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.