What: Gloria Nevarez is the first Latina commissioner of a Division I collegiate athletic conference, the West Coast Conference.
Why it matters: Nevarez’s rise in the industry underscores the importance of representation in an industry still dominated by white males, and provides an important voice in determining how best to reach Hispanics within the league’s vast footprint.
The highest levels of collegiate athletics have been traditionally dominated by males. And until April 2018, when Gloria Nevarez (@GloNevarez) was appointed as the commissioner of the West Coast Conference (@WCCsports), no Latina had ever held that position at a Division I league. With a distinguished career in the industry which included stops at the Pac-12 Conference, University of California, University of Oklahoma, San Jose State, University of San Francisco and the Hanson Bridgett law firm, Nevarez took over the helm of the 10-team league which stretches across Washington, Oregon, Utah and both Northern and Southern California. Several of these regions have significant Hispanic communities and potential fan bases.
At UMass (@UMassAmherst), where she lettered for four years in basketball, graduating in 1993, Nevarez, who grew up not speaking Spanish at home and self-describes as “half Mexican, a fourth Filipino and a fourth Irish,” noticed that nearly all of the non-athletes were white. “That’s when I began to identify more as a person of color,” she notes. “If you were brown, you were part of that tribe.”
…[O]ur membership re-affirmed that diversity and inclusion is a priority and that the Conference should take a leadership role in this area.
Her ascendance to the WCC’s top position is important as inspiration to young Latinas, but also provides a fresh look at the Hispanic populations within the league’s footprint.
“It’s helpful for young women of color to see examples of people who look like themselves, achieving in ways that they may not have imagined yet,” she says. “And I do like the idea of inspiring. I hope that there are up and coming Latinos that aspire to be leaders in college athletics and that if we cross paths I hope that I can help them on their journey. I encourage them to reach out to myself and others to continue to build our collegiate community.”
To that end, Nevarez has instituted a study of the 67-year-old league’s diversity with the goal of marketing to this important demographic, both within the student populations and the local communities.
“We are currently in the process of conducting a league-wide audit of the various programs and initiatives at our institutions,” notes Nevarez. “I think there is tremendous opportunity to create an athletics specific initiative under the league umbrellas. At our most recent Council meetings our membership re-affirmed that diversity and inclusion is a priority and that the Conference should take a leadership role in this area. The audit is our first step and will help inform how the league can participate in these most important initiatives.”
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But Nevarez, who brought her distinct background to important work on NCAA (@NCAA) committees like Diversity and Leadership Strategic Planning and Gender and Diversity, knows there is a lot of work to be done in this area before a concerted, united marketing effort can take place.
“I believe there is tremendous support in college athletics for greater diversity and inclusion, however we’ve still not achieved breakthrough in the highest levels of leadership especially at the power five schools and leagues,” she explains. “I think we’re heading in the right direction and I hope to see more diversity in candidate pools and eventually leadership positions across the association. I hope we can find a way for the WCC to be a pipeline for diverse talent in the administrative and coaching ranks.”
And while the WCC continues its growth, Nevarez knows that success is a common trait that attracts all fans, regardless of demographics.
“All fans, regardless of backgrounds are attracted to success and excellence,” she adds. “I believe the WCC embodies that ethic across many different programs and teams and we seek to promote the league in a manner that appeals to all audiences. Our family of schools attracts many international students and student-athletes. I believe what we offer fans and prospective students is appealing based on like-minded schools that have a strong foundation in purpose and excellence.”
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Cover Image: credit Kyle Terada/WCC