Going Pro

While Gamecock athletics have recently found success with nationally ranked football, baseball and women’s basketball programs, the law school has been busy producing its own outstanding talent. Here’s a highlight reel of alums who have combined their passion for sports with their law degrees to go pro in the fast-paced field of sports law.

Bryan BlairBryan Blair, ’10, was named associate athletics director for compliance at Rice University in February. It’s his second stint at Rice, previously serving as a compliance coordinator. In between, he returned to USC, where he was the assistant director of compliance services for the Gamecocks.

In addition to compliance operations, Blair oversees seven of Rice University’s 16 sports programs, including both Men and Women’s Track and Field (Indoor and Outdoor), Men and Women’s Cross Country, and Women’s Soccer. As the administrator of each sport, he works with coaches to help improve the team and advises the athletic director on each program’s budget, hiring decisions, and more.

“I enjoy my job because it changes day to day, from dealing with coaches and student athletes with emergencies to working with financial aid, admissions and housing to ensure our athletes have what they need to be successful,” Blair says. He recalls fond memories of being on the sidelines at USC football games, and he’s glad that his work in compliance helped people from around the world form a good opinion of the university. “Members of the football team serve as highly visible ambassadors of a school, and the athletic department as a whole has an obligation to help them grow, academically and personally. Compliance provides a framework of rules and regulations, whether it’s on game day assisting with recruiting new players or making sure all behind-the-scenes tasks are completed.”

Blair has been awarded the 2014 Rising Star Award by the National Association for Athletics Compliance, which recognizes young compliance professionals who are considered to be emerging leaders. He was chosen for the NCAA Leadership  Institute, which provides tailored programming conducted on NCAA member institution campuses to assist participants in strategically mapping and planning their careers, and was designated as the 2014 graduation speaker by his peers.

“When I started law school, I wasn’t clear on what my career path would be,” Blair says. “Working in compliance showed me a way to combine the law with university athletics, something that I was passionate about as a former student athlete, and it helped me realize a career goal of one day becoming a Division I athletic director.”

Beth HopperBeth Hopper, ’12, was named assistant director of compliance for Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) athletic department in February. It was a return of sorts for Hopper, who graduated with honors from NAU in 2006. While earning her bachelors in biology, she also played on the womens’ basketball team, helping her team win the school’s first and only bid to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

As a former student athlete, Beth is a self-professed huge sports fan, but she wasn’t necessarily thinking about a career in compliance until after she received her J.D. from USC.

“With a law degree, you can go in so many different career directions,” Beth says. “When I started law school, I was interested in a career in politics. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I came across some sports law blogs and thought, ‘Why did I never think of that as a career path?’”

Despite not taking any sports law classes during law school, she felt well-prepared for her career thanks to the variety of skills she learned here. “NAU is a small resource school,” she says. “There are only two of us in the compliance department, so we get to do it all, including education regarding NCAA rules, interpreting eligibility requirements, evaluating student athlete visits, and monitoring what coaches can and can’t do during recruiting. So much of the standard curriculum at USC Law prepared me for this job.”

Matt MikrutMatt Mikrut, ’13, was named assistant director for the Office of Committees on Infractions at the Indianapolis, Ind. offices of the NCAA in March. Before being promoted to this position, he worked as a postgraduate intern in the same office. While at USC School of Law, he was a compliance intern with the athletics department, and he helped to establish the USC School of Law/Office of Compliance Services Law Externship Program.

“The NCAA Postgraduate Internship Program is highly competitive, with only 25 young professionals chosen each year out of roughly 1,000 applicants,” Mikrut says. “I was the first ever Office of the Committees on Infractions postgraduate intern. Being selected was largely reflective of my experiences at the University of South Carolina and the experience I gained as a law student and member of the compliance team there.”

Mikrut played varsity football at Davidson College, and  it was those experiences that made him interested in pursuing a career in sports law. But he credits another USC Law alum with helping him find the path that was right for him.  “I knew I wanted to work with student athletes, but I didn’t know how or in what capacity,” he says. “Bryan Blair introduced me to the possibility of a career in athletic compliance and acted as my mentor. He helped me realize that I could use the skills I developed in law school, my past experiences and my passion for college athletics to help current and future student athletes have rewarding experiences.”

Mikrut has seen both sides of the compliance coin, first from the university side, then from the NCAA side. “At the NCAA, the work I do is reactive to potential alleged violations or violations concluded by the committee,” he says. “At the university level, the work was more proactive and educational – trying to avoid the occurrence of any violations.”

Mikrut says that USC Law helped him to develop his analytical and communicative skills, both written and oral, which help him to effectively carry out his daily responsibilities, and the Sports Law course that he took gave him an understanding of the NCAA’s operations and rules. “I would not be in the role I’m in today without my background at USC Law,” he says.