Gloria Nevarez grew up in Santa Clara, Calif., and when it came time to pick a college, she landed at the university almost furthest away from her hometown within the contiguous United States.
Nevarez signed a basketball scholarship with the University of Massachusetts. She wanted to major in marine biology, but there were two issues on that front.
(1) UMass Amherst is in the middle of the state about 90 miles from the ocean.
(2) She signed her letter of intent late in the process, denying her the first choice of majors.
"Because I signed my letter of intent late, the basketball program enrolled me in sports management and I ended up loving it," Nevarez said on Tuesday's NSN Daily.
That set Nevarez on the path to becoming what she is today, the second commissioner of the Mountain West, a position she took over at the start of the calendar year after a four-year run as the West Coast Conference's commissioner. After being a four-year letterwinner at UMass — "I would describe myself more as a hustle player; I didn't put the ball through the basket maybe as often as others" — she got her a law degree at Cal-Berkley before stops at San José State, Oklahoma, the Pac-12 and WCC. But it all started with her experience as a college athlete.
"It was certainly life changing," Nevarez said. "I loved playing college athletics. We had a coaching change. One of the administrators there, Elaine Sortino, really had a big impact on how I viewed athletic administrators and their influence on our experience, and I just think it's such a special part of the academy and I love being a part of it as an administrator today."
Considering an up-and-comer in the progression, Nevarez succeeds Craig Thompson, the first and only commissioner of the Mountain West, which was formed in 1998. Thompson held the position for 24 years before handing things over to Nevarez, who became the first Latino commissioner of an FBS conference and second woman after Conference USA's Judy McLeod.
"It is so well built," Nevarez said of the MW. "What Craig Thompson has put together has been amazing. We're very well situated. We have over 150 years of football success. We're having an incredible basketball season right now. At one point we were looking at about five teams in the tournament. We're maybe not there today, but a lot of basketball still left to be played. What I've learned is it's really well built. There's a lot of upside potential and maybe increasing our national brand exposure. We have very strong regional representation, and we're just looking at the AQ spot in the CFP playoff. That's in our sights."
Nevarez hit on a number of topics during her interview with NSN, which you can watch below. Here are a few of the top items discussed.
* On branding the MW, a key initiative she had in the WCC: "When you say brand, I think a lot of people think different things. Some people think our mark, some people think our national reputation or the emotional value you get when you see our logo. We're actually starting a deep brand study to go through all of that and have a brand analysis. But my end goal is we have the late time zone issue being in the West, so we really need to break into that East Coast media market because that's where all the selection committees and talking heads are. The ranking services. But also just to really be that hero brand to our schools. Our schools have epic, strong, local, even national-level institutional brands. But to really be that umbrella to amplify what's going on on campus because we don't hire coaches, we don't have athletes, we don't have facilities. But our job is to be that megaphone for what's going on on campus."
* On what excites her about her the MW Board of Directors: "I think they're all very savvy with respect to athletics, which is very fortunate for a new commissioner, and they want us to have a national brand because they understand that athletics can be the front porch for a university but also really helps institutional recruitment of students who are athletes. The better and more renowned we are in athletics, I think it helps what they're trying to do with the rest of the academy."
* On the biggest challenge being a Group of 5 commissioner: "My every day is checking in on conference realignment and expansion and keeping an eye on those television deals we're all waiting to happen. But remember, the Mountain West was the original disruptor forming in 1998 in the cover of dark, but we've stayed relatively strong. I'm very optimistic that regardless of what happens in the conference expansion space, we're going to be well situated. I think keeping an eye on what new NCAA president Charlie Baker is going to be doing with regard to congressional efforts to try to level and set name, image, likeness legislation. It's a little bit of the wild, wild West out there right now as well as just the transformation committee. I served on that the last two terms, and there are a lot of investment and minimum-standard requirements for Division I membership. I think our schools are well suited, but in order to really maintain our competitive position, keeping an eye on that and making sure we don't fall behind."
* On her level of concern in losing a school to expansion: "Concerned is not the right word, but we're ready for it. We have a small subcommittee, three presidents and three ADs, that have met. We've scrubbed the entire landscape of schools. We have scenario A if one school leaves, B if two schools, Armageddon if big conferences get destabilized. So we're ready. We have no shortage of schools that are ready to join us, but we're in a really good position. We can be selective, and we can think about, 'If we lose any schools, what is it we're trying to replace? Do folks bring assets, strength, make us stronger or just strength in numbers?' We're analyzing this daily and trying to keep our ear to the rumor mill. It certainly is most of our most immediate focus because there's a lot of misinformation and rumor mill out there, and some of it's intentional to try to increase bargaining power and desirability. It's a constant in the background. But to your point, we are working our strategic plan, we're working on this brand analysis, and I'm really trying to get around to see all the schools."
* On her impressions traveling to MW schools: "I love how connected athletics is with our institutions. They are very much one in the same part of the fabric of the university. We have a lot of great facilities. We've got a lot of only-show-in-town type atmospheres, which you don't see a lot in the western region, especially near the coast where you've got a lot of competition, pro sports teams and other things to do. Whereas our gyms and stadiums rock. We tend to pull the fans out."
* On the reason behind MW men's basketball's success this year: "Investment and priority. But look at our non-conference win percentage. We're at a 72 percent non-conference win percentage. The worst team in our league is still better than a 200 NET ranking and has had a couple of wins here and there. If you stub your toe in league play if you're in the top half, you're not going to drop off the NET ranking because our league is so strong top to bottom. And that is a healthy ecosystem for a basketball conference. I think that's what's really helped keep our top teams at the top. But, also, anything's possible. There's still a lot of basketball left to be played and our tournament in Vegas. That to me is the best outcome this year."
* On the MW needing to win NCAA Tournament games (2-13 in the last 15): "Absolutely, no doubt. But it's a long season and those games are tough. One bounce of the ball, one bad night's sleep and you might be on the wrong side of that game. On the one hand, I appreciate getting multiple teams in. I think everyone's focus on advancing into the next round, certainly. And I think I'm very optimistic this year."
* On working with Nevada AD Stephanie Rempe at Oklahoma and value of the Wolf Pack to the MW: "She's the best. No one's going to outwork her. She's smart as a whip and she really just delivers results. Between her and President (Brian) Sandoval, I'm really optimistic for the future of the Wolf Pack. I think right now it's a sleeping giant. We talk about a lot of our schools have this only-show-in-town kind of following and ability to pack the gyms, pack the stadiums. And I think Nevada has all those parts and pieces and has had a real phenomenal basketball season, and I'm optimistic for football season."
* On the need for diversity hiring after she created the Russell Rule in WCC: "We certainly have more diversity within the NCAA ecosystem these days. Still at the top positions at the Power 5s and at athletic director and commissioner, we still have more work to do. The Russell Rule at the WCC was a hiring commitment that you must have a candidate of a historically underrepresented background in your final candidate pool for most of your head coaching and administrative positions. That was intentionally broad because in the NCAA world, women don't coach men's sports hardly at all, except maybe in combined track programs or some golf and tennis. But by and large, unlike the pros, NFL, NBA, you haven't yet seen that kind of integration. It's only been in place a couple of years, but the initial data was so encouraging. Pretty much 95 percent of the schools met the Russell Rule across all the hires in the league, and they had a 50 percent or higher hire-through rate. In other words, that's not part of the policy that you have to hire the candidate, but they ended up winning the job by being in the pool. Very positive."
* On living in Lake Tahoe: "Well, my husband and I met through skiing. We're both avid skiers. And so we had a little '70s cabin up in Tahoe that were VRBOing. And when COVID hit, we moved up here full time. So we've been up here about 5 or 6 years now."
You can watch Gloria Nevarez's full NSN Daily interview (segment one and segment two) below.