Steve Pace, CPA

CFO, Big 12 Conference, Irving, Texas
BY ROBERT TIE

As CFO of the Big 12 Conference in collegiate sports, I feel I have a dream job. Since I was part of the initial staff of the conference back in 1996, it has been very gratifying to watch it grow and see its teams do well. Today, our members represent seven states, with a market of more than 45 million people. The Big 12 members have won 31 team crowns and more than 385 individual NCAA championships.

As part of my job, I work to develop conference revenues that assist member schools in the support of their athletic programs. Maximizing existing income streams and creating new ones are among the conference’s most important functions. In our first 12 years, the conference has distributed more than $1 billion to its members. That kind of performance builds members’ trust in the conference’s ability to properly represent their financial interests.

You can’t manage a college athletics program in the same way as you would a Fortune 500 corporation or a small business. Schools can’t focus on revenue generation and cost containment alone. They have to ensure that each graduating student is adequately prepared to begin a fulfilling career. The conference works closely with all our member schools to help them succeed on that most important mission.

I’m the only CPA on the Big 12 staff, and most of our members’ accountant-business managers aren’t certified. So my CPA training and experience becomes even more valuable. I try to anticipate and address trends in the market that could affect college athletic programs. These days, Congress and the IRS are looking for new sources of tax revenue, and our tax-exempt status could change. We have to be on the lookout for additional income opportunities and maximize those already in place.

My brother-in-law had told me that if I became an accountant, I’d always have a job. That has proven to be great advice. More than many other fields, accounting extends into many areas of business. I chose to attend the University of Texas at Arlington because of its outstanding accounting department. In 1978, I got my first job after college with a small public accounting firm in Dallas. Thus I was quickly given the opportunity to work with clients’ senior executives and take on a wide range of responsibilities. Gradually, I worked my way up to partner from staff accountant.

A few years later, to capitalize on business opportunities, I left and formed a CPA firm focused on investigating fraud during the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s. I specialized in auditing and forensic accounting and litigation, but I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my career. A perfect opportunity arose when the Big 12 Conference was established. Its offices were in Dallas, where I lived. Because I had been a consultant for the former Southwest Conference (SWC), some of whose members joined the Big 12, I knew all about the finances and business operations of the SWC. It was only natural for me to join the Big 12 staff.

Over the last few years, I formed a privately held company, PayOGFE, that provides outsourced online payment services for colleges, public schools and youth leagues that need a low-cost, efficient and secure way to pay their officiating game fees and expenses (OGFEs). We’re the leading payment processing service company of its type in the United States. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without public accounting experience, which taught me what makes some companies prosper and others fail.

Earlier in my career, I saw things differently. But for some time now I’ve been focused on being personally satisfied with my life. Today, young people are starting their careers with that attitude. They want a balance between work and play. Society has changed, and the profession is adjusting to that.

Recently, I became the treasurer of a group whose members own pre-1972 GMC trucks and panel station wagons. I have a show-quality 1956 Chevy truck that gets many admiring looks. The bottom line: Have fun!

—As told to Robert Tie

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