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Dear ESPN, It’s Time To Grow Some Balls

“Don’t pretend like there aren’t hours of video of some of these guys bemoaning the idea that their players may one day not have to be poor. Don’t ignore the fact that some of these guys have looked into your cameras and told your reporters that NIL legislation would kill whatever sport it is they coach.”

Demetri Ravanos

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I am on vacation this week. I am not supposed to be writing or thinking about sports media, but NIL legislation took effect across the country last week and the NCAA chose to get out of the way and let players make a little money off their fame. So, here I am, sitting on the porch of a cabin in Navajo Nation, typing on my laptop as I look out at Monument Valley.

Coaches across all college sports are going to have to learn to work in this new environment. Reacting to the world around them and innovating solutions are what they are paid to do. Right now, they are all saying the right things. They may acknowledge that this will be a challenge, but they will all add that it is about time we le players make money off of their name, image and likeness.

Come the fall, ESPN will run packages every week on College GameDay noting what companies are giving money to which high profile players. The reporters will talk to coaches to get their opinions on valuable Instagram and TikTok posts. Everyone will yuk it up as Lee Corso slaps Desmond Howard on the back and asks how much he could have gotten paid for striking the Heisman pose while holding a Diet Coke can.

That is how things will go. GameDay has become the go to show for guys like Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban to say whatever they want and not receive much pushback.

ESPN, don’t let this happen. Don’t pretend like there aren’t hours of video of some of these guys bemoaning the idea that their players may one day not have to be poor. Don’t ignore the fact that some of these guys have looked into your cameras and told your reporters that NIL legislation would kill whatever sport it is they coach.

There is a veritable greatest hits of things that were said:

  • “This will create a competitive imbalance for smaller schools.”
  • “What will we do about women’s sports?”
  • “After football and basketball, who is really in line to make money?”

ESPN, grow some balls and ask the people who said these things if they still feel good about those statements, how they were received by their players, and how they feel now that NIL legislation has passed and college sports are still standing.

Let me help you out with a quick refresher of who said what.

MIKE LEACH (MISSISSIPPI STATE FOOTBALL COACH)

Mike Leach broke out a classic. “I think there will be a huge imbalance and you’ll destroy college football,” he said during a press conference in September of 2019. At the time, he was the head coach at Washington State University.

I’d love for some reporter to ask Leach when exactly he thought there was a more level playing field in the sport. When have bigger schools in richer conferences not had a leg up on everyone else?

I’d love to know why he thinks college football has continued to thrive even as coaches, say, leave a floundering PAC-12 school in the middle of nowhere for a new job making SEC money. Doesn’t that send the message to players and fans that this is all a business and any emotional investment is a waste of their time? Why hasn’t that killed the sport?

I’d love to know how Mike Leach would respond when it is pointed out that the first college football player to sign any kind of endorsement deal was not from a powerhouse program like Clemson or Alabama or Oklahoma, which are seemingly always in the top five. The first player to sign any kind of endorsement deal wasn’t a Heisman frontrunner like Spencer Rattler or Sam Howell. It was Antwan Owens, a defensive end from the historically Black Jackson State University.

SCOTT FROST (NEBRASKA FOOTBALL COACH)

Scott Frost is a walking disappointment. Each season, his ineptitude at Nebraska proves that his 13-0 season at Central Florida was more about how easy it is to win at the nation’s largest university than it was about anything he is capable of.

In 2019, Frost said “Once you start paying a football player, you have to pay every student-athlete. That’s an awfully big drain on our budget, depending on how much gets paid.”

This is a goos chance to cut ESPN a little slack. It isn’t just the World Wide Leader that doesn’t push back on this line of bullshit. Local media is just as, if not more complicit, in letting these guys spout nonsense and just nodding along. Frost was said this as the University of Nebraska was in the middle of building a $155 million football facility.

I would love for someone to ask Scott Frost how he feels about Olivia Dunn. The LSU gymnast is a social media superstar and expected to turn her more than one million Instagram followers into the single most valuable audience any college athlete has. LSU certainly gets what her brand means for the school.

The idea that big schools and major football and basketball teams would be the only ones to make any money off of NIL opportunities is an old, misguided idea. At best, Scott Frost doesn’t get how the marketing world works anymore. Social media has a much greater reach than SportsCenter. At worst (and frankly probably more likely) Frost is pretending to worry about what is fair for athletes in the Olympic sports, so that he can justify not wanting any college athlete to make money.

MARK FEW (GONZAGA MEN’S BASKETBALL COACH)

Oh buddy, did Mark Few get shrewd. What is the best thing to do when you are asked a question and you know sharing your honest opinion will alienate the people you most need on your side? You pretend to be too dumb to answer.

In a nearly 4 minute rant posted to Twitter in October of 2019, Few called NIL legislation “an incredibly complex issue. It’s like health care in America.”

Well, just like health care in America, this IS NOT a complicated issue. The people at the bottom deserve to be treated fairly. The only reason you are calling it complicated is because you are not at the bottom and treating people fairly could cut into your own personal bottom line.

The Spokesman Review outlined some of the most appealing Gonzaga athletes to potential advertisers. Do you think Mark Few is going to hold up any potential deals for these kids and let recruits weighing life as a Bulldog see that the program is lead by a guy that is going to stand in their way? Or do you think that all of the sudden, this is going to get real simple for the guy?

The college basketball version of GameDay features Jay Bilas, the lone voice in the sports media that has been a bulldog (no pun intended) from day one when it comes to how athletes are treated by the NCAA. You know what would be great television? Make Mark Few sit down with him and revisit these comments. Let someone that will actually call the guy out ask Few to explain himself.

DABO SWINNEY (CLEMSON FOOTBALL COACH)

Ah, the granddaddy of them all. Dabo Swinney wasn’t the first to say that student athletes shouldn’t be paid. He was just the loudest and most steadfast.

“We try to teach our guys, use football to create the opportunities, take advantage of the platform and the brand and the marketing you have available to you,” he said in a press scrum in 2014. “But as far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that’s where you lose me. I’ll go do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.”

Dabo Swinney, I’ll remind you, makes more than $9 million per year. He ain’t going to “do something else.”

Like a pastor at a megachurch, Li’l Ol’ Dabo just needs those that believe in his message to stay poorer than him. In fact, it’s a sin for anyone playing for him to make a dime, because getting paid what you are worth is “entitlement.” The joy of helping him put a pool in his backyard with a waterslide and the Clemson logo on the bottom is payment enough!

Moving company offers glimpse into Dabo Swinney's 15,000 sq. ft. 'castle' |  News | foxcarolina.com
Courtesy: Tiger Moving

So shouldn’t the very first College GameDay of 2021 open with a segment about how Dabo Swinney is enjoying life in retirement?

It should, but it won’t.

Dabo is a media star. ESPN is in business with the ACC. Rather than have someone ask a tough question, ESPN will send Kirk Herbstreit, who’s sons played for Swinney, to lob softballs and ignore that these words were ever said like some kind of sycophant blogger. We will have to rely on the Internet to hold Swinney accountable.

I don’t even want the guy to quit. He is good for college football. I just want to hear Dabo Swinney say “My comments in 2014 were ridiculous and tone deaf. I was wrong.”

RON HOWARD VOICE FROM THE FUTURE: Dabo Swinney won’t say that.

College athletes are the most valuable members of any school’s marketing department. The University of Alabama went through four football coaches during the four years I was in school there and enrollment stood at just over 20,000 when I graduated in 2003. Eighteen years and six national championships later, enrollment is hovering just under 40,000. The campus looks NOTHING like where I went to school. You cannot tell me that is not thanks in part to people like Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Tua Tagovailoa, and Mac Jones landing the campus on national TV every week.

Alabama still planning to fill Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall, AD says - al .com
Courtesy: Ben Flanagan/AL.com

I don’t expect any of these coaches, or any member of the media that stood loudly against college athletes ever making any kind of money to admit they were wrong. I don’t expect to see anyone go on ESPN and say, “Well, NIL is here and college sports didn’t turn into a pile of flaming rubble like I said it would.”

What I do expect is some journalism, some context to where we are now. There is nothing rude or unprofessional about not letting these guys forget what they said two, three, or seven years ago. Grow some balls. Hold some feet to the fire. That is part of the job description right now.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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