Archive for November, 2009

Here’s what Tiger Woods SHOULD have done

As a former athletic director at the college level, and a sports agent now for many years, I’ve been forced to deal with difficult situations that could involve negative publicity.

And I can tell you that Tiger Woods’ situation last weekend is a primer on how NOT to deal with the perils of negative publicity when it comes to a celebrity.

It took Woods two days to make any sort of public statement. When it did come, it was on his blog. And it was too little, too late, as the firestorm of speculation had already burned hot and bright. The problem these days is that if you don’t tell the story, someone else is going to dig until they find it — or make something up altogether.

And the speculation in these cases can become worse than reality.

The first stories of Woods’ early-morning traffic accident outside his Florida home last Friday made it sound as if he was seriously injured. There was genuine concern that he was not only hurt but that his golf career was in jeopardy.

As it turned out, Woods’ injuries appear to be minor and he was treated and soon released from a hospital near his Florida home. But it took until Sunday before golf’s greatest star addressed the issue on his website.

By then, the story had taken on a life of its own as all sorts of speculation appeared, trying to fill the void where no information from Woods was available.

Woods’ mistakes were twofold. This instance screamed for an almost immediate comment from Woods about his physical condition. It would have calmed the waters a lot if he’d just issued some sort of statement immediately about the extent of his injuries and how they would impact his golf career.

Second, in today’s world, as much as he’d like to keep all of this private, that’s going to be a very tough task. A celebrity’s life is an open book. Websites, magazines and television shows exist in some cases for the sole purpose of revealing details of the lives of famous people.

Ultimately, it may be smart for Tiger Woods to come forward with as much detail as he possibly can about the incident. If he did something stupid or embarrassing, the public will most likely forgive and forget. But hiding details only increases the public’s desire to know — and will increase scrutiny on Woods’ private life.

David Letterman provided a blueprint for dealing with embarrassing incidents in one’s personal life with his handling of an affair he had with one of his show’s interns. Letterman took time early in one of his programs and admitted the whole embarrassing affair. It was a difficult chore, I would guess, for a man with a wife and young child.

But by stepping forward, Letterman disarmed anyone interested in further details and probably diffused any chance of much further scrutiny. Just a few weeks later, you hardly hear anything about Letterman’s problems as the public’s thirst for dirt on celebrities — and the “news” outlets that feed it — have moved on.

And for now at least, they’ve moved on to Tiger Woods.

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11 2009

Have a happy Thanksgiving! (Watching football)

As families around the country gather for their Thanksgiving feasts Thursday, they’ll likely gather in record numbers around their TV screens, too.

The technological evolution in television has been huge for sports. High-definition and larger screens are the norm now. You used to buy a new television set only when the old one gave out. Now, people are dumping those old sets to move up in quality, even in a bad economy.

And that means huge screens and beautiful high definition pictures that make you feel you’re at the game. And sporting events have never looked better. Or even sounded better — there has even been improvement in sound, too, where rich stereo is becoming the norm.

And so, with money tight — and much of it already spent on that gorgeous new television — fans are going to start to decide to stay home from the game. Why worry about weather, traffic or hassles of being there when you can watch that new TV — with its pristine picture quality and sound — rather than spend more money on tickets?

It’s going to change the dynamics of sports in a fundamental way. And also put a premium on people who can figure new, creative and effective ways of luring those fans out from in front of those plasma screens and back to the stadiums and arenas.

But in the meantime — enjoy the games on turkey day! And isn’t that HD picture beautiful?

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It’s way past time for college football to introduce the “Rooney Rule”

The Rooney Rule was developed by a small committee of courageous NFL owners headed by Dan Rooney, who believed that for every open head coaching position in the league, a minority candidate must be interviewed.

And guess what? It has worked to create a diversity in the NFL that wasn’t there even a decade ago. African-American head coaches are so common in the NFL these days nobody even thinks much about it anymore.

My life’s journey in higher education as an assistant football coach, assistant athletic director, athletic director and NFL agent has given me a front-row seat to watch the big impact the Rooney Rule has had on head coaching at the NFL level. As I reflect on the difference between the pros and college, it’s apparent that politics of hiring at the college level — committees of alumni, boosters, boards of regents, etc. — influence the final selection process for head coaches.

The result is that seldom can an athletic director or university president unilaterally make a controversial or out-of-the-box choice. What follows is usually the “safe” (and usually white) pick.

The beauty of the Rooney Rule is that it is designed to get qualified candidates who otherwise would never have the opportunity to be in front of the right people for an interview. Amazing things happen during this mandated process. Word is that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, an African American, came out of nowhere as a longshot candidate to win  his job by blowing away Steelers brass with his interview.

So often in the college ranks a new coach must serve as a graduate assistant first, then many years as a roving journeyman assistant coach. It’s often a long road before someone finally gives an assistant a shot at a head-coaching job. But I think minorities feel they have a better chance to become a head coach in the NFL based on the lack of institutional courage in the college ranks.

Leadership positions at the top level of college football are largely held by white men, even though a majority of the athletes they supervise are not white, according to a study released this week by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

The study found that, in the 2009 season, there were nine minority head coaches at colleges in the Football Bowl Subdivision, commonly known as Division I-A. Seven of those were African-American, one is Hispanic and one is Asian-American. By contrast, the study found that 50.4 percent of Division I-A athletes are African-American, 2.1 percent are Hispanic and 2.3 percent are Asian-American.

The NCAA and the university presidents have been negligent for too long in dealing with this disparity. More diversity is necessary in the coaching ranks and I’m not sure there’s a better way to encourage it than by enacting a Rooney Rule in college football. The state of Oregon has done it and all universities in the state must now interview a minority candidate for coaching vacancies.

The NCAA needs to make it a universal rule as soon as possible. College athletics would be a much better environment if the diversity on the field is reflected on the coaching staffs and administration.

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11 2009

So where on earth is the Tennessee athletic director?

By now, you’ve heard the story of the three Tennessee Volunteer freshman football players who have been charged with attempted armed robbery. Two of the three were kicked off the team Monday by coach Lane Kiffin while he awaits “more information” on the third player.

Meanwhile, after four days why didn’t we heard from the school’s athletic director, Mike Hamilton, on this subject?

As the CEO of the department, he should have stepped in immediately, to take heat off his head football coach, if nothing else. Certainly Kiffin has had several things happen already in less than a year on the job that have pushed him into the spotlight. Hamilton could have helped him here but did not. Instead, he has left him adrift.

As a former director of athletics I would intercede many times when a crisis was bigger than a specific sports program. An armed robbery by three football players was an obvious embarrassment to the athletic department, the football team and the entire school.

The athletic director has a responsibility to show firm leadership in these situations — and often that also means taking punitive responsibilities off the shoulders of his coach. If Hamilton steps in, makes the announcement of the players’ dismissal right away, and does so “after consultation and agreement with Coach Kiffin,” it immediately gets Kiffin off the hot seat.

It is no secret that coaches get caught up in the controversy and have a lot of other things going on in season and sometimes don’t see the big picture when it comes to the negative impact of these incidents on the athletic department and the school. He should have gotten support here from his boss.

To not act decisively in such cases casts doubt about the integrity of the entire athletic department.

I was critical of Oregon after waiting almost a full day in announcing the LeGarrette Blount suspension. But that incident was telecast coast to coast on ESPN. I guess if the robbery had played out on video everywhere it would have been perceived as a bigger public relations nightmare? Are we saying if we can’t see it, it didn’t happen?

This was a perfect time for an athletic director to step up and show the people in Tennessee that someone is in charge of that athletic department — with swift and decisive action that in this case should have been a no-brainer.

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11 2009

University faculty are in no position to complain about coaches’ salaries

As a college professor for many years and former athletic director at the NCAA Division I level, I can tell you that there are some things wrong with the way universities pay people.

And the faculty — and everyone else upset about this — can look inward before complaining about the athletic department. Coaches, you see, don’t have tenured positions. They are subject to losing their jobs at the drop of a football. They are responsible, basically, for running a multi-million dollar corporation. They have little job security and much personal scrutiny. They are paid like a lot of Americans are — on their market value.

Yes, a lot of athletes, coaches and entertainers of all stripes make more money than the president of the United States. So what? That’s what a free country is all about. There is nobody sitting on a council somewhere deciding what we all should earn for our jobs. It’s the market that decides it.

On the other hand, university faculty, often envious of the large salary major-college coaches receive, are tenured after a period of time and often can’t lose their jobs and continue to get raises even if they’re incapable of doing their assigned tasks at their school.

I would suggest this: faculty and university presidents have every right to demand academic accountability of their coaches. They should demand coaches not only bring quality people and motivated student-athletes to their campus but that they be responsible for those people getting a college education. In return, coaches should be offered tenure as full-fledged faculty.

And oh yes, if faculty isn’t happy with the way things are done, those people should consider a new way of paying themselves: How about paying them — like coaches are — on their market value? And then they could dump that archaic system of tenure.

I doubt they’d be real excited about that.

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The new model for young U.S. basketball players?

Nobody expects rookie Brandon Jennings to maintain the pace he’s been keeping up so far, but his Milwaukee Bucks are in first place in their division and last night Jennings continued his stunning early season run with 32 points — 14 in the fourth quarter — and nine assists for the Bucks.

Jennings may someday stand as a pioneer, a trailblazer, if you will. Instead of heading to the University of Arizona — where he was expected to go for his college basketball career after a spectacular prep career first in California and then at Oak Hill Academy, Jennings instead signed a contract with Lottomatica Roma in Italy. He became the first American to spurn college for a European contract.

The NBA no longer allows players to enter the league immediately after high school. But instead of a scholarship to Arizona — where he failed to pass an entrance exam on several occasions — Jennings signed a $1.65 million one-year guaranteed deal with Lottomatica. He also had a $2 million endorsement deal while playing there.

He played in 27 games and didn’t do particularly well. He averaged just 5.5 points per game and shot about 35 percent from the floor. But he got a lot more experience over there — European coaches are unfettered by NCAA regulations on practice time and Jennings played with and against better and more polished players over there than he would have in the NCAA.

And instead of a one-and-done year on campus, he had an enriching European experience, did his maturing and growing up while learning to function in his chosen career — and made a lot of money doing it. No offense intended to anyone at Arizona or any other college, but I believe Jennings made a very intelligent decision.

And his play in the NBA is reflecting that. If you go to Europe, pay attention, work hard and listen to the very talented and experienced players over there, you’re going to learn A LOT.

Is there any doubt this could lead to more players following his lead? The only stumbling block after Jennings’ uneven performance over there, is that some European teams now may be reluctant to take on high school players, fearing they won’t be good enough to contribute to their teams. But some will compete at a passable level and there will be enough of them to entice teams into taking a chance on others.

And over here, it will only take a few going over — the marquee players a lot of college programs rely on to sell tickets and raise TV ratings — before it will look as if the NBA rule prohibiting the drafting of high school players will be rendered fairly useless as far as the colleges are concerned.

And someday Jennings may be appropriately hailed as the one who started it all.

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11 2009

Television is making sports a better world

The video of the New Mexico soccer player (here, with news of her indefinite suspension) has emphasized once more that a new age of accountability is dawning in sports.

From Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount’s punch to Florida’s Brandon Spikes’ eye gouging, to this action by Elizabeth Lambert, it’s clear that punishment for these misdeeds is brought on by the all-seeing eye of television.

Seriously, if these games had not been telecast, or if the cameras had not been focused on the right thing at the right time, would these players have even been punished? I doubt it, but if so, it wouldn’t have been nearly as severe.

Make no mistake — behavior on the field of play is going to improve as more of these situations come up. There is no shelter anymore for the misbehavior — it’s all there in beautiful high definition.

And that’s a good thing.

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11 2009

NFL, World Series TV ratings are up — what it means

Well, not necessarily that the sports themselves are suddenly more popular than they have been. It’s that people, because of the economy, are finding themselves at home more often. They can’t afford to go out as often.

But they can afford those beautiful, big-screen, high-definition televisions! The growth of high-def TV has been astounding. And remember the days when a 27-inch television was considered big? Well, maybe you don’t but it wasn’t that long ago. Now, though, a 42-incher seems small.

And it’s as if those television sets were made for sports. There are still prime-time programs not showing in HD, but you can’t find a sports event that isn’t. And in a lot of cases, you now see the game better at home than you do in a stadium or arena. That’s great for the TV networks but not so good for the teams — who need full stadiums not only for the revenue but to make the TV show look better.

How does that translate to the business of sports? Quite simply, there is going to be more pressure than ever to sell tickets in those venues. Variable pricing, special promotions — and innovative ticket-selling methods we haven’t even thought of yet are all in our future.

And the time has never been better to get into the ticket-selling business. It’s going to become a huge part of pro and college franchises because no matter how many eyeballs are on TV screens, that stadium or arena must be full for everything to make sense.

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Last night’s World Series game was HUGE for MLB

Talk about being good for the global reach of the game. Hideki Matsui put the “World” in World Series Wednesday night, becaming the first Japanese-born player to win the series’ MVP award.

They’ll be celebrating that for years over there. And really, it makes it even more imperative that MLB continue its excursions into a country that loves its baseball. And it shows once again why the future of American sports may well be outside this country’s borders.

Asia is an exciting market with a lot of available cash and someday I would expect baseball to add an Asian division — just as the NBA will someday at a division or conference in Europe and perhaps South America. There wouldn’t be an interlocking schedule in those sports, but expect one major trip abroad for all teams under that format. In many ways, such expansion is the only way to continue to expand revenue and branding opportunities for those leagues.

Congratulations, Yankees! And best wishes, MLB, for continued success in the global marketplace — which is very likely the future of major-league sports in America.

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11 2009