College Town: Winthrop’s Joe Walsh Is Commissioner of the GNAC

Joe Walsh is a member of college sports royalty.

The Winthrop resident is the commissioner of the Great Northeast Atlantic Conference (GNAC) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III.

As commissioner, he administrates the entire conference of men’s and women’s sports that includes colleges such as Suffolk, Emmanuel, Simmons, Regis, Lasell, Anna Maria, Rivier, Johnson & Wales, St. Joseph’s of Connecticut, and Albertus Magnus. GNAC schools compete for 22 different league championships. There are 3,200 student athletes participating on 275 teams in the GNAC.

Walsh’s conference headquarters are located in Winthrop.

“I love Winthrop and the people,” said Walsh, who with his wife, Debbie, a retired Boston schoolteacher, has lived in town for seven years.

From Disc Jockeying to College Sports

Walsh, 64, grew up in Allston and is a 1974 graduate of Brighton High School.  He went to work as a disc jockey at a Boston club, 15  Lansdowne Street,  beginning a professional relationship with current nightclub impresario Patrick Lyons.

He left the music scene and worked three years in the Boston Parks and Recreation Department where he directed the BNBL. He took a job in construction but soon after he enrolled in night school at Bunker Hill Community University and UMass/Boston and supported the family by working for a debt collection company and a basketball referee. He  received his Master’s degree while serving as the athletic director at Emerson College.

 Prior to Emerson, he was a volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach at Harvard University. One of his Harvard players was Maura Healey, the current state attorney general.

“She [Healey] still calls me coach when she sees me,” said Walsh.

Walsh moved on to become the director of community affairs at Boston University for 16 years.

 Call him Commissioner

Joe Walsh is in his 15th year as the commissioner of the GNAC, a New England based-league that is one of 44 Division 3 leagues in America.

Walsh also serves on the NCAA Management Council that oversees the $32 million budget that Division 3 schools receive from the NCAA. He talked about the financial challenges after the NCAA Basketball Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We just had to find $16 million to keep Division 3 sports in business because we didn’t get our share from basketball,” said Walsh, a member of the NCAA’s strategic planning and finance committee.

Walsh said the main priority for him as the GNAC commissioner is “the student-athlete experience and their ultimate success.”

“Our core values are on our GNAC logo: community, sportsmanship, and integrity.”

Walsh prides himself on the internship program in GNAC offices and the Student Advisory Committee (SAC). “We like to place students on national committees so they can receive leadership opportunities and advance their careers,” said Walsh.

One of the big stories in the GNAC was the arrival of former UConn head coach Jim Calhoun, who led the St. Joseph (Conn.) men’s basketball team to the GNAC championship. Another proud moment: the Johnson & Wales women’s volleyball team advanced to the Elite Eight. The GNAC has never claimed a national title.

Looking Ahead to the Return of Sports

Joe Walsh, who presides over GNAC athletic directors and school presidents’ meetings, is looking ahead optimistically to colleges resuming sports in August following the cancellation of the spring season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is also looking forward to attending the national convention in Washington, D.C., which will be held the same week in January as the Presidential Inauguration.

“It’s fun traveling around the country,” said Walsh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.