Kyle Waterstone got his start as an intern for the NCAA and is now a Director of Athletic Compliance at the University of Southern California. Between the two jobs, he came to the University of Kentucky College of Education where he earned his master’s degree in sport leadership in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion.
Waterstone admits he was not thrilled about going back to school. Mentors at the NCAA had suggested taking a look at UK.
“I was young and ambitious and thought I was ready to hit the ground running in my career in athletic administration,” he said.
Instead, he received a graduate assistantship with UK Athletics and enrolled in UK’s sport leadership masters program. The NCAA internship had shown him an advanced degree would further his career opportunities.
Despite his initial hesitation, Waterstone persisted in higher education and, in addition to the masters from UK, recently earned a doctoral degree from the University of Southern California while working there in athletic compliance.
“As I began to attend class and engage with the research and pertinent issues surrounding higher education, I became absolutely fascinated with the subject matter of the program,” Waterstone recalls of his time at UK.
The Michigan native did his undergraduate work at Hope College, where he studied secondary education. Upon moving to Lexington, he found UK to be a second home. UK even turned out to be where he met his wife.
“I made lifelong friends and colleagues, grew personally and professionally, and established the educational foundation from which I would build my career and I hope to stay connected to the university for many years to come,” he said.
At USC’s Office of Athletic Compliance, Waterstone educates and monitors internal and external constituents and, when necessary, reports infractions and oversees the imposition of any remedial actions. He drafts policy, procedures, and legislation as well as mitigates any potential legal or safety risk associated with managing an athletics department.
Waterstone did not have a prior background in compliance work prior to interviewing for the job in California.
“I ultimately got the job because I had a good network of colleagues who believed in me, my personality, my work ethic, and my ability to shorten the learning curve,” he said. “That’s what got me into athletic compliance. However, the challenge and pace of the work has kept me in athletic compliance. The job requires so much skill and finesse both intellectually and politically. I love a good challenge and athletic compliance never fails to deliver.”
In his own words, Waterstone offers advice to others considering entering the world of athletic compliance.
Q: What advice would you have for a student interested in athletic compliance?
A: I speak with a lot of young people looking to break into the industry and I always give the same advice: 1) be willing to be uncomfortable and 2) we’re all in the customer service business.
Being uncomfortable is a sign of being challenged. I think for someone to be a successful athletic administrator, he/she needs to embrace challenges and thrive on finding solutions. Specifically, within athletic compliance, a new challenge presents itself everyday, sometimes more than one! And our job is to creatively navigate those challenges for the betterment of the athletics department while upholding the tenets of amateur, intercollegiate athletics.
And in case you didn’t know, tensions can run high in the world of intercollegiate athletics, especially at the high major level. Typically, athletic compliance administrators are put in the unenviable position of managing difficult and sometimes contentious situations. No matter how heated the situation may get, I am going to have to work with that individual(s) tomorrow and the next day and the next year. As such, treating people with the utmost respect is an absolute priority. Athletic compliance is a customer service industry. We don’t provide goods, we provide a service; and that service is to ensure that athletics program is in compliance with NCAA, conference and institutional rules in order to foster competitive equity and fair play. Sometimes the guidance we give is not what someone wants to hear. But being a successful athletic compliance administrator is more than just knowing and delivering the rules. To be successful, you have to be able to do it in such a way that even when you give less than favorable information, the recipient understands your intentions are to protect them and ultimately in the best interests of the program.
Q: How did you learn compliance rules — is that something taught in college, or is it more something you do on your own if that is the career track you take?
A: The NCAA manual is over 400 pages and has a database that includes thousands of rules interpretations, best practices, and case precedent. Needless to say, learning the rules is an ongoing process. However, I do think the skills needed to understand, analyze, and communicate rules can be honed through both education and experience. Athletic compliance requires a keen understanding of the “bigger picture.” There is a rule for everything so it behooves athletic compliance administrators to take in the information for a specific question or situation and be able to see how it connects to all the other aspects of intercollegiate athletics. Whether it is recruiting, scheduling, financial aid, academic services, or eligibility requirements, the common thread through it all is having a sound understanding of athletic compliance.
For me personally, I had zero background knowledge on athletic compliance. But what some would have seen as a detriment, I saw as an advantage. I was a clean slate. I came into a position where my supervisors were able to mold me into the athletic compliance administrator that they needed. Therefore, my success was a direct reflection of their success. Now, I look back on my first year in the profession and can appreciate the patience that my supervisors afforded me, and more importantly, the belief they had in me. That is a leadership lesson we all could use.
Q: What area is your doctorate in? What was your dissertation?
A: I recently received my Doctorate of Educational Leadership from the USC Rossier School of Education. My dissertation was titled “Financial Stability and Sustainability in Online Education: A Study of Promising Practice.” I decided to expand my knowledge base and pursue an area of interest outside of intercollegiate athletics. Ultimately, my professional goal is to be a president of a small college and given the current financial landscape of higher education, I felt gaining an understanding of alternative revenue sources would be beneficial (I was right).