Highlights of #SXSports: Day Two

By Leah Fisher Nyfeler, Natalie England – March 8, 2014
Paid to Play: The Future of College Athletics (#Paid2Play)

It was a rainy, soggy start to #SXSW Interactive Day 2, but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm for hearing Emmanuel Acho, Andy Staples, and Chris Del Conte in the morning’s first panel discussion. 

The Driskill Ballroom was packed and the three men quickly established their positions. Acho, former Texas football player and current pro player with the Philadelphia Eagles, made arguments for paying student-athletes. Staples took the middle ground—as a Florida Gator back in the day (“the worst walk-on offensive lineman in the SEC”), he could concede that some payment was necessary. He recommended following the model used with Olympic athletes. Del Conte took the stance against monetization. He spoke of loyalty, the incredible opportunities provided by sports and athletic scholarships—Del Conte grew up in a children’s home and attended college on an athletic scholarship.

“Sports was my avenue to be invited, to be included,” Del Conte said.

Moderator Spencer Hall (SB Nation, Every Day Should Be Saturday) kept the banter lively, throwing out topics such as the impact of Title IX, Kain Colter and the Northwestern case, creating an NFL development league, panelists’ opinions about the NCAA, and even tax ramifications for paid players. There was some general ribbing about natty attire, rivalries, and the panelists’ “shyness” about contributing.

It was a knowledgeable discussion that both entertained and enlightened, though, ultimately, it did little to settle the debate over the thorny issue of whether collegiate athletes should be paid.

Innovation in Big-Time College Football (#disruptCFB)

Age may only be a number, but it’s one that is working in the favor of Kliff Kingsbury. At 34, he became the youngest head coach at an FBS school when Texas Tech, his alma mater, hired him to lead the Red Raiders in 2013.

In his first season, Kingsbury led Tech to a winning record and momentous victory against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. But as a son of a high school football coach, and one who studied under the likes of Mike Leach and Bill Belichick, Kingsbury seems aligned toward X’s and O’s. In fact, he’s a bit of a football nerd. Kingsbury’s challenge was to find ways to create competitive edges off the playing field. He had to devise strategies to engage his players and get them to buy into a winning mindset at a school that is undergoing a culture shift.

Kingsbury might be the only coach in the country to have design control over his team’s uniform written into his contract. In a unique collaboration with Under Armor, Kingsbury and his staff sends concepts, and Under Armor comes back with drawings. Last season, Tech had eight or nine possible combinations, Kingsbury said, and he’s expecting even more in 2014.

When Kingsbury was a record-setting quarterback at Tech, how many combinations did the Red Raiders employ?

“We had black and white,” Kingsbury said.

Kingsbury’s most interesting forward-thinking innovation might be the playbook. The Red Raiders don’t have one. They use video playbooks, and the players draw in their own plays.

“They learn it better,” Kingsbury said.

Sports Matter: The Need to Support Youth Sports (#SaveSports)

“Sports Matter” was a smaller, more intimate give-and-take between presenters Ryan Eckel and Grant Garrison and the audience, a group of folks who shared the passion for placing athletics in children’s lives. The two men are partnered with Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation to increase awareness about the importance and benefits of team sports for young people in America through the Sports Matter initiative.

The thinking is that team sports need to once again become the purview of public schools, where every child has the chance to experience and benefit from that enrichment. More and more, youth team sports are becoming privatized and specialized.

Eckel and Garrison threw out some surprising and interesting stats. For instance, the average U.S. family pays $380 per season per athlete for team sports, 95 percent of Fortune 500 executives played team sports, and the Sharp Center estimates that, by 2020, 27 percent of public high schools in the U.S. will not provide school-based sports.

Sports Matter is using crowdfunding to raise $2 million dollars for underfunded K-12 teams. One way that they’re sharing information is through filmmaker Judd Ehrlich’s documentary “We Could Be King,” which is premiering at Tribeca Film Festival in April and airing on ESPN2 on April 26.

What’s New in Fantasy Sports (#newfantasy)

Couple of side notes: Some interesting things pop up with a hashtag like #newfantasy, and you never know who’s sitting next to you in a seminar.

The guy who talked about working with youth lacrosse teams in “Sports Matter” turned out to be Paul Rabil, pro lacrosse’s first “million dollar man,” and he, along with former Longhorn football/track star Marquise Goodwin, represented the athlete’s viewpoint in the “Fantasy Sports” discussion.

Andrew Cleland (Comcast), Daniel Shlossman (NFL), and Stephania Bell (ESPN)—finally, a female panelist—discussed all aspects of the popular pastime. It seems that daily (or short) fantasy is the gateways of choice into more traditional, season-long games, and interest is booming; an estimated 32 million Americans are agonizing over their fantasy teams online.

There’s a new cable channel for fans—FNTSY (Fantasy Sports Network), with 24/7 coverage, and there was some talk about whether content could meet demand. Cleland may have turned the phrase of the festival so far, referring to younger viewers as “snackers of content.”

One of the most fascinating topics was Bell’s discussion of how fans’ need to understand their players’ injuries has led to new “telestrations.” On her weekly injury reports, she’s utilizing new touch-screen technology to explain the “dry” medical background behind player injuries. The ESPN creative staff created images that allow her to show different bodily systems or simply a skeleton; Bell is also able to focus on areas in a variety of ways (drawing, creating arrows and shadows, highlighting) and even show footage in a second screen underneath to show the incident.

Write it Down

“I don’t think there’s anything ‘amateur’ about collegiate athletics in a big-time program.” – Emmanuel Acho

Take Note

67 percent of fans supplement viewing with additional screens. NBA, soccer, tennis, lacrosse, action sports, and golf lead the pack.

Top Tweet 

“As promised, the quasi-selfie featuring Kliff @TTUKingsbury and the folks attending his #disruptCFB session: pic.twitter.com/ICZoJyABqW — @danshanoff 


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