March 26, 2017
YPSILANTI – Christian Spears has been named Eastern Michigan University’s interim director of athletics, EMU President James M. Smith announced today, March 27. He begins the new role immediately while the university completes a national search to select a new intercollegiate athletics director.
Spears is in his third year as the Deputy Director of Athletics for EMU. He arrived in Ypsilanti following a five-year tenure in the Northern Illinois University Athletics Department. In 2013, Spears served as NIU's acting director of athletics for nearly five months while the University conducted a national search for its new AD following the football team’s Orange Bowl appearance.
"It is such an honor to be named the Interim AD and I am grateful to President Smith for this opportunity and to Heather Lyke for preparing me to lead," Spears said. "We have a tremendous team of coaches and administrators and we are well situated to capitalize on the foundation that has been built here. We will focus on relationships and continue to serve our student-athletes, our University and our community."
A part of the athletic department’s Executive Leadership Team, Spears has overseen the External Division including development, marketing, corporate partnership efforts, fan experience and media relations. He also had led strategies to increase ticket sales, merchandise and other revenue streams. In addition, Spears has assisted with the administration of the football program and is responsible for football scheduling.
Moreover, Spears' serves college football nationally as a member of the College Football Playoff Advisory Committee.
From day one on campus, Spears has set about helping upgrade the business model of EMU Athletics. Just a few of the companies that have developed partnerships with EMU during his tenure include: IMG College, Learfield Licensing, Aspire, Follett, Fanatics, and Google. He has also re-negotiated pouring rights and apparel contracts with Pepsi and adidas that position EMU's agreements as some of the most lucrative in the MAC.
These partnerships paid dividends in 2016, when EMU's football program finished the regular season 7-5 and received an invitation to the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, its first bowl invitation in 29 years. The squad finished in a seven-way tie for the most improved program in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in 2016, bettering its win total from one win in 2015, to seven All the while, the team led the MAC in team GPA for the second consecutive year, and the fans came out to watch, with a 100 percent increase in total season ticket growth from 2014 to 2016.
Fundraising has taken a major step forward the past three years. Eagles Pride was founded in 2014 with a commitment to providing financial support for all EMU teams. This vision for engagement has yielded record breaking numbers in fiscal year 2016, with both the most cash received and most donors in EMU history. Total donations received have increased 45 percent over fiscal year 2015 and number of donors has increased by 21 percent. Fiscal year 2017 has started strong as well, with Athletics accounting for 64 percent of all University cash and pledges to date.
In addition to his duties at EMU, Spears was selected to participate in the 2016 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Pathway Program. Spears was one of 15 individuals named nationally to the initiative, which serves to assist minority and/or women administrators to prepare through education, training and mentorship to be athletic directors. The program provides an unprecedented opportunity to gain insight into every facet of an athletics department, preparing them to become well-rounded leaders who are equipped with the tools an effective athletics director needs.
Nationally, Spears also is a part of the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association (MOAA). He served as president of the National Association for Athletics Compliance (NAAC) in 2012-13 and on the NAAC Board of Directors from 2008-14.
In addition to his administrative duties, Spears is currently a lecturer in law at The University of Toledo School of Law and an adjunct faculty member of Drexel University's Thomas R. Kline School of Law.
Before coming to EMU, Spears served as the Deputy Director of Athletics and as the sport administrator for the NIU football team. While in DeKalb, Spears’ responsibilities included serving as the primary liaison between several campus units and Intercollegiate Athletics, including Academic Affairs and Student Affairs as well as the Office of General Counsel.
Additionally, Spears directly supervised the following administrative areas for NIU: Academics, Compliance, Life Skills, Strength and Conditioning, Sport Psychology, Football Operations and Equipment. Moreover, he coordinated the department’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) and Graduation Success Rate (GSR). He was also the sport AD for football, men’s basketball, baseball, cross country and track and field.
Prior to joining NIU, Spears served for six years at Southern Illinois University, where he was the Assistant Athletic Director. Spears came to SIU in fall of 2003 from Harvard University.
Spears began his career as a graduate student working in the athletic marketing office at Long Beach State University; he then served as the Big Ten Minority Intern for Ohio State University working in their athletic compliance office while he matriculated through the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State.
Spears is a graduate of the University of Washington, where he majored in political science. He obtained a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Long Beach State University in 1998 and he received his Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law in 2002.
Christian and his wife, Julia, have three children, Rainier, Kai and Skyla.
About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.
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