Five years ago, Jack Davis found himself at a crossroads.
After graduating in 2017 from Penn State with a finance degree, he accepted a job at Mars and his career in corporate finance was off to a budding start. However, he quickly realized that his passions and strengths were not particularly aligned.
Davis began considering a career change. It was then that he realized his true passion lay in working with student-athletes. He quickly realized that pivoting to the dynamic world of collegiate athletics would enable him to not only apply his business acumen to an industry ripe for change, but also serve student-athletes and see impact in the day-to-day evolution of an athletic department.
Confused where to begin, Davis looked up the current Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour’s career trajectory for guidance. A former Sports Business Journal Athletic Director of the Year award winner, Barbour’s Wikipedia page mentioned that she had completed an MS in Sport Management from UMass Amherst. Davis immediately saw the benefit higher education and specialized training could provide and applied to McCormack’s top-ranked MBA/MS dual-degree program. His subsequent acceptance was the first of many doors which would open over the course of the next two years.
Davis started the program amidst the pandemic in fall 2020 and hit the ground running while still working part-time for Mars. Despite his first year being completely virtual, Davis found ways to embed himself in the UMass community. He served as an intern with the Minutemen’s student-athlete development department, was chosen by his Isenberg School of Management classmates to serve as the Graduate Business Association’s vice president, and was also a teaching assistant for the department.
From his first semester in grad school, Davis began intentionally cultivating relationships with program alums who helped guide him. Specifically, Davis's relationship with his grad mentor Thorr Bjorn, athletic director at the University of Rhode Island, led to an immersive summer internship in between his first and second year of school. Another door opened.
Prior to moving to Rhode Island and beginning his summer internship, Davis applied for an internship through insurance company Tokio-Marine, funded by McCormack alumnus Bill Hubbard. “I’ve heard author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz say that it’s hard to change your luck, but you can maximize your ‘n,’ or your number of chances," Davis says. "Throughout my McCormack career, I did my best to maximize the number of opportunities that could lead to something good.”
This shot paid off as Davis was selected as one of five recipients of the award. The scholarship provided him with financial support and another support network. During his internship, as expected, Davis put his business background into practice as he developed a pro-forma budget and strategic proposal for the University of Rhode Island to add a women’s lacrosse team. In October, this addition was officially announced by the university. “It was pretty cool to see how quickly I was able to work on the exact kind of project I envisioned when I made my career switch," he says. "I owe that to a lot of people who believed in me and were willing to give me an opportunity.”
After his internship, Davis returned to Amherst to kick off year two in the program. He continued his internship with UMass Athletics and decided to get exposure to compliance and learn more about NCAA legislature and rules governing D1 athletics. “The experiential learning which UMass Athletics provided each year was massive," he says. "It’s one thing to have a finance degree and an MBA; it’s a totally different thing to see behind the curtain all of the intricacies specific to an athletic department.”
Throughout the semester, more opportunities for experiential learning and professional development opened up for Davis. In February, he opted in to an opportunity to represent UMass at the National Sports Forum’s annual “Case Cup Competition” in Austin, Texas with three classmates: Emily Broggy, Niveda Vigraham, and Solomon Siskind. As part of a recurring theme, opting into new challenges paid dividends for Davis and his grad program peers, as their presentation on cryptocurrency and NBA sponsorship strategy took home 1st place, besting ten other top sport management master’s programs.
A few hours after landing in Boston, Davis got a call from Bjorn, which, of course, he answered. The URI AD wanted Davis's assistance with the school’s search for a new men’s basketball head coach.
“Once again, this was an opportunity that presented itself much earlier than I ever envisioned when I enrolled at McCormack," Davis says. "I was incredibly appreciative that Thorr would put that kind of trust in me regarding something which was highly confidential and pivotal for his department.” Davis put his Excel skills to work, employing new techniques learned in his Sports Analytics class. “There was a time on that project I needed help, I needed it quickly, and I couldn’t explain the context. The same accessibility that McCormack professors displayed on my interview visit to Amherst two summers earlier manifested as Dr. Tyler stepped in without hesitation.” Weeks later, Davis was able to be in attendance as the University of Rhode Island announced Archie Miller as the new basketball coach.
A week after graduating, Davis moved to Delaware to start his first full-time gig in college sports, as the University of Delaware’s assistant athletic director of project management and internal operations. He credits much of his success thus far to McCormack faculty, his fellow classmates, and the UMass alumni network. “I didn’t have a single highlight in the last two years that was an individual venture," he says. "Of all the opportunities McCormack presented, it was the opportunity to connect with those people that meant the most to me, and I hope that I made the most of it.”
Davis is excited to once again make the most of his newest opportunity, as he opens the long sought-after door towards assisting the next generation of student-athletes.