SBJ/January 14-20, 2013/Opinion

Closer look: MLSE’s depth; Coach K on future of college sports

The editorial process can be slow and methodical. One example of that would be this week’s cover story on Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The idea behind it started at the NBA All-Star Game last February in Orlando. Staff writer John Lombardo and I were talking to a few sources about the M&A marketplace, and the massive deal by Bell and Rogers for majority control of MLSE was top of mind. The conversation drifted into various sidebars: How come so few talk about this company? Do sports business executives in the U.S. realize the breadth and depth of both this deal among rival telecommunications companies and MLSE? Does everyone understand the content, reach and real estate components to MLSE?

We left Orlando eager to dig deeper into this story, and it took months of researching, reporting and follow-up to complete. We really began getting access to the key people in the fall once the deal gained regulatory approval and Tom Anselmi was named president. The result, I believe, is a piece that showcases the strength of the bundle of diverse assets, and the talent in the organization. I have felt for years that company Chairman Larry Tanenbaum is one of the most influential figures in sports that few know — and that’s evident by Lombardo’s look at the low-key but driven executive. In addition, the executive search for the still-open CEO position is one of the most talked about in sports, so keep an eye on that.

“At our school, basketball drives money, and a lot of schools are like that. But football can drive a lot of money. So that’s why we’re doing all of this? There’s no grand plan.”
Mike Krzyzewski on the big picture in college sports
Photo by: JON GARDINER / DUKE PHOTOGRAPHY
> SIT-DOWN WITH COACH K: Staff writer Michael Smith was fortunate enough to drive from Charlotte to Durham just before the new year and get 30 minutes with Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. We have long targeted him as an ideal subject for our “Sit-Down” back-page feature, which looks at leadership, management and innovation. “I met with Coach K in the players’ lounge, just off the team’s main locker room in Cameron Indoor Stadium,” Smith told me. “He was in a great mood because they had just received a commitment from one of the nation’s top recruits, Jabari Parker, the night before. This was in addition to being the nation’s No. 1 team. He was fit, wearing a navy blazer, open-collar shirt and much more relaxed than you’d ever see him on the sidelines. I’ve dealt with a lot of coaches who are used to giving canned, thoughtless quotes, and he was just the opposite. Thoughtful, smart, willing to question the leaders and the direction of college athletics.”
 
A few outtakes from the discussion show just how concerned Krzyzewski is about some of the rapid realignment changes in college sports, and the role of the NCAA. “I’m not knocking [NCAA President] Mark Emmert,” he said. “He’s in charge of an organization that is very important. But it does not run intercollegiate athletics. If the NCAA ran intercollegiate athletics, it would say, ‘No, you can’t do that. It doesn’t fit a grand plan.’ So consequently, you have conferences that are looking out for their best interests. The best interest of the Big Ten may not be what’s in the best interest of the ACC or the Patriot League or the MAC. There’s no big vision for college athletics.”

He continued to express frustration at the lack of a big-picture grand plan for college sports. “It’s about money. People say it’s about football, and for 100 or so schools, football drives that. At our school, basketball drives money, and a lot of schools are like that. But football can drive a lot of money. So that’s why we’re doing all of this? There’s no grand plan.”
And he says it’s not over. “It’s not done by a long shot. Who is the Big East? What new conferences might there be? What does it do to another division? Is there going to be another division in the NCAA, or is there going to be another organization? That’s scary to me.” See Page 34 for the rest of our “Sit-Down” interview with Coach K.

> MLS REACHES OUT: Kudos to Houston Dynamo President Chris Canetti and MLS for getting nearly 50 of the top names in U.S. soccer to conduct an event at the Newtown Youth Academy Sports & Fitness Center in Connecticut last week for the children and parents affected by last month’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was Canetti, who grew up in the state and attended Quinnipiac, who came up with the idea, and worked with MLS on the execution. To bring that many of the top names, active and retired, to this small, grieving town had to be one of the proudest moments in the careers of the organizers and participants.

> GOING THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: What a difference a year makes. A year ago, CBS touted a 24.0 Nielsen rating for the Tim Tebow-led Broncos’ upset of the Steelers in an AFC wild-card game. The overtime win marked the most-viewed wild-card game in at least 24 years. CBS Sports President Sean McManus said a few days later of the Tebow phenomenon, “When you have these things, whether it’s a Tiger Woods or a Tim Tebow, you sort of hang on and hope the ride lasts a long time.” He added the Tebow phenomenon “could end on Saturday night or it could go on for five more years, six more years, 10 more years.” Interesting point, as Tebow’s Broncos lost to the Patriots that Saturday, and some now wonder if he will ever again return to the NFL spotlight.

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

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