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Volume 24 No. 156
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Live from New York: The many challenges facing college sports

Economic inequities, time demands, integrating academics more into athletics, health and safety concerns and a continued unsettled landscape. Those themes of challenges were balanced with academic graduation progress, more clarity on the procedural framework of college sports and the unquestionable relevance and popularity of college athletics on day one of the 2016 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. 

SETTING THE TABLE: The tone of the day was set by Learfield Chairman Greg Brown, who opened the conference by hailing the academic experience as the foundation for the overall student athlete experience and all the positive results that come from being on campus. But provocative thought filled the day from a long list of leaders that included NCAA President Mark Emmert, Duke AD Kevin White, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, commissioners Jim Delany, Larry Scott and Val Ackerman and Under Armour Founder Kevin Plank. All acknowledged an enterprise that is challenging and threatened at times, but at its core still incredibly powerful.

THE PATH OF THE FAN:  Today’s opening session will surely be one of the most fun – as the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby and SEC’s Greg Sankey will join the NCAA’s Oliver Luck and ESPN’s Seth Greenberg to talk about the big issues of the day. A key theme to look for today is the path of the fan when it comes to the college experience – from the decision to buy a ticket, to the game experience, to connecting digitally with the fan to incorporate as much personal data as possible for future marketing. 

GETTING IT RIGHT: Two questions that came up on just about every panel were: Did the CFP committee get it right? and, What’s the right number of teams for a college football playoff? Perhaps not surprisingly, Emmert, Delany (Big Ten) and Scott (Pac-12) were pretty happy with the way things turned out. And most panelists throughout the day said they were happy with four teams, including a group of media executives who worried that expanding the playoffs would hurt interest in the regular season. "In some sense it’s a zero sum game or close to it,” said Fox Sports’ Mike Mulvihill. “And you can’t add emphasis to the postseason, or add teams, without to some extent risking damaging the regular season. I think we’re at a nice balance.” (Though, he joked Fox would still want the extra games if the CFP did expand.) On one of the last panels of the day, though, a group made up mostly of collegiate rights holders held the opposite few, arguing for 6, 8 or “the more the merrier.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Yes, we did play the theme from “All in the Family” when Kevin White took the stage with two of his sons, Danny and Brian, to talk about their shared experiences in intercollegiate athletics. There was plenty of good-natured ribbing, and Kevin at times looked rueful as his sons told stories of growing up with two driven and focused parents, Kevin and his wife, Jane, who was in the audience and has also spent her life in college sports. Near the end of the session, the two sons were asked what sayings they remembered hearing most from their dad. Brian: “’Anticipate’ was my favorite one as a kid. You have to anticipate…. and most of the times that meant the things that he needed. Like ‘anticipate’ he needed the remote control.” Danny: “When there are some issues that come up that he doesn’t find that important, he’ll tell me I’m being a baby and I ‘need to rub some mud on it.’”

BATTLE AT BRISTOL: During a session that delved behind the scenes of this year’s Battle at Bristol, Univ. of TN AD Dave Hart talked about how football coach Butch Jones used the game as a significant recruiting tool in the years leading up to the event, which took place on September 10. “He was telling recruits if you come to Tennessee, you will play in front of the largest audience ever to watch a football game at an historic event,” Hart said. Longtime Alabama radio voice Eli Gold added buzz with his artful handling of the session.

WALKING WITH PLANK: Few speakers bring the intensity as much as Under Armour’s Plank, who walked the audience through his journey in building the brand but also offered perspective on international trade, the possible policy implications of President-elect Trump and the state of entrepreneurialism in this country. Fascinating stuff.

SPOTTED: In the speaker room: Delany greeting Tagliabue and the two New Jersey natives sharing stories on high school basketball history in the state and then tales from when Tagliabue played center at Georgetown and Delany played guard for Dean Smith at the Univ. of North Carolina…Former NBA player Charles Smith also stopped to chat with Tagliabue…football great Marcus Allen chatting with an elderly couple outside the Marquis’ Starbucks. 

“We often have two minutes or less to say something now.” — Carrie Gerlach Cecil of Social Media Sports Management, on how institutions today are expected to address crises almost in real time

“It’s hard to imagine that this is over, that there won’t be more movements in years ahead. It seems pretty quiet right now. But I would say every conference commissioner worth their salt is constantly monitoring the landscape, trying to keep up with these changes.” — Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman

CONFERENCE COORDINATES: All of our sessions will be held on the seventh floor of the Marriott Marquis at Times Square. You can get there via the elevators or zoom up on the escalators from the ground floor. Registration, breakfast and exhibits open at 7:30 a.m. today.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: All the information you need about the conference — agenda, speakers, venue, etc. — can be found in the conference app and the program guide. You can download the app from the iTunes store or the Google Play store, and you can use any device to view our digital program guide.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: There was a lot of social activity around the conversation in the ballroom. Many thanks to frequent tweeters @andyhre, ASU Sports Law (@asusportslawbizJason), Jason Belzer (@jasonbelzer), Tim Stephens (@timsportsmanias) and Jeff Yrazabal (@jyrazabal).

Among the tweets we liked:
@Brian_Bedford: First time in 11years I have missed this event.  Best of luck to all my college pals in NYC this week!
@LoisElfman: As always, #SBJIAF was an enlightening experience.
@ninaking22: All in the Family...great wisdom shared by some of my favorite people in the business at the #Anticipate #rubsomemudonit
@MikeMMcbride: listening to UA CEO K. Plank explain to room full of ADs "most important person" in athletics for him was Equipment Manager

If you’re in the room today, we hope you’ll contribute to the conversation. You can send questions to our session moderators by using the IAF app or by texting ‘SBJSBD’ to 22-333 to join our session. If you are posting tweets or photos, be sure to use the conference hashtag: #SBJIAF. We will recognize the most active and engaging users over the next two days.

FOLLOW OUR FEEDS: Follow all of our social media posts throughout the conference using our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram feeds.

DROP CARDS, WIN PRIZES: StubHub gave away $300 in gift cards yesterday that can be redeemed with any event ticket purchase at The winners were Jon Rutner (Sports Manias), Ashley Walyuchow (Univ. of Houston - Victoria) and Jon Roos (Monmouth Univ.) And Libris by PhotoShelter is giving away a free year of its services. The winner will be announced at the end of the conference.

VOLUNTEERS: We’ve got six student volunteers helping us out this week, and they would love it if you said hello at the registration desk. Joining us from Columbia University: Scott Ferguson, Dan Girard and Francesco Avella. And from UMass Amherst: Anthony Nahill, David Tews and William Melley

SIGNING OFF: This is our last conference for 2016; we hope you’ve enjoyed our Live morning emails from our conferences and events. We’d love your feedback!