In a career that has spanned stints as USOC CMO and Australia’s National Basketball League Commissioner, Syracuse Faculty Athletics Representative Rick Burton has developed a reputation for his breadth of knowledge on college athletics. His upcoming book, "20 Secrets To Success For NCAA Student-Athletes Who Won’t Go Pro," scheduled to be released Dec. 15, is a resource tool aimed to help student-athletes prepare for life after athletics. Burton spoke with THE DAILY about how schools could change the way they do deals with high-profile hires in the wake of Tennessee's issues and what the future of Olympic sports could look like.
Q: What does your book entail and what are some of the main takeaways?
Burton: The NCAA runs an ad that suggests more than 98% of all college athletes are not going to continue to play professionally or go to the Olympics. That 98-99% of all D-I, D-II and D-III athletes are going to come to kind of an abrupt end of their elite competitive life. This book is trying to speak to the student-athletes and ask them to channel the same kind of competitive drive as they've had as athletes into their own success post-NCAA participation. There's a need for it because the narrative that most people see or read is the kid who will be one-and-done or the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. We're speaking to the 399,000 or so other athletes.
Q: What issues should keep ADs awake at night?
Burton: The number one thing is the health and safety of their athletes. The ADs are worried about the athletes' health when they're competing, their mental health when they're not competing, their post-graduate health once they leave the school and even when they go out socially. If you consider the breadth of NCAA athletes on these campuses, the AD is certainly just as concerned about the health of an Olympic sport athlete as one in the "revenue" sports. That in itself is enough to cause worry.
Q: In light of the Tennessee/Greg Schiano fiasco, will that change how deals at other schools are made?
Burton: Every university has to really consider everyone they hire, whether it be a sociology professor or the football team's head coach. If you're going to make a high-profile hire at a school, you really want to have your finger on the pulse of the issues that are relevant to the day. With everything going on in Hollywood and politics with the accusations being made, this is a particularly sensitive time if you're hiring someone and you want to make sure you've fully vetted them to fit the community they're about to enter.
Q: Regarding alcohol sales at college venues, do you see that increasing or have we hit the high mark?
Burton: Having a beer at a sporting event has probably been in the American psyche dating back into the 1800's. It's obviously on a school-by-school basis, and most of the schools who do sell alcohol in their stadiums have strict policies or will cut off sales after halftime. Some schools probably do it very well and it's managed successfully, but others may encounter problems and decide that the downside to such a move outweighs the upside. Whether we see more or less schools doing it is a function of a number of other variables, so it's tough to say what direction it's headed.
Q: As the former CMO for the USOC, what does the future of Olympic sports look like to you?
Burton: The IOC represents at its best one of the world's great peace movements. But at the same time, someone might point out that ratings are down or that certain countries are disadvantaged. So there's a push to include sports like rock climbing, surfing and BMX -- things that are going to appeal to a younger generation. The rights fees from broadcasters drive the ability to stage these games, so there's a need to ensure the events are fun to watch on TV. You've got the growth and development of esports and drone racing, so will the IOC have to consider adding both of those in the future? Will that televise well? Will it be good for the modern Olympics?
Q: Will esports be represented in the Olympics in the near future?
Burton: Absolutely. It has already been admitted into the Asian Games due to its popularity in both Korea and China. With these three upcoming Olympics in Asia, it would be logical to look to Tokyo to use esports as a demonstration sport or even see if Beijing can work it into the '22 Winter Games. And failing that, the discussion will push towards having it for '24 in Paris or '28 in L.A.