Category Archives: Professional

Career Path: Preston Wages’ Road to Becoming the University of Arizona’s Compliance Coordinator

In recent years, the top college sports news headlines have arguably featured an equal mix of stories about teams winning and stories about teams and players who did not comply with the NCAA’s bylaws.

Through these stories, the average sports fan has become more well-versed in the NCAA’s bylaws, as well as the officials at respective schools who enforce said bylaws.  With the ever-changing nature of college athletics, the role of an NCAA compliance official is arguably one of the most interesting sports-related career fields.

How does one go about becoming a compliance official?

While not the mandatory route to take, one path is clear:  obtaining a law degree.  This path was one which Preston Wages, the Compliance Coordinator for the University of Arizona, followed.

Wages completed his undergraduate degree at North Carolina State University, where he received a degree in Political Science and a minor in French.  While there, he also served as the equipment manager of the football team.  His path toward becoming a compliance official arguably began during the summer of his junior year at North Carolina State, when the school offered a 1-credit NCAA compliance course, which Wages completed.

“I met Jon Fagg, who was the Associate Athletic Director at NC State at the time.  I enjoyed the class and got to know Jon really well.  At that point, I didn’t know what I was going to do [after college].  I knew I was going to law school, but figured if I wanted to get into college athletics, he [Fagg] would be a good guy to know who would vouch for me,” explained Wages.

Preston Wages is the Compliance Coordinator for the University of Arizona

After completing the course, Wages continued to keep in touch with Fagg.  The maintenance of this professional relationship would later benefit Wages greatly in terms of landing a career as a compliance official.

“I sent him emails periodically to see how he was doing.  My 2L year, I learned he had taken the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Compliance position at Arkansas.  Through an exchange of emails, he asked if I wanted to come down and work at Arkansas.  My dad played football at Arkansas, so I was always an Arkansas fan.  I thought it would be awesome, but it was September of my 2L year.  I asked if the offer was available the next year, and if it was, I would make the arrangements to make it happen.  He said, ‘sure,'” said Wages.

The next year, the job was available.  True to his word, Wages made the arrangements necessary for him to take the job during his last year of law school.

“I arranged to be a visiting student at Arkansas my 3L year.  All of my classes were night classes. I’d go to work in the morning.  I’d work until 5 p.m., and then go to class until 9 p.m.,” said Wages.

The sacrifice he made to finish his third year of law school as a visiting student, while also working and completing classes at night, provided Wages with a great reward:  he found his calling.

“I enjoyed working in compliance.  It came to me, that this is what I want to do for a living,” noted Wages.

After graduating from law school, Wages took the necessary steps toward becoming a compliance official at an NCAA Division-I university.

“After I graduated, I took the Missouri bar.  I passed, and then Arkansas extended an invitation to be a paid intern for a year, so that I could start applying [for compliance positions] at other schools.  Most compliance jobs require two-years of experience.  Even though I was a paid intern, I worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday.  After I got my two years in, Arkansas told me that I could stick around if I wanted to, but that they couldn’t offer a lot compensation wise.  But, the experience was valuable,” explained Wages.

Grateful for the offer from Arkansas, Wages also decided to test the waters elsewhere.

“I considered it [the Arkansas position], but thought I’d apply to other jobs to see the reaction.  I had on-campus interviews with several schools.  It was encouraging and showed just how competitive it is [to obtain a compliance position],” noted Wages.

Ultimately, Wages career would take him west, to the desert.  This past August, Wages began his career as a Compliance Coordinator for the University of Arizona.  Wages is quick to note the great things about his career choice and in working at the University of Arizona.

“I just love athletics and sports in general, so for me, it’s great being around athletics.  I like working on campus.  Living in Tucson isn’t bad, obviously.  I get to travel with the football team, so you get to see other campuses and stadiums.  You also get to develop personal relationships with coaches,” said Wages.

Wages also offers sound advice for those seeking to follow his career path, and begin a career as an NCAA compliance official for a Division-I institution.

“I’m kind of lucky, because it fell in my lap with meeting Jon[Fagg] when I did.  Once I started working towards becoming successful, I looked at the person whose job I wanted and noticed how he did his job.  I was constantly thinking, ‘How would I handle that situation'” said Wages.

Wages also stresses the importance of networking and willingness to “work hard for very little” to begin with as keys to finding a compliance position.

However, he does not feel that a law degree is a must-have for obtaining a position.  Yet, he maintains that a law degree will definitely benefit a candidate seeking a position as a compliance official

“I understand now, with the amount of money it can potentially cost universities, that they are going to be more likely to lean on someone with a law degree, but I don’t think that [a law degree] is a deciding factor.  A lot of the people I worked with received their Master’s in Higher Education.  However, the skills law school teaches you can definitely be applied to compliance.  Law school definitely provides you with skills that you can carry over into the profession,” said Wages.

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An Interview with Nick Lewis: Film Maker of “Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story”

In the summer of 2010, millions around the world were glued to their televisions to watch what was pegged to be the “most-watched television event in history.”  Over miraculous plays and screams of “GOAL!” viewers watched the drama that was the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

While many began following the World Cup, its teams and its players closer in time to the event itself, California attorney Nick Lewis had his eyes set on the composition of the United States team for some time.

Lewis attended the University of California at Santa Barbara to obtain his undergraduate degree.  There, he became friends with Ranko Tutulugdzija.  Eventually, Tutulugdzija would transfer from UCSB to the University of Illinois at Chicago.  While at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Tutulugdzija played soccer with a man by the name of Jay DeMerit.  In visiting his friend Tutulugdzija at school in Chicago, Lewis also became familiar with DeMerit.

While Tutulugdzija and DeMerit played soccer together in college, DeMerit had dreams to play soccer professionally after finishing college.  To pursue this dream, DeMerit sought opportunities to play in professional leagues domestically.  However, after college, no professional teams in the United States offered him a spot on their rosters.  Thus, with young ambition, DeMerit packed a backpack, rounded up $1,500.00, grabbed his passport and flew over the ocean to Europe to pursue his dream of playing soccer professionally.

Upon reaching Europe, DeMerit would knock on huge soccer clubs’ doors and ask for tryouts.  He would sleep on floors, since his money was tight.  He played in park leagues and on London clubs.  Eventually, though, his audacity and determination paid off.  DeMerit was given a tryout which ultimately led to him playing in the English Premier League–the biggest league in the world.

Throughout this time, Lewis recognized that a story worth being told was taking place before his eyes.  Lewis notes that in terms of storytelling and film making, he has “always enjoyed film, but hadn’t done anything formally but write some screenplays.”  In fact, after graduating from UCSB, Lewis attended law school at the University of San Diego.  When his friend, DeMerit, was about to receive the opportunity of a lifetime, Lewis was practicing law in California.

However, upon realizing that DeMerit was about to make the United States’ roster for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Lewis knew that he needed to work telling DeMerit’s story into his schedule.  “About six months before the World Cup, I talked to Tutulugdzija and said we needed to document this story.  It was a chance of a lifetime–you can’t go back and recreate these events,” said Lewis.

Ultimately, DeMerit made the United States’ World Cup roster and started for the team in South Africa.  In the meantime, Lewis and Tutulugdzija  decided that film was the best media to use to tell DeMerit’s story.

“[Tutulugdzija] and I were just going to oversee the project.  We talked to Jay and he was on board.  We didn’t know much about film and directing, so we found someone else who was going to do it and we were going to oversee it.  One week before the project, the director pulled out because he had family issues and couldn’t do the traveling, which required travel to multiple locations.  We didn’t have time to find another director–we didn’t know another director.  So we did it ourselves–we ended up directing it,” said Lewis.

Together, Lewis and Tutulugdzija would write, direct and produce the film.  While Lewis had penned a couple of screenplays previously, including a coming of age piece based on his travels in Europe, the two were largely unfamiliar with film making.  Along the way, they hired a cinematographer,  Zach Salsman.

Film maker Nick Lewis

Filming for the movie, Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story–which is now playing in select theaters–spanned 40 days over the course of six months.  The film was shot in Green Bay, Chicago, Connecticut, Vancouver, England and finally, at the World Cup in South Africa.

Lewis and Tutulugdzija maintained their day jobs during the course of making the film, with Lewis working as a practicing attorney and Tutulugdzija as an accupuncturist.  “I worked full-time.  I would juggle.  I worked for myself so I was somewhat flexible, but I didn’t sleep much,” said Lewis.  While filming the movie, Lewis worked at least 30 hours per week as a lawyer.

However, both Lewis and Tutulugdzija were able to travel to all but one of the locations where the film was shot.  Neither Lewis nor Tutulugdzija traveled to the World Cup for expense reasons.

The film initially was financed by Lewis and Tutulugdzija.  “We’d get paychecks, put them in [to the film's budget] and drain credit cards.”  Eventually, the pair would turn to outside sources of income to finance the film.  Lewis and Tutulugdzija relied upon the website, http://www.kickstarter.com, which in Lewis’ words is, “a newer concept called ‘crowd funding,’ where you reach out to other people to pay to complete your project.”

Lewis and Tutulugdzija needed a significant amount of money to finish the film.  Not only did the filming of the project require extensive travel, but to properly make the film, sports footage was required to be licensed.  “Sports footage is the most expensive footage you can find in the world.  It costs $ 20,000.00 per minute at the low-end,” said Lewis.

Through Kickstarter.com, the film found many people across the world who shared Lewis and Tutulugdzija’s passion for sharing DeMerit’s remarkable story.  One fourteen-year old in Texas went door-to-door to raise funds for the film.  Celebrities, like Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and funny guy Seth Meyers also contributed funds.

Ultimately, Lewis and Tutulugdzija fundraised $250,000.00 and were able to complete the film.

“There’s such symbolism and correlation between Jay’s story and how this film came about.  Once we started, we didn’t know what we were doing or what was going to happen.  Once saw what we had filmed, though, it really hit home.  It was like, ‘wow, this is very captivating–it’s a real story.’  We saw that there was real potential, so we dug in,” said Lewis.

On Thursday, Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story premiered in 133 theaters.  Major League Soccer has thrown its support behind the film by airing the trailer on the big screen at games nationwide.  Lewis hopes that the film attracts large audiences.

“It’s a ‘soccer story,’ but it’s so much more than that.  It’s an American underdog story of someone who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and really fought relentlessly to achieve his goals.  For [DeMerit] to get to the World Cup–the most watched event in the world–the way he did, is remarkable and something that should inspire others,” remarked Lewis.

To find Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story in a theater near you, click here.

There’s such symbolism or correlation between jay’s story and how this film came about.  Once we started, we didn’t know what we were doing or what was going to happen.  Once we started and saw what we had filmed, it really hit home.  It was like, wow, this is very captivating, it’s a real story.  it was something we could make a real film out of.  we saw that there was real potential, so we dug it.  We wanted to tell a story that deserved to be told, but I’m not someone who starts something and doesn’t want to finish it right.  We didn’t just film the footage, we produced it, we marketed it. 

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The Power of a Network: Becoming General Counsel of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Each year, incoming law students enter the halls of this nation’s law schools with particular dreams about the course they expect their career to take.  Some law students have bold dreams of becoming in-house legal counsel for a professional sports team.  For some, this dream becomes a reality.  David Cohen is one such person.

Today, Cohen serves as General Counsel for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  He is the only individual hired by the team for this purpose.

So how did Cohen get to become General Counsel for the Angels? His story is one not only of his educational background and knowledge, but of making the most out of personal and professional relationships.

Cohen’s road to becoming General Counsel of the Angels began in high school, long before he ever set foot in a law school classroom.

“I started off as a high school student without direction.  It all goes back to high school for everyone, doesn’t it?  My high school athletic trainer took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of athletic training and I decided that it was something I wanted to pursue as a career.  So I went to [college at] West Virginia, which had a really good and established athletic training program,” said Cohen.

In his young age, Cohen’s career goal was to become an athletic trainer for an NFL team.  At the time, he did not envision himself as an attorney for a Major League Baseball team.

“My goal at the time was to be an NFL athletic trainer.  So I sent resumes out to all of the NFL teams.  I got a bunch of rejection letters on really nice letterhead back.  I was kind of disappointed by that.  I thought, with all of my experience at a decent program and with decent grades, I would have had a good shot for an internship,” explained Cohen.

Not willing to believe that the door to a career in professional sports was closed to him, Cohen sought out the advice of others to learn how he could obtain a career in professional sports.  He began by reaching out to the curriculum coordinator at West Virginia.

“The curriculum coordinator told me those positions [of NFL athletic trainers] are set in stone before anyone applies.  So I said, ‘How do you get into sports?’  [The coordinator said], ‘You have to develop some connections.'”

Set on finding a career in professional sports, Cohen went back to the place where his career path started:  his high school.

 “I went back to my high school athletic trainer.  I grew up in the Baltimore area.  He connected me with the head athletic trainer for the Orioles, who introduced me to their minor league athletic training coordinator.  Next thing I knew, the summer after my junior year, I had an internship with their AA team, the Bowie Bay Sox.  That was 1994.  I spent the summer there and really enjoyed it.  I then went back to school, finished and then took my certification examination in November 1995 and passed it.  In January 1996, the Orioles called me and said they had a low-level position in the Gulf Coast League in Sarasota, Florida.  I took it, went to Florida and spent a season down there.  During the off-season, I had a chance to get a full-time job with a full-season club.  I changed colors and went to the Expos [organization].  I spent five years with the Expos [organization]:  two years in Fayetteville with Cape Fear, half a season in Jupiter with the Florida State League and two-and-a-half seasons with Harrisburg.  I also got to work the Maryland Fall League in 1998 and the Arizona Fall League in 1999,” noted Cohen.

Around this time, Cohen was ready to take the next step with his career and move into the big leagues.

“In 2001, I started to think, ‘O.K., I’ve been in AA for a couple of years, how do I get to the big leagues?’  I looked around and saw some people who had done everything from creating an injury tracking system for their team to coordinating the medical spreadsheet for the Arizona Fall League, to doing something else unique.  So, I looked at things and said, ‘Workers compensation is becoming a bigger and bigger part of sports, so maybe I should go to law school.’  I started law school at Widener in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the fall of 2001,” said Cohen.

Throughout law school, Cohen did not complete the typical clerkships that many law students endure during their summers.  Rather, he worked as an athletic trainer with the Boston Red Sox’s short-season team.  He also spent time working with the law firm who handled the Red Sox’s workers compensation cases.  Ultimately, because of his wife’s desire to relocate to her home state of California, Cohen completed his legal education at California Western School of Law in San Diego.

Cohen’s path to the Angels began to be paved during a telephone call in 1997, when he was working with the Expos organization and prior to the time when he entered law school.

“During my first year with the Expos, which was 1997, we were having some change-over with the person who did workers compensation.  During the season, the old person who was leaving (and ultimately ended up with the Blue Jays), was on a phone call with the new person, as well as all of the athletic trainers and the Vice President of Baseball Operations [for the Expos, Bill Stoneman].  We all got on a call and went through the medical status of everyone on our club and brought the new person up to speed with all of the injuries,” said Cohen.

While at the time, that conversation likely seemed like business as usual for Cohen the athletic trainer, later that year, a piece of mail he received would make it a conversation that stood out in his mind.

“I was in graduate school during the off-season working on a Master’s degree.  In December 1997, I went to my mailbox one day and there was a fraternity magazine there.  So I started thumbing through it, and there was a nice article about that Vice President of Baseball Operations [Bill Stoneman].  He was in my fraternity [Beta Theta Pi] at Idaho, while I was [in the fraternity] at West Virginia.  I thought, ‘Oh, that’s kind of neat.’  I picked up the phone and sent him a congratulatory voicemail.  He thanked me.  He was about to go on vacation and had not had a chance to see it, because the mail was slow.  I thought he couldn’t go on vacation before seeing this nice article about him, so I faxed it up to him before he left.  He remembered me for that.  It just goes to show, find connections anywhere you can,” explained Cohen.

Throughout the years, Cohen kept in touch with Stoneman.  In 1999, Stoneman became General Manager of the Angels.

Several years after Stoneman became General Manager of the Angels, Cohen was entering his third year of law school without any idea of where his legal career would take him.

 “After the 2003 season with the Red Sox, my contract expired on September 15.  I was starting my third year of law school and I thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do now?'” said Cohen.

Luckily for Cohen, that question was answered.

“My phone rang one day and it was that old risk manager from the Blue Jays that I had kind of kept in touch with.  She said, ‘Bill Stoneman is looking for your phone number.  They’re looking for someone to help out with workers compensation!’  So I picked up the phone and I called him.  We ended up interviewing and he hired me.  I started in January 2004 as a third year law student.  My first title was ‘insurance risk manager.’  My job was to get some of the workers compensation related losses under control,” noted Cohen.

A series of events would take Cohen from ‘insurance risk manager’ to General Counsel of the Angels.

“I was supposed to graduate in the spring of 2004 but, I graduated in the summer instead. I took the February 2005 [California] bar examination and passed it.  About one year later, a former player [Jose Canseco] wrote a tell-all book about steroids in the game.  The Commissioner of Baseball [Bud Selig] appointed someone  [George Mitchell] to investigate the use of performance enhancing substances in the game.  I had started picking up some contracts and looking at things here and there—doing a bit of labor law and a bit of sponsorship deals.  When that came through [the investigation into the use of performance enhancing substances in MLB], I was in a very unique situation as the only lawyer here, but also because of my background, I understood the clubhouse and the mentality.  I had also done a lot of my Master’s research on performance enhancing substances, so that kind of got me looked at more in the way of a lawyer than a risk manager.  I’ve been here since and it’s been a wonderful eight seasons,” said Cohen.

Cohen’s ability to make lasting and meaningful connections arguably served as a catalyst for him landing a career many dream of.  However, once in the seat as General Counsel for the Angels, Cohen did not relinquish his networking skills.  As a newly minted attorney who was the only in-house counsel for the Angels, Cohen often reached out to others to seek advice on legal issues the club dealt with.

“I talk a lot about the benefits of being involved—not just being a member of an organization, but being involved.  You can’t be involved in everything, but choose one or two key organizations to be involved in.  I got involved in one of the ABA sections, so I was able to connect with a lot of lawyers in a lot of areas.  Whenever I had a question, I just picked up the phone and called them.  They were very good about helping me out.  I also found good outside attorneys to help me.  You can’t underestimate the value of those connections I made through being involved,” Cohen explained.

Cohen is also an advocate for what he calls, “doing nice things for people.”

“Little things make a difference.  I really think Bill [Stoneman] remembered me, because I took the time to make sure he saw something.  For him, it meant a lot.  For me, it was ten minutes of my time.  Look at the dividends it paid,” said Cohen.

Years later, the high school student “without direction” sits in a corner office housed at Angel Stadium which overlooks a section of the stadium.  He is aware of the hard work and relationships that got him to this position.

“I never thought I’d be in California, let alone at Angel Stadium.  When you’re a high school student, you think your plan is going to stay your plan and that’s going to be where you’re going to be.  I thought I was going to be an NFL athletic trainer.  Did I take a totally different career path?  Yes.  I’m happy about the way things turned out.  I’m really lucky.  Everyday, I walk in and make sure that as long as it’s not covered in dirt, that I see the field.  Because it’s a reminder of where I work and what’s our core business, but also, how lucky I am that I get to come to work here everyday and see that field,” said Cohen.

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