Search Firms Partner to Find Next Southern Conference Commissioner

April 8, 2019 – Executive search firms College Sports Solutions (CSS) and Buffkin / Baker are working together to find the next commissioner for the college athletic Southern Conference. Atlanta-based College Sports, which will manage the search, was chosen for its expertise in finding athletics leaders, while Buffkin/ Baker, based in Brentwood, TN, offered prowess in tapping top academic talent. The search is being led by Jeff Schemmel, founder and president of Collegiate Sports Solutions.

“After careful vetting of search firms, the Southern Conference Commissioner search committee chose CSS to manage the search process,” said Brian Noland, chair of the president’s council and president of East Tennessee State University. “The committee was very impressed with not only the successful searches that CSS has completed but also the vast experience of Jeff Schemmel as an athletic director and major conference official. When you add the expertise of Buffkin/Baker on the academic side, the search committee felt CSS was the right fit for this search.”

The firms announced their strategic alliance to serve universities and colleges, intercollegiate conferences and collegiate athletic organizations earlier this year.

Stepping Down

Last month, Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino announced that he would be retiring effective June 30 after 13 years in the role. He is the second-longest serving commissioner in the 98-year history of the Southern Conference.

Mr. Iamarino set a high bar for his successor. During his term, the conference launched its own digital network, created a hall of fame, successfully returned the basketball championships to Asheville, NC, increased the number of league sports from 19 to 22, and initiated the SoCon Academic Exchange, the first academically oriented collaboration in Southern Conference history.

“The Southern Conference is one of the premier FCS conferences in the country,” said Mr. Schemmel. “Men’s basketball had a breakout year in 2018-19, ending as the 12th ranked RPI conference in the country. The conference is nationally recognized for the academic quality of its member institutions and their commitment to the academic success of the student athlete.  We are honored and excited to assist the Southern Conference’s efforts in identifying its next leader who can build on this success and chart the course for even greater achievement in the future.”

Related: Executive Recruiters Prove Invaluable to Thriving Global Sports Sector

The Southern Conference is composed of 10 institutions located in six contiguous states. Founded in 1921, it is the fifth oldest continuing conference in NCAA Division Athletics. Its member schools are the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the Citadel, East Tennessee State University, Furman University, Mercer University, Samford University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Virginia Military Institute, Western Carolina University and Wofford College.

Leading Recruiters

CSS is a leading full-service and integrated provider of collegiate athletic consulting, strategies and solutions to universities, intercollegiate conferences and collegiate organizations. The firm provides executive search services for coach and administrator searches.


College Sports Solutions Recruits Commissioner for Big Sky Conference
College Sports Solutions placed Tom Wistrcill as the seventh commissioner of the Big Sky Conference, a Division I collegiate athletic league in the western U.S. The previous commissioner, Andrea Williams, moved on this summer to become chief operating officer of the College Football Playoffs.


CSS successfully completed the recent search for commissioner of the Big Sky Conference along with numerous head coaching positions.

The firm’s clients run the gamut of collegiate sports institutions, including Auburn University, Alabama State University, Alabama A & M University, Boise State University, Brigham Young University, University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Grand Canyon University, Montana State University, New Mexico State University, Oregon State University, Presbyterian College, Tulane University, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Central Missouri, University of Houston, University of Minnesota, University of New Mexico, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), University of North Carolina (Charlotte), University of Northern Iowa, University of South Dakota, University of South Florida and University of Utah.

Related: Egon Zehnder Finds New Commissioner for Australian Football League

Mr. Schemmel directs all business development and intercollegiate industry relations and provides hands-on services. Prior to launching CSS, he was the managing director of the college division of JMI Sports.

With over 25 years of intercollegiate athletics management experience, Mr. Schemmel is a former athletic director who has served in key leadership positions within the NCAA, the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA and at schools in the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences. He was director of athletics at San Diego State University from 2005 to 2009. During his tenure, he negotiated the school’s first comprehensive apparel/equipment contract with Nike and was responsible for hiring and retaining many of the school’s successful coaches and administrators.

Buffkin / Baker has completed more than 550 searches for universities and colleges across the country. The firm is currently conducting the search for the chancellor of Western Carolina University along with numerous other academic positions. Buffkin/ Baker recently conducted searches for a number of institutions in the Power Five conferences, as well as leading liberal arts colleges, AAU institutions and regional universities. Besides Tennessee, the firm has offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and Winston-Salem, NC, with affiliate offices in London. Buffkin/ Baker is a member of Panorama Search, an international federation of retained firms with 18 firms and over 30 offices globally.

Related: Big Ten Conference Taps Korn Ferry to Find New Commissioner

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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