Nielsen will not seek to extend AD contract, set to leave June 30

Joel Nielsen, the Kent State University athletic director, watches the Kent State women’s basketball team play Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 16, 2019.

After over a decade as director of athletics for Kent State, Joel Nielsen will not seek to extend his contract with the university.

Nielsen’s current contract is set to expire on June 30, at which point he will part ways with the university.

“Recently, I informed President Diacon that I am not seeking a renewal of my contract and that I will be transitioning out of the athletic director’s position at the end of my contract,” Nielsen said in a press release at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Kent State’s eleventh director of athletics, Nielsen came into the role in 2010 and signed a contract extension in the fall of 2016. His base salary under that contract was $428,000, which made him the highest paid AD in the Mid-American Conference.

“It is with much gratitude that I offer my thanks and sincere appreciation to Joel for his dedication to Kent State,” President Todd Diacon said. “His is a powerful legacy of student success both on and off the field.”

Nielsen’s tenure saw some historic developments for Kent State athletics, including Kent State football’s first bowl win in program history, the addition of women’s lacrosse (and ensuing approval of a planned MAC women’s lacrosse league) and 63 MAC regular season and conference championships.

In the press release though, Nielsen said he was most proud of the improvement of Kent State athletics’ academic performance in the last decade.

In the fall of 2020 the cumulative GPA of Kent State student-athletes was 3.375, the highest in the athletic department’s history. The fall also marked the seventeenth consecutive semester in which student-athletes’ cumulative GPA was above a 3.0.

“Our cumulative student-athlete GPA has grown from 2.89 when I arrived in 2010 to 3.35 today, so I’ll leave Kent State with a tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction for all that our student-athletes and staff accomplished,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen’s tenure also saw controversy within the athletic department, including a 2019 campaign to oust Nielsen as director of athletics. 

The campaign alleged that there was a “damaged culture” within the athletic department and that Nielsen knew about previous complaints of inappropriate behavior made against former senior fiscal manager of athletics Colin Miller.

Kent State made national headlines in the fall of 2019 when a field hockey game between Temple University and the University of Maine hosted by Kent State was cancelled early so that the Kent State football team’s homecoming game against Kennesaw State University could be opened with a firework display.

The National Field Hockey Coaches Association condemned the decision and Nielsen issued an apology.

In addition, there are currently two active lawsuits involving Kent State athletics. One was filed by former Kent State softball player Lauren Kesterson in 2016, alleging that Kesterson was raped by the son of then-head coach Karen Linder, and athletic department officials covered up the alleged incident. The second was filed by Kathleen Wiler, the former head coach of the field hockey team, alleging that athletic department officials discriminated against her by paying her less than her male counterparts. 

Owen is sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].

Gina is editor in chief. Contact her at [email protected].