Tag Archives: SEC

SEC Network

SEC Network Revenue Projections

Great interview by The Advocate with Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president for college networks, on SEC Network. Here are some quick facts from that article and what we know about SEC Network already:

SEC Network

  • SportsBusiness Journal‘s projections have subscriber fees at $1.30 per month/per subscriber in the 11-state SEC footprint, and $0.25 per month/per subscriber outside of the SEC footprint.
  • There are 30 million estimated subscribers within the SEC footprint, which could generate $468 million in revenue annually with a $1.30 subscriber fee. Factor in advertising revenue, and revenue from subscribers outside of the SEC footprint, and you’re looking at the possibility of $500 million annually if the network reaches full distribution according to The Advocate. The article from The Advocate goes on to say that breaks down to $35.7 million annually for each of the SEC’s 14 schools, however, my followers on Twitter like @TxAgLawGuy, @carnot3 and @JayAU92 correctly pointed out that doesn’t include ESPN’s cut (which hasn’t been made public) or the fact that the SEC office splits revenue 15 ways to give itself a cut for operating expenses.
  • Programming: in the first full year, more than 1,000 live events will be available on SEC Network, including 450 live games on television (and an additional 550 distributed digitally). Live games will include “approximately 45 football games, more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games and events from across all 21 SEC-sponsored sports.”
  • Commissioner Mike Slive on SEC spring meetings this week: “I think it’s unrealistic to think we’ll have full distribution at the time when we launch in August.” Keep in mind Big Ten Network launched to 17-18 million households initially. After Appalachian State beat No.5-ranked Michigan, Dish Network signed on to get the network to 30 million households. However, Big Ten Network remained in a stalemate with Comcast and Time Warner through most of its first season. It took two years for Big Ten Network to have full distribution in its footprint. Pac-12 Networks launched to 48 million homes thanks to deals with Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and BrightHouse. Eventually, AT&T U-verse and Dish Network, but it still hasn’t reached a deal with DirecTV.
  • All 14 SEC teams will have a game on SEC Network in the first four weeks of the 2014 football season.
  • Currently, SEC Network has distribution deals with AT&T U-verse, DISH, Google Fiber and NRTC. That covers about 25 percent of subscribers in the SEC’s footprint.
  • Launch date: August 14, 2014. First football games: August 28 (Texas A&M at South Carolina and Temple at Vanderbilt).

SEC Network to feature all 14 teams in first four weeks

The SEC today released a preliminary schedule for SEC Network’s first four weeks of games:

2014 SEC College Football Schedule (subject to change):

Date Time (ET) Game
Thu, Aug. 28 6 p.m. Texas A&M at South Carolina
  9:15 p.m. Temple at Vanderbilt
Sat, Aug. 30 Noon Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky
  4 p.m. Arkansas at Auburn
  7:30 p.m. Southern Mississippi at Mississippi State
Sun, Aug. 31 7 p.m. Utah State at Tennessee
Sat, Sept. 6 Noon Florida Atlantic at Alabama
  Noon Arkansas State at Tennessee
  4 p.m. Eastern Michigan at Florida
  4 p.m. Nicholls State at Arkansas
  7:30 p.m. Sam Houston State at LSU
  7:30 p.m. Lamar at Texas A&M
Sat, Sept. 13 Noon UCF at Missouri
  4 p.m. Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss
  7:30 p.m. Kentucky at Florida
Sat, Sept. 20 Noon Troy at Georgia
  4 p.m. TBD
  7:30 p.m. TBD

Every team in the SEC will play on the SEC Network at least once in the first four weeks. That won’t go unnoticed by fans or cable and satellite companies. As we get deeper in to the season, expect to start seeing marquee conference games show up on the schedule…likely in areas where a major provider hasn’t picked up SEC Network (if any of them are dumb enough to try and wait it out).

Notre Dame and Tennessee Both Leave Adidas – Coincidence?

Notre Dame left Adidas for Under Armour when its contract ended last month. Ok, fine. It’s not completely unheard of for a college to change apparel companies, although it doesn’t happen that often.

Now Tennessee has announced its leaving Adidas for Nike.

Coincidence?

I don’t know, but it does raise my antenna.

What I do know is that last April I wrote a piece for ESPN about schools that were terminating or suspending their contracts with Adidas over a workers’ rights issue in Indonesia. The issue largely flew under the radar as only university and local papers covered each school independently. All together, however, I found at least 17 schools had terminated or suspended their contract with Adidas.

Neither Notre Dame or Tennessee made public any sort of disappointment or disagreement with Adidas surrounding the workers’ rights issue. Michigan and Wisconsin led the charge against Adidas, with the latter going so far as to file a lawsuit against the apparel giant.

In April, Adidas did settle with the workers in Indonesia. Although it went largely unnoticed by the national media, I believe the pressure applied by major universities like Michigan and Wisconsin played a pivotal role.

I also believe it’s not a coincidence that Notre Dame and Tennessee are both leaving Adidas. Something is going on there – either Adidas has decided not to make college athletics an emphasis  or Notre Dame and Tennessee didn’t like something about the way Adidas was doing business.

Notre Dame is the #3 selling institution in the country for Collegiate Licensing Company, and Tennessee is #15. If Adidas wanted to remain in the collegiate athletics space, why wouldn’t it match or exceed any offer made by Under Armour or Nike?

Sure, Adidas would have to increase Michigan’s contract, as it has this clause requiring it to be Adidas’ highest-paying collegiate apparel contract:

“If during the Term, adidas grants to or contracts with any college or university … that provides for more favorable average annual value … than the current University (of Michigan) average annual value specified in this Agreement … then adidas agrees to make a written offer to grant to the University that same more favorable average annual value on the same terms and conditions that were offered to the other college or university within thirty (30) days of the execution of such other agreement.”

I find it hard to believe that’s the issue here. Michigan currently receives $3.8 million annually in cash payments and $4.4 million in equipment and apparel. Notre Dame’s new deal is reportedly $90 million over 10 years, or $9 million annually in cash and equipment/apparel. If Adidas wanted to stay in the college space, do you really think they wouldn’t bump up Michigan’s $8.2 million annual value in order to keep a major property like Notre Dame?

Tennessee’s new deal with Nike appears to be worth far less than Michigan’s deal (at a reported $34.6 million over 8 years), so Adidas could have matched or exceeded without issue.

It is possible the only story here is that Under Armour will allow Notre Dame the option to take some of its cash in the contract as Under Armour stock instead. It would be great timing for Notre Dame, as Under Armour’s stock hit an all-time high this week, rising 23 percent after releasing its better-than-expected fourth quarter earnings report.

And maybe Tennessee was just ready for a change. I don’t have any answers, but I do still have a lot of questions….

What do you think? Coincidence or not?

 

BCS Conference Games See an Increase in Attendance

SportsBusiness Daily is reporting that each BCS Conference that holds a conference championship game saw an increase in attendance this year as compared to last year.

The following chart shows how much attendance increased (or decreased) this year as compared to the last two years:

Conference % Change from 2011-2012 % Change from 2012-2013 Absolute Change from ’12-’13
SEC 1.49% 0.01% 8
ACC -12.08% 4.50% 2916
Big Ten -35.68% 59.97% 24,742
Pac-12 -46.74% 119.89% 37,913

 

Florida Freezes Booster Fees

Gators student sectionFlorida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley and Gator Boosters Executive Director Phil Pharr recently sent a letter to Gator boosters about 2014 season tickets.

“Over the summer, we conducted an extensive, randomized survey of current and former season ticket-holders, as well as met with focus groups throughout the state. Many of you have expressed concern that Gator Boosters and the UAA have not been in tune to the issues facing our loyal fan base, and we have heard you. Based on this feedback, we began developing a plan this fall to address those concerns. Now, before we mail 2014 Gator football season ticket information in December, we want to make you aware of those major changes that we are implementing for our Gator Booster membership.”

The major news here is that there will be no increases in booster contribution levels for at least three years. In addition, payment plans can now be extended from four payments to six.

Desperate move by an athletic department with a 4-4 football team or proactive business move that will shore up the future?

I think it’s the latter. A great misconception about college athletics is that television money is the largest source of revenue for an athletic department. Wrong. It’s contributions.

Last fiscal year, Florida reported $46.1 million in contributions to the athletic department. That’s more than twice the $22.2 million Florida earned from its conference distribution, which included revenue from conference television deals, bowl earnings, March Madness payouts and more.

Based on contributions alone, Florida ranked second among public FBS schools to Texas A&M, which reported $53.4 million. However, due to the accounting differences from school to school, a better comparison is the revenue reported by schools for both ticket sales and contributions. Florida ($69.7 million) comes in fourth behind Texas ($100 million), Texas A&M ($88.4 million) and Michigan ($80.9 million) under that comparison.

To understand the importance of contributions linked to season tickets for football and basketball, consider that 82 percent, or $37.7 million, of Florida’s contributions last fiscal year were attributed to football and basketball.

In addition to freezing prices for boosters, Florida is also making other changes to encourage donors to remain loyal. First, some of the ways in which “Loyalty Points” are accrued are being modified. Instead of five priority points for each consecutive year of having football or basketball season tickets, season ticket holders can now earn 10 points for each consecutive year in each sport. In addition, the Gators are retroactively awarding “Loyalty Milestone Bonus Points” for each decade a booster has football or basketball season tickets.

Booster Loyalty Points will be increased for each consecutive year of having season tickets. Currently, a booster receives five priority points for each consecutive year of having football season tickets and five priority points for each consecutive year of having basketball season tickets. Effective for the 2014 football season and the 2014-15 basketball season, the UAA will increase Loyalty Points for each consecutive year to 10.

Looking to let your tickets go? There will be a three-month window from January 2014 to March 2014 where boosters can transfer their tickets to anyone, even if they’re not family (which is the current rule). Also, the cost of transferring tickets has been decreased.

Hold on to your tickets, however, and you will be awarded opportunities to attend a football practice in 2014 that is not open to the general public.

University-of-Alabama

Why Women’s College Basketball Operates At A Deficit

University-of-AlabamaAlabama Women’s Basketball has announced a new booster club: the Crimson Tide Center Court. A quick look at Alabama women’s basketball’s financials seemingly underscores the need for such a booster club. For fiscal year 2012, the program reported no donations. Ticket sales, conference distributions, licensing, sports camps and other revenues totaled $493,743 for the program, but that wasn’t even enough to cover the $529,072 the athletic department had to send to the university to cover the tuition, room and board of the women’s basketball student athletes, forget paying coaching salaries, travel, equipment, game day and other expenses. At the end of the day, Alabama women’s basketball operated at a deficit of $2.4 million.

Alabama’s situation is not unlike most women’s basketball programs in the country. Although Alabama’s basketball program went 13-18 last season, even the most successful teams on the court struggle with donor support. UConn women’s basketball reported $389,033 in contributions on its financial disclosures. Although higher than UConn men’s basketball ($218,324), it paled in comparison to football’s $2.7 million in donations. Like Alabama, women’s basketball at UConn finished the year at a deficit: $1.3 million.

Louisville, who’s women’s basketball program played for the title against UConn last season, reported women’s basketball donations at $193,074. Nowhere close to the $20.4 million the men’s basketball program brought in – although, it should be noted that no basketball program in the country, men’s or women’s, comes close to Louisville men’s basketball in that department. Louisville women’s basketball joined Alabama and UConn in finishing the year at a financial deficit of $2.3 million.

Football and men’s basketball donations are bolstered by donations required for the right to purchase season tickets, which can be a lofty sum when tickets are in demand. In fact, as I detail in my book Saturday Millionaires, donations to the top football and basketball programs can sometimes be twice as much as television revenue, mistakenly believed by many to be the largest source of revenue for athletic departments.

Women’s basketball, along with every other sport a school sponsors, simply doesn’t have that revenue source. As you can see below, donations to women’s basketball in the SEC are either non-existent or extremely low compared to donations to men’s basketball and football.

University Contributions to Women’s Basketball Contributions to Men’s Basketball Contributions to Football
Alabama $0 $645,136 $18,679,937
Arkansas $0 $3,660,681 $17,370,567
Auburn $237,692 $2,046,352 $27,051,405
Florida $0 $1,791,862 $35,871,054
Georgia $26,386 $721,265 $26,944,091
Kentucky $0 $0 $0 *
Louisiana State $168,856 $2,815,161 $22,376,287
Mississippi $153,821 $1,144,588 $3,105,908
Mississippi State $6,010 $30,175 $0 **
Missouri $31,848 $885,080 $1,293,282
South Carolina $0 $184,544 $9,746,213
Tennessee $2,070,124 $1,235,289 $12,499,404
Texas A&M $39,127 $1,284,743 $8,303,578
Vanderbilt ***

Source: NCAA financial disclosures filed by each university

* Kentucky does not break down contributions by sport on its report

** I’ve asked Mississippi State about this in the past, and they don’t move money over from their booster club for football unless they need the additional revenue

*** Vanderbilt is not subject to open records requests because it is a private university

A couple of caveats on the chart above. First, the amount shown for football donations isn’t necessarily all of the money donated for football in a year, it’s simply the amount the athletic department accepted for the year. Let me explain. Most athletic departments receive donations through a fund-raising entity. If a donation was earmarked for football, but taking in that revenue and spending it on the football program would throw financials out of whack for Title IX purposes, the fund-raising entity will put that money aside for the future.

Here’s an explanation straight from my book, Saturday Millionaires:

The Office of Civil Rights has previously offered this interpretation with regards to boosters or other donors who donate funds for specified sports: “a school cannot use earmarked funds as an economic justification for discrimination.”

In other words, the school can honor the sport-specific designation for such donated funds, but it still must comply with the proportionality requirement. It cannot dedicate those funds to football, throwing the proportionality out of whack, and then say they had to do so because the funds were earmarked. The excess funds that cannot be applied simply have to be put aside for the future, or they can be applied and revenue from other sources can be moved out of football in order to maintain compliance.

Bottom line: just because it looks like your school is receiving the most donations for football from the chart above doesn’t mean it’s true.

As you can clearly see, however, women’s basketball is a long way from raking in the kind of money men’s basketball and football can generate from donations. Will booster clubs geared specifically toward women’s basketball, like the Crimson Tide Center Court club change that? It’s unlikely, but they can certainly help generate some excitement for the program and bring fans together with the team. In the end, I would imagine that’s Alabama’s goal, especially given that Alabama women’s basketball is getting a new coach this year. A coach who will make a reported $400,000 a year – 81% of the program’s total revenue.

If you have more interest in the Crimson Tide Center Court, here are some additional details… Continue reading

Battle at Bristol 3

Battle at Bristol: The Biggest College Football Game Ever

Battle at Bristol 3
A rendering of what Bristol Motor Speedway will look like transformed for the Battle at Bristol

On September 10, 2016, Bristol Motor Speedway will attempt to stage the “Biggest College Football Game Ever” as it hosts the Virginia Tech Hokies and the University of Tennessee Volunteers.

Transformed into a college football stadium, Bristol Motor Speedway will be capable of seating approximately 150,000 fans. If the speedway was filled to capacity, it would eclipse the previous two largest-attended college football games: 120,000 fans at Notre Dame vs. Southern California at Soldier Field in 1927 and 115,109 fans at Michigan vs. Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium this season.

It would take the average crowd for both Tennessee and Virginia Tech home games combined to hit the 150,000 mark. Last season, Tennessee ranked #8 in attendance amongst FBS schools with an average attendance of 89,965, and Virginia Tech ranked 25th with an average of 65,632.

“To be able to play in front of a crowd that is the largest to ever see a college football game is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech head coach. “With the great fan support that Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee have, it should be a great atmosphere.”

Tennessee is equally as optimistic about the potential to make this, “The Biggest College Football Game Ever.”

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for our football program to play in front of the largest crowd in the history of college football,” said Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics for University of Tennessee, Dave Hart. “Bristol Motor Speedway will be perhaps the most unique venue to ever host a college football game. Tennessee students, faculty, alumni, and fans will look forward to being a part of this great event.”

The evolution from speedway to college football stadium will need to take place over a short period of time, because Bristol will host a NASCAR race the August preceding the Battle at Bristol. Here are some key facts about the transformation provided by Bristol Motor Speedway:

  • Immediately following the August 2016 NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, approximately 400 workers will immediately begin bulk cleaning, and then detailing, the Speedway
  • Next an estimated 10-12 crews will begin pressure washing – a process that is normally done in February prior to the March NASCAR weekend
  • Separate crews will clean all suites in seven days – a process that normally takes four-to-six weeks
  • Turf and field build will be completed in eight days
  • Approximately 8,500 tons of rock will be used to build the base of the field
  • The rock will be brought in by approximately 400 truckloads. The complete haul-in process will take three, 10-12 hour days
  • The base rock will be 3’-6” deep in the middle of the infield tapering to 1-1/2’ on sidelines to create the proper sloping effect for drainage

You can find more details about the event and sign up for ticket and event information at BattleatBristol.com.

UPDATE: The Richmond Times-Dispatch is reporting each team will receive $4 million as long as they sell at least 40,000 tickets, with escalators that could raise that amount to $4.5 million.

 

Kristi A. Dosh is an attorney and founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com. Her latest book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires, is available now. Visit SaturdayMillionaires.com for retailers and a sneak peak at the first chapter! Follow her on Twitter: @SportsBizMiss.

College Football Super-Division, Penn State and O’Bannon

I wanted to provide some brief thoughts on several hot topics in college sports today, so here we go:

College Football Super-Division

Back in February, I provided some analysis and predictions about the future of the NCAA.  Specifically I discussed the idea of four BCS super- conferences, the possible separation of those schools from the NCAA, and the possible creation of a new football division for the BCS schools.  The jury is still out on super-conferences (though things have stabilized for now with all but the SEC schools granting their television rights to their conferences), and defecting from the NCAA still doesn’t seem to have much momentum.  However the idea of a new football division is picking up steam.

The BCS schools, through the voice of their conference commissioners, are saying enough.  Their aggravated tone and sense of urgency leaps off the page.  No longer will they allow the simple majority of the “have-nots” to out vote them at every turn, on every initiative, and on anything they can’t or don’t want to pay for (stipends anyone?).  A fourth division is coming to an NCAA school near you, and it could be sooner rather than later.  Even the college athletics watchdog Knight Commission came out over the summer with a recommendation that the division be considered.

What does a fourth division mean?  Well, it depends.  Most importantly in my view, it restores some sanity to all Division I football programs and athletic departments.  The idea that schools in the Sun Belt or MAC are on playing the same game as those in the SEC or Pac-12 is ridiculous.  What’s worse, pressuring those schools, administrators, donors/alumni, coaches and athletes to compete with BCS level schools both on the field and in the financial arms race is unrealistic and harmful.

Penn State

The NCAA did something right this week by granting back some of Penn State’s scholarships taken away in the wake of the Sandusky debacle.  It simply had no business wading into criminal matters that it does not legislate; and while this certainly doesn’t make what it did to Penn State right, it provides hope there is at least some clear thinking going on today in Indianapolis.

O’Bannon

As I’m writing this post, news is breaking that the O’Bannon plaintiffs have settled their dispute with two of the three defendants in the case, EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC).  It appears EA Sports will no longer produce its college football game, though the terms of the settlement were not yet disclosed.  This of course still leaves the NCAA as the lone defendant, and the case against it will presumably continue.

Those of you who have been following the Ed O’Bannon case probably know we’ve been waiting for the big ruling regarding whether or not the plaintiffs will be certified as a class (dramatically upping the stakes).  The hearing on this issue occurred in June, and since then we’ve seen several procedural tactics but nothing too critical to the ultimate outcome of the case.

This week we’ve also seen the NCAA beef up its legal team, as well comment they are prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court.  This isn’t too surprising at this point in the proceedings; and it will be interesting to see if the tough talk continues if/when the plaintiffs are certified as a class.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielHare and at collegesportsbriefs.com.

SEC Network: It’s Official

They did it again! The Southeastern Conference proved once more that they are the conference to beat with the announcement of the SEC Network. As many know the new network had been silently in the works for a while, and as SEC Commissioner Mike Slive put it today, “Goodbye Project X, and hello SEC Network.” Slive was joined by President of ESPN, John Skipper, to announce that come August 2014 the new network will make its grand debut.

SEC partnered with ESPN for a 20-year agreement extending through 2034, the longest agreement in sports. “The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top quality SEC content presented across the television network and its accompanying digital platforms,” Slive said.

“We will increase the exposure for all 14 of our institutions, and we will showcase the incredible student-athletes in our league.”

The new multiplatform network will air SEC content 24 hours a day and seven days a week, including over 1,000 live events its first year, 450 televised and 550 shown digitally. It will also show 45 live SEC football games annually (including three per week) and more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games and other events from the league’s 21 sports. Not just that, but programming will also consist of studio shows, original content such as SEC Storied, spring football games, signing day and pro days coverage.

The SEC is following in the footsteps of other conferences with networks such as the Big 10 and Pac-12 but is doing it with a little more finesse. What makes this deal so unique from the others (besides ESPN’s name being attached) is that the league partnered with its primary rights holder, ultimately allowing more movement through the distributors. “This is not a regional network,” Skipper said. “This is a national network.”

“We’re confident this is a new and unique opportunity, nothing like this has been done before,” Skipper said. “[T]he level of distribution we’ll have at the beginning, the quality of the production, the amount of the games that we’ll have, the sort of integration with digital platforms, is taking this to a whole new level”

AT&T U-Verse, the fastest growing television provider in the U.S., has been secured as the networks first national distributor.

CBS will continue to have the first pick of SEC games each week, but will no longer have an exclusive window at 3:30 p.m. as it has in past years. After CBS chooses its game, the decision on what will air on SEC Network versus other ESPN platforms will be made by a “content board.”

Slive declined to answer any questions on the financial details when asked about specifics of ownership percentages but did say, “both ESPN and SEC are happy.”

ESPN affiliate sales and marketing will oversee the network’s day-to-day operations. The network will originate from ESPN’s Charlotte, N.C., offices with additional staff located at the company’s Bristol, Connecticut headquarters.  Staff announcements and additional details will be made in the coming months.

Follow Mackenzie on Twitter @KenzieThirkill

Auburn Justice: The Serious Issue Facing Former Auburn Football Player Mike McNeil

Selena Roberts’ serious allegations against the Auburn athletics department earlier this week caused an uproar among members of the media and college football fans. If true, the story’s accusations of rampant drug use by football players, coaches handing players money under the table and academic officials changing football players’ grades to ensure their eligibility, are enough to turn Auburn athletics on its head. Tucked away in the story, though, is an issue more pressing and with greater possible harm than any NCAA sanction can impose. It is one that may cost former Auburn football player, Mike McNeil, his freedom.

McNeil is currently facing trial on two felony counts of first-degree robbery. The charges stem from allegations that four former Auburn football players robbed a home while armed. While building allegations of Auburn’s alleged athletic improprieties to a crescendo, Roberts quickly slipped a fact into her story that a trained legal eye would not let go unnoticed. Eight paragraphs into Roberts’ Auburn expose, was the following quote,

“To show you how innocent he is, Mike is willing to go to trial because he says he didn’t do it,” says Ben Hand, who recently was dismissed as McNeil’s attorney after the family formally complained that he had a conflict of interest. “Mike McNeil didn’t rob anyone.”

As it turns out, McNeil’s attorney previously represented a man who lived in the house that McNeil allegedly robbed. In the legal world, this is called a “conflict of interest.” And in the legal world, a conflict of interest is a reason for which a criminal defendant can appeal the outcome of his case, should he be convicted.

Roberts’ assertion in her article that Hand was dismissed as McNeil’s attorney is incorrect. That is because today, the Auburn educated judge hearing McNeil’s case ruled that Hand could not withdraw as counsel for McNeil’s case. Rather, McNeil’s case will proceed to trial next Monday.

At that trial, McNeil faces three options when it comes to legal representation. The first, is to be represented by a lawyer who once represented someone whose home McNeil allegedly robbed. The second is for McNeil, without a college degree, to represent himself in a felony case in which he faces 21 years to life in prison. The third option, is for McNeil to hire a new attorney who will assist his conflicted attorney. That attorney will have 72 hours to prepare for a trial that took the prosecution nearly two years to bring to fruition.

Arguably, there is not an attractive choice present in this bunch. As depicted above, Hand has maintained McNeil’s innocence to the media and will likely advocate zealously for him. Additionally, the presiding judge in McNeil’s case, in ruling that Hand cannot withdraw from the case, determined that the prosecution will only proceed to trial against McNeil on two charges, as opposed to the seven charges he was originally facing. This was based upon the judge’s finding that conflicts existed between Hand and those charges, but were not present in the two charges McNeil continues to face. Regardless of these facts, questions likely persist in McNeil’s mind as to whether his attorney bears any biases towards him and if he will receive a fair shot at justice.

As the time on the clock dwindles down to McNeil’s trial date, a review of 11th Circuit (the circuit in which Alabama is located) and Supreme Court case law is necessary. One basis upon which a defendant can appeal his conviction is for ineffective assistance of counsel. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a criminal defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel is violated where a defendant’s attorney has an actual conflict of interest that affects the defendant adversely. Something is an actual conflict of interest when a lawyer has inconsistent interests. 11th circuit case law says that a conflict of interest exists when a defendant can point to specific instances in the record to suggest an actual conflict or impairment of interest. Specific instances could include an attorney choosing to elicit or failing to elicit evidence helpful to one client but harmful to another.

The question here, then, is does Hand have inconsistent interests when it comes to representing McNeil? While Hand represented a resident of the home McNeil allegedly robbed, that representation came on an unrelated matter that occurred prior to the alleged robbery. Given the differential between the matters and the time that has passed sense, does an actual conflict exist?

If an actual conflict of interest existed, case law also requires that the conflict adversely affected the counsel’s performance in order to successfully appeal on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. A defendant must show three things to prove an adverse effect: 1. That the defense attorney could have pursued a plausible alternative strategy, 2. that the alternative strategy was reasonable and 3. that the alternative strategy was not followed because it conflicted with the attorney’s external loyalties.

At this stage, only McNeil and Hand know what alternative strategies exist, if any. And at this stage, it is likely that they are the only two people who know why one defense strategy was chosen over another.

Should McNeil be convicted and wish to appeal his case, the real question that may persist is whether he waived his right to conflict-free counsel. A defendant waives his right to conflict-free counsel when he chooses to proceed to trial with an attorney who has an adverse conflict of interest. Arguably, this decision could bar an appeal on this issue, as the Supreme Court case of Johnson v. Zerbst found that a “waiver of the right to conflict-free counsel ‘disposes of the need to evaluate the actual or potential ineffectiveness of counsel caused by the alleged conflicts of interests.’” To demonstrate a waiver, it must be shown that the defendant was aware of the conflict, recognized it could impact his defense and knew of his right to obtain other counsel. Notably, today, the presiding judge in McNeil’s case advised him of his right to proceed to trial without an attorney or with a new attorney to assist Hand. It is to be seen what decision McNeil makes.

Many unknowns face Mike McNeil at this moment. The decisions facing McNeil as his trial approaches are lofty. Truth be told, they are likely as big as the choice he made to commit to playing football at Auburn University.

Follow Alicia Jessop on Twitter @RulingSports.