Recapping Schill’s biggest athletic moments at Oregon and what lies ahead at Northwestern


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Ryan Field. Rebuilding Ryan Field will be among the most prominent projects in Schill’s first years as university president.

Charlotte Varnes, Sports Editor

University President Michael Schill is no stranger to Division I athletics. 

After roles in the law schools at UCLA and the University of Chicago, Schill was tasked with significant responsibility: leading the University of Oregon — including its 18 varsity athletic programs. While athletic director Rob Mullens directly leads the university’s athletic department, Schill had some responsibility as the university’s president. 

A dynamic force in college athletics, the Ducks are well-known for their close relationship with Nike, flashy uniforms and talented track and field and cross country programs. Several different sports recorded NCAA championship titles during Schill’s tenure, including men’s golf, men’s track and field, women’s cross country and women’s track and field. 

Here is a breakdown of the biggest athletic moments and developments during Schill’s time in Eugene.

A leader in the Pac-12 

While at Oregon, Schill was one of the most front-facing university officials in the PAC-12. He served as chair of the Pac-12 CEO Group, comprised of the conference’s nine university presidents and three chancellors, through July 2022. The position rotates among the conference’s presidents and chancellors. 

Schill’s tenure as chair coincided with some of the most tumultuous years in the conference’s history. As the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected competition, members decided to play a limited, conference-only football schedule beginning November 2020. The approach was among the most conservative of college athletic conferences nationwide. 

Many of the Pac-12’s athletic programs were already struggling financially entering 2020. Without any sort of college football that season, matters would have been decidedly worse. As the Pac 12’s leading university official, Schill was often tasked with explaining the changing dynamics of college athletics during the pandemic. 

Despite fiscal woes, Schill told the media there were no financial motivations to returning to play in fall 2020. Rather, the conference relied heavily on the introduction of antigen testing of student-athletes, which a fellow conference leader said made the return to competition more feasible. 

Just one day before Schill’s term as Pac-12 chair ended, UCLA and USC announced their departure from the Big Ten — a move that sent shockwaves around the world of college athletics. While the Pac-12 issued a statement, Schill never publicly addressed the move nor Oregon’s future in the altered conference landscape. 

Now, leading a Big Ten school, Schill is on the other side of the UCLA-USC move. While the schools will not begin competing in the conference until 2024, Schill said questions remain about how collegiate athletics will look like then. 

“We’re going to end up with two super-conferences: the Big Ten and the SEC,” Schill said. “What’s that mean? What’s it mean (to have) people traveling from Los Angeles to Maryland or New Jersey?” 

As the universities’ move to the Big Ten approaches, Schill said he believes NU will place student-welfare first — even as some peer institutions don’t. 

Oregon track and field championships, controversy

There’s a reason Eugene is called TrackTown USA. The Ducks’ cross country and track and field programs have long been a super force in collegiate athletics. Oregon has racked up 32 national championships between its men’s and women’s cross country and track field programs, including six total during Schill’s time in Eugene. 

However, the Oregon women’s track and field and cross country programs were also plagued with controversy at the time. In October 2021, several women came forward to decry their data-driven training place, which they said led to nightmares, body dysmorphia and binge eating. 

Coach Robert Johnson, who oversaw the program during this time, was let go in June 2022. The university issued a statement about his departure, but did not disclose why he departed. 

Renovating Hayward Field

One of the most iconic venues in collegiate track and field, Hayward Field, underwent significant renovations during Schill’s tenure. Primarily funded by alum and Nike co-founder Phil Knight, the venue now has a capacity up to 25,000 and facilities such as a training room, a barber shop, indoor pole vault and shot put pits, a nutrition shop and a weight room. Project costs are estimated to exceed $270 million. 

The venue also hosted the World Athletics Championships in 2022, marking the first time the event was hosted in the U.S. In a message to the Oregon community, Schill said he was impressed by the way the school welcomed thousands of visitors as they experienced “Hayward magic.” 

The project isn’t too different from the new Ryan Field — another venture mainly funded by an alum’s donation that Schill will help oversee at NU. 

Success in women’s sports

Oregon’s women’s athletics programs flourished during Schill’s tenure. The Ducks’ volleyball program reached six NCAA tournaments, softball reached the Women’s College World Series once, women’s basketball made the Elite Eight three times and Final Four once, women’s track and field won two national championships and women’s cross country won one. 

At NU, Schill will get to experience similarly successful women’s college sports. Softball is coming off a Women’s College World Series appearance, lacrosse has made three straight NCAA semifinals, women’s soccer is currently ranked No. 5 nationally and field hockey is No. 3 after winning its first national championship in 2021, among other successes.

For Schill, this elite level of competition is particularly inspiring.

“Both schools are incredibly strong in women’s sports,” Schill said. “We see the inequities ( for women’s sports). Hopefully, as more and more people get excited about women’s sports, those inequities will start to dissipate”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charvarnes11

Related Stories: 

University President Michael Schill makes impression on students during Wildcat Welcome programming

Where University President Michael Schill stands on issues of police, freedom of speech and more

Football Notebook: Fitzgerald names Northwestern’s five captains ahead of season opener