The below article originally published in the June issue of Arkansas Money & Politics
When it comes to big-time college sports, Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas rarely operate on a level playing field. The Razorback athletic department pulls in nearly seven times more total revenue than the ASU Red Wolves.
There is one place Arkansas’ largest sports programs stand on equal ground: each school’s head football coach has a contract demanding the same amount of money for cutting out early. If the Hogs’ Bret Bielema had decided to break his six-year contract last year — his first on the job — he would have owed the U of A $3 million. Three million is also what the Red Wolves’ new coach Blake Anderson would pay to leave ASU during his first year. This symmetry is all the more striking because Bielema’s and Anderson’s salaries aren’t even close: Bielema makes $3.2 million a year, Anderson makes $700,000.
Conversely, if they leave at the behest of the schools, the coaches can look to pocket some walking-away money.
It’s all a matter of strategy and context, a common game played by universities across the country. Still, fans can be certain of one thing: in the world of coaches’ contracts, terms for parting ways matter every bit as much as the salary.
In the biggest conferences, a $3 million buyout provision isn’t all that large. In a conference as relatively small as ASU’s Sun Belt, though, this kind of number is almost certainly unprecedented — much like the situation in which ASU football finds itself on the whole.
“When you’ve gone through what we’ve gone through the last few years,” ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir said, “you learn a little bit.”
Since 2010, ASU has hired four different coaches. The first — Hugh Freeze — had a first-year buyout of $225,000. For his successors, that figure jumped to $700,000, then to $1.75 million, and now to $3 million. Where it ends, nobody knows.
Decades ago, things were simpler. Major college football coaches typically signed one-year contracts, which would roll over to the next year if they did a good job. Things started changing in the 1980s with the advent of bigger broadcast deals and the proliferation of cable sports programming. As multi-year contracts prevailed in the late 1980s and 1990s, “the institutions began looking for a commitment from the coach,” U of A athletic director Jeff Long said. At first, “it was really a one-way street and now it’s evolved into a two-way street on the contractual buyout terms.”
In business terms, the institution is looking for security after investing in a risky asset — the head football coach — that can either add or lose a great amount of revenue. Perversely, either one makes the coach more likely to leave. A chronically underwhelming coach is likely to be fired by the school, while star performers are lured away by institutions with more elite programs.
Buyout contracts therefore typically work in two ways. If a university fires the head coach “at its convenience,” legalese often translated to “too many games were lost,” the school usually gives the coach a ton of money to go away. Bielema, for instance, would be paid $12.8 million if he were fired in this context in his first three seasons. For Anderson, the number is $3 million if he’s let go in his first year. The University of Central Arkansas’ Steve Campbell would be paid $7,000 a month for the remainder of his contract ending Dec. 31, 2017, if he were fired; and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Monte Coleman would get his annual base salary of $150,000 paid to him over 18 months.
In the 21st century, major college coaches’ salaries — and attendant buyouts — have grown hand-in-hand.
It’s a simple, really. You have a question. You go online. You type words into what is commonly known as a “search bar.”
Presto – you just did what every other American has been doing for most of the last 15 years.
Most every other American, except for a certain mother of a soon-to-be Princeton University student-athlete who – when subjected to an unfamiliar word – did what comes so naturally to .0013% of us: pen a two paragraph-long missive to a nationally syndicated advice columnist.
The result is the below masterpiece.
Read it and marvel. It is as if Miley Cyrus’ spandexed, gyrating ass were magically transported to 1958 and dropped in front of June Cleaver and Abigail Van Buren to ponder:
OK: It’s a fake. Princeton doesn’t even give athletic scholarships, after all.
But, oh, what a glorious fake it is.
Thoughts and prayers going out to Arkansans whose lives were devastated by tornadoes last night. At least 16 people have died, with many more injuries. One of the towns hit hardest was north central Arkansas’ Vilonia, which just three years ago was almost wiped out by another powerful tornado. According to one eyewitness account, about 90% of Vilonia’s Main Street businesses and homes were wiped away last night. If you feel moved to help, please visit here.
Sports, obviously, hardly mean anything when the wounds are still so raw. But three years ago, they proved to one thread in the story of the tornado’s aftermath- a physical recovery, which painfully, was largely wiped away last night. While I’m sure some Vilonia residents will relocate from the town for good, plenty more will stay. They found a way through the devastation before. And they’ll work together to do it again.
Below is part of the recovery story from that first time. It originally published in August, 2011, in Sync magazine.
Cross-county high school football foes in Greenbrier and Vilonia blown closer by April tornado.
If a student of the University of Central Arkansas’ digital film program decided to chronicle a high school football rivalry, this would-be Ken Burns wouldn’t have to travel far from the Conway campus. Just up the road, two Faulkner County neighbors annually stage one of the state’s fiercest showdowns. Vilonia and Greenbrier, which play their first games this week, don’t square off until the last regular season game. Still, our young documentarian could easily frame the next couple of months as mere prelude to the November night when the Greenbrier Panthers and the Vilonia Eagles tussle.
Much, you see, often hangs in the balance when one of these 5A-West schools travels across 14 miles of hilly farmland to play the other: postseason appearances, playoff seeds, a year’s worth of bragging rights. There’s always a postseason-like electricity in the air, with seniors getting amped for one final crack at foes they have seen their whole lives.
“It definitely started back in peewee football,” says Matt Cain, a former Greenbrier football player.
“You grow up not liking them on the field or on the court.”
The week before this game, Vilonia players give motivational speeches to students packed with quotes from movies such as Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights and 300. Vilonia cheerleader Lindsey Agerton has made some Greenbrier friends through her competitive cheer team in Conway, but during rivalry week, you’d think they were competitive debaters: “We bicker about who’s gonna win and fight [for] our sides about why our team’s gonna win.”
In Greenbrier, Panther players, school staff, parents and alumni gather after church the night before the game. In the parking lot of the city’s baseball field, they light a bonfire and give speeches, says Cain, now a Harding University freshman. Parents and coaches tell kids they are proud of them.
On game nights, all sorts come: the lifelong diehard, the random football fan from Conway or Little Rock, the grandpa who doesn’t have much time left for a young man’s game but makes time for this.
“We’re liable to have twice the gate as normal,” says Ed Sellers, assistant superintendent of Vilonia Public Schools. In Vilonia’s stadium, that can mean a capacity crowd of 4,500 people at $5 a pop for adults, $4 for students. That’s a $10,000 uptick in gate revenue as well as extra concession and merchandise sales. This game greases the football engines of both schools.
As in any true rivalry, neither side has totally dominated since the series began in 1967. Greenbrier, which has always had slightly more people than Vilonia, jumped to an 18-7 series. Then the Eagles won 12 of the next 13 games. In those years from 1996 through 2008, Greenbrier failed to make the playoffs, and lost all 10 games in 2006. But the Panthers have beaten Vilonia the past two seasons, and this fall Greenbrier seeks to topple state champion Greenwood with its high-octane passing offense led by quarterback Neal Burcham, one of most accomplished players in program history.
Like every year, Vilonia would love to derail Greenbrier’s hopes. But this year, when the team captains gather at midfield, there will likely be more exchanged than cliched niceties.
“We’re more bonded to them than past seniors,” Vilonia center Zach Ballard says.
It started early last fall, when NFL players wearing pink gear for breast cancer awareness inspired Greenbrier seniors to try the same. When a Greenbrier coach mentioned the breast cancer diagnosis of Vilonia head coach Jim Stanley’s wife, Sandra, his players knew the game in which they would do it.
The Panthers wore pink shoe laces, wrist tape and gloves in honor of Sandra Stanley.
“A lot of their players wore pink just out of respect and encouragement for my wife,” says Stanley. “That meant a lot.”
And Greenbrier high school students wearing pink T-shirts filled the stadium that night.
“We’ve really kind of grown together as a community,” Ballard says.
The night of April 26 bound the towns even closer.
THE TORNADO HITS
Lindsey Agerton, then a Vilonia sophomore, was with her family and boyfriend in her home’s garage off Arkansas 64 when she noticed strange clouds moving above faraway hills. The clouds, she later realized, were slowly forming a tornado.
They went inside as the clouds approached, roaring louder by the mile. “It was the loudest noise ever, unbelievable noise.”
The monster bearing down on Vilonia and the surrounding country nearly sucked the windows off the frames of Agerton’s parents’ bedroom.
“When you put your hands on it, you could feel it pulling away.”
She remembers her dad’s garage shop swaying back and forth in the backyard, that same wind whipping around to twist the trunks of three trees in her front yard into pretzels.
“It was scary. There are just so many things going through your head.”
Cell reception was temporarily out, so all the comforting text messages — ‘Are you alright?’, ‘What’s happening?’ ‘Do you need help?’ — flooded in later, all at once. Facebook status updates through the night informed them which neighbors’ homes were gone. That night four people died in Vilonia, including a couple from Greenbrier. At least five more Arkansans died in storms elsewhere.
The next morning laid bare the enormity of the survivors’ task.
“You could look down the road, and every light pole was flipped over and on the ground,” says Agerton. “You didn’t worry about your house. You just went in and started helping everyone out.”
Well done work here. The low blow at Arkansans’ sartorial tastes & the fact that MSU and A&M’s videos are missing is more than made up for by the hilarious Drake reference in the South Carolina section.
Originally posted on DudeYouCrazy:
The SEC Network released a new series of ads this morning in their “Take It All In” campaign. The twist in this new set of releases is that there is an ad tailored for each member school’s fan base. The intent here is to make DirecTV, Comcast, and Time Warner catch even more hell within SEC markets for not adding the SEC Network to their lineups.
Some of the ads are exceptional–highlighting the traditions and absurdities that make the SEC so special. Some make you wonder why anyone has ever submitted themselves to the torment of rooting for a school that is this lame. Below you’ll find my (Jason) rankings for each ad from worst to best:
14. Missouri – “M-I-Z…Z-O-U!”
If the only tradition you bring to this conference is misspelling your own damn name then please sit down.
13. South Carolina – Sandstorm
Never is your little brother status…
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Here are some scenes from Thursday night’s Real Deal in the Rock event featuring all-star teams from Arkansas and Tennessee. Tennessee won 81-78. Stay tuned for an upcoming piece in Sporting Life Arkansas for details and video on Razorback signees Nick Babb and Trey Thompson.
The following is republished from a Sync magazine article in 2009
The Memphis Grizzlies want your business, Arkansas.
And they’re working for it.
More radio stations carrying game broadcasts, community outreach events and 280-mile charter bus trips are a few ways that central Arkansas’ nearest pro team has tried to drum up interest in a state only miles from their FedEx Forum home.
There’s no choice, says John Pugliese, the team’s senior director of marketing and communications. Grizzlies management understood when the team arrived from Vancouver in 2001 that expanding its fan base into a tri-state area including Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee would be vital to success.
Eight years later, to what extent do Arkansans consider the Grizzlies the state’s “adopted” pro basketball team? For the sake of comparison in this specific context, let’s consider the Dallas Cowboys to be Arkansas’ adopted pro football team.
The Grizz have certainly reached across the Mississippi River. In its first years in Memphis, Grizz players, coaches, mascots and salespeople visited Arkansas cities like Jonesboro and Little Rock to promote the team, Pugliese said. The team has set up “Jr. Grizz” basketball teaching programs for children ages 6-15 in Jacksonville, Conway, Marion, Helena, West Memphis and McGehee.
Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said last week that he has taught one-day camps with “pretty good turn out” at a Boys & Girls Club in West Memphis the last two summers. Conley, whose father starred in track for the Razorbacks, spent most of his childhood in Fayetteville before eventually moving to Indianapolis, Ind.
Conley’s relatives, who are spread across Arkansas, may see new Grizzlies billboards in places like Marion, Jonesboro and West Memphis as they travel east to see Conley’s home games. The advertisements are part of a commercial outreach that includes four Arkansas radio stations broadcasting Memphis games. Fans can tune into stations based in West Helena, Marion and Jonesboro and, in central Arkansas, Conway’s KASR 92.7 FM. Grizzlies television broadcasts extend nearly 75 miles into east Arkansas, Pugliese added.
In an effort targeting Little Rock, the Grizzlies last year sold tickets of $47 and $99 for a charter bus round trip to select Memphis games.
“We see a little bit of our fan base in Arkansas growing every year,” Pugliese said. He added that roughly 10 percent of ticket holders to Grizz games are Arkansans, and a majority of those hail from West Memphis and Jonesboro, which is 64 miles from Memphis.
According to espn.com, Memphis averaged 12,745 in home attendance last season, 29th of 30 NBA teams. It’s kept the same spot through 10 home games this year by averaging 12,210.
So, let’s cut to the chase — has Arkansas developed a love for its neighboring Grizzlies?
Based on the many conversations I’ve recently had about this subject, I’d say “no.” Let’s explore possible reasons.
1) A Memphis native, and fellow Little Rock Central High School alum, told me while Arkansas is very much Razorbacks country, so is Memphis still very much Tiger country. He averred that despite their NBA credentials, the Grizzlies have yet to capture the hearts of Memphians as the University of Memphis Tigers do. They’re just too new, and haven’t won enough yet. It seems more Memphians would have to first come to love the Grizzlies before Arkansans would.
2) Winners attract new fans, but for most of the last eight years the Grizz have been a losing team. They had won three consecutive games going into last Friday’s game against Oklahoma City, and offered $3 tickets to help pack the house. Attendance was 13,048, and Memphis lost.
3) Although winning would help the problem, the Grizz lack “superstars” that can sell tickets on name alone. They almost had one in Allen Iverson this fall, but he bailed on the team and wound up signing with Philadelphia.
A pickup basketball friend of mine from Little Rock said he was disappointed to hear Iverson had left because he was planning a Memphis trip to see him play. I mentioned the team still had young, exciting players in Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, and he laughed. He’d totally forgotten.
4) I believe Arkansas is still a football state, and that’s one reason why to many Arkies the Cowboys matter more than the Grizzlies (factor in Dallas’ winning tradition and Razorback connections like Jerry Jones and Felix Jones). This plays out even in West Memphis, the Arkansas area receiving the most Grizzlies exposure. Sonny Weems, an NBA player, said there’s plenty of enthusiasm for the Grizzlies in West Memphis, but he never attended a Grizzlies game while playing at West Memphis High School in the early 2000s. Football was his sport, he said.
This decade, central Arkansas has had chances to support NBA basketball in its own backyard but has whiffed. NBA preseason games were held in North Little Rock at what was then known as Alltel Arena from 2000-2006, peaking with an attendance of 14,672 in 2002 between the Lakers and Grizzlies, based on Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. The last two years however, saw attendances of 4,290 and 6,275. Pugliese said the Grizzlies “are open” to the possibility of returning for a preseason game but there are “no immediate plans.”
It’s too bad. I genuinely feel NBA ball provides some of the world’s greatest athletic spectacle, and nobody knows how long it will last on Arkansas’ doorstep.
Young, exciting strikers will be a big reason why soccer is on the verge of joining football, basketball and baseball as the top spectator team sports in the U.S. The USA has never produced a world-class striker (sorry, Landon Donovan); Julian Green could become the first.
Originally posted on For The Win:
The United States men’s national team’s German manager has convinced a young German-American striker that his future should be in the red, white and blue…and American soccer fans are celebrating.
In what can only be considered a coup for United States soccer, 18-year-old Bayern Munich forward Julian Green has decided to play his international soccer for the U.S. team. Green’s father, a former member of the military, is American and currently resides in Tampa, Florida. Green’s mother is German, and he holds dual-citizenship.
The news was broken first by ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, then confirmed by USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer.
“We are absolutely thrilled that Julian Green has chosen to be a part of the U.S. National Team Programs!"—
Jürgen Klinsmann (@J_Klinsmann) March 18, 2014
Julian Green has chosen to represent the #USMNT!…
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Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. There simply are not enough farm animals intruding onto our American fields of play.
Here’s part Part 2 of my feature which originally ran in Arkansas Life magazine.
Years Lettered: 1970-72
Ranks with Mitch Mustain as the most highly touted high school quarterback to ever sign with Arkansas. The record-setting dropback specialist also went on the most successful pro career of any Razorback QB.
After College: After an 18-year NFL career, worked in real estate before a 1997-2000 stint as Arkansas’ quarterbacks coach. Then re-entered real estate, becoming a vice president for Lindsey & Associates.
Residence: Bella Vista, Ark.
Years Lettered: 1972-74
Led Hogs to a 10-1 record in 1975 and, in the Cotton Bowl, triggered a 31-point second half to rout Georgia 31-10.
After College: Played three seasons with San Francisco 49ers. Since 1979, has been the CEO of Pace Industries, LLC, the leading die cast manufacturer in North America.
Years Lettered: 1975-78
First quarterback of the Lou Holtz era, Calcagni led Arkansas to an 11-1 record including a stunning 31-6 upset of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Heading into the season, the Hogs were been picked to finish sixth.
After College: Played in the Canadian Football League for three years, then started a coaching career that has included stops at high school, CFL and college levels (including a 1983-86 stint as QB/wide receivers coach at Arkansas State University). Has coached Pulaski Heights Middle School in Little Rock since 2009.
Current Residence: Conway, Ark.
Years Lettered: 1978-79
Led Arkansas to a 10-2 record in 1979 for a share of the SWC championship as conference offensive player of the year. His 66.2% completion rate that year remains an all-time record.
After College: Worked as an aide on ex governor Bill Clinton’s staff. Then entered finance industry, joining Stephens, Inc. in 1987 to oversee now-defunct Stephens Sports Management. Rose ranks to become executive vice president and director of Stephens’ private client group, overseeing 225 employees across eight states.
Residence: Little Rock
Years Lettered: 1979-82
His tenure wasn’t as successful as predecessors’ but did help lead the Hogs to a mid-season 42-11 romp of No. 1 Texas in 1981. It was the program’s largest win ever over Texas.
After College: Moved to Little Rock and worked for a general contractor until 1987, when he returned to his hometown of Ruston, La. There, he took ownership of Triad Builders, a mainly commercial construction business, from his father “Dub” Jones. He still works in the same building as his 88-year-old father, a former Tulane All-American football player who later coached Hall of Famer Jim Brown at Cleveland.
Current Residence: Ruston, La.
Years Lettered: 1981-84
Shared time with Jones early on, then took reins to become Arkansas’ all-time leading passer, finishing with 4,802 yards.
After College: Worked for Chambers Bank in his hometown of Danville until a few years ago. On his Yell Country farm, has raised cattle and pigs – up up to 2,500 at one time.
Current Residence: Belleville, Ark.
David Epstein is the author of the recent released “The Sports Gene,” the best book on the market dealing with exercise genetics and the question of why some races seem to be more successful at certain sports than others. It delves into why, for instance, people with West African heritage dominate at the world’s highest sprinting events.
On the surface, yes, this sounds like potentially inflammatory stuff. But, if you’re given to that sort of reaction, then you’re probably the type of person willing to look past surface appearances anyway.
Please look – literally – past the cover of “The Sports Gene.” You’ll be rewarded. I promise: your mind will be opened.
I discussed the book on Sporting Life Arkansas, and had the chance to interview Epstein by phone. He was gracious enough to give me some updates on former Razorback Tyson Gay, who withdrew from last week’s world championships after testing positive for a banned substance. As Epstein wrote on July 16 for si.com, “Gay has been treated by Atlanta chiropractor and anti-aging specialist Clayton Gibson. In the sports world, the term “anti-aging” has often come to signify therapy that uses hormones — usually testosterone and HGH — and testosterone precursors, like DHEA. DHEA can be obtained over the counter and is permitted in certain sports, including baseball, but not those contested in the Olympics.”
Gibson told Epstein he’d been referred to Gay by former U.S. sprinter Jon Drummond, who coached Gay on the 4X100 Olympic relay team in London 2012. Drummond has also trained various NFL players and it was through these contacts that Drummond first heard about Dr. Gibson, Epstein told me. A few Baltimore Ravens had used Gibson for anti-aging treatments – including former Raven Ed Reed, who enjoyed acupuncture, chiropractic work and foot detoxes with Gibson.
One Raven was friends with a track athlete coached by Drummond. Word of Gibson’s work spread and eventually reached Gay this way, Epstein said.
Here’s more from our Aug. 11 conversation:
Q: When did Gay start using Gibson?
A: He started using the doctor prior to the Olympic trials last year.
Q: What’s the latest you have heard regarding Gay and how he’s handling the suspension he will soon receive?
A: He’s cooperating, from what I’m told. He’s going to accept the suspension and is cooperating.
Q: A suspension in this situation is normally two years. How long do you think Gay’s is going to be?
A: Anti doping now works like criminal law enforcement. I think it’s gonna be a year minimum. But it could be less than that if he gives amazing information that leads to sanctions for other athletes….
I think his only recourse for getting his suspension reduced is information that will lead to sanctions against other doctors, trainer or athletes.”
Q: How fast do you think Gay will be when he returns to competition?
A: I think it will be very difficult to be as fast as he was this year. So we expect him to be past his prime. But you look at Justin Gatlin – he came back from a suspension and ran better than anybody expected.