David L. Neilson, the commissioner of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association since 2002, has announced he will retire from the position at the conclusion of the 2013-14 academic year.
The announcement of Commissioner Neilson’s retirement came Tuesday from Dr. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College and vice chairwoman of the MIAA Presidents’ Council. He is the eighth and third-longest serving commissioner in the MIAA’s 126-year history.
“These last 12 years have been a labor of love for me, and I will always regard this position as the highlight of my professional career,” Commissioner Neilson said. “I have been blessed in being able to represent the nine great institutions that comprise the nation’s oldest collegiate athletic conference.”
Hope Co-Athletic Directors Eva Dean Folkert and Tim Schoonveld thanked Commissioner Neilson for his impact on the MIAA and Hope.
Folkert said, "Dave Nielson has been a staunch supporter and leader of not only our league schools but also Division III. The MIAA has grown in prestige during his tenure due to his vision and steady hand on the wheel. He has been an objective mediator and a valued colleague to all league ADs, and his ability as both will be missed."
Schoonveld said, "Dave has meant much to me personally and even more to the MIAA. His leadership of the league and his investment into the lives of student-athletes has been fantastic. Hope College and the MIAA will miss him tremendously when he is gone. We are grateful for all he has done for Hope College.”
Commissioner Neilson has been a highly visible presence on MIAA campuses and in NCAA Division III athletics during his tenure. He has been a member of the NCAA Division III Commissioner’s Association for 12 years and was a founding board member of the association’s Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct Committee. He has also been a member of the NCAA Division III Strategic Planning and Finance Committee for six years, making him the committee’s longest-serving member.
“Dave Neilson has brought not only a passion for intercollegiate athletics, but also professionalism, fairness, and deep respect for the academic mission of the member schools in his role as MIAA commissioner,” Dr. Wilson-Oyelaran said. “He has been a tireless advocate for our student-athletes and will be sorely missed.”
Under Commissioner Neilson’s leadership, highlights included:
- Increased recognition of student-athlete academic achievement and the introduction of the Sheila Wallace Kovalchik and Albert L. Deal Scholar-Athlete Awards, presented to the MIAA’s outstanding female and male senior scholar-athletes each spring;
- Greater focus on student-athlete well-being protocols and implementation of a conference-based MRSA prevention program;
- Standardization of conference championship and NCAA tournament Automatic Qualification (AQ) determinants;
- The addition of men’s and women’s lacrosse as MIAA championship sports during 2012-13 season.
Commissioner Neilson’s involvement in intercollegiate athletics dates back to his days as a student-athlete at MIAA member Albion College. He lettered in football for four years at Albion and twice earned All-MIAA honors as quarterback for the Britons before graduating in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and economics. He earned All-American honors in his senior year and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League.
Prior to joining the MIAA, Commissioner Neilson had a successful career in the automotive industry for more than 30 years, most of them at Rockwell International. He launched manufacturing businesses in both North America and Europe, as well as engineering joint business ventures in Japan. He was instrumental in the launch of air bags as standard production equipment in automobiles in the 1990s.
Commissioner Neilson has coached most sports that the MIAA sponsors, including baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball, football, cross country, basketball and track and field. He coached at Shady Side Academy Prep in Pittsburgh, Pa. and at the American School in London, England. He also served as president of the London Baseball Association while living in England.
Commissioner Neilson and his wife, Karen, live in Royal Oak. They have four children and five grandchildren.
The MIAA is the nation’s oldest collegiate athletic conference, founded in 1888. The MIAA consists of nine private colleges from Michigan and northern Indiana. Member institutions are Adrian College, Albion College, Alma College, Calvin College, Hope College, Kalamazoo College, Olivet College, Saint Mary’s College and Trine University.
A search for a new MIAA commissioner will begin immediately.