Leading Beyond the Game

Justin Kume is wearing Ohio State gear at the Ohio State football stadium.

Justin Kume ’06 was a 2023 honorable recipient of the Emerging Alumni Award from Muskingum University. This award recognizes alumni who, in the first 15 years of their careers, have made significant contributions to their professions and their world.

Justin is from Marion, Ohio, where he attended high school at Marion Pleasant. His high school experience in athletics impacted his choice to attend Muskingum.

“I was recruited to play both football and baseball; that was part of what started it,” he said. “We also had a couple of people that had gone to Muskingum that were a couple of years ahead of me in high school. That I can recall, everyone was a recruited athlete.”

Justin Kume wearing a red jersey with a number eighty-three on it when he played football for Muskingum University.

As Justin went through the recruiting process, he determined he wanted to play two sports in college, so he said he felt Division III was the right fit for him. “When choosing Muskingum, I had a successful high school career in athletics. So, I was sold on trying to change the culture of Muskingum football.”  

When he came to Muskingum, he had a plan. He wanted to major in political science and public affairs, and eventually added a minor in French.  

Football was a large part of his life, along with his drive to play baseball. When he injured his wrist during a football game, it ended his chance of ever playing baseball at Muskingum. However, he became a Muskie three-year football letter winner.  

Justin was also heavily involved in the local fraternity M.A.C.E. “That was such an unbelievable experience for me. It ultimately resulted in me finding some of my very best friends. My best man in my wedding, who is also the godfather of both my sons, was in the fraternity with me.”  

Justin graduated from Muskingum University in 2006 and decided he wanted to attend law school, but unfortunately, he did not do well enough on the LSAT. So, he decided to apply to graduate schools.  

He was accepted to Florida State University and Xavier University and decided to attend Florida State to be a Sports Agent. 

“My advisor connected me with people in the Sports Management Department, so that catapulted in more of a career standpoint,” said Justin. During the spring semester at Florida State, he experienced a pivot in his career goals.  

“That spring I took a class on NCAA Compliance, and at the same time I was taking a class on athletic leadership and that professor encouraged us to read a book on someone in the field we thought we wanted to be in. So, I read a book on Drew Rosenhaus’ autobiography. I had a total pivot,” Justin said. “Reading that book, I came to the realization that ethically I could not sacrifice my integrity to do the things that seem to be necessary to be the best sports agent.”  

In his second year of grad school, he decided to go into NCAA compliance because it tied in with the law background that he enjoyed while still connecting him with sports. During his sophomore year, he was a graduate assistant in compliance. Florida State University had a meeting saying NCAA investigators were coming to campus because of a violation. The investigators involved allowed him to sit in on the investigation. This afforded him a unique opportunity to learn, which laid the foundation for his career.  

Justin Kume, his wife, and son are all wearing dark red and gold colors for Florida State.

In 2008, he graduated and began applying for jobs. Eventually, he landed a job with Troy University.  

“Their compliance office had only two people and 50 people in the athletic office. Because of that, kind of like going to Muskingum, not only was I the compliance guy, but on game day, I had to make sure that the referees got fed. If their microphone battery died, I had to change the battery in the middle of the game. So, the small school, broad experience helped lay the foundation of my career,” said Justin.  

He said that experience was helpful for him because it allowed him to understand how all communication worked throughout the entire athletic department. However, eventually, he felt that he needed a new challenge.  

“In 2010, this job presented itself at Auburn University, and I had a phone interview in late October, and I thought that I had a real shot at this job. Then about a week later, Yahoo Sports published an article that Auburn quarterback, Cam Newton, had solicited money in exchange for his enrollment. Auburn put a pause on the hiring process, and I did not know that. I just thought they went with someone else,” Justin said. “Well, then, in February, I got a phone call. They said, ‘Hey, are you still interested in coming to Auburn?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this’.”  

So, he moved to Auburn, where he worked in their Compliance office as Assistant Director. “I oversaw recruiting operations kind of from the compliance standpoint. Making sure they were following NCAA rules as it relates to their practice hours and different things like that.” 

In 2013, Justin got to experience Auburn sports history first-hand.  “That season for Auburn was miraculous. They had a last-minute touchdown in the corner against Mississippi State to win, beat Georgia on a tipped pass that Ricardo Lewis caught and walked in the endzone, and then the one everyone remembers, the kick 6. The place goes ballistic. I am trying to pull all the players and coaches into the locker room safely. This is an unbelievable sports moment that will forever be remembered, and I was a part of it,” said Justin.  

That following fall, he had the opportunity to return to Florida State as Director of Compliance. “I was overseeing all of the stuff that deals with the student-athlete financial aid, as well as overseeing a staff member that focused on recruiting.” They eventually made him primary contact with Football, Basketball, and Golf at Florida State.  

In the spring of 2016, a job opportunity became available at Justin’s dream job at The Ohio State University, but he said the timing was not right for his family.  

“A year later, the person did not end up working out. I got a phone call from my former boss at Auburn about the job,” he said. Justin decided to take the job at Ohio State in 2017.  

“My position is unique because I am embedded in the football program. So, my office is in Woody Hayes Athletic Center, where the football team is housed. I am six feet away from the weight room, I sit in on the staff meetings, and I travel with them to away games,” said Justin.  

Justin Kume, his wife, and two sons pose in Ohio State gear at the Ohio State football game.

A day working in the Compliance Office at Ohio State is never the same as the next, which is what he loves about his job. On the day of a home game, he has various responsibilities before kick-off.  

“I get to the stadium three and a half to four hours prior to kick-off. I typically will drop my stuff in my office and then walk to Blackwell Inn, where our team stays overnight. Then, I check in with our recruiting staff to make sure everything is set up properly,” said Justin. “The team begins their walk to St. John Arena for the skull session. I walk a different path with all the recruits, and we come in a different entrance just because of the way the NCAA rules are written. I am down on the floor for skull sessions, and then I walk with the recruits to the stadium. Once I get to the stadium, I check in with our compliance staff.”  

During the game, he travels around, ensuring everything goes accordingly. After the game, he turns into a security guard to ensure the athletes and coaches safely reach the locker room. He also makes sure the recruits are safe and are not doing anything to jeopardize their NCAA eligibility.  

“The fun part is, after the game, I get to connect with the families and get to know them. This breaks down the barrier that ‘compliance is out to get us’ and helps them know I am looking out for their kids,” he said.  

Justin has developed a passion for his career, and he feels such a strong connection with college sports.  

He is grateful for his experience at Muskingum, so he created a way to give back to the university, specifically the M.A.C.E. club. In 2012, the fraternity experienced some issues, so Justin and other members looked to reestablish and modernize the club's ideals.  

“I took over as the president of the Executive Council, which is like their board of directors, and started a complete comprehensive review on how the fraternity is operated,” said Justin. Through this review, he felt it would be helpful to develop incentives and better ties toward current members of the fraternity. Through that, they created the M.A.C.E club scholarship fund.  

“We give scholarships to an active and new member with the highest GPA earned in the previous term for $300 each, as well as an active and new member who has the most community service for $300. So, we are able to give away $1,200 worth of scholarships with hopes of increasing them to five hundred dollars.” 

Justin encourages students to be active in anything and everything at Muskingum because he knows that it is very welcome on campus.  

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