Let’s start by going back five years to 2018 to loosely connect now-retired Mountain West commish Craig Thompson and the newly minted MW commissioner Gloria Nevarez and Gonzaga basketball.
Maybe an odd way to begin, but for the MW audience, appropriate.
Thompson had “publicly courted” Gonzaga from the WCC and triggered heavy speculation the Zags would be the 12th team to join the Mountain West. But weeks later, Thompson announced they could not add the Bulldogs.
At about the same time, Nevarez’ first task as the new WCC commissioner was to scramble and work with Gonzaga to fully represent the conference. The Zags obviously stayed put.
It looks clear Nevarez’ credentials: degrees in sports management and law; and decades of collegiate sports administration experience were highly potent and formidable.
It’s enough of a small example to say Thompson’s successor in Nevarez will take the conference on a continued path north as only the second commissioner ever of the Mountain West.
“Craig has been wonderful and gracious with his time,” said Nevarez. “I do have him on speed dial and what he’s built is amazing and I am incredibly honored to have this opportunity.”
Nevarez from the beginning
A more significant and apropos point - it should be fair to say Nevarez is highly competitive “on and off the court.”
Advantage: Mountain West.
An admitted tomboy growing up in Santa Clara, California as a basketball junkie, four years of basketball at UMass Amhearst under scholarship in the early 1990s, and highly intelligent (passing the law school admissions test with relative ease), Nevarez was destined to be on her trajectory.
After Nevarez earned her sports management degree, she came back west to earn a law degree at UC Berkeley and quickly coupled up with its athletic department to first assist on a compliance issue.
As Nevarez created her opportunity to get back into sports with her unique set of skills, San Jose State hired her in 1998 to set up the Spartans’ compliance program.
“I worked there when Lawrence Fan’s car exploded in the 90s,” said Nevarez with fond recollection of the late Fan, SJSU’s associate athletics director of 42 years who passed away suddenly in February 2022.
A year later in 1999, Nevarez’ found herself back at Cal leading their compliance program after her predecessor moved on. Nevarez went on to hold senior sports administration positions at the University of Oklahoma, the Pac-12, and the WCC before becoming the WCC commissioner in March 2018.
As someone who’s been in the proverbial trenches as an athlete, administrator and especially, as a person of color, Nevarez’ seamless grace and power will serve the widest spectrum of people.
When Rudy Davalos introduced Nevarez to “the Pit”
“Way back when, I was in the NCAA diversity program and they assigned us each a mentor and at that time I was assigned to Rudy Davolos of New Mexico because he was the only person of Hispanic descent in the entire Division 1 as an AD chair,” said Nevarez of the now 15 to 20 up-and-coming ADs in the program. “He was the first person to mentor me, give me advice and introduce me to the Pit!”
From Nevarez’ collegiate basketball days where she first took notice of the disparaging ratio of athletes of color to the general student population, her self-awareness developed.
Nevarez now represents the epitome of success and diversity.
“We are organically very diverse with a strong sense of grit in the Mountain West,” said Neveraz. “Our presidents are also quite diverse, especially at the highest levels and that trickles down to our student population.”
“I also believe we’re in the business of growing and training young people through higher education and athletics,” said Nevarez. “Their role models, mentors and teachers should reflect that diversity to whence they achieve. I really feel strongly about what that brings and especially what athletics brings to our student population.”
So, what’s in store for the MW?
In still the acclimation stage for Nevarez, a tour of the member schools is in progress.
“It’s about sitting down with people and asking and just listening,” said Nevarez. “What are the issues? What do you want to see from the conference and really, just learning.”
In meeting with Nevarez at the recent Mountain West basketball tournament, it became abundantly clear Nevarez’ poise and polish were seasoned and yet personable and present to dive in and out of wide-ranging topics with ease and depth.
When asked of a 100-day plan, Nevarez was quick to recognize the obligatory question with a smile.
“Well, the everyday plan is on alignment, conference expansion and really keeping an eye on what’s going with our footprint and the Pac-12 and just being and getting ready,” said Nevarez. “We have a small group of ADs and presidents who meet regularly to scrub the environment, discuss the factors that fit us and then again scrubbing it with and through the universities to understand how they fit in all of it.”
To say Nevarez has the wherewithal is also seemingly an understatement.
Going further on what type of weakness and strength assessments the conference must undertake to not just grow and expand, but also be better in mindshare and brand, Nevarez hinted on more tangibles.
“My charge is going to be laying out a strategic plan and the vision and really getting granular with that, such as doing a brand analysis and review,” said Nevarez. “We’ll go deep in with focus groups and hear what our student-athletes want our brand to be, along with our stakeholders, fans, sponsors, and media. And then have a plan, activate it all with the eyeball towards our media rights negotiations in 2025.”
“In the end, we’ll be ready with Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.”
At this point, we really should have no doubt, the future of the Mountain West Conference is in the best hands.