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Volume 21 No. 42
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ASU program to help vets start career in sports

Natesh Rao spent 20 years as a U.S. Navy pilot, during which time he flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a commanding officer and led a carrier-based fighter squadron.


When Rao retired from the Navy in 2016, he said, it was expected that he would follow the norm and become a commercial pilot. “You definitely get pigeonholed,” he said.


Fortunately for Rao, he had options, holding an undergraduate civil engineering degree from Georgia Tech and a master’s degree in international studies from Tufts University before leaving military service. After a brief stint working in government affairs and public policy for Starbucks, Rao last year was hired as a senior associate athletic director at Arizona State University.

Now, to help his fellow vets also find more job opportunities, Rao is touting a new online graduate program that ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has designed to help veterans and active duty military personnel leverage their military background to launch careers in the sports industry. Those jobs can range from cyber security to venue management, event planning, data analytics and sales.

The Veterans Sports Law and Business program will be a one-year, 30-hour program, with a strong focus on sports business classes and will result in a Master’s of Legal Studies. It will start in the fall semester and accommodate only 10 to 20 students, giving the program time to find its footing and put more individual focus on job placement. Non-military personnel can take a similar online program that shares some of the curriculum.

Rao said the key is to show employers that hiring veterans makes good business sense. “This is not a charity thing,” he said. “This is good for business.”

Glenn Wong, executive director of ASU’s Sports Law and Business Program, which oversees the new program, said the school has had discussions with AEG, the PGA of America, the NFL and the NBA, among others, to build a network for identifying and creating job opportunities for graduates. ASU also will draw from within, using its athletic department, ties to the Pat Tillman Foundation, and faculty from its business and law schools, to build connections.

Tuition will cost $32,000. Wong said the school hopes the GI Bill and other veterans financial aid programs will ease the costs. He said the school is also in talks with other organizations about offering scholarships.

Rao said he first presented the veterans program idea to Wong and ASU law school dean Douglas Sylvester last August.

ASU has been recognized by Victory Media as one of the most pro-military and pro-veterans universities in the U.S. The school estimates it has more than 7,000 veterans, active-duty military and their dependents enrolled each semester. The school has a veterans alumni chapter and a resource center specifically for veterans.

The Chicago-based Tillman Foundation (which is separate from Arizona State) is set up to honor the legacy of former ASU and Arizona Cardinals player Pat Tillman, who joined the U.S. Army after 9/11 and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The foundation provides scholarships for active duty and military veterans as well as their spouses to help with post-service career paths.