By Special Report

The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) has made history by selecting

Kiki Baker Barnes as the first Black woman to serve as commissioner. 

Barnes is an esteemed coach and recruiter, with her career including positions at Frank Phillips College in Borger, Tx., Southern University at Shreveport, La., Southern University at Baton Rouge, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

“I am honored to have earned the trust and confidence of my colleagues for the purpose of leading the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference into the future,” Barnes said. “My commitment is to bring creative vision, excellence, direction, and strong partnerships that will advance the conference and the competitive landscape for our student-athletes.”

Barnes has served at Dillard University since 2006 as the athletic director. During her tenure there she cleared a path for the return of Dillard’s athletic program and upgraded the university with a national model of how to blend community service and student-athlete achievement. Barnes also oversaw the creation of new sports teams and facilitated the founding of Dillard’s initial endowed athletic scholarship- all while serving as Louisiana’s sole female, intercollegiate athletic director.

She has a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of New Orleans, a master of science in communications from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Louisiana and a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of New Orleans.

“As I embrace this new opportunity, I am especially grateful to my colleagues, staff, and student-athletes at Dillard University for our collective work in rising from adversity to winning championships and becoming a national model of student-athlete success,” said Barnes. 

The GCAC was founded in 1981 and competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics  (NAIA). The GCAC is made up of teams that represent the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) of Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

The announcement follows GCAC’s 2019 decision to have Barnes serve as interim commissioner of GCAC—even as she held on to her work as Dillard’s athletic director. As interim commissioner, Barnes facilitated the return of championships for many of the GCAC sports, while also increasing conference membership. 

The GCAC will have a total of eight teams by Summer 2022, with the addition of  Oakwood University in Alabama, Wiley College in Texas and New Orleans’ Southern University. 

Barnes is only the third person to be selected for the position and will step into her new role upon the close of the Spring 2022 semester for Dillard University.

“During Women’s History Month, it is fitting that we celebrate Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes. She made history as the first female and Black president of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference and as the first Black woman commissioner in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics,” said Philander Smith University President Dr. Roderick L. Smothers, Sr., chairman of the GCAC Council of Presidents. “Now, as she assumes the helm of the GCAC full-time and permanently, I have the utmost faith that, as Commissioner, she will impeccably steer the conference to new heights and remain a trailblazer in collegiate sports.” 

Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University said, “Kiki has stepped in time and time again to lead GCAC when asked to. It is only fitting to have her fully take over the conference and build it into a national model for NAIA. We are getting an experienced AD who has national prominence in athletics. She will be able to take lessons learned at Dillard and help many schools build their athletic programs.”

In addition to her many titles, Barnes also calls herself a “mentor.” She operates a leadership training program for girls and young professionals looking to break into a career related to the sports industry. In 2021, Women Leaders in College Sports named Barnes the Nike Nell Jackson Executive of the Year, and in 2019 she was honored by Under Armour with the Athletic Director of the Year Award. 

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