After a more than 40-year career in collegiate athletics, Case Western Reserve University James C. Wyant Director of Athletics Amy Backus has announced her retirement, effective Dec. 31.
“It has been an honor to serve as the James C. Wyant Director of Athletics and Chair of Physical Education at CWRU,” said Backus. “This is an incredible institution of brilliant scholars and incredible staff who care deeply about the experience of our students. My utmost respect goes to our student athletes who are talented, resilient, down to earth, and competitive. From day one, they have inspired me to work hard for them and to leave our athletic program in a better place. I have great appreciation for my faculty and staff who help lead the way to success for the Spartans. I want to thank VP of Student Affairs, Lou Stark, for giving me the opportunity to shine the light on Spartan Athletics.”
Since being named to the position in April of 2014, Backus has helped guide the department to new levels of success. The three best team finishes in team history came under Backus’ watch, including the men’s tennis team’s second-place finish at the 2021 NCAA Division III Championships and quarterfinal finishes for the softball and men’s soccer teams at the 2018 NCAA Division III Championships. In addition, the baseball, football, men’s cross country, women’s soccer and volleyball teams each qualified from the NCAA Division III Championships during Backus’ time as athletic director, while men’s and women’s swimming & diving, men’s and women’s track & field, women’s cross country, and women’s tennis have each sent individual qualifiers to the NCAA Championships.
CWRU has claimed two individual National Championships over the past seven years, with Cassandra Laios winning the Hammer Throw at the 2019 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, and Matthew Chen and James Hopper claiming the Division III doubles title at the 2019 Fall ITA Cup. CWRU athletes have received 48 All-America honors since 2014.
Academically under Backus, CWRU’s student-athletes have accumulated 42 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, and 16 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships, including four NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships in 2021, the most among Division III schools. Laios and former men’s tennis player CJ Krimbill each received NCAA Today’s Top-10 honors, and Laios was also named among the top-30 finalists for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award. Three Spartans—Sam Merriman of men’s cross country in 2017, Drew Hamilton of men’s swimming & diving in 2018, and Katie Wede of softball in 2018—received the NCAA Elite 90 Award, awarded to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA at each NCAA Championship site.
Backus was able to establish numerous programs to aid in student-athlete development during her time at CWRU, including the Van Horn Society (recognizing student-athletes with a GPA of 3.8 or higher), the Student-Athlete Leadership Academy, and partnerships with T3 Performance for strength and conditioning and nutrition by Brooke for nutritional guidance.
Other programs created under Backus’ leadership, such as the Visiting Committee and Annual Year-End Report, helped build relationships among alumni, supporters and other friends of the department, evidenced in part by a 725% increase in money raised during the annual Day of Giving. A number of key endowments were added over the past seven years, including the James C. Wyant endowment, the Marion F. Rudy endowment, and the Glenn and Peggy Nichols endowment.
Additional initiatives, including a reworking of the department mission statement and tagline, a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, an integrated alcohol and drug education program called 360 Proof, and a number of others geared toward campus spirit and marketing, were all undertaken since her arrival in 2014.
Among the many facilities upgrades under Backus are the opening of the Wyant Athletic and Wellness Center her first year, the returfing of DiSanto Field, Nobby’s Ballpark and Mather Park, the resurfacing of the track and basketball courts inside the Veale Fieldhouse and a remodeling of each team’s locker room.
Backus has also served on various committees at Case Western Reserve (including the faculty senate), the University Athletic Association and the NCAA during her tenure.
Backus came to CWRU in 2014 after serving as the senior associate athletic director at Yale University. A former basketball standout at nearby Vermilion High School, Backus went on to a four-year career as a member of the women’s basketball team at Central Michigan University, serving as a team captain as a senior. After graduation, Backus began her professional career in intercollegiate athletics as a CMU assistant coach before scoring her first head coach position at then Otterbein College (now Otterbein University). She went on to similar positions at Middlebury College and Northwestern University and was the head coach at Yale University from 1999-2005 before retiring from the coaching ranks after a 26-year career.
Backus is a member of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame and the Vermilion High School Hall of Fame. She is also a past international and national sailing champion.
“The volume of change in intercollegiate athletics throughout my 40-year career is profound to say the least,” said Backus. “I have been fortunate to work at institutions prioritizing academics where those changes remain somewhat restrained. My tremendous mentors have guided me to always see the bigger picture in my decision making and to lead with transparency and a good moral compass. I have cherished all of my teams, the wins, the losses (not as much!) and the friends and colleagues I have made all across the country in this amazing profession of college athletics.”
The university will conduct a national search for the new James C. Wyant Director of Athletics.
What others are saying:
“Amy has done nothing short of an outstanding job in her seven years at CWRU. She has transformed the student-athlete experience and has been instrumental in transforming our facilities. She has created an outstanding Division III program, and a welcoming environment for all students at the University to participate in club, intramural and recreational sports. She has been an invaluable part of my senior leadership team, and I am grateful for all of her efforts and hard work over the last seven years.” – Lou Stark, vice president for student affairs at CWRU
“Amy brought a sense of departmental focus that permeated the university. She set the expectation for excellence in all of our departmental offerings from intercollegiate athletics to physical education to campus recreation. Her energy and vision enhanced not only student-athletes, but the entire student body. That vision was greatly appreciated and will be missed when her time at CWRU comes to an end.” – Pat Kennedy, associate athletic director
“Amy brought her competitive spirit to the department seven years ago and encouraged and challenged each program to reach new levels and earn opportunities to participate in NCAA Championships. Her tenure brought upgrades to our facilities and increased visibility of branding and unified messaging with the CWRU tagline.
“She was always an enthusiastic fan of our student-athletes and most invested in their overall academic and athletic experience. She led the department through the incredible disruption of a global pandemic, and worked tirelessly to advocate for all teams to train and for the spring teams to compete safely in 2021.” – Karen Farrell, head volleyball coach, associate athletic director and the Isabel Wetmore Lowman Chair for Health Education
“Amy has been committed to offering our student-athletes an outstanding experience since she first came to CWRU in 2014. Her coaching hires, initiatives with outside organizations, such as T3 Performance and Nutrition with Brooke, along with collaborating with CWRU faculty and staff have given our athletes the support they need to become the best they can be on and off the field. It has been a pleasure working with her, she will be missed.” – Greg Debeljak, head football coach