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TTU President Oldham named to NCAA Board of Governors

TTU President Oldham named to NCAA Board of Governors

By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information 

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Dr. Phil Oldham knows first-hand how important collegiate athletics are for students, colleges and communities. After all, the Tennessee Tech president was a former student-athlete himself back in his days at Freed-Hardeman.

Fast forward years later -- Oldham's vision and direction for Tech has ushered in a new era on the Cookeville campus. Now, he will have the opportunity to help shape the direction of the NCAA and countless student-athletes nationwide as he begins his tenure on its Board of Governors. 

"It's something I never really dreamed of being able to do," Oldham said. "I grew up playing sports – I've loved sports all my life. In college, I played on the tennis team on the NAIA level. Most of the jobs I've had on campuses have been academically related – department head, dean, provost.  

"I've certainly enjoyed sports on campus as a fan, but, as a president, this is first time I've really had to be in a position of responsibility over athletics. I've had the opportunity to be on the Division I Board of Directors for the last couple of years. Now to be asked to be on the Board of Governors -- that is the penultimate in the governance structure of the NCAA." 

The committee is the NCAA's highest-ranking governance body and was established in 1997 to oversee the organization's overall functions. 

The Board of Governors holds its focus on four areas – protecting the ethical and fiscal integrity of the NCAA, the collegiate model and the national office. Under those areas, the responsibilities include preserving and enhancing the collegiate model of athletics, upholding the NCAA as a higher-education association, providing strategic vision for the NCAA and uphold its principles, ensuring the long-range health of the NCAA, upholding the health, safety and well-being of student-athletes, overseeing the national office's functions and protecting the autonomy of the membership. 

The Board of Governors consists of 25 members, including NCAA President Mark Emmert and the chairs of the Division I Council (Shane Lyons, West Virginia) and the Division II (Jim Johnson, Pittsburg State) and Division III Management Councils (Jason Fein, Bates College) as ex officio non-voting members.  

The other 21 voting members includes eight chancellors or presidents from the Division I Board of Directors from Football Bowl Subdivision members, two from the Division I Board of Directors from Football Championship Subdivision members, two from the Division II Presidents Council, two from the Division III Presidents Council and five independent public figures. 

Oldham is the second president from the Ohio Valley Conference to serve on the NCAA's Board of Governors after Dr. William Meehan (Jacksonville State, 2011-12 and 2012-13). Oldham's term began earlier this month and will run through August 2023. 

The current membership also includes former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Ken Chenault (General Catalyst), Mary Sue Coleman (Association of American Universities), retired Lt. General Nadja West and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Grant Hill as the independent members; Randy Woodson (NC State), Rebecca Blank (Wisconsin), Geoffrey Means (Ball State), Jere Morehead (Georgia), Linda A. Livingstone (Baylor), Mary Papazian (San Jose State), Michael H. Schill (Oregon) and Neal Smatresk (North Texas) from the FBS; David Wilson (Morgan State) and Oldham from the FCS, James Harris (San Diego) and Board chair John DeGioia (Georgetown) from Division I, Board vice-chair Allison Garrett (Emporia State) and Steven Shirley (Minot State) from Division II, and Fayneese Miller (Hamline) and Troy D. Hammond (North Central College) from Division III. 

"It's an incredible list and it's made up from so many different sectors," Oldham said. "There's former student-athletes on there, former professional athletes like Grant Hill, Secretary Gates – who was not only a CIA director and the Secretary of Defense, but a very remarkable university president in his own right at Texas A&M. There are some really smart, talented people that bring different perspectives to this conversation.  

"My belief is the solutions to these challenges are going to come from outside of conventional thought. We're not talking incremental adjustments here, we're talking major changes to adjust to the times and expectations of society today. It's going to take people thinking very differently and, hopefully, this is the right group to do that." 

Ohio Valley Conference commissioner Beth DeBauche, who has years of experience working with Oldham in the league's governance structure, sees the selection as an excellent one.

"President Oldham is a thoughtful, logical, and pragmatic leader who will bring his unique perspective as a former student-athlete and parent of one to the NCAA Board of Governors," DeBauche said. "His personal experience around sports coupled with his year of governance service at both the NCAA and OVC levels leaves him distinctively qualified to serve on the NCAA Board of Governors.  I cannot think of a better person to help address the challenges we are facing in intercollegiate athletics." 

For Tech director of athletics Mark Wilson, having Oldham in the position to represent the Golden Eagles on the national stage is a welcome prospect. 

"With the constantly changing landscape of collegiate athletics, it is tremendous to have Dr. Oldham represent Tennessee Tech and the Ohio Valley Conference on the NCAA Board of Governors," said Wilson. "It has been an unprecedented time for us all in collegiate athletics, so to have him give us a voice among the others on the Board to help shape the NCAA's future and provide his wisdom and guidance in the national conversation is exciting." 

Unprecedented is right. From the search to social equality to finding ways to compete in the era of COVID and more, the current stage of collegiate athletics can be, at times, a volatile one. 

"You have to go back nearly 60 to 80 years to find a time with this much uncertainty and change and unpredictability of college athletics," Oldham said. "Realistically, no one knows how this is all going to go, but we all have the common goal of preserving what we appreciate about college sports and what it brings to the lives of so many individuals and fans. The dynamics, however, are very challenging. I don't know if anybody has good answers. The NCAA is trying to respond, but it's going to be a challenge. We need good ideas and a lot of smart people sitting around and, hopefully, we'll figure some of this out." 

From the start, the goal isn't just trying to give voice to the smaller schools, but also taking a step back and looking at the big picture – determining what is best for everyone under the NCAA's umbrella. 

"You also have to recognize that there is a lot of diversity there and there's a huge difference between a huge D-I program with a $200M budget and a small D-III school that's maybe spending $2M a year on athletics," Oldham said. "It's a totally different world. How do you be fair and treat them all appropriately? You want opportunities for student-athletes to participate, to gain that experience that will propel them through the rest of their lives, to bring that spirit to their campuses. It's not one-size-fits-all. 

"My experience at the FCS level of D-I gives me a unique perspective that informs that broader discussion and I'm glad to share that. From my standpoint, I want to make sure that schools like us and even smaller aren't overlooked." 

It is a special opportunity for Oldham, awed by what his actions on the Board of Governors will represent for years to come, including the student-athletes on Tech's own campus. 

"You have such a range of participation of student-athletes," he said. "It's really heartwarming to see the impact of student-athletes, not only on their own lives but in the lives of others. There's something like half a million student-athletes across the country in any given year. Yeah, it's a big deal, it means a lot to me." 

Oldham recently completed a term as the chair for the OVC's Board of Presidents, helping navigate the conference through the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects, including the financial impact of the pandemic on the league and its membership. He also served on the NCAA Presidential Forum for Division I athletics, as well as the Tennessee Valley Corridor Board of Directors and the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce board. He has also served on a number of scholarly editorial boards and as a peer reviewer for both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. 

Oldham became Tech's ninth president on July 1, 2012, and has helped revitalize campus with renovations to many buildings, including Jere Whitson Hall and the Roaden University Center, the completion of the Marc L. Burnett Student Recreation and Fitness Center, the new Laboratory Science Commons and Stonecipher Lecture Hall, as well as breaking ground on the Ashraf Islam Engineering Building. 

Through his guidance, Tech reached a record first-year retention rate for freshmen students at 79 percent, a six-year graduation rate at 55 percent and the highest ACT scores of incoming freshmen. Academic offerings have increased, with a Master of Accountancy degree program, Professional Science Master's degrees and a cybersecurity concentration in computer science added to the curriculum.  

Oldham oversaw the launch of the "Tennessee Tech Tomorrow" capital campaign, raising more than $50 million. With local and regional economic development a major goal, his efforts have helped with the creation of 4,000 new jobs in Putnam County. 

In addition to his administrative efforts, Oldham has authored more than 35 peer-reviewed research articles in analytical chemistry, awarded two patents and completed approximately 100 conference presentations. His research has been financially supported by the National Science Foundation, American Chemical Society, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey and private industry. 

Oldham earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Freed-Hardeman and his doctorate in analytical chemistry from Texas A&M. He spent one year as a Wellcome Research Fellow at Burroughs Wellcome Co. (now part of GlaxoSmithKline) before joining the faculty at Mississippi State. Oldham was the head of MSU's chemistry department for five years before becoming dean of its College of Arts and Sciences. He later became provost and senior vice chancellor of academic affairs at Chattanooga before being named Tech's ninth president.

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