Jay Bilas is emailing from Paris, a city with a long and glorious history of revolution. Last week, using a new-age tool of rebellion -- his Twitter feed -- Bilas exposed the NCAA canard that college jerseys in relation to sales do not represent a specific player.
While sitting at his kitchen table at his home in Charlotte last Tuesday, 24 hours before a long-awaited trip to France with his wife and teenage daughter, the ESPN college basketball analyst was tipped off by a follower on Twitter about a dubious practice on the Web site ShopNCAASports.com: When consumers typed in the names of prominent college football and basketball players into the search box, the individual jerseys of those players appeared for sale. So Bilas typed in the names of some college athletes into the search box and sent out his findings to his nearly 560,000 followers.
Two days later, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the NCAA would stop selling the individual jerseys of players on a Web site associated with the NCAA. Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News has a breakdown of the events here.
SI.com tracked down Bilas in Paris on Saturday to get his thoughts on everything that went down:
SI.com: How did you first become aware of the NCAA site?
Bilas: On Twitter. Around noon or so on Aug. 6, I had heard and tweeted about the irony of the NCAA and Texas A&M selling a Johnny Manziel jersey with "Football" on it where a last name would be. I got a bunch of responses, and one indicated the NCAA site was searchable by player name. When I went to the NCAA Web site, the Manziel jersey caught my immediate attention again, and hit me as the NCAA brazenly selling an individual player with no pretense. I already knew every No. 2 jersey was representative of Manziel, but using his nickname as the jersey's last name was proof positive. Then, when I tried "Manziel" in the upper right search box, I really wasn't expecting anything. But when the same page with his jerseys came up, I was stunned. I thought it might be a fluke, and couldn't believe the NCAA would have its own operators and customers search for player jerseys by inputting the player names.
Then I did it with [Jadeveon] "Clowney" and other players, all of whom popped up to the exact page of their jerseys and school pages. I was aware of the Manziel jersey issue, but not that the NCAA site was searchable by player name. It's actually a good business practice on the NCAA's part, and a good idea for the site to be searchable by player name, but it contradicts everything the NCAA says about player value and player names and likenesses. And it contradicts completely the stance the NCAA took in court filings the week prior.
SI.com: What compelled you to tweet to your followers? Were you ticked off? Surprised? Something else?
Bilas: I'd say surprised. I was taken aback by how obvious and clear this was that the NCAA -- and by NCAA, I mean all member schools and the Indianapolis office -- was selling specific players. I've tweeted about that kind of thing several times before, raising questions about the NCAA's claim that jerseys don't represent specific players. I've always believed that was nonsense and untrue. But this was different because it showed so clearly that anyone could search the NCAA's own site -- and others -- by specific player name and his exact jersey came up. It was proof beyond any doubt that those jerseys represent players, and players are for sale. And, because it was the NCAA's site, it was proven by the NCAA itself.
SI.com: Clearly, when they shut the search capability down, this generated into something larger. What was your reaction when that happened?
Bilas: Disbelief. Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports texted me about the shutdown. At first, I wasn't certain why it was disabled, but it seemed a reaction to the Twitter activity. I thought it was an overreaction, and I was very surprised. If not for the NCAA disabling its search function, this whole thing would have been of interest primarily on Twitter and some opinion pieces. But the search shutdown was like an admission of wrongdoing by the NCAA, and everything blew up from there. I believe the NCAA itself really raised the temperature of this, and made it such a big deal. With the exception of the interest of the player search capability, this wasn't that big of a deal until the search capability was disabled. Someone tweeted how to get around the disabling using the URL, and I had a bit of a lark tweeting out a few more searches.
SI.com: What has been the reaction of your colleagues at ESPN, including your supervisors?
Bilas: I haven't heard from any of my bosses on it. I've had a few friends reach out, and I've been getting some "nice work" messages, but it's not been a big deal, nor should it be. Look, I've had some fun with the reactions to this on Twitter, but this isn't about me. This is about NCAA policy, and a small part of the larger, overall point that the NCAA's policy on amateurism is unjustifiable in this multi-billion dollar commercial enterprise of college sports.
SI.com: Mark Emmert said in a conference call that "we're going to exit that business immediately'' and "we recognize why that could be seen as hypocritical." What is your reaction to Emmert?
Bilas: I'm skeptical, and I believe the NCAA has earned every ounce of skepticism it gets. First, it doesn't just "seem" hypocritical, it is. It's wrong for the NCAA membership to sell players while restricting them, whether it's jerseys, video games, or media rights. Emmert's statement was simply that the NCAA office was stopping these sales because it's wrong and hypocritical, not that the NCAA membership -- which we are constantly told is the NCAA -- is stopping. It's a shell game. Players are still being sold, via jersey and every other way imaginable, to maximize profit while at the same time being restricted from any value beyond expenses. The NCAA office isn't doing it anymore, but the schools are. So Emmert's statement was mostly cosmetic, in my view. The NCAA office basically said it's wrong to sell player jerseys, but didn't acknowledge that it's wrong because player names, likenesses and publicity rights are tied directly to those jerseys and the players shouldn't be sold without consent or compensation. Emmert didn't say, "We're stopping this practice and so should every NCAA member institution, because we're selling players and it's wrong unless they're compensated." The schools are still in the licensing business and selling media rights, and players will still get nothing for their value, and everyone will continue with the big business of college sports, as ever. Emmert is in a bad spot. He trots out to justify the unjustifiable and he can't do it. Nobody can.
This isn't about school apparel being sold on the NCAA site. This is about proof positive of the clear link of a player to a specific jersey. The NCAA has denied that link forever, telling us the jersey number is just a coincidence and doesn't represent specific players. Clearly, that was untrue. And, it's just one of many things the NCAA has said that are untrue.
SI.com: Have you heard from anyone in the NCAA since this happened?
Bilas: Yes. I had a nice chat with Mark Lewis [the NCAA's executive vice president for championships and alliances]. Some think I'm at odds with the NCAA and its people, but I'm not. There are great people in Indy and at NCAA member schools, and many are friends of mine. I differ with NCAA policy, but I like and respect the people behind the policy. NCAA people are terrific. They are in a bind because they are put in a position of trying to justify these bad policies, and they can't. Before last week, they all tried to justify jersey sales, even telling a court that jerseys aren't linked to players, and some are still trying to justify it. I feel for them. It's a tough spot to be in.
SI.com: What do you hope college basketball fans and viewers take away from what you did last week?
Bilas: Nothing from or about me or my very small role in this. I'm not the only one pointing these things out, nor am I the first. I think about these issues a lot, but I don't expect fans to do the same. But, when they do think about this, I'd rather it wasn't about some "gotcha" game that "the NCAA lost" or was exposed as hypocritical. Rather, the focus should be on the NCAA's policies, and to really examine why the athlete, and only the athlete, is restricted to expenses only in this multi-billion dollar, professional, commercialized enterprise. I believe the more that people focus on the policies themselves, and the reasons behind those policies, the more they'll realize that the policy justifications the NCAA sells to us on amateurism and the other restrictions on athletes are just like the "justifications" the NCAA tried to sell to us on these jersey sales. They're nonsense and phony. In my judgment, those of us questioning these practices and contradictions weren't right only on players being directly linked to jerseys -- which the NCAA disputed until they proved it on its own site -- and wrong on all of the other related issues. I believe we're right on those, too, and the credibility of the NCAA's stances on those issues is just as shaky and flawed as it was here.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. Rebecca Lowe has many long days ahead of her over the next eight months. As the host of NBC's Premier League coverage, which debuts Saturday at 7:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, Lowe will arrive at the NBC Sports Group International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn. each Saturday around 4:30 a.m. She'll head quickly to makeup for 75 minutes, followed by a 6:00 a.m. rehearsal for Premier League Live, the network's studio coverage of the league. Then comes the live show at 7:00 a.m. and a full day of hosting and watching games. She'll repeat the same process an hour later on Sunday and clock in studio hours on Monday and Tuesday as well.
This is a huge week for the NBC Sports Group, as the network debuts its coverage of what most soccer fans consider the best league in the world. NBC Sports will air all 380 games from the Premier League, which is more tonnage than anywhere else on the globe (including the U.K.). The opening game is Liverpool against Stoke City (7:45 a.m. kickoff), and all matches will be available on either NBC's television platforms, the Premier League Extra Time bonus TV package or streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.
"The soccer universe cares about this league and our coverage is going to be very simple: We are going to get out of the way and just cover the game and the league properly," said Pierre Moossa, the coordinating producer of the NBC Sports Soccer Group. "It's an amazing product and it speaks for itself."
Over the first three weeks of the season, NBC and NBC Sports Network will televise 17 Premier League matches including five over the first weekend. Each match will be preceded and followed by pre- and post-match shows hosted by Lowe and analysts Robbie Earle, Kyle Martino, and Robbie Mustoe. There will also be a "Match of the Day" highlight show that will tape after the conclusion of all the action. In total, Lowe and her group will be on set for about 12 hours every Saturday and Sunday.
"We are not just going to concentrate on the game that we are doing," said Lowe, whose work for ESPN's U.K. channel earned her respect among EPL fans. "We have every game live in some capacity and I want people to understand and be engaged in the 10 games every weekend and the hundreds of stories that exist."
The excellent Arlo White is NBC's lead broadcaster for the EPL package, and he'll be assigned to games with either analyst Lee Dixon or Graeme Le Saux. NBC will have its own announcers for what it deems are the best games of the weekend and will use the world feed announcers for all the other games it airs and streams.
Moossa said the Premier League and its individual clubs have been highly receptive to NBC regarding player access, meetings and promotional work. The clubs have made managers and players available to NBC broadcasters and producers prior to the season for off-the-record meetings on each club. "That kind of information is not typical in the U.K." Moossa said. "We promised the league that we are not into breaking stories and gotcha journalism. We are into building a trust and a relationship with them. Part of all this is changing a culture that has not been receptive to access in the past."
NBC's first mega-match comes Monday, Aug. 26 with Manchester United vs. Chelsea at Old Trafford at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network. "They did us a great favor because hopefully we can pick up some causal viewers," said Lowe. "Hopefully, they will like what we do and they will come back the following week. The time difference is so annoying because if you could have it in the evening that would be amazing. Having said that, I know Monday Night Football is a huge deal. So maybe it is better it doesn't clash with anything."
How will Moossa define success for NBC's Premier League efforts? "Most people worry about ratings," he said. "My success simply will be that our worst show will be our first show. Our second worst show will be our second show and we continually improve and put on the best possible product."
1a. Additional studio coverage notes: NBC's Premier League Live Saturday pregame show will air each week at 7:00 a.m ET. The moment the players come out on the pitch, about 35-40 minutes in, NBC will switch to the game site. The studio show will air live on Sunday at 8:00 a.m. for about 25 minutes before heading to that day's kickoff. Lowe's studio group will also come on during halftime and after the match on both days. Following the matches on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network will air the "Premier League Goal Zone" which features the best goals, saves and sound bites from Saturday and Sunday. Lowe will host these shows and will be back on the air Monday for an afternoon studio show prior to a 3:00 p.m. kickoff. For major games later in the season, NBC has the option of doing an onsite studio show in the U.K. hosted by longtime BBC presenter Gary Lineker.
1b. How concerned is Moossa about the daily soccer shows on ESPN and Fox Sports 1? "I only care about things I can control," he said. "And the only thing I can control is our product and how good our shows are. I'd be silly not to watch everything just to educate myself but I am not watching them to compete. We are only competing with ourselves."
1c. White and Dixon will call the 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday games over the first three weeks of the season, including Swansea-Manchester United on Aug. 17, Aston Villa-Liverpool on Aug. 24 and Crystal Palace-Sunderland on Aug. 31.White will also team with Le Saux to call two Sunday matches and one Monday game over the first three weeks, including two highly anticipated matchups: Manchester United-Chelsea on Aug. 26 and Liverpool-Manchester United at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 1.
1d. Asked how NBC's coverage will be distinct from Fox and ESPN's previous coverage of the league, Moossa said, "There are a couple of different ways and you can start with the amount of hours and coverage. That's the first distinguishing factor. I won't comment on other coverage but our coverage will be focused on three areas: Interviews and access from the site, breaking down highlights and analysis, and discussion points."
1e. An NBC spokesperson said most major cable carriers and satellite companies had picked up distribution for the Premier League Extra Time package or games available through TV Everywhere.
1f. SiriusXM Radio and beIN Sport announced that beIN Sport's live English-language play-by-play of Spain's La Liga, Italy's Serie A and France's Ligue 1 will be available to SiriusXM subscribers on SiriusXM's soccer channel, SiriusXM FC and other SiriusXM play-by-play channels.
1g. Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald has a solid interview with Martino here.
2. I asked SI's Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, Pete Thamel and Martin Rickman to join me on a college football roundtable this week. Among our questions: How do you counter-program against College GameDay? Is Erin Andrews the right host for Fox Sports? Who is the most annoying on-air person in college football? I think you'll enjoy.
2a. In a move designed to counter the launch of Fox Sports 1's college football coverage, ESPN said it has expanded College GameDay to three hours on ESPN from 9 a.m.- noon ET on each Saturday during the college football season. The network also announced that the season-opening GameDay show on Aug. 31 would run four hours (9 a.m.-1 p.m.) from the campus of Clemson University. GameDay last visited Death Valley on Oct. 21, 2006, the first and only time Clemson has hosted the program. Clemson meets Georgia later that night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
2b. Programming for the 9-10 a.m. ET hour on ESPNU, which formerly hosted an hour of College GameDay, will be determined at a later date, according to ESPN.
3. Disturbing details emerged last week from Deadspin and The Big Lead regarding an alleged confrontation between ESPN NFL analyst Hugh Douglas and ESPN Numbers Never Lie host Michael Smith at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention and Career Fair in Orlando. ESPN issued a statement last Tuesday saying, "We are aware there was a disagreement between Hugh Douglas and Michael Smith. We are looking into the situation."
Contacted on Sunday by SI.com on where the situation stood, ESPN spokesperson Rob Tobias said, "We are continuing to look into it and we expect a resolution this week."
Tobias said Douglas will not be back on the air this week. Asked if ESPN employees had specifically been asked not to talk about this on their platforms, Tobias said they had not.
3a. A pair of NYC-based sports media writers -- Phil Mushnick of the New York Post and New York Daily News writer Bob Raissman -- each suggested in columns that ESPN on-air staffers were being hypocritical in not discussing Douglas' alleged invective as the network spotlighted the actions of Eagles wideout Riley Cooper. ESPN talent has a long history of not commenting on their own given how heavy the company tries to manage its outward reputation. (Keep this in mind when a show like First Take or Around The Horn touts how fearless its debate is. It's only fearless when it involves non-ESPN issues.) But this is tricky ground for all of us who work for sports entities, and I can't crank on ESPN staffers for staying silent on workplace personnel issues when it's doubtful I'd do the opposite. (Chastising your network or publication for a B.S. manufactured debate or over-covering a story is another issue.) Where ESPN does have a responsibility to the public is for its management and PR staff to address what will happen to Douglas and to reiterate that its workplace (and that extends to a journalism conference where ESPN employees are representing the company) will be a safe place for employees. To that end, I respect ESPN PR for responding to me in the manner above.
4. Golf.com's Michael Bamberger reported that Fox paid $100 million a year for 12 years for the multimedia rights to golf's U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Senior Open Championships, as well as the USGA's national amateur championships and other live content. The deal begins in 2015 and runs through 2026. It will be the first time a golf major airs on Fox. (Under the current deal, NBC paid $50 million a year to the USGA; Bamberger reported NBC and ESPN were willing to go to $80 million.) The final two rounds of golf's U.S. Open have been televised by NBC Sports since 1995. Said NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller, to the AP, upon hearing of the deal: "I feel bad for the USGA in a way that money was more important than basically a good golf crew."
4a. Fox also announced it had entered an agreement with The Jockey Club to air a series of graded stakes races starting in 2014. The new horse racing series will debut on Fox Sports 1 on Feb. 9, 2014 from Gulfstream Park featuring the Grade 1 Donn Handicap and the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.
5. ESPN will air 90 NBA games during the 2013-14 regular season, including 75 games on ESPN (and 33 doubleheaders) and 15 games on ABC, with six doubleheaders. The schedule opens with a doubleheader on Friday, Nov. 1 with Heat-Nets (8:00 p.m. ET) followed by Lakers-Spurs (10:30 p.m. ET). The Heat and Knicks will appear 16 times on ESPN and ABC. The Lakers, Thunder and Bulls are scheduled for more than a dozen appearances.
5a. ABC and ESPN will air five NBA games on Christmas Day, including Nets-Bulls (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN), Knicks-Thunder (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC) and Heat-Lakers (5 p.m. ET, ABC). ESPN has the late doubleheader with Spurs-Rockets (8 p.m.) followed by Warriors-Clippers.
6. TNT will televise 52 games during the 2013-14 NBA regular season, including 10 appearances each by the Clippers, Lakers and Thunder. The Heat, Knicks, Bulls and Rockets will make nine appearances each. TNT will televise 20 Thursday-night NBA doubleheaders during the regular season and opens with a doubleheader on Oct. 29, featuring the Heat-Bulls (and Derrick Rose's expected return) followed by the Lakers-Clippers.
6b. TNT will have coverage of All-Star Weekend including NBA All-Star Friday (Feb. 14), NBA All-Star Saturday (Feb. 15) and the 2014 NBA All-Star Game (Feb. 16) in New Orleans.
6c. NBA TV will televise 97 live games during the upcoming season, beginning with the Nets at Cavaliers on Oct. 30.
7. Sports pieces of note this week:
•Raiders punter Chris Kluwe wrote a brilliant piece for The MMQB on competing against a younger teammate.
•Loved this Matthew Berry column on ESPN.com about appearing on the Howard Stern show.
• "I'm An Openly Gay Gold Medalist and I Reject the Sochi Olympics Boycott." Worthwhile piece from Olympic diving icon Greg Louganis.
•Via The Atlantic: "How Parents Pick The Sports Their Daughters Play"
•The LA Times examined the upcoming Fox Sports 1 vs. ESPN battle.
Two books to recommend: "The Sports Gene", by SI's David Epstein, is a brilliant look inside the science of athletic performance. Also, check out University at Michigan professor John U. Bacon's "Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football."
Non-sports pieces of note:
•Cannot recommend more highly this brilliant piece of journalism on the abuse of civil forfeitures by Sarah Stillman of the New Yorker.
•Yet another great The Economist obit.
8. Once upon a time ESPN pushed the idea that there was a blanket ban on its employees blasting competitors on social media. We all know better (talent with juice can fire away), and we're glad to see management dialing back on any Orwellian tendencies. Thus, we were treated to ESPN's Bill Simmons delivering a straight right to Fox Sports 1 on Saturday night followed by a solid Fox Sports 1 counter followed by an uppercut from SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross mocking Fox Sports 1 executives for mentioning the word "fun" in every interview. SI scored the round 10-9 to ESPN.
8a. Scott Van Pelt also showed some nice mic skills on Fox Sports 1 this weekend.
9. NBC broadcaster Al Michaels agreed to plead no contest to reckless driving following a misdemeanor charge of DUI on April 19. He was sentenced to 80 hours of community service and placed on probation, according to TMZ.
9a. The Rich Eisen Podcast recently reached a podcast milestone: 10 million downloads. This week's episode featured Larry David and Matt Damon, and Damon was asked about the loss of wide receiver Wes Welker from his beloved Patriots. Said Damon: "He is irreplaceable in many ways. I sent an e-mail to Brady telling him I was available."
10. Former ESPN anchor Mike Hill will handle a number of roles for Fox Sports 1, including news updates and serving as a guest host for Fox Sports Live. Hill will also be part of Fox Football Daily and contribute to the network's coverage of college basketball.
10a. The next Nine for IX film from ESPN Films is Runner, which examines the story of American distance runner Mary Decker and her Olympic debut in the 3,000 meters at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. It premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
10b. Nice story here highlighting the reporter instincts of ESPN NASCAR associate producer Trevor Gavin.
10c. The Paul Finebaum Show will debut on Monday, Aug. 12, at 2 p.m. ET. The four-hour daily program will be produced by ESPN Radio and is based in ESPN's Charlotte, N.C. studios. As of this writing, ESPN said the show will initially air on two Birmingham stations. Look for more station additions in the future.
10d. Photographer Olivier Morin explained how he got his incredible photo of a lightning Bolt over Usain Bolt:
10e. Outside The Lines averaged 160,000 viewers last Tuesday, the first day the daily program had moved from ESPN to ESPN2. Prior to the move, the show had averaged 336,000 viewers when it appeared on ESPN. (Viewership courtesy of the TVSportsRatings Twitter feed.) You don't need to be Nate Silver to understand this represents a de facto burying of the show. ESPN management will additionally shift the Sunday edition of Outside The Lines from ESPN to ESPN2 starting in September and replace it with a football show hosted by Colin Cowherd. (I assume because of the protests in cities all over the U.S. demanding a Colin Cowherd football show.) OTL staffers can't speak out here -- and certain members of ESPN's outreach armada will continue to sell the soap that all is sunny in OTL Land -- but people throughout ESPN are disheartened by the move and I'm with them. A product that represents the best of ESPN deserves so much better than this.