Sports Lawyer Jake Garlock Brings Sustained Excellence to Role as Leader of Utah State’s NCAA Compliance Office

Sep 24, 2021

Entering his 15th year in the Utah State Athletic Department, Jake Garlock exemplifies the term “sustained excellence.”

That successful journey was culminated in December of 2019 when he was promoted to Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Services and Compliance. But while that was a meaningful promotion, Garlock is not one to rest on his achievements.

That ambition and dedication to his craft caught our eye and is one of the reasons we sought out Garlock, who graduated from Brigham Young with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2002 and received his law degree from Willamette in 2005.

Our interview follows:

Question: How do you end up getting degree in psychology and what led you to go to law school?

Answer: I went into psychology intending to possibly continue with a masters in school psychology to work as a counselor in a high school while coaching basketball.  Then I changed to law school because I thought it would be the best educational opportunity available that would provide the most flexibility in career choices following graduation.  That idea turned out well because I didn’t even know about careers in athletics compliance until about a year after graduation.

Q: At what point did you know you wanted to pursue a career in athletics compliance?

A: After law school graduation, I got a job working in a small family law firm.  This job did not go well and did not suit me.  As I began to pursue other law jobs, I discovered a job posting where they sought an NCAA compliance administrator who preferably had a J.D.  My first thought was, “I can use my law degree to work in college athletics?!?”  From that point, I began networking with compliance administrators and eventually landed at Utah State as the senior compliance administrator with zero experience.   

Q: Have you had a mentor along the way and how have they helped?

A: Because I was hired without any compliance experience, I needed many mentors just to learn the rules and understand how to run a compliance program.  In my first three years on the job, I was on the phone almost daily with compliance administrators who were generous with their time.  They were patient with my calls and had sympathy with my situation of having one-person shop in compliance while having to teach myself the job.  I also visited other schools compliance offices and peppered them with questions.  Some notable mentors for me are Braun Cartwright (NMSU), John Lucier (Fresno State at the time), Chris Rogers (Utah at the time), Chad Gwilliam (BYU), John Cunningham (Boise State at the time), Anthony Archbald (WAC at the time), Matt Billings (Boise State at the time) and so many others.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: I love getting a win for a coach, whether that be finding a favorable rule interpretation, winning a long-shot waiver request, or minimizing the effects of a rule violation through hard work and collaboration.  I also really enjoy the analytical part of compliance.  It is exhilarating to have a major rule shift and have to figure it out for the entire department so they can be prepared on how to attack the change (e.g., NIL, transfer portal).    

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of it?

A:  The most challenging part is working through the difficult situations that sometimes come up in compliance, such as investigations and violations, and still maintain strong working relationships when there is a difference of opinion.

Q: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel with NIL, or do see this getting messier before it gets cleaner, and why?

A: NIL can go one of two directions.  It could just be a bump in the road where we all adjust and in a year or two everything resolves with a new normal, similar to the transfer portal.  We have always seen unethical cheating that is difficult to prove, and maybe NIL moves these unethical practices into a more acceptable area that is not so far under the table.  Alternatively, NIL could further diminish the effectiveness of NCAA rules in regulating fair competition.  When you have a system with key rules that degrade over time because they are impossible to monitor or enforce coupled with untrustworthy acts that gain a competitive advantage, the only solution is to deregulate.  Eventually a system in this environment will collapse and similarly aligned institutions will have the reestablish their own structure. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the compliance profession? A: A thirst for learning in all you do will set you apart and accelerate your path in athletics.  Seeking knowledge and expertise generates a level of humility that others will appreciate.  It also requires the type of work ethic that you need to be successful in college athletics.  Kindness and empathy are also key.  In order to establish trust with other athletics staff, compliance administrators must be aware of how their words and actions affect those around them.  The moment Compliance navigates outside these values, people will interpret their actions as based on a need for power, which will ruin their effectiveness.

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