Ed. Note: Torchbearers is a College AD series profiling female leaders in college athletics. Torchbearers is presented by SM2. SM2 is committed to positively impacting the culture of social networking users in athletics, SM2 provides the only foundational education programs customized for global sports brands.
Gloria Nevarez, the PAC-12’s Senior Associate AD/SWA since 2010, oversees all sport championships except for football. In addition, she is also the PAC-12 liaison for basketball. Nevarez joined Larry Scott’s team after spending three years at Oklahoma as the Sooners Senior Associate AD. In our conversation with Nevarez, she stresses the importance of networking in the world of collegiate athletics as a pivotal piece of the job hunt for any young professional.
On Her Journey
“I played basketball at UMass. I’m from the California Bay area, so that was a little bit of an adventure and I got a basketball scholarship so that was a great opportunity. When I graduated, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, so I went to law school at Cal. About halfway through I thought ‘Wow, I don’t know if I’m cut out to practice law,’ so I co-founded the Boalt Hall Sport Law and Entertainment Society and started looking for ways to stay in sports. I did an externship at the Cal athletic department which was really interesting because at the time their compliance person was Dan Coonan and he was investigating the [academic fraud] infraction. I basically ran the front office, got to meet all the coaches, learned the business while he was running around handling that major investigation.
“So I graduated and in the face of my law school debt, I took a job in labor litigation for half a second. The first full time compliance director position at San Jose State opened up and the great Charley Whitcomb, who recently passed away, hired me with nothing but intern experience and a law degree. Dan Coonan moved to the Pac 10 and I took his spot at Cal, sort of going back to where I began. I was at Cal for about four and a half years.”
During a stint with the West Coast Conference, Nevarez had another chance encounter. “I served on a committee with Joe Castiglione and he has a job open up and I became the senior associate there at Oklahoma.
“In my first year at Oklahoma we went to a football championship with Sam Bradford an Elite 8 with Blake Griffin, and a Final Four with Courtney Paris. The next year was the worst sports hangover I’ve ever experienced in a community.”
On Career Challenges
“Especially in the California Bay Area, giving up a law salary to pursue your passion is a tough bullet to bite. I can tell you that my parents didn’t understand it at all. Entry level positions are the toughest; you need to find good roommates and give yourself a chance to pursue what you love because it pays off later. Doing something you love is so worth the trials and tribulations of the first five or six years.
“I think women generally, as you can see in the current presidential race no matter what your politics are, it’s hard to ignore all the noise out there about folks not being able to have a presidential look from a woman. Trickle that down into any executive position and the talks about unequal salaries and opportunities; that’s real. You can feel it out there. It’s all in the intangibles like being invited to a golf tournament or to an event where you can network and having to be deliberate and having to ask to be included in those. Even though our Title IX sisters who came before us paved the way, it still takes some effort.”
On The Mentors Who’ve Guided Her
“There are quite a few mentors. Obviously Charlie Whitcomb for giving me a shot, with diversity efforts and giving me a voice and role. Dan Coonan, another guy, gave me a shot and let me run his office as an intern while he was doing some big important stuff. Women who have embraced me like Chris Plonsky has been such a great role model, and source of information and advice. You can always pick up the phone and call her and she’ll be there for you. I remember early on meeting Dianne Murphy and she was extremely accessible and sharing reading lists and being there. There are so many good people out there who have helped pave the way.”
On Advice For Aspiring Professionals
“I was speaking to someone the other day who’s struggling to get into the industry. I told them to hang in there. It’s a tough industry to break into. Networking, volunteering, doing the right thing, that’s the way to go, and good talent will be recognized. Keep at it because if you’re passionate about it, it pays off in the end. We need strong, young females to break in and take advantage of opportunities because it’s so rewarding. Those first 3-5 years can be tough for everyone.“
“I bounced back and forth between campus to conference. While I miss the campus because you’re just in the trenches, you’re pulling for your team, you get to know the student-athletes. There’s that passion about being a part of that school and that brand. Whereas at the conference level, we’re a little bit more ivory tower, but you have the influence of setting national messages. When we go out to programs where policies are impacting twelve times the number of student athletes, it’s just such a great feeling that we’re having that impact on such a national stage. There are good and bad to both, but I think it’s an advantage to work in a conference office and have a campus perspective. It’s about knowing what’s feasible when you come at them with policies.”