Category Archives: General

Weekly Q&A Series: Jim Abbott, Athletic Director (Oklahoma City University)

In an effort to provide aspiring sports business professionals with a deeper insight into the college athletic world, will be conducting weekly Q&A’s via email with industry professionals working in higher athletics. This week’s guest is Jim Abbott, Athletic Director at Oklahoma City University.

Connect with Jim on Linkedin.

Check out the Q&A below and let us know what you think of Jim’s advice on Twitter. — When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in college athletics? Why did you decide to pursue a career in college athletics versus maybe a career in professional sports?

Jim Abbott — I went to grad school at the University of Oklahoma and got my Masters in Sports Administration. The final part of my degree was an internship which I did with a Minor League baseball team. The internship led me to a full-time job with the team, and I worked there for four years. I applied for a job as a Development Director for Athletics at Oklahoma City University, and I’ve mostly worked in College Athletics and Administration since then. I use a lot of the skills that I learned in Minor League baseball in my current job. I enjoy working in college, particularly at a small college, because of the student-athletes. They are like my own children and I enjoy watching them grow, and learn, and ultimately moving on to impact our society. — You have a bachelor’s degree as well as a graduate degree. Is a graduate degree necessary to work in college athletics? What is the benefit of a Master’s in Sports Administration or maybe an MBA?

JA — Colleges value education. So, if you think you’d like to work in college athletics it doesn’t hurt to have a Master’s degree. Obviously, you also see Athletic Director’s these days with PHD’s. I don’t think it is necessary to have a degree in Sports Administration; an MBA is an excellent choice or several other fields of study would be fine. While education is important, the experiences that an individual has had will take them farther in their career than their education. — How much of a factor does “luck” play into career advancement? With your career, did “luck” come into play at all with how you moved up the ladder to where you are today?

JA — I’m not sure that luck plays much of a factor in career advancement.  There may be a “chance” meeting that takes place at some point that leads an individual to an opportunity. Even if you are “in the right place at the right time,” you still have to be prepared and get the job done.

I think that working in sports is a lot like playing sports. You have to build your skill set, be willing to work long hours, have a great attitude about doing seemingly mundane tasks, and approach your job every day with a passion to excel. I’ve been lucky in my career to have great mentors and role models who took the time to help me get better at what I do. Many of these folks worked at competing institutions but still took the time to share with me. I think it’s important that I do the same for others. — What do you do on a daily basis as the Athletic Director at Oklahoma City University?

JA — I manage a department with 21 sports, a staff of 30 people, 400 student-athletes, and a budget of approximately $9 million. My job is to support our coaches and students, insure that we meet the mission of the university, and plan both short term and long term goals for the department. I spend a significant amount of time raising funds/worrying about finances. — After working in college athletics for the past 20-plus years, what one or two pieces of advice would you give to young aspiring sports business professionals who are looking to pursue a career in college athletics?

JA — I meet with individuals all the time that are interested in working in athletics. The first thing that I point out to them is that we all pretty much start at the bottom. So I encourage them to meet (network) as many people as they can in the business and pick their brains. If you think you want to work in college athletics, reach out to people who already do and get a sense of what they do and how they got started.

I also encourage them to get started. Any experience that they can add to their resume will help them take the next step in their career. This is critical because there is a lot of competition for these jobs. I remind them that working in sports isn’t glamorous. People tend to watch championship games on TV and think every day is like that — it isn’t. A lot of the things that must be done to be successful in college athletics have nothing to do with the game on the field.

Follow Mark on Twitter.

Weekly Q&A Series: Hunter Lochmann, Chief Marketing Officer (University of Michigan)

In an effort to provide aspiring sports business professionals with a deeper insight into the college athletic world, will be conducting weekly Q&A’s via email with industry professionals working in higher athletics. This week’s guest is Hunter Lochmann, Chief Marketing Officer at the University of Michigan.

Connect with Hunter on Linkedin as well as Twitter.

Check out the Q&A below and let us know what you think of Hunter’s advice on Twitter. — When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in sports?

Hunter Lochmann — I caught the sports bug for two reasons: I grew up in Massachusetts during Larry Bird’s prime, and my dad worked for Converse shoes during their prime (coincidentally with Larry as an endorser). Just being exposed to that and playing all sports, I knew I wanted to be around it. — You obtained your undergraduate and graduate degree (both sports-focused). Is a graduate degree necessary to work in college athletics? Or does it just depend on the position?

HL — In my case it definitely got me on the right path to work in sports but it’s absolutely not a must. Many folks who work in sports start with different majors and different careers. However, a sports background is going to help with the all important first job/internship – getting your foot in the door. I was fortunate to have a professor/mentor in grad school (Bill Sutton) who has been very important in my career. — You worked for the New York Knicks for roughly 6 years. What motivated you to transition to collegiate athletics?

HL — I loved what I was doing at the Knicks but I was made aware of this opportunity at Michigan that was simply a dream job that included all of my previous experience plus for such a strong athletic and academic brand. Additionally, this opportunity offered me the quality of life upgrade to raise my family in a great college town. — What does a work day typically look like for you as the University of Michigan’s Chief Marketing Officer?

HL — Lots of meetings. Lots of emails. Never a dull moment and no matter what you think you have planned to do that day, you never, ever bat 1.000 due to being sidetracked for one reason or another.  That is what makes working in sports so fun and dymanic – no two days are the same. And with sports, team performances or a developing situation can make you switch gears quickly and activate entirely different marketing plans (like our basketball team’s success in the NCAAs). — Social media plays an integral role in college athletic departments communicating with their fanbase. For you personally, though, how do you utilize social media to connect with wolverine fans?

HL — I know I have Michigan fans following me (I don’t have a huge following), so obviously like to tweet about all things Michigan athletics related.  But it’s also fun to show a little humor and tweet about my family, likes and other observations. At times, it’s even a good place to set a record straight or get a message across. — For someone wishing to pursue a career in college athletics, what’s the one or two pieces of advice you’d give them?

HL — If an undergrad (or grad school), volunteer for the athletic department. There are plenty of opportunities to help. We have a terrific student internship program here and many of the best students go on to work for the athletic department or move on to other jobs within the sports industry. Additionally, study, learn, and master the digital space. It’s a skill-set that every college department needs and if they haven’t already, will be hiring for in the future. — Did you intern/work for free/volunteer during your undergraduate/graduate career? If yes, where? How valuable were those experiences for you into obtaining that first marketing job?

HL — Absolutely. I was a student manager for the Kansas football team so it was fun to see the interworkings of a football program up close (as well as in-state tuition!). At UMass, I worked for the Mullins Center (their arena) in a support role. That was also eye opening — the facility side. Again, I was lucky to have Bill Sutton as my marketing professor and mentor who has opened doors for me for my entire career.

Follow Mark on Twitter.

Weekly Q&A Series: Matt Biggers, Associate AD of External Affairs/Chief Marketing Officer (University of Colorado)

In an effort to provide aspiring sports business professionals with a deeper insight into the college athletic world, will be conducting weekly Q&A’s via email with industry professionals working in higher athletics. This week’s guest is Matt Biggers, Associate Athletic Director of External Affairs/Chief Marketing Officer at the University of Colorado.

Check out the Q&A below and let us know what you think of Matt’s advice on Twitter. — When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in sports?

Matt Biggers — This is a nerdy, but true story.  I was in 6th grade and remember watching a college football game on TV and saw that one of the players was majoring in sports management. When I heard that, I went out to the bookstore and bought a book about colleges so I could find the schools that offered that as a major. While I eventually majored in business management for undergrad so I would have a strong business background with the intention of getting my Master’s in Sports Management, from that point on I knew what I wanted to do for a career. — You obtained your undergraduate and graduate degree (Master of Sports Management). Is a graduate degree necessary to work in college athletics? Or does it just depend on the position?

MB — A graduate degree is not an absolute. I have had many people who I have hired who did not have a graduate degree. Ultimately you are looking for people who have the skills and experience, a great work ethic, and a positive attitude when you are looking for employees. My desire to get my graduate degree was I wanted to do everything I could to put me in a better position to get hired and I truly wanted to learn the subject matter. — You worked in the NBA for 17 years before joining the University of Colorado. What motivated you to transition to collegiate athletics?

MB — I loved working in the NBA and professional sports, but the opportunity to come work at such a great institution like the University of Colorado was very appealing on both professional and personal levels. I felt that this is a great time in college sports where there is a lot of change going on in its approaches to sales and marketing, and I wanted to be a part of that. Also, living here in Boulder and working with the great people here were also big factors. — What does a work day typically look like for you as the University of Colorado’s Associate AD of External Affairs/Chief Marketing Officer?

MB — Like many jobs, there is no typical day. A lot of my time is working with our staff on the various marketing and sales initiatives we have going on.  Whether that is digital assets like our website, e-mail and social, or our ticket sales staff making outbound calls, or with our marketing staff working on advertising or game presentation. We work very hard at being collaborative and on brand in everything we do which takes a lot of communication across multiple departments. The variety from day to day is one of the things I love most about this position. — Did you intern/work for free/volunteer during your undergraduate/graduate career? If yes, where? How valuable were those experiences for you into obtaining that first job?

MB — Internships and volunteering are the key to getting your foot in the door in sports. I worked in multiple capacities during school including recreation departments during undergrad, interning with the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League and at the then Citrus Bowl during grad school, to my full time internship with the Orlando Magic at the end of grad school. All of the experiences prepared me and put me in position to eventually get hired full time with the Magic, which led to being there for 12 years. There is no substitute for work experience in this industry. — For someone wishing to pursue a career in college athletics, what’s the one key piece of advice you’d give them?

MB — The biggest piece of advice is what I mentioned in the previous answer. Get internships, volunteer with athletic departments, do  whatever you can, as early as you can, to get that experience. Beyond the resume building, you will also begin to learn what types of jobs you like and don’t like, which will help in your preparation. The other piece of it is having a great attitude in all that you do. Be appreciative of all opportunities, work as hard as you can in whatever you are doing, and be the person that others can trust and count on. While that sounds simplistic, it is amazing how far that can take you.

Follow Mark on Twitter.

‘U’ of Miami, Other College Programs Expanding Engagement Strategy With Infographics

Whether it’s football, basketball, or any other college sport, box scores are pretty bland to say the least. They don’t really tell a story maybe like, let’s say, an infographic does.

For the University of Miami (Fla.) and other college athletics programs, that’s exactly where they’re headed as they expand engagement with fans, alumni, and students through informative infographics following certain games; other infographics are devoted to the entire athletic department.

According to Director of Communications, Chris Yandle, the infographics have certainly grabbed fans’ attention, so much so that now they expect them after games.

“We then started telling fans that the Canes win wasn’t “official” until we released the infographic and branded it as #InfographicU,” Yandle explained to

But the infographics aren’t really that brand new to the University. Prior to Yandle’s arrival on campus last summer, Miami utilized infographics off and on as a way to engage with its following. Before the Canes’ college basketball run this past season, Yandle consulted with Brian Bowsher, Digital Media Strategist, in order to revive the athletic department’s use of the creative feature.

“All of our inforgraphics are done in-house. Brian took elements he liked from various other infographics and I would forward him anything I liked. With our new graphic designer on staff, we have some more options of creativity that we’re really excited about moving forward,” Yandle said. 

So what makes a great infographic? Well, as Yandle stated, it first starts with a clean look. Then, throw in some heavy graphics with clip art, icons, and several photos. If it flows pretty easily and the amount of graphics is greater than text, then you’re making great headway.

As of late, Miami along with the University of Michigan, Rhode Island, and the University of Oregon are teams currently excelling in the digital space and generating attention-grabbing content.

“There is so much static being shared among social media channels so a fan’s attention span may be only 15-30 seconds. That’s not enough time to read a game recap or a box score,” Yandle said. “But, if you make it aesthetically pleasing and pretty — like an infographic — then you can tell your story graphically and reach an entirely different audience that may not read the game recap afterwards.”

With infographics, there then comes the possibility of adding another revenue stream for athletic departments, even if it is relatively minimal. If you look closely at a few of the Miami infographics, you’ll notice a GMC logo in the bottom right-hand corner.

“If your infographics are getting a tremendous amount of hits, likes, traffic, etc., then it could be beneficial for them to be sponsored,” Yandle said.

Follow Mark on Twitter for more #SportsBiz talk.

Weekly Q&A Series: Chris Yandle, Director of Communications (University of Miami Fla.)

In an effort to provide aspiring sports business professionals with a deeper insight into the college athletic world, will be conducting weekly Q&A’s via email with industry professionals working in higher athletics. This week’s guest is Chris Yandle, Director of Communications at the University of Miami Fla.

Connect with Chris on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

Check out the Q&A below and let us know what you think of Chris’ advice on Twitter. — When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in college athletics? Why did you decide to pursue a career in college athletics versus maybe a career in professional sports?

Chris Yandle — At the basis of my desire to work in college athletics, it comes down to working daily with student-athletes and being on a college campus. I love the atmosphere, game days, and helping student-athletes as they reach their goals and dreams. It’s a good feeling. I would love the opportunity to work in pro sports one day, but I think I still have a lot I want to accomplish at the college level. — You have a bachelor’s degree as well as a graduate degree. Is a graduate degree necessary to work in college athletics? What is the benefit of a Master’s in Sports Administration or maybe an MBA?

CY — I think a master’s degree is beneficial, an MBA probably more so than in sports management. Sometimes I wish I would have gotten an MBA – both college and pro sports, at its core, relies on business management and strategy. I went to graduate school because I wasn’t ready for the real world, and I always wanted to go as far as I could in my education. My next goal is to work on my PhD; I’m not sure where I will find such time to work on it, but it’s a goal in the near future.

But for those in school interested in this field, I think a master’s degree in a necessity – not just because of the education, but it gives you additional years of experience before a full-time job. — How important has networking with other sports industry professionals been for your career advancement? Do you still stay in contact with any of your mentors from early on in your career?

CY —  I think networking in this business is vitally important. My previous contacts have helped me land both of my last two positions at Baylor and Miami. Those same networking contacts reach out to me for those I know that may be interested in positions. Networking is never ending. Every day is a chance to network. Make the best of it. I still keep in contact with my mentors that were important to my early years in the profession. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. — What do you do on a daily basis as the Director of Communications for the University of Miami?

CY — I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of our Communications staff. I also handle the football media duties for the Hurricanes and our social media strategies and education. In addition to those items, I have also introduced a Strategic Communications Standards handbook for my staff, a social media strategy and a 100-day summer social media series that debuted last week on — At the University of Miami, the athletic department has recently integrated infographics into weekly communications of news and statistics pertaining to the Hurricanes. Where did that idea stem from? How has using infographics benefitted the athletic department as a whole?

CY — Graphics are eye-catching and easy to convey a thought. A picture is worth 1,000 words, right? Well, an infographic is our way to telling our fans what happened in the game. Why read a box score when you can ready a pretty graphic that tells you all you need to know? It’s another way to tell a story. I’ve been a big proponent of cutting game notes, media guides, and other archaic ideas in college media relations in an effort to tell our story in an easier, efficient, and more effective way. Infographics are the best way and the possibilities are endless. We took advantage of basketball’s meteoric success this past season. We will be moving forward with football and other sports for this upcoming season.

We have a lot of fun with them and integrate them with our social platforms. They are easy to share and we received a wealth of positive feedback. — What one or two pieces of advice would you give to young aspiring sports business professionals who are looking to pursue a career in college athletics?

CY — I will offer the same two pieces of advice I try to pass along to our interns each semester. 1) Every day is a job interview. You never know who is watching what you do every day. Take pride in that and do the job to the best of your ability. 2) Learn how to do EVERYTHING in the office. As a student, I learned how to do every sport and knew everything there was about the office operation. The more you learn, the more marketable you are when you are ready for a full-time position.

Thanks again to Chris for answering’s questions. Follow Mark on Twitter for more #SportsBiz talk.

Krossover Lends Helping Hand To College Athletics Programs

The Kobe Bryant of Bangalore, India arrived in the United States in the mid-2000s with thoughts of playing college basketball.

And for a year with the University of Pennsylvania’s Junior Varsity team, Vasu Kulkarni did just that. Yet following his senior season in 2008, Kulkarni knew he wasn’t slated for a career in the NBA.

Despite coming to the realization, Kulkarni recognized how he could continue his involvement in basketball. During his college playing days, he noticed the lengthy process college coaches went through in breaking down game film.

“Every game the team was supplied with a Powerpoint deck that would show them the numbers, what to look for, whatever their scouting report was for the next game,” Kulkarni said. “(The coaches) would spend an absurd amount of time doing that.”

“There had be to be a better of doing it,” the computer engineer major added.

The solution? An out-sourced film service named Krossover that broke down games and quickly returned findings to head coaches in basketball, lacrosse, and football. Kulkarni noticed that similar companies failed in many areas and were geared toward professional franchises along with higher tier collegiate teams. He saw a gap in the marketplace and a larger audience of lower tier Division I, II, and III teams that could be targeted.

Like some start-up business ventures, though, there was a degree of skepticism from the general public.

“The general comment was, ‘You gotta be shitting me’,” said Kulkarni.

For Kulkarni and Krossover, they first needed a guinea pig. In 2010, that team came in the form of King Phillip High School in Boston, Massachusetts, a team who hadn’t won a game in two and a half seasons. After out-sourcing services to Krossover, the high school made its way to the State semi-finals the following year. Granted, the wins weren’t necessarily solely based on utilizing Krossover’s services, but teams using the sports technology company typically average  1 to 2 more wins than the previous year.

“There is something here, that if you prepare better and smarter, use the numbers — we can’t guarantee you a state championship, but we can definitely make a dent in the way you play,” Kulkarni said.

Krossover’s been used by the likes of Cornell University and Northwestern University in addition to smaller schools like Onondaga Community College, a team that has won seven lacrosse NJCAA National Championships since 2006.

Onondaga head coach, Chuck Wilbur, first started using the sports technology a few years ago, and in that time, the video service has “simplified” things for Onondaga; the team can now gain a sense of its opponents’ tendencies along with what improvements its players can make as well.

“We are making highlight films of ourselves after games of the teaching points we need to look at as well as making highlight films of our opponents to just watch the clips we need to see,” Wilbur said. “We watch film now for 30 mins a session rather than two hours. Much easier for the players as well as the coaching staff.”


Follow Mark on Twitter.

The Story Behind Student-Athletes’ Use Of Social Media For 2013-14

The verdict is in: social media is in fact chemically addictive.

In a recent study by Harvard University, researchers concluded that the brain considers “self-disclosure” to be a rewarding experience and thus, people just can’t stay away from social media.

Just ask Texas A&M star quarterback Johnny Manziel.The 2012 Heisman winner  announced his twitter sabbatical in late March of this year. Yet, “Johnny Football” — as he’s better known in the college football world — just couldn’t resist the temptation to tweet.

“When you have 100,000 followers and you’re interacting with 1,000 or 2,000 people on a consistent basis, it’s hard to step away from that,” said Kevin DeShazo, founder of Okalahoma-based Fieldhouse Media, a social media education firm designed for student-athletes and coaches.

“It’s unreasonable for us to think that a student-athlete is not going to use it,” DeShazo added. “This is how the world is communicating now. This is how players are communicating and the platforms they’re using, for better or worse.”

For some universities, like the University of Oregon, social media education is provided in-house to student-athletes. Whether it’s for budget reasons or just the athletic department’s personal preference, education in any variety is obviously essential in reducing the number of future problems.

“We do talk to each of the teams. It is part of the training they receive from our Athletic Communications office,” said Craig Pintens, Senior Associate Athletic Director of Marketing/Public Relations at Oregon. “It’s something we also talk to our coaches about. Our coaches are pretty dialed in to monitoring their own team.”

With other schools who prefer outside consultation, DeShazo enters the picture. He travels the country and works with various universities, colleges, and conferences in discussing how social media can be utilized as an extension of not only the universities’ brand but also, student-athletes’ brand.

As he stated, it’s essentially “free marketing” for a college if the student-athletes are using social media the right way. At the same time, though, DeShazo presents the inherent risks and dangers of the ever-growing number of social media platforms.

Along with education, Fieldhouse Media also incorporates a web-based monitoring system (FieldTrack) into the services it provides. Schools have access to it 24-7, and it can be viewed on any iPhone, iPad, or Android device. For privacy purposes, the monitoring system utilized by the company only views student-athletes’ public Twitter accounts. The system looks for certain keywords, phrases, and other inappropriate language that will raise a red flag to not only Fieldhouse but also, the athletic department using the service.

Even though Fieldhouse only monitors Twitter use, student-athletes are utilizing the entire gamut of social media platforms.

Pintens is quick to point out that student-athletes are no different from the entire student population at large. The difference? Well, if a student-athlete tweets racist remarks or homophobic slurs, they get magnified on a much greater level.

According to a recent study conducted by Fieldhouse, 72% of student-athletes are utilizing Twitter while about 94% of them are on Facebook. Then, there’s Instagram, Instagram, Vine, and even to some degree, Snapchat.

“I hate snapchat. There is nothing good about it,” DeShazo said.

Instagram has recently taken off in the last year, with roughly 64% of student-athletes experimenting with the picture-sharing platform.

Even so, in 2013-14, Vine — the six-second video sharing platform — might be the next big thing.

Darren Heitner, a sports and entertainment attorney based in Miami, cites how videos have the “unique ability to go viral” and how they’re more “heavily consumed than pictures.”

“Athletes can show off their unique ability to prepare through training and workouts, provide valuable insight into their daily lives to their fans and to professional scouts, and are able to enhance what they may provide to the world through pictures on services such as Instagram,” Heitner added.

Regardless what platform student-athletes use in 2013-14, it’s clear that social media isn’t disappearing anytime soon.

“Student-athletes will continue to migrate and use twitter,” DeShazo said. “Anything media related — pictures and video — they’re loving. They are using whatever platforms allow them to share that type of data.”

GPS Tracking Technology: “The Next Big Thing” In College Athletics

Greg Gatz calls it the “next big thing coming on down the line.”

And no, the Director of Strength and Conditioning for Olympic Sports at North Carolina isn’t talking about the latest and greatest in athletic footwear.

Gatz is speaking about GPS tracking technology and specifically, Catapult Sports.

An Australian-based sports technology company, Catapult is on the forefront of cutting-edge technology that measures athlete analytics. Just seven-years-old, the company has infiltrated the American sports market but mostly with professional franchises like the New York Knicks, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Tigers.

Despite Catapult not “directly targeting the college market,” according to Media and Marketing Manager Boden Westover, the company has still managed to gain a handful of clients in the form of college athletics departments, including North Carolina.

About a year and a half ago, Tom Myslinski — the former Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at UNC and current Head Strength and Conditioning Coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars — began slowly implementing the technology into his regiment.

Once he headed South to the National Football League in 2012, Gatz picked up where Myslinski left off with the technology. This past Fall, Gatz and the University of North Carolina Athletic Department purchased just 10 units from Catapult.

“It was kind of use it when you can as much as you can,” Gatz said of the limited supply at first.

Initially, the North Carolina women’s soccer team (won the 2012-13 NCAA Championship) has been the most consistent user of the software. With head coach Anson Dorrance “all on board,” as Gatz stated, the Tar Heels could now quantify their on-field performance.

In the future, Gatz would like to have enough units to put them on athletes for daily practice sessions. According to Gatz, using the technology in the week leading up to a match or a game can help determine how much an athlete can do on match/game day.

For student-athletes to utilize the software, OptimEye tracking “bugs” are worn by players in a tight-fitted jacket, with monitors being analyzed on the sidelines by athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches; the tracking technology monitors 20 unique metrics such as acceleration speed. Additionally, it allows coaches to make decisions in real time, and it also gives them a full picture of how hard their student-athletes are working and what it’s doing to their bodies.

“The biggest value is to get that inside information on each individual athlete,” Gatz said. “You can get stuff that you wouldn’t normally see just by standing on the sidelines — the heart rates, the load production, that type of stuff during the course of a match.”

So, what is preventing more athletic departments from taking advantage of GPS tracking technology?

One word: money. Catapult charges teams, on average, $100,000 to utilize its software, according to a recent article from The purchase includes regular upgrades and analytical software.

Naturally, it makes sense then that athletics departments’ ability to fund such sports technology depends on the size of their budgets. Smaller colleges and universities just don’t have the funding. For schools like North Carolina, Florida State, Kentucky, and Oregon — who have all utilized Catapult Sports in some fashion — they are more equipped to purchase the sports technology.

Coupled with funding is also awareness; considering it’s a relatively new product in the marketplace, some colleges and universities don’t even know of the sports technology’s existence.

Yet, the third reason might be the biggest hurdle athletic departments and teams will have to overcome.

“The most difficult part of it at this point is you have coaches who have been doing their job for 20, 25 years the way — they’re old school,” Gatz said. “It’s tough to break in a new type of idea and concept like this when they’re not really sure it’s beneficial at this point.”

GPS technology might not be so commonplace now with the more recognizable sports like football and basketball. But in 10 or 15 years, those old school coaches might have to re-consider if everyone else is getting the competitive edge with GPS technology.

Student-Athlete Name & Likeness Litigation: Will it Lead to a Stronger College Athletes Union?

Documents that were recently released in connection with the filing of a motion in the NCAA student-athlete name and likeness litigation (O’Bannon v NCAA) show that one of the defendants, the Collegiate Licensing Company, has contemplated starting a college athlete’s union. The CLC aids many universities, conferences, bowl games, and the NCAA in protecting, managing, and developing their brands. As part of that process, the CLC is the trademark licensing agent for these entities.

Presumably, the idea behind starting a college athlete’s union is the opportunity to provide the same types of services to the union and its individual members: college athletes. But, what many, including the CLC, may not know is that a college athlete’s union already exists: the National Collegiate Players Association (“NCPA”).

The NCPA was founded by Ramogi Huma. Huma is a former UCLA scholarship football player. He started the NCPA after the NCAA suspended one of his teammates for accepting groceries after his scholarship money ran out at the end of the month. The NCPA claims that it has over 14,000 current and former student-athletes as members.

Huma and the NCPA have been behind some of the recent efforts to make NCAA bylaws and state legislation more student-athlete friendly. For example, the NCPA was intimately involved in the White v. NCAA litigation. This case sought to allow Division I institutions to provide athletics-based scholarships to men’s basketball and football players equal to each school’s actual cost of attendance. I was a member of the attorney team that represented the NCAA in this case and it ultimately settled with no change to the NCAA bylaws. Ironically, the NCAA now agrees with the NCPA’s stance on allowing Division I members to award athletics-based scholarships up to a school’s cost of attendance. But, much of the membership is still opposed to the rule change. I previously discussed this topic in this earlier entry.

More recently, the NCPA was successful in lobbying California to pass legislation known as the Student Athlete Bill of Rights. The legislation mandates that certain California universities continue to provide scholarships to student-athletes who suffer career ending injuries, pay health insurance premiums for low-income student-athletes, and pay for injured student-athletes medical bills (even after they are no longer attending the university). Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law last week. I previously covered some of the problems with the legislation here.

The NCPA also, among other things, successfully pressured the NCAA into increasing the amount of the NCAA death benefit and removing the cap on the amount of money a student-athlete can earn from a part-time job.

While the NCPA has had success in changing NCAA bylaws and passing state legislation, it appears the CLC envisions taking things a step further: organizing student-athletes for the purpose of licensing the use of their names and likenesses during and after their college careers (the CLC documents refer to the organization as the College Student-Athlete Players Association). For example, if a Manhattan, Kansas car dealer wanted to use Colin Klein in a TV ad, CLC would negotiate the terms of the deal. CLC would do the same for other current and former student-athletes who had offers for advertising, apparel, or other promotional opportunities.

The CLC’s potential plan has one big problem: current student-athletes are deemed ineligible the moment they accept payment from third parties based on their participation in college athletics. Once Colin Klein accepts payment from the car dealer he can no longer play football for Kansas State. And he is no longer on TV, no longer being talked about as a Heisman candidate, and no longer helping the car dealer to sell cars. The same would be true for other current student-athletes who sign on with CLC, and CLC would quickly run out of student-athlete clients.

The only chance of current success for the CLC’s potential plan would be a massive organizing campaign of FBS football and Division I men’s basketball players. These student-athletes are helping to generate nearly all of the revenue for many university athletic departments and the NCAA. If they were to strike, and if the flow of revenue stopped, it would cripple the athletic departments and the NCAA. Perhaps the NCAA would change its bylaws to allow student-athletes to profit from their names and likenesses as a result.

Would current Division I football and men’s basketball student-athletes organize en masse and refuse to play in an effort to gain the ability to license their names and likenesses? Maybe. Putting myself back into my 18-year-old mind, if a CLC representative came into the locker room and told me that my teammates and I would be able to get paid for promotional appearances if we joined the CSAPA it would be appealing. But, if he or she then told us that we would likely not be playing basketball for at least a portion of the season and that we could potentially lose our scholarships, I would have likely rejected the invitation to join. I’m sure many current student-athletes would feel the same way. Putting a free education at risk for non-guaranteed licensing payments is a big risk.

But, if the plaintiffs in the O’Bannon lawsuit are successful that risk could be eliminated. The plaintiffs in the case are currently asking the court to implement a system where money generated from the licensing of the names and likenesses of Division I football and men’s basketball players is held in trust until the student-athletes’ playing careers are over. This would be a lot of money as it includes the money the NCAA, the conferences, and the schools receive from television broadcast rights agreements.

It would be interesting to see how the NCPA and the CLC react to the implementation of this system. Would they join forces to act as student-athletes’ licensing agents or fight for supremacy? We’ll have to wait and see how the litigation progresses, so stay tuned for further developments in the case.

Banning Student-Athletes From Social Media: A Potential First Amendment Violation

With college football season underway and college basketball season quickly approaching, stories of coaches and athletics departments limiting or banning student-athletes’ social media usage will become more frequent.  Schools have taken a variety of approaches to address student-athletes’ improper use of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.  Some limit their usage during the season, arguing that such is necessary to ensure their focus upon the season at hand.  Others have implemented various usage rules and have enacted monitoring systems to enforce those rules.  Then there are those that have banned the usage of Facebook and Twitter by student-athletes altogether.

While much has been reported upon this subject, the question remains:  Do policies that outright ban the use of Twitter and Facebook violate the student-athletes’ First Amendment rights?

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution grants five rights, including the freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech is a fundamental personal right that is protected against state action under the Fourteenth Amendment.  As such, in order for a First Amendment violation to exist, a government actor must be infringing upon someone’s freedom of speech.  Therefore, this means that from a constitutional standpoint, public state universities–and not private universities–could potentially found liable for infringing upon student-athletes’ First Amendment rights.

In the realm of First Amendment law, there are several concerns related to state universities altogether banning the use of social media by student-athletes.  Arguably, banning student-athletes from using social media outright amounts to a prior restraint.  A prior restraint is government action that prevents speech before it occurs.  Preventing student-athletes from communicating on Twitter before they do so arguably amounts to a prior restraint.  Courts rarely uphold government action that amounts to a prior restraint.  In order for something amounting to a prior restraint to be upheld by a court, the government (here, the public universities banning social media use by student-athletes) must prove that a societal harm will result absent the prior restraint.  This would likely be difficult for a university to prove.  While a student-athlete’s Twitter usage may likely cause an athletics department many headaches, it is highly unlikely it will cause a societal harm.  Additionally, the school would be required to show that their limitation is narrowly drawn with reasonable and definite standards.  Cutting the student-athlete off from the two communication methods used the most by his generation arguably is not a narrowly drawn limitation.

The issue, though, is that in order for a government action to be overturned as a prior restraint, is that an injunction to the action must be promptly sought.  Thus, student-athletes who have been banned from social media usage would be required to seek an injunction to the restraint promptly.  To date, no student-athlete has challenged his school’s banning his social media usage in the courts.  Therefore, in order for student-athletes to gain ground against these bans on the First Amendment front, a student-athlete will need to seek an injunction the next time an athletics department bans social media usage.  Thereafter, the court would have to give a prompt and final determination on the validity of the restraint.  For the reasons set forth above, it is likely that a court would not allow a social media ban.

This analysis should cause some concern for athletics departments in public universities who have instituted outright bans of social media usage by their student-athletes.  If the athletics departments have banned social media usage without having in place a contract with the student-athlete waiving their right to use social media, there is a strong likelihood that their social media policy is unconstitutional.  As such, public schools seeking to ban social media usage should attempt to enter into contracts with their student-athletes whereby the student-athlete waives their right for the consideration of participating in athletics on the campus.  If the school is unable to do this, the school should not institute an outright ban of social media usage.  Rather, the school should adopt narrow social media usage policies that allow student-athletes to use the communication medium in a way that does not damage the school’s reputation.