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Volume 27 No. 5
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SBJ College: Clay Travis Plays Role Setting Up Trump, Warren

Do you remember what you were doing on this day in 2007? I was sitting with my 8-year-old son in the Big House at Michigan, watching Appalachian State pull the biggest upset in college football history. The next day, we went to the IndyCar race at Belle Isle in Detroit, and the Michigan State fans sitting behind us treated us like royalty.

Here is what's cookin' on campus.

 

CLAY TRAVIS PLAYS ROLE IN TRUMP-WARREN CALL

  • President Trump’s phone call today with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was facilitated by Clay Travis, the media personality who is best-known for his coverage of the SEC, not the Big Ten. John Ourand and I have the story of how it went down.

  • It dates back to the spring, when the White House first established a relationship with Travis. White House aides, many of whom are fans of Travis’ Outkick website, originally reached out to schedule Trump for a radio appearance on Travis’ Fox Sports Radio show.

  • Among the aides was director of the White House’s Office of Public Liaison, Timothy Pataki, a 2007 Ohio State graduate who played lacrosse for the Buckeyes. Trump eventually appeared on Travis’ show on Aug. 11, where he talked about his desire for college football to be played this fall. That same day, a few hours after Trump’s appearance, the Big Ten postponed its football season.

  • The conference’s decision to postpone football caused a cascade of negative press, which led the Big Ten to hire Carrie Cecil, CEO at Anachel Communications, a public affairs and communications consulting firm, to help with the fallout. Coincidentally, Cecil began her career as an intern in the late John McCain’s office, and through her 25 years of experience working with reporters, she has relationships with several media members, including Travis.

  • It was last week that Joe Biden started running commercials in Big Ten markets that blamed Trump’s federal response to the pandemic as the main reason why the conference was not playing. That prompted frustrated White House aides to start talking about how Trump could play a role in getting the Big Ten’s teams back on the field to salvage a season and mute Biden’s attack. Travis, a vocal critic of the Big Ten’s decision, was part of those meetings.

  • Cecil, working as a consultant for the Big Ten, spoke to Travis to see if he might soften his criticism of Warren, a first-year commissioner with a lengthy NFL background, but no college experience. Through those conversations, it became apparent that Travis was in contact with the White House and had taken part in meetings to figure out how to convince the Big Ten to play football this fall. The White House’s first contact with Warren came Monday at 5:12 pm from Pataki. The commissioner huddled with Cecil to evaluate the pros and cons, knowing that Trump would be seeking political gain from the exposure. Within an hour and 23 minutes, Warren responded and told Pataki that he’d speak with the president. By Monday night, they were all set for Trump to call Warren at 8:30 pm today. The call lasted roughly 20 minutes.

  • Trump wanted the meeting to create momentum for his campaign in the important Midwestern swing states that make up the Big Ten footprint, but if it meant the federal government would provide more testing resources for Big Ten athletes, that would increase the likelihood of a safe season.

  • Following the call, the White House aides, Cecil and Travis held a conference call to discuss how it went. Everyone said they were happy and hoped for a scenario that would enable the Big Ten to start its season as early as October.

 

WHAT WOULD A RANDY FREER HIRE MEAN FOR THE PAC-12?

  • Could former Fox Sports and Hulu exec Randy Freer be the next Pac-12 commissioner? That’s a question being asked by college insiders in the wake of a San Jose Mercury News story saying that the Pac-12 CEOs want to hire an outside consultant to handle the next media rights negotiations.

  • Here’s what I’ll be watching:

    • Do the Pac-12 CEOs follow through and hire a media expert like Freer to negotiate the next media deal? The current contract with ESPN and Fox runs through 2023-24.

    • If the Pac-12 hires Freer, will he report to the CEOs or to Scott? If he reports to the CEOs, and not Scott, that’s an indicator of Freer’s strength and Scott’s weakness.

    • Would Pac-12 CEOs and ADs look at him as another outside-the-box hire or a media exec who evolved into a college insider through his work on multiple rights negotiations?

 

Freer told SBJ in 2018 he was bullish on sports media rights, but noted innovation on distribution would be the challenge
Freer told SBJ in 2018 he was bullish on sports media rights, but noted innovation on distribution would be the challenge
Freer told SBJ in 2018 he was bullish on sports media rights, but noted innovation on distribution would be the challenge

 

NEW AGENCY AIMS TO BE THIRD PARTY FOR NIL DEALS

  • The name, image and likeness movement has slipped under the radar because of football season, but behind the scenes, ADs are scrambling to keep up with the latest legislation that’s expected to take effect in 2021. Now is the time to be having conversations about managing NIL before it becomes part of college athletics. That’s what Doug Fillis is counting on.

  • Fillis has worked on both sides of the desk, as a regional exec at IMG College and as an administrator at Rutgers. He’s putting those experiences together to form Accelerate Sports Ventures, a new agency focused on NIL. Fillis has begun meeting with ADs and senior administrators about how they’ll handle NIL issues. Fillis’ pitch: “We want to be the NIL experts for athletic departments. When questions come up, come to us.”

  • Knowing that schools will not be able to act on behalf of athletes for NIL deals, Fillis is positioning Accelerate as a third party that can connect a sponsor with an athlete or an athlete’s agent. “It has to be clear that the school is not involved in any transaction,” Fillis said. Accelerate’s services could range from reviewing disclosure agreements from NIL deals to providing support to compliance offices that will be tracking endorsement deals.

 

 

SPEED READS

  • The new fiscal year for Texas athletics started today, and with it came a number of layoffs for the Longhorns, per the Austin-American Statesman. AD Chris Del Conte "announced a series of moves that were designed to save the most financially-lucrative athletic department in America about $54.3 million -- roughly a quarter of its annual revenues." Twenty-six coaches and administrators “voluntarily agreed” to take temporary salary reductions through Aug. 31, 2021, and starting in mid-October, 274 athletic department employees will see pay cuts and 11 staffers will be temporarily furloughed with benefits.

  • Austin Peay-Central Arkansas kicked off the college football season on Saturday night, averaging 501,000 viewers on ESPN in the 9:00pm ET window, reports SBJ's Austin Karp. Last season, the FCS opener (Youngstown State-Samford) averaged 718,000 viewers on ESPN on a Saturday afternoon in Week 0. That game led into Miami-Florida in primetime. Working against this year's opener was the COVID-produced logjam of sporting events, including head-to-head competition with the NASCAR Cup Series on NBC (3.87 million viewers), Trail Blazers-Lakers on TNT (2.92 million viewers), Premier Boxing Champions on Fox (832,000) and Golden Knights-Canucks on NBCSN (542,000).

  • One of the ideas being thrown around the highest levels of college baseball is moving the spring season back a month, or trimming games off the schedule, reports D1Baseball.com's Kendall Rogers. Spring semesters are usually done by the time the College World Series wraps up in early June, so July may not be such a monumental shift. Who could be a loser here? Elite summer stops like the Cape Cod League, which traditionally starts in mid-June and runs through mid-August.
  • Golf Channel has grown its college portfolio in recent years, and took another step today with the creation of the co-ed Blessings Collegiate Invitational. The event, organized in conjunction with Tyson Foods Chair John Tyson, will take place in Fayetteville, Ark., on Oct. 5-7 and will mark the first televised event of the college golf season. 

  • BYU will be the only school west of Texas that will play college football this season, and the Deseret News' Doug Robinson writes that after around a decade, football independence has finally "paid off" for the Cougars. After losing half its schedule when several conferences canceled fall football, BYU "not only braved the potential political fallout and declared their intention to play, but they managed to rebuild their schedule and resurrect their season at the 11th hour." However, Robinson does go on to call BYU's new slate a "lame schedule."

 

 

 

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Something on the college beat catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to either me (msmith@sportsbusinessjournal.com) or Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it. Also contributing to this newsletter is Thomas Leary (tleary@sportsbusinessdaily.com).