Hiring Freezes and Revisionist Narratives

A nice take by Adam Zagoria on the effects of the pandemic on the college basketball coaching carousel.

In short, the COVID-19 situation has effectively frozen hiring/firing big time coaches at big time programs.

My question: assuming the 20-21 NCAABB season happens, how will programs evaluate the performance of coaches who (presumably) weren’t supposed to be in their jobs? Will the pandemic be the scapegoat for another bad season? Will school’s pretend to have had coach’s backs if they course-correct and have a good year? And, if the season happens, but it is ‘weird’ (played without fans, on a different schedule, etc.), will certain coaches/programs thrive under the new constraints?

An Endorsement: Sunderland ‘Til I Die

The second season of this Netflix docu-series was released recently and it remains a winner.  Following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of one of England’s most beloved soccer clubs, the show is both enlightening and entertaining.  Documentaries are inevitably less ‘real’ than they present themselves to be, but the show deserves credit for the relative amount of candor and transparency on offer from club officials.  I especially recommend this to American viewers who are curious about the mechanics of the professional league structures in other countries (promotion/relegation, transfer windows, loans, etc.).  Toward that end, it’s a must watch for sport management students with an eye on professional front office jobs, as it does a great job showing the range of inputs and constraints that executives must navigate at this level.

Here’s the trailer for the first season:

Post-Pandemic Predictions: NCAA and NIL?

Before COVID-19 upended life as we know it, student-athletes’ right to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) were the hot button policy issue in the college sports world.  The US congress even got involved.

Things have obviously changed.  With NCAA-wide revenue loss estimates upwards of $500 million for this spring alone–and over $4 billion for the Power 5 alone if the football season is cancelled– many institutions are simply trying to survive the fallout.  Athletic departments will shrink and teams will be cut (this has already begun).  With fall football in jeopardy, some athletic departments may be forced shutter permanently. 

In the shifting landscape, I expect that we’ll see a change in the rhetoric and tone surrounding the question of NIL.  Athletic departments and conferences that were previously vehemently opposed to extending these rights may now find them to be a valuable recruiting and cost cutting tool: without the budget to offer lavish perks to the best athletes, might they be better served to simply support them in the pursuit of their own opportunities?  Student-athlete’s personal brands have long indirectly benefited schools, so this seems like the opportune time to move forward in a way that benefits the athlete and institution alike. Credit goes to Nebraska football coach Scott Frost, who-as far as I know- was the first big name to embrace NIL in the contentious pre-COVID moment.  I expect that many will follow Frost’s lead as the new landscape emerges.

It will also be interesting to see how schools and the NCAA look to generate revenue, possibly including an expansion of the college football playoff.


Gone, but not forgotten.

After suspending its operations over the weekend, it was no surprise that the upstart XFL filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 13th, with some $14 million in outstanding debts.  This is, of course, the second time that the league has come and gone rather quickly: the original XFL failed to gain much traction some two decades ago, folding after only one season.  The first iteration of the league had some embarrassing and problematic elements, but it also left its mark on the larger sports landscape, pioneering the mic’ing up of players, the skycam, and other broadcast innovations.  I’ve long felt that XFL 1.0 was ahead of its time, that had they emerged a few years later as social media was starting to take off–and abandoned some of the gaudy and crude elements–they may have been able to stick around.

Things looked much different for the league the second time around, as leadership had clearly learned from their mistakes. Compared to last year’s abrupt failure of the poorly run Alliance of American Football, the XFL was beginning to hint that there could actually be a market for a well-managed and well-funded secondary football league.  Viewership and attendance numbers were solid, surprising many observers. The league clearly tapped into Americans’ thirst for more football, even if that football was often sub-par. Anecdotally: my sport management students were certainly watching and were quick to form allegiances and opinions on the league; I was somewhat shocked during a February vacation in Mexico when I encountered several folks who were hoping that they’d be able to catch XFL broadcasts at the resort we were staying at.  With instant access to players on the sidelines and mic’d up play calls, the league pushed the broadcast envelope once again, and I’ll be curious to see how other professional leagues adapt and adopt these innovations. Of course, not everything was great. The visual aesthetics of team uniforms and merchandise were weak and uninspired. An early promise to integrate gambling elements into broadcasts had yet to really materialize, although I expect that this angle would only have been developed more as states across the country continue to embrace the new legal landscape of sports betting.  

I’ll admit, I didn’t watch too much of the action, but I’m sorry to see the league go.  In our monolithic big-time sports landscape, I’m a fan of any attempts at disruption. As the economic fallout of COVID-19 continues, I fear that other professional sports endeavors at the margins will be forced to shutter as well.  There are, of course, far more important things at this time, but it is sad nonetheless. RIP XFL 2.0, it was fun while it lasted.