Open season for bowl game naming rights

Congratulations to my former SBJ colleague and NY Times writer, Tripp Mickle, whose book, “After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul,” was released today. It’s going to be huge.

Bowl games no longer will face restrictions on their title sponsors, a move that opens up several categories that previously were not permitted by the NCAA.

The MGM Resorts Bowl? The Bud Light Bowl? The Jose Cuervo Tequila Bowl? Those would-be title sponsors would have been shot down in the past. Now, conferences and their bowl partners will be able to decide how permissive they want to be without the NCAA’s influence.

Among the categories that previously were not permitted by the NCAA were sportsbooks, beer, spirits and adult entertainment. But as athletic departments have opened up these new categories of sponsorship on their own campuses, bowls have argued that they shouldn’t be restricted on their title sponsors. So, the NCAA is stepping back.

The NCAA will still require bowl games to be certified, but the governing body confirmed to SBJ that the title sponsor will not be part of the review process. “Individual bowl organizations, in collaboration with conferences and member institutions, will establish sponsorship agreements as they deem appropriate,” an NCAA spokesperson said.

Barstool Sports caused a stir last year when it signed on as title sponsor of the Arizona Bowl. Barstool was marketing the media side of its business, but some critics said Barstool’s sponsorship should be disallowed because it is partially owned by Penn National Gaming, a sportsbook and gaming facility. The NCAA has now turned over those decisions to the bowls and conferences.

“The mad rush.” That’s what ESPN Senior Director of Programming Dan Margulis calls the period of time between now and late June, when the network will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA’s spring championships.

The NCAA’s growing media rights arrangement with ESPN is up to 30 championships annually. The most recent addition to the lineup is women’s water polo, which kicks off the mad rush on Sunday at Michigan’s aquatic center.

It’s a passion play for Margulis, who was co-captain of his college water polo team at Amherst. Until then, Margulis’ claim to fame was guarding Christian Laettner in high school. But the longtime ESPN exec, who started at the network in 1993, also saw an opportunity to add to ESPN’s lineup.

Women’s water polo joins a list of women’s sports that can expect expanded coverage, along with lacrosse, beach volleyball and softball. Margulis: “Over the last three years, we’ve added field hockey, the women’s Frozen Four, cross country, water polo, lacrosse. If you’re presenting a trophy in college, it’s usually going to be a pretty good event.”

Advertisers apparently agree. All of ESPN’s inventory for the popular Women’s College World Series has already sold out, while the men’s event from Omaha is approaching a sellout. ESPN says that is typical about this time of year.

Colby College’s Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center (HAARC), a 354,000-square-foot, $200 million building designed by Sasaki, is a unicorn in the college sports world, housing five indoor competition venues inside one facility and recently receiving LEED Platinum and SITES Gold certification.

My colleague Bret McCormick notes the facility, which opened in 2020, is now the first in college sports to earn SITES certification, which recognizes sustainable landscape design. It’s the third to achieve LEED Platinum certification, following Bentley University’s hockey arena and the Bostwick Family Squash Center at Middlebury College.

Colby, a member of the D-III New England Small College Athletic Conference, has one of the oldest environmental studies programs in the country, so the emphasis on sustainability fits with the school’s mission. In this project, that focus was driven by Colby Assistant VP/Facilities and Campus Planning Minakshi Amundsen, who made the business case in numerous instances that sustainable design wouldn’t cost more, including putting five competition venues into one facility.

Returning the HAARC’s surroundings to their original meadow state meant no need for sod, fertilizer, continual irrigation on 15-plus acres or stormwater pipes and manholes. The landscape, which was designed by Michael Van Valkenbergh, is mowed just twice a year. “It’s exchanging one set of costs for a different approach,” Amundsen said.

Sasaki’s design also emphasizes mental health and connection to the outdoors. The New England-based firm is active in college sports and is currently designing Boston College’s new basketball practice facility. But it’s unlikely this kind of facility design, especially the concentration of indoor competition venues, has a place at the DI level, according to Chris Sgarzi, who leads Sasaki’s sports practice.

Ice hockey is among five sports housed in a new Colby College venue

Three things you should know about new Penn State AD Patrick Kraft:

  1. Formerly AD at Boston College and Temple
  2. Teaches sports marketing and management classes
  3. Played football at Indiana

  • An “innovative nonconference scheduling initiative is developing behind the scenes in college basketball that, if adopted, would adjust the landscape of the sport each February,” reports CBS Sports. Twenty-two of DI’s 32 conferences “have been receptive to an ambitious scheduling concept that would introduce back-to-back non-league games played just a few weeks prior to Selection Sunday,” per WAC Commissioner Brian Thornton and Associate Commissioner Drew Speraw.
  • Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are “negotiating a settlement in the ‘$17 million to $20 million range,’ which would allow the schools to exit the American Athletic Conference early and officially join the Big 12 on July 1, 2023,” sources told Action Network. The completion of that deal “would then allow the six Conference USA schools — Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA — to join the AAC on July 1, 2023.”
  • Wells Fargo is using its title sponsorship of this week’s PGA Tour event at TPC Potomac to highlight its commitment to HBCU golf, giving a sponsor exemption to Howard’s Gregory Odom, the reigning MEAC champion, who will be making his Tour debut.

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