By: Amari Dryden, @Amari_Dryden
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Peter Prigge, the Director of Compliance at the University of Wyoming. Peter went to law school and became interested in compliance. After sending his cover letter and resume to every Power-5 institution in the nation, he found a job at the University of Wyoming. He was gracious enough to offer up his wisdom about how compliance is always changing and how a simple hand written gesture can go a long way.
What has your journey been like going from graduating from Marquette University to now being the director of compliance at the University of Wyoming?
I had an interesting path to get to where I am now. When I was at Marquette University pursing my sports law certification from the National Sports Law Institute, I really took an interest in collegiate athletics. I started interning with both Marquette Athletics and the University of Wisconsin Green Bay in January of 2011. I worked strictly with Compliance while I was at Green Bay, but had the rare opportunity to touch on several aspects of athletics with Marquette (Compliance, Business Office, Coaching interactions). These two opportunities really opened the door for me into college athletics. Getting experience and exposure is huge to getting a foot in the door somewhere.
I continued my internship with both of these institutions until I graduated. I started applying for each and every job I saw on the NCAA Market in March of my 3rd year of law school. I even went as far as sending blind cover letters to every Power-5 school in the country. I started with the ACC and literally wrote a cover letter and sent my resume (hard copy) to each senior compliance official in the office. You never know where opportunities comes from so I thought I would try to take advantage of that.
An opportunity at Wyoming was brought to my attention from my mentor at Marquette Athletics. At first I was hesitant because I am thinking, “Where is Wyoming and why would I want to work there?” My mentor asked me if I had a job yet, and after responding “no,” I decided that I can’t pass up any opportunity. I applied, phone interviewed, they flew me out to campus and I got a feel for Laramie and the people and loved it. I accepted their offer two weeks later.
The person that hired me pursued a different opportunity in college athletics 15 months into my tenure at Wyoming and I was fortunate enough that our administration was comfortable to move me into the Director of Compliance Position without a second thought. It was a heck of a ride finally getting to Wyoming, but I just finished my 3rd full year at UW [University of Wyoming] and I love every second of it.
What inspired you to work in the sports business profession?
What really pushed me into the sports business profession or college athletics more specifically was the environment it presents. College athletics is incredibly dynamic right now and the landscape constantly is changing. I was reading briefs and law school classes of cases that are currently being processed right now (O’Bannon, etc.) and really enjoy the nuts and bolts of college athletics administration.
Another thing that pushed me into the sports profession was being able to be a part of something that I enjoyed doing. Being a sports fan does not necessarily mean that you will enjoy working in sports because some people can get disenfranchised with the business aspect of things.
My mentors from Marquette and Green Bay also had a hand in getting me into athletics. Watching them on a daily basis interact with coaches and student athletes was something that caught my eye. I enjoy working with people and being a compliance official (contrary to popular belief) really allows to forge relationships with amazing student-athletes and coaches!
Since you went to law school, how has that knowledge helped you in the sports industry?
Law school provides you with a different way of thinking and solving problems and it is becoming industry standard for people in compliance roles to have a JD/MBA/or a masters in a sport related field. The issues in college athletics can be complex at times (financial aid, interpreting new rules and how that will affect a department, etc.) and having that degree really sets you apart from someone who doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there are great compliance officials that may not have law degrees, but it is just the trend that we are seeing in this industry. Having the legal education has also provided me with general background knowledge on a lot of legal issues in college athletics, paying players, issues relating to likeness, image, licensing, etc.
Specifically in compliance, the NCAA rule book has a lot of rules and on a daily basis we interpret those rules for our coaches, staff and student athletes. Being able to look at a problem, find the issues, and then find a way around it are incredibly important. At Wyoming, we are always pushing to get our coaches a ‘yes’ answer. If something can’t be done one way, we are going to try to find another way to get it done within the rules.
How did your experience outside of sports help you in your job today?
That’s a difficult question because so much of where I come from and who I am today has been shaped by sports and being a part of a team. The two that stick out for me in my job today are my social background and my family. I have always been a social guy and that has really translated to me being successful thus far in college athletics.
Many people don’t realize it, but athletics is a customer service driven industry. Every day we interact with our coaches, student-athletes, boosters, and our peers across the country. Each of these groups requires a different approach socially. We work to make sure our boosters are informed, that our coaches are being as effective as possible within the rules, and that our student-athletes are having the most enjoyable experience possible!
The second one I mentioned is my family. My family has always pushed me to be great at anything I do, but the more important thing my parents taught me was that you always need to be happy. You have good days and you have bad days, but embrace the experience and enjoy the ride. I am incredibly grateful for the support of my family back in Wisconsin!
What are the challenges that come with working in compliance?
Probably the two biggest challenges are the ever-changing NCAA rules and the consistency of the industry. To my first point, NCAA rules are constantly changing and they are different for all sports across the board. For example, some sports you can text kids beginning September 1 at the beginning of his/her junior year, some you can text after their sophomore year, some you can’t text all. Legislation changes every year by bringing new things into play that institutions have to adapt to.
For example, this most recent year institutions had to prepare for cost of attendance to be introduced (August 1, 2015). Every institution has to determine whether they can afford it, how they will implement it, which sports it will apply to, how Title IX fits into the picture, etc. Lots of behind the scenes work with new legislation every year.
The second challenge in my mind is the consistency and landscape of interpreting and enforcing NCAA rules across the country. The NCAA created something called the interpretation philosophy chart that can provide flexibility to institutions to make decisions using their discretion on certain topics. The problem comes when institutions use their “discretion” quite differently.
For example, one institution may look at a scenario and say, ‘yeah, we are comfortable doing that given the circumstances’ while another institution says, “there is no way that we would do that, given any circumstances.” It is all up to interpretation, but things like that get back to coaches and it puts us compliance officials in a bad spot because then you have coaches asking how one institution does something that that coach wants to do. It can lead to inconsistency across the board.
What qualities does a person need to have to be successful in your position?
The first thing is that you have to be willing to put in the work and invest your time in what you are doing. Compliance Officials always joke that ‘compliance never stops.’ It really doesn’t. Coaches are constantly out recruiting and a majority of questions come from bylaw 13. When that coach calls you at 9pm at night to ask whether he/she can text a kid immediately after their game or if they can talk to a signee who has a younger sibling that we are recruiting, etc. Sometimes these questions can’t wait because you don’t want to put that coach in jeopardy of violating NCAA rules. We need to make ourselves available to coaches, so it is not an eight to five gig. People need to understand that to be successful, you will have to put in extra time to make sure your institution is following the rules.
Another thing that people need to realize is that to be successful in college athletics, you cannot consider yourself ‘too good’ for any assignment given to you. It may be something like data entry, filing paperwork, etc. These tasks need to be done and you will never move up where you are at or at any institution if you are not willing to do small tasks that need to be accomplished.
Lastly, individuals need to be willing to put themselves out there. Get your hands into as many things as possible. Volunteer to help out on projects, try to pull things off your supervisor’s plate. The more you show you are willing to do anything, the more your supervisors will trust you with because you are willing to go the extra mile. Make yourself indispensable to your employer.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Easily the daily interactions with our coaches, staff, and student-athletes. The people that I have met and the time I have spent in Wyoming has been fantastic. We have great coaches here that really care about what is going on not only with their kids, but with our other kids as well. Our men’s basketball coaches show up at volleyball games, our track coaches go to tennis matches. It is really “all in” here at Wyoming and our coaches and staff embody what it means to be an athletics family.
I have been fortunate enough to be the Student-athlete Advisory Committee Liaison and getting to know our student-athletes is second to none. I have traveled with teams across the country and was even fortunate enough to go Europe on a foreign tour with our women’s volleyball team. Getting to spend time with our student-athletes and getting to know who they are as a person, where they are from, what they want to do is what makes this job great.
Never underestimate the value of a hand-written note or thank you. That has become a lost art in our digital age, but after having a conversation with someone, meeting them, etc. Take the time to write a nice thank you or letter. When I meet someone trying to break into the industry, I remember the people that consistently reach out to me and have done things like send a hand-written note. Sending a thank you email gets caught up in the wash. We get 100 emails every day. You make an impression by taking the time to do something the right way.
Already mentioned this, but be willing to put yourself out there to get experience. Too often people try to apply for compliance jobs without any experience with NCAA rules. You need that to get a foot in the door. Sure it may not be paid, but that six month internship can be the difference between your applications being put in the ‘review pile’ as opposed to the ‘not interested’ pile.
Stay in touch with your mentors and people you meet. This industry is heavy on relationships. You meet a few people, stay in touch with them. You never know when the random compliance person you met at regional rules or NAAC will be running his/her own shop. Keep in touch with people!
We would like to thank Peter for his time and insight and we wish him the best in all his future endeavors!