news-category: Athletics

Gardner-Webb President Dr. William Downs Selected as Vice President of Big South Executive Committee

Student Body President Blake Elizalde and GWU President Dr. William Downs show their support at the 2022 homecoming game. Photo by Jaden Poe / GWU Photo Staff

Downs Dedicated to Student-Athlete Excellence in the Classroom, on the Field and in the Community

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Big South Conference Commissioner Kyle B. Kallander announced Wednesday (Jan. 18) that Gardner-Webb University President Dr. William Downs has been selected to serve as Big South Vice President of the Executive Committee. Since September 2022, Downs has served on the Executive Committee as at At-Large Member.

By serving in this leadership role, Downs elevates Gardner-Webb’s involvement and commitment to the Big South Conference and its student-athletes.

“Everyone who works with me knows how passionate I am about the success of our student-athletes at Gardner-Webb,” Downs shared. “For the Runnin’ Bulldogs to be successful, we must be part of a strong, nimble, and innovative conference. As vice president of the Big South Executive Committee, I am committed to enhancing the competitive standing of all our member institutions across the full range of sports in which we compete. There’s so much uncertainty presently swirling around the world of NCAA athletics, and in the Big South we have to mitigate the distractions by rededicating ourselves to student-athlete excellence in all its forms—in the classroom, on the fields of competition, and in the community. If we do that, there will indeed be big times ahead for the Big South.”

GWU President Dr. William Downs reacts during the men’s basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the 2022 Hercules Tires Big South Conference Championship.

Matt vandenBerg, president at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., has agreed to serve in the At-Large position on the Executive Committee through the remainder of this academic year. 

Gardner-Webb Vice President and Director of Athletics Dr. Andrew T. Goodrich said Downs is highly regarded in the conference. “On behalf of all the Athletic Directors in the Big South, we are excited to see Dr. Downs enter into this leadership role,” Goodrich observed. “His vision and guidance will prove effective as we enter this new era of NCAA governance.”

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.

Since his arrival on the GWU campus in 2019, Downs has enthusiastically supported the University’s over 600 student-athletes and 22 NCAA Division I teams. He also led the first athletics brand update in more than 35 years.

Downs’ career spans over two decades of service in higher education. Before GWU, 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.

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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