Athletics News

Mike  Thomas
Mike Thomas

Director of Athletics

Alma Mater:
Colorado State '83



Your Daily Source for all things Fighting Illini


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2013 Illinois Football Banquet

Photos from Illinois Football's 2013 postseason awards banquet, Dec. 8, 2013, at I Hotel. (Mark Jones/Illinois Athletics)


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Matt Bollant Hired as Women's Basketball Coach

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Email Mike Thomas

Hear from Director of Athletics Mike Thomas on Open Mike, Saturdays at 10 a.m. on WDWS 1400AM.

Mike Thomas is in his fourth year at the University of Illinois in 2014-15 after being named the school's 18th director of athletics on Aug. 10, 2011, following six successful years as the director of athletics at the University of Cincinnati. A 29-year veteran of college athletics administration, Thomas is leading the Fighting Illini athletic program to national prominence.

In three years leading the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics at Illinois, Thomas has executed a number of major projects. Thomas launched the three-year, $170 million State Farm Center renovation project - including a landmark 30-year, $60 million naming rights agreement that is the largest for a college-only venue in the country. Construction started in winter 2014 and will be completed in full before the 2016-17 season.

Thomas spearheaded a $7.2 million project at Memorial Stadium that included a new video board, ribbon boards, auxiliary video boards, sound system and control room to enhance the fan experience at Illini football games. Along with head coach Mike Small, Thomas oversaw the fundraising for and construction of the $5.5 million Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Golf Practice Facility. In addition, the $1.2 million second-phase renovation of Huff Hall, which featured a new floor and lower bowl bleachers among other upgrades, was completed in summer 2014. And in spring 2014, Thomas moved forward with two studies - renovating the south and east sides of Memorial Stadium and developing a master plan for Olympic sport venues - to be completed in September 2014.

On the branding front, Thomas guided Illinois through an 18-month collaboration with Nike, completed in April 2014, that resulted in a new brand and identity system including new uniforms and consistent colors, logos, lettering and numerals. He also led a group that signed a 10-year agreement with Learfield Sports estimated to be worth more than $60 million to become DIA's exclusive marketing partner and multimedia rights holder, and launched "Illinois. Our State. Our Team." as the theme for Fighting Illini athletics.

During Thomas' tenure, the I FUND has seen impressive growth in donations fueled by the launch of the Illinois Renaissance to renovate State Farm Center, with first-year fundraising efforts for the campaign totaling nearly $95 million in cash and pledges. Total I FUND fundraising of $29.2 million for 2013-14 marked a record high and is 73 percent increase over 2011-12. Thomas and the I FUND also announced an ambitious long-term goal of "15 x 15 x 2020," which aspires to more than double both the donor base to 15,000 and total amount donated to scholarships to $15 million annually by the year 2020

On the competitive front, Illini teams have compiled one NCAA championship, six Big Ten titles, and 11 individual NCAA titles during Thomas' three years at the helm. In 2012, Thomas' first year at Illinois, the Fighting Illini finished 21st overall in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings, marking the program's second-best finish in the 21 -year history of the award.

Thomas began his tenure in Champaign-Urbana by hiring Tim Beckman as the Fighting Illini head football coach in December 2011 and naming John Groce and Matt Bollant the head coaches of Illinois men's and women's basketball, respectively, in April 2012.

In the classroom, Fighting Illini student-athletes posted an impressive 3.23 overall GPA for the Fall 2013 semester and 3.14 for Spring 2014. Ten teams posted a perfect 1,000 in the NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) for the 2012-13 academic year - baseball, men's cross country, men's golf, men's gym, wrestling, women's golf, softball, women's soccer, women's tennis and volleyball - while five earned the NCAA Public Recognition Award by ranking in the top 10 percent of their sport nationally for the four-year period ending with 2012-13: baseball, men's golf, women's golf, soccer and women's tennis. For the third straight year, Fighting Illini student-athletes, coaches and staff completed over 7,000 hours of community service.

Prior to his move to Illinois, Thomas revamped and led a vibrant Cincinnati Bearcats athletic program from 2005-11, directing the school's launch into the Big East Conference and earning several Big East championships, as well as multiple Big East academic excellence awards.

In 2006, Thomas hired head football coach Brian Kelly and the Cincinnati football team made program history in the three following seasons by achieving a 34-6 record, consecutive Big East Championships and appearances in the Orange and Sugar Bowls. The 2009 season ended with UC finishing 12-0 and No. 3 in the final BCS rankings. Thomas also hired Butch Jones, who went on to ensure Cincinnati's dominance on the conference scene, sharing in a Big East title in 2011 and 2012.

Thomas brought back a Bearcat when he hired former UC assistant Mick Cronin as head men's basketball coach in 2006. Cronin returned the program to national prominence with appearances in the NCAA tournament the past four seasons.

UC grew to be one of the most recognized schools in the 16-member Big East for academic success and earning multiple Big East Academic Excellence Awards, including a league-high five Big East Academic Excellence Awards in 2009-10.

The overall APR of all Bearcats programs also increased during Thomas' tenure. In the final APR report from his tenure, five UC athletic teams earned perfect APR scores of 1,000, including men's basketball. In that same time period, the Graduate Success Rate (GSR) for student-athletes increased from 66 percent to 77 percent.

From 2006-11, UC's student-athletes emerged as community leaders, with annual community service hours growing from 1,000 to over 5,500.

On the external side, the University of Cincinnati grew at a tremendous rate. Thomas increased UC's athletic department budget 20 percent, while simultaneously reducing the annual operating deficit by more than $6 million.

UC established single-season attendance and revenue records for football in each of the three seasons from 2008-10. Football attendance skyrocketed, with season-ticket package sales exploding by 277 percent since 2006 and resulting in record football revenues.

In terms of donor development, membership in UCATS increased by almost 300 percent during Thomas' tenure and the department raised $70 million during his arrival. Thomas raised private funds and built the Sheakley Athletics Center, providing football and other UC athletic teams much needed additional practice and competitive space.

In 2008-09, Thomas revamped UC's multimedia rights partnership, reaching an agreement with IMG College for a new multimedia rights partnership, increasing overall revenues in this area by over $17 million.

Prior to taking the athletic director position at UC, Thomas spent five years as the Director of Athletics at the University of Akron and seven years as associate athletic director at the University of Virginia, an institution known for achieving impressive success both academically and athletically, before bringing that model to Akron. Virginia finished in the Top 25 in the Director's Cup in each year of Thomas' tenure there while at the same time finishing in the Top 10 nationally in student-athlete graduation rates.

Under Thomas' direction, Akron rose from last place to second among Mid-American Conference schools in the Director's Cup annual rankings. Simultaneously, Akron vaulted from last to second place in the MAC Academic Achievement Awards. Thomas increased the financial base of the Akron athletics program through increasing corporate sponsorship levels by 750 percent and boosted annual giving to athletics to its highest level in the school's history. Community support was rallied, with record increases shown in both football and basketball attendance.

During this time period, the Zips won their first and only MAC football championship and participated in the program's lone FBS bowl game in history. Thomas' hire of men's basketball coach Keith Dambrot led to unparalleled success on the hardwood with Dambrot's program becoming one of the most successful in the MAC over the past 10 seasons, including eight postseason appearances. While at Akron, support services and facilities for academic support for student-athletes were significantly improved, resulting in jumps in grade point averages and graduation rates of UA student-athletes.

During his career in collegiate athletics, Thomas has coordinated over $350 million in facility construction and renovation, including $25 million in capital improvements at Akron that featured a new indoor fieldhouse and golf facility, a football practice complex, and a softball facility. He also spearheaded the new on-campus football stadium and was instrumental in the development and launching stages of the $61 million facility, which opened in September of 2009.

At Virginia, Thomas served as a member of the senior staff and was sport oversight for eight programs. He served as the department liaison for the $86 million renovation to UVA's football stadium and oversaw several other capital projects. In addition, Thomas served as the Chair of the Atlantic Coast Conference Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving Committee and also served on the ACC Sportsmanship Committee.

Recognized for his administrative acumen by his peers, Thomas has served on several national and conference committees, including the NCAA Division I Championship/Sports Management Cabinet (where he also served as the NCAA men's basketball liaison to the cabinet and as a member of the cabinet's four-person Administrative Committee) and the NCAA Men's Basketball Issues Committee. Thomas also previously chaired the Big East Championship and Competition Committee and served as a member of the NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet, the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Issues Committee, the NCAA Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet, the NCAA Postseason Bowl Licensing Subcommittee and the Division IA Athletics Director's Association Legislative Review Committee.

Thomas presently serves on the Big Ten Legislative Review Committee and on the USTA Athletic Director Advisory Committee on College Tennis. He also has been named governing body co-chair of the Collegiate Sports Summit.

Twice during his career, Thomas has received distinction for his efforts and dedication as a director of athletics, garnering the General Robert R. Neyland Outstanding Athletics Director Award in 2005 at Akron and then again in April of 2008 at Cincinnati. He has been recognized by the Cincinnati Sports Professionals Network as the 2009-10 Sports Executive of the Year.

Prior to his experience at Virginia, Thomas spent seven years at the University of Denver as assistant athletic director for internal operations, serving as chief financial officer and overseeing the departments of compliance, merchandising, and facilities. He began his athletic administration career at the University of Iowa as an administrative and operations intern.

Thomas received his bachelor's degree in business administration from Colorado State University in 1983, and his master's degree in athletic administration from Western Illinois University in 1986. He and his wife, Jenifer, have four children: Vince, Joey, Mick and Meredith.

Updated April 2015