Effective August 1, 2023
Since his arrival on South Main in the fall of 2013, Joe Karlgaard has overseen a dramatic reshaping of Rice Athletics, providing unparalleled upgrades to all facets of the student-athlete experience focused on dynamic initiatives in business operations, branding, marketing, and fundraising — setting the stage for the Owls to join The American Athletic Conference in July of 2023.
In April of 2019, Karlgaard outlined the strategy to enhance these improvements with the release of “Vision for Victory”, a new five-year strategic plan that outlines three strategic priorities for Rice Athletics and defines 10 goals and accompanying initiatives to support them. “Vision for Victory” looks to build upon the success of Karlgaard’s ”New Vision for Rice Athletics”, a five-year plan announced in 2014 which saw many of its goals come to fruition.These long-range initiatives positioned Rice to be one of six schools invited to join the American Athletic Conference beginning with the 2023-24 season and set the stage for the launch of a comprehensive capital campaign to raise $100 million by the end of 2025 as a facet of Rice University's recently announced $2 billion "Be Bold: The Campaign for Rice."
Despite the challenges of a pandemic in 2020-21, Rice student-athletes recorded their second-best finish in the Learfield Directors Cup standings over the past decade, highlighted by four women’s teams finishing in the top 26 in the country. Soccer marched to its first appearance in the Women’s Soccer NCAA Sweet 16 and ended the season ranked 16th, women’s outdoor track tied for 21st, volleyball was ranked 23rd and women’s basketball finished 26th after a memorable run to the WNIT championship.
In 2020, Karlgaard was appointed to a Lead1 working group to examine issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in college sports and he co-chaired the political subcommittee which produced a white paper in January, 2021 with 10 recommendations to further DEI across FBS campuses. In the summer of 2022, Rice hosted the Black Student-Athlete Summit and Career Fair.
The Owls have captured 26 Conference-USA titles in 11 different sports during Karlgaard’s tenure, the most titles in the conference over that span. Rice student-athletes continue to lead the way in the classroom as well, capturing their 14th C-USA Institutional Excellence award with a combined 3.4 GPA. Rice is annually ranked among the nation’s best by the NCAA for its graduation success rates and has maintained a career placement rate of over 90% among its graduating student-athletes.
Rice Athletics has seen a 43% growth in ticket revenue and a record number of season tickets sold since 2014. Renegotiation of sponsorship, apparel, pouring rights, merchandise, concessions, and ticketing partnerships has generated an additional $3 million in incremental revenue for the department.
Thanks to a strategic reorganization, the Owl Club has reached record levels of both funds raised and donors to the department and established the Dunlevie Family Head Football Coach and Bixby Family Head Baseball Coach endowments. In the fall of 2021, programmatic endowments for baseball and track and field were created thanks to gifts from the Moody Foundation.
Rice and Adidas announced an agreement in 2018 on a new apparel partnership through the 2023-24 academic year. The new apparel line maximizes the potential of the refreshed Rice branding introduced in 2017. It is a featured component of the Owls' retail initiatives at their outlets on campus in addition to ShopRiceOwls.com, the department's revamped online merchandise store. The Owls licensing expanded into new territory in the fall of 2021 with the debut of several roasts of Rice branded coffee in collaboration with Katz Coffee where a portion of all proceeds are donated back to the Rice Athletics Scholarship Fund to benefit and support Rice Owls students in their pursuit to become champions at Rice and beyond.
Rice has seen nearly $60 million in upgrades and new construction projects directly benefitting each of Owls’ 16 intercollegiate programs over the past eight years, including the first phase of modernizing Rice Stadium and the installation of a synthetic playing surface at Reckling Park in the summer of 2022, the debut of the 80,000 square foot Robert L. Waltrip Indoor Training Center in 2020 and a new volleyball team lounge and the installation of a Taraflex floor on their West Gym practice facility.
The $33 million Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center, a state-of-the-art art training and medical facility for all Rice student-athletes which opened in 2016, is the centerpiece of these efforts. The spectacular home for Rice Football, the Patterson Center’s video production facilities have allowed Rice to become one of the leaders in Conference USA’s move to self-produced content on the ESPN streaming platform. Furthermore, elements highlighting the Rice Owls branding and history were installed throughout the facility, most notably to include the corridor NFL Owls interactive touch screen TV wall.
The George R. Brown Tennis Center has quickly become a fixture on the college tennis scene, hosting four conference championships in its first five years. The $9 million showcase has been ranked among the top 10 campus facilities in the country.
In the spring of 2016, Rice’s track and field programs saw a $2 million renovation to the Wendel D. Ley track featuring new bleachers, an enclosed press box, team meeting rooms, and a weight room. The throwing area was renovated in 2021 and the track will be resurfaced in the fall of 2022.
Rice’s golf, soccer, track, and volleyball teams moved into vastly upgraded facilities in 2017 with the completion of a $4 million renovation to the back of Tudor Fieldhouse. These renovations completely transformed 13,000 square feet of the former recreation center into dedicated locker rooms and team lounges. A golf indoor training area also opened in the fall of 2018.
The second floor of the renovated space inside Tudor will house the Houston Methodist-Rice University Center for Human Performance, a premier center where physicians, academic researchers and university students work side-by-side with student-athletes, trainers and coaches to advance research and education in human performance that is set to be completed for the Fall of 2022.
The Elizabeth and Robert Bixby Batting Barn and The Roost hospitality area along the right field line at Reckling Park made their debut in time for the 2018 baseball season. In the spring of 2022, a state-of-the-art pitching lab was installed at Reckling thanks to a lead gift from Jeremy '97 and Melinda Thigpen. The summer of 2022 saw the installation of a synthetic playing surface at the home of Rice baseball, thanks to a lead gift from former Owl and World Series champion Anthony Rendon and his wife Amanda, through their foundation Husky Owl, along with support from Rice alumni JC and Jen Kneale, the RBI Club and Rice University.
Karlgaard’s efforts at Rice have earned him national recognition. In March of 2014, he was recognized by Sports Business Journal as one of their “40 under 40” which annually honors the best and brightest young executives who are shaping the future of the industry. He has also been asked to speak at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum and the Division-1 Athletics Director’s Association.
Karlgaard came to Rice from Stanford University where he served as senior associate athletics director for development. Before Stanford, Karlgaard was athletics director at Oberlin College from 2005 to 2011.
At Stanford, Karlgaard was responsible for helping set the strategic direction for a $90 million annual budget and led a staff of 14 in delivering $52 million in 2012, the greatest single year in the school's fundraising history.
A 1996 graduate of Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in history, Karlgaard was a four-year letter winner in track and field for the Cardinal. He returned to Stanford in 1998 as an assistant to Vin Lananna, his former coach. Karlgaard left Stanford in 2000 to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Minnesota, where he also served as an assistant coach of men's cross country and track and field. Karlgaard received his Ph.D. in educational policy and administration in 2005.
Karlgaard his wife, Jill, and their three sons, Charlie (15), twins Lucas and Daniel (7), and dog Fleener make their home in Houston.