DAPHNE, Ala. – A collaborative educational program between the United States Sports Academy and a British university two decades ago is continuing to advance the sport careers of its participants even after more than 20 years.
In the late 1990s, the United States Sports Academy had a protocol of cooperation with the West London Institute of Higher Education (WLIHE). Students from the two institutions traveled to each other’s respective countries and schools to do coursework, earn degrees and participate in mentorships.
In the late 1990s, WLIHE was fully incorporated into nearby Brunel University, where the WLIHE academic programs continue today. Also continuing is the positive impact the Academy/WLIHE collaboration has had on the success of its graduates. Those include Academy alumni Scott Novack, who recently was named to a leadership role in USA Rugby, and Conor O’Shea, current coach of the Italian National Rugby Team.
Novack was recently hired as the program operations manager for the USA Rugby Men’s Eagles Sevens team. He said his Academy master’s degree and London mentorship played a significant role in his professional career in high performance and sports operations management, as well as his employment at USA Rugby, his second stint at the organization.
The Colorado native earned his Master of Sports Science degree in sports management from the Academy in 1997 and participated in a mentorship at Brunel University in London, where he met other students and administrators who helped to spark his interest international sports like rugby.
“My Academy degree and mentorship program really set me up for a good career,” Novack said.
“The experience I got, especially during mentorship in London, was invaluable. Getting my master’s degree from the Academy helped me to meet the people I needed to meet, which led to my career.
“I learned about rugby while I was in London, meeting people like Conor O’Shea, who would go on to coach at the highest levels of rugby. My experience there gave me the opportunity to interview with USA Rugby, which ultimately led to my first job there. My mentorship was a fantastic opportunity.”
Novack worked at USA Rugby from 1999 to 2005 on initiatives related to coaching, youth and high school player development and the Under 19 National Team. Novack then worked in high performance for USA Taekwondo (2005-07) and USA Bobsled (2008-14), as well as with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s modern pentathlon team, where he implemented the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games preparation plan.
He also helped the USA Bobsled and Skeleton team win six medals at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia. After the Sochi Games, Novack performed contract work in high performance internationally, then took a job at Tulane University in New Orleans, La., in facilities and events management for intercollegiate athletics.
Novack has more than 18 years of experience as a sports administrator, managing Olympic and national teams that have won eight Olympic medals, seven world championships and more than 60 World Cup medals.
When USA Rugby recently called again, Novack knew he was ready to get back into rugby. In addition to operations management with the Men’s Eagles Sevens program, Novack also works with USA Rugby’s national office to manage logistics and program operations for Collegiate All-American Sevens, High School All-American Sevens and the Youth Olympic Games.
“Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States,” he said. “There are roughly 100,000 people playing the sport in the states, and there are many high schools with rugby teams now. There’s been a huge movement of popularity here, and with that, the sport is attracting better athletes.
“Rugby is also getting more exposure on television, with the likes of NBC and ESPN broadcasting matches, and it also earned Olympic recognition. All those things add up to a bright future for rugby in the states.”
Another beneficiary of the Academy’s U.K. collaboration is O’Shea, who in 2016 was named coach of the Italian National Rugby Team. He earned his Master of Sports Science in sports management from the Academy in 1996.
A native of Ireland, O’Shea earned a bachelor of commerce degree from University College Dublin and a diploma in legal studies at the Dublin Institute of Technology, but a career in sport was the college rugby player’s dream.
“I had earned a degree and did post grad in commerce, banking and law, but I always loved my sport,” said O’Shea, who earned his degree from the Academy through a combination of residential study and online courses, at the same time competing professionally in rugby.
O’Shea said he was fortunate to find the Academy’s master’s program, which allowed him to continue playing rugby professionally while pursuing his degree.
“Distance learning was the only way I could have completed the degree,” O’Shea said. “While at an institution that has so many sports people, it was easy to continue to train and be ready for my next season. I was very fortunate to find the fit.
“My M.S.S. in sports management from the Academy allowed me to marry my previous degrees to the passion I had for sport,” he said. “The Academy was where I met like-minded people. I really look back fondly on my time there.”
O’Shea’s mentorship related to his Academy degree would also strongly relate to his future professional endeavors as a sports administrator and coach. His mentorship was at Brunel, where he served as the secretariat to the U.K. Working Party on the Future of Sport Coaching. This initiative of the National Coaching Foundation involved U.K. sport sciences universities and contributed to enhancing the education of coaches in the U.K.
After his college rugby career, O’Shea played for Ireland, Lansdowne, and London Irish. He retired from playing in 2000 after a career-ending injury and turned his attention toward a career in administration and coaching.
O’Shea coached and managed the London Irish, who he played for, and worked for the English Rugby Football Union as head of National Academy for five years. He spent two years as the national director of the English Institute of Sport and then six years as director of Rugby at Harlequins from 2010 to 2016, winning the Aviva Premiership Title in 2012. He was named coach of Italy’s National Rugby Team in 2016.
The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports.
The Academy is based in Daphne, Ala. For more information, call (251) 626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.