Mike Thomas, a 35-year veteran of college athletics administration with more than 17 years of experience leading Division I athletic departments, is in his second year as the Director of Athletics at Cleveland State University. Named the sixth Director of Athletics in CSU history on Feb. 8, 2017, Thomas officially began his duties on March 1, 2017.
Since arriving at CSU, Thomas has negotiated a contract extension with Leafield that is anticipated to increase sponsorship revenue by 66-percent, renegotiated a contract with Nike that has increased the value by 43-percent over the life of the agreement and hired The Aspire Group - the industry leader in ticket sales and service - to outsource ticket sales.
During his first full year as CSU's Director of Athletics, the Vikings won Horizon League Championships in volleyball, men's tennis and men's golf, while men's basketball and men's swimming and diving finished as the runners-up. Those programs helped CSU finish second in the Horizon League McCafferty Cup standings, the best finish for the Vikings since winning the Cup in 2012-13. In addition, CSU was the top Horizon League school in the 2017-18 Learfield Directors' Cup Division I standings.
Under Thomas' leadership, CSU student-athletes posted a 3.27 GPA during the school year and the most recent Graduation Success Rate of 90-percent ranked second of the 10 schools in the Horizon League.
Thomas also spearheaded efforts in donor relations as CSU more than doubled its donor base during his first year and increased the department's annual giving by 50-percent from the previous year.
A well-respected leader among his college athletics peers, Thomas was appointed to represent the Horizon League on the NCAA Division I Council in July. The Division I Council is a high-level group responsible for the day-to-day decision making for Division I, which is made up of athletics directors, athletics administrators, senior women administrators, faculty athletics representatives and student-athletes. As part of the Council, Thomas was assigned to the Men's Basketball Oversight Committee where he also serves as the first-ever AD liaison to the NCAA Division I Ethics Coalition, helping to promote ethical conduct among NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball coaches through education, leadership and mentoring.
Thomas serves as the Chair of the Horizon League Council, which serves as the governing body of the League and is also the Chair of the Horizon League Basketball Issues Committee.
A member of the I-AAA Athletics Directors Association (ADA) Executive Committee, Thomas also participates in the Division I-AAA Mentoring Program. In addition, he serves as a Greater Cleveland Sports Commission Board of Trustee member.
An active member of the campus community, Thomas was selected to serve on the CSU Presidential Search Committee, assisting in the process to identify the seventh President of the University and co-chaired CSU’s 2017-18 Annual Faculty and Staff Campaign.
Thomas most recently served as a consultant for Carr Sports Consulting where he conducted research and provided analysis, feedback and recommendations for intercollegiate athletics programs. The scope of the work encompassed strategic and business planning, program review, feasibility studies, counsel of expenditures and use of research, and assisting in the search processes for Division I intercollegiate head coaches and athletics directors.
From 2011-15, Thomas served as the Director of Athletics at Illinois where he 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 corporate naming rights agreement that is the largest for a college-only venue in the country.
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 golf coach Mike Small, Thomas oversaw the fundraising and construction of the $6 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.
In the spring of 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 – that were completed in the summer of 2015. In 2015, he led the effort to establish Grange Grove on the west side of Memorial Stadium as a popular tailgate destination for Fighting Illini football fans, and as a park-like area that can be used for hosting many different events throughout the year.
Thomas led Illinois through an 18-month collaboration with Nike, resulting in a new brand and identity for the athletics department. The branding included new uniforms and consistent colors, logos, lettering and numerals for all teams. Thomas negotiated a 10-year, $44 million shoe and apparel contract with Nike, increasing the annual value by more than $3 million per year and more than tripling the previous agreement.
He also led a group that signed a 10-year agreement with Learfield Sports, estimated to be worth more than $60 million to become the exclusive marketing partner and multimedia rights holder and launched the Chicago Athletic Advisory Board to further engagement with the greater Chicagoland area.
Under Thomas' leadership, a new baseline trend of funding took place through the Illinois Renaissance of State Farm Center and within the I FUND scholarships. Prior to Thomas’ arrival in 2011, average cash contributions were $17 million and new business pledges totaled $14 million annually. Heading into the 2015-16 season, contributions and investments are on an upward trajectory. Over the past three years, the average cash contributions are over $25 million per year with an all-time high of $29.2 million in 2014 and $26.7 million in fiscal year 2015, the second highest in Illinois history. Over the past three years, new business pledges have been $77.5 million, $29.4 million and $25.9 million, with all three ranking in the top four all-time at Illinois.
Under Thomas’ leadership at Illinois, a total of $165 million was raised over his four years, which doubled the annual fund raising totals above the previous five-year average.
On the competitive front, Illini teams compiled one NCAA championship, 10 Big Ten titles, and 13 individual NCAA titles during Thomas' four years at the helm. The spring of 2015 was especially fruitful, with baseball, men's golf, men's tennis and men's track and field all winning Big Ten titles to mark the first time since 1927 that four Illinois teams won spring conference titles. 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 22-year history of the award.
In the classroom, Fighting Illini student-athletes posted an impressive 3.25 overall GPA for the Fall 2014 semester and 3.24 for Spring 2015, up from 3.05 when Thomas arrived in 2011. Thirteen teams posted a perfect 1,000 in the NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) for the 2013-14 academic year – Baseball, Men's Basketball, Football, Men's Golf, Men's Tennis, Women's Basketball, Women's Cross Country, Women's Golf, Women's Gymnastics, Softball, Women's Swimming, Women's Tennis, and Volleyball – while a school record seven programs earned the NCAA Public Recognition Award by ranking in the top 10 percent of their sport nationally for the four-year period ending with 2013-14: Baseball, Men's Golf, Women's Golf, Women's Gymnastics, Soccer, Volleyball, and Women's Tennis. During Thomas’ tenure at Illinois, 18 of 21 programs received perfect APR scores.
Fighting Illini student-athletes, coaches and staff completed over 7,000 hours of community service each year during Thomas’ four-year tenure.
Prior to his move to Illinois, Thomas revamped and led a vibrant Cincinnati 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 who led the program to a 34-6 mark over the next three seasons, as well as consecutive Big East Championships and appearance sin the Orange and Sugar Bowls. In 2009, the Bearcats went 12-0 and were No. 3 in the final BCS rankings. Thomas also hired Butch Jones, who led Cincinnati to a share of the Big East title in 2011 and 2012.
Thomas hired former UC assistant Mick Cronin as head men's basketball coach in 2006 and he returned the program to national prominence with appearances in the NCAA tournament the past six 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 athletics 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, at the time, 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 13 seasons, including 11 postseason appearances. Under Dambrot, Akron is one of just four teams in the country (Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas) to win at least 21 games in 12 straight seasons. 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 approximately $400 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. He served on the Big Ten Legislative Review Committee, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Athletic Director Advisory Committee and was Co-Chair of the annual Collegiate Sports Summit.
Twice during his career, Thomas 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.