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New DI conference commissioner has stood up for what she believes in

By Andy Katz

Gloria Nevarez was inspired to pursue a career in athletics after enduring a coaching change as a student-athlete. West Coast Conference photo

The coaching change Gloria Nevarez went through as a player left a lasting impression after seeing some teammates get run off her Massachusetts squad.“It didn’t sit well with me,” says Nevarez, a four-year letter winner in women’s basketball at Massachusetts from 1989 to 1993. “I felt so helpless.”

But she was never the type of person to sit idle. The experience planted a seed in her to deal with student-athlete rights. “I became indignant on their behalf,” she says.

So, naturally, Nevarez decided she had to go to law school.

The path would take her from the law to compliance to administration and, ultimately, to the West Coast Conference as the first female Latin American conference commissioner in Division I.

Getting the Bug

Nevarez worked in compliance at California while going to law school in the mid-1990s. There, she was thrust into the middle of an NCAA men’s basketball investigation.

“Compliance was relatively a new field,’’ Nevarez says. “I decided this was for me.’’

 She worked for a period in labor law, but she wanted to use her law degree from California to get back on a campus. She had no idea what she was in for at San Jose State.

Training Ground

Nevarez cherished working at San Jose State under the late Charles Whitcomb. Long an advocate for giving minorities opportunities in athletics, he chaired the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee while serving as San Jose State’s faculty athletics representative for two decades.

But there was no foundation at San Jose State, a cash-strapped school in the California State University system.

“(Whitcomb) took a chance on a kid with a law degree,’’ Nevarez says. “I was the first full-time compliance person. I opened up the file cabinet, and there were three folders there. I had to build it from scratch. I was learning as I went. Charles Whitcomb opened my eyes for the need for advocacy in the NCAA.”

Nevarez was at San Jose State for a year before California called to bring her back to handle compliance and legal affairs. The job grew to cover sport supervision. The word was out. Nevarez was someone who could lead.

Branching Out

After two years, Nevarez went to the West Coast Conference as an associate commissioner and senior woman administrator, doing “everything, from schlepping the Gatorade to meeting the presidents.”

In nearly six years at the WCC, she had a chance to serve on NCAA committees and work in event operations and championships hosting. “I had to deal with everything at the first championship for tennis, from a coach misconduct to a swarm of bees to a fan going into cardiac arrest,” she recalls.

Nevarez had no idea she was being targeted for a possible position when she sat next to Oklahoma Athletics Director Joe Castiglione at an NCAA meeting. Four months later, she moved to Norman to become Oklahoma’s senior associate athletics director for administration.

The responsibilities were similar, but this time she was on a campus, managing major budgets and ensuring diversity and Title IX compliance.

Stepping Up

Larry Scott got the job as Pac-10 commissioner in 2009. As he was building his leadership team, he turned to Nevarez.

Within her first few years on the job, the conference expanded from 10 to 12 schools, changed its name to the Pac-12, created a football championship game, moved its men’s basketball tournament to Las Vegas, moved its women’s tournament to Seattle and took an all-star team to China.

Nevarez remained with the Pac-12 for eight years before the WCC commissioner job opened a year ago.

“I wasn’t looking for the job,’’ Nevarez says. “But the more I looked into it, the more I thought about it.”

Of course, as soon as she got the job, Gonzaga — the headline anchor of the league — flirted with leaving for the Mountain West.

“I had to jump right into that,’’ Nevarez says. “But it all got settled on my first official day in the WCC.”

Time To Lead

There are always sacrifices. Nevarez, now 47, got divorced early in her career, but she is now happily married to her husband, Richard Young. She doesn’t have children. And she had to figure out how she wanted to identify herself.

She says she’s half Mexican, a fourth Filipino and a fourth Irish.

She grew up in an ethnically diverse community in the Bay Area, but that wasn’t the case at Massachusetts. There, she figured out the need to advocate. There were times during her career when Nevarez served on committees because she was a woman of color.

“The population we serve couldn’t be more diverse,” she says. “So how do you serve and diversify leadership and thought at the highest level? It’s become really important to have that perspective.”

Nevarez still relishes working in sports.

“My worst day is I’m still watching sports and working with athletes. How much more fun can that be?”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.