Dr. James Frank
In a career that spanned more than 40 years, Dr. Frank was both a player and a pioneering administrator. He ranks among the rare individuals whose careers successfully span the entire collegiate experience, starting as a student-athlete and then becoming a coach, educator, college president and then crowning their professional careers as a revered conference commissioner. His efforts and leadership influenced the lives of countless people who he touched as teacher, colleague, counselor and friend.
Frank served as commissioner of the SWAC for 15 years from 1983 until his retirement in 1998. He also held the post on an interim basis from May of 2001 until Dec. 2002 when SWAC officials asked him to help with a transition, which he did. By the time he retired, Frank had made SWAC a viable, respected athletic conference comprised of historically black colleges.
Frank served a two-year term as president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association from 1981 to 1983, becoming both the first African-American and the first college president to serve as NCAA president. He was also the NCAA’s secretary-treasurer in 1979, becoming the first African-American and the first college president to hold either position – he was the president of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., from 1973-83.
Frank received the Distinguished American Award given by the Allstate Sugar Bowl Chapter of the National Football Foundation in 1988 and then collected the national award as Distinguished American presented by the NFF in 2001. He was the recipient of the NCAA’s James J. Corbett Award in 1997 and inducted into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame and the Lincoln University Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was presented with the NCAA’s Gerald R. Ford Award which honors individuals who have provided significant leadership as an advocate for higher education and intercollegiate athletics on a continuous basis over the course of his or her career.
Frank began his collegiate athletics career when he was awarded a four-year basketball scholarship to Lincoln, eventually becoming captain of the basketball team. He would also serve as an assistant basketball and baseball coach at Lincoln and was selected as the school’s president in 1973.