Published January 15, 2015
Nelson E. Townsend, former UB athletics director who guided the move of the athletics program from NCAA Division III to Division I, died Jan. 8 in Florida. Townsend collapsed before a meeting at Florida A&M University, where he was interim athletic director. He was 73.
He had been at Florida A&M for less than a month, taking over on Dec. 15 after the resignation of Athletic Director Kellen Winslow.
Townsend was at UB from 1987-98. In addition to overseeing the university’s move to Division I, he was chairman of the NCAA Olympic Liaison Committee and a member of the United States Olympic Committee. He was instrumental in bringing the World University Games to Buffalo in 1993 — the only time the games have been held in the United States.
Townsend stepped down from the UB athletics post after suffering a heart attack.
He served as athletic director at Florida A&M three times, previously holding the position in 1986-87 and 2005-07. Shortly after accepting the job in December, he hired Alex Wood, who served as interim head coach at UB, as head football coach at Florida A&M.
Over his 40-year career, Townsend also had served as athletic director at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore — where he was inducted into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore Hall of Fame — and at Delaware State University.
During his tenure at Delaware State from 1979 to 1986, the Hornets win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Talmadge Hill Award as the league’s top overall men’s program in 1985 and 1986, and the school won a total of 15 conference team championships.
Townsend also helped move Delaware State from Division II to Division I and helped establish its athletics hall of fame.