Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Countdown to Super Bowl XLVI – Robert Kraft, a true Patriot

In the simplest terms Robert Kraft is the best owner in professional sports today. Robert Kraft doesn’t have the profile of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, or the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner or Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban but in the last decade the New England Patriots have become the example not only sports organizations should follow but most businesses might emulate if they want to enjoy the success both on and off the field the New England Patriots have experienced with Robert Kraft at the helm.

Robert Kraft announced his intention to bring New England a championship the day he bought the team in 1994. In the 17 years since, he has made good on that pledge, as the Patriots have won an unrivaled three Super Bowls, five conference championships and nine division titles.

Back in 1994, Kraft's talk of the Patriots winning championships was likely interpreted as delusions of grandeur from a man who had just invested an unprecedented amount of money to purchase a floundering franchise. In the four seasons immediately preceding Kraft's acquisition (1990-93), the Patriots compiled an NFL-worst 14-50 (.219) overall record, which included a 1-15 finish in 1990 and a 2-14 record in 1992. They were not only last in the standings; they were also last in attendance and in overall revenue.

It didn't take long for Kraft's vision to come into focus. His personal investment in the team restored the faith of Patriots fans and rejuvenated interest throughout New England. The year he bought the team, season ticket sales eclipsed 40,000 for the first time in franchise history. By the start of his first season, every game was sold out, a feat that had not been accomplished in the franchise's previous 34 seasons. The achievement ensured that local broadcast blackouts would be lifted and every Patriots game, home and away, would be televised throughout New England for the first time in team history.

That year, the Patriots won their final seven regular season games to qualify for the postseason, ending an eight year playoff drought. By his fifth anniversary as owner, the Patriots had already established themselves as perennial playoff contenders, qualifying for the postseason four times, twice as division champions. In 1996 they won the AFC Championship to represent the conference in Super Bowl XXXI against the Packers.

The transformation of the Patriots under Kraft's leadership constitutes one of the greatest long-term, worst-to first revivals in sports history. In 2005, Forbes magazine valued the Patriots franchise at one billion dollars. The Patriots were just the fourth sports franchise in history to eclipse that financial plateau. That year, Forbes also named the Patriots "The Best Team in Sports."

In their most recent NFL franchise valuation Forbes believes the Patriots are now valued at $1.40 billion, a 40 percent increase in six years.

In Kraft's first 18 seasons in the NFL (1994-2007), no other NFL team won more than the New England Patriots.

Few owners in the history of professional sports have experienced the level of success enjoyed by the Kraft family over the last decade. In that time, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls, four conference championships and a franchise-record six consecutive division titles. In 2003 and 2004, the Patriots compiled back-to-back 17-2 seasons highlighted by consecutive Super Bowl championships. The 34 total victories in a two-year span set an 85-year NFL record.

During that time, the Patriots also claimed pro football's consecutive-win records with the longest win streaks in the postseason (10), regular season (18) and with an overall 21-game win streak. Along the way, the Patriots also won 21 consecutive games at Gillette Stadium, the longest home win streak in franchise history.

Kraft's impact on the Patriots was immediate and since 1994, has played an integral role on many of the NFL's most prominent league committees. As a member of the broadcast committee, he played a principal role in negotiating the two most lucrative broadcasting contracts in the history of sports. He was also instrumental in putting together a deal that made New England- headquartered Reebok International, Ltd. the official and exclusive apparel manufacturer for the NFL, helping to create a new model for the sports license apparel industry.

Kraft began his business career with the Rand-Whitney Group, Inc. of Worcester, Mass., a company that converted paper into packaging for various industries. He later acquired the company. In 1972, he founded International Forest Products, a trader of paper commodities that now does business annually in more than 80 countries. Together, Rand-Whitney and International Forest Products comprise one of the largest privately-owned and fully integrated paper and packaging companies in the United States.

Kraft founded The Kraft Group to serve as the holding company for the family's varied business interests, which are concentrated in five specific areas: the distribution of forest products, paper and packaging manufacturing, sports and entertainment, real estate development and private equity investing.

From 2000 to 2002, The Kraft Group's real estate development team oversaw the on-time and on-budget construction of Gillette Stadium, a privately-financed $325 million state-of-the-art stadium that the Patriots and their fans are proud to call home. The financial commitment from Kraft provided a solid foundation on which to build for the first time in the franchise's nomadic history.

Moving from Foxboro Stadium into the majestic Gillette Stadium marked another worst-to-first transformation for the Krafts, who now operate New England 's premier entertainment venue. After opening Gillette Stadium, Kraft was recognized as the Sports Executive of the Year and Sports Industrialist of the Year by two national publications.

The construction of Gillette Stadium was the first project of The Kraft Group's development team. Their current project, known as Patriot Place, is a 1.3 million square foot mixed-use lifestyle center and entertainment complex. The first phase of the project was completed in 2007 and features New England's first outdoor superstore Bass Pro Shops, as well as other large retailers.

The next phase of the project included a lifestyle center that features a 14- screen Cinema de Lux movie theater, a state-of-the-art sports medicine and healthcare facility, a four-star hotel, a team pro shop and Patriots Hall of Fame as well as restaurants, retail shops and office space.

Throughout Kraft's professional career, many of his biggest risks have yielded the greatest rewards. That was true throughout his pursuit of Patriots ownership, beginning in 1985 when he first purchased an option on the land surrounding the old stadium. It was a large investment for an underdeveloped parcel of land, but proved to be an important first step in a long process toward owning the Patriots.

In 1988, he took another step by purchasing the stadium out of bankruptcy court. It was another large investment, this time to purchase an antiquated stadium that was eventually demolished. But, with a binding lease through 2001, the acquisition of the old stadium proved invaluable in his quest to own the team.

When his opportunity came in January of 1994, Kraft faced a difficult business dilemma. He had to decide between committing over $172 million of family resources to purchase the Patriots or accept a lucrative $75 million buyout offer to void the final years of the team's stadium lease and allow the team to move out of New England. On Jan. 21, 1994, Kraft passed on the buyout offer, choosing instead to make an 11th-hour bid to buy the team.

On Feb. 26, 1994, a day after Kraft earned league approval; season tickets for the 1994 season went on sale and Patriots fans showed their support for Kraft's decision in record numbers. By the end of the first business day, amidst a winter nor'easter, 5,958 season ticket orders were processed, shattering the previous single-day sales record of 979. The show of support validated Kraft's decision to buy the team and gave him the confidence to focus on another risky, long-term project: the construction of Gillette Stadium.

In 2000, Kraft took another risk when he surrendered a first-round draft choice to a division rival to acquire the services of Head Coach Bill Belichick from the New York Jets. The decision was heavily criticized at the time, but like so many of Kraft's decisions along the way, the risk was answered with great reward. Since then, the Patriots have recorded more wins and more championships than any other team in the NFL and Belichick became the first head coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four seasons.

For Kraft, a lifelong football fan, each decision represented a tremendous risk, but they were risks he was willing to take in pursuit of his goal of bringing New England a championship.

In 2001, the Patriots made their final season in Foxboro Stadium a memorable one. After a 1-3 start, the Patriots won 10 of their last 11 regular season games to claim another division title. In the final game at the 31-year-old stadium, the Patriots hosted the Oakland Raiders in a divisional playoff game under a heavy snowfall that created a heavenly ambience. The Patriots' 16-13 overtime victory over the Raiders is described by many as one of the most memorable games in NFL history. The victory propelled the Patriots through one of the greatest playoff runs in NFL history, as they advanced to score dramatic victories over two heavily favored opponents in championship games, including a 24-17 victory over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh and a 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams on the final play of Super Bowl XXXVI.

In 2002, the Kraft family enjoyed a memorable season opener when they celebrated the grand opening of Gillette Stadium with the unveiling of New England's first Super Bowl championship banner on Monday Night Football. That night, the Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-14, before the then largest home crowd in franchise history. Since the stadium’s opening, the Patriots are 36-9 at Gillette Stadium and have won 32 of their last 38 regular and postseason home games.

In 2003, the Kraft family enjoyed a historic 10th anniversary season that culminated with a second championship celebration just two seasons after winning the first title in team history. After suffering a season-opening loss, the Patriots rebounded to win 17 of their next 18 games and enjoyed a 15-game season-ending win streak. Only the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins enjoyed a longer single-season win streak.

In 2004, the Patriots became just the second team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span and the seventh club to win consecutive Super Bowl championships.

In 2006, the Patriots extended their franchise record by winning their fourth consecutive division championship, but fell short of their quest of another conference title when they relinquished their lead to the Colts in the final minute of the AFC Championship game in Indianapolis.

The 2007 season….undefeated until their stunning Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots enjoyed successful regular seasons in 2008, 2009 and 2010 but failed in the playoffs. The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, in large part because of the leadership Robert Kraft brings to the franchise. Kraft doesn’t micromanage the team; he lets Bill Belichick manage the complete day-to-day affairs of the football team. Kraft focuses his time on the business side of the Patriots and the evolution of Patriots Place – making money.

A native of Brookline , Mass. , Kraft attended local public schools before entering Columbia University on an academic scholarship. Upon graduation, he received a fellowship to attend Harvard Business School , where he earned a master's degree in business administration.

Kraft first became a fan of the Boston Patriots in their AFL days during the early 1960s. He attended games at each of the team's Boston venues: Boston University Field, Fenway Park, Boston College Alumni Stadium and Harvard Stadium. When the team moved to Foxborough in 1971, he invested in season tickets for his family. Kraft credits the memories and experiences shared with his family and other Patriots fans at Foxboro Stadium for his passionate pursuit of ownership of the franchise.

And when it comes to the image of his players an example Kraft set for the Patriots in 1996 stands as a testament to the man. Whenever a member of the Patriots is linked to off-field issues the media loves to recall how longtime Patriots owner Robert Kraft handled the Patriots selection of Christen Peter in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft.

Kraft took a stand against employing players with criminal records. In the fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft, the Patriots picked Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter, who had been arrested eight times, and convicted four times, during college for a variety of offenses, including the assault of a former Miss Nebraska and the rape of another woman. When Kraft’s wife, the late Myra Kraft alerted her husband of Peter’s past, Kraft cut the player before he was even offered a contract. "We concluded this behavior is incompatible with our organization's standards of acceptable conduct" said Kraft. While he received numerous letters of support from high school and college coaches, he was not praised by the NFL. Peter’s had a seven-year NFL career.

Robert Kraft – a championship owner going for Super Bowl number four Sunday in Indianapolis.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Countdown to Super Bowl XLVI – a look back

The first Super Bowl held in January 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum didn’t sell out. Tickets for the game were priced at $5 and $10 each. Super Bowl XLVI is set for Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Field Sunday. The face value for tickets -- $1,000. Most of the 75,000 who will consider themselves blessed to be at the game will be paying more than $2,000 for the “privilege” of seeing the New England Patriots meet the New York Giants. More than 100 million people will watch the game on NBC, making it the most watched television program of the year. The evolution of the Super Bowl, like the NFL, what billion dollar dreams are made of.

Born in 1960 the American Football League proved to be much more of a competitive league than National Football League owners imagined forcing a merger, at the start of the 1970 season. The two leagues agreed to hold a championship game between the two leagues after the 1966, 1967 and 1968 seasons. The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl I and II.

On his flight from Los Angeles to New York City the day after Super Bowl I, the late NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle turned to his cohorts, suggested in no uncertain terms Super Bowl I would be the last Super Bowl that would not be sold out.

Super Bowl II and III were held at Miami’s Orange Bowl (which hosted five Super Bowl games). Working closely with the automotive industry the NFL created a series of sweepstakes opportunities. The sales driven incentives offered local dealerships a chance to “win a week in Miami”, get a little golfing in and see a football game. Those sweepstakes opportunities became the hallmark of the Super Bowl’s success. The NFL offered Super Bowl ticket packages to their sponsors, including those packages in the NFL advertising packages companies purchased from the NFL.

Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers dominated Super Bowl I and II. With the NFL, AFL merger still off in the distance the Baltimore Colts were a 21 point favorite over New York Jets at Super Bowl III. Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed the Jets would win the game, and backed up that guarantee leading the Jets to a stunning 16-7 win over the Colts. The first famous Super Bowl commercial was for Noxzema; Namath was a part of their 1973 Super Bowl commercial.

A year later in the final NFL-AFL Championship game the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs defeated the NFL's Minnesota Vikings 23–7 in Super Bowl IV in New Orleans.

The NFL realigned into two conferences after Super Bowl IV; the former AFL teams plus three NFL teams (the Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cleveland Browns) became the American Football Conference (AFC), while the remaining NFL clubs formed the National Football Conference (NFC). The champions of the two conferences would play each other in the Super Bowl.

Lamar Hunt, owner of the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs, first used the term "Super Bowl" to refer to this game in the merger meetings. Hunt would later say the name was likely in his head because his children had been playing with a Super Ball toy (a vintage example of the ball is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio). In a July 25, 1966, letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Hunt wrote, "I have kiddingly called it the 'Super Bowl,' which obviously can be improved upon." Although the leagues' owners decided on the name "AFL-NFL Championship Game," the media immediately picked up on Hunt's "Super Bowl" name, which would become official beginning with the third annual game.

NBC has sold 58 30 second spots for Sunday’s game at a cost of $3.5 million per spot, $100,000 per second, or $203 million in advertising revenue from the game.

A 30 second spot at Super Bowl I cost $37,500. At Super Bowl X a 30 second spot cost $110,000. Super Bowl XX $525,000. Finally at Super Bowl XXX a 30 second spot surpassed $1 million, $1.15 million for a 30 second spot at the 1995 game. The 1999 Super Bowl saw 30 spots selling for $1.6 million. A year later at the 2000 game the average spot sold for $1.1 million. A year later the infamous .com Super Bowl saw the average 30 second spot sell for $2.1 million. 19 .com’s (most spending their entire advertising budgets on the Super Bowl) promoted their businesses on the Super Bowl broadcast, many going bankrupt as a result.

Close to 100 million people watch the Super Bowl, making the Super Bowl annually the most watched television program. The Super Bowl is the one event that families gather together to watch.

The Super Bowl has evolved from a football game (a championship game) to an unofficial American holiday. The Super Bowl is much more than a football game – it’s an American institution and its very big business.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Roger Goodell – the man for the NFL

The National Football League announced NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has signed a contract extension through the 2018 season. The announcement was made by Atlanta Falcons Owner and Chairman Arthur M. Blank, who serves as chairman of the NFL Compensation Committee.

NFL clubs unanimously approved a resolution at a December 14 league meeting in Dallas that said, “The commissioner has performed his duties in an exemplary fashion since his election in 2006 and the membership has determined that the interests of the NFL would be best served by a continuation of the commissioner’s employment beyond the terms of his current employment contract.”

The resolution authorized the Compensation Committee to complete negotiations on a new contract, the third of Goodell’s tenure as commissioner. His original five-year contract was extended in 2009. The new contract continues until March 31, 2019.

Other members of the Compensation Committee are Tom Benson (New Orleans), Pat Bowlen (Denver), Robert Kraft (New England), Jerry Richardson (Carolina), and Steve Ross (Miami).

“I speak on behalf of 32 NFL club owners in saying we are fortunate to have Roger Goodell as our commissioner,” Blank said. “Since becoming commissioner in 2006, the NFL – already the leader in professional sports – has gotten even stronger. As evidenced by this contract extension, we have great confidence in Roger’s vision and leadership of the NFL. Our clubs, players and fans could not ask for a better CEO.”

On September 26, 2007 Business Week called Goodell the most powerful man in sports. He was chosen over four finalists for the position, winning a close vote on the fifth ballot before being unanimously approved by acclamation of the owners. He officially began his tenure on September 1, 2006, just prior to the beginning of the 2006 NFL season. Goodell is the eighth chief executive in the NFL’s 91-year history.

As the NFL continues to grow in popularity, Commissioner Goodell has focused his priorities on strengthening the game and all 32 NFL franchises through innovation and communication.

He has addressed a wide range of issues, including player health and safety, the medical needs of retired players, personal conduct, revenue sharing, stadium construction, media innovation, and international development.

In addition to securing a landmark 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFL Players Association, the longest in the history of professional sports, Commissioner Goodell created the first NFL Player Advisory Council, strengthened the league’s anti-steroids policy, launched innovative new television contracts and a new series of international regular-season games, and improved the NFL’s news media access policies to better serve fan interest.

Along with the collective bargaining agreement, one of Goodell’s landmark legacies will be the NFL Conduct Code. On April 10, 2007 Goodell announced the National Football League would implement a code of conduct for its players (in 2010 the code of conduct was extended to all NFL employees).

"It is important that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great football players, coaches, and staff," Commissioner Goodell said at the time. "We hold ourselves to higher standards of responsible conduct because of what it means to be part of the National Football League. We have long had policies and programs designed to encourage responsible behavior, and this policy is a further step in ensuring that everyone who is part of the NFL meets that standard. We will continue to review the policy and modify it as warranted."

“We must protect the integrity of the NFL," Commissioner Goodell said in the April 2007 release. "The highest standards of conduct must be met by everyone in the NFL because it is a privilege to represent the NFL, not a right. These players, and all members of our league, have to make the right choices and decisions in their conduct on a consistent basis."

In a letter to each player, Commissioner Goodell wrote: "Your conduct has brought embarrassment and ridicule upon yourself, your club, and the NFL, and has damaged the reputation of players throughout the league. You have put in jeopardy an otherwise promising NFL career, and have risked both your own safety and the safety of others through your off-field actions. In each of these respects, you have engaged in conduct detrimental to the NFL and failed to live up to the standards expected of NFL players. Taken as a whole, this conduct warrants significant sanction."

The first players to feel the teeth of the new policy were Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry, college teammates at West Virginia whose first two years in the NFL were marred by arrests. Henry died a tragic death on December 17, 2009 succumbing to injuries suffered from a car accident.

The third player suspended was Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson. On August 24, 2007, Atlanta Falcons starting quarterback Michael Vick filed a plea agreement and pleaded guilty in his involvement in illegal dog fighting and euthanization, and was suspended indefinitely without pay; his reinstatement occurred in time for him to play in the 2009-2010 season.

Prior to being named commissioner, Goodell managed an array of football and business operations during a 24-year career in the NFL.

Goodell, 52, joined the NFL in 1982 as an administrative intern in the league office in New York. After spending the 1983 season as an intern with the New York Jets, Goodell returned to the league office in 1984 as an assistant in the public relations department. In 1987, he was appointed assistant to the president of the American Football Conference, Lamar Hunt, by then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

“It is a privilege for me to serve the NFL,” Goodell said. “It is the only place I have ever wanted to work. I am grateful for the contributions and counsel of NFL owners in managing our league, the talented staff that supports us, and the players and coaches that perform their magic on the field. It is truly a team effort. I am eagerly looking ahead to the challenge of building on our momentum and doing all we can to improve our game for the fans and everyone that is part of our league.”

In addition to nurturing the NFL to new heights of fan popularity, Goodell has led the way in creating new playing rules, policies, and programs to make the game better and safer. This includes $100 million committed to medical research during the 10-year term of the new CBA. Goodell’s leadership on health and safety has had a significant positive impact on all levels of football and other sports.

Under Paul Tagliabue, Goodell served in various senior executive roles and was appointed executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2001.

As chief operating officer, Goodell was responsible for the league’s football operations and officiating departments in addition to supervising all league business functions.

Goodell was instrumental in many league accomplishments prior to becoming commissioner, including expansion, realignment, and stadium development. He directed the dramatic transformation and growth of the NFL’s business units, played a lead role in the launch of the NFL Network, and was a key member of the negotiating team that produced the NFL’s television agreements.

In football operations, he helped lead the 1994 initiative for rules changes to improve offensive production, initiated the creation of a senior football operations position in the league office, oversaw the administration of the instant replay system, and restructured the officiating department.

One of the more interesting activities Goodell conducts as commissioner are the series of events he holds with NFL fans when he travels to NFL games in different cities. His counterparts in the NBA (David Stern), MLB (Bud Selig) and NHL (Gary Bettman) rarely hold ‘town hall’ meetings allowing fans of their sport to have direct access to the person entrusted with management of their sports league.

Throughout the negotiations with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, Goodell acted in what he believed were the best interests of the NFL owners he represented. Both Goodell and Smith were professional and never ‘threatened’ each other with tough talk, unlike David Stern, Billy Hunter and their NBA labor talks.

The NFL Conduct Code, the CBA, the billion dollar TV agreements, the NFL is the sports industries gold standard. In large part the NFL is one of the best businesses in the world today and that is in large part because of the leadership Roger Goodell has brought to the National Football League.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tim Thomas – what were you thinking

Professional athletes fortunate to win a championship are offered the chance to visit The White House and enjoy the opportunity to meet the United Sates President. The Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins had that opportunity Monday, however American-born Tim Thomas embarrassed the National Hockey League, the Boston Bruins organization and his teammates Monday by first deciding to not attend the White House ceremony and by releasing a political manifesto right out of the American conservative playbook.

"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

“This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

“Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

“This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT"

It’s Tim Thomas’ right to express his opinion. A professional athlete has the responsibility to represent the organization whose uniform he or she wears. Thomas is in the third year of a four year $20 million contract.

"Everybody has their own opinions and political beliefs and he chose not to join us," Bruins team president Cam Neely said. "We certainly would have liked to have him come and join us, but that's his choice. Obviously, it's not a choice that most of the guys, all the guys came except for Tim. That's his decision and his choice."

The Bruins and the NHL didn’t take the bait Thomas offered them. They choose to take the higher road, suggesting that Tim Thomas had the right to his ‘freedom of speech’. What Tim Thomas doesn’t understand, or appreciate, is that with freedom of speech comes a responsibility that once you say something controversial you can expect reaction, and not the type of reaction the Bruins offered.

“My advice to him is to stick to hockey,” said Phil Johnston, a top state Democrat who served under President Clinton. “I think Bruins players are taken seriously for their hockey, not for their politics.”

A native of Flint, Mich., Thomas wears a helmet adorned with the patriotic slogan “Don’t Tread on Me” and is a fan of conservative pundit Glenn Beck, formerly of Fox News.

The puck-stopper’s high-profile snub went viral as “Tim Thomas” became a trending topic on Twitter and Democrats hammered him, including lefty pundit Keith Olbermann, who fired off a tweet calling the goalie a “fool.”

Massachusetts Democratic Party spokesman Kevin Franck told the Boston Herald: “I think anyone who really cares about the lives, liberty and happiness of the American people wouldn’t miss an opportunity to shake the hand of the man who got bin Laden.”

Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe called the Bruins' goalie self-centred and immature:

"Yesterday was not about politics and government until Thomas made it about politics and government. The day, long set on the calendar, was a day when the Boston Bruins were asked to visit Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate what they did as a team last season. It was their day in the national spotlight, until Thomas didn’t show, and then the focal point became, much the way it would be in a hockey game, on the guy who was no longer standing in goal.

Shabby. Immature. Unprofessional. Self-centered. Bush league. Need I go on? All that and more applies to what Thomas did, on a day when Cup teammates Mark Recchi (now retired), Shane Hnidy (a radio guy these days in Winnipeg), and Tomas Kaberle (a member of some Original Six team in Canada), all gladly joined the red-white-blue-black-and-gold hugfest at the White House."

Greg Wyshynski of the Yahoo blog Puck Daddy applauded Thomas for taking a stand.

"My take: Good on Thomas.

“Good on Thomas for using this moment — where a professional sports team participates in what's both an honor for its accomplishments and a political photo opportunity — to make a political statement of his own.

“It's the moment when Thomas will no doubt lose a lot of supporters, for sure, when they realize an athlete they celebrate has stark political differences than they have. He's not the first nor the last athlete to choose not to visit the White House.

“It's a moment in which a professional athlete uses his fame, his influence for something he believes in, and does something that won't be popular among fans or media."

The Washington Post’s Matt Brooks offered an interesting look at some “events” were athletes have used sports as a platform for their political opinions:

1967 - Muhammad Ali refuses enlistment in the United States Army after being drafted for the Vietnam War. Protesting: The Vietnam War.

1968 - American track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos perform the ‘Black Power salute’ during the “Star-Spangled Banner” following their medal-winning sprints at the Mexico City Olympics. Protesting: The need for equality and black rights in the U.S.

1980 - The United States and 62 other countries boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Protesting: the Soviet Union’s Christmas Day invasion of Afghanistan.

1996 - Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refuses to stand for the National Anthem before NBA games. Protesting: U.S. foreign policy and ‘tyranny’ which conflicted with his new Islamic beliefs. (Abdul-Rauf was suspended by the NBA for one game for his action.)

2004 - Blue Jays outfielder Carlos Delgado refuses to stand for “God Bless America” during 7th inning stretch. Protesting: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2010 - The Phoenix Suns sport “Los Suns” jerseys on Cinco De Mayo for a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs. Protesting: Arizona’s new immigration law targeting illegal immigrants.

There is a time and a place for protest. Tim Thomas’s political statement was where he stepped over the line. While you shouldn’t be forced to give up your freedom of speech when you’re a professional athlete you need to be sensitive as to how your words might impact others.

The National Hockey League fights for recognition every day. Later this week the NHL’s best will be in Ottawa for the league’s annual All-Star Weekend. Tim Thomas was part of another event that makes hockey great as a member of the 2010 United States Olympic Hockey team that won the silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

Tim Thomas is arguably the best at his practice between the pipes, but he was anything but hockey’s best when he released his “Tea Party” laced statement Monday night.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Tremendous Life and Tragic Times of Joe Paterno

On November 9, 2011 Penn State University’s Board of Trustees did what they believed was in the best interests of Penn State University. They fired the man who built Penn State University; they fired Joe Paterno. The full measure of any man shouldn’t be how he lived the last 78 days of his life. At the same time any look at the legacy Joe Paterno created has to include what took place in the days that followed Jerry Sandusky’s indictment on more than 50 charges related to child sex abuse allegations, charges that included an alleged event that took place in the Penn State football locker room in 2002.

On Saturday, October 29, Penn State beat Illinois 10-7 giving Paterno his 409th win, surpassing Eddie Robinson's record for most wins by a college football coach. “JoePa” (as he was affectionately called) was presented with a plaque by then Penn State President Graham Spanier and Atheltic Director Tim Curley. The plaque read "Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coach. Division One Football." Six short days later, life changed forever for Paterno, Spanier, Curley and many more when former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted.

Sandusky’s arraignment created an international firestorm in the days and weeks that followed resulting in Paterno, Spanier and Curley’s firing. While the anger directed at Penn State has subsided, the original issue remains – why did Penn State and the school’s athletic department seemingly cover-up allegations Sandusky had raped young boys in the Penn State football locker room first in 1998 and again in 2002?

Pennsylvania Attorney General has made it clear when the indictments were announced on November 4; legally Joe Paterno had followed the law in dealing with what he was first told by then-graduate football assistant coach Mike McQueary on a Saturday morning in 2002. Paterno told Jenkins he had “no inkling” that Sandusky might be a sexual deviant.

While Paterno and Sandusky had worked together for more than 30 years, the two men were not friends socially and their relationship was professional in nature, according to Paterno. By 2002, the two men had little, if any, contact.

Joe Paterno’s football program was generating $50 million in revenue for Penn State University in 2002, making Paterno the most powerful man at Penn State. Paterno suggestion to his superiors that “we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’” is as unacceptable today as it was when Mike McQueary first told Paterno about the horrific scene had he witnessed.

Paterno has three sons, two daughters and 17 grandchildren. As unimaginable a scene as Mike McQueary had painted for Paterno, he had to know what happened was wrong and he had to take charge. He had to know what he was being told would forever taint Penn State football, Penn State University and as the de facto leader of the Penn State community, Paterno had to know what to do.

The above statements are true but at the same time the greatness of Joe Paterno, his legacy in large part includes the millions of dollars he raised for Penn State and more importantly the profile he created for Penn State that allowed Penn State to become one of America’s leading universities.

Penn State’s Board of Trustees, the same Board of Trustees who fired Paterno on November 9 released the following statement following Paterno’s death: “We grieve for the loss of Joe Paterno, a great man who made us a greater university. His dedication to ensuring his players were successful both on the field and in life is legendary and his commitment to education is unmatched in college football. His life, work and generosity will be remembered always.

“The University plans to honor him for his many contributions and to remember his remarkable life and legacy. We are all deeply saddened. We are considering appropriate ways to honor the great life and legacy of Joe Paterno. The University's Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is consulting with members of the Penn State community on the nature and timing of the gathering.”

The Penn State Athletic Department issued the following statement: “This is a tremendous loss for Penn State and the world. Joe Paterno was a great man who was one of the greatest influences on my life and the lives of Penn Staters. For all of us who played for Joe, he taught us so much. He was a teacher and an educator first. He taught us about self-discipline and paying attention to the small details. He built young men from the inside out. He’s famous for saying, “if you keep hustling and plugging away something good will happen” and we all discovered how true that was.

“Because of the way he led and taught Penn Staters, the world is such a better place, not just because of his direct influence, but because of the influence he had on so many who have graduated from Penn State to positively impact the world.”

The State of Pennsylvania announced Monday all flags in the State will be lowered to half-staff in tribute to Paterno.

State senators and House representatives held moments of silence in their chambers Monday and listened to remarks from two Penn State alumni in honor of Paterno.

House Speaker Sam Smith says he'll remember the dignity and humbleness of a man who turned down the riches of an NFL coaching contract so he could make a difference in the lives of Penn State students.

Sen. Jake Corman calls Paterno an educator and humanitarian who took an interest in young people's lives, not just in what they could do on the football field. He says if people remember Paterno's commitment to excellence he'll never truly be gone.

Are the words spoken by Penn State honoring Joe Paterno at the height of hypocrisy given their decision to relieve him of his duties in the days following the Sandusky arrest on November 5? No, they’re not. As was noted at the start of this look at the life and times of Joe Paterno (and Monday’s SBN Obit focused on many of Paterno’s accomplishments) must include what the university, Paterno and the Athletic Department did since the terrible events that took place in 2002.

Penn State University did what they had to do; they fired nearly everyone who could be linked to the scandal and to the cover-up. That was the right direction for Penn State to take then, just as it is the right direction to honor Joe Paterno this week, in the days following his passing. Joe Paterno lived the life he wanted to live, a life of greatness for the most part, but a life filled with tragedy and sadness in the last 78 days of his life, an asterisk on the life and times of Joe Paterno.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Joe Paterno – a life lived

Legends live forever, for better or for worse; such will in part read the epitaph of Joe Paterno who died Sunday morning. It needs to be said Paterno will be remembered as one of the greatest college football coaches ever, but a man whose legacy was tragically impacted by the personal and professional fallout Paterno experienced as a result of the fallout from after Jerry Sandusky was indicted on more than 50 charges related to sexual abuse of children. The good, the bad and the ugly – the life and times of Joe Paterno. Today it’s the good, Tuesday; SBN will look at the bad and the ugly.

Paterno, who turned 85 last month, passed away surrounded by his family at Mount Nittany Medical Center, near the University Park campus. The legendary teacher, mentor and humanitarian had been diagnosed with lung cancer last November and recently had been hospitalized.

A member of the Penn State coaching staff for 62 seasons, Paterno tremendously impacted the lives of thousands of current and former Penn State students, student-athletes and staff, Nittany Lion fans, State College community members and followers of college athletics. The Nittany Lions' head football coach for nearly 46 years, he was among the first three active coaches to be inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Hall of Fame, in 2007.

Paterno passionately and vigorously served the Penn State football program and the university with principle, distinction and success with honor since matriculating to State College in 1950 as a motivated and enthusiastic 23-year-old with Rip Engle, his head coach at Brown University. After 16 years as an assistant coach under Engle, Paterno was named Penn State's 14th head football coach on February 19, 1966 when Engle retired.

Head coach of the Nittany Lions since 1966, Paterno is the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) leader in career victories, earning a 409-136-3 career record, a 74.9 winning percentage. The iconic Paterno is one of just three coaches in NCAA history to post 400 career wins, passing legendary Grambling coach Eddie Robinson for second place with the Nittany Lions' win over Illinois in Beaver Stadium on October 29, 2011.

Paterno also was college football's all-time leader in bowl victories (24) and appearances (37). His post-season record of 24-12-1 gave him a winning percentage of 66.2, good for No. 3 all-time among coaches with at least 15 bowl visits. The Nittany Lions were 12-5 in contests that comprise the Bowl Championship Series under Paterno.

Paterno's career was marked with distinction, glorious accomplishments and immeasurable contributions to Penn State. As a young head coach, he created the "Grand Experiment," boldly stating that his teams would be comprised of young men able to play football at the highest level, graduate and make significant contributions to society upon their graduation.

The NCAA's 2011 graduation data revealed that Penn State and Stanford, at 87 percent, posted the highest Graduation Success Rate (GSR) among teams ranked in the final 2011 Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' polls and Bowl Championship Series rankings. Penn State and Stanford were tied for No. 10 overall among the nation's 120 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions. Penn State's 87 percent GSR was significantly higher than the 67 percent FBS average and was second to Northwestern (94) among Big Ten institutions.

Penn State football student-athletes earned a nation's-best 15 CoSIDA Academic All-American® selections from 2006-10, bringing to 47 the number of Academic All-Americans® under Paterno (37 first team). The Nittany Lions' 49 all-time Academic All-Americans® are No. 3 nationally among FBS institutions.

Paterno's coaching portfolio included two National Championships (1982, 1986); five undefeated, untied teams; 23 finishes in the Top 10 of the national rankings; an unprecedented five American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Coach-of-the-Year plaques, and more than 350 former players who signed National Football League contracts, 33 of them first-round draft choices. Eight Penn State football student-athletes have been NFL first-round selections in the past eight drafts.

His teams registered seven undefeated regular-seasons and he had 35 teams finish in the Top 25. Penn State won the Lambert-Meadowlands Trophy, emblematic of Eastern football supremacy, 24 times under Paterno, including in 2008 and `09.

During Paterno's remarkable tenure, there were 888 head coaching changes among Football Bowl Subdivision programs, an average of more than six changes per I-A institution.

Paterno passed his long-time friend and colleague, Bobby Bowden, on Sept. 20, 2008, for the lead in all-time victories among FBS coaches. His 46 seasons as head coach are the most in FBS history and he is second all-time in games coached (548) among major college coaches. Entering the 2011 season, Paterno's winning percentage of 74.7 ranked No. 4 among active Football Bowl Subdivision coaches (10 or more years).

Penn State is one of just eight teams with 800 wins all-time and Paterno has been a member of the Nittany Lion staff for 513 of them -- 62 percent of the 827 all-time total. Penn State posted a record of 513-184-7 since Paterno joined the staff in 1950, the nation's third-highest winning percentage.

Since 1966, Penn State has had 79 first-team All-Americans, with defensive tackle Devon Still being selected a consensus All-American and the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Under Paterno, the Nittany Lions counted 16 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athletes, 37 first-team Capital One/CoSIDA All-Americans® (47 overall) and 18 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winners.

Paterno directed the Nittany Lions to 15 seasons with at least victories and 12-0 campaigns in 1973, 1986 and 1994. The '94 team captured Penn State's first Big Ten Championship and became the first Big Ten team to earn a 12-0 mark. Penn State also earned 21 seasons with at least 10 victories and 13 Top 5 finishes in the polls under Paterno's dedicated and enthusiastic leadership.

Paterno was the only coach to win the four traditional New Year's Day bowl games -- the Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Orange bowls -- and he owned a 6-0 record in the Fiesta Bowl. He was selected by the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame as the first active coach to receive its Distinguished American Award. Paterno also was the 1986 Sports Illustrated Sportsman-of-the-Year.

A member of the Nittany Lions' coaching staff spanning the administrations of 13 U.S. presidents (starting with Harry Truman), Paterno passed Paul "Bear" Bryant for the lead in career Division I-A wins on October 27, 2001 when the Lions secured his 324th victory by rallying from a 27-9 deficit to defeat Ohio State, 29-27, at the time the greatest Beaver Stadium comeback under the legendary coach.

On November 6, 2010, Paterno saw his resurgent and determined squad erase a 21-0 deficit to score touchdowns on five consecutive possessions and beat Northwestern, 35-21. The victory was No. 400 in Paterno's career as he became the first Football Bowl Subdivision coach to reach the milestone. The 100,000-plus fans in Beaver Stadium reveled as the Hall of Fame coach was honored in a post-game on-field ceremony. Not only had they witnessed win No. 400, but also the greatest Nittany Lion comeback at home under Paterno.

Paterno always concentrated on seeing that his student-athletes attend class, devote the proper time to studies and graduate with a meaningful degree. He often said he measured team success not by athletic prowess but by the number of his players that go on to be productive citizens and make a positive contribution to society.

In an exceptional display of generosity and affection for Penn State, Paterno, his wife, Sue, and their five children announced a contribution of $3.5 million to the University in 1998, bringing Paterno's lifetime giving total to more than $4 million. The gift was believed to be, according to Penn State Vice President for Development Rod Kirsch, "the most generous ever made by a collegiate coach and his family to a university."

The Paterno gift endowed faculty positions and scholarships in the College of the Liberal Arts, the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, the University Libraries and supported two building projects -- a new interfaith spiritual center and the Penn State All-Sports Museum, both on the University Park campus. The museum opened in 2002 and the spiritual center was dedicated in 2003.

He and Sue were actively involved with the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games, held each June on the University Park campus. In 2008, the Paternos were inducted into the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame.

The Paternos announced a $1 million pledge in 2009 for the Mount Nittany Medical Center. Their gift helped support a three-floor, 42,000-square foot expansion of Centre County's primary health facility, which was completed in 2010.

In December 2007, Patrick and Candace Malloy honored Paterno's contributions to the University by committing $5 million to create the Malloy Paterno Head Football Coach Endowment at Penn State.

"All of Penn State has benefited from Joe's commitment to success with honor," said Patrick Malloy, a 1965 alumnus of the University. "He is so much more than a coach -- he's an educator. He teaches his players how to win in life as well as in football, and he teaches every Penn State fan how to make the world a better place through integrity, honesty, and excellence. We are also fortunate enough to know Sue Paterno, and we have the deepest admiration for her volunteer and philanthropic leadership at Penn State and beyond."

In January 2011, NCAA President Mark Emmert presented the Gerald R. Ford Award to Paterno at the NCAA Convention. The award honors an individual who has provided significant leadership as an advocate for intercollegiate athletics on a continuous basis throughout his or her career.

In 2007, Paterno was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. He received the NFF's Gold Medal in 2006. The American Football Coaches Association presented Paterno with its highest honor in 2002, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award. The award honors those "whose services have been outstanding in the advancement of the best interests of football."

As a football coach Joe Paterno is second to none. He understood how to get more out of his players, more out of teams that most coaches in any sport ever have, ever will for matter. He won both on and off the football field, it’s important to understand and recognize that, more than important its essential in understanding the life Joe Paterno lived that he was a great football coach. There can be no doubt that Joe Paterno cared deeply for Penn State and his football players.

One question needs to be asked, should be asked – did Joe Paterno coach too long? If Joe Paterno had retired 10 or 15 years ago would what took place in 2002 (and his firing) have ever taken place? Did Joe Paterno overstay his welcome? No, he won when he was in his late 70’s and 80’s as a coach, buts it’s hard to not imagine if Joe wonders how different his life would have been if he had retired 10 of 15 years ago.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Muhammad Ali – the greatest turns 70

He will be forever known as “The Greatest”. In 1979 Ali was training at his Deer Lake Pennsylvania training camp; a rustic setting located 20 miles from Reading, Pennsylvania served as the setting for Ali’s training from 1972 through his last bout against Trevor Berbick in 1981.

While training to fight his former sparring partner Larry Holmes in May 1980, a week spent at Ali’s camp remains one of the definitive moments of the life I’ve lived.
More than any athlete of the previous century, with the possible exception of the late Jackie Robinson, Ali has had the greatest impact on the world we live in. His conviction, determination, commitment and belief system, the Champ remains an American Icon of immeasurable quality.

Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942 in 1999, was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated. He won the World Heavyweight Boxing championship three times, and won the North American Boxing Federation championship as well as an Olympic gold medal.

Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky and was named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., who was named for the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Clay. Ali later changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam and subsequently converted to Sunni Islam in 1975.

Ali met Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 in Miami for the World Heavyweight Title. During the weigh-in on the previous day, the ever-bashful Ali—who frequently taunted Liston during the buildup by dubbing him "the big ugly bear", among other things—declared that he would "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee," and, in summarizing his strategy for avoiding Liston's assaults, said, "Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see." – classic Ali bravado.

Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

In 1964, Ali failed the Armed Forces qualifying test because his writing and spelling skills were subpar. However, in early 1966, the tests were revised and Ali was reclassified 1A. He refused to serve in the United States Army during the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, because "War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an. I'm not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don't take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers." Ali also famously said, "I ain't got no quarrel with those Vietcong" and "no Vietcong ever called me nigger."

Ali refused to respond to his name being read out as Cassius Clay, stating, as instructed by his mentors from the Nation of Islam, that Clay was the name given to his slave ancestors by the white man.

"Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it and I don't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name - it means beloved of God - and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me. "

By refusing to respond to this name, Ali's personal life was filled with controversy. Ali was essentially banned from fighting in the United States and forced to accept bouts abroad for most of 1966.

From his rematch with Liston in May 1965, to his final defense against Zora Folley in March 1967, he defended his title nine times.

The America of the mid to late 1960’s was very different from the America of today. It’s not that far-fetched to suggest that Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the Army served as the catalyst for the anti-war movement and empowered the African American population to understand the leadership they could offer America.

Ali's actions in refusing military service and aligning himself with the Nation of Islam made him a lightning rod for controversy, turning the outspoken but popular former champion into one of that era's most recognizable and controversial figures.
Appearing at rallies with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and declaring his allegiance to him at a time when mainstream America viewed them with suspicion — if not outright hostility — made Ali a target of outrage, and suspicion as well. Ali seemed at times to even provoke such reactions, with viewpoints that wavered from support for civil rights to outright support of separatism.

Near the end of 1967, Ali was stripped of his title by the professional boxing commission and would not be allowed to fight professionally for more than three years. He was also convicted for refusing induction into the army and sentenced to five years in prison. Over the course of those years in exile, Ali fought to appeal his conviction. He stayed in the public spotlight and supported himself by giving speeches primarily at rallies on college campuses that opposed the Vietnam War.

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs? " Muhammad Ali - explaining why he refused to fight in Vietnam.

When he was the best and most well-known athlete in the world, Ali was forced to the sidelines because of his beliefs. Muhammad Ali was a man who stood by his words, stood by his belief system. If that seems unmanageable in today’s world of million dollar athletes, the Muhammad Ali of the late 1960’s, the Muhammad Ali who was ready to risk everything he had stood for as a testament to a person the world has rarely seen. A true leader among men.

In 1970, Ali was allowed to fight again, and in late 1971 the Supreme Court reversed his conviction. Ali met Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden. The fight, known as '"The Fight of the Century", was one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts of all time and remains one of the most famous.

It featured two skilled, undefeated fighters, both of whom had reasonable claims to the heavyweight crown. The fight lived up to the hype, and Frazier punctuated his victory by flooring Ali with a hard left hook in the 15th and final round and won on points. Frank Sinatra — unable to acquire a ringside seat — took photos of the match for Life Magazine. Legendary boxing announcer Don Dunphy and actor and boxing aficionado Burt Lancaster called the action for the broadcast, which reached millions of people.

Ali beat Frazier in two rematches; beat George Foreman in 1974 to regain his Heavyweight title, lost a 1978 bout and then won a rematch against Leon Spinks (winning the title for the third time) before his last two fights (both losses) against Holmes and Berbick.

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the early 1980s. Although Ali's doctors disagreed during the 1980s and 1990s about whether his symptoms were caused by boxing and whether or not his condition was degenerative, he was ultimately diagnosed with Pugilistic Parkinson's syndrome. By late 2005 it was reported that Ali's condition was notably worsening. According to the documentary “When We Were Kings,” when Ali was asked about whether he has any regrets about boxing due to his disability, he responded that if he didn't box he would still be a painter in Louisville, Kentucky.

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on November 9, 2005, and the prestigious "Otto Hahn peace medal in Gold" of the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin for his work with the US Civil Rights
Movement and the United Nations (December 17 2005).

On November 19, 2005, the $60 million non-profit Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to displaying his boxing memorabilia, the center focuses on core themes of peace, social responsibility, respect, and personal growth.

According to the Muhammad Ali Center website, "Since he retired from boxing, Ali has devoted himself to humanitarian endeavors around the globe. He is a devout Sunni Muslim, and travels the world over, lending his name and presence to hunger and poverty relief, supporting education efforts of all kinds, promoting adoption and encouraging people to respect and better understand one another. It is estimated that he has helped to provide more than 22 million meals to feed the hungry. Ali travels, on average, more than 200 days per year."

Ali’s net worth is reported to be in excess of $80 million. Ali earned more than $60 million as a boxer, but lost most of that money. He has earned tens of millions of dollars in retirement, the name Muhammad Ali synonymous with greatness and success.

Happy 70th Champ – truly the best there ever was, the best there is, the best there ever will be.

Sources cited and used in this Insider: Muhammad Ali bio. For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Joe Paterno – his long and winding road

The last few months have not been kind to 84-year old Hall of Fame college football coach Joe Paterno. Fired after serving as Penn State’s head football coach on November 9, a frail Paterno was hospitalized Friday. Days after his firing, Paterno was diagnosed with treatable form of lung cancer. In December, Paterno was admitted to a hospital after fracturing his pelvis when he slipped and fell at his home. On Sunday, The Washington Post published the first interview Paterno granted since his firing, an interview that made it clear – while Paterno may have won football games – he was out of touch with reality.

The picture Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins painted of Paterno was not pretty. Paterno spoke to Jenkins while seated in a wheelchair, his body “wracked by radiation and chemotherapy.” The now soft- spoken Paterno wears a black wig to replace the hair he’s lost through chemotherapy.

On Saturday, October 29, Penn State beat Illinois 10-7 giving Paterno his 409th win, surpassing Eddie Robinson's record for most wins by a college football coach. “JoePa” (as he was affectionately called) was presented with a plaque by then Penn State President Graham Spanier and at the time Penn State’s Atheltic Director Tim Curley. The plaque read "Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coach. Division One Football." Six short days later, life changed forever for Paterno, Spanier, Curley and many more when former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on more than 50 charges related to alleged child sex abuse, including an incident that took place in Penn State football locker room in 2002 (and in 1998).

Sandusky’s arraignment created an international firestorm in the days and weeks that followed resulting in Paterno’s , Spanier’s and Curley’s firing. While the anger directed at Penn State has subsided, the issue when the story was first reported remains – Why did Penn State and the school’s athletic department seemingly cover-up allegations Sandusky had raped young boys in the Penn State football locker room first in 1998 and again in 2002?

Pennsylvania Attorney General has made it clear when the indictments were announced on November 4; legally Joe Paterno had followed the law in dealing with what he was first told my then graduate football assistant coach Mike McQueary on a Saturday morning in 2002. Paterno told Jenkins he had “no inkling” that Sandusky might be a sexual deviant.

While Paterno and Sandusky had worked together for more than 30 years, the two men were not friends socially and their relationship was professional in nature, according to Paterno. By 2002, the two men had little, if any, contact.

Sandusky left Paterno’s coaching staff after the Lions 1999 season. Paterno and Sandusky met shortly after the Lions beat Texas A&M, 24-0, on December 28, 1999 in the Alamo Bowl. Paterno told Sandusky he wouldn’t be offered the chance to replace him when he retired. Paterno’s reasoning begins to paint an interesting picture.

“He (Sandusky) came to see me and we talked a little about his career,” Paterno told The Washington Post. “I said, you know, Jerry, you want to be head coach, you can’t do as much as you’re doing with the other operation. I said this job takes so much detail, and for you to think you can go off and get involved in fundraising and a lot of things like that. . . . I said you can’t do both, that’s basically what I told him.”

The other operation Paterno alluded to was Second Mile, the organization Sandusky allegedly used to lure young boys and rape them. Paterno had no understanding (as did everyone else) that Sandusky had created an organization to benefit his alleged sick perversions.

The 2002 incident in the Penn State football locker room resulted in Paterno losing his job. Paterno told Jenkins how he remembers the Saturday morning Mike McQueary his then graduate assistant visited his home: “He was very upset and I said why, and he was very reluctant to get into it,” Paterno told The Washington Post. “He told me what he saw, and I said, what? He said it, well, looked like inappropriate, or fondling, I’m not quite sure exactly how he put it. I said you did what you had to do. It’s my job now to figure out what we want to do. So I sat around. It was a Saturday. Waited till Sunday because I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. And then I called my superiors and I said: ‘Hey, we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’ Cause I didn’t know, you know. We never had, until that point, 58 years I think, I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn’t feel adequate.”

Graham Spanier was Penn State’s President, Tim Curley the athletic director and Gary Schultz one of the school’s vice president (who oversaw university police) in 2002.

Joe Paterno’s football program was generating $50 million in revenues for Penn State University in 2002, making Paterno the most powerful man at Penn State. It’s fine for Paterno to tell Jenkins what he remembers doing back in 2002, but Paterno had the power to make sure Jerry Sandusky was dealt with when McQueary met with him. Suggesting to his superiors that “we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’” is as unacceptable today as it was when Mike McQueary first told Paterno about the horrific scene had he witnessed.

Paterno has three sons, two daughters and 17 grandchildren. As unimaginable a scene as Mike McQueary had painted for Paterno, he had to know what happened was wrong and he had to take charge. He had to know what he was being told would forever taint Penn State football, Penn State University and as the de facto leader of the Penn State community, Paterno had to know what to do.

Yet as Paterno told Jenkins, he didn’t know what to do when his graduate assistant told him about Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a ten-year old boy in Penn State’s locker room.

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he said. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

The plaque Joe Paterno was presented on October 29, referred to Paterno as an “Educator of Men.” While not written, it is implicit that an educator of men is a leader of men. During what will have been the greatest challenge of his legendary career, Paterno needed to take action and take control. He had to do what was right. Instead, he appeared lost and confused, sad and old. Old enough to run after an official in 2002, but too old to understand what needed to be done, too old to be the leader his followers believed he was.

“I didn’t know which way to go,” Paterno said. “And rather than get in there and make a mistake . . .”

Paterno has said repeatedly, “In hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Too late Joe, because you didn’t take charge, because you didn’t do more, you failed the toughest challenge of your life.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Once more – it’s Tebow Time

The remarkable journey Tim Tebow has taken sports fans (and millions more) continues Saturday night in Foxboro, Mass. Tebow’s Denver Broncos meet the New England Patriots in the National Football League divisional playoffs. The business side of Tebow Time – CBS will win Saturday night’s prime time network battle, the selling of Tim Tebow continues to grow and Twitter may need an extra server or two!

Sunday, Tebow led the Broncos to a stunning 29-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game ended on the first play from scrimmage in overtime when Tebow connected with receiver Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard touchdown pass.

The game televised by CBS, drew a 24.0 rating and 40 share. The network said on Tuesday that was the highest NFL wild card playoff rating since a 24.1/48 for Kansas City-Miami in 1994. The average of 42.4 million viewers, was up 8 percent from last year’s Packers-Eagles matchup in the same slot — a game that at the time was the highest-rated in the wild-card round in a dozen years.

An ESPN poll bore out the reason why Tim Tebow generates ratings. In the 18 years of the ESPN Sports Poll that looks at who the most popular athletes in America are – there have been just 11 different athletes crowned as America’s favorite active pro athlete (by month).

The list includes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James.

With December 2011′s poll results comes a new name: Tim Tebow.

Tebow was recognized by 3 percent of Americans surveyed as their favorite active pro athlete, placing him above Kobe Bryant (2 percent), Aaron Rodgers (1.9 percent), Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent) in the Top 5.

It is by far the fastest and earliest any athlete has assumed the top position since the inception of the poll in 1994.

“To put this in perspective, Tim Tebow rose to the top before the end of his second pro season. It took Tiger Woods three years, LeBron James eight years and Kobe Bryant 11 years,” said Rich Luker, founder and director of the ESPN Sports Poll. “I think we may be at the front end of a new era in sports stars.”

The only other athletes to hold the top spot for at least a month since 2007 are Brett Favre, Manning, Woods, Bryant and James.

“This is an exciting finding and one that reflects the sentiment of all sports fans, not just the online or social media world,” said Artie Bulgrin, Senior VP for Research and Analytics, ESPN Sales and Marketing.

“For 18 years, ESPN Sports Poll has been the only on-going and nationally representative study about sports interest in America. And this past year we greatly improved the rigor and quality of our survey to include cell phone only and Spanish speaking respondents – to truly represent the opinions and attitudes of all American sports fans.”

The ESPN Sports Poll for December 2011 included 1,502 interviews from a nationally representative sample of Americans 12 and older.

Further illustration of the “Tebow Effect” comes from ESPN’s First Take, where Monday’s episode was the most-watched in the program’s history (an average of 587,000 homes, records since 2006). In fact, it was the fourth time this NFL season the show’s viewership record was broken — all coming after Tebow’s first 2011 start as Denver Broncos quarterback on Oct. 23.

“[Tebow] makes the needle move,” said Pardon the Interruption’s Tony Kornheiser. “He’s the guy that everyone is curious about.”

Ratings generator, America’s most popular athlete, what about Tim Tebow’s marketability?

AdAge reported this week that Tim Tebow has the potential to earn upwards of $10 million annually in endorsement dollars. Tebow currently is earning between $1 million and $2 million a year from the endorsement contracts he has with Jockey brand underwear, Nike, FNS energy drinks and EA Sports.

Tebow appears shirtless in the jockey ad. Tebow is the face of Jockey’s "staycool" underwear collection, the brands fastest-selling collection in the company's 135-year-old history.

"While we think "staycool" is an outstanding collection unto itself, we attribute a great deal of that success to Tim's endorsement," Jockey spokesman Mo Moorman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"What we saw in Tim was a smart, gifted athlete and we've always believed that he'd enjoy the same sort of success in the pros as he did in college. Jockey truly believes in Tim Tebow," Moorman said.

Tebow’s profile, Tebow’s success, Tebow delivering for his current sponsors – that’s what may lead to Tebow earning $10 million a year in endorsements.

"He's become an icon; he's bigger than football," said San Francisco-based sports-marketing expert Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in the Ad Age report. "I can't see him beating New England (on Sunday) but I didn't see him beating Pittsburgh, either. But that's the thing with this guy -- he keeps defying logic. Everybody keeps waiting for him to fail but it doesn't happen. He has the kind of marketing potential that could put him in the Tom Brady or Peyton Manning category."

Said New York-based sports-marketing expert and Columbia University professor Joe Favorito: "Ten million a year? Yeah, I think it's reasonable so long as his career continues to move along. Absolutely."

In the immediate moments following the Broncos overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Tebow nearly broke Twitter:

· Tebow shattered sports tweets/second record. There were 9,420 tweets/second on OT play. Women's WC Final had 7,196 tweets/second.

· Tweets/second for Tebow Sunday (9,420) vs. Tweets/second at height of last year's Super Bowl (4,064).

· Tebow tweets/second (9,420) beat out Royal Wedding (3,966), Bin Laden Raid (5,106) & Steve Jobs Death (6,049).

Darin David, account director at The Marketing Arm, Dallas, told Ad Age, Tim Tebow may already have the ability to earn close to $10 million a year. "I'm not so sure he didn't get to the $10 million [a year] level already after Sunday. To do that in the playoffs, to do that against a team like the [six-time Super Bowl champion] Steelers, the game that was the highest-rated playoff game in 20-something years?"

"As a marketer, you want somebody like that," added David. "He doesn't have the same kind of negative backlash as other players. He is just so newsworthy right now that you would want to capitalize on that."

In the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Tim Tebow’s arrival was what the sports industry so desperately needed, a modern-day hero with old-fashion values. Is Tim Tebow saving the sports industry?

Clearly Tim Tebow offers a company an athlete with a wholesome image who embraces values that few if any professional athletes live their lives by. e appears He’s a leader who inspires others, but he’s also an athlete who is melding the sports and religion together.

In his press conference immediately following the Broncos win Sunday Tebow time and time again repeatedly thanked “his Lord.” Is it right for a professional athlete to leverage his athletic success in selling his religion? That is and isn’t what Tim Tebow is doing. Anyone who has followed Tim Tebow’s remarkable story understands he is being honest in talking about his love for his religion; he is a believer. But what if a Muslim athlete were to sing the praises of Allah in a post 9/11 America? Would that athlete be vilified? Would that athlete be driven out of the sports industry?

Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, two of the biggest athletes of the 20th century, changed their names from Cassius Clay and Lew Alcindor, and embraced their Muslim faith at the peak of their careers.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, was known as Chris Jackson when he played at LSU. He changed his name when he was a member of the Denver Nuggets. He will forever be remembered for refusing to acknowledge the American National Anthem during a 1996 game, effectively ending his NBA career.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s NBA career didn’t amount to very much; Tim Tebow is in his National Football League season. Clearly if Tim Tebow continues to win, the endorsement dollars will follow.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is it time to pay college athletes?

The NCAA convention officially begins today in Indianapolis and one of the hottest issues to be debated will be a proposal the NCAA’s executive committee announced in late October to pay student athletes an additional $2,000 above their full scholarships. The NCAA’s decision to try and push the $2,000 stipend through their membership without any real debate blew up in the faces of the NCAA’s leadership in December.

College athletes presently receive full scholarships (tuition, room and board) which amount to as much as $50,000 per year. While a majority of college athletes do not generate a significant return on the investment schools make in them, those who participate in revenue generating sports (football and men’s basketball) have long believed they deserve a piece of the pie.

NCAA President Mark Emmert told members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in October that he believed the NCAA was ready to look at offering college athletes additional financial support that goes beyond the current system’s offering.

On December 15, the NCAA announced that 125 schools had petitioned the NCAA to overrule the decision, forcing the governing body for college sports to deal with the issue at this week’s convention.

"In principal, I think it is a bad piece of legislation," University of Hartford President Walt Harrison told The Hartford Courant. "But unlike the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, I'm willing to compromise."

"I personally think the future of Division I and possibly the NCAA is at stake here. I think keeping Division I together is more important than this particular issue. And if this is what it took to satisfy the BCS schools, I was willing."

The long held belief of people like Harrison is the fear that the big revenue generating schools will break away from the NCAA, create their college competitive athletic system, and leave smaller schools on the outside looking in.

In 2010, the NCAA reported that only 22 of 346 Division I programs showed a profit.

"I see their argument," Harrison said. "But most of the rest of us are struggling. We don't have money. Most of us would rather spend money on other things than an additional $2,000 for a full scholarship."

One of the most vocal groups in support of student athletes receiving the stipend is the National College Players Association. The California based advocacy group believes college athletes should be able to share in a much bigger piece of the college athletic revenue pie they, in large part, generate.

“It’s time for colleges to finally do the right thing. The concerns they raised are insignificant compared to the real life toll that they will inflict on their student-athletes who are already living below the federal poverty line,” said NCPA President and former UCLA student-athlete Ramogi Huma.

“It’s cowardly of these colleges to try to rob student-athletes of this much needed increase behind closed doors. Believe me; student-athletes want to know exactly which of their schools are standing in the way of their financial relief. If this increase is eliminated, we will make sure that colleges’ positions on this issue will come to light and that their student-athletes and recruits know exactly where they stand.”

According to The Harford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs the NCAA plans to hold on online vote in February to determine which direction to go. While the issue won’t be voted on during the NCAA convention this week, it is expected to be one of the most discussed issues in Indianapolis. Many of those who expressed their opposition to the stipend were concerned about how the decision had come about.

A small, specially appointed, committee formed in the summer announced they determined student athletes should receive an additional $2,000 during a retreat in September and October. There was no debate and no discussion.

"The reason for us voting for the override was how this happened," Quinnipiac athletic director Jack McDonald said in the Hartford Courant report. "It happened so fast without, frankly, being asked about it. It's not just the cost.

"Football and non-football schools, Ivy League schools that don't award athletic scholarships, how it affects ice hockey and lacrosse, how it applies to women's sports … let's vet this, discuss it a lot more," McDonald said. "We're voting against the process, certainly not against the student-athletes. If the decision was good, it will be good a few months from now, too."

Fair points and what about the Ivy League?

Harvard University’s men’s basketball program is having a great season and has been ranked for much of the year. Ivy League schools have always had competitive men’s hockey programs. Would this force a student athlete to decide between an Ivy League school and a school where they’ll receive an additional $2,000?

Never. The chance to attend an Ivy League school and receive a degree from that institution is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you’re good enough to attend an Ivy League school the chances you’re going to care less about an additional $2,000 you might receive from a school interested in your athletic abilities.

It’s the cost that seems to be the biggest issue.

"One problem is it came in the middle of a fiscal cycle. There are so many of us that can't fund those additional costs in the middle of the year." Sacred Heart athletic director Don Cook told The Hartford Courant.

Central Connecticut State University athletic director Paul Schlickman offered this to the Hartford Courant: “Philosophically, is it something you'd like to implement across the board?"

"Or something you feel you have to implement in select sports in order to keep pace? If you do it in select sports, it's an immediate financial burden. If you do it across the board, it's essentially prohibitive for us, at least in the short term."

Is this really going to be about small schools taking on the big schools? Small as they may be, University of Hartford’s President Walt Harrison indicated even small schools have big athletic budgets.

"Our budget is in the $13 million-$14 million range and in the 50th to 60th percentile," Harrison said. "We don't make any money on athletics. We basically subsidize a lot of it. So if I'm going to spend money on student financial aid, I would rather spend it on poor students than good athletes."

"I also want to be in the top division in the NCAA and in order to be there I'm willing to compromise. I'm just sorry that the first thing they passed so obviously favored the larger conferences."

Complicating matters is that the chairman of the aforementioned committee was Graham Spanier. Spanier was fired by Penn State University after Jerry Sandusky was indicted on more than 50 charges relating to child sex abuse. Spanier left Penn State and college sports 15 days after the committee he chaired announced the plan to offer the $2,000 stipend.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

NHL Armageddon 2012 – here we go again

The National Hockey League became the first major professional sports league to lose an entire season to a work stoppage six years ago, when the league and the NHL Players Association failed to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement causing the cancellation of the NHL’s 2004-05 season. The two sides agreed on a new six-year CBA on July 13, 2005. The current CBA expires before the start of the 2012-13 NHL season. The NHLPA now led by former Major League Baseball Players Association Don Fehr, over the weekend fired the first salvo in what could result in the NHL shutting down the league for the second time in six years.

In a series of emails to the NHL (and to the media) the NHLPA (Don Fehr) turned down the NHL’s planned realignment plans for next year.

“On the evening of December 5, 2011, the NHL informed the NHLPA that they proposed to put in place a four-conference format beginning with the 2012-13 season. As realignment affects Players’ terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the League to obtain the NHLPA’s consent before implementation. Over the last month, we have had several discussions with the League and extensive dialogue with Players, most recently on an Executive Board conference call on January 1. Two substantial Player concerns emerged: (1) whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel; and (2) the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.

“In order to evaluate the effect on travel of the proposed new structure, we requested a draft or sample 2012-13 schedule, showing travel per team. We were advised it was not possible for the League to do that. We also suggested reaching an agreement on scheduling conditions to somewhat alleviate Player travel concerns (e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.), but the League did not want to enter into such a dialogue. The travel estimation data we received from the League indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult. On the playoff qualification matter, we suggested discussing ways to eliminate the inherent differences in the proposed realignment, but the League was not willing to do so.

“The League set a deadline of January 6, 2012 for the NHLPA to provide its consent to the NHL’s proposal. Players’ questions about travel and concerns about the playoff format have not been sufficiently addressed; as such, we are not able to provide our consent to the proposal at this time. We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so.”

The NHL through Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was quick to react to Fehr’s annoucement: "It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a plan that an overwhelming majority of our clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including players," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

"We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA's purported concerns with the plan with no success. Because we have already been forced to delay and, as a result, are already late in beginning the process of preparing next season's schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the realignment plan and modified playoff format for next season.

"We believe the union acted unreasonably in violation of the league's rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate."

Daly’s suggestion that “. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options” isn’t a friendly response. Daly (and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) and Fehr are all lawyers. It’s never good when one lawyer representing (in this case management and ownership) make a veiled suggestion “let’s see what we can do legally to change the mind of our workforce” (forget about trying to talk to the workforce).

The NHL’s realignment plan on many levels makes sense. Many of the divisions create geographical rivalries. It isn’t a perfect system. It may not be as good as the current divisions the NHL uses but the revised playoff formula (teams would play within their division for the first two rounds), is similar to the playoff system the NHL enjoyed many years ago. And that made for great hockey.

While as Fehr indicated realignment (the players’ right to agree to the proposed changes) are part of the current CBA, this is a classic example of choosing your battles. Is this a war Don Fehr and the NHLPA really want to fight (can they live with the proposed changes) and is this really more of a message the NHLPA (Fehr and company) are trying to send the NHL (Bettman and company)?

Under the Bettman proposed realignment, the NHL wanted to have two seven-team conferences based in the Eastern time zone: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina in one and Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay in the other.

The other two conferences would have had eight teams, with Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg in one, and Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado in the other.

The USA Today obtained an email NHL Player Association general counsel Don Zavelo sent to Bill Daly that followed the Fehr’s NHLPA release that stopped the realignment process.

The second email suggested the NHLPA wouldn't sign off on the realignment because "we lack the information necessary to answer player questions and concerns about the proposal's impact on travel."

Daly told the USA Today "The deadline didn't come out of thin air. We actually asked for an answer by Tuesday and extended several days to accommodate further discussion."

National Hockey League players travel on private charters. They stay in five star hotels. The proposed changes put teams in the same time zone (easier travel for the most part). Teams would play at least one game in each NHL city during the regular season. Currently NHL franchises play an unbalanced regular season schedule were teams do not play each other in each other’s arenas each season. The proposed schedule would create some additional travel but it gives NHL fans what they’re looking for, a chance to see every NHL team in their buildings each NHL season.

This really seems to be about Don Fehr sending Gary Bettman a message. When the NHL and the NHLPA reached an agreement on a new CBA in July 2005 the NHLPA agreed to a salary cap, a system along the lines of what basketball and football players had agreed to in the 1980’s. The only North American professional sports league without a salary cap since the NHLPA accepted a salary cap are baseball players who were once led by Fehr.

Don Fehr knows he isn’t going to turn back the clock and return the NHL to the system that existed before July 2005. He isn’t going to undo the salary cap. The current CBA guarantees NHL players 57 percent of hockey generated revenue. In November NBA players accepted a new CBA that reduced their guarantee from 57 percent of the basketball related income to 50 percent of the basketball related income.

That’s the battleground Don Fehr and Gary Bettman are headed towards, the realignment salvo Don Fehr sent Gary Bettman – nothing more than a subtle message making it clear to Bettman – the NHLPA isn’t going to roll over and accept whatever the NHL wants the NHLPA too.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Penn State Gets their coach – but?

Saturday Penn State University made it official, announcing New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will be the school’s new head football coach. O’Brien may or may not be the right choice, but Penn State’s allowing O’Brien to be a part of the Patriots run to Super Bowl XLV is nonsensical. After a busy weekend at Penn State, O’Brien returned to Foxboro Monday to help the Patriots get ready for their NFL playoff game Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Nittany Lions, rudderless since Joe Paterno was fired on November 9, need their head football coach immediately - not a month from now (if the Patriots make it to Super Bowl XLV on February 5).

Penn State’s football program imploded on November 4 when former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on more than 50 charges relating to alleged child sex abuse. Paterno who had been Penn State’s head football coach for 46 years was fired five days later; the Nitttany Lions stumbled to the end of their 2011 season under interim head coach Tom Bradley.

If there was ever a college football program that needed stability, it is Penn State’s. Like a salmon swimming upstream, O’Brien is facing two nearly insurmountable challenges – replacing a legendary head coach and taking over a college football program linked to one of the greatest scandals in sports history.

Penn State needs their new head football coach on campus NOW - not tomorrow - NOW!

O’Brien made clear Saturday that he’ll live by his commitment to the Patriots.

“One thing‑‑ in thinking about this day and how important this day is to Penn State, I want to address that question in this way: There is no way that I can stand up in front of our football team and our recruits and talk about loyalty and commitment and then leave the Patriots in the middle of a playoff run or the start of a playoff run. I have committed to the New England Patriots to see them through that playoff run. That's my loyalty and my commitment to that organization and what they've done for me.

“I will also continue any break I have, which there's not going to be a lot of sleep over the next two to three weeks, any break I have to make sure that I am full‑time as much as I can for Penn State and do the things necessary for Penn State.

“I'm in the process of putting together a staff, okay, in the process of putting together a staff. I'm going to put together the best staff for Penn State, the best staff that fits what we need to do at Penn State. And once I get that staff in place, which will be very quickly, over the next two or three days, those guys will hit the ground running and they'll get going as far as recruiting and those types of things.

“I will say this about our staff: I'm going to obviously talk to all the guys that are on the current staff, and I look forward to that. I was fortunate enough to meet one last night, Larry Johnson, the defensive line coach, who's been here for many years and coached many great defensive lines, and I don't know if he's here today, but I would like to say that he's committed to coaching on my staff, and I look forward to working with Larry”

With all due respect to O’Brien, that just isn’t good enough. It isn’t a matter of loyalty, but what’s in the best interest of Penn State football. Every day O’Brien is with the Patriots represents another lost day for the Nittany Lions. It isn’t a question as to whether or not O’Brien is doing what’s right for the New England Patriots (he is doing what’s right for the Patriots), it’s a question of what’s best for the Penn State football program. It is in Penn State’s best interest to have their new football coach on campus right now.

Compounding the challenge O’Brien is facing are outspoken former Nittany Lions suggesting the process for replacing Paterno “hasn’t been to their liking”.

“It would have been nice if we felt like we were part of the process,” said D. J. Dozier, a running back on the team that won the national title in the 1986 season, in a New York Times report. “This is a pretty important situation in transition for the university and the program. There are a lot of guys that feel a certain way. Today I have more questions than answers.”

Former Penn State All-American Lavar Arrington was very vocal on how he felt about O’Brien’s hiring.

"I will put my Butkus (Award) in storage. I will put my Alamo Bowl MVP trophy in storage", Arrington said. "Jerseys - anything Penn State, in storage. Wherever Tom Bradley goes, that's the school I will start to put memorabilia up in my home. I'm done. I'm done with Penn State. If they're done with us, I'm done with them.

"By these people making the decisions the way that they are making them, basically coinciding with everything that's being written about our university, if they get rid of Tom Bradley, that means they in essence have accepted the fact that we are all guilty. You might as well call it all the same thing” Arrington said.

"What we stood for and what we represented for so long, what we have been taught, what we have been trained to know and the values that I raise my own children with, you're basically telling me it's good, only as long as times are good."

There are also former Nittany Lions that are standing by the school’s new football coach.

Tim Sweeney, the president of the Penn State Football Letterman’s Club, told The New York Times in a phone interview that the negative comments of former players like Arrington, Brandon Short and others were not indicative of all former players. Sweeney said the club fully supports O’Brien and will welcome him into the community.

“You’re talking about 1,000 strong alpha males,” Sweeney said in the New York Times report. “That’s how they roll. We’re going to have some people in our group who are vocal about things that have transpired, and that’s their prerogative to do so. I think Coach O’Brien has a wonderful opportunity in front of him to come to a university that’s steeped in tradition.”

Both side’s positions are easy to understand. However, for the good of the Penn State program it does make the most sense for the school to hire someone like O’Brien - someone who has no connection whatsoever to anyone linked to Jerry Sandusky and the school’s interim head football coach Tom Bradley. Bradley will forever be tainted by the damage Jerry Sandusky created. While not fair for Bradley, it is for the good of Penn State’s football program to adopt a scorched-earth philosophy in moving forward.

Last week, the Associated Press reported a series of internal memos created by Penn State in the weeks immediately following Sandusky’s indictment and Paterno’s firing suggesting the school is very concerned about the impact the scandal will have on Penn State’s ability to raise money for the school.

Under Joe Paterno, Penn State’s football program had become an economic engine, generating in excess of $50 million annually for the school.

The memos focused in part on how Penn State could best manage their communications strategy among the school’s Board of Trustees. At the time of the memos, Penn State’s Board included 31 voting members and 16 emeritus members.

"We need to streamline the communications among and with members of the board," Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John Surma wrote, days after media reports surfaced of eroding support for Paterno and Graham Spanier. "First and foremost, there have been serious breaches in confidentiality of our discussions and we will take the necessary steps to address these. Second, a smaller group will be more effective to provide feedback to President Erickson."

In the days immediately following Sandusky’s indictment, Penn State was seemingly without a communications plan. When the Board fired Paterno and then-President Spanier on November 9, Penn State’s Board of Trustees began dealing with the media. They stopped waiting for the story to come to them, rather creating it themselves.

Bill O’Brien will be under immense pressure in the coming months. The Board of Trustees (there are at least five former football players on the current board) will have to stand by the decision to hire O’Brien. Replacing a legend is next to impossible. O’Brien and Penn State are still facing the microscope they’ll be under when Jerry Sandusky’s trial begins; challenges entirely unrelated to O’Brien’s ability to coach. Bill O’Brien will have to be a great deal more than a football coach for Penn State University.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Blooom

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