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Derrick Gragg named NU athletic director

The former University of Tulsa athletic director has led inclusion efforts at the NCAA.

Derrick Gragg.

Long-time athletic director and diversity and inclusion leader Derrick Gragg has been named Northwestern University’s new athletic director.

Gragg, the NCAA’s senior vice president for inclusion, education and community engagement, will begin July 1.

“I am thrilled and humbled to join the Northwestern University family at this pivotal moment in college athletics,” Gragg said. “My career has been shaped by an unwavering belief in the potential of student-athletes to excel in all areas.”

NU President Morton Schapiro called Gragg a proven leader who has a track record of success at the NCAA, where he has led diversity, equity and inclusion efforts since last fall; at the University of Tulsa, where he served as athletic director from 2013 to 2020; and at Eastern Michigan University, where he held the same role from 2006 to 2013.

While serving as the NCAA’s senior vice president for inclusion, education and community engagement, Gragg has worked to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are reflected on all levels in college athletics. He had a dual focus on internal and external initiatives and programming.

Gragg succeeds Mike Polisky, who resigned as the University’s athletic director last month.

Polisky resigned less than two weeks after his appointment was announced, following protests over his status as a defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by an NU cheerleader who claimed he dismissed her concerns and accused her of fabricating evidence.

Polisky succeeded Jim Phillips, who served 13 years as Northwestern’s athletic director before leaving to become commissioner of the Athletic Coast Conference.

“It was essential for us to find the right leader for the next chapter at Northwestern — someone who can build both academic and athletic excellence at a time of rapid change in the intercollegiate sports landscape,” Schapiro said. “After talking extensively with Derrick, it was clear that he was the ideal person for the job.”

The search process was kept confidential to ensure the ability to identify and recruit the best possible candidates, Schapiro said.

Northwestern linguistics professor Robert Gundlach will continue to serve as interim athletic director until July 1.

“Derrick Gragg is an extremely talented, professional and visionary leader who operates with passion and integrity,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “Derrick understands the critical components of what is required to embrace and empower student-athletes, coaches, administrators and the entire Northwestern community.”

A former football letter-winner at Vanderbilt, Gragg said he has always valued the impact of academics on athletes. He earned a master’s degree in sports administration from Wayne State University, then his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Arkansas.

Gragg joined the Arkansas athletic department in 2000 as an associate director, and eventually was promoted to deputy director.

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