MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Keli Zinn admits the timing couldn't have been any better.
Just 10 weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, closing down everything and putting everyday life on hold, Zinn was informed that she was one of four outstanding contributors being inducted into this year's College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences (CPASS) Hall of Fame.
The official induction ceremony will take place virtually this Friday evening at 6 p.m.
"I will never forget that day because it was just after the pandemic hit and we were at the point when it was such gloom and doom everywhere," she recalled earlier this week. "Things were so negative so I was emotional when I got the call, but it was also a reminder to keep things in perspective and realize there are still positive things and good stuff happening."
Normally halls of fame are for people winding down their careers, but for Zinn, named to Sports Business Journal's prestigious Forty Under 40 list in 2019 and one of the magazine's Game Changers for 2016, she still has many chapters left to author in a successful athletic career that began as a volunteer student worker in West Virginia's compliance office.
Her plan back then was to become a sports agent.
"I actually thought I was going to go to law school and it all tied into compliance, but I realized later the thought of being a sports agent really didn't suit me, and I was not going to end up being the next female Jerry Maguire," she laughed.
So she quickly pivoted.
An internship in the WVU compliance office while taking advantage of the sport management program's emphasis on practical work experience led to her first big break - getting a job at the Big East Conference working for Stan Wilcox, today the executive vice president for regulatory affairs at the NCAA.
Zinn said her time spent in Providence under Wilcox's guidance was a big boost to her young career.
"What was critical for me being able to get to a number of places was being at the conference office because it is almost like you are working at multiple institutions," she explained. "You've got a much bigger network and you've got much more exposure than being at an individual campus just seeing things through one lens."
While at the Big East, Zinn was involved in institutional reviews, which allowed her to get a much better understanding of athletic departments and campus-related issues. Those auditing and review processes spanned presidents all the way down to student-athletes.
In 2004, she was named compliance coordinator at Maryland and a year later was promoted to assistant athletics director. Five years after that, she returned to WVU as associate athletics director and was soon promoted to deputy director of athletics.
WVU President E. Gordon Gee appointed Zinn interim director of athletics during the two-month transition period from Oliver Luck to Shane Lyons, making her the first female to have a leadership role in the 129-year history of Mountaineer athletics.
She lists Debbie Yow during their time together at Maryland, and Gee, Luck and Lyons here at WVU among her biggest influences.
"There have been so many that have been the wind in my sails," she said. "(Induction into the CPASS Hall of Fame) has allowed me to think about them and all they have done for me."
In her present No. 2 role in WVU athletics, Zinn provides strategic direction and operations management in support of 18 intercollegiate programs, 250 coaches and staff and an annual budget that exceeds $93 million annually.
She is the department's primary liaison to the University's Central Administration working closely with WVU's general counsel, strategic initiatives, finance and human resources.
Zinn also serves as the department's senior administrator for the football program and represents the University as its senior woman administrator (SWA) on Big 12 and NCAA governance groups.
The Petersburg, West Virginia, native has been involved in numerous national, conference and University committees over the years, including the NCAA Division I Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement (Chair), NCAA Division I Legislative Committee, National Association for Athletics Compliance (NAAC) Education Committee, the NAAC Reasonable Standards Committee, the NAAC Professional Development Committee, the Atlantic Coast Conference Committee on Constitution and Bylaws, the BIG EAST Conference Sport and Championship Committee for Men's and Women's Tennis, Big 12 Bylaw Committee, the WVU Office of the President's Social Justice Committee and the WVU College of Physical Activity and Social Sciences Advisory Committee.
She is currently serving at the conference level as the Big 12 liaison for Gymnastics and Swimming & Diving. Locally, Zinn serves on the Board of Directors
Two years ago, she was honored as CPASS's Distinguished Alumna.
Joining Zinn in this year's CPASS Hall of Fame class are longtime NBC executive Gary J. Quinn, UNC Wilmington associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Health and Human Services Christopher D. Lantz, and West Virginia sports pioneer James L. Taylor, who integrated Shepherd football in 1955 and played on the first undefeated, untied team in school history that season.
Zinn owns bachelor's and master's degrees from WVU in sport management. She and her husband, Nathaniel, reside in Morgantown.