Leverage

I know we just wrapped up a four-week series on things any NFL agent hopeful needs to know before getting certified. However, upon further review, I’ve come up with one more. Let me illustrate it with a couple of stories involving my team, the Saints.

  • You may have read that Sean Payton and Johnny Manziel met during Super Bowl week, and rumor has it Payton is weighing giving him a shot with the team. My wife (who always refers to herself as ‘knowing more football than most women’) and I were discussing it, and she said she thought it was a bad idea putting a player with substance abuse problems in New Orleans. Though I saw her point, I disagreed. Manziel has plenty of athletic ability, and Payton has all the leverage, I said. He’ll sign a veteran minimum deal, and if he messes up, he’s gone. Simple as that.
  • Meanwhile, the Saints are seriously considering bringing in DC Malcolm Butler, which would require a trade with the Pats because he’s a restricted free agent. Though it’s incredibly exciting to think of a big-time corner coming to New Orleans, the question is, how much is too much to give the Patriots for a guy that could suddenly experience a lack of drive after going from an undrafted rookie — a guy that didn’t even get a UDFA deal, but who had to come in on a tryout — to a man making $13 or $14 million per year? There’s certainly precedent when it comes to the Saints spending lots of money on free agent DBs who crap out almost immediately. Don’t believe it? Mention the names David, Browner or Byrd to any Who Dat guy, and watch how he twists his face into a look of disgust.

If you want to be a success as an NFL contract advisor, you have to have ‘hand’ over your client. Problem is, that’s becoming increasingly harder to do. The NFLPA, which you might expect would have your back, is increasingly interested in encouraging players to go agent-free. Meanwhile, ‘what do I get?’ is the money question that any prospect worth signing has for you, and there’s no signing a decent player without providing combine prep, which is probably $10,000 minimum. And don’t forget, a player can fire his agent any day, any time, for any reason, and all he has to do is give five days notice. I think this is one reason so many first-year agents sign small-school players. Not only are they easier to recruit, and might be less inclined to demanding big-time training, but their road is steeper anyway. They can’t be as disposable with their agents.

Of course, to some degree, NFL teams are the same way. When you draft a player in the first round, you are handing him anywhere from $5 million to $20 million guaranteed, and you pretty much can’t cut him for three years, even if he’s a Manziel-style distraction/bust. Players know this. That’s why it takes real character (and/or just downright love of playing football) to make it to a second deal and really have staying power in the league.

If you’re going to succeed in football, you’d better figure out a way to gain sway with the players you sign. It’s one of the real challenges of the game, especially for new agents.

New Agent Primer: The Draft and Your Odds

In a few months, about 300 aspiring agents will assemble in Washington, D.C., for the 2017 NFLPA Contract Advisors Exam. If the last few years are any indication, at some point, one of the lecturers will ask the class how many expect to sign a player who will be drafted the following year. At least two-thirds of hands will raise, maybe more.

The truth is that, on average, maybe six people should raise their hands, and of those six, five are already employees of major agencies that will represent several draftees. Of those who are truly independent, who arrived with no ties to the big firms, maybe one hand should be raised. On an odd year, two.

There’s a perception that if a draft prospect completes four years in a decent FBS college program, starting a year or two, the natural progression is that he goes to the pros and plays 2-3 years. After all, that’s why the average career is so short, right? Everyone gets their shot, but only the Peyton Mannings and Deion Sanders have really long careers? And worst-case scenario, they go to the CFL, where they play for 6-7 years before moving on, right?

This perception is a big part of the problem, both for prospective agents and the players themselves. The problem is that it’s hard to perceive of the sheer volume of players vying for the 250 draft slots and 300 undrafted free agent contracts every year.

Let’s look at raw numbers. There are 125 FBS programs. Let’s say, on average, each of them has 10 graduating seniors that started a season or two, so that’s a pool of 1,250 players (conservatively). Last year, there were 484 rookies that made rosters (53 or practice squad), so right off the bat, that’s less than half of all draft-eligible seniors the NFL can fit onto its rosters. Now consider that of that 484, probably 100 never made it to their senior seasons. So that’s 384 jobs for 1,250 seniors, and we’re not even looking at the hundreds of FCS, DII and DIII players in the pool. Last year, 76 players made rosters from sub-FBS programs. So now let’s say 300 jobs for FBS players, just to make the math easier.

Of that 300, the vast majority will be signed by firms that have been around for years. Let’s say 250 go to established agencies. That leaves about 50 ‘make it’ kids left for mid-sized, small and rookie agents and agencies to divvy up. There are about 800 agents registered by the NFLPA. About 400 of them have active clients, so we’ll be generous and call them all ‘established.’ That leaves 400 agents vying for those 50 kids that slip through the cracks, yet make a practice squad (more likely) or roster (less likely). Oh, by the way, if your client makes a practice squad, you can’t bill him. So you get zero ROI on your training and recruiting investment. Ouch.

Of course, we’re just talking about making a team, for a game or two. All 32 teams are constantly churning the bottom of their rosters, shuffling players in and out due to injuries or just plain trying to improve their talent level. Making a team for any length of time introduces another reducing variable that we won’t even go into. But I don’t think we need to. You get the point.

Bottom line, if you’re taking the test this summer, or plan to in coming years, good for you, and I salute and congratulate you. But I want you to know what you face, and I want you to take seriously the challenge ahead of you. I’m always here to help, and I hope you’ll let me. Good luck.

New Agent Primer: The ‘Knowing Scouts’ Dilemma

If you’ve been reading my blog the past two weeks, you know I’ve already broken a lot of ground on this topic (here and here), but let me dig a little deeper into this issue.

The one question I get the most often from new agents is, how do I get to know and build trust with scouts? How do I get to a point where a scout will give me honest feedback on a player I’m recruiting, and perhaps even recommend sleepers? If I could answer this question, I’d probably not be handing it out on a blog.

It’s a Catch-22 situation that all goes back to the ‘quid pro quo’ nature of the business. As an agent, until you have clients that interest scouts, they don’t particularly want to know you. Once you do have clients of some worth, they will be more interested, but in direct proportion to the ability of your client. In other words, the big firms get the big players, and therefore have the deep and long-lasting relationship with NFL power brokers that ensure their continued success.

So how do you get around this? We’re trying different ways of doing that. Last year, we helped five agencies contract with former NFL scouts, and while we won’t have results for about a month-and-a-half, all the agents I’ve spoken to about the program were especially satisfied. In December, we referred interested agents to a former NFL scouting executive who gave them a professional, insightful report on any player they wanted to know about, and it was very reasonably priced. We’re working on some other options for agents as they recruit the 2018 class and I think they’ll be helpful, too. But the bottom line is that, unless you’re connected to a top prospect or you’re a former NFL scout yourself, you’re going to have to figure out the players that have the best chance on your own during your first go-round. We offer several ways to find those players, but there’s no avoiding a sense of risk. The key is managing that risk and not letting it choke you.

If you’re in that big group with no ties to scouts or executives, here’s the good news: often, scouts don’t know the answers, either. Even though they’re out on the road, checking their sources and watching film, they get things wrong all the time. I have several stories from personal experience running all-star games and trying to build a roster that scouts had signed off on that prove this. You might find players that you think can play, and you may be right.

Now, here’s the bad news: it doesn’t matter what you think. Obviously, their opinions are the ones that matter. There’s a good deal of groupthink when it comes to scouting and evaluation, and you might find a player that checks all the boxes, but for some reason just doesn’t ring the chimes with many (or any) teams. In this case, you will have to decide if you want to trust yourself, or if you want to find someone you might not like as much, but that NFL teams seem to prefer.

It’s a conundrum, a truly difficult situation. But if you’re going to pursue NFLPA certification, you need to be prepared for it.

Next week, we’ll talk about the draft and a new agent’s odds of hearing his client’s name called during the seven rounds of picks. See you then.

New Agent Primer: Quid Pro Quo

Last week, we discussed our new series of posts written with new agents in mind. Let’s open this week’s blog with a couple quick points and/or anecdotes.

  • Last night I was in a bar in downtown Indianapolis with about 500 people. There were two head coaches; dozens of scouts and NFL execs; about the same number of agents; a heavy, heavy dose of NFL Network people and writers; and several other people in marketing and finance related to the game. Why were they all there, besides the obvious alcohol-related and social reasons? Because everyone there had something that everyone else wanted. Specifically, information.
  • I’ve spent a lot of this week talking with scouts and executives about a project I’m working on. Along the way, it’s given me a chance to talk about the nature of climbing the NFL ladder, getting bigger and better jobs, and the like. To a man, everyone has discussed the role the media plays in getting recognized, and the difficulty of charming ‘the snake’ without getting wrapped in it.
  • About 10 years ago, I had a conversation with an agent who’s pretty big now. He was really despondent because he hadn’t developed relationships with scouts, and therefore was getting shut out of information he needed to find and sign good players. Over the years, for a number of reasons, he came into a much better class of signees, and voila! Suddenly he had so many contacts in scouting and evaluation that, well, he’s not so despondent anymore.

What I’m trying to say is that rarely does anyone in the football business (or maybe any business) do anything as a favor. Scouts only talk to agents if the agents have players that interest them. Front office executives only give tips to the media if they’ll make them look good in print. Those executives usually only get their jobs if they can make the people hiring them look good. One hand washes the other, over and over.

The point is, no matter how nice a guy you are, or how qualified or whatever, unless you’ve got significant leverage, it’s very hard to become successful in this business over night. Shoot, it’s why so many talented people try hard to build a place in the game but fail.

You can graduate from the finest schools in America with a 4.0 in sport management, and it doesn’t really matter. You can sign players and give them everything they ask for, but it won’t really matter. In fact, you can be really nice, and honest, and hard-working, and it doesn’t matter. All that matters is being able to provide something to others that they need. That’s the cold, dog-eat-dog nature of this business, and I think it’s something you have to know going in, whether you want to be an agent, a scout, a coach or a player.

New Agent Primer: The Modern Draft Prospect

At this point, while draft prospects and their agents are furiously preparing for next week’s combine or March’s pro days, there are about 300 people who are readying for the NFLPA exam this summer. Many of them will use our practice exam to increase their odds of success, which is a good thing, because the exam is extremely challenging.

Of course, knowing the CBA is just part of the job, and I constantly hear from aspiring agents who don’t seem to have a good handle on what’s ahead in non-CBA matters. With that in mind, my next five blog posts will seek to rectify this. These blog posts are a supplement to the newsletter series all our subscribers receive as part of an ITL subscription. The four topics we’ll cover are as follows:

  • The Modern Draft Prospect
  • Quid Pro Quo
  • The ‘Knowing Scouts’ Dilemma
  • The Draft and Your Odds

Without further ado, let’s talk about the modern draft prospect.

I think most budding agents have a romanticized view of young players that borders on fan-like. They see them as young and hungry, with an all-or-nothing attitude about training, working out, and otherwise learning their craft. They see them as respectful of the process and everyone helping them along. They expect players to be cordial and respectful to their agents and advisors, and above all else, grateful, taking nothing for granted. Similarly, they see the player and his parents as supportive but never presumptuous, and mainly only speaking when spoken to; they expect parents and family members to have a healthy sense of boundaries, and to be adult-like and reasonable in their expectations.

I think it’s fair to say this kind of player exists, and some of them even have a reasonable chance to play in the NFL. However, I think they’re pretty rare, and maybe even getting rarer.

The stories I hear most often from my clients are that the average player starts out with a rather heightened sense of what’s ahead, and his chances of NFL success. Most expect to be treated like NFL players from the get-go (car rentals, deluxe apartments, monthly allowances and training extras), and this is completely removed from their actual draft chances. The twist is that often, a player starts out very humble and less than entitled, but grows in his sense of appointment as the draft nears. Sadly, stories about parents are very similar. In many cases, they resemble a parent whose son chose an unsatisfactory spouse. They’re constantly meddling in the agent-plate relationship and even threatening them. There are ways around this kind of player — finding players you can enjoy representing is part of what we do at ITL — but far too often, this is the case.

There are only about a hundred reasons agent-player relationships take this shape. There’s the annual pre-draft hype-fest that makes every draft prospect either a future superstar or an under-the-radar sleeper. There’s social media, where former teammates paint an exaggerated picture of combine training glory and NFL interest. There are college coaches and athletic officials that spend four years painting unrealistic expectations of a player’s pro chances. There’s also the expected ‘loyalty to the program’ that means avoiding any real investigation and study of the NFL draft process. Factor in the family and friends that have been living vicariously through these young men for 20 years, and it becomes a perfect storm. And there you are, the agent, at the end of that wind tunnel.

Again, all players are not like this. In addition, the tactful agent has to figure out how to navigate these challenges. After all, we’ve got dozens of success stories we can cite. The point is, if you’re taking the exam (or hope to one day), be prepared for this.

More next week.

A Beginner’s Guide to Working the NFL Combine

Every year I talk to people looking to break into the NFL as an agent, scout, financial advisor or even player, and very often, their plan is to start with the combine (yes, several years I’ve seen ex-college stars trying to give their resumes to scouts and writers in Indianapolis).

Look, I get it. Nowhere else can you find every scout, every coach, and every top NFL prospect in one city at the same time. Not at the Senior Bowl, and certainly not at the NFL draft. In addition, Indianapolis is pretty easy to navigate. Unlike my home city of Houston, you don’t need a car once you get downtown. Pretty much everything is within walking distance, and if you know the walkways, you never even have to go outside.

If you’re an aspiring member of the football business who’s headed to Indy in two weeks, here are a few do’s and don’ts.

  • If you’re a financial advisor headed to Indy, hoping to hit up as many top players as you can talk to, curb your enthusiasm. Players are in town for four days, not a day more, and while they’re in town, almost every minute is scheduled. In fact, players are assigned to groups with a scout who takes them around; it’s almost like they have a chaperone. In addition, all players stay at the Crown Plaza Downtown Union Station, and it might as well be Fort Knox. Twenty years ago, the lobby at the Crown was the nerve center, the place where writers, agents, and even scouts hung out. These days, take as much as a step inside the lobby without the proper credentials and security tackles you.
  • I spoke to a young man today who will be taking the agent exam this summer, and he’s headed to Indy to meet as many scouts as he can. I have a lot of respect for someone who’s spending his own money with no agenda but to try to make ‘cold’ introductions to scouts. This is also a tough proposition. Most scouts don’t want to know an agent unless he’s got a player that interests them. Until then, these agents are just someone else clogging their inbox or handing out business cards. I’m going to try to help this young man, but I’ve tried to keep his expectations reasonable.
  • It helps to have a sense of ‘place’ when you’re at the combine. For NFL scouts and personnel, obviously, it’s everything going on at Lucas Oil Stadium, and for the media, it’s the interview room at the Convention Center, with players and executives streaming through regularly. For agents, there’s the NFLPA seminar all day on Thursday. Even selected fans will have something to do this year with Indianapolis turned into a Super Bowl-style hive of NFL entertainment and activity. But if you’re someone looking to make connections, it’s a little tougher. That’s one reason we at ITL have held a seminar for seven years. We’ve hosted a number of ex-NFL GMs and scouts, as well as key members of the NFL draft media. This year, for our eighth event, we’ll have former NFL scout Matt Manocherian, who’s now with Sports Info Solutions. He’ll give an insider’s look at how analytics are being used by NFL teams. String that together with a happy hour sponsored by one of our partners and a few other lunches open to people in the agent business, and it gives you something to do. But you kind of have to know where to go and what to do.
  • If you don’t fit into any of these categories, I always recommend The Omni as a place to people-watch and maybe meet a few key people. Lunch is good at The Ram, which has big, enclosed booths that can hold 6-8 people; it’s almost like having your own mini-meeting room. After dinner hours, you can find scouts and executives at St. Elmo’s, Shula’s, and High Velocity, the tony bar at the J.W. Marriott.

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Last Friday was the deadline for registration for the 2017 NFLPA contract advisor exam, which is administered each July (here are all the details for registration, in case you were wondering). For the hundreds of people hoping to be the next Jerry Maguire, it’s an important day to know. For more than half of those who registered for the 2016 exam, the day’s passage is probably not so exciting. It might even be a little painful.

It’s pretty commonly known among young agents that two years ago, the NFLPA made the exam a lot harder. The passage rate went from around 75 percent to less than 50 percent. People who use our practice exam still pass at about a 70 percent rate, but those who don’t wind up returning for a second bite of the apple. But they only get one more try, and if not, they are barred from another attempt for five long years. About half to two-thirds of the people who took the test last summer were there a second time, and I anticipate about the same rate this summer.

I know a lot of aspiring contract advisors read this blog, so today I want to pass along a cautionary tale. It starts with an email I got about a month ago from a person I’ve corresponded with over the years, an aspiring agent himself. “I would like to start using your services,” he wrote, “being that I took the test twice and came up short both times.”

He went on to explain that he was super-close to passing both times, missing by two and four points, respectively, in successive years. Neither time that he took the test did he use our practice exam or study guide. For that reason, and given that he knew fully well what we do at Inside the League and how we help people like him, I had to gently admonish him. “Why in the world would you not have subscribed to ITL the first time, not to mention the second time?,” I asked. “We had a practice exam and all kinds of stuff you could have used. That’s really puzzling.”

To his credit, my friend didn’t try to defend himself. He said he tried to subscribe the first time but never followed up, then forgot about us the second time around. At any rate, he said test-taking isn’t his strength. “Honestly, when I sit there taking the exam, I feel confident in the information I’ve obtained, but something goes wrong. . . It’s frustrating because I know all the information but I guess you can say I’m a horrible test-taker.”

I have no doubt he’s right, and he knows the material, but still, here he is. The worst part is that the NFLPA takes such a hard line on those who fail twice.

“I’ve put myself in a horrible position,” he admitted. “I still have a job in this industry and with an agency, but not having my certification has crippled me.”

If you’re one of those people that is set to take the exam this summer, please don’t take any risks. Our practice exam is $150, and we have a study guide, too for a reasonable price. Our subscribers also receive a daily email that gives them tips on exam passage as well as tales from previous test-takers. There are other services out there that are credible (though a lot more expensive), but none have been around as long as ours, and none has as many success stories. But bottom line, if you’re going to go for this, really go for it. Don’t try to save a few pennies here and there and risk not achieving a life goal that is really cool. Be smart. And if you have any questions, drop me a line.

 

 

Scenes from Super Bowl Week

Today was an interesting day. The Super Bowl came to my city this year, and that’s special for me as the ‘big game’ has never been part of my January/February schedule. I spent Thursday downtown getting a look at the landscape, just trying to get a better handle on what the festivities surrounding the game look like. Here are a few observations.

  • I watched the people who buy and flip Super Bowl tickets for several hours today. Quite a high-wire act. This morning, ticket prices were in free-fall, and vendors were looking for a soft landing spot for anything they had in their inventory. By this afternoon/evening, ticket were revving up again as many of the high-end ticket services were panicked and afraid the tickets they had already committed to filling might not be there. As I understand it, the league could release a huge block of tickets at any time that could once again drop prices. Hold your tickets too long, you could lose thousands of dollars. Hold them even longer, and maybe the prices rebound and you make thousands.
  • By the way, this week players from selected teams (different teams deliver their tickets in different ways) could pick up their tickets at a downtown hotel. Ticket people know this, and about 20 of them hung around outside the hotel. Pretty much, whenever an athletic-looking man in his 20s came anywhere near the hotel, he was mobbed by people wearing backpacks. Sometimes, they’d pull a wad of cash from the backpacks, count out a sum of money, and trade it for a pair, right there on the sidewalk. Today, I saw a player who had already struck a verbal deal with one broker take a different deal with someone who approached him on the sidewalk. Just like that.
  • If you’re a person aspiring to work in the league, you could do worse than to be here in Houston. At the Hilton downtown, where the media are staying, I saw young people with business cards they’d made up handing them out to the agents, business managers and other league-affiliated professionals in the lobby. Not a bad move. Here’s another place to be: at any bar near the downtown party locations for EA Sports, ESPN, the NFLPA, or any other big event. Very often, the VIPs spill out of the parties to have a drink at the nearby establishments. It’s just one more place to maybe make a connection.
  • By the way, if you’re into celebrity-watching, you could have done worse than to be at the Hilton this afternoon. In about two hours, I saw Dave Wannstedt, Morten Andersen, Boomer Esiason, Michael Strahan and Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s ‘Mike and Mike.’
  • Downtown was crawling with volunteers from the city who were handing out pro-Falcons or pro-Patriots handbills, giving directions, or holding props for tourists to use in selfies. They were all smiling, friendly, clearly excited to be a part of things. I know they didn’t get paid, and don’t get tickets or anything like that. I’m pretty sure all they get to do is say they volunteered with the Super Bowl effort. It’s amazing how much the NFL delivers excitement, electricity, and yes, even status to people freely giving their time and energy on a workday.
  • During a casual conversation I had with a fellow I met today, we discussed the life of a recruiter attached to a big agency. My friend was of the impression that recruiters for major agencies make millions of dollars. That’s a common misconception. He was pretty surprised when I told him a typical recruiter is lucky if he’s making a base of around $40,000-$50,000 plus expenses. And I mean, that’s a recruiter who’s really lucky. Most agencies these days will work with a younger agent (or unlicensed recruiter) strictly on an eat-what-you-kill basis. If he makes anything north of $20,000 and gets his expenses covered — plus gets to live The Life — he has to count himself extraordinarily lucky.

Week 3: A Final Road Roundup

I came off the road this week after spending Sunday through Wednesday in Lower Alabama for the Senior Bowl, one of the best weeks of the year if you’re in the football profession. It’s football with a side of Mardi Gras in a friendly town reminiscent of New Orleans.

Here are a few thoughts from the road.

  • Most bizarre/sadly funny/semi-tragic plane flight story of the week comes from Jeff Jankovich, an agent I’ve profiled in this space before. Jeff took off from Reagan Airport on Monday morning. About 10 minutes into the flight, the pilot comes over the intercom to say that there’s a mechanical issue and they’ll have to land. That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that they had too much fuel, so they had to circle for two hours before it was safe to put down. Of course, they landed not back at Reagan, but at Dulles. By the time Jeff had deplaned; traveled an hour-and-a-half (through traffic, by bus) from Reagan back to Dulles; then waited in line to be re-ticketed, it was 3 p.m. and there were no more flights to New Orleans. His best option was to go home, then take an early flight the next day to Atlanta, rent a car and drive (about five hours from Mobile; New Orleans is about two). It was not a banner day for American Airlines. Incidentally, big congrats to Jeff for having his first Senior Bowl invitee, West Virginia OC Tyler Orlosky.
  • We all know the expression ‘it’s a small world.’ It came to life for me this week as I sat and watched North Carolina receiver Ryan Switzer catch passes and run routes as a member of the North squad. Ryan’s dad, Mike, was a senior offensive lineman at St. Albans High School, about 20 minutes south of Charleston, W.Va., when I was a sophomore. In 1985, we’re two guys on the practice field in a small town in southern West Virginia. More than 30 years later, we’re two guys at Ladd-Peebles Stadium congratulating each other on making it to Mobile, though in completely different ways. Weird, and kinda cool.
  • I love going to practices because it’s one of the best chances I get to see and say hi to clients and friends. The only drawback is, because I’m there, I always get asked who’s looking good out there. First of all, I’m so engrossed with catching up with friends that I rarely get a glimpse of the field.  But second — and I know this pretty much goes against everything you’re going to read over the next four months — I just don’t know how much all the hubbub about who’s having a great week and who’s not really matters. Scouting is just entirely too subjective, and most of what you read online about whose ‘stock’ is soaring or falling is really questionable. I’ve been coming to these games so long that I can remember several players that ascended after a strong week (North Carolina DT Ryan Sims in 2002, California QB Kyle Boller in 2003, Arkansas’ Matt Jones in 2005 and Louisville DT Amobi Okoye in 2007 are just a few), then went out and had nondescript NFL careers. I’m sure you could name players that had awesome weeks, then went on to football stardom (Oregon State’s Chad Johnson in 2001 was one), but I just don’t see a strong correlation anymore. That makes it hard to really get excited about what happens here. There are just too many variables, too many unknowns. I know that’s not sexy and not really connected to what you find on the Web these days, but I believe it’s true.
  • In keeping with that theme, I’m pretty excited about our coming ITL Combine Seminar set for Wednesday, March 1, at 7 p.m. We’re going to have former Saints and Browns scout Matt Manocherian speak, but not really because he’s a former NFL evaluator. Instead, it’s because he’s now with Sports Info Solutions, a firm that Bill James founded to develop the analytics ideas that have taken hold in baseball (and been featured in Moneyball). I’m not sure analytics translates to football the way it does baseball — just too messy, too much integration between players — but I’m willing to listen with an open mind. I look forward to them discussing how their methods apply to football.

Week 2: More Sights, Sounds and Notes from the Road

It was another week on the road for me with two all-star games, the Tropical Bowl (played in Daytona Beach) and the Shrine Game (St. Petersburg) played in Florida. Here are a few things I thought interesting from this week.

  • I got to tour IMG Academy in Bradenton on Tuesday. In many ways it gave me a chance to see the future of athletics; it was an unbelievable place. You might have seen my tweet, which included an attempt at a panoramic shot of the place. The picture doesn’t do the place justice anyway. By next year, it will include 700 acres of  fields, stadiums, classrooms, parking lots, auditoriums, cafeterias, scenic ponds and lakes, weight rooms, roads, pathways and green space. Yes, even with all of this, there’s plenty of green space, in addition to hundreds of students from literally all over the world dressed from head to toe in IMG-logoed, Under Armour attire.
  • There are two things I’ll remember most. One, when a draft prospect arrives, the first thing IMG officials do is test his sweat to measure the electrolytes he loses. Then they design a concoction at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (which is right there on the grounds, one of three in the world) and voila! He’s got his own specific Gatorade blend, and it’s available whenever he wants it. That’s pretty cool. The other thing was that IMG has developed a combine — for e-sports. Yes, the good people at IMG have even figured out a way to make money off the nerds who aspire to go from their mother’s couch to a stadium somewhere, where other nerds will pay money to watch them play video games.
  • One thing I always hear from scouts is how disappointed they are in the lack of talent at the various all-star games. The older scouts, especially, lament the fact that fewer stars play in the Senior Bowl, Shrine Game and lesser games. There’s a good reason for that — most of those would-be seniors are already in the NFL — but the fact remains that some of these games have grown a little stale. That’s why it was so refreshing this year to see the Shrine Game involving assistant coaches from  all over the NFL as the assistants for this week’s game. It brought a new energy to this week’s workouts.
  • Here’s another big plus: referees were on site to throw flags during the team portions of the drills. It made everyone sharper and gave every workout a game-like intensity. This was one of the better Shrine weeks in recent memory.
  • One longtime friend told several stories about former Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma, Louisville and Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who has also coached several all-star games. As the story was told, Schnellenberger was not so adept when it comes to pop culture, especially the music scene. One time, he proudly announced to his coaches that “one of the hottest band in music” would be playing at the stadium at a future date. The band? “Trickshot!” he proudly exclaimed. When he got blank stares from his staff, he excoriated them for living closed, uncultured lives. “You guys gotta get out more and live life,” he urged them. Of course, the blank stares were warranted, as the band was really Cheap Trick.
  • Another time, the Rolling Stones were playing Louisville’s football stadium, and shortly before the show, Schnellenberger found a member of the band’s entourage checking out the school’s trophy case. “Hold it! Hold it! Hold it!,” said the coach with outstretched arms. “If you’re with the band, back in the visitors locker room!” When the band member obliged, another coach chided him with, “Coach, do you know who that was?” When Schnellenberger was told it was Mick Jagger, he responded with, “well, he didn’t know who I was.”