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Volume 25 No. 86
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Live from New York: 2017 IAF All-Access, Presented by Legends

Serious times call for serious leadership, and that was reflected throughout both days of the ’17 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. And there was plenty of talk on Thursday, the final half-day of the conference, about the weighty issues: basketball reform, the growing influence of donors and fans, amateurism and more. And we’re going to get to that.

First up, though, if you missed our final panel yesterday, about esports on campus, you missed an opportunity to hear a group of people who are not only passionate about this growing industry, but are passionate about what it can do on campuses. We’ll be the first to admit that we were skeptical for a long while about the potential of esports, but our coverage of it has grown, and will continue to, as evidenced by our recent investment in The Esports Observer. But rarely have we been as jazzed up about the prospects of esports as we were by the obvious excitement of the panelists in our “Inside Varsity Esports” session.

WINNING THE SKEPTICS: Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs, who supports the esports movement on his campus, said he’s had donors tell him that the department shouldn’t spend any resources on esports, but that when that happens, he launches Twitch on his phone and shows them 50,000 people watching an esports player practice a game. That opens eyes quickly.  “I get the skepticism, and the issues folks raise,” Hobbs said. “But you need to be open-minded.” Riot Games’ Michael Sherman said it comes down to whether administrators are willing to open their eyes about what is actually happening on their campuses. “There’s not thousands of people going and playing pickup basketball on [college] campuses,” he said. But there are thousands of people playing video games. More Hobbs: “My generation played football, basketball and baseball. Then appreciation grew for those sports when you watched them on TV at a later age. That’s where this has evolved. It has participation and viewership.” From a grassroots movement a few years ago, there are now 58 varsity esports programs across the U.S. Univ. of Utah’s A.J. Dimick said esports players are excited about the chance to represent their schools in competition with rivals, and predicted that within five years the school will fill its 15,000-capacity Jon M. Huntsman Center for an esports competition. Dimick: “We’ll blow the doors off.”

HEADLINES OF THE DAY: The opening panel on day two expanded on many of the issues that dominated our first-day sessions, including looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the college football playoff. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco had a blunt response when asked whether he would be interested in a football playoff for schools outside the Power Five conferences: “We don’t want to be considered second-class citizens.” He added that would feel a little too much like being at the “kids’ table.” Learfield’s Greg Brown said that one of the flaws of the current system is that the playoff selections ultimately depend so much “on where you start” in the rankings at the beginning of the season, but the panel was divided over what could be done about that.

When moderator Dan Wolken of USA Today brought up efforts to reform men’s basketball in the wake of the FBI investigation, ESPN’s Jay Williams was doubtful that reform will gain any traction. Williams: “If you don’t have the knowledge of how that underworld works, how are you going to put restrictions on how that operates? The amount of money being funneled underground is ridiculous. It’s way more than the outside world knows about.” Maryland’s Kevin Anderson was more optimistic, saying Condoleezza Rice is “the right person to lead” the panel charged with coming up with a list of solutions, though Aresco wondered if her committee’s recommendations will truly be acted upon. The Knight Commission’s Carol Cartwright added that the NCAA “doesn’t have a great history” of taking bold recommendations and acting on them.

RAMPING UP FOR ACC NET: Athletic directors from ACC members Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh spoke at length about the 2019 launch of the ACC Network linear channel. Pitt’s Heather Lyke said the Panthers are spending $14M on equipment, studios and personnel. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets are investing up to $12M to ramp up, said Todd Stansbury. Lyke also cited the ancillary benefits of having the network, such as the practical experience students earn by working on content production. “There’s an opportunity for students to be involved in live productions,” Lyke said. “And we don’t have a film and TV major, so it could be something that starts unique, new majors.”

MORE TO DO ON DIVERSITY: CLL Business Enterprises’ Cheryl Levick, a former AD at Georgia State, praised recent hires such as Carla Williams at Virginia and Lisa Campos at UTEP, but said there’s still much to be done when it comes to women landing AD positions. Levick: “We’re seeing progress being made. Honestly, though, is it fast enough? No. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but everyone is trying.” She added that former ADs such as herself, as well as current campus leaders, “need to do a better job of mentoring.” Levick: “We simply need more consistent development of our next leaders.”


A Message From Legends:

Legends is a global hospitality agency that delivers solutions for legendary brands. We take a 360-degree approach to the creation and delivery of innovative experiences in sports, entertainment and attractions. From facility planning and project development through sales, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of experts deliver innovative turnkey solutions. See many of our distinguised partners listed below, and for more about Legends business and career opportunities, visit


EMBRACING THE FUTURE: Mirroring developments at the pro level, a fast-increasing number of schools, brands and marketing partners are looking to leverage mobile platforms not only for fan engagement, but also for lead generation toward other sales efforts. “We’ve seen such an uptick in digital games, for example, schools using their LED boards and videoboards,” said Learfield’s Keisha Taylor. Mobile platforms are also increasingly proving to be a highly fertile ground for the development of loyalty programs that leverage college sports affinity. “We’re ultimately trying to create different ways for fans to engage with us, and deliver experiential rewards that you can’t buy,” said Adam Dettman of MillerCoors. The brewing giant has successfully introduced its Coors Light XP loyalty app that includes exclusive access to sports events as part of its rewards structure. “You have to create an extension of the value to the consumer. And you can’t fight the behavior [of fans using their mobile devices]. So how do you participate and amplify that experience?”

ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION: Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said the school’s recent Campus Crossroads project represents a new model for college facility renovation that deeply intertwines athletics with the rest of the university mission. Swarbrick said the project was “a story…about how the university and athletics can be one.” The project, the largest in Notre Dame history at more than $400 million, started traditionally as a means to improve Notre Dame Stadium for the varsity football program, but quickly transformed into one where the entire university community could be served on a regular basis. “I was asking exactly the wrong question,” Swarbrick said. “The question really was, ‘How is it in a campus growing like ours, how could you take our real estate right in the center of campus and only use it seven times a year? If athletics just builds an impressive facility for the benefit of varsity athletes and fans, we’re going to get ourselves in trouble. It hastens the perception that we’re not in it with the rest of the university.”

SWITCHING ROLES: Swarbrick got to turn the tables on his interviewer, the NFL’s Greg Aiello, at the end of their session. Swarbrick asked Aiello, who is a ’74 graduate of Notre Dame and had just a short walk to the conference from the league office on Park Avenue, what the greatest challenge was in his 27-year career with the league office and 38 years overall in pro football. After briefly joking about not getting enough sleep, Aiello said player health and safety is a paramount issue for the NFL to manage. “This speaks directly to the core of what we do, which is the game,” Aiello said. 

TALKING HOOPS WITH WONG AND WRIGHT: The sports business tree of professor Glenn Wong is well known; he’s one of the most well-regarded and well-liked people in the business and has taught hundreds of executives who line the sports business industry today.  What you may not know about Wong is that he is also a great athlete and an all-star on the basketball court. Word on the street is that he can go to his left and right off the dribble with ease, can pass like Larry Bird and shoot like Steve Kerr. There was an interesting six-degrees of separation moment this week at the conference, and fun to see Wong and Villanova men’s basketball coach Jay Wright catch up on old times. Here’s the background: Wong played for legendary coach Rollie Massimino at Lexington High School in Massachusetts. Wright later worked as an assistant for Massimino at Villanova, and he would often overhear the coach call up Wong asking for favor after favor for one of his friends or student athletes.  “I don’t know how Glenn was still standing after Rollie was done asking him for everything,” Wright said, with a laugh.  “That was the thing about Rollie. He was very, very loyal, but he expected that same loyalty from you – and more.”

SEEN AND HEARD: John Currie sitting along a window overlooking Broadway waiting for breakfast guest in the hotel’s Brasserie 1605 restaurant…The speakers’ room hosted a brief Kent State reunion Thursday morning, when Knight Commission co-chair Cartwright and SBJ/SBD’s Ben Fischer caught up for the first time in 14 years. They last spoke when Fischer was directing coverage of her administration as editor of the Daily Kent Stater in 2003. …Utah State’s John Hartwell hustling to his room after his panel appearance to pack for a flight to an event in Atlanta, where his team’s kicker, Dominik Eberle, was a finalist for the Groza Award. The award was ultimately presented to Utah’s Matt Gay.

“When administrators say they don’t have students interested in gaming, I take that as a lack of awareness of what’s going on on your campus.” — Association of Collegiate Esports’ Michael Brooks.

“I feel the athletic directors feel they need to do this because they aren’t getting cover by their presidents.” –Learfield’s Brown, on the high salaries paid to football coaches.

“I want to challenge that” – Cartwright, former Kent State president, arguing back to Brown that’s not always the case.

“We are starting to look too much like the pros.” — Aresco.

“It’s a sad commentary to our profession that these things seem to happen.” — Maryland’s Kevin Anderson, on the treatment of Currie at TN.

“If you are aligned on mission, values and culture, you can withstand it.” – Cartwright, on pressures brought by fans in situations like that at TN.

“Inevitably, that day will occur.” – Williams, on whether college athletes would ever boycott a major college event over lack of rights or compensation.

“My own gut feeling is that it ultimately won’t.” – Aresco, in response to Williams on the potential for a boycott.

“I think what you will see in the next round of negotiations is a breaking up of content.” — Learfield’s Marc Jenkins, on the next round of media rights talks.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: We appreciate everyone who helped extend the college sports discussion on social media. The conference hashtag, #SBJIAF, had 13.6 million. We particularly appreciate frequent tweeters @JasonBelzer, @ASUSportsLawBiz, @CU_SPS_Sports, @Learfield, @jackcpatterson and @D1Ticker.

Here are a few of the tweets that caught our eye:
@Powell667: Thanks to the SBJ, I really enjoyed being part of the panel and loved highlighting our great CUSE student-athletes! #sbjiaf
@Learfield: Outstanding line up of speakers and content both days #loadedagenda #sbjiaf #nyc
@jackpatterson: Kudos @Daventry1701 for having a progressive and well thought out view about #esports in the college space. It’s refreshing. #sbjiaf
@jackpatterson: Good to see people like @soonerad speak positively about the importance of social media reach at @sbjsbd #sbjiaf. His view is reflected by the awesome work at @OU_Athletics. #smsports
@sachdev_ananya: Summing my experience from all the conferences at @sbjsbd I’m even more convinced that #digitalmedia is the #future. #contentisking #volunteer2017 #SBJIAF

EMAIL EVOLUTION: Many thanks to our first All-Access sponsor, Legends, for providing support for our email reports and the video interviews that you can view on our social media channels and in THE DAILY. And thanks to the video crew from Good Sport for handling the shoots.

CONTENT CREATORS: As always, we appreciate your comments and suggestions. Click on Ross or Abe’s byline at the top of the page to send us an email. Michael Smith, Eric Fisher, Ben Fischer and Thomas Leary contributed to this newsletter.

THAT’S A WRAP: Thus ends our 2017 conference schedule. Thanks to everyone who attended, spoke and followed from afar. We’ll be back in April with the 2018 CAA World Congress of Sports.


A Message From Legends:

Legends is a global hospitality agency that delivers solutions for legendary brands. We take a 360-degree approach to the creation and delivery of innovative experiences in sports, entertainment and attractions. From facility planning and project development through sales, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of experts deliver innovative turnkey solutions. 

We are proud to serve our distinguished partners including Yankee Stadium, AT&T Stadium, 40 Live Nation venues, One World Observatory, Golden 1 Center, Manchester City FC, University of Notre Dame, University of Oklahoma, Villanova University, University of Southern California, Los Angeles Stadium & Entertainment District at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles Football Club, Nissan Stadium, Atlanta Falcons, NFL, Prudential Center, Rose Bowl, AS Roma, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and Indianapolis 500. For more about Legends business and career opportunities, visit