John Skipper, Bob Bowlsby,and DeLoss Dodds, Kirk Schulz, ESPN Inc. president and three leaders in collegiate athletics

Landon Lecture
April 2, 2014

JOHN CURRIE: Good evening, once again, and we're going to get started now, and we'll have an interactive discussion and some questions here. I expect, knowing these folks, they're not going to hold back.

JOHN SKIPPER: I've been in negotiations with all of them, and they never hold back. So far.

CURRIE: We've got you surrounded now. And later on in the program, there will be time for the audience to ask questions. So, Mr. Skipper, ESPN is now a household word, athletes want to be in a top ten highlight on SportsCenter, college bands play the theme music, there are restaurants, magazines, multiple channels viewed by a hundred million households, but what is exactly ESPN's mission?

SKIPPER: I have to tell you, I'm reeling a tiny bit, because I'm pretty sure I heard somebody say that somebody was president for eight more days? Okay, that's you, not me, right? Obviously, any company at a university at a conference among the most important things you need to do is coalesce people around something that is simple to understand and that it is inspiring. And at ESPN, our mission is to serve sports fans. That's it, that's what it's been since the company started, we codified it at one point, a couple of years ago, we added "to serve sports fans, anytime, anywhere," to take into account that it was no longer about sitting in front of a television set at home and watching in your living room. It might be watching on your smart phone or your desktop computer. You do know if you watch more ESPN at work, you're more productive. We have surveys that prove that. And we have seven thousand employees, most of them in Bristol, Connecticut, some in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Charlotte, North Carolina, Austin, Texas, and they all understand that that's what we're doing. We're serving sports fans. It actually is quite a helpful way to think about decisions you make. When we think about "are we going to adopt a new technology," the answer is if sports fans like it, we're gonna do it, and we've been well served by doing that. You almost said we're a household world, and that's what we want to be, we actually want to be a household world.

CURRIE: That was a softball thrown your way. Commissioner Bowlsby, what has ESPN meant to college athletics?

BOB BOWLSBY: Dun dun dun, dun dun dun! Is there anybody in the room that doesn't recognize that? You know, I don't think there's a short answer to that, john, but clearly ESPN has changed the way the world consumes its sports. They did it in presentation, they did it in the way they've grown their family of networks, there seems to be an almost insatiable appetite for additional content, and ESPN has certainly been in the forefront of capturing that content, and I think John gets a lot of the credit for the visionary approach to capturing content. The company under his leadership has aggressively gone after long-time contracts in an era which he and I have talked about on occasion. The likelihood of changing technology in the years ahead is very substantial, and who knows how we'll be consuming our sports in the years ahead? But John knows that having those arrangements and nurturing the relationships is the way to go forward and do business together. So I think, truly, when it was the Entertainment Sports Programming Network, and no one really knew what that meant, I just think it's astonishing what it's become, and not only has ESPN created its own world, but they have created the world to which every other sports broadcaster aspires. They truly have set the standard for storytelling and for presentation and for multiple platform delivery, and it's a remarkable story, and one that is an American story. It has done a lot to define our culture in the last two decades.

CURRIE: Just as a point of order, when the commissioner or anyone else refers to "John," they're not really talking about me, they're talking about John Skipper. If it's me, It's going to be Currie, or something like that. SO, John Skipper, to be specific, this is a public affairs and public policy forum in tradition here, and you know the people that have been on this stage and in this series, so when you're talking about public affairs, how does ESPN fit into public affairs?

SKIPPER: Well, it's not just how ESPN fits in public affairs, and it is to me- I want to justify being here in this august Landon Lecture. I looked at some of the people who have been here before, so it was a little bit daunting. But I do think it belongs, because sports is very central to American culture right now. I mean, if you think about what people talk about, what matters, how big a business it is, sports is really central, and I have the point of view that in a world in which much of what we're interested in is fragmented, and there are no more Billboard 100 Charts where everybody listens to the same music, or politics is very polarizing, and it's difficult to bring it up at dinner parties, when people watch different movies and read different books- and it's not a bad thing, but there is this real fragmentation of our culture. One of the few things people can talk about together is sports. I've had the misfortune of having to go to a lot of focus groups at one point in my career, I try not to go now, but that's where you sit behind a one way mirror and watch people talk. And I can guarantee if you bring eight or ten guys to a room, guys don't talk to each other quickly, they're slightly awkward around each other, they don't quite know whether to say anything. Women talk much more quickly in focus groups to each other, eventually guys will talk to each other when one guy says to the other one, "did you see the game last night?" And that's how they start, and it's not trivial, because we want common experiences, right? We want things to talk to each other about, and ways to bond. It's part of the passion of college sports, right? I've heard ten or fifteen times today people talk about the K-State family, the Wildcat Family, what it means to be here, and I know that one of the things that you coalesce around is Kansas State Athletics. People come to the stadium on Saturday, and 50,000 people have a great time there, and that's what sports is about, that's why it's public policy, it also, of course, is intertwined with major state public universities, public funds and financing, so significant issues with public policy become involved.

CURRIE: So, DeLoss, you spent your whole career in college athletics working on behalf of student athletes and higher education, why are college sports so popular, what makes college sports so unique?

DELOSS DODDS: I want to start with something different...

SKIPPER: I had the same experience in a negotiation.

DODDS: He's been an A.D. four years, I think I've been an A.D. thirty-five, but I love him. I want to first say hi to Ernie Barrett and Bonnie, two of my favorite people on Earth. I was in the Riley Café yesterday, picking up hamburgers. There were three construction workers, a lady from Topeka, and a lady from Concordia, sitting at three different tables, and all they talked about between the tables was Kansas State Basketball, NCAA basketball tournament. I mean, it is amazing what sports do. Driving into Bill Snyder Tollway or Boulevard.

CURRIE: The tollway might be a good idea, by the way.

DODDS: I've got a sister in Louisiana, went to Kansas State, but she has become a Southeast Conference fan. I've got a sister in Chicago, Big Ten, she loves Texas, and loves Kansas State. But I mean- When an SEC school loses, my sister in Louisiana will not take calls. No specifics, if any school in the SEC loses, she does not take calls. If some school in the SEC goes on probation for huge problems, she says they're just out after that school. If they lose, it was officiating. There is something about sports that turns people on in a way that's a good thing, because you can pick a side, you can win or lose, and winning is important, it's a part of us if our team wins, and if we lose, it's a part of us. But I mean it's something everybody puts time in, put money in, right, John? Are you putting in enough to John? It's something that unites people, but the bottom line, the best thing about sports, is the kids. It's about the young men, the young women, that participate in the sport, and how much that helps them with their life, it helps them in every way. They can go to college, they get the same experience other students do, but they get the add-on of sport, and that is the best thing about our games. And ESPN is absolutely, John, absolutely wonderful. I an remember 1981 in Austin, Texas, my first year, watching Arizona State play a football game over and over and over on ESPN.

SKIPPER: We showed the same game over and over. This year, you know, DeLoss, this year we did seventeen hundred basketball games, and four hundred college football games. And you were talking about literally how it's changed, I'm interested to look out in the audience because we have people of several generations. Those of you in my generation will remember when there was a single football game on Saturday, and now every Kansas State game is on, and almost every game of every major university is on now.

DODDS: And there are people that thought overexposure would hurt the sport, and that has not happened. Over exposure has helped the sport.

CURRIE: So, now that we've established from the first three panelists that everything's pretty much perfect in the world of sports and college television, let's shift over to President Schulz, because he's part of the NCAA governance that makes everything so wonderful. And President Schulz, you were a part of a seven member presidential task force attempting to reorganize NCAA governance in the structure, and television affects all the members of the NCAA, television revenue is more significant for a fewer number of members for the NCAA, so how does ESPN and television enter into these conversations you all are having right now?

KIRK SCHULZ: Well, I think it involves the NCAA in several ways. One, certainly the dollars that come from all of those games being on, and the dollars that come into the conference I think raises the visibility of college athletics overall. But then when the media networks now talk about NCAA issues, I think there was some number of years ago where you'd have to be a really interested fan or to just affect your particular institution, and I think today there's a lot of folks out there that have opinions on the NCAA, and I think that's good. We want college sports to be a great competition, move student athletes through school, help them to have great wonderful careers. I think the NCAA and that really reinforces that the vast majority of student athletes are not going into professional sports is one of the best things the NCAA has done. That being said, we have to make sure that we structure the NCAA so we do a great job of working with college sports and make sure we look out for the student athlete wellbeing. At the end of the day, we get worried about how much somebody can eat, how much we can spend, and what we're doing, but really what the purpose of the NCAA is, what we're trying to do through the reform process is focus on are we doing what we need to protect and to help the student athlete? And I think we sort of have to remember that, so I welcome the engagement and involvement, I think it's important for the media to continue to be talking out there, involved and engaged with what we're doing in the NCAA. And I think it forces us to be accountable, because you know somebody's out there, they're going to ask you a question, and if you don't have a reasonable answer to that, or you say we're going to hide behind a rulebook, I don't think that's what the media world of today where there's a lot of immediate kinds of responses on Twitter and Facebook and social media really do affect a lot of this. So, we're going to get it right, we're going to make the NCAA something that I hope people will be proud of, and otherwise we're going to die trying. So anyway, the commissioner called me and said "Kirk, This'll only take you a couple hours," and I'm not taking a call from the commissioner again, I can tell you, but we're going to get it right, and we're going to make it so that we continue to take college athletics and continue to make it bigger and better for the country.

CURRIE: So we've got a number of our student athletes and students at Kansas State, student leaders, who spent an enormous amount of extracurricular time on their activities and some student athletes. I see our 2012 Big Twelve basketball coach of the year, Buce Weber, and his wife, Megan, here. Commissioner, we got all these great things from ESPN and the exposure and a few dollars and all that kind of stuff, but how do we continue to provide great content for this partner without continuing commercialization or disrupting the academic lives further of our student athletes?

BOWLSBY: Well, you know, the interesting thing about the disruption aspects of the student athlete experience is that in many ways, modern modes of transportation has made it so many of our high-profile student athletes, they're not gone from campus very much. Student Football athletes, they miss part of a Friday and that's about it and there aren't really very many accommodations that are made in those sports for television purposes. Interestingly enough, when I was at Stanford, I was involved in the early stages of the PAC Twelve Network, and one of the things that everybody wanted was soccer wanted to be on TV, water polo wanted to be on TV, lacrosse wanted to be on television, they all wanted to be on television, but they all wanted to still play at seven o'clock on Friday night. And there are some accommodations that need to be made, and scheduling is one of those things. And so, we have lots of academic support, we have lots of things that are supportive of student athletes that, quite frankly, are available to them as a result of the revenue that's derived from our television partnerships and our media partnerships. And so there are some good elements, to what we do, and most of them are highly positive, but there can sometimes be some additional missed class time, there can be some travel that was unanticipated, I think we have evolved over time, but I think that the vast majority of change that has taken place as a result of expanded media is highly positive. And you know, there's always lots of comments about "well, television is driving this decision, or television is driving that decision." I have to tell you that in my three decades in the business, I haven't ever had a television partner or any other media partner say that we should do one thing or we should do another. I think they express their opinions and we express ours, and there's some pushing and shoving that's involved. Indeed, they really are partnerships, and I don't ever have to ask John Skipper if he cares abut the education of our student athletes, because he understands that side of the business and so does his staff. He may come to us with a specific need and say "gee, we really need your help on this, and this is how we might be able to broker a deal," but to say they're ever in a situation where they're barking orders or driving the agenda is just not accurate. It really is a partnership, and those of us that are on the institutional side of that partnership spend a lot of time making sure that the right decisions are made for student athletes, because it is about getting an education, and it is about some other things as well. If a student athlete can have an opportunity to go on to a professional career, or can have an opportunity to participate in the Olympics. Those are highly desirable byproducts of a quality collegiate Athletic experience, and that collegiate athletics experience certainly includes a solid emphasis on the academic side of it. And so we very much view ESPN and our other media partners as just that. They are partners in an enterprise that we try an expose as widely as we can, and we try and derive revenue, we try and bring some business thinking to it, but in the end, we never want to lose track of the fact that we're involved in higher education, and I'm really quite confident that John and his colleagues at ESPN and some of the other media companies that we work with are very mindful of that fact.

CURRIE: Okay, what you just aid is that ESPN is not really driving the agenda, right? So, gotta look at you, John Skipper, and, you know, we went through this period of time over the past 4-5 years we had some pretty significant realignment issues, and Kansas State emerged in a terrific place in the Big Twelve, but we certainly experienced our league as much as anybody. So, popular sentiment from some, may be countered to what the commissioner said, and there may be popular sentiment that ESPN and television drove or manipulated conference realignment, so what's your view on that?

SKIPPER: We don't have any direct responsibility for schools moving. The only think you can lay on ESPN is we've increased because the product is valuable, we've increased the amount of money we put into that. And because the of the sequencing of college conference deals, that means that sometimes some conferences are receiving more money than other conferences. But no decisions about schools moving are made by us, nor do we ever suggest to a school that they should move, or to a conference that they should bring somebody in. It is generally not good for us when schools move around. We have deals with all of the major conferences and so we are at some point in time are paying every school. So when the Big Ten- Big Twelve- this is all confusing mathematics of course. I can't believe we're in higher education. When the Big Twelve became ten schools, this was with Bob's predecessor, we agreed to pay the same money for ten schools as twelve schools, so that was not a desirable financial outcome for us, but it helped keep the conference together, which was a desirable outcome. So we're engaged in the discussion, but that wasn't a good move for us. And by the way, when those schools move to another conference, we paid those conferences more money, so we got to pay everybody more money was a direct result. I will stipulate very strongly that we like the status quo, we like where they are now, and if nobody wanted to move, we'd be happy. This is like musical chairs, everybody's got a seat right now, I'd like to stay seated, and I'd like everybody else to stay seated, because we like the traditional rivalries, we like what happens in these conferences, we love our relationship with the Big Twelve and the Big Ten and the PAC Twelve and the SEC and the ACC and on down. We have relationships with thirty-two different conferences, but I can state categorically that we had no intention of starting any chain reaction of schools moving, nor did we take any direct actions to do so. And I'm not looking to have this be semantic, that we took indirect actions, I'm only trying to own up to the fact that our insposing more schools, bringing more money into it, does create a bit of a competition. Schools want to get better exposure, they want to get more money, build new stadiums, and many of those things are good. When bob was talking about tradeoffs around, all of these things ultimately come down to: there are benefits that derive from your media partner, and that's exposure and money, and then you have to decide whether... We don't want you to compromise things that matter, we want to have a balance. Exposure's a good thing, we were talking earlier, President Schulz, because you were at Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech very deliberately used Thursday night to grow their program. They wanted to have an important athletic program, and they used athletics to some extent to transform their university, to raise money, to make people feel good about the university. I would say the net of that is unbelievably positive. I think that happens here. I mean, again, you and I were talking a little bit, I won't reveal anything you hit me here on the table, but you were talking about the fundraising and the issue of funds from the state, which I also understand fiscal responsibilities of the state here, but Kansas State being on television is a good thing. It energizes your alums, I suspect fundraising goes up in a winning year, I find that often to be the case at many schools. There was a long series in the New York Times about Louisville and how Louisville used athletics to build a stadium and build dormitories and raise teachers' salaries and provide more athletic scholarships for female athletes. Those are all good outcomes of this, however that doesn't mean we won't have interesting things to talk about, anytime there are significant competition, money, there will be some temptation by some people to work outside the system, to do things that call them out, and I think those things we've started down that path with access to the post-season. We had a very highly decorated program that was ineligible for the NCAA basketball tournament, and we nee to have more of that, the rules need to be more responsive, they need to be more contemporaneous. We need to tie initial scholarships to graduation rates, and we need to do it in ways that don't allow a coach to do a poor job and leave the campus and go to another place and make more money and do the same thing over again. In short, we need to put our money where our mouth is, and we haven't always done that. And I think it's incumbent upon all of us to take it seriously. And the last thing I'll say about changes is, you know, I think we have been less than responsive in terms of what we need to do for student athletes. There is an opportunity, we've made some progress, we haven't made enough. We nee dto give more voice, we need to give more benefits, we need to be doing some more things that are different in light of modern circumstances, and I think we need to do a complete revamp on our recruiting model. We haven't changed it since the seventies, and it, for a large measure, doesn't take into account the changes in social media and communication methods an all of those things. There's plenty of work to do, but this operation is more than worthy of restoration and keeping it the way it is. If we go down the patch. As John said, of creating an employee/employer relationship with our students, we will have forever lost our way.

CURRIE: So, DeLoss, when you built the largest budget, largest success story of all college athletics at Texas, and yet when we're working together in the big twelve, we have the smallest budget, you have the largest budget, but we're still working together and finding common ground and bringing value to each other. So in this NCAA model, and the commissioner referenced sixty-five schools and 285 Schools, and I'm asking you this question because you're retired, and you can say whatever you want, right?

SKIPPER: I keep hearing you refer to it as retiring, how much longer can he retire?

CURRIE: In this model, can these compromises and the things that commissioner talked about, can that happen in this 350 school division one model?

DODDS: Money does not buy victory. "We own Texas," have you heard that? Now, my advice, if you do own Texas, you need to spend the winters down there. The athletic model is really good, I agree with everything bob said,. The job we do with first generation kids is just magnificent. If they came in as a student versus coming in as a student athlete, totally different. In athletics, we take those young people we spend dollars, we walk them through enrollment, we walk them through studying, we get them tutors, we get them everything they need, and then when we get them up to par, we push them out the door and make them do it on their own like every other student. So, what we do with first generation students, what we do with kids that come in a little short on the academic side, I think it's just absolutely wonderful. Now, how made all that money down there, John, watching you, and you're doing It pretty much how we did it. I think when I left Kansas State, the budget here was 1.8 million? When I got to Texas, I think the budget was 4 million , and today, our budget's 170 million, and it took a lot of time, it took a lot of effort. We started first, we had no money to hire coaches at the rate that coaches were being hired, and this was at Texas. And so we decided the first thing we would do would be to generate dollars, so we started a foundation that had been generating five hundred thousand dollars a year and external foundations, and built that to the point that it's around 37 million dollars a year. So we got the money. The second thing we need was facilities, so we put our dollars, we put bonded money, we put our efforts into facilities, and that's what I'm seeing. I drove by your stadium yesterday, and I see that's what you're doing, John, the very same thing. The third thing we saw that we were short on was we were in a conference where all the institutions were in the same state, and recruiting was very difficult because kids like to play on a huge platform, they don't want to play like they were in high school. We played games, if we won all our games, our kids got to go to the cotton bowl, and they wanted to go to the rose bowl, or the sugar bowl, they wanted to do something bigger than that. So our third thing was conference, we needed to do something with our conference. Donnie Duncan and I worked a long time with a lot of other people and helped build the Big Twelve, which I think has been wonderful for Texas, I think it's been wonderful for Kansas State, I think it's been wonderful for all of us in the Big Twelve. With the money, the facilities, and the conference, we were able to go out and get coaches, we were able to go to the great university of North Carolina and hire their football coach.

SKIPPER: That's true. We were winning before you did that.

DODDS: But when he got there, you weren't.

SKIPPER: No, I know, after he left, we didn't.

DODDS: But we were able to hire terrific coaches, and not just terrific coaches, but great people. And I think that is the basis of what we built our program on, John, and I think that's exactly what you're doing, and I'm proud of you and the president for doing that.

CURRIE: So, as we go forward, NCAA, 350 members, 65 to 85 with pretty much different resources, partly because of contracts and television, and so, commissioner, you chime in on this, and President Schulz, and Mr. Skipper, DeLoss, can this thing stick together, the big entity with so many different needs and opinions and some of the things you talked about that we need to do for student athlete welfare that we haven't been able to do. Can the whole thing stick together?

SCHULZ: Well, John, I certainly believe it can stick together. You might suspect I'm going to say that because I'm in the middle of us all in the middle trying to do that, and I think we want it to, because we've got some really positive that people have talked about, but if we look at one of the premiere college sporting events in the country, the NCAA tournament, and everyone filling out brackets and doing family competitions- which I'm winning in our family- and you do those kinds of things, what is it that gets people excited? It's when that fifteen seed beats that number two seed, that little school beats the big highly resourced school that they've seen on TV so much. I think Americans like an underdog, so the reason I think It's important that we make it work is, you know, as much as the 64, 65 schools will just play each other, we need that sense of competition out there, and the David vs. Goliath stories that I think Americans love and sports bring to us, so I think it's incumbent on the leadership, the presidents, the commissioners, the athletic directors, to really work together to find a way to keep this together, but understand that we've got to change some things, that we can't just incrementally do some stuff, we've got to do some major changes, so we're going to have a proposal come out in a couple weeks that I think will not address everything, but it's going to address a lot of things, and I think it represents a good fair, honest effort to make some of the changes that we need to keep this thing together and keep it rolling, but acknowledging the way we did it maybe the last thirty years isn't the way we've got to do it for the next thirty.

SKIPPER: You heard a lot of comments and ideas from Mr. Bowlsby here, which I would love to see them adopt. I think that would include, I think, Bob, in public is suggesting that full payment for our student athletes would be a good thing, I think. And that really makes sense, and they need to just rationalize things right? When you hear the stories of the kids who can't go home to see their father who's in the hospital, or you can't bring people into games, it's just got to begin to make more sense. There are rules now that abstractly regulate the game, but they don't seem to make sense. I mean, it seems to me, Kirk, when these things come out, they've got to make people feel good about this. There's so much that's worthwhile to protect. There actually is something I think could get a little bit of traction, Bob, which is the "one and done" that you referred to. I think the one and done feels wrong to people. If we have a system which is about student athletes so that the compact is the student is coming and providing his spectacular athletic talent to play for the university and the university's providing a four-year education, full-ride, a good experience, a degree at the end of that, that's a great compact. When a kid comes in and plays one year, and is out the door in February, it's no good, it proves that it's a public display that we don't really have that agreement, that that's not what it's about. Now, this has nothing to do- you can't do this, you can't do this. Adam Silver, who's the new commissioner of the NBA has said he would like to do something about it. ‘Cause it's not good for his league, either, the National Basketball Association. We favor this, and we are going to try and help him do that. I think that is the most public place where everybody goes "gee, well, if you have this compact where everybody's getting benefit, it doesn't smell right when these kids are coming and they're really not coming into school.

CURRIE: You mentioned something I wanted to ask you about. Pro sports versus college sports, and the appeal for me at least, there's a kind of perception that pro sports is more about individuals and marketable personalities, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, that kind of thing. So is college sports different than that, is college sports more about team-based rivalries?

SKIPPER: Well, it's certainly is by necessity, right? I mean, even if you've got four and done, which is what I'm for, four and done, they'll only be here four years. So yeah, it's about the jersey here, right? You care about the purple and white, and you care about the wildcats, and you love the players and they come back and you're excited about them, you put them in the hall of fame, but, by necessity, they're going in and out pretty quickly, so it's going to be different, it's going to be about the jersey. College sports is much more tribal, right? The tribes gather on Saturday morning and eat fried chicken- I'm from the south, I think you probably eat fried chicken here in the Midwest- eat fried chicken and potato salad and drink Dr. Pepper, maybe with something in it and that's fun, and I love the NBA, I'm a brig basketball fan, but it is a little bit different. It's more about the city thing, it's not about the jersey, it's about LeBron James, and it's about Carmelo Anthony in New York City. It's about the It's about the coaches, of course, it's about the coaches in college as well. They're both wonderful, but the level of passion in college sports is much more, ‘cause it's about where you went to school or where you live on a college campus, or where your son or daughter went, or your mother or father or aunt or uncle, and there's just some kind of connection. I don't think you have the same connection to a professional team.

CURRIE: Pay the players, unionization, those kinds of things, comments?

BOWLSBY: Well, you heard my comment, and I really do believe that, and I think that John articulated it as well. I do want to, while we're talking about NCAA reorganization, though, and while we're here in Manhattan, I want to give President Schulz his due. He has carried a lot of water on behalf of college athletes and athletics nationally, and Kirk, I appreciate it very much. I do think I conned you into it under false pretenses, but it isn't the worst one of those that I've ever done, so my apologies, but please know that your president is deeply engaged and highly effective and doing a great job.

SCHULZ: John, the whole paying the player thing- and you and I have talked about this a lot- you know, today at Kansas State and a lot of other public universities, if we look at the average debt load that an undergraduate student has when they come out, say, 25, 26, 27 thousand dollars, and then we look and say when folks are talking about "paying players," it's like the scholarship that they get, the full scholarship that a student gets t university of Texas or Kansas State University or something for four years, there's an awful lot of out families out there that would love to have an opportunity for their son or daughter, whoever, to come to a school and be able to graduate debt-free, have tutoring and all those other sorts of things. Now, we have great expectations for student athletes, so it's not free, but I think that's missing from the conversation is the value of a scholarship at some great, great universities, that are gonna lead them out to a great career, and we just sort of forget that, and when people talk about it, and you take some of the private universities out there, take Wake Forest, where you went to school. What's a four-year scholarship there worth? That's a lot of money, that's an important resource, and I think that's gotta continue to be part of the conversation when we talk about what we're doing to help student athletes move through school.

BOWLSBY: We're gonna work your tail off for four years, and then you're gonna reap the benefits for forty years, and it's very true.

SKIPPER: I agree completely. I think where the disconnect comes is when it appears that things are happening at a few places where that's not the case. When you read about kids who come out after playing football for three years who don't read very well. That's shameful, and I think that raises a question in peoples' minds. It really is not gonna make sense to pay the players, but I think that's mostly a reaction to their being exploited, there's a lot of money involved, and something's wrong. And paying the players will be one of those things where the unintended consequence will be a worse cure than the disease, because most places it's not broken. I've never actually seen a plan that worked for paying the players, I don't know how that works. I've seen how you can establish the funds. "We'll figure out how much money the schools get, we'll put 55 percent of that in the fund like they do in the NBA, and we'll pay out of that." Well, who're you going to pay? Are you going to pay the stars, the walk-ons, are you going to pay the wrestlers, are you going to pay the baseball players? How are you going to pay? You gonna pay based upon their importance relative to licensing? Well, gee, you really want a system where Johnny Manziel makes eight million dollars and his teammates don't make any money? We just published this thing at ESPN that proved that the disparity on pro teams- there's a difference in wins and losses- the disparity of salaries is higher. So you have a team with people making a lot of money, eight players who make twenty million, and eight players who make two hundred thousand. That team on balance will perform less than a team that has chemistry, because they're all being treated the same. So, to me, the discussion about paying players is symptomatic of some highly visible things where something's not right. People are being exploited, there's big money, and how come these kids didn't learn how to read? But, again, I know that's not the case here, but to your point, Bob, the NCAA's got to act and make and put a system in place that feels fair, and it makes me feel very good that you're involved in that, it makes me feel very good to hear you say that, but they gotta get that going, because right now there's all this noise in the environment about how unfair it is, and how we've got to change something and do something. If you've got that situation, you better fix something in a hurry before somebody you don't want to fix it decides that they're gonna regulate it. You know, the courts, the NLRB, you know, is gonna decide that this is the way we're gonna do it, and we're all gonna have a system that doesn't work as well.


DODDS: We don't sell ourselves very well, either. I'm for cost of education, whatever that is, and Kirk, you can figure that out and tell us what that is and we'll pay that bill. I think, at the end of the year, they have money out of pocket that we ought to take care of. We did some research on this, and we found that if a youngster's scholarship for four years is a hundred thousand dollars, we'd probably put on top of that 150 to 200,000 dollars in tutoring, mentoring, and all the things, training room, all the things we do for that, that we're doing a better job with our kids than what the public sees that we're doing. And, Mr. President, while you're working on all these things for the NCAA, five years of eligibility, I like that.

CURRIE: Bob wants freshman and eligibility, you want five years of eligibility.

DODDS: I'm going to say this because I already said I'm proud of what we do with first generation students, but I worry about our academic standards, I worry about our initial eligibility. We bring kids in that can't get the job done, period. And we put pressure on coaches and academic counselors to get them through, and I think that's not good. I worry about our initial eligibility. We have low initial eligibility, and then when it comes to continuing eligibility, we set standards there, so you put an athletic director like John is today putting them in a bind because he lets his coaches take kids that can't get through, and then he turns around and puts rules on them where their continuing eligibility has to meet certain standards like the APR, so I'm strong for the issue of eligibility being raised.

CURRIE: I would just comment that one of the president talks about is telling the story better, and allowing people inside and just- not to pick on you, but one of the things you mentioned that we haven't done a very good job of telling the story of is when a student athlete does have an ill relative or whatever. In fact, I was on a flight right out of Manhattan to Chicago with one of our student athletes on Wednesday last week, who was flying home overseas for a funeral and right back to compete, and we were paying for that transport.

SKIPPER: We want to tell those stories, you guys see it on college game day, Tom Rinaldi tells the story of teams that form bonds around kids who are sick, or form bonds and do things in the community. After Katrina, there were a lot of college athletes who did a lot of things down in New Orleans that we showed. There are so many good stories, and the preponderance- I agree with Deloss –The preponderance of good relative to abuse is very very high, but those things are still a problem for all of us. And if the preponderance of things are good about ESPN, but we've got some problems, we have to take care of them, we have to fix those. And I think it requires that we do so.

CURRIE: So, John Skipper, stepping back to ESPN, and we've seen extraordinary growth and change, obviously, in the entire industry, lifetime of the company. An accelerating pace of change, and now we're watching our television on watch ESPN and ESPNGO and all that type of stuff. What's next, and then what are the challenges that you feel as president of ESPN going forward?

SKIPPER: The most difficult challenge we face is just adapting to new technology and the new way that people watch video. Our company has been completely- I wasn't there, but in 1979, when the company started, it was exactly concurrent with the start of cable television, pay television. So, for many, many years, all of the video that you wanted to watch, you bought a pay-television subscription for 35, 45 dollars, then you got everything you need to watch. Now, that world is changing, and there's so much more video available on other places, predominantly the Internet, for free. YouTube, there's video available on Netflix you don't need to pay a television sub, you want to watch television where it used to be in the living room, now you want to watch it everywhere. When we did the World Cup in 2010, one out of every three people viewing was watching on something other than a television. We're watching that happen because the games are during the day, so people are watching at work on their desktop. This is where we learned it's really helpful for your career. It is helpful for our careers, by the way, we get to watch all the time, but that's kind of what we've got to deal with, just sort of navigate those waters and figure out how we can serve fans, get them all the content they want all the time, live within the pay-television universe, but also provide content other places, because people want to watch other places. In terms of what's gonna happen, mobile is the dramatic change right now in technology. Mobile devices are now more important than desktop computer devices. People consume more content on them, and we gotta kind of figure out the advertising is hard there, because it's a little device, and the traditional deal between fans and broadcasters and universities and advertisers has been "hey, we'll bring you the game, we're not gonna charge you more for the game, but you're gonna have to stop every once in a while and watch a thirty second commercial." The advertisers like it because you can see it, it's hard on a little device. The other change that's gonna happen is just the continued proliferation of more games. I think it was bob who made the point that people worried that gee, you would satiate the desire for sports by putting all this content on, people wouldn't come to stadiums, they wouldn't watch all these games. This year, we'll do 35 thousand live hours of television. About half of that's games, and half of that's studio. Well, if you do the match, that's a little under four hours a day. Among other things, it means if I sit up here for an hour, I'm behind four more hours in my job. But that's how much content we do now, and that's gonna go up, it's gonna go up to 50, 75. I talked to some of the journalism communication students today, I don't think it's within this decade I think, so before 2020, at every major university, all of your sports are gonna be available on what I would call television. We don't even use the word television anymore, or try not to, we just call them screens. So, because the production technology is becoming less expensive, because everybody has a smartphone in their pocket, you can put robotic cameras on tennis courts and natatoriums, we ought to be able to get all of the wrestling matches up, because people want to see those, and our growth has come because we provide more content for more and more groups of sports fans. My son went to Davidson College, and I'll never forget the experiences of about four years ago. He was there, contemporaneous with Steph Currie, and he wanted to watch the southern conference tournament, so I did a deal- I didn't use any public money, and the shareholders know all about it- where we did the southern conference tournaments on ESPN3 on a tablet, and he got to watch all of his Davidson games. Fans are fans. You know, fans of Poughkeepsie want to see their Poughkeepsie team play, and we're gonna try and show them that. So there's never been more technological change than there is right now, I mean, things are happening at a very very fast rate, and our goal here is to keep up with all of that as much as we can.

BOWLSBY: Now, tell me, as a college kid, is there anything cooler than having your dad put on your conference tournament? There's nothing cooler than that.

SCHULZ: Having your dad as a university president is much cooler.

SKIPPER: I have sons 28 and 24, and I've never really had the issue where they had that moment where they rejected me and went away, and I realized it's because my tickets are great. My sons call every now and then because they can't call every time I've got tickets, so they'll call and say, "Dad, how're you doing?" And I'll say "I'm doing great! Why'd you call?" "Oh, I'm just calling to see how you're doing." I go tomorrow, I'm gonna get a call and they're gonna want to go to the Eastern regional final. I don't mind. Every parent here knows any way you can stay connected to your children is a good way.

CURRIE: I'm just happy to learn that my son may one day want to reacquaint with me. He's thirteen now, so, what, I've got five years to go? Alright, so we're talking about going to games, right and there's concern about the experience at home's pretty good, big screen television, you make it good, you've got all those camera angles and all that kind of stuff, but I would imagine if you're televising sports, you want a crowd, you want atmosphere, you want K-State with thirteen consecutive sellouts and football or the Octagon of Doom, you want that. So how do we balance that out?

SKIPPER: I don't think there's any substitute for the live experience. I mean, it's not more fun, we care about how many people watch on television. People ask me, I pull for Nielsen, that's who I pull for, in every game, I want their score to be as high as possible. The live experience is fabulous. Now, he talked a minute today, John, I mean, one thing is that you got- the NBA's done a good job of this- is people now demand experience at the arena, at the stadium. We went to a game and we were fine, sitting still during time outs and watching scores from the rest of the conference come across the board. Kids now are not gonna stand for that, they're gonna want to be on their tablets, gonna bring them to the games, they're gonna want to be able to get other scores, be able to watch other things, so you're gonna have to wire your stadiums, because they have to have to have that experience. But it's still a great experience. When teams are winning, they sell all their games out. When fans have a good time, and you take care- again, it's customer service, right? You see a lot of places now where you can order from your tablet, your Coke and hamburger and it comes to your seat. You're gonna have to do better customer service, wireless stadiums, and I'll tell you a terrible one, and this is completely self-interested, they're always there when you're playing somebody good. I know you want to bring a couple of guys in you can beat up on, that's the games nobody shows up for. I know it's self-serving. And had this same conversation today with a journalism student. The hard part is the rule of five hundred, when everybody plays and you add them all up, it's five hundred. But big conferences try to game the system by playing four teams they can beat, eight teams in the conference, they go four and four in the conference, they're eight and four and go to a bowl. We call some of that trouble, because we have 35 bowls, so I've got that. And where's Coach Weber? You know. I mean, you want to get some W's. It's also good for team chemistry and a lot of things. I'm having some fun, but we are pushing for- and it's not as big a problem for in a basketball arena s trying to fill up, and you guys were smart and stayed at fifty thousand. A lot of schools get beyond where they can naturally fill up their stadium, and that's a problem.

DODDS: That's exactly the truth. We went to a hundred, and we could go to a hundred and fifteen, and we absolutely will not do that. I think, John, the decision to stay at fifty is right. People want amenities, they want suites, club seats, they want to be able to move from their seat to a club. We have waiting lists at Texas for those amenities, we don't have waiting lists for seats.

SKIPPER: Bob did one of the smartest things I'd ever seen, and it's counter-intuitive. You, at Stanford, took your stadium down. I forget, what was the capacity, Bob?

BOWLSBY: It was 85,000, we went to fifty, and also did what you said, we fully Wi-Fied all of our venues and it made a significant difference.

SCHULZ: And I think the other part of it is information flow. We talk about a tablet or device, but if I'm at home, or anywhere else, watching a modern telecast, and somebody runs for a certain number of yards or scores another point, immediately all these statistics up there. It's harder to do that in a game-time environment because we don't have all those screens and that kind of stuff up there. So I think our fan base has become a bit more sophisticated in the kind of information that they're expecting see right there, and so we got the amenities in the stadium and this need to be in a live environment, and I think it's not just wiring, it's also how they're gonna get that content information so that the game day experience becomes better than sitting at home with a bunch of buddies watching your team play on television.

SKIPPER: It's not bad though, don't run that down too much.

CURRIE: We have 375 televisions in the new stadium center, so there's plenty of opportunity to do both.

CURRIE: In just a few moments, I know we'll have some microphones on either side of the auditorium, and we'd love to have some questions from the audience, and Dr. Mason will come up and moderate those questions in just a second. I do want to ask one more thing, Mr. Skipper. So, one of the things that has been talked about by some is decoupling cable, and unbundling cable. Is that something that is likely, unlikely, what's your opinion on all of that?

SKIPPER: When people talk about that, they usually mean a la carte. You'll simply be able to look at a list of stations and pick the stations they want, pay whatever that costs, and everybody'll be happy. There's almost no chance that will happen, and it just doesn't- sorry. ESPN will be fine in that scenario, but you'll pay $19.95 a month for it. And you'll add up the twelve stations that you want, and you're gonna find out you're paying the same thing you paid to get 150. The current system works beautifully, and it helps keep a lot of stations in business who would go out of business. The art stations would go out of business, many of the ethnic stations would go out of business, and you'd be left with significantly less choice, and we would be forced to raise our price for those people who really want ESPN. So it is not likely that those great big companies, Comcast and DirecTV and ESPN and NBC and CBS and Viacom and ABC are likely to figure out a system where the amount of money that goes into it declines. So I don't think it has very much chance of happening at all. What is gonna happen, we just did a deal with Dish where we're gonna do a service where people can get a personal subscription service which only comes over broadband to one device, a tablet. And so you don't want, if you're a millennial and you don't want to buy a television subscription, but you want a smaller package, we're gonna provide alternatives, but most people in this country, there's 118 million households in this country, about 115 million have television of some sort, there's 3 million households that don't, and about 100 of those 115 pay for television. The other 15 still rely on an over-the-air signal. I don't think that's gonna change very much. And by the way, having traveled the rest of the world, we have, by far, the best television in the world. The last thing you want to do is sit in a hotel room in most countries in the world and flip around and seventeen stations, and nine of them are owned by the government, and it's not that exciting. And so I just don't think it would work into a better system. Having said that, you heard me say our mission's to serve sports fans, so we're looking for alternative ways. Having said that, you heard me say our mission's to serve sports fans, so we're looking for alternative ways. It does us no good. Companies lose their way when they are defensive and won't make changes. We just have to make changes, we're a division of a public company. We are required to grow and return value to shareholders. That's what we do, literally.

Leaders in Athletics
Landon Lecture
April 2, 2014