Although Leslie Fields’ career in sports began on a different path, she has continued to excel in the field for nearly 15 years.
Fields is the associate athletic director for compliance and senior woman administrator at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Ky. She’s held that position since June 2013.
A communications major, she seemed destined to work in athletics media relations. “I was a communications major in college, and I thought, ‘I can do this work for a boring insurance company, or I can work for a sports team!’” she says. “Sports won.”
Fields graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Wisconsin –Green Bay, and then she earned a dual MBA and master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University. Her post-graduate internship was as a media relations assistant at the Sunshine State Conference (SSC), an NCAA Division II athletic conference based in Central Florida.
When Fields completed her SSC internship, a compliance position became available at one of the league’s member schools, Eckerd College, in St. Petersburg, Fla. She gave the job a shot and has been working in compliance ever since.
“I like the way that compliance touches every area of college athletics,” Fields says. “While we certainly spend most of our time working with coaches and student-athletes, we also provide interpretations and education for folks in marketing, communication, development, admissions and more. Compliance isn’t the ‘sexiest’ office in the department, but it is a very necessary one!”
Fields would work at Eckerd for two years, and then she served as the associate athletic director and senior woman administrator at the University of Maine for nearly two years. Another two-year stint as assistant director for compliance at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., preceded her current position at NKU.
In a typical day at the office, Fields spends about 80 percent of her time on compliance and the other 20 percent on general administrative duties like supporting academic advisors and overseeing the Norse golf programs. “There are certainly days when compliance gets monotonous, but I really enjoy coming up with ways to educate our coaches, student-athletes, staff, boosters and the community members about NCAA rules that apply to them,” she says. “I also love it when I have creative coaches to work with – the ones who know the rules really well and look for ways to accomplish their goals and still maintain compliance and integrity.”
The most challenging aspect of Fields’ job is simply getting all the work done. “With two young kids, I can’t stay at the office until 7:00 every night like I did before I became a mom,” she explains. “So, I just try to be as efficient as possible while I’m in the office and fire up the laptop in the evening after the kids go to bed.”
Given that balance, it’s no surprise that when she does have free time, Fields takes lots of trips to the zoo, children’s museums and playgrounds with her 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.
Fields’ advice to young women interested in a career in sports is straight forward: sign up for everything! “Get involved, volunteer and intern,” she admonishes. “Don’t limit yourself to one area of athletics. Getting to know several areas of the business will help you decide on your path and can help when you’re in leadership positions. Your work experience means much more to hiring managers than your grades do.”
When Fields was just beginning to get her footing in college athletics, she found a role model in Courtney Draper, who was the volleyball coach and senior woman administrator at Eckerd College when Fields worked there 11 years ago. “Courtney had achieved a lot in her career at a very young age, and I believe she got where she was with her strong work ethic and her intelligence but also by taking the time to get to know the people she came into contact with and figuring out what made them tick and how she could help them,” Fields says. “In compliance, it’s important to be approachable so people are comfortable coming to me with questions or self-reports [of rules violations],” she adds. “I think I’ve been successful, in part, because I watched how Courtney took time to understand the people around her, and I try to do the same.”
When it comes to her favorite sports teams, the Wisconsin native is an avid fan of the Badgers and Green Bay Packers. She also roots for the Cincinnati Reds since her husband works for the team. Her favorite sports memory harkens back to her days as a group sales manager with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a minor league baseball team. “My favorite memory has to be shooting brats out of a 3-foot air gun from a moving Saturn to fans in the stands,” she recalls. “I was a local celebrity in Appleton, Wisconsin, that summer.”
At a time when rumblings of change frequently roll across the college athletics landscape, Fields has some ideas of changes she would like to see on the horizon. “I think it may be time to create separate conferences for football,” she says. “So many decisions are being made at the presidential level based on TV money for football, particularly conference realignment.”
Fields says she understands the financial rationale for schools that join conferences in distant geographical footprints, but the travel demands create difficult circumstances for sports other than football. “It is not in the best interest of our student-athletes to have to travel halfway across the country and miss additional class time for competition,” she explains. “It also isn’t the best use of university dollars to send the non-revenue sports on flights for league games. If football were separate, then the other sports could remain in conferences that make more geographic sense.”