SBJ/September 19-25, 2011/Opinion

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  • Cartoon: The Chase begins

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  • There’s more than one dream job in sports

    “That’s a dream job.”

    That was the reaction I usually encountered when I told someone I was a travel director for a Major League Baseball team. When I described the job, people would gloss over the details and just focus on the glamour.

    “And you get paid to do that?”

    I was required to be on the road for seven weeks during spring training and then roughly 100 days cumulative from April to September.

    “Wow, you get to travel with the team!?”

    If we had a night game, I’d likely be at the ballpark from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.

    “You get to see all the games, too!?”

    The job was much like being an umpire: No one noticed you unless something went wrong. Imagine losing a brutal extra-inning game, traveling across the country all night, and having our chartered plane arrive but the charter buses are nowhere in sight. All of the players are glaring at you with the you’d-better-do-something look in their eyes.

    “You get to know the players!?”

    Working directly for a sports team shouldn’t necessarily be the holy grail of the industry — not when so many sports-oriented opportunities and vocations pay more with less stress, and without the shadow of people who would happily take your job for less money, perhaps (laughingly) even for free. Why do so many people aspire to the apparent sexiness of working directly for a sports team and only find themselves languishing in a sea of résumé-sending dead-ends, when instead they could use their latent talents to carve successful sports-oriented careers?

    I left the team and used my travel experience to form a meeting planning company focusing on sports businesses (e.g., manufacturers, suppliers, apparel). I sit on the periphery of sports and enjoy the view, and there are hundreds of comparable vocations. Similar to the rest of corporate America, many positions in sports business are outsourced and can run the gamut from clubhouse food catering to legal advice; physical rehabilitation to psychological assistance; team doctor, dentist, nutritionist, or massage therapist.

    Pick a profession, and there’s a good chance it can provide a service to a sports team specifically or to the industry in general. Consultants have done this for years.

    Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Are you capable of thinking outside the box?

    Sports are no different than any other business. Build a better mousetrap, and suddenly you’re in the industry. Author Bill James created an innovative sports statistical analysis called sabermetrics and parlayed that into a series of admired sports books, which now are a part of the upcoming film “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt.

    Sports-affiliated vocations are ubiquitous and can be crafted from myriad niches: a hotel sales manager with a focus on sports teams; an event planner specializing in product launches; a corporate head hunter placing positions solely within the sports industry; marketing and sponsorship specialization. Heck, some company has to print the team’s publications, right? The list is virtually endless.

    I won’t deny that my baseball career opened many contact doors, but my sports industry “network” expanded primarily as a result of my meeting planning. Similarly, securing a sports team client immediately elevates the perspective other potential customers may have, as well as referral possibilities.

    If indeed your goal is still to work for (rather than with) a sports team, I advocate attempting one of the aforementioned ancillary methods. You can build experience and credibility while prying open the vaulted sports doors through the contacts and the relationships you establish — and, ironically, you may be surprised by the satisfaction you obtain just being where you are.

    Finally, under the category of “be careful what you wish for,” working for a sports team immediately places a skewed focus on what would otherwise be considered mundane news. I contracted adult chicken pox while employed with the San Francisco Giants, and my daily proximity to the players ratcheted up the concern level. I was suddenly (and embarrassingly) Centers for Disease Control fodder for the USA Today.

    “You got your name in the paper?”

    Dirk Smith (dsmith@sdninc.com) is president of Sports Destination Network Inc.

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  • Could MLB have avoided 9/11 tribute controversy?

    Major League Baseball strongly believes it is held to a far higher level of scrutiny than other sports. One could go down a list of sports business stories over the last decade where MLB firmly feels it was forced to face the press while other leagues skated free of such coverage. Whether it be the perception of its leadership, on-field marketing (remember Spider-Man?) or, most significantly, performance-enhancing drugs in sports, MLB executives I’ve talked to believe there is an imbalance in today’s media, SportsBusiness Journal/Daily included, in holding baseball to a different standard.

    It might be baseball’s historical place in American culture; perhaps it’s the older-skewing media who cover the sport and cling to its traditions. Whatever the reason, it rankles MLB executives, so I had to wonder how MLB felt last week, when after the 9/11 tributes, there was a sense that the NFL got it right (in both ceremony and in waiving its rules to allow for commemorative 9/11 on-field cleats and gloves), while MLB was forced to answer questions about why the New York Mets couldn’t wear FDNY hats to mark the 10-year anniversary during their game on Sept. 11.

    To me, the big difference was PR. The NFL announced its waiver and was met with praise on Twitter. Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina tweeted: “Excellent job by the NFL. No fines for any player who wears patriotic shoes or gloves.” Bears kicker Robbie Gould tweeted: “Classy move by NFL.” MLB sent guidelines to teams, but in retrospect, it should have released them publicly. Instead, it was forced to react after Mets players publicly expressed their desire to wear the special FDNY caps for their nationally televised Sept. 11 game. ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted: “Wish MLB would just let the Mets wear the FDNY, police, port authority hats in game. Special circumstance, and just the right thing to do.” The New York Daily News ran the headline, “Torre denies MLB ordered 9/11 cap ban,” and for days there was a back and forth between players and the league about how the situation was handled.

    The irony is that MLB played a tremendous role in restoring America’s confidence post-9/11. For the commemoration, it wanted to recognize 9/11 with uniform “flag” caps. Instead, it dealt with stories about whether executives asked teams not to wear specific gear. This had to be infuriating. The NFL was praised; MLB was painted as “tone-deaf” and forced to deal with a story driven by the tabloids when it should have been more accurately portrayed as playing a leading role in patriotic pride.

    Here’s where Twitter, Facebook and traditional PR could have helped MLB in proactively explaining its intentions. So while one can argue about a different set of standards, this also could have been avoided by more direct PR messaging.

    Best wishes to outgoing Suns President Rick Welts, one of the most talented and effective business leaders in sports. Rick was scheduled to leave the Suns organization after nine years last week to relocate to Sacramento for personal reasons. Rarely is someone so respected and well-liked in his field, not just for his business talents but also for his kind nature. Here’s to hoping we haven’t seen the last of Rick’s contributions to sports and society.

    A nod to sister publication SportsBusiness Daily, which last week turned the page on Volume 18 — marking 17 successful years of publishing. I believe Rick Welts may have been one of the first believers in SBD, which was launched by Jeffrey Pollack in the summer of 1994. I remember those early days in an Arlington, Va., townhouse, lucky to be learning from the talents of Pollack, David Abrutyn (now at IMG), Steve Bilafer (former SBJ columnist) and Chuck Todd (now NBC’s political director), all vital in creating a product they believed could benefit the sports business.

    Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.


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  • Solution to NCAA: Legislate free market into college sports

    We seem to be deluged with articles lately describing the so-called corruption and scandals in college sports as well as the money that drives it. Amateurism and money are inapposite, yet college sports has become a multibillion-dollar enterprise. The NCAA’s enforcement mechanism is and has always been arbitrary and ineffectual, but we seem to indifferently watch who gets punished and who doesn’t for similar things without much care.

    In the end, nobody does anything about these periodic crises, and life goes forward with colleges and universities, their athletic conferences, and the NCAA getting richer off their lucrative media deals, albeit with some perfunctory posturing along the way.

    The reality makes all of us jaundiced. Should we be outraged anymore about this outrageous system that is anything but amateur, even though less than 1 percent of the 350,000 to 400,000 college athletes every year will ever go on to a professional career? What can we do about the proverbial fox in the henhouse having commercialized college sports to what has become a $60 billion a year industry?

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    The NCAA punished North Carolina’s football program in 2010, but to what effect?
    I would propose that Congress should adopt the following Collegiate Athlete and Employee Fairness Act (“CAEFA”), which would essentially solve most if not all of the current problems with college sports by inserting the free market into the system. CAEFA would require that:

    1. The athletic conferences, the NCAA and any related associations shall no longer be deemed IRS 501(c)(3) charitable entities and shall hereafter be deemed 501(c)(6) trade association entities;

    2. Any college or university with an athletic department that derives revenue from its athletic program shall operate from within that institution and not from within any separate entity, and the athletic department’s finances shall be audited according to generally accepted accounting principles and publicly and separately reported with its annual IRS Form 990;

    3. Any college or university with an athletic department that derives revenue from its athletic program shall provide disability, health and life insurance to its college athletes and athletic department employees;

    4. Any college or university’s net profit from its athletic department shall be taxed under the unrelated business income tax theory, because making profit on amateur activities is inapposite to amateurism;

    5. Any entity purporting to regulate college athletes or athletic department employees shall apply the same rights and privileges to these athletes and employees as it does to its members; colleges and universities shall apply the same rights and privileges to all of their students, whether they participate in athletics or not;

    6. Any entity purporting to regulate college athletes or employees shall not make an agreement with any college or university that limits or attempts to limit any rules or regulations or terms of admission and recruitment or attendance, a grant-in-aid or letter of intent, or athletic department employment;

    7. Any entity purporting to regulate college athletics or athletic department employees shall not abridge any rights or privileges afforded by the constitutions and laws of the United States and its several states and territories as may be applicable to that athlete or employee, and no such entity shall attempt to penalize resort to the judicial system via restitution rules, penalties or otherwise;

    8. The Uniform Athlete Agents Act and any federal or state analogs are hereby superseded by this Act, which invalidates or withdraws the same and replaces them with the simple and universal truth that all college athletes and employees are entitled to representation of their choice at any point in time for any reason whatsoever under any terms agreed to by the agent or attorney and college athlete, which shall be deemed confidential and privileged; and

    9. Congress shall establish an administrative law system within the Department of Education to adjudicate any enforcement of any rules or regulations of any entities purporting to regulate colleges and universities and their college athletes or athletic department employees, which shall be fully and totally financed by those entities on a yearly basis pursuant to a formula to be determined by the Department, which shall adopt rules and regulations to carry out this Act, including rules and regulations as to when the entity must provide counsel for athletes and employees who cannot otherwise afford to retain the same. Appeals shall be heard by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and certiorari may be entertained by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    So what does CAEFA do?

    First, the NCAA and the various athletic conferences are pass-through trade associations no different from the professional sports leagues, with huge executive salaries and perks with little to no charitable purpose. They should be treated as such. They are not nonprofit entities by any stretch of the imagination.

    Second, colleges and universities that have monetized their athletic programs — and in many instances placed them into separate, unaccountable legal entities — would no longer be able to do so, and they would be required to be financially transparent.

    Third, no more bankrupting of kids who get injured and do not have insurance. If the program is designed to be a revenue-maker, then the colleges and universities have a moral and legal obligation to provide adequate disability, health and life insurance.

    Fourth, colleges and universities, after following actual accounting guidelines, would no longer be allowed to profit off of their athletic departments, which today act just like Hollywood, where no movie ever makes a profit when in reality an entire industry is being hidden here.

    Fifth, the NCAA would no longer be allowed to treat colleges and universities differently than it treats college athletes and athletic department employees, the former who get due process rights and the latter who do not.

    Sixth, the NCAA and its members would no longer be able to engage in rampant antitrust violations. So if a member wants to offer a four-year instead of one-year grant-in-aid to a talented high school athlete, because the free market requires it to do so, then it can. If it wants to offer a stipend for spending money for the same reasons, then it can. If it wants to give everyone on the team a grant-in-aid, then it can. No longer can athletes be subject to a bait and switch, where they’re recruited by a coach who then leaves, and they’re stuck with that college or university, or they lose a year of eligibility if they transfer. No more limiting how many coaches a team can have; the more the merrier. It’s a complete free market in lieu of the Iron Curtain that has been built by the NCAA and its members to control its members’ costs at the expense of athletes and employees.

    Seventh, no more rampant violation of civil rights. College athletes and athletic department employees have a right to be free from absurd demands, like “Tell us what your lawyer told you,” “Show us your bank statements and those of your family,” and “Pull down your pants and pee in this cup.” If Congress feels that any single right that we all otherwise enjoy should be abridged, then let it pass such an amendment to this Act, subject to constitutional scrutiny. Ditto in regard to passing rules and regulations designed to disenfranchise these athletes and employees from their right to access the courts, just like all other Americans.

    Eighth, no more malarkey that agents and attorneys spoil a system that is ingesting cash by some estimates of $60 billion a year. College athletes whose skill level merits representation should have it, just like everyone else does — meaning their coaches, colleges and universities — not to mention the NCAA and the athletic conferences.
    Finally, the NCAA has only 30 or so investigators. Its investigations are all reactive, its punishments are all arbitrary.

    It’s time for a fair and impartial legal system to hear these charges.

    Richard G. Johnson (rgjcolpa@aol.com) was plaintiff’s counsel in Oliver v. NCAA, which established college athletes’ right to counsel, and he is the author of “Submarining Due Process: How the NCAA Uses its Restitution Rule to Deprive College Athletes of their Right of Access to the Courts … Until Oliver v. NCAA.”

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  • How to turn an internship opportunity into career in sports

    While I love my students dearly, I admit to some level of frustration when I am annually asked the following question: “Will there be a full-time job for me after my internship is over?”

    My answer has been the same for more than 25 years: “It depends.”

    When explaining what it depends upon, I offer the following:

    • Depends upon your performance.

    • Depends upon organizational need.

    • Depends upon how you have been perceived and your perceived potential and value.

    • Depends upon timing: Are there currently openings or anticipated openings?

    • Depends upon luck — the type you make and the type you find.

    My best advice to the students is to make themselves so valuable that the organization actively seeks to identify potential opportunities to retain them. I have since added a Navy SEALs philosophy: How you do anything is how you do everything. It implies that no matter how small the assignment, do it to the best of your ability the first time and every time.

    One of the best examples I can provide is the story of a former student from my days at Ohio State, Tim Corbin. In 1987, Tim was a graduate assistant with the baseball program and had decided he wanted to be a baseball coach, so we set out to identify some potential internship opportunities.

    I reached out to a friend, Danny Morrison, then the athletic director of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. (Morrison is now president of the Carolina Panthers). At the time, Wofford was an NAIA school soon to be an NCAA Division II program and years later a Division I school and a member of the Southern Conference. Like any small school, Danny (who may have invented multitasking) had a very small staff that had a broad range of duties and functions essential to the operation of the department. An intern at Wofford had to be willing and able to do anything and almost everything. I explained to Danny that Tim would do anything asked of him, but that it was very important that Tim also be able to work with the baseball team in some capacity. Danny, always generous with titles, offered Tim the opportunity to be assistant baseball coach in addition to being assistant everything else.

    In exchange for what I conservatively estimated to be a 70-hour work week, Tim was given the opportunity to live in a windowless room in the old gymnasium (with the old locker room serving as his bathroom) and a meal ticket as his compensation. (To be fair, Danny always tried to find and share whatever extras he could for his staff, including Tim).

    AP IMAGES
    Tim Corbin started as an intern at Wofford College. Today he is head baseball coach at Vanderbilt.
    Tim seized the opportunity at Wofford and impressed Danny with his diligence and passion toward all of his assignments — not just the baseball coaching duties. Tim balanced his workload so that everyone in the athletic department and the baseball coaching staff knew they could depend upon him and that whatever they delegated to him would get done to the best of his ability and on time.

    When Danny and I talked about Tim, I knew Tim had a bright future. I have met very few people in my life who could handle the variety of tasks that were an essential part of the internship without showing a distinct preference for one and thus affecting his performance on the others. Tim’s performance at Wofford, a strong recommendation from Danny, as well as good fortune and timeliness, resulted in his first head coaching position: resurrecting the baseball program at a nearby NAIA institution, Presbyterian College.

    Tim spent the next six seasons at Presbyterian helping to move the school to NCAA Division II, making the playoffs three consecutive years and earning South Atlantic Coach of the Year honors in 1990. Then, proving that if you are successful someone will discover you no matter where you are, Tim joined the staff at Clemson in 1994, and for the next nine seasons helped lead the Tigers to nine NCAA appearances and four trips to the College World Series. Tim also earned a National Assistant Coach of the Year in 2000 from Baseball America and the American Baseball Coaches Association and won a gold medal with USA Baseball in the world championships.

    This all led to Tim becoming the head coach at Vanderbilt University, where he has been for the past nine seasons leading the Commodores to their first appearance in the College World Series in June. But the lessons Tim learned at Wofford were evident in some of his other accomplishments, notably in fundraising and upgrading the facilities at Vanderbilt. He was named 2007 SEC Coach of the Year and earned the Co-National Coach of the Year by College Baseball Insider and regional coach of the year honors by the American Baseball Coaches Association that same year. The work ethic that Tim demonstrated so long ago as an intern became a critical part of who he is.

    I went to Nashville to see Vanderbilt play in the NCAA regionals this past June. I spoke with Tim, but mainly I observed this outstanding young man (I am 60, so Tim is still young to me) leading his team to victory. I talked to local media, alumni and fans who all told me what a fine person Tim was, how loyal he was to Vanderbilt, how important he was to the community and what a great family man he was. I smiled because it was apparent that the multitasking that Tim learned so long ago as an intern at Wofford was still evident in his life and pursuit of his dreams.

    What Tim has accomplished is the result of hard work, vision and determination. But someone has to see that along the way, and there is no better place to exhibit it than during an internship. Anyone preparing to accept an internship should take the Tim Corbin story to heart and make it part of their approach. n

    Bill Sutton (wsutton@bus.ucf.edu) is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

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