ABILENE, Texas — Abilene Christian University director of athletics Allen Ward announced Friday he will step down at the end of the Fall 2021 semester. The move is for Ward to pursue other professional opportunities, according to an ACU press release.
The veteran athletics administrator has started his fourth year at ACU after 25 years at Murray (Kentucky) State University and the University of North Texas. Ward became the ninth person to serve as Wildcat AD when he was hired in July 2018, and has helped lead the athletics program through some historic early days in NCAA Division I, a recent transition to the Western Athletic Conference, and a pandemic.
“It’s been a challenging three years, but a time filled with many special moments and accomplishments for ACU’s young Division I program,” Ward said in the release. “I will always recall fondly the many ‘firsts’ I witnessed our coaches and student-athletes achieve in our D1 era.”
Wildcat programs under Ward's tenure have achieved remarkable success in the classroom and in competition around the nation, and in its NCAA Tournament appearances during March Madness.
“Allen brought great experience and a steadying influence to athletics on our campus at a key time,” ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert said in the release. “In particular, he had tremendous insights into the world of March Madness that served our men’s and women’s basketball programs so well. He talked frequently about the transformative impact of the NCAA Tournament for those sports, based on what he experienced at Murray State, and he was right. We will always be grateful to him for helping us navigate our 2019 and 2021 seasons at that high level with great class and professionalism.”
In 2019, Abilene Christian was one of just three NCAA Division I universities to have both men’s and women’s basketball teams win conference titles, and one of six Texas universities in 2019 and seven in 2021 to earn a March Madness bid.
In 2019, the men’s team played No. 2 seed Kentucky and the women played eventual national champion Baylor in the first round. In 2021, the No. 14 seed men’s team shocked the college basketball world when it upset No. 3-seeded Texas in the East Regional to advance to the second round against UCLA.
The two March Madness games in 2021 created $200.89 million in advertising value equivalent for ACU and national television audiences totaling 12.09 million, generating international visibility and brand awareness for Abilene Christian not seen since Bobby Morrow’s Olympic gold medal heroics in 1956, and the world-record-setting years of Wildcat dominance in track and field.
ACU’s recent success in basketball inspired donors to invest more than $40 million in a major renovation of 53-year-old Moody Coliseum, which is underway and scheduled for full completion in August 2022.
Ward oversaw gains in academic achievement for student-athletes, who earned a 3.28 cumulative GPA for 2020-21 – with 58 earning 4.0 GPAs – and had 229 named to the Southland Commissioner’s Honor Roll and 13 programs with a team GPA of 3.00 or higher. All women’s teams completed the year with GPAs well above 3.0 for the 15th and 16th consecutive semesters, led by women’s tennis at 3.63.
In 2019-20, ACU’s APR (academic progress rate) score of 992 was the highest in the league.
Under Ward, the Wildcats also finished among leaders each year of the Southland Commissioner’s Cup, which recognizes the league’s best overall programs, finishing third in 2020-21, second (abbreviated by the pandemic) in 2019-20, and fourth in 2018-19. He helped guide ACU’s transition this fall to the WAC, along with three other members of the Southland. The conference gives the university an expanded geographical footprint into the west, especially in major U.S. markets, that will enhance student and student-athlete recruiting; increased television/tournament exposure opportunities; divisional play with established rivals in Texas; and strong brand identity in a Division I conference with impressive name recognition and history.
“I am grateful to president Schubert for the opportunity to serve ACU and be part of his outstanding Senior Leadership Team,” Ward said. “From day one, his support for athletics has been unwavering. It’s been an honor to serve in his administration and work with such an inspirational leader. We have a great group of coaches and staff and the foundation is in place for long-term sustainability and success. Transformational change is occurring in Division I, but I’m confident ACU is positioned well to meet these challenges.”
Prior to arriving in Abilene, Ward served 13 years as athletic director at Murray State University, where the Racers won 39 Ohio Valley Conference championships and participated 29 times in NCAA postseason play, including four times in March Madness for men’s basketball. Under his leadership, MSU was one of the top overall athletics programs in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“I will hold dear the many friendships I have gained while at ACU. The people I work with are truly special and I am forever grateful for their hard work, dedication and loyalty,” Ward said. “I’m excited to see what God has in store for me and my family. I hope that maybe my next stop is closer to my family in Kansas City, but I will go where the Lord leads.”
A search will begin immediately for Ward's successor, the university said in the release.