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Volume 25 No. 27
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Conference Commissioners Talk Cleaning Up Hoops, Learfield-IMG College Merger

Five top conference commissioners spoke in depth about the FBI investigation into corruption surrounding college basketball. During a panel on Day One of the ’17 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said that while it may not eliminate all corruption surrounding the sport, she believes players should be allowed to go right out of high school to the NBA. “There needs to be some focus on the elite player pathway, and that’s bigger than the NCAA,” she said. “There is no national governing body for pre-collegiate basketball, and if order can be brought to that space remains to be seen.” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott noted that while many of these fundamental issues around youth basketball have been known for many years, the difference is “the extent and complexity” of them. “Let’s be honest -- that some of this activity is a federal crime should be a wakeup for anyone who cares about college sports,” Scott said, adding that it is incumbent on those involved to make changes. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said he believes the corruption issues range farther than just addressing the one-and-done debate, and that a heavier focus needs to be placed on ensuring that trustworthy people are in these coaching and recruiting positions. “You can say all the coaches are meeting compliance,” he said. “You can pay attention, but if fundamentally people aren’t trustworthy, the whole endeavor is flawed.”

GOING FOR SCALE: The commissioners also discussed the Learfield-IMG College merger, with Scott saying he believes it will create more scale and “more impact in terms of how colleges are able to approach the marketplace.” He added the "worry, of course, is that it gives less bidders for your rights, and less competition, which has been a key driver in the increase of these rights fees for our campuses.” Sankey said he has a great deal of confidence in the leadership of the merged organization. While the merger has raised the level of interest in what’s going to happen, he “wouldn’t use the words turmoil or concern.”

CAREFUL INNOVATION
: Commissioners talked about how they are looking at ways to improve competition. Ackerman noted the Big East’s recent test of a commercial-free women’s basketball game, and that it plans to broadcast a men’s basketball game in the same conditions. “There are some risks, as you could imagine,” she said of having coaches miked for the entire game, but added that fans are very interested in this unique perspective. Sankey and Scott discussed some of the changes their respective conferences have made regarding football games and reducing the length of the games. The Pac-12 shortened the length of halftime to 15 minutes and eliminated some of its television timeouts in exchange for branding during less prominent points in the game, such as setting up for a kickoff. While the SEC has streamlined its efforts around replays in both basketball and football, Sankey noted that in regards to football, “with all due respect to the NFL, we’re not looking for the college game to be the same as the NFL,” and that he wanted to protect the uniqueness of the college game.
 
Quick Hits:
* On the one attribute a conference commissioner needs to do the job well:
Ackerman: Stamina
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby: To serve the members in every way
Sankey: To be even-keel and manage the highs and lows
Scott: Ability to build consensus
ACC Commissioner John Swofford: Ability to build trust

*Other stories they are watching:
Ackerman: U.S. Soccer
Scott: Emergence of tech companies and their interest in sports rights
Sankey: Litigation
Bowlsby: Continued changes in technology
Swofford: NCAA regulations as it relates to transfers

* They said it:
Swofford, on moving the CFP to eight teams: “I don’t think it’s imminent at all.”
Ackerman: “I would tell every senior male executive in here that your mentorship of young women is critical. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I hadn’t been mentored by David Stern.”
Swofford, on the ACC Network development, set to launch in August ’19: “We’re extremely bullish about it, and believe it’s going great. ESPN would tell you the same thing.”
Bowlsby, on expanding the Big 12: “It was a thoughtful and orderly process.”