How to Choose the Right College for the Sports Industry - Work in Sports Podcast E002

By Brian Clapp | September 08, 2017

Podcast Interview with J.D. Pruess - Sports Producer, American Ninja Warrior

In the last few years since we launched our blog on we’ve received over 10,000 questions about the sport industry from our user base and the sports community at large. I try my best to answer them all big and small, but it can get a little repetitive.The Work in Sports Podcast

You see many people are living the same experience, and enduring the same fears, and while it can be tough to answer each question individually – we’re going to tackle these issues with you in this forum every week.

This week we’re talking about choosing the right college for a sports career, and even deeper – is there such a thing?

Hi I’m Brian Clapp, and this is the Work in Sports Podcast. As I mentioned today we’re focusing in on college choice – how important is it to your future in the sports industry, how much does it help you after graduation and if you don’t get into the big name sports schools – is all hope lost and you should just give up?

I have a very strong opinion on this, which we will explore -  but it’s not all about what I think, I’m just one voice.

Sure I’ve worked in the sports industry for 20 years, have been responsible for hiring sports staff, and I went to college, so I am qualified to have an opinion – but I can only speak to my experience. There are other points of view worth exploring, so as I’ll try to do every week – I’m bringing in another voice from the sports industry.

This week – it’s J.D. Pruess – acclaimed sports producer –

Podcast Outline for J.D. Pruess Interview

Hi J.D. …

This is the part where I say nice things about you, are you ready…

J.D. is one of the most accomplished producers in sports, he has worked for sports networks including Fox Sports and ESPN, produced sports documentaries around the globe, worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and currently is a producer for one of the hottest/coolest sports shows ever – American Ninja Warrior.

Did I miss anything?

Should I dig deeper into the fact you also worked for ESPN Hollywood – and became friends with Mario Lopez?

Alright so the reason I wanted to have J.D on is because J.D. and I had polar opposite college experiences, and yet we’ve both been working in the sports industry for over 20 years -- J.D. went to one of the best schools in the nation – The University of Missouri, and I went to The University of Delaware, not a bad school blue hen fans, but not one of the top “sports institutions”.

So I want to start at the beginning of your journey J.D.—when did you identify you wanted to work in the sports industry and why?

Because you knew early on, did you intentionally target a top school like Missouri?

See right there my experience was totally different – I had no idea what I wanted. I was about as confused a 17 year old kid as you could be. I didn’t choose Delaware based on what I wanted to learn, I choose based on comfort. I liked the campus, and it was somewhere new I had never been. I am a simple man.

I started out as a biology and chemistry double major – I liked science, what can I say.

I’d assume one of the major advantages of a top school is facilities geared towards focus – while I don’t want this to be a University of Missouri infomercial, I do think it is important to paint a clear picture of opportunity – so what were the facilities like?

Outside of top facilities – what about networking? Did being at Missou help you make connections in the industry?

Alright – so you have sports specific classes, TV production networks, top of the line facilities, and a built in network --- you know what I had? I had a three room closet for a local access TV station that only launched my junior year.  No studio – one non-linear editor, one beta deck linear editor.

But it all comes down to getting a job right? What was your first job in sports and how big of a role did going to Missouri play in that?

Top facilities, great networking, cool Missou Mafia nickname, now you are in the business and your Missou experience is a big part of that -- If you had to go back and do it all over again, would you do it the same way?

Let’s put you in the hiring position – you have the challenge of hiring staff, you get a stack of resumes all recent college graduates – give me an honest answer – how much emphasis would you put on where they went to school?

Let’s introduce a different perspective -

We have a mutual friend Sean Allen, he works at New England Sports Network producing the Boston Bruins and he went to Emerson College – another top-of-the line media school. He once told me, if he had to do it all over again, he would have gone to a cheaper school, done as many internships as possible to gain experience, and entered the workforce with far less debt.

How do you react to that?

As you may have guessed – I have a slightly different view based on my experience. As I eluded to, I started late, changing majors after my sophomore year. I wasn’t going to transfer to a different school, I had to live with my situation. And I focused on learning the specific skills I thought were cutting edge at the to prepare for your sports job search ebook

I knew that I was behind, and needed something that would stand out on my resume and fill a need. At the time, non-linear editing was the new thing – our school had one. It was a piece of junk, but it taught me the process and gave me an exact skill I could put on my resume. Then I started doing internships, as many as I could.

In the end, I had a pretty decent resume with enough experience and specific skills that were in demand in sports production. I got hired by CNN/Sports Illustrated right out of school.

So we have you – top school no regrets, Sean top school some regrets and little old me middle of the road school, sometimes wishing I had gone to a better school, but didn’t really hinder my career.

The way I hear all of this – if you know what you want early on, target the right school that has a great program, network and facilities. But don’t over-extend. You don’t need to go into heavy debt to gain industry worthy experience.

If you don’t know exactly what you want, don’t panic, you aren’t exiled if you don’t go to USC, Missouri, Syracuse, Indiana, Emerson – focus on acquiring the skills your slice of the sports industry needs, and do internships as many as possible and network.

Does that seem like a solid conclusion?

Last piece of advice – JD lives in LA, and works on American Ninja Warrior – how many miles do you have to drive to work J.D.?

And how long does that take you?

90 minutes each way – makes me cringe. My advice, avoid LA.

Thanks J.D.

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