Extra Points Community Interview: ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart
The headman at the ASUN talks Liberty, conference realignment, social justice, guitars, and more:
Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
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2) I’m excited to publish the first edition of the Extra Points Community Interview series, featuring ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart. I solicited questions via email, and from our Extra Points Discord room. Our interview guest for next week will be Katie Davis, a CPA at James Moore. Katie is an actual expert on higher education finance and accounting, so feel free to direct any questions you have about college athletics and money to her. You can do that via our Discord, or by emailing me at MattBrownOhio@Gmail.com.
3) If you would like to be the subject of an Extra Points community interview, please fill out this form. You don’t have to be an academic, athletic director, coach, or anything like that. Anybody whose life experience and perspective can help shed light on college athletics could be a great fit.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. You can follow Ted on Twitter at @ASUNCommish. Just don’t call it the Atlantic Sun. I already made that mistake.
Reader Eric asks: What do you think the short-term future looks like for low-major leagues like the ASUN? What sorts of changes do you expect?
Gumbart: My view of the short-term future for the ASUN and our peer conferences is very bright. First, we are not dependent on million-dollar media contract income to conduct our business. While the top conferences are facing incredibly high drop-offs in revenue, our group remains relatively stable. Second, I would submit that the ASUN is a mid-major by every definition. The NCAA has a legislative proposal related to expanding the men's basketball committee from 10 members to 12 members. In the model preferred by the Men's Basketball Oversight Committee (MBOC), there would be a higher level of access to seats on that committee for the conferences that have achieved a defined level of recent success. Among the non-FBS conferences, the ASUN holds status as a success conference, thereby qualifying for a higher priority for a seat on the committee.
I am happy to tell you what I expect. And it is exactly that - only what I prognosticate the future holds. And I don't mind sharing my opinion, so, since you asked: I believe the next 2-3 years will see some realignment among those conferences and institutions who can build a model that is more responsive to the current marketplace - meaning that those that can provide better scheduling models, less time away from campus, lower travel costs, higher revenue prospects - will realize a growth stage. Others that don't have a plan may see increased financial and membership stress.
I also see that in the 4-5 year future there will be serious discussions about what it means to be a Division I institution. I do not like, and do not support, Division I institutions dropping sports. While it sometimes is a natural evolution of programs, it should not be a financial only decision. Student recruitment will be increasingly important over this period, as the projected population of college-bound students will be declining in this timeframe.
I would expect to see developments such as schools and conferences identifying certain sports as "primary;" these primary sports will continue to receive current levels of "full funding" for scholarships and coaching positions. Other sports might have a designation such as "ILM," with ILM standing for Ivy League Model. The Ivy League does not award scholarship funding for athletic ability. League members provide financial support based on need and on academic qualifications, but not on athletic ability. So we know schools can field teams in the ILM. I see increased collaboration among conferences with some foresight, collaborations in which one conference would sponsor a specific sport - let's use wrestling as an example - at the "primary" level and the partner conference would sponsor wrestling as an ILM sport.
Reader Jason asks: Are you aware of any ASUN institutions looking to add any new sports in the near future? Would you recommend any of them do so?
Gumbart: The answer to question one is yes. I am aware of ASUN schools that are looking to add sports. The answer to your second question is yes, I would recommend that they do so. Not in every circumstance, but in the situations I know of, the rationale is sound. Reasons could be to meet Title IX, to raise enrollment (or specifically to raise male enrollment), to meet the local/regional demands of your recruiting area, or to make a sports sponsorship change from one sport to another because of its popularity, its student drawing power, its cost-effectiveness, or its inclusion in a conference portfolio that allows you to compete with you peer group on even terms.
Reader Matt Brown asks: What are some of the benefits, and challenges, to securing media rights/broadcasting deals at the single-bid D1 level? As more inventory is moved to streaming services, is it financially challenging for schools to help produce events in-house? Would it ever make sense for a league to say, move away from ESPN+ to a smaller outfit, in exchange for a larger rights fee?
Gumbart: A quick thought, before I answer that.
We - you and I as EXTRA POINT writers - need to provide insight and news and perspective that fans won't get from other sources. Here is one such item: The NCAA DI manual classifies schools and conferences into three subdivisions (Football Bowl Subdivision=FBS, Football Championship Subdivision=FCS; Division I Subdivision). Calling a subdivision the same name as the whole division doesn't make sense. In tennis you have a point, a game, a set, and a match. In volleyball we play a point, a set, and a match. We have a dollar and it has four quarters. Without processing a formal legislative amendment, the 11 commissioners of the "Division I" subdivision of Division I unanimously decided that we should refer to ourselves as basketball centric. As there are 11 of us, we are the Basketball Centric 11. Now that EXTRA POINTS has shared this decision, the entire collegiate sporting world will immediately begin using BC11 to refer to the basketball centric conferences:
Now, to your question.
Benefits include exposure for the teams and our member schools, sponsorship opportunities through advertising inventory in the broadcast, a live learning lab for students in communications and media programs of study, an avenue to tell your story as the producer of the event (highlight school and team and student success), and a way for selection committee members to see your teams in action as much as needed.
Challenges include staffing all games with skilled teams (especially during holiday breaks), financing the productions, getting quality time slots and promotion and coverage of your conference's most important games.
I'm going to leave your question about moving away from ESPN for a separate column. That is a complex and layered issue and your readers will want the details. Some of it is protected information, but I will share as much as possible. Maybe we can take you inside a negotiating session! I wonder if ESPN would let us live stream our next contract extension discussion?
Editor note: yes, by all means, for all ADs and conference leaders reading this newsletter, invite me into a negotiating session.
Reader Anonymous asks: Favorite guitar player?
Gumbart: Eric Clapton.
Reader Alex asks: When multiple athletes left Liberty University this summer over racial bias/insensitivity concerns, did the conference office take any action? At what point does a conference office get involved?
Gumbart: Foundation information: Here is an excerpt from the ASUN Constitution:
3. CODE OF CONDUCT 3.1 Code. We will conduct ourselves with the highest levels of honesty, fairness, respect and responsibility.
3.2 Commitment. Our conduct shapes the ASUN reputation. We commit to define our character by displaying good sportsmanship at all times by conducting ourselves according to the ASUN Code of Conduct (“Code”).
3.3 Scope. The Code governs all ASUN representatives. This includes all member institution delegates, athletics department staff and representatives, student-athletes, coaches, officials and ASUN staff. The Code shall apply during competition and during all other activities.
Answer: Yes, the conference took action. We call it opening a Code Case. Without going too deep into the internal function, here is the language from our constitution about when the conference steps in:
3.5 Responsibility of the Commissioner. The Commissioner shall have the responsibility and the power to investigate any behavior that comes to the attention of the conference office, to determine violations, and to impose penalties and sanctions against any member institution or ASUN representative for conduct that is deemed to have violated the spirit or the letter of the ASUN Code of Conduct and/or ASUN legislation.
Friend of the newsletter Matt Brown asks: Has Liberty's presidential transition changed any conversations with current league institutions or potential expansion candidates?
Gumbart: Matt - are you familiar with the butterfly effect? Since we are all teachers and lifelong learners, let's learn a little bit. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state." That should clear it right up.
More to the point, we acknowledge the ongoing change in leadership at Liberty. We support the student-athletes and their opportunity to compete in a healthy, welcoming environment, one that should be the same for all Liberty students, faculty, employees and visitors. While my answer to staff teammates who might ask, does this really matter, is usually something such as "everything affects everything," we have not experienced any change in our plans or progress due to the presidential transition at Liberty.
We did celebrate when Virginia Tech called time out last Saturday. WOW, that was an amazing finish.
Reader Alex asks: Does the league expect changes with Liberty's athletic department in the near future?
We have a great relationship with AD Ian McCaw and his administrative team. Flames Club Director Mike Hagen is a former ASUN staff member and former commissioner of the CCSA. I am not aware of any significant changes being planned. The university leadership will rightfully be focused on finding its next president, and a chancellor. You wrote a very insightful article about Liberty's athletic status. Liberty student-athletes compete in a wonderful, caring environment with outstanding coaching, training, medical and academic support. I am impressed by the Liberty hospitality every time I visit.
This year of 2020 is a year of change and challenges in many ways. Our ASUN office is more sensitive to racial injustice issues and BLM activism. I know that Liberty University and the LU athletic programs are also working to grow and improve in these areas, as all of us should be. Part of our role in conference leadership is to ensure all our schools take part in making permanent and positive change. We strive every day to do that.
Extra Points Publisher Matt Brown asks: You've been involved in college athletics for a long time. Clearly, it's changed quite a bit. What has been the most positive development you've noticed over the last few years?
Gumbart: The most positive, and most important development is the proactive steps now being embraced on racial and social justice issues. We are purposely having responsible and challenging discussions about how each of us can have a greater positive impact on our country's growth. College athletics provides a tremendous platform for expression and now we are using it for a purpose much greater than winning a ball game.
The ASUN began a video series called Teammates. In the opening, we say "We choose to address the real issues of racial inequity, and we intend for this program to contribute towards an improved world of teammates." Kendrell Watkins does a fabulous job moderating a discussion on this show. I hope you watch it. And if you want to read a book, I found "How to be an Antiracist" by Ibrim X. Kendi to be more than worthwhile. As the Liberty University SAAC expresses it: Listen. Learn. Love.
And finally, reader Tyler asks: What do you think will be the biggest change for you and your peer leagues over the next few years?
Gumbart. I can do better than tell you what I think the biggest change will be for the ASUN. I know what the biggest change for the ASUN is going to be. We are going to be leaders, we are going to continue to achieve at record levels in our academic success (70% of ASUN student-athletes earn honor roll status with a 3.0 or better), our athletic success, and we are going to come out of the COVID era stronger, more committed to our mission, more inspired by our student-athletes, and more effective as an organization.
As for our peer leagues? The ASUN is going to continue to be a rising star. If others want to remain a peer as we rise, they will need to make their own plan. The ASUN has a set of presidents that are not afraid to be bold, they are not scared of change, and they want to shape their future, not sit in a reactionary mode expecting status quo. As noted in the G. Bernard Shaw quote currently resting under my email signature, progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
Thanks again to Ted for participating. If you have any questions about the finances in college athletics for Katie Davis, ping me in the #ExtraPoints room to shoot me an email. We’ll do this again next week!
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