the official fundraising arm of NIU Athletics, surpassed $2 million in annual support for the second time in 2017-18, raising more than $2.2 million in cash and gift-in-kind donations. Cost of Attendance donations increased 252 percent, gift-in-kind contributions were up 58 percent, premium seat sales increased 19 percent and Huskies Invest: A Week of Giving was introduced and generated $115,000 this past November. Additionally three new endowed scholarships were established, two of which support Cost of Attendance, while the third supports the NIU golf program(s). Over the course of his time at NIU, Frazier has grown additional revenue streams from just over $700,000 to $3.1 million in Fiscal Year 2019, an increase of 342 percent.
Under Frazier, NIU has signed and/or renegotiated multiple contracts resulting in increased revenues for Huskie Athletics. Learfield, NIU’s multimedia and sponsorship partner, met its revenue goals for the first time in 2017-18, while deals with adidas, Sodexo and Learfield Licensing have all paid dividends for the Huskies.
The NIU Convocation Center, which became a part of Intercollegiate Athletics in 2013, has attracted popular acts like Thomas Rhett, Brad Paisley, Casting Crowns, Second City, and monster trucks since Frazier’s arrival. In 2017-18, an estimated 260,000 people walked through the doors of the Convocation Center to attend NIU Athletics events, high school graduations, job and career fairs, cheerleading, IHSA and IESA competitions and more.
Academically, the Huskies continue to raise the bar under Frazier’s leadership. NIU student-athletes finished the Spring 2018 semester with an all-time best cumulative grade point average of 3.20, with 13 teams achieving a team GPA of 3.0 or higher in spring 2018. Every NIU sports program surpassed the Academic Progress Rate for the 11th straight year, and the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of 86 percent once again ranked above the national average with the Huskie men’s basketball program achieving its highest GSR in school history, and NIU football retaining its spot in the Top 20 nationally.
Since his arrival at NIU, Frazier has been firmly committed to Huskie Athletics’ future. In October 2014, Frazier presented the NIU Athletics Facilities Master Plan (PDF), the first facilities master plan for the department since 1991. During his tenure at NIU, completed facility projects include installation of a new football turf field; the acquisition of on-campus indoor tennis practice courts; new and improved men’s and women’s soccer locker rooms; a new basketball court and in 2018, brand new video boards in the Convocation Center.
After introducing the new Coaches Club at Huskie Stadium for 2014, NIU opened the End Zone Club in 2015, offering field-level access and expanding NIU’s premium area menu, with more improvements scheduled for that area in 2018. Men’s basketball courtside seats sold out four years in a row and sales in the Convocation Center’s premium area, the Nelson Club, which is also slated for an upgrade, have increased. Frazier also initiated “The Yard”, the official pregame tailgate area for NIU football, in 2014, featuring live music, a Kids Zone, food and adult beverages for sale, a donor area and more.
In May 2015, Frazier introduced a new three-year departmental Strategic Plan, which detailed the mission, vision, core values and critical issues, and this fall, a new Strategic Plan for 2019-2021 will be introduced.
Other competitive highlights of the Frazier era at NIU include volleyball’s 2015 MAC regular season title, the 2015-16 NIU men’s basketball team’s postseason appearance – the first by the school in 20 years – the Huskie football team’s 2014 MAC Championship and NIU’s MAC record string of eight consecutive bowl appearances, and back-to-back MAC regular season crowns for the Huskie men’s tennis team in 2014 and 2015.
Frazier brought four new head coaches to NIU in 2014-15 to lead the Huskie women’s tennis, baseball, women’s cross country and women’s basketball programs, welcomed a new men’s soccer coach for 2017-18 and hired a new leader of the women’s soccer program for 2018-19. He made football scheduling a top priority, signing home-and-home football agreements with San Diego State, BYU, Utah, Maryland, Tulsa, Vanderbilt, Boston College and South Florida. Boston College’s appearance at Huskie Stadium to open the 2017 season was the first by an ACC team since 2003 and NIU welcomed Utah, the first Pac 12 team to play on the Huskies’ home turf, on Sept. 8, 2018.
Frazier is an active member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Executive Committee and a past president of MOAA. He has written numerous papers, presented on topics of diversity, leadership and hiring at national meetings and served on many NCAA committees.
A former football student-athlete at the University of Alabama, Frazier has 25 years of overall experience as a director of athletics at the NCAA Division I, II and III levels, as an administrator at two Division I universities, as a coach and as a student-athlete. Prior to NIU, Frazier spent six years in senior leadership roles at the University of Wisconsin and was promoted to deputy director of athletics in 2011, Frazier’s duties grew to include managing all day-to-day internal and external operations for Badger Athletics and serving as UW’s Deputy AD and Chief of Staff to Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez.
Frazier oversaw all fundraising and advancement activities at UW, including the annual fund, major gifts, suites and club seats, endowments, multimedia rights, ticket operations and alumni affairs. During his tenure at Wisconsin, he served as the administrator for three revenue-producing sports (football, men’s basketball and men’s ice hockey), providing direct support to the football program that won three consecutive Big Ten Conference Championships. Along with three Rose Bowl appearances. Frazier also served as Chair of the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Committee in 2011.
Frazier played a lead role in raising $123 million for multiple capital projects at UW, including a $31 million hockey/swim facility, an $86 million student-athlete performance center, a $3.5 million softball indoor practice facility and a $2.5 million golf indoor hitting facility.
Prior to Wisconsin, Frazier served as Director of Athletics at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., was the Director of Athletics and Recreation at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. and led the athletics and recreation department at Division III Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. His accomplishments in eight years as an athletic director ranged from negotiating television agreements, establishing departmental policies and procedures, revamping logos and branding, overseeing facility enhancements, increasing revenue streams by creating fundraising groups, adding sports programs and cultivating successful sports programs.
Frazier began his administrative career at the University of Maine as an assistant football coach in 1995 and was soon tabbed as the athletic department’s multicultural affairs liaison, where he created programs aimed at fostering diversity. He was named assistant to the athletic director in 1996 and became an assistant athletic director in 1998. In that role, he provided administrative support to Maine’s 1999 National Championship men’s ice hockey team.
A Long Island, N.Y. native, he played four years of college football at the University of Alabama from 1987-91 and was a member of the 1989 SEC Championship team. He has written numerous papers, presented on topics of diversity, leadership and hiring at national meetings and served on many NCAA committees.
Frazier, 49, earned his bachelor’s degree in communication from Alabama, and has a master’s degree in higher education/educational leadership from the University of Maine. He earned a second master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is pursuing a doctorate in the same discipline.
He and his wife, Rosa, an accomplished lawyer and former law professor, have three children, daughters Marina and Marcella, and son Maximo.