SBJ/20100308/Forty Under 40
Published March 8, 2010
Here’s how Jamie Zaninovich’s typical day went in 1995, when he worked as a volunteer for the Stanford basketball team:
He arose before 6 a.m. and was in the office where he worked as a junior analyst for a hedge fund by 6:30. He stayed there until noon, grabbed lunch on the run, and drove to Stanford’s campus for the pre-practice meeting. He worked with the team through the afternoon, watched over study hall that evening, and usually made it back home by midnight. Then he’d do it all over again the next day.
The hedge fund job helped pay the bills, but it was that experience as an administrative assistant for Coach Mike Montgomery that helped Zaninovich see a path in athletic administration.
“That’s where I realized my passion,” said Zaninovich, who is in his second year as commissioner of the West Coast Conference.
That stint with Montgomery led to a full-time job in administration at Stanford and later Princeton. The commissioner’s job at the WCC didn’t interest him at first, but the more people he talked to, the more he liked the idea of returning to the West Coast to manage an eight-team conference with an evolving strength in basketball. Gonzaga is clearly the league’s banner team, but St. Mary’s and Portland are emerging and Pepperdine has a history of success.
“We think the WCC can be a destination conference for top basketball recruits,” Zaninovich said. “We’re not a BCS conference, we get that, but this can be an elite basketball conference with great championships and a phenomenal TV deal with ESPN.”
On top of that, the conference moved its flagship event, the basketball tournament, to Las Vegas last year with resounding results. A new title sponsor, Zippos.com, came on board, and the first year of a neutral-site tournament sold out four weeks before the first tip. The tournament had been on campus before.
“Moving it to a neutral site, into a bigger building, it was just a slam dunk for us,” Zaninovich said. “We proved that a neutral-site model can work for us and that’s a big step for the conference.”