Passionate about sports but not an athlete? You still have some amazing career options. For a recent webinar, Kelli Rodriguez Currie, director of the Master of Legal Studies program and the Sports Law program at Seattle University School of Law, was joined by Professor Steve Reid to discuss how an MLS degree can help you climb the ladder in your athletic department.
Steve attended Oberlin College for his undergraduate degree, where he admits that he didn’t get much of a legal background, but did establish a love of sports law and compliance. He was a basketball player until he entered law school, and at that time, he was unaware that Sports Law Compliance could be an option for his career.
While pursuing criminal law, he was also coaching division three basketball, where the compliance is done by each individual team – aka, him. “I was the one with the compliance roles and duties on the coaching staff, and I loved it. I saw where the Venn diagram met between sports and law in compliance, and that’s something I wanted to do.”
Creating the Opportunity
With no opportunity to study it at his smaller law school, after graduation, he volunteered at Fresno State as an unpaid intern just to get that experience. “It’s unfortunate that I didn’t have an opportunity to come into the field being as prepared as others with the educational background in Sports Law Compliance, so I worked for free for a while, and I was fortunate enough when someone left to take a full-time position at Fresno State as a compliance coordinator.” He thrived, learned, and transitioned to a position at Seattle University.
From coaches coaxed into compliance roles to single-minded law students pursuing their passion for sports in a resourceful way, there is a prevailing new interest in Sports Law. “It’s a good thing, too, because the regulations aren’t going away. We need new people, new thinkers, and more ideas.” Seattle University’s online MLS program provides students with the skills they need to break into the field.
The three things that encapsulate Sports Law Compliance are:
The athletic programs, and the institutions of higher learning as a whole, have to educate all of those staff members about the compliance rules. These rules apply to everyone that’s employed by the institution: how do you create structure, implement the compliance, and systemize the auditing? In compliance, not only do you have to know the manual inside and out, you have to know how it’s going to get rewritten.
Here we have the highlight of Steve’s job. “This is actually my favorite part of the day, and it’s the one that law school didn’t prepare me for,” he notes. He loves connecting with students and learning about what they’re going through. It serves two purposes: “I love being a positive influence in their journey, but also, protecting them.” For example, he will pop in on practices to possibly learn of compliance violations that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as extending athletes’ training hours past the timeframe that was initially promised.
Issues will inevitably arise, and when they do, it’s critical to address them. As one of
SU’s own alums wisely said, “The compliance person is at the center of the communication wheel.” They are the ones asking the questions, synthesizing the information, and communicating it back in a language that makes sense to someone who does not have your same educational background. These multifaceted responsibilities mean that compliance officers are key players — pun intended — because when it comes down to it, every team needs to stay eligible by meeting compliance requirements.
The Purpose Comes First
Steve emphasizes that having a Sports Law background versus just a basic compliance background will help anyone breaking into the compliance space professionally. A traditional educational background won’t provide the same crucial context leading you to recognize that even the smallest violation, something that might be diminished in a more general circumstance, has the chance to become a media headline in the sports law arena.
Rising compliance professionals have to know their way around contemporary issues in order to thrive in their post-graduation careers, and the program educates them accordingly on all the necessary details. But they also need to remember when any of this matters in the first place, something that Seattle University weaves into the very core of the curriculum.
“We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the NCAA manual, but the whole purpose of the manual is to protect the student-athlete. At the end of the day, that’s the purpose. That’s the mission.”