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The Fiesta Bowl’s Stephanie Jarvis Takes on the Challenges of College Football

On Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, two of the highest-scoring teams in college football, the University of Oregon and Kansas State University, faced off in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. While a major college football bowl game being played in Glendale, Ariz. has minimal local flavor, one of the College of Law’s own played a major role in both this game and the Dec. 29 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl game between TCU and Michigan State.

Last January, Stephanie Jarvis ’99 began work as the Fiesta Bowl’s Chief Compliance Officer/General Counsel. Jarvis, a Dayton native, moved into this newly created position after spending 12 years with the Indianapolis-based Horizon League, most recently as the collegiate conference’s Associate Commissioner/General Counsel.

Jarvis had a good relationship with the Horizon League’s long-time commissioner, Jon LeCrone, who planned to stay in his position a while. With Jarvis having worn virtually every other hat at the Horizon League, it became time to find something new, she said.

“When the Fiesta Bowl announced they were creating this position, we both agreed that this was something I should pursue,” she said. “I wanted to stay in college athletics, I wanted to get experience in the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) football world and my parents were eventually planning to spend their winters in the Phoenix area. All of these factors made the Fiesta Bowl a very attractive place for me. “

Jarvis’ role entails “a wide variety of responsibilities both from a governance and a legal side.” She has worked closely with the Fiesta Bowl’s 26 board of directors, as well its executive director and executive staff members, to develop policies and procedures in order to meet the IRS, NCAA and BCS rules and regulations, she said.

Staying busy

While the prominent Fiesta Bowl took place on Jan. 3, Jarvis had been quite busy the entire past 12 months – both with the Fiesta Bowl itself and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Jarvis said there are about 30 other events throughout the year that keep them busy, even though December and January are undoubtedly the busiest times.

In 2012, Jarvis and the Fiesta Bowl staff needed to find a new sponsor for the formerly-named Insight Bowl. The College of Law graduate said there was lot of work in getting a deal done with Buffalo Wild Wings and negotiating the contract. Many sponsorships were also sold in the spring and summer, which involved a lot of contract work. This winter and in the upcoming spring, Jarvis’ job will focus a lot on the new BCS system, as a new four-team playoff configuration is set to take off in two years.

Other upcoming tasks will include working with the conferences to negotiate a new contract for the next 12 years; beginning talks between the Big 12 Conference and Big Ten Conference for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which has a contract set to expire in two years; and negotiating multiple city, hotel and stadium contracts which are also set to expire in 2014.

As for this year’s Fiesta and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowls, Jarvis said they had a sense around the end of November or early December on the likely participants and, accordingly, the staff began working on tentative deals with the potential schools.

“Once the teams are announced, it gets pretty crazy,” Jarvis commented. “I draft the game contracts for all four teams and we also get a lot of sponsorships in the weeks following the announcement. We also have a lot of vendor contracts to finalize and there is always something random that comes up.”

When asked about the exciting Kansas State-Oregon matchup in an interview about a week before the game, Jarvis believed – and many fans and college football analysts would have agreed – that the Fiesta Bowl was the best bowl matchup outside of the BCS National Championship Game.

“Both teams were in the hunt for the national title until the very end and have passionate fan bases,” she said. “The Fiesta Bowl was sold out within days of the announcement and the economic impact from both games will be tremendous for the Valley.”

The score wound up a bit lopsided, with #4 Oregon defeating #5 Kansas State 35-17. But it was exciting from the very beginning with Oregon returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

Jarvis said she expected to be able to watch both games. For the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, her game day work mainly involved ensuring that the organization’s executives were well taken care of and observing the game and pregame party. Jarvis was set to do similar game day for the Fiesta Bowl, in addition to hosting one of the VIPs.

A Career in Sports

The Dayton native, needless to say, had always been interested in sports. Jarvis, who has one brother current living in Houston, said she grew up an Ohio State fan but attended Northwestern where she was a cheerleader for two years. Interestingly, the undergraduate degree earned by Jarvis in 1996 was in French language and literature.

“I still did not know what I would do with a French degree my senior year in college,” Jarvis said. “I thought I might become a French teacher, so I took the GRE. There was a section that was similar to the LSAT and I did well on it. A friend suggested I take the LSAT and so I did and ended up at Cincinnati.”

While at the College of Law, Jarvis externed with the athletics department’s Compliance Office and later did a judicial externship in domestic court. Jarvis said she found domestic court “too depressing” and narrowed her focus to sports; but after she took a sports law course at NKU – at the time the College of Law did not offer one – she learned the sports agent route was not for her either.

After externing at the Compliance Office as a 2L, she was asked to work for them that summer. She took on additional responsibilities when her boss left for Ohio State, and she was eventually asked to work there as a 3L as well.

“It was definitely a more basketball-dominated department at the time,” Jarvis said. “Coach (Bob) Huggins was still there and, while he seemed very intimidating, I will say he was very kind to me. Rick Minter was the football coach and he was nice as well. They both could have been very frustrated that the person they were dealing with was some inexperienced intern, but they never showed it. “

Jarvis said her experience there is the “main reason” she has the career she does now. After graduating from the College of Law in 1999, she took the Ohio bar but had yet to find a job. She eventually landed a position with the Horizon League in September of that year, beginning as the director of compliance. After passing the Feb. 2000 Indiana bar exam, she took on the legal counsel position for the League. After 12 years in Indianapolis, Jarvis left the Midwest and made the Phoenix area her new home.

“The summer was a bit rough,” Jarvis said, “but as they told me on my interview, ‘You don’t have to shovel sunshine!’ The transition was generally an easy one as my parents were here and I had a few friends in the area as well. The job responsibilities are similar enough that I have not been overwhelmed. The Fiesta Bowl is very important to the Phoenix area and it is great to see how much the community embraces it.”

Outside of her job, Jarvis is an avid college basketball fan. Even working in the football-centric college sports world, Jarvis said the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament is “the best thing in sports.” Jarvis also said she is planning to return to Paris this spring, where she will “try and remember everything I learned as an undergrad.”

For law students aspiring to work in sports, Jarvis says not to expect to make a ton of money starting out, as there are countless people who want to work in sports – “but getting experience is the most crucial factor in furthering your career,” she added.

The best thing about her current job, Jarvis said, is simply getting “paid to do something I love.”

 

By Jordan Cohen, ‘13