It was a bouncing ball—an orange basketball in fact—that created a career pathway for Sherika Montgomery from the basketball court to her new position as Big South Conference commissioner.
In April, Montgomery was named the league’s fourth commissioner in conference history, and the first Black person to hold the role after a national search. She replaces Kyle Kallender who is retiring after 27 years at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season.
Montgomery officially began her duties on May 15. She talked to the MSR about returning to the Big South where she once played basketball (Gardner Webb) and worked in the conference office from 2010-17.
“When I was a student-athlete,” began Montgomery, “it was because of my experience that I literally transitioned from a basketball court to a conference office. But I never saw the commissioner role… I definitely didn’t see it years ago.”
A native of Tupelo, Miss., Montgomery originally went to the University of Mississippi on a basketball scholarship after graduating from high school, but transferred to Gardner Webb. She had to sit out a year as a result.
“I was so fortunate to have amazing coaches that pushed me to be involved in things [because] I couldn’t play basketball,” she recalled, saying she served on several student advisory committees.
More importantly, Montgomery learned the inner workings of collegiate athletics, especially what a person really does as an athletic director and a conference commissioner. “That really opened my eyes to not only my experience in the sport itself but really the NCAA and the entire governance structure of being one of 32 Division I basketball conferences.
“When I graduated in 2010, I had another year to finish my masters, and as I stepped off the basketball court, I stepped directly into the Big South Conference office,” said Montgomery.
Her impressive resume includes the following:
- Seven years at the Big South in various roles, including a two-time chair of the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics (2014-18);
- Member of the inaugural NCAA Board of Governors ad hoc Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity;
- Three years as assistant commissioner for compliance and senior women’s administrator;
- NCAA assistant director of enforcement;
- Missouri Valley Conference deputy commissioner; and
- Summit League associate commissioner (2018-19).
Montgomery currently is a cohort member of the 2022-23 NCAA Pathway Program, a yearlong initiative designed to prepare senior-level athletics administrators for the next career steps as athletics director or conference commissioner. The 22-member cohort is “very diverse in terms of gender but also race and ethnicity,” said Montgomery.
“It all started with an orange basketball being my vehicle.”
The low number of Black leaders serving as senior decision-makers in college sports, outside of HBCU schools and conferences, has been well-documented, and Montgomery expressed her gratitude for her hard-earned career so far. She noted that most of her mentors didn’t look like her.
“Going from conference to conference, and even on campus, I didn’t see a lot of people like me, in leadership positions,” added Montgomery. “But I’ve been very fortunate that I have had tremendous support.”
Montgomery especially wanted to recognize her work with Joyce Thompson, who is Black and was the NCAA Associate Director for Enforcement at the national office, who was portrayed as an investigator in “The Blind Side” movie. “I certainly had an opportunity to work very closely with her…to really get to know and meet this phenomenal leader.”
She is ready for her new job. The Big South has 10 member schools, in most sports and six affiliate members in certain sport. She is well-prepared to navigate through the knowns and the unknowns of college sports.
“I have always felt that athletics is a universal language. I think just continuing to be able to hone that message, myself being a product of intercollegiate athletics, that’s something I’m very proud of.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
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