news-category: Athletics

Gardner-Webb President Dr. William Downs Elected Big South President

Gardner-Webb President Dr. William Downs speaks at a podium

Downs will Lead Executive Committee for Next Two Academic Years

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—The Big South Conference Council of Chief Executive Officers unanimously approved the league’s Executive Committee for the next two academic years. With this action, Gardner-Webb University President Dr. William M. Downs has been elevated to Big South President for 2023-24 and 2024-25.

“This is truly an exciting time of renewal and opportunity for the Big South Conference,” Downs observed. “As we welcome our new Commissioner, Sherika Montgomery, we are energized to strengthen our conference brand, to elevate the level of competition across all sports at all member institutions, and to keep our ultimate focus on the student-athletes and on the quality of their collegiate experience. The Big South President has the privilege of working alongside an outstanding group of CEOs, and I’m eager to see all that we can accomplish together in the coming years.”

Dr. Downs poses with new bulldog statue

Serving as the new vice president will be University of South Carolina Upstate Chancellor Dr. Bennie Harris. Longwood University President W. Taylor Reveley IV has been elected to serve the Executive Committee as an at-large member.

Downs has served the Big South’s Executive Committee as vice president and as an at-large member since 2021. He is the second Gardner-Webb president elected to serve as Big South Conference President, as GWU’s Dr. Frank Bonner held the office four years from 2013-17. Reveley returns to the Executive Committee, as he served as Big South President from 2018-21.

The Big South Conference Executive Committee has the authority to make decisions, when necessary, for the Big South Council of Chief Executive Officers. Additionally, the Executive Committee hears any appeals regarding penalties imposed by the Commissioner.

Downs’ career spans over two decades of service in higher education. Before becoming president of Gardner-Webb in 2019, he was dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, N.C. He had been at ECU since 2014 and was also the W. Keats Sparrow Distinguished Chair in the Liberal Arts and a professor of political science. He’s also held positions at Georgia State University and was a research fellow at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.

A Raleigh, N.C., native, Downs earned his Bachelor of Arts in political science (with a minor in journalism) from North Carolina State University (Raleigh) in 1988, and his Master of Arts (‘90) and Doctoral (‘94) degrees in political science from Emory University (Atlanta). Downs is married to Kimberly Harwood Downs, and they have two children, Rachel and Bradley.

About the Big South Conference

Founded in 1983 and approaching its 40th anniversary in 2023-24, the Big South Conference has been an exemplary leader in college athletics, dedicated to developing student-athletes through the pursuit of excellence in the classroom, community and field of play. The league’s growing presence as an NCAA Division I athletic conference is made evident by its multitude of athletic accomplishments, innovative marketing and media partnerships, increased television packages and most importantly, its commitment to fostering the academic, personal, social, athletic and leadership development of its student-athletes. Comprised of 10 member institutions sharing a common geographic region and similar academic values and purposes, the Big South’s remarkable history of achievement is characterized by the league’s 19 championship sports and the profound academic and life successes of its more than 3,800 student-athletes.

About Gardner-Webb University

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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