Karner To Step Down As WIAC Commissioner In 2020

SOURCE: The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

MADISON, Wis.--The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) announced today that Commissioner Gary Karner will retire effective August 14, 2020, following what will be a 24-year tenure.

“I am extremely fortunate and humbled to have had the privilege to serve as the commissioner of the WIAC for the past 23 years,” said Karner.   “During my tenure I strived to do whatever was necessary to put our students-athletes, coaches and teams in the best possible position to succeed and achieve their goals. In that regard, I owe a great deal of gratitude to the many chancellors, faculty athletics representatives, athletics directors, coaches and student-athletes who shared a common vision and unwavering commitment to establishing the WIAC as the most accomplished DIII conference in NCAA history.”       

“Gary has provided outstanding leadership for the WIAC for over two decades and is regarded as one of the nation’s most highly-respected NCAA Division III commissioners,” stated UW-River Falls Chancellor, Dean Van Galen. “Over the past 23 years, Commissioner Karner has led the WIAC with great vision and unwavering integrity, always demonstrating a strong commitment to our student-athletes. On behalf of all of the WIAC chancellors who have worked with Commissioner Karner, I thank Gary for his distinguished service and wish him the best in the next chapter of his life.”

Dr. Karner was named commissioner in June 1996 following eight-years as a member of the NCAA national office staff and will retire as the longest serving commissioner in conference history. The most immediate task undertaken by Karner in 1996 was to merge the men’s (Wisconsin State University Conference) and women’s (Wisconsin Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) conferences into a single conference resulting in the formation of the WIAC in July 1997. 

During Karner’s tenure, the WIAC has captured 76 NCAA Division III National Championships—a number that surpasses the total number of championships won by all but one of the other 43 DIII conferences in their respective histories. An additional 501 WIAC student-athletes have captured NCAA individual titles over the past 23 years.

Equally impressive, if not more so, are the hundreds of WIAC student-athletes who have earned Academic All-American recognition, 16 NCAA Elite 90 Award winners and the conference’s commitment to community service, particularly in support of Special Olympics. Since Karner’s arrival in 1996, five of the seven NCAA Top Ten Award honorees from the State of Wisconsin have been WIAC student-athletes.

Karner served on the NCAA DIII Interpretations/Legislation and DIII Baseball committees as well as innumerable NCAA and DIII commissioner ad hoc committees, task forces and working groups. He formed what is believed to be the first regional coalition of DIII conferences for the purpose of sharing best practices and collaborating on matters of mutual interest. 

Other notable accomplishments by Karner have been the establishment of the WIAC Corporate Partner Program generating over $1 million in revenue for the conference, the WIAC Hall of Fame, the WIAC Centennial Celebration, the WIAC Foundation, the WIAC Student-Athlete Leadership Institute, the annual men’s and women’s basketball exhibition games vs. the Wisconsin Badgers and, the WIAC Administrative Internship Program—a program that has provided invaluable practical experience to nearly 60 students aspiring to become athletics administrators.

Karner served as the president of the National Association of DIII Athletics Administrators (NADIIIAA) in 2002-2003 and established the NADIIIAA/Jostens Community Service Award which is still presented today to recognize outstanding community service activities performed by DIII student-athletes. He also served on the board of directors of the DIII Commissioner’s Association from 2000-2003. 

Karner was selected as an Outstanding Commissioner of the Year by the All-American Football Foundation in 2007. He is also the 2011 recipient of the DIII Commissioner’s Association Meritorious Service Award, as well as the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of DIII Athletics Administrators in 2003 and 2011. Karner was named a Sports Ethics Fellow in 2005 by the Institute for International Sport.  

In addition to his commissioner duties, Karner has served as an adjunct faculty member at both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College and on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Sports Development Corporation and Special Olympics Wisconsin.

Karner earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1975 and master’s and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1978 and 1984, respectively.

Karner will be joined in retirement by his wife Judy while his son Sam will be matriculating to Arizona State University in the fall of 2020. 

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