When Andrea Williams “traded the skyscrapers of Chicago for the mountains of Utah” and the Big Ten Conference for the Big Sky Conference, she went looking for a place to call home near Big Sky headquarters in Ogden. Williams, a self-described “Air Force military brat” who has “moved everywhere” declared that she “was fortunate to land in Mountain Green.
“I love the hiking trails, lakes and look forward to embracing Utah culture. I want to go attempt everything and try it all,” she declared.
Williams’ pioneering attitude extends far beyond her penchant for exploring new geographical locations. On July 1, 2016, Andrea Williams became the Commissioner of the Big Sky Conference. In this new position, she is the first African-American female commissioner of any of the 32 Division I conferences. Currently just over a third of all commissioners are women with 11 of the 32 Division I conferences being led by females. “We’ve had a great uptick in the number of women commissioners,” Williams noted.
“I am thrilled to be with the Big Sky,” she explained. “It is a great fit for me. During the interview process, I felt like I was home and amongst friends immediately.”
College athletics are nothing new to Williams, who was born in Missouri, moved all over with the Air Force as a child and played college volleyball and basketball at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. Her father played sports at the Tuskegee Institute, her older brother played football at the University of Richmond and her older sister played basketball at the Air Force Academy.
College athletics are as much a part of her family as service to our country. Her father and sister are both retired United States Air Force colonels and her brother currently works as a police officer in San Diego, California.
“As a student-athlete, I had no idea how much work went on behind the scenes to support student-athletes,” Williams recalled. “Through the years I grew to understand and appreciate all that was done for me. I have been very fortunate to continue my relationships with coaches and administrators as a way to say thank you to them.”
“My basketball coach, Lynn Hickey, was also the Associate Athletic Director at A&M, and I learned so much from her. Now she is the Athletic Director at UTSA [University of Texas San Antonio],” Williams added.
Williams began her professional foray into college sports while at A&M. She had a TV background and planned to be the “next big news anchor” in her home town of San Antonio—where her parents retired after their military service and the place she calls home. While at A&M, she worked for a local Warner Brothers affiliate in Bryan, Texas. This led to a summer internship with CBS sports in New York. Upon graduation from A&M, Williams worked for the Southern Conference in the communications department. She also did some color and commentary for the Southern Conference for Fox Sports South.
In 1998, Williams began working for the Big Ten Conference in Chicago. During her first six-year stint there, she worked as a writer and in the communications field before moving to sports management, event management, marketing and working with officiating. She was able to learn about all aspects of the conference through her various job responsibilities.
In 2004 she went to work for the NCAA as the director for the Division I Women’s Basketball Championships coordinating the Women’s Final Four and all preliminary rounds. During this time she was able to work with Sue Donohoe, a former Stephen F. Austin University coach, who was the first coach to recruit her during high school 13 years prior. “You never know who you will work with again,” she remarked.
Williams returned to the Big Ten in 2006 as associate commissioner and remained there for 10 years before the Big Sky came calling. Without missing a beat, Williams resumed her work for the Big Ten and was on staff when the conference launched the first-ever conference television network and oversaw the Big Ten Women’s and Men’s Basketball Tournaments. In 2010, when the Big Ten added Nebraska, she oversaw the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship in 2011.
Her years of experience in college athletic management, Big Ten Conference experience, NCAA experience and background as a student-athlete brought her to the attention of the search firm looking for the next Big Sky Commissioner to lead the 12-school conference with over 4,500 student-athletes. With schools in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Montana and North Dakota, the Big Sky Conference, which was founded in 1963, has a “very large footprint with a variety of institutions” Williams noted.
“We have great presidents and athletic directors who focus on academics as well as athletics,” Williams praised. “I want to work to increase our exposure and reach. I hope to help create positive experiences and opportunities for student-athletes.”
Many university sports programs have been in the news lately regarding academic integrity and sexual misconduct by student-athletes and/or coaches. When questioned about these areas, Williams replied, “Athletics are a big business and universities are trying to steer the ship. We need to help athletic departments implement standardized processes and policies with reporting lines that answer the question ‘How do we best protect the youth we have been entrusted with?’
“We have tremendous leadership and administrators in the Big Sky and I am excited to work with them to find new supporters for our schools and give our student-athletes the best experience possible,” she concluded.
When not tending to her Big Sky duties, Williams keeps busy with a rotating menagerie of large dogs. “My family does a lot of dog swapping. Right now, I have two chocolate labs, Blu and Magic. My sister currently lives in Korea and I have one of her dogs, a Great Dane named Diego. My parents are in San Antonio, and my brother is in San Diego. At one point, I had five large dogs in a condo in Chicago. They keep me busy.”
As Williams pioneers her new commissioner position, new geographical location and new neighbors, she will no doubt come out on top as she has so many times in the past with her gregarious nature, adventurous spirit and ability to think “big” with her “sky’s the limit” approach to challenges. Welcome home, Commissioner Williams! We are happy to welcome you to Morgan County and proud to call you one of our residents.