Apr 27, 2020 10:52 PM

USA Swimming is planning a return to the pool.

Posted Apr 27, 2020 10:52 PM

Though, no one is quite sure how it will all play out during the coronavirus pandemic.

The national governing body unveiled a tentative schedule Monday that begins with a series of regional events in August before a national lineup of meets kicks off in early November - all leading up to next summer's Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska and the Tokyo Games.

Tentative is the key word, for sure.

"I think everything is taken with a grain of salt and maybe even more than one grain of salt," said Mike Unger, USA Swimming's chief operating officer. "We're trying to bring normalcy back when it's not normal, and we know that. But we have to have a Plan A, a Plan B and even a Plan C."

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy, who won three gold medals at the Rio Games, welcomed news of a revamped schedule but said he's not ready to celebrate just yet.

"I view it as a good sign," Murphy told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his training base at Cal-Berkeley. "By the same token, I'll be ready to adjust. Until we get out of this thing, I'm going to stay in a flexible mindset."

USA Swimming canceled all national events in July and early August, most notably the Speedo Summer Championships. The regional events would be held in mid to late August, with an eye toward limiting the need for travel and promoting a safer environment for athletes, coaches, officials and families.

Unger said the organization is talking with pools all over the country to assess potential availability, but also recognizes that any plans would be subject to health guidelines and the approval of local officials. USA Swimming is considering anywhere from 12 to 16 meets, divided equally between four geographic regions that are already set up for lower-level meets.

"We're not trying to rush into anything, but we've got to be methodical," Unger said. "With these regional meets, we would not be forcing someone from, say, Boston to go to Atlanta for a meet. Hypothetically, they could go to Long Island instead."

The first meet of the TYR Pro Swim Series is set for Richmond, Virginia from Nov. 5-8, followed by events in Knoxville, Tennessee (Jan. 13-16); San Antonio (March 3-6); Mission Viejo, California (April 8-11, 2021); and Indianapolis (May 12-15).

Also, the Toyota U.S. Open in Atlanta would be held from Dec. 2-5.

The U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha have already been rescheduled for June 13-20, about a month ahead of the new 2021 dates for the Tokyo Summer Games.

There are some changes from this season's Pro Swim Series, with Richmond replacing Greensboro, North Carolina as the leadoff event in November and San Antonio taking Des Moines' spot on the schedule in March.

Des Moines was the last TYR meet this year before the pandemic largely shut down live sporting events around the world and forced a one-year postponement of the Olympics.

Even if swim meets are able to resume, they may look different than they have in the past. USA Swimming will consider everything from competing without fans to maintaining social distancing on pool decks that are usually jammed with athletes, coaches and officials.

"From an optics standpoint, we need to be smart and wise about how we gather when we are able to gather," Unger told the AP.

After getting an unexpected break when the Olympics were officially postponed last month, most swimmers have returned to some form of training.

Murphy said he's been able to get in occasional pool training at private facilities in the Bay Area, but the main training pool at Cal-Berkeley remains closed. The bulk of his training is on dry land, mostly in the garage of the house he shares with five roommates since gyms have yet to reopen in California.

"No one is really leaving the house, so we're all just working out together," Murphy said. "We pull the cars out of the garage and work out there. We have a boxing bag, some ropes. I got a stationary bike. We've got a 30-pound dumbbell and a 50-pound kettlebell. We're making it work. We don't need all the fancy bells and whistles to stay in shape."

And now, at least, he has a series of meets to look forward to - assuming they actually take place.

"I'll be there for sure if they do," Murphy said. "But I'm also going to be ready if potentially everything gets pushed back again."

Continue Reading North Platte Post
Apr 27, 2020 10:52 PM
Tech companies, like college athletes, eager to cash in

By ERIC OLSON-AP Sports Writer

Imagine a major-college quarterback with a sizable social media following who posts entertaining and informative updates about his life on and off the field.

Now imagine a restaurant hiring him as its pitchman and paying him $500 or $1,000 each time he posts content with its messaging.

That scenario could become reality as soon as 2021 as the NCAA figures out the details of how college athletes can be compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness.

Blake Lawrence crunched the numbers on earning potential for that imaginary quarterback based on the QB having 40,000 followers on Twitter and 50,000 on Instagram. The co-founder and CEO of athlete marketing platform Opendorse based his projection on a popular college athlete having a market value approximate to that of a retired, well-known pro athlete; active pros command higher fees.

Lawrence said it would be reasonable to assume the quarterback would sign separate deals with 10 local businesses and post a total of 60 to 120 sponsored content messages a year on one of his social media accounts.

"So quickly it's $60,000 to $120,000 a year," Lawrence said. "You can see how the math adds up pretty quick in terms of opportunities for high level student-athletes to earn a significant sum of money from activating their social and digital media presence on behalf of sponsors in the local community."

While autograph signing and public appearances have been traditional ways for professional athletes to make extra money, most opportunities now are tied to social media. The bridge between athlete and sponsor will likely be content delivery platforms - a cottage industry of sorts eager to link the two and cash in. And having those platform relationships in place will almost surely be a recruiting tool for schools.

"There's going to be a whole industry springing up around NIL," or name, image and likeness, Lawrence said. "There is an ecosystem forming, and the incumbents are jostling and developing different types of tools and technology, and it's going to be wild."

Opendorse and INFLCR (pronounced "Influencer") will be major players to start, and another company, Greenfly, plans to establish more of a presence in the college market.

All three have contracts with pro teams and leagues as well as college athletic departments. They store and manage content - game photos and videos, for example - that athletes can share on their personal social media accounts. The photos and videos are provided by the teams themselves and through agreements with media organizations.

Athletes can access the content and share it with their followers. The pros use it to promote brands and supplement their income; college athletes will be able to do the same once they get the green light.

"Will some athletes make less than $1,000 (per year)? Yes. Can some athletes make more than $100,000? Yes," INFLCR founder and CEO Jim Cavale said. "Are any millionaires going to be made off this? Very few, if any."

Opendorse, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, has contracts with 75 colleges in addition to deals with the PGA Tour and players' unions for the NFL and Major League Baseball, among other entities. INFLCR, based in Birmingham, Alabama, has 100-plus colleges as clients as well as NBA and NFL players, NASCAR drivers and other pro athletes. Greenfly, based in Santa Monica, California, has worked mostly with professional sports, notably baseball.

Once NIL rules go into effect, athletic departments will be under pressure to go all in with opportunities for their athletes or risk watching recruits go elsewhere. The delivery platforms will need to provide transaction management technology that meets NCAA standards for oversight amid concerns about abuses, sham deals and play-for-pay schemes.

An athlete wouldn't necessarily have to use the platform provided by their school, but going elsewhere would mean paying for it and there could be technical obstacles in reporting transactions to their school.

Opendorse, launched in 2012, counts schools such as Clemson and Michigan among its clients, along with Nebraska. INFLCR has signed deals with teams such as Duke, Kansas and Kentucky, among others, since its start in 2017. INFLCR was acquired last fall by Teamworks, which develops software teams used for in-house scheduling and messaging for teams at 264 Division I schools. Greenfly went live in 2014, and the only college partnership it publicizes is one with Kansas State.

Athletes would conduct most or all of their NIL business through an app developed by the content delivery company. They could post sponsored content in different ways, perhaps mixing a personal message with an agreed-upon shoutout to the sponsor, or with the tap of a button relay a post composed by the sponsor.

Under Nebraska's contract with Opendorse for the year ending Feb. 28, 2021, obtained through a public records request, the athletic department will pay $235,000 for the company to maintain the content management system that's been in place since 2015. The company will also educate athletes on branding and polishing their online profiles to make them more attractive to potential sponsors, a program called "Ready Now."

Nebraska, where Lawrence played football from 2007-09, received $150,000 in discounts for bulk pricing (more than 500 athletes) and for being the first school to sign on with "Ready Now."

The tech companies will generate revenue through contracts to provide their services to schools and possibly from commissions. Sponsors - not the athletes - pay commissions ranging from 10% to 30% in pro sports.

"It's yet to be seen if those types of margins or commissions make sense at the college level," Lawrence said.

INFLCR's Cavale said the day of college athletes getting paid for use of their NIL has been coming since former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon brought the issue to the forefront with his 2009 class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA.

"Everybody understood it wasn't a matter of if but when NIL comes," Cavale said.