ACU's athletics director resigns for position at Purdue University

Courtesy: The Optimist

Abilene Christian University’s director of athletics has resigned to accept a job at Purdue University.

Lee De León is set to start at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, on June 25.

De León has been at ACU since being named athletic director in late 2014.

De León oversaw ACU’s transition to NCAA Division I.

Here’s ACU’s news release in its entirety:

ACU director of athletics Lee De León announced Thursday that he is resigning from his post as Athletics Director to accept a job at Purdue University. He will begin his duties June 25 in West Lafayette, Indiana.

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert said he has asked Drew Long, associate director of athletics for internal operations, to serve as interim director of athletics while a national search begins for De León’s successor.

De León is joining the Purdue staff as executive senior associate athletics director / assistant vice president for development. He will be working in direct partnership with the vice president / director of intercollegiate athletics, deputy athletics director and the vice president for development to provide leadership and guidance to advance the Boilermakers’ private fundraising and marketing efforts.

“My three-plus years at ACU have been the highlight of my career,” De León said. “We have achieved some remarkable highs and created lasting memories together. I’ve worked with an amazing team of people, from the senior and administrative staffs to the head coaches and their staffs, and I thank each of them for what they do every day to make ACU a special place. We are blessed with extraordinarily talented student-athletes who have accepted the challenges of performing on and off the field at a higher level of competition while reflecting Christ in their personal lives. They are truly an inspiration to all of us.

“I’m also thankful to Dr. Phil Schubert for the trust and faith he placed in me,” De León continued. “My professional goal was to become a Division I A.D. and at the same time, make an impact for Jesus Christ, and the ability to do both of things at a place like ACU has been not only a joy, but an honor as well.

“But with time comes the realization that new challenges are out there for me professionally, and I believe now is the right time to face those,” he said. “We accomplished great things at ACU in terms of facilities and fundraising and in many other areas, but the opportunity presented to me at Purdue is too good to pass up. Purdue has a highly respected athletics heritage and is in one of the premier conferences (Big Ten) in the nation. It’s a program on the rise with big plans for the future and I’m excited to be part of both.”

De León oversaw ACU’s completion of a transition to NCAA Division I affiliation, the fundraising efforts and construction of Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium and other facilities improvements, re-launch of the Wildcat Club, efforts to increase the athletics budget and fundraising revenue, and a successful campaign to increase the overall student-athlete GPA.

“I’m grateful to Lee for the energy and leadership he brought to our now-successful transition from Division II to I,” said Schubert, ACU’s 11th president. “He brought to Abilene valuable experience from major-college athletics, hired talented people for our programs and served ACU well during his time here. Purdue will benefit from Lee’s experience and the enthusiasm he brings to his work each day.”

De León led ACU’s athletics fundraising efforts and oversaw the construction of Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium, the university’s first on-campus football stadium in more than 50 years. ACU has benefited from $57 million in new and improved athletics facility projects since De León began in 2014, including a new Elmer Gray Stadium for soccer and track and field, artificial turf at both baseball and softball stadiums, a new tennis operations facility, a renovation of the Teague Center, and the addition of video boards in Moody Coliseum.

During his tenure, the Wildcats won Southland Conference titles in women's basketball (twice), women’s cross country (twice) and men's tennis. The track and field program has been revitalized, and is sending 14 athletes to the NCAA West Preliminary meet in Sacramento, California, this weekend. Squads from women’s soccer, volleyball, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis and softball all qualified for Southland Conference postseason tournaments in their first year of Division I eligibility, with the volleyball team advancing to the championship match despite being seeded eighth in the field. And the men’s basketball team posted its first winning regular season since 2007-08 and earned a bid to the Tournament (CIT).

ACU has finished sixth in the Southland Commissioner’s Cup race each of the last two years (2017-18 and 2016-17) following a third-place finish in 2015-16 and sixth in 2014-15. The league-wide competition measures its best overall programs; ACU has finished in the top half of the standings each of the last four years.

Across the board, Wildcats saw increased success in the classroom during the De León era, which included development of a new academic center in January 2018. ACU student-athletes boasted a cumulative 3.17 GPA for the 2017-18 academic year, the highest such mark since Abilene Christian began tracking the measure.

In 2016, De León oversaw the re-launch of a revitalized Wildcat Club, the official fundraising organization of ACU Athletics. The first year led to 700 inaugural members who contributed more than $6.25 million through the Wildcat Annual Fund, capital and endowment gifts, as well as donations to sport-specific funds. The club’s ranks grew to 980 in 2017.

De León also increased the operating budget for ACU Athletics by almost 40 percent in his three years, due in large part to multi-year contracts negotiated with Nike, IMG and Vivature. Together, sponsorships, ticket sales, Wildcat Club donations, merchandise sales, concessions and outside events increased annual revenue from $2.1 million in 2014-15 to more than $3.8 million in 2017-18.

He also secured football guarantee games with Texas A&M (2020), Texas Tech (2024 and 2026), Kansas State (2022), Mississippi State (2019), SMU (2021) and Colorado State (2017).

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