BIRMINGHAM, Ala.- The Southwestern Athletic Conference announced the passing of former Southwestern Athletic Conference Commissioner Dr. James Frank on Saturday.

Among his many notable accomplishments, Frank served as the first African-American President of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from 1981 – 1983.


“Dr. Frank’s impact and legacy with the NCAA and the Southwestern Athletic Conference is truly remarkable,” said SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland. “He was a true pioneer in the field of collegiate athletics and his vision and legacy continue to positively impact countless student-athletes both past and present.”

“The Southwestern Athletic Conference will forever be indebted to Dr. Frank and his contributions to the SWAC,” said McClelland. “We will continue to strive on daily basis to embody the core principles of his amazing leadership.”

After graduation, Dr. Frank served two years as a first lieutenant in the Army Corp of Engineers before earning a master’s in education from Springfield College in Massachusetts.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Frank served as Dean of Students and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.

He later served as assistant basketball coach at Lincoln University before being named head coach and ultimately the college’s President.

He began his educational career when he was awarded a four-year basketball scholarship to Lincoln University in Missouri, eventually becoming captain of the basketball team.

Under Frank’s leadership, the NCAA became more inclusive of women’s sports. Dr. Frank first served as secretary-treasurer before taking the office of the President. He believed during his tenure that “’separate but equal’ does not lead to equality.”

He led the NCAA Planning Committee that eventually led to a demographic change in Association leadership. Dr. Frank was named one of the NCAA’s 100 Most Influential Student-Athletes and in 2007, he won the NCAA’s prestigious Gerald R. Ford Award as well.

During Dr. Frank’s presidency, he was a significant influence in defining NCAA decisions:

  • Dr. Frank chaired the governance subcommittee and oversaw the governance plan that defined how and when women sports and championships would become part of the NCAA.
  • Dr. Frank presided over the passing of Proposition 48, the legislation that set eligibility standards for incoming freshman student-athletes, which resulted in raising graduation rates.
  • Dr. Frank facilitated enhanced presidential collaboration through the NCAA Long-Range Planning Committee that lead to a demographic change in Association leadership.
  • Dr. Frank was integral in the NCAA’s establishment of the Minority Opportunities and Interest Committee, a group devoted to inclusiveness in Association policy decisions.

From 1983 until his retirement in 1998, Dr. Frank served as Commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). He returned to the position as Interim Commissioner in April 2001, where he served for 20 months. During his guidance, the conference evolved to rank among the elite in the nation.

Dr. James Frank was one of a few individuals who elevated through the collegiate ranks as a student-athlete, coach, educator, college president, and conference commissioner.

During a long and distinguished career of over 50 years, Frank’s efforts and influential leadership touched the lives of countless people and resulted in positive changes in the many organizations he served.

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