NEW ORLEANS - Wright Waters, the Commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference since December 1998, has announced that he will retire effective July 1, 2012.
"It has been a great honor to serve the Sun Belt Conference membership during my time as commissioner," said Waters. "After spending over a decade with the conference it will be hard to move on, but the league-wide leadership is as strong as it has ever been. We have an eight-year national television deal with ESPN as well as multi-year agreements with our regional network television partners and our two primary bowl sponsors.
"I would like to thank the presidents of our institutions and all of the athletic administrators on our campuses for this wonderful opportunity that I was provided."
A national search will begin immediately to find the Sun Belt Conference's fifth commissioner. The search will be led by Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., the current Sun Belt Conference President and Chancellor of Troy University along with members of the current Sun Belt Conference Executive Committee.
Waters has 40 years of experience in collegiate athletics and was named the Sun Belt Conference's fourth commissioner on December 15, 1998. His tenure ranks second in longevity among the four men who have steered the conference during its 35-year history.
"There is never a perfect time to make such an important decision, but it is important to note that there are no sinister reasons for this announcement," said Waters. "There are still things that I would like to do with life that I would like to accomplish and after serving 40 years as an athletic administrator. I will have more time to accomplish those things and spend more time with my wife of 36 years."
Under Waters, the league has become a Bowl Championship Series conference - one of only 11 in the country - achieved success both on the field and in the classroom, expanded to sponsor 19 sports, shifted geographically to become a more regional conference and build stronger rivalries while still competing at the highest level, gained a permanent seat on the NCAA Board of Directors - giving the league a crucial voice on all of the important issues in Division I athletics - and achieved its most expansive television agreements in league history.
The league has improved tremendously under Waters on and off the field. As a result of Waters' leadership, the Sun Belt Conference began sponsoring football in 2001. Waters also helped found the New Orleans Bowl, where the Sun Belt's annual champion plays a Conference USA opponent each year. North Texas defeated Cincinnati in the 2002 New Orleans Bowl to give the league its first post-season win, and the conference has sent multiple teams to postseason bowls five times in just ten years. Under Waters' guidance the Sun Belt Conference also signed a four year agreement with the GoDaddy.com Bowl that guarantees a spot for a Sun Belt Conference school in the Mobile, Alabama based bowl game through the 2013 season.
During Waters' tenure, the Sun Belt Conference has become stronger and more regional by adding Troy University, Middle Tennessee State University, the University of Louisiana-Monroe, the University of North Texas and Florida Atlantic University. The conference has also increased its sponsored sports in addition to football by adding three women's sports (softball, soccer, swimming and diving) and men's swimming and diving.
Under Waters' direction the Sun Belt Conference has seen an ever-expanding television package. The Sun Belt Conference and ESPN maintain an agreement that has expanded the conference's national television exposure to unprecedented highs and was negotiated exclusively with ESPN, Inc. Additionally, the league and its regional television partners Cox Sports Television (CST) and Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS) formed a comprehensive deal that brings 45 Sun Belt Conference events to the airwaves each season. The agreement between the three parties has resulted in the broadcasting of football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, volleyball, and softball contests throughout the year.
Waters, who has over 20 years of experience as a conference commissioner, returned to collegiate administration after serving as general manager of Crimson Tide Sports Marketing in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He worked for 10 years at the Southern Conference, serving as the league's commissioner for the final seven years. During that time, the league experienced unprecedented growth and development during his tenure. The Southern Conference also grew in terms of institutions and sports. He organized the expansion of the league twice during his tenure, expanding from eight to 12 institutions. In addition, the league grew from sponsoring 16 sports to 19. Prior to his commissioner's stint, he served as the Southern Conference's assistant commissioner for three years beginning in 1988. In that position, he was responsible for the development of a compliance and eligibility program for the league's institutions and served as the conference's liaison with the NCAA Departments of Legislative Services and Enforcement. He also served as the league's Director of Championships.
He joined the Southern Conference after a four-year stint at Tulane University, where he served as Associate Athletic Director and later as the Interim Athletic Director. Waters has an extensive professional background in collegiate athletics dating back to 1976 when he served four years as an Administrative Assistant and Academic Director at Southern Mississippi. He was an Assistant Athletic Director at Florida from April 1979 to July 1983 and an Associate Athletic Director at the University of Louisiana from July 1983 to December 1984. He began his career in athletics as the Head Trainer and Student Assistant Football Coach at Livingston from 1972-74.
Waters graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, Ala., in 1967. He attended Alabama and received a bachelor's degree in physical education from Livingston University in 1974 and a master's degree in secondary education from Livingston in 1975.
Waters was born June 22, 1949, in Montgomery, Ala., and is married to the former Sara Anderson of York, Ala. They have one daughter, Ashley.
What they are saying about Commissioner Wright Waters:
Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Sun Belt Conference President and Chancellor of Troy University
"There are commonalities to leadership - integrity, vision, the ability to serve as a catalyst, to communicate and to operate with a moral compass. As I reflect upon the achievements of the Sun Belt Conference I think about how Commissioner Waters possesses these traits and how he has brought this conference to new heights."
Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the Bowl Championship Series
"We will miss Commissioner Waters in many ways. His has been a voice of reason, spiced with wit and intellect. The world needs more Wrights."
Paul Hoolahan, Chief Executive Officer of the Allstate Sugar Bowl
"College athletics and college football are better places thanks to the contributions of Wright Waters. The city of New Orleans has also felt his significant impact as he has built the Sun Belt Conference into a valuable city entity through the addition of football, the establishment of the New Orleans Bowl and through the continued success of the broad base of sports supported by the conference. His diverse background and experience in so many different aspects of sports has made him an asset to people at every level of college athletics, but through his many years of work and contributions, he has never lost sight of the most important element of our industry - the student-athletes."
Burke Magnus, ESPN Senior Vice President of College Programming
"Wright has been the consummate partner and friend to ESPN. He has always seen the wisdom in making a deal that works for both sides and we were glad to have the opportunity recently to extend and expand our relationship with the Sun Belt Conference. Wright's confidence, good humor, leadership and vision made him a true asset to intercollegiate athletics."
John Swofford, Commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference
"Wright has had a long, successful and dedicated career in college athletics. He is a treasured friend, as well as colleague, and his presence around our Commissioners' table will be greatly missed. He is an excellent thinker and always offered insightful, and at times unique, ideas toward our collective efforts to address issues and find solutions. We're losing one of the true "good guys" from our ranks. I wish him the best as he and Sara move on to the next phase of life."
Mike Slive, Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference
"Wright Waters has been a friend and colleague for many years. Wright will be able to look back at his long and wonderful career in intercollegiate athletics with great satisfaction and accomplishment. He has served in many capacities during his years in intercollegiate athletics and used his experiences to bring a prospective to CCA and BCS meetings that were comprehensive and inclusive. We wish him well and he will be missed."