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Volume 27 No. 5
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SBJ College: Learfield Gets $125 Million Cash Infusion

College football’s stage belongs to Conference USA tonight. UAB and Southern Miss both play home games against teams they should beat. The sport’s long warmup continues.

Here is what's cookin' on campus.

 

FRESH CASH WILL HELP LEARFIELD WITH OPERATIONS, DEFERRED FEES

  • Learfield IMG College received a $125 million injection of cash from its lenders this week. The money will be used to fortify its balance sheet and offset the disruption in college sports from COVID. The borrowed funds came from Learfield IMG College’s consortium of banks and was a provision of the existing lending agreements.

  • “This latest funding round is a terrific display of support by our equity and lender partners during such an unprecedented time,” Learfield IMG College President & CEO Cole Gahagan said in a statement to SBJ. “They’re excited for what the future holds in college athletics, and resoundingly support our plans to continue innovating and delivering on behalf of our university and brand partners.”

  • Moody’s report this week indicated that the money would help cover operations and deferred rights fee payments from Learfield IMG College to its schools. The company went to many of the schools where it owns multimedia rights in June to ask for a 60-day deferred payment plan. That 60 days would have been up at the end of August for most schools.

  • Moody’s gave Learfield IMG College a negative outlook, which is unchanged from its previous report, because of Learfield IMG College’s reliance on college sports and difficult economic conditions, including restrictions on attendance and scheduling uncertainty. Atairos Group is the primary owner of Learfield IMG College.

 

 

PAC-12 STRIKES COVID TESTING DEAL THAT COULD IMPACT SCHEDULE

  • The Pac-12 will soon be able to test its athletes daily for coronavirus, a development that could prompt the conference to return to play sooner than anticipated. A groundbreaking new arrangement with San Diego-based Quidel, which produces diagnostic testing, will make tests available on the 12 campuses by the end of the month, company CEO Doug Bryant said.

  • There are two major components to the agreement. The Pac-12 will purchase tests from Quidel that its schools will use to test athletes daily, which should eliminate the chance of an infected athlete stepping onto the playing field or into a team meeting room. Quidel will have access to athletes for a research project that studies the virus in athletes who are asymptomatic.

  • A couple of takeaways:

    • Quidel produces 2 million test per week and it has facilities under construction to double production. It has other college clients, but none that are testing daily.

    • Tests run in the range of $20-$25 each and return results in less than 10 minutes. Commissioner Larry Scott said specifics of the partnership, in terms of who pays for what, are confidential.

    • Six Pac-12 schools, the four in California and two in Oregon, still don’t have permission for full contact practice, which complicates the return-to-play scenario for the conference. Scott said the Pac-12 will continue to evaluate options to play football and basketball before the end of the year.

    • The tests essentially eliminate the need for contact tracing because athletes will be tested daily.

 

FCS KICKOFF STARTS A UNIQUE SEASON FOR AUSTIN PEAY 

  • Austin Peay might be the first FCS team to have all of its games nationally televised. I don’t know that records are kept on such things, but the Governors opened Saturday night on ESPN in the first game of the season, a 24-17 loss to Central Arkansas, they’ll play Sept. 12 at Pitt on ACC Network and the following week at Cincinnati on ESPN.

  • If you’re wondering about the rest of the schedule, that’s it. Three games. The Ohio Valley Conference will play its conference season in the spring, so AD Gerald Harrison tried to give his team the best of both worlds -- a fall and spring season. This way, Austin Peay will have the opportunity to defend its OVC crown.

  • For Harrison, the team’s trip to historic SelmaAla., and their walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge the day before the game was what he’ll remember most. “We wanted to do something special and something different,” Harrison tells SBJ. “The really cool thing was how people in Selma -- we didn’t have any media there -- just came up to our bus and started talking and telling stories.”

  • ESPN Events, which runs the Camellia Bowl out of the same stadium in MontgomeryAla., staged the Guardian FCS Kickoff game.

 

Austin Peay players walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma the day before their FCS season began
Austin Peay players walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma the day before their FCS season began
Austin Peay players walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma the day before their FCS season began

 

REGIONAL PODS AMONG OPTIONS IN WEST

  • West Coast Conference Commissioner Gloria Nevarez wants D-I conferences on the West Coast to work together on non-conference basketball scheduling. Nevarez initiated a series of calls starting last month with commissioners in the Big WestWAC and other conferences to collaborate on regional scheduling options that would be drivable for the teams involved.

  • Rather than trying to replicate the NBA’s $150 million bubble model, the conferences are considering pods that might have fewer teams than the 16-20 in a bubble, but still offer large-batch COVID testing with quick turnarounds. Limited travel and very little exposure by the players and coaches would be integral to the pod plan.

  • College basketball still doesn’t have a firm start date, but December is expected to be a time when non-conference games could be played. Nevarez started calling her commissioner peers last month when the Pac-12 shut down all sports until after the new year. If the Pac-12 does an about face and allows basketball in December, which Commissioner Larry Scott hinted at, that would open an array of scheduling options out West.

 

SPEED READS

  • Plans for a regular-season college basketball bubble in Indianapolis are in the infant stage and could involve more than one conference, per sources cited by the Indy Star. Creighton AD Bruce Rasmussen has "suggested Indianapolis could be a bubble for the Big EastBig Ten and Horizon League simultaneously." But a Big East source told the Indy Star that if the conference does a bubble, it would be “just for league games." 

  • It's Week 1 of the FBS season tonight, but don't expect any TV ratings tomorrow. The UAB-Central Arkansas game is streaming on ESPN3, while South Alabama-Southern Miss is on CBS Sports Network, which remains a non-rated network. ESPN has a tripleheader on Saturday that should give some indication of sports fans' appetite for football, with Eastern Kentucky-Marshall, SMU-Texas State and Arkansas State-Memphis all on the schedule.

  • William & Mary today announced the Colonial Athletic Association school will eliminate seven of its 23 varsity sports, effective at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, per the NorfolkVirginian-Pilot. The programs impacted are men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field and women’s volleyball.

 

THROWBACK THURSDAY

  • It was late August 2011 that IMG College finalized one of its first national sponsorship agreements with UPS. The deal covered 68 schools and was believed to cost $100 million over four years. At the time, it was touted by IMG College as the largest college sponsorship ever and it provided a spring board to subsequent deals with Hyundai and MillerCoors.

 

 

 

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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).