Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen
Joel Nielsen’s first year as director of athletics was a banner one for Kent State University. The Golden Flashes continued to stand out among other Mid-American Conference schools, with five teams earning Top 20 finishes in NCAA competition.
In the 2010-11 academic year, Kent State earned its third straight Reese Trophy for men’s all-sports excellence in the Mid-American Conference and was recognized as the top MAC finisher in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons. The Golden Flashes were second among Ohio’s 13 Division I schools in the Learfield Cup standings and 12th among non-BCS schools. Seven Golden Flash teams combined to win a total of nine Mid-American Conference championships (five tournament, four regular season) during the 2010-11 season.
Off the field, the athletic department recorded a record $4.7 million in total giving, including a 43 percent increase in the athletic annual fund. For the third consecutive year, Kent State finished among Division I’s top three spots in the Excellence in Management Cup by Texas A&M’s Laboratory for the Study of Intercollegiate Athletics. The Cup determines which Division I (FBS) athletic departments win the most conference championships and excel on the national stage, while carrying the lowest expenses. The women’s cross country and baseball teams were recognized by the NCAA among the top 10 percent in their respective sports for the multi-year Academic Progress Rate.
Although the storied history of Kent State athletics has been around for nearly 100 years, two major department firsts were met this in 2011. Junior Dustin Kilgore became Kent State’s first wrestling national champion at 197 pounds, helping his team to a 17th place NCAA finish. The gymnastics team also earned a spot in the 2011 NCAA Championships for the first time in school history, finishing 12th. In addition, Kent State hosted the event at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.
During that same time period, the men’s basketball team also earned national attention with a quarterfinal appearance in the NIT. The Flashes’ success carried all the way to the month of June as the men’s golf team earned its second straight NCAA Top 20 finish. Days later, the baseball team advanced to the NCAA Austin Regional final.
Nielsen was named Kent State University’s 11th Director of Athletics on March 25, 2010, arriving from the University of South Dakota with a proven track record of success.
A firm believer in continuing — and growing— the championship traditions at Kent State and an advocate of student-athletes who excel in the classroom and go on to become well-rounded citizens, the Latimer, Iowa native, has been involved at every level of intercollegiate athletics: from being a student-athlete himself, to serving as a graduate assistant, to climbing through the ranks of athletic administration.
Built on a solid base of more than 20 years of wide-ranging experience, Nielsen’s operating style is based upon cultivating an environment that provides a tremendous student-athlete experience, while providing the resources — both monetary and facility-related — for the coaches to continue to build on the successes of their respective programs. All the while, increasing the visibility of the department in the Kent community, the state of Ohio and beyond.
During his seven-year tenure at South Dakota, Nielsen, 48, spearheaded the department’s transition to Division I. He secured membership in the Summit League for all sports (except football) starting in 2011 and membership for USD football in the Great West Football Conference in 2007. Nielsen also played an active role in the organization and creation of the Great West Conference for all sports. During the transition process, he worked closely with the USD Foundation in developing strategic fundraising models that provide the necessary resources for Division I success.
Nielsen was responsible for making significant changes and introducing new 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 a M.A. degree in sports administration (1991), both from Minnesota State University, 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 (who was a scholarship golfer at Northern Illinois), have three daughters: 14-year-old twins Kasey and Kelly and 12-year-old Kory.