Following a national search, Bowling Green State University has announced Derek van der Merwe as its director of athletics.
Van der Merwe comes to BGSU from the University of Arizona Athletics, where he has served as the associate vice president and chief operations officer since 2018.
BGSU launched a search for the position in late August, and on Tuesday, BGSU President Rodney K> Rogers introduced van der Merwe as the University’s 15th director of athletics during a live announcement at the Stroh Center.
Van der Merwe has worked in higher education for more than 25 years, serving in leadership roles in both athletics and university-wide positions. He has held leadership positions in the PAC-12 Conference, the Ohio Valley Conference and the Mid-American Conference.
Prior to his role at the University of Arizona Athletics, van der Merwe was the vice president of Advancement, Communication and Strategic Initiatives at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, where he also previously served as director of intercollegiate athletics.
He started his career as an academic advisor at Central Michigan University and worked his way up to chief operating officer and deputy athletics director.
With broad professional experience, van der Merwe has led numerous strategic planning initiatives within athletics departments and across universities that have focused on developing strong planning vehicles for program success.
In 2019, he led the creation of the University of Arizona Athletics’ first-ever comprehensive strategic plan, “The Wildcat Way,” which supports the department’s mission of the holistic development of student-athletes.
“Derek is a committed leader within the NCAA with significant power five conference and athletics experience,” said BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers.
“He has a deep understanding of how to leverage the holistic role athletics has on a comprehensive institution. He will embrace our mission to create public good and he will position BGSU Athletics for a strong future.”
Van der Merwe will be paid an annual salary of $300,000 with the potential for a 15% bonus based on performance. BGSU officials say his salary is on par with the average salaries of other athletic directors in the MAC.
Promoting the BGSU brand
Van der Merwe says making sure the community, alumni, and student-athletes understand the importance of the BGSU brand will be key in his new role.
“(I want to) engage campus and engage our community, and when I say community, it is not just Bowling Green, it is community of alumni, the community of supporters who are around the country that love this brand what it stands for and what this campus stands for,” Van der Merwe said.
“Making sure that they understand the value that it can bring each and every day because we need their support.
“Our student experience has to be defined by the opportunities that they experience through sport and athletics. I want to give them something special that they will remember long after they leave this great university.”
Van der Merwe adds that it will be important to fill the seats at BGSU home athletic contests.
“People need to know you care. Our community knows that we care. They need to see a passion and a commitment, and they need to be part of the story,” Van der Merwe said.
“Building that narrative where they understand that our student-athlete experience and our ability to compete at the highest levels in Division I is defined by their support, by them buying a ticket, by them showing up, by them being in the stands — that is transformative to that experience.
“What they want out of Bowling Green will be defined through their participation. For me connecting to that community and giving them the opportunity to better understand that is a great opportunity and I am excited to be a part of that.”
Van der Merwe says he knows about BGSU’s athletic traditions, and it is important for him to keep those traditions alive.
“I know Bowling Green well. I know the proud history, the legacies, the traditions of this university,” Van der Merwe said.
“I’ve seen it throughout my career, even after I left. Being a part of the MAC experience is very special. I’m very proud of what the MAC has done over the years.
“This is a great time for the MAC as well despite all the changes in our industry. To be a part of that again was important to taking on this opportunity.”
Born and raised in South Africa to missionary parents, van der Merwe attended Central Michigan University, where he was a student-athlete and earned Academic All-MAC honors as a co-captain of CMU football in 1995. He earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from CMU.
But there is something else he got from growing up in South Africa that he hopes can translate to his experience at BGSU.
“I was in South Africa in 1994 when Invictus, that period of time that Nelson Mandela brought the World Cup and I saw how athletics can transform a community,” Van der Mewre said.
“I saw the impact it can make on bringing people together. I saw the impact it can make on tearing down biases and even apartheid, even a system that was discriminatory.
“So, I’ve always viewed sport as an exercise of bringing a campus and a local community together, but it was defined by seeing its impact through something like the Rugby World Cup in 1994.”
Van der Mewre says he understands the transforming landscape of college athletes, including allowing student-athletes to profit from their own likeness, and he welcomes it.
“I think it’s important at all levels,” Van der Mewre said. “I think it’s important for student-athletes to participate in business opportunities to develop their own image and likeness.
“We have to be relevant to that space and we have to work tirelessly to provide those opportunities because I think it’s important to competition around the country today.”
President Rogers added, “Division I Athletics is experiencing transformational change including name, image and likeness, the need to diversify resources, an increased emphasis on student-athlete well-being, conference realignment, the transfer portal, and the need to engage fans, communities and, most importantly, our students.
“Derek is uniquely positioned to navigate this landscape because of his experience in both athletics and across universities, providing a forward-thinking, holistic experience for our student-athletes, supporters and students.”