On June 25, 1986, representatives of eight universities gathered at the New York Hilton Hotel to announce the formation of a new intercollegiate athletic conference: the University Athletic Association (UAA).
One of the key figures in the years leading up to this seminal moment in Association history was then Vice Provost and Dean of Students at Washington University, Harry Kisker.
As the UAA's only Executive Director in its history Richard Rasmussen recalled, "Several institutions in the UAA group were evaluating the direction of their athletics programs and a few had even concluded they needed an association with other strong academic institutions willing to support quality athletics programs. What the enterprise needed was someone to provide the momentum to bring these discussions to collective action. That someone was Harry Kisker."
"I flew all over the country talking to anyone who would listen to me," Kisker remembers with a laugh. "I was talking to presidents, senior executives, and faculty at universities all over. I had no idea if they would even speak to me, but they were quite receptive."
Kisker, in collaboration with his school's athletic director John Schael, developed a vision of a new sort of athletic association with a common athletic philosophy. Chancellor William H. Danforth of Washington University and University of Rochester President Dennis O'Brien were also having conversations and stood as Kisker's biggest allies in this vision.
"I remember Bill (Chancellor Danforth) asking me at one point where we stood with this 'league thing' and saying emphatically, 'I want it done!'"
After a lot of informal discussions, Kisker was present at the first pre-UAA meeting on Oct. 9, 1985 in Rochester. The meeting included presidents, chancellors, vice presidents, deans, faculty, and administrators and was highlighted by a conversation about the philosophical rationale for a new athletic grouping based in large measure on the groundwork that had been laid by Kisker's campus visits.
"I was the kickoff guy to sell the idea to folks who weren't so clear on what we were trying to do," Kisker said. "By the time they showed up to these meetings, they knew this was going to cost real money, not just student fee money, to work. Those first few meetings were sales pitches."
Kisker chuckles recalling another key to the success of those meetings. "There were only a few of us who smoked," he remarked. "Some of my best sales pitches were done on the porch with the other smokers. It was a time to have a more private conversation about why this idea could work."
On that historic day in June 1986, two university presidents, two chancellors, three vice presidents, and one senior dean were present in New York. That same afternoon, press conferences were held on the campuses of the newly associated institutions to repeat the announcement and provide further details to local media and campus communities. Not long after, the eight institutions were joined by a ninth, Brandeis University.
"I remember trying to sell this press conference to the local media," Kisker stated. "It was a challenge to sell abstract concepts to them and convince them they should care about this. To their credit, most reporters were good about quoting us properly even though they didn't truly understand what we were doing. We even got a nice story with the headline 'Wash U Joining New Conference.'"
News Gallery from June 26, 1986: