The man who helped transform the Ivy League from a low-profile athletics conference to a breeding ground for national contenders has announced his retirement after 24 years of dedicated service.

Jeffrey Orleans ’67 LAW ’71 revealed last week that he will step down from what some call the hardest job in college athletics — executive director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, more commonly known as the chief executive officer of the Ivy League athletics conference. Orleans will officially leave the position in June 2009, and a search for his replacement will begin in fall 2008.

Orleans was the first permanent, full-time executive director of the Ivy League conference. Before he took the position, the League’s staff was half of its current size — it now comprises 10 administrators — and the NCAA did not sponsor championships for women’s teams. Now, Ivy League athletes participate in 33 sports and have competed in multiple national championships, for which they previously did not qualify or to which they were not invited.

Yale athletic administrators said Orleans’ desire to share the accomplishments of Ivy League athletes with a larger audience was one of his greatest legacies.

Barbara Chesler, senior associate director of varsity athletics, said Orleans’ work on the NCAA Management Council helped Ivy League athletics gain prominence in the college sports world. He has also encouraged the involvement of other Ivy League administrators in the NCAA, allowing the league to have a voice in NCAA decision-making, she said.

“He’s brought a lot of visibility to the Ivy League conference,” Chesler said, “and he has been an excellent representative for the League on a national level.”

Yale Associate Athletic Director Ryan Bamford said Orleans has made the Ivy conference what it is today by expanding the number and type of sports teams in the league as well as increasing opportunities for female athletes. The conference’s identity used to be grounded largely in football and basketball, Bamford said, but Orleans has fostered a league of 30-plus sports and has helped schools such as Yale and Princeton universities compete in national championships.

As executive director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, Orleans has served as a liaison between the Ivy League athletic directors and the eight university presidents. It is his job to represent the concerns of the athletic administration to the Council of Presidents and to work with the presidents to determine league-wide athletic policies, including issues related to recruitment and admissions.

“He’s in a very unique position because he reports directly to the presidents,” Bamford said. “He has to work to maintain the academic integrity of the Ivy League institutions while balancing the concerns of the eight athletic departments.”

Orleans is also responsible for overseeing the work of the three main policy groups for the Ivy League athletic conference: the Board Committee on Administration, which comprises the eight athletic directors; the Policy Committee, whose eight high-ranking administrative representatives are appointed by the university presidents; and the Council of Presidents. Conference-wide athletic policy must be approved by all three groups before it is officially enacted.

Orleans has also worked with the Council of Presidents to develop admissions and recruitment policy — deciding questions such as when it is permissible for coaches to contact recruits — and academic standards for athletes. Chesler said he has been able to consistently represent the foundational values of the Ivy League despite numerous changes in national collegiate rules.

Yale administrators emphasized Orleans’ firm belief in the ideal of the student-athlete and his belief that academics should be the priority for Ivy League athletes. This is often a difficult philosophy to maintain when interacting with conferences like the Pac-10, which sometimes prioritize sports over academics, said Bamford. He said Orleans has always kept academic priorities in mind when making decisions that directly affect student-athletes.

Orleans has stayed true to his roots as an Ivy League graduate and maintained high standards of scholarship for his sports teams, said Thomas Beckett, Yale director of athletics.

“He’s worked really hard to promote this idea of doing both things very well — academics and athletics,” Beckett said. “He always wanted to make sure each and every student had a first-rate experience.”

Bamford said Orleans will ultimately be remembered for his strong leadership and dedication to Ivy League athletes.

“I think we are going to miss that leadership more than anything,” Bamford said. “It’s been an impressive run, and he has been a tremendous mentor to everyone.”

Orleans could not be reached for comment this week.