Gambling, “information-sharing,” and the SEC

Marc Weiszer mentions something in passing in his story about this week’s SEC spring meetings that may be a bigger deal than we think.

Weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling on sports gambling that will open the door for more states to make way for legalized betting, what will be the impact in college athletics and in the SEC?

“I think we all have concerns about where that issue is headed,” Morehead said. “I expect there will be a robust discussion about where we go from here. The NCAA presidents expressed some concerns as well.”

Morehead said leaguewide injury reports could be discussed.  [Emphasis added.]

Sports betting isn’t an existential threat to organized sports.  The perception that the fix is in, though, is.  Just ask Pete Rose.  Once the public gets it in its collective mind that outcomes are being manipulated, what’s left is more akin to professional wrestling than competitive sports.

League presidents may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but they can smell a threat to their cash flow.

The problem with keeping injury reports out of the public eye is that such information can be obtained and used to parties’ advantage in betting on outcomes.  Well, that’s just one problem.  The other problem is that college coaches prefer to keep that information out of the public eye, not because they’re out to help sharpies make an extra buck, but because they would prefer not to give opposing coaches an edge in preparation.

Certainly, if you want to point out this is hardly the only threat college athletics face from widespread legal sports betting, I’m not going to argue that.  At least in the pros, athletes are paid the big bucks and thus have skin in the game at risk by considering throwing games or aspects of games; student-athletes, because of amateurism, would appear to be far more susceptible to those sorts of temptations.  That being said, I sincerely doubt that’s a subject the Jere Moreheads of the world are very keen on discussing this week.

I don’t know where this one’s gonna go.  Nick Saban once coached in the NFL, so no doubt he recognizes how that league handles injury reports, but I suspect if asked now, he’d say those reports aren’t his problem, but that of the sport.  Somehow I don’t think that will mollify the guys cashing the checks from ESPN and season ticket holders.  Keep an eye on it.

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Filed under SEC Football

“The dream is to play.”

The heart wants what the heart wants, and in Stetson Bennett’s case, that’s more than being a scout team beast.

Preferred walk-on Stetson Bennett IV, the No. 3 quarterback on the Georgia depth chart, will head to junior college. He will then look to parlay that experience into another opportunity in major college football…

His departure creates a precarious situation for the Bulldogs, given that Fromm and Fields are the team’s only scholarship quarterbacks.

“Those guys, first of all, are unbelievable guys,” he said. “Just great human beings. There are also great ballplayers. I just thought that it would be extremely tough for me being a walk-on to beat them both out.”

That made UGA arguably the toughest QB depth chart to crack in the SEC, if not the nation.

“The dream is to play,” Bennett said. “It was cool being at Georgia. I loved sharing those moments at Georgia last year but the dream is to play. It just wasn’t the same growing up as a boy who wanted to play at Georgia if you are not out there. That’s the thing. It was cool. I would love to be the starting quarterback at the University of Georgia. But just being there and being on the team, that’s not good enough for me.”

“I’m going to go play somewhere,” Bennett said. “I think that’s evolved to more of the dream than just being somewhere at a place because you grew up loving it. I think now the dream is to go play and go win championships somewhere. That’s what I feel like. I am going to go chase that dream now.”

That sounds remarkably more realistic than what I’ve heard out of certain commenters here.  And who can blame him for wanting that, especially after hearing the confirmations of his abilities after his great scout team work last season?

I have no idea if he’s SEC-ready, but the more relevant consideration is that he knows he’s not first team at Georgia-ready.  Go chase that dream, Stetson.

Of course, that leaves Kirby in something of a pickle, as he’s back to inexperienced walk-ons backing up his two stud quarterbacks.  (If he were Mark Richt, no doubt there would be some grumbling about his roster management.  But I digress.)  It will be interesting to see if he tries to chase a quarterback to fill Bennett’s role.  It will also be interesting to see what, if any, impact this has in the fall regarding how Fromm and Fields are deployed.

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Filed under Georgia Football

The honorable Kirby Smart

You know, for someone who was accused of doing obscene things to his old boss on the recruiting trail with a whiteboard, Kirby Smart sure played things above board when it came to offering Maurice Smith a chance to play in Athens as a graduate transfer from Alabama.

TRO: Given that great experience, what was the reason for wanting one more stop before your college career ended?

Smith: I saw it an opportunity when coach Smart and coach Tucker told the team they were about to leave and go to Georgia. I had never received an offer from them — it was one of the few schools who never offered me. Once coach Smart told me, I wanted to make the move and transition…

TRO: Did coach Smart (Alabama defensive coordinator) or coach Tucker (Alabama defensive backs coach) let you know before they took their jobs with Georgia that they may be moving, and that there would be interest in bringing you along if they did move? 

Smith: Honestly, it sounds funny, but we never even spoke about it. My relationship with coach Smart at ‘Bama was not what it could have been — it was not that strong or close. He recruited me out of high school, but once I was there a couple of things happened and went the route they did just because of him. It wasn’t like I didn’t like him or anything like that. I just didn’t understand what was going on.

Before the National Title game, we knew he was leaving, but he never spoke about it. Obviously, there were the little things: “You do what you do, and you will have success”. That kind of thing. But in terms of a conversation about me following him, that never crossed our minds.

The funny thing is, before the National Championship, once they both knew they were leaving, I kind of knew that we would end up crossing paths, but I never thought it would be in college. Georgia wasn’t even my first choice!

I was actually interested in a couple of other schools. One day my mom came up to me and was like “what would you think about going to Georgia?” And I was like “I dunno”. I wasn’t too fond of it: they hadn’t recruited me; I hadn’t been; I didn’t have a close relationship with coach Smart. I ended up speaking with coach Tucker, he had been one of my favorite defensive backs coaches. Once that happened, I thought about doing it and took a visit. After that it took off from there.

That’s about as straight up as it gets.  Not that there weren’t a few assholes involved in the story.  It’s just that all of them were located in Tuscaloosa.

TRO: Walk us through your transfer process?

Smith: Well, to start, I remember it was after the spring game — a couple of weeks after — I had ongoing thoughts about maybe I should explore different options. That’s what I ended up doing.

I went into coach Saban’s office and told him I wanted to look into other schools. He was like “what do you mean? Transfer?” I told him no, I just wanted to look at options. He didn’t take that lightly; he didn’t know my motive. He kind of went into tank mode, in the sense that he was asking the staff “why is Mo trying to leave?”

I never told anyone I wanted to leave, just that I wanted to explore options. I forget what it’s called, but I was trying to get the release so that I could speak to schools or something like that. That’s when it went south real quick. I was kind of surprised. I didn’t know where the madness or confusion had come from, because I hadn’t asked for a transfer.

The practices went on, and next thing I know things went even more south: coach Saban is telling me I’m not able to come into the facility or workout with the team if I’m going to leave.

Once that happened, things got real ugly.

And that was a week before he even thought about transferring to Georgia.  Nice.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Nick Saban Rules

Today, in mo’ (and less) money

Jere Morehead speaks truth to power.

There also is a new line-item buried within. It’s $1.8 million, which is the new federal excise tax that is being assessed on nonprofits that pay employees more than $1 million in salary. So Georgia is now being assessed a 21 percent tax rate on anything over that amount that it pays coaches. Currently that is on three individuals: Smart, basketball coach Tom Crean ($3.2 million) and football defensive coordinator Mel Tucker ($1.5 million).

The federal excise tax was part of a legislative package passed last year that also will eliminate donations to athletic departments to buy tickets.

“I understand the theory behind passing the legislation [to discourage excessive salaries] but I’m not sure in the current marketplace that it’s going to achieve its goal,” UGA President Jere Morehead said. “So far it has not.”

That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.  Jimmy Sexton ain’t got time for your silly excise tax games, Congress.  And he’ll probably laugh out loud when he hears about this feeble attempt at the state level to rein in coaching salaries.

According to an article by the Daily Bruin, California state legislators have announced a proposed amendment that would restrict the salaries of non-faculty members at schools under the University of California’s umbrella.

The proposal would cap non-faculty salaries at $200,000 per year as well as a number of other terms in it not related to coaches, and will require a vote of two-thirds in the Assembly and state senate as well as a majority vote on public ballot.

Of course, non-faculty members include football coaches, and on its face, this could have a direct impact on the California state schools that play football and their coaches including Chip Kelly at UCLA, Justin Wilcox at Cal, and Dan Hawkins at UC Davis.

Gaming this, of course, would be so easy that Nick Saban wouldn’t even break a sweat.

… when it comes to coaches, common sense leads one to think that boosters and universities would just get creative to pay their coaches what they feel they’re worth. We may see the “base salary” of coaches capped at $200,000, but there’s no limit on the creativity athletic directors and boosters could ultimately use to make up the difference.

A far less likely (but infinitely more fun) possibility is to imagine Kelly or Wilcox teaching a single Football 101 class so they could be considered “faculty.”

Might as well try to legislate our passion for sports.

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Filed under Georgia Football, It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery

1,246,201

When you play a fifteen-game season, it’s hard to avoid having kick ass attendance numbers.

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Filed under Georgia Football

Don’t cry for me, Butts-Mehre.

The Georgia Way ain’t dead yet.

UGA President Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity lauded the Georgia people for stepping up with donations to fund these projects. McGarity said the Bulldogs already have received $71 million in pledges — mostly coming from members of the relatively new Magill Society — toward the $93 million in football projects.

“There’s a strong commitment by our supporters of the football program, but winning helps,” Morehead said after the first of two days of meetings with the board. “… But keep in mind, we’ve still got to collect on all of those pledges. We need people to pay up.”

It’s not them, in other words.  It’s us.

Amazingly after the success of last season, they can still put Kirby’s needs on hold.

Of all the projects discussed Thursday, none included the expansion of Georgia’s weight room for football. In meetings all over the South since the end of Georgia’s SEC Championship football season, coach Kirby Smart has been telling donors of the Bulldogs’ facility improvement needs in that area.

McGarity acknowledged that it was on Smart’s wish list, but said UGA is taking a prioritized approach to projects.

“We have to finish the West End first,” McGarity said. “We feel good about what we’re doing. These things take time. We want to plan it the right way.”

Besides, their hands are tied.

McGarity said the athletics department needs to pay off the West end zone construction before moving on to the next project.

The reason for waiting, Morehead said, has to do with the bond-related covenants Georgia’s athletic association has entered into, which requires a certain amount of cash to be in a reserve at all times.

“We can only be so far indebted as an athletic association and meet our bond requirements,” Morehead said. “We’re always going to be prudent and thoughtful in how we do these things.”

This is what you get when you have an athletic department that’s convinced it can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.  And takes comfort in its limitations.

***************************************************************************

UPDATE:  Here’s a perfect example of fiscal prudence, Butts-Mehre style.

Eight years ago, UGA opened a renovated football facility, which went less than halfway in building an indoor practice field. It was inadequate from the start, and five years later the school was already planning to finally get a full-scale facility.

The old one, just seven years old, was destroyed to make room. Millions of dollars basically wasted.

The new indoor facility, which opened last year, has drawn raves, and deservedly so. But it was also built without expanding Georgia’s weight rooms, or a training table, or a new team meeting room, and other things that people around the program say are still needed.

Not sure why this is so hard for some of you to understand.

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Filed under Georgia Football

Politics and the art of broadcast consolidation

81Dog emailed me about this Wall Street Journal article, provocatively titled “How a weakened ESPN became consumed by politics”.  It begins with this:

John Skipper was furious.

One of his star anchors, Jemele Hill, had sent a tweet calling President Donald Trump a “white supremacist.” Mr. Trump’s supporters called for her to be fired. Prominent black athletes defended the anchor, who is African-American.

Sitting in his office last September, Mr. Skipper, then ESPN’s president, lit into Ms. Hill, according to people familiar with the meeting. If I punish you, he told her, I’d open us up to protests and come off as racist. If I do nothing, that will fuel a narrative among conservatives—and a faction within ESPN—that the network had become too liberal.

Mr. Skipper chose to spare Ms. Hill. Mr. Trump weighed in on Twitter: “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers.”

The president’s tweet was hyperbolic, but it tapped into real anxiety at ESPN. What was the way forward for a company shaken to its foundations by the cord-cutting revolution?

Ooh, Mickey’s doomed!  Is there anything Disney can do?

Before some of you snowflakes get too carried away with the narrative here, it’s worth remembering that the WSJ is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who’s not exactly anti-politics himself.  Murdoch, I doubt you need to be reminded, owns Fox.  And Fox just so happens to be a significant competitor in the sports broadcasting world to ESPN.  Let Andy Staples give you an example of that:

This all seems to suggest that broadcast networks NBC, CBS and Fox may be even more interested in college sports than they already were. Meanwhile, ESPN will continue to attempt to dominate the sport. (And games purchased by ESPN are actually being purchased by Disney, which also runs games on ABC using ESPN personnel and branding.) The Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC could use their own cable networks as leverage as well by threatening to put the best games on those networks and demanding a higher subscription fee. (The ACC, which will launch its own network next year, won’t have this option because all its rights are owned by Disney/ESPN until 2036.) If even one streaming service such as Amazon Prime or YouTube Red decided to jump into the fray, the bidding could be frenzied. Dean Jordan, who has helped the ACC launch its channel with ESPN and who has worked with the Big Ten and College Football Playoff on media rights deals, believes the competition for rights could be fairly diverse in the next round.

I only see one entity referred to there as dominating.  As the Journal piece grudgingly admits about the WWL, “They have some enormous challenges but they have by far the best brand in sports…”  So what’s a little snotty political questioning between two rivals?

It’s even better than that.  The Murdoch empire is looking to sell a piece of Fox Sports and the front-runner for the purchase is Comcast.  However, there is another interested party.  Who might that be?  You guessed it.

The alternative to a Comcast/Fox deal is Disney buying the Fox properties, which would also boost the size of a TV sports empire by joining Fox’s sports properties with Disney’s national sports channels. The Disney-owned ESPN and ABC have TV contracts for the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, various soccer leagues, and other sports.

ESPN and the Fox regional sports networks “together would account for 30 percent of all affiliate fees for basic cable networks and RSNs and a massive 58 percent of affiliate fees for basic cable sports networks and RSNs,” S&P Global Market Intelligence said in a recent report that Comcast pointed out to Ars.

Either way, a Fox deal would produce a bigger programming giant that could demand higher fees from cable and satellite TV providers that buy access to sports channels.

Wrinkles, wrinkles everywhere.

The only politics any of these assholes are consumed with are the ones that make them the most money.  Buy into the nonsense narratives pushed by the likes of Clay Travis if you want, but realize you’re being played.

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Filed under ESPN Is The Devil, Fox Sports Numbs My Brain, Political Wankery