When Amy Backus starred on the basketball team at Ohio’s Vermilion High School in the 1970s, no college came courting her for scholarships. Congress had just passed Title IX, and the country was still adjusting to the idea of equal opportunity for women in education programs.
Four decades later, Backus is returning to her home state to become Case Western Reserve University’s first permanent female athletic director. Now the senior associate athletic director at Yale University, she brings the Spartans a quarter century of experience as a basketball coach along with a decade of work in athletics administration.
“I am delighted to return to Ohio to join a university so committed to the full development of students as scholars, leaders and citizens,” Backus said. “Athletics can be an invaluable part of preparing students for life, and I look forward to working with our students, staff, faculty, alumni and the larger campus community to help advance Case Western Reserve’s goals.”
Backus began her professional career in sports at her college alma mater, Central Michigan University. A four-year hoops player there, she ultimately received a full scholarship as a senior. A key reason for the financial support: The university’s women’s athletic director was a leader in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, the organization that helped spearhead the start of athletic scholarships for women.
After graduation, Backus spent a year as a CMU assistant coach before scoring her first head coach position at Otterbein College. She went on to secure similar positions at Middlebury College and Northwestern University before arriving at Yale in 1999.
Prior to arriving in Connecticut, she earned a master’s degree in administration and supervision with an emphasis on higher education from Loyola University of Chicago. While at Yale, she also has served as national chair of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee and is a member of both the NCAA Division I Academic Performance Advisory Group and its Legislative Council. Within Yale University, meanwhile, she is a member of the Intercultural Affairs Council, Committee on Sexual Misconduct, Alcohol Policy Committee, and Safety Net Committee—the last one a group of staff and student leaders dedicated to supporting health and safety on campus.
“Amy brings a real breadth and depth of experience in higher education that gives her a great perspective on the importance of athletics and student life to the campus experience,” Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark said. “She has lived the values of high-quality academic institutions, and will bring those lessons and leadership qualities to this new role.”
Backus posted a 215-205 record during her career as head coach, and her Yale teams set records for three-pointers and blocks in a season. Her team also was the only Ivy League squad to make the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s tally of top 25 teams by grade point average twice between 2000 and 2005.
In addition, one of her players accepted the Charles T. Stoner Law Scholarship Award at the Women’s Final Four, an honor awarded to a female basketball player planning to pursue a legal degree. Then there is Sports Illustrated Senior Editor Trisha Blackmar, who has called Backus the most influential educator she encountered while a student at prestigious Middlebury College.
“Playing for Amy taught me the value of working hard even when there’s no immediate payoff,” Blackmar explained in a 2011 article about the magazine’s sportsman and sportswoman of the year.
At Case Western Reserve, Backus will lead a department that offers 19 varsity sports, 14 club sports and 35 intramural activities. As director of athletics and chair of physical education, she will lead a team of faculty and staff that totals 60, and bear responsibility for athletic facilities including the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center, the Veale Natatorium, DiSanto Field, Mather Park, Nobby’s Ballpark and the Wyant Athletic and Wellness Center, now under construction at the Village at 115.
Backus emerged as the university’s top pick after a selection process that involved more than 80 candidates assessed by a faculty, staff and student committee chaired by volleyball coach Karen Farell. The Witt Kiefer firm assisted with the search.
“I deeply appreciate the hard work and thought that Karen and the entire committee devoted to this process,” Stark said. “The group engaged well with the campus to understand the key qualities needed in the department at this time, represented the university in a strong and positive way to candidates, and deliberated with great collegiality and care. I commend their efforts in helping us secure such an outstanding new leader."