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Texas A&M notified Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe yesterday that the university "will leave the conference effective June 30, 2012," according to Suzanne Halliburton of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN. A&M will "petition to join" the 12-school SEC, while the Big 12 "scrambles to find a replacement for the league [if] schools decide, like A&M, to move elsewhere." If a "suitable replacement isn't found, the Big 12 could disband, effectively changing the landscape of big-time college football." In such a scenario, the Pac-12 "could pick up the pieces." Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott yesterday said that his conference "has no plans for immediate expansion, though he did leave open the possibility." Halliburton notes one issue for A&M "will be settling the exit fee it will have to pay for leaving the Big 12." Conference bylaws state that "any school breaking its contract to leave early would have to pay 90 percent of its revenue over a two-year period." That estimate is $28M, based on the $11M the school "received this summer -- primarily from TV contracts for football and men's basketball as well as shared bowl revenue of Big 12 teams -- and the projected $20 million it is scheduled to be paid for this academic year." A&M AD Bill Byrne yesterday on his blog wrote that the deal between ESPN and the Univ. of Texas for the creation of Longhorn Network "changed the Big 12 landscape, making it difficult for the Aggies to stay." A&M believes that LHN "would give Texas an insurmountable competitive advantage in recruiting" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 9/1). Byrne added, "There have also been other developments during the past several months that have caused a great deal of uncertainty within the Big 12. You all know the landscape of the Big 12 Conference was altered by the creation of the Longhorn Network" (USA TODAY, 9/1).
PICKING UP THE PIECES: Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said, "This is a 100-year decision that we have addressed carefully and methodically." In N.Y., Pete Thamel reports the exit fee and a "vote by SEC presidents, who are expected to accept A&M once any legal fears are eased, should lead to the Aggies’ admission into the SEC." Attention then "turns to which university the Big 12 will bring in to replace Texas A&M." Schools on the "long-stated wish of league officials for a 10th member are Notre Dame, Arkansas and Brigham Young," but chances are "minuscule that Notre Dame or Arkansas would leave their current situations for the Big 12." If the SEC accepts A&M, it likely will eye a 14th member school, and one "plucked from the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Big East, could prompt a major shift in the college sports landscape" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/1). The SEC yesterday said that it "had not received an application from Texas A&M to join the league and that it would have no further comment." Loftin said leaving the Big 12 is "in the best interest of Texas A&M." He added that he "hopes the move can be amicable and presumably hopes to negotiate a reasonable exit fee." With A&M on its way out, the Big 12 "has formed a committee to look for replacements." UT said that it "remains committed to the Big 12 even with its historic rivalry with Texas A&M in jeopardy" (AP, 8/31). ESPN’s Joe Schad said there is "no question that Texas A&M wouldn’t have put themselves out on this long limb unless they felt very strongly that they had the nine of twelve required votes from the SEC presidents that will enable them to join a conference which they feel gives them financial stability and … the highest visibility for their student-athletes” (“College Football Live,” ESPN, 8/31).
TV GUIDE: In Dallas, Barry Horn reports Fox declined to comment yesterday on whether A&M's impending departure affects the network's new TV partnership with the Big 12, which begins in '12. If the Big 12 does not replace A&M, Fox "could leave the $1.17 billion deal in place; it could ask for a rights fee reduction; or it could seek to void the deal." For Fox, the "dream addition would have to be Notre Dame." The school's home football games belong to NBC through the '15 season, but its "conference road games would belong to Fox." Horn notes if the Big 12 doesn’t add another school, ESPN, "like Fox, has standard language in all its conference TV deals to account for changes in conference makeup." Also, "expect the SEC to move to re-open its television contracts to account for the additional schools that will divvy up the dollars as well as for the expanded number of homes in the conference" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 9/1). The Fox-Big 12 contract "technically could be voided with Texas A&M's departure and lead to legal issues for the Aggies." A source indicated that the Big 12 "has indications from the network that if a suitable replacement can be found that 'they will be fine and keep the contract as is.'" The source also said that the contract "could remain in force at a discounted rate even if the Big 12 had only its remaining nine teams" (AP, 8/31).
DON'T WANNA MESS WITH TEXAS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Forsyth & Everson write, "Why did A&M decide to leave so soon after swearing loyalty to the soon-to-be nine-team Big 12? Texas." Former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach said that the financial imbalance between UT and other Big 12 schools "has led to resentment, especially with the Aggies." Leach: "I think they're jealous of Texas's money. That feeling of inequality in the Big 12, it's certainly created some disruption" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/1). In San Antonio, Buck Harvey writes ESPN "created an outrageous conflict of interest, while also going against smart programming, by giving Texas" a 20-year deal for LHN (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 9/1). In Houston, Richard Justice noted UT is "being portrayed as petty and greedy," and the school is "guilty on both accounts." There was a "dearth of leadership from the moment the seeds of this divorce were planted." Justice: "If only there’d been someone with enough stature to bring the two sides together and force them to talk to one another instead of at one another" (CHRON.com, 8/31). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said A&M is “jealous of Texas” because Texas “has a shiny, new television deal with ESPN and Texas A&M didn’t get that and so now they want out” (“PTI,” ESPN, 8/31). Meanwhile, Texas state lawmakers "appear unwilling to compel" UT and A&M "to continue the traditional intrastate football matchup once the Aggies bolt the Big 12." Texas state House Higher Education Chair Dan Branch said that he "trusts the judgment of the school leaders, who have been open with him and other state leaders about the decision to leave the Big 12" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 9/1).
READY OR NOT ... USA TODAY's Kelly Whiteside notes the Big 12 "could take further hits in coming weeks." If the "dominoes continue to fall, four super conferences of 16 teams each might be the eventual end game." The Pac-12's Scott "has repeatedly said mega-conferences are the next wave of change." He said yesterday, "We have no current plans to expand the Pac-12. However, I have made clear my vision that the health, stability and future of college athletics will likely include further consolidation and re-alignment. While I cannot predict if and when this might make sense for us, we will listen to and evaluate any scenario that would benefit our member institutions, our student-athletes and our fans" (USA TODAY, 9/1). In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell wrote under the header, "Big 12 Could Use An Image Boost" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/30). ESPN's Joe Schad said, "The Big 12 has been bracing for this, they've been preparing for this. This is not a surprise to them" ("College Football Live," ESPN, 8/31).
STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE: On Long Island, Greg Logan notes last year, the "prospect of more upheaval would have sparked fears about the Big East's future as one of six BCS conferences, but the league added TCU's powerful football program for 2012 and the anticipation of a major TV deal next fall has restored sound footing." Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said, "As we approach our upcoming television negotiations starting in September of 2012, there's no question we're extremely well-positioned. This next round of negotiations will propel us to a place where we'll be achieving equity with the other major conferences in terms of revenue and exposure" (NEWSDAY, 9/1). In St. Louis, Stu Durando notes conference memberships "might be ready to shift once more, but the Big Ten isn't going to participate." Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said, "We're about as comfortable as we can be with where we are. We've said that we will continue to monitor the landscape, but we have closed down active expansion and have no plans to seek new members" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/1).
The Univ. of Oregon kicks off the football season Saturday ranked in the top five in both major polls, and the school's athletic program "clearly is the beneficiary of its unique relationship" with Nike Chair Phil Knight, according to Michael Kruse of GRANTLAND.com. The most "conspicuous portion of Knight's lavish contributions are the team's much-discussed uniforms -- the yellows and the greens, the blacks and the grays, the highlighter neons and the stormtrooper whites, the many different helmets and jerseys and pants and socks and shoes, the more than 500 possible combinations in all." UO Warsaw Sports Marketing Center Managing Dir Paul Swangard said, "The uniforms, I think, more than anything else are probably the key ingredient." After the school lost in the '96 Cotton Bowl, Knight asked Nike designers how the Oregon-based brand could "make teenagers who are good at football want to come" to UO. Knight has spent an estimated $300M on "stadium additions, luxury boxes, and palatial locker rooms," all of which "are on the list of reasons Oregon's football team got good." But Nike designers also "did their part, using the Ducks program as part laboratory, part showroom." Nike Creative Dir Todd Van Horne said, "Nothing is off the table." Swangard: "If no one knows your product exists, there is no demand for your product, and at the end of the day it's about 18-year-old kids. The uniforms are the key ingredient to getting those bodies there, and the bodies are what win you football games" (GRANTLAND.com, 8/31). A recent study from Turnkey Sports finds that sports execs associate Nike with college football more than any other brand.
As a companion to his cover story in this week’s SportsBusiness Journal, reporter Michael Smith talks about UPS and MillerCoors making aggressive plays in college athletics through new sponsorship deals. Smith elaborates on the magnitude of the UPS contract ("The UPS deal is really a blockbuster deal"), as well as how it fits in the company's overall marketing plans ("For UPS, business-to-business is a huge component of what they're looking for in every deal"). Addressing the MillerCoors sponsorship, Smith discusses the breadth of the new partnership ("ranging in profile from a Penn State down to a lot of the mid-major schools") and the target audience ("alumni and legal drinking-age consumers"). Read Smith's full story in this week's issue and watch the full video below.
OLD COLLEGE TRY: IMG Sports & Entertainment President George Pyne appeared on Fox Business’ “America’s Nightly Scoreboard” last night to discuss UPS' deal and said the “size and scale of the demographic” of college sports fans is what attracts advertisers. Pyne said through IMG College, “we're selling integrated sponsorships, so it’s not really media, and the value proposition that we’re offering is incredible because we have a new product that gives you 49 of the top 50 markets in America with one buy.” Pyne said that as a “marketer you want to break out of the clutter, you want to do something that’s different and unique. This has never been done before. In a tough economy, you want things that have real value. This program delivers you all of that” (“America’s Nightly Scoreboard,” Fox Business, 8/31).
The Univ. of Houston and Rice Univ. announced yesterday a "two-year agreement to move the annual Bayou Bucket football game off-campus to Reliant Stadium,” according to Joseph Duarte of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Texans President Jamey Rootes said, “Our hope is for a long, long time, the Bayou Bucket will be right here at Reliant Stadium.” The games “will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Network," and Rice AD Rick Greenspan said that the "exposure should ensure the game is likely to be played on a Saturday night.” Dates and times have yet to be finalized. Greenspan and UH AD Mack Rhoades agreed that “the opportunity for additional revenue and to expand fan bases were factors in the decision to move the game.” Duarte notes under the current setup, the "visiting team in the series does not receive any revenue; by playing at Reliant the next two years both schools are guaranteed an undisclosed payout, which is believed to be at least $500,000” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/1). The matchup at Reliant Stadium is “the first neutral-site game between the city rivals since 2004.” The Bayou Bucket is joining the Stephen F. Austin-Sam Houston State “Battle of the Piney Woods” and Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas “as college football games to be played at Reliant next season” (CHRON.com, 8/31).
Georgia State AD Cheryl Levick this weekend will oversee the start of the school's second season playing in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision. In the lead up to kickoff, she has renewed the team’s contract to play at the Georgia Dome for two more years, spearheaded the construction and opening of a football facility and hosted a sold-out luncheon. But her contributions to the school have gone beyond football. Since beginning her tenure in '09, Levick has approved the addition of the university’s 19th sport, signed Nike as the university’s exclusive apparel provider and witnessed the school's merchandise sales quadruple. Levick recently spoke about pigskin, marching bands and a woman launching a men’s sport.
Q: What is the biggest difference in being an AD at a school with football versus one without football?
Levick: Sheer numbers of student-athletes is the number one thing you need to look at. Anytime you’ve got a football program, you have a minimum of a hundred more student-athletes in the program. You’ve got a lot more coaches and you’ve got a lot more services that need to be provided, so you have a bigger program all the way around -- not only from a student-athlete standpoint but staff and support staff you need. Your time demands when you’re running football; it is very time consuming in the fall. There are a lot of press needs, there are a lot of facility needs, there are a lot of coaching needs, lot of student-athlete needs.
Q: Any talk of a possible on-campus stadium?
Levick: We’re very happy in the Dome. And we’ve just extended that contract by two years. What we are looking at is, is there some kind of an indoor facility where we can practice with rain and lightning and that kind of thing? So looking at the viability of an indoor practice facility, that would be something we look at in the next five years.
Q: How has it been trying to raise funds in the economic climate you started in?
Levick: We’ve had quite a bit of success. I know we have more than doubled, in some cases tripled, the amount of fundraising that has happened in the previous years. Each year we’ve had a million-plus donor give us money toward football. So we have been very happy with that. We have a lot more we need to raise because of our facility needs, but they (donors) have been generous. We’ve been flexible with the payment plans.
Q: Georgia State plays Houston this year, what are the discussions/negotiations like and what do games against higher-caliber teams mean for the revenue of the program?
Levick: We decided -- and we being President Becker and coach Currie and I -- actually talked when we were looking at playing Alabama whether we wanted to play a big team every year, every so often, how do we feel about it. So we ended up playing Alabama last year as our last game and our fans actually loved it. We’re talking about doing a big game a year or however it fits. We are moving into CAA conference play next year and they are pretty tough, so we also need to stay focused on our conference play. But our fans like that so we'll look for big games where our fans can drive or a natural rivalry in the Southeast where that might work. … Our budget is not built on requiring a big game a year, so it’s not absolutely mandatory that we do it.
Q: But is it a big windfall for the program, and is there a perk in playing one of these bigger teams?
Levick: There’s certainly a guarantee that they pay us. Last year the payout for Alabama we actually put into a fund that would cover coaches' bonuses and some other things we were putting together. We really try to build a solid budget where we’ve got some money when we need it.
Q: You've mentioned the addition of more women’s sports with the launch of the football program. Where is the department in that process?
Levick: We’ll be adding two more women’s sports. The one that we’ve already approved and are in the process of adding is sand volleyball. We’ll be building three sand courts on campus, so we’ll have court volleyball in the fall and sand in the spring. We’ll start sand volleyball next fall as our 19th sport here. The other one, we are going to do a survey of the students and double check whether we need to do a team sport or an individual sport. We really need to evaluate the interests of the students. … I think it will be around 20. That’s where I think we will probably settle out.
Q: What challenges have you had as a female AD that perhaps your male counterparts don’t encounter?
Levick: I think because of the years of experience I have had in athletic administration there was an accepted level of respect for my directorship and leadership. I really didn’t feel anyone not supporting what I was doing. I think a lot of people ask me some football questions and some other leadership questions to see if I know my business if you will, but I really never felt that someone didn’t think I could do that job.
MEDIAPOST.com's David Goetzl noted there was "a provision in the 20-year deal between the Big Ten and Fox that would allow a reversal in control" of the Big Ten Network, and at "some point since June 2010 that kicked in and Fox has moved to an approximate 51% ownership position." When Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany secured a deal for the BTN's launch four years ago, the conference held a "majority stake at about 51%." Under the new ownership arrangement, BTN President Mark Silverman will "continue to report to a board -- it isn't clear if Fox would be able to remove the leader unilaterally -- and Fox will still handle affiliate sales, human resources and other functions." Goetzl noted the "flip in majority control may not alter much functionally," but it is "curious that the Big Ten would make a deal allowing itself to become a minority owner so early in the BTN's lifespan" (MEDIAPOST.com, 8/30).
VIRTUAL REALITY: EA Sports and the NCAA are creating a new fellowship program for former NCAA football student-athletes to aid in the development of "NCAA Football 13," set for release next summer. The 16-week, post-graduate position will be a paid fellowship beginning in January, based at EA Sports' Tiburon Studios in Orlando. Two slots will be made available. "We are excited to add additional football student-athletes to our team, and are confident that their experience on the field will further enhance the depth and authenticity of the videogame franchise," said EA Sports GM/Football Cam Weber (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal) .
FAMILIAR FACE: CBSSPORTS.com's Brett McMurphy reported Rutgers senior Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed after suffering a spinal cord injury in a game against Army last season, will serve as "an analyst for the Rutgers Football Radio Network." He will be "on the broadcast for a segment during the pre-game show, at halftime and on the post-game show for every game this season." LeGrand, who "wants to be a sports broadcaster after graduation," will attend home games and "will call in for his segments for Rutgers' road games" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/30).
FOOTBALL DIARIES: MULTICHANNEL NEWS' R. Thomas Umstead reported CBS Sports Network will "examine the first black college football game played in New York City as part of a documentary airing Sept. 28." The hour-long documentary, titled "1st & Goal In the Bronx: Grambling vs. Morgan State 1968," will chronicle that game and "those schools in New York City and the cultural and political context surrounding it." CBS officials said that the documentary "explores the history/ of black college football and its struggles in the segregated America of the 20th century" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 8/25).
BLAST FROM THE PAST: In Salt Lake City, Scott Pierce noted Steve Brown and Mike Norseth will call tonight's Montana State-Utah game for KJZZ-Ind., the "first time since 2005 that Brown and Norseth have been handling those chores." It also will be "the first time there's been a local telecast of a Ute football game since before the Mountain West Conference entered into its ill-fated television deal that resulted in the beginning of The Mtn." But Pierce noted this is "a one-year-only situation," as the Pac-12's "new TV contract begins next season and -- again -- there will be no local TV rights" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 8/30).
WAVE OF THE FUTURE: In Kansas, Joshua Kinder noted social media "has changed college athletics," and Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder said that it is "the biggest difference today as the Big 12 faces another possible change in its landscape." Snyder said, "With social media, everything is out there, whatever it is. As far as some of the other stuff that has taken place in college football, we just didn't have the media exposure, so maybe a few things that have taken place in the past didn't get the media exposure" (THEMERCURY.com, 8/30).
Sports execs overwhelmingly feel that Nike is the brand they would most associate with college football, according to a Turnkey Sports Poll taken in July. Fifty-eight percent of execs polled responded with Nike, while 27% said Under Armour was the brand most associated with college football. Execs were also asked which brand is best positioned to challenge Nike in college football, with 80% saying Under Armour (Turnkey Sports Poll).Which of the following companies do you
most associate with college football?RESPONSE%Nike58%Under Armour27%adidas5%Reebok1%Not sure/No response9%Which of the following brands is best positioned
to challenge Nike in the college football space?RESPONSE%Under Armour80%adidas12%Reebok3%Not sure/No response5%