UHLC alum's athletic past spurs career in sports law
March 23, 2017 — After running cross country and track as a Texas Christian University student-athlete, J.T. Reinert set his sights on a career in sports law at the college level.
The 2016 University of Houston Law Center graduate has made great strides toward his goal, and works as a post-graduate intern in the NCAA's enforcement office in Indianapolis.
"It's been an eight-year plan of mine to get into college athletics," Reinert said. "It was something I was interested in coming out of college. I wanted to go to a graduate program at some point, because I know this is an industry that has a majority of people with graduate degrees. That's what made the University of Houston Law Center so attractive. It helped me explore a bunch of different areas."
Reinert finished his undergraduate education in 2007, majoring in accounting and finance. He spent seven years as a financial analyst before becoming a Law Center student.
His professional experience was something that benefitted him, according to Aaron Hernandez, the NCAA's assistant director of enforcement for football, who was part of the committee that selected Reinert for the internship.
"He has real-world experience that a lot of people competing for the position just don't have," Hernandez said. "He's a non-traditional candidate that was working in the financial industry before he decided to make a career change, go to law school, and ultimately work in athletics.
"Very quickly he demonstrated a level of maturity and thoughtfulness in his approach to answering our questions. He made it very clear to the committee that he had thought a long time and made very judicious attempts at aiming at a new career in athletics."
Reinert's first step into college athletics came in his final year at the Law Center when he stumbled upon an opportunity to work as a compliance intern with Rice University's athletics department.
"It's something I wouldn't have seen if it wasn't for the Law Center's Career Development Office," he said. "It was my third year, and I wasn't sure if a compliance opportunity would come up or not. Luckily a posting came up on the Law Center's job site Symplicity. I was lucky to have found that, and lucky to have been part of a good staff at Rice."
His internship at Rice not only helped Reinert earn a job with the NCAA, but also prepared him for his future responsibilities. Reinert works within a regulatory-based area within the NCAA's national office, supporting more than 1,300 member institutions in three divisions. His duties range from ensuring schools remain compliant, looking for violations of NCAA bylaws, and ensuring a fair playing field among coaches, universities and student-athletes.
"Working at Rice was eye-opening," Reinert said. "They did a fantastic job preparing me for this. Working in compliance, I thought I was going to be like the police. You end up in more of an attorney role, and serve as a resource for the student-athletes and the coaches. They have their own jobs to do. I want to help them out as much as possible and come up with solutions. Whether or not it's helping student-athletes protect their eligibility, or teaching college coaches what the rules are and what they can and can't do."
Derrick Crawford, NCAA's Managing Director of Enforcement Investigations & Processing, works with Reinert and praised his dedication to pursuing a career with the NCAA.
"It's really tough to get an internship position here," Crawford said. "It's a competitive process and we have such outstanding candidates. What set J.T. apart was he had a great interview. You don't get through the process without having a great interview and part of that is expressing interest in working for the NCAA and what your career goals are."
Crawford stresses to young attorneys interested in a career in sports that specializing in intellectual property, litigation or labor law will strengthen their resume.
"What I tell a lot of young lawyers who want to be sports lawyers is you need to be a good practitioner. Develop good legal skills. That way you'll be competitive no matter what job you do. If you want to work for a sports league in the league office, or if you want to work for a team, the skills are pretty consistent across the board whether it's the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB."
Along with developing legal skills, Crawford also stressed the significance of building relationships and seeking out mentors.
"It's very difficult to get consideration for a lot of positions without having relationships within the sports world," Crawford said. "There are far more lawyers who want to be in sports than there are jobs. Invariably, those candidates who are not only qualified in terms of their skills, but who also have developed relationship within those organizations, they are the ones who get the strongest consideration.
"Can you get a job in sports without having those relationships? Yes. But it's very, very difficult."
While legal careers can take many forms, Reinert said he is committed to remaining in sports law and dedicating his career to the student-athletes whose shoes – or cleats – he once wore.
"Without being a student-athlete, I don't think I would be here today," Reinert said. "It's a fascinating area. My student-athlete experience drew me to this. I would like to make the student-athlete experience better for those who are in college right now."