Football Bowls Association: An Interview with Executive Director Wright Waters Article posted on December 3, 2012

Wright Waters

Executive Director
Football Bowl Association

Wright Waters, who spent 14 years as commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference and has 40 years of experience in college athletics overall, was recently hired as the Football Bowl Association’s first-ever Executive Director. In his new role Waters will be responsible for the overall management of the FBA in areas including finances, administration, government relations, marketing, licensing, and legal.

The FBA has engaged Winthrop Intelligence to compile a statistical examination of the 2012-13 Bowl Season, and present a third-party look at the state of post-season football. Ryan Matthews, Winthrop’s Managing Editor, recently sat down to discuss Wright’s new position, the current and future state of the bowls, and commonly held misconceptions.

You’ve been in your new role as executive director of the FBA for six months now. What are your initial impressions of the organization, and what are its biggest challenges in your opinion, both in the immediate future and further down the road?

Two things stand out; first, the sincere concern for the game of college football that the staffs of the FBA exhibit. I came in thinking that the staffs were narrowly focused on only their game, but these folks see the big picture, the role college football plays in our society and on a college campus.

Second, is the breadth and depth of caring that the volunteers working with each bowl possess. These are some of the most successful, industrious people in each community. These organizations are managed by all-star teams.

The biggest challenge is communication, both within our organizations and external to the organizations. Too often bowls get painted with a broad brush, unfairly and inaccurately. Different games have different missions and they can’t all be put in one nice, neat profile.

The other part of the challenge is, because they produce multiple community events, the local communities are familiar with their good work, but nationally they are only visible once a year. During bowl season, when we have that annual platform, we need to do a better job of telling the whole story of those organizations.

With the proliferation of media outlets, including social media, the need to clearly articulate the goals and direction of the FBA must be more important than ever before. What are some of the most important elements of the FBA you hope will be communicated to your membership and the general audience, and how will the annual reporting package play a role in that communication?

It’s important to have an independent third party examine whether the FBA is where we think it is. With that baseline assessment we can determine our direction in the future and the resources needed to achieve our goals.

Unfortunately, perhaps with the proliferation of social media, in some cases we allowed others to define us without independently supported and verified facts. It’s difficult to set the record straight and combat erroneous opinions not based on fact.

What is the FBA view of the new BCS rules and structure? Will the expansion of the BCS have a big affect on the overall bowl system?

There is no one mission statement that fits all bowls. Even within the BCS, the two semis and championship game will have different missions than the other BCS games. The same is true for the other bowls. Successful bowls in the coming years will be those that understand their mission, as defined by their board within their local community.

For some it will be about filling up hotel rooms and restaurants, for others it will be about exposure for their community, and still others will be about providing opportunity for deserving teams. Those discussions must take place on the local level—we must know who we are and what we are.

Are there any misperceptions regarding the current bowl system? How will the commissioning of an annual report help to dispel those misperceptions?

Oh there are so many, where do I start.… A pernicious perception is that teams lose money going to bowls. This is not so. The NCAA audited numbers tell us that every conference had net dollars last year, even after some paid pretty significant supplements to their teams. If teams are losing money they need to make sure their conference is sharing net dollars.

Another misperception I hear is that directors are making too much money. I don’t think you can make such a broad statement. There are some directors who operate at an incredibly high level: they solicit sponsorships, deal with CEOs of huge businesses, negotiate TV rights, negotiate agreements with conference commissioners, and manage year-round staff. Salaries are set by the local boards and are set based on the data of similar organizations.

A better starting place might be to look at the balance sheet and at the bowl mission. If it is performing as expected then we have good leadership.

Another complaint is that the bowl staffs only work one day a year. These people work every day, have projects in the community all year. Unless you live in one of the 28 local communities you likely don’t see or hear of this good work after the games.

Why did you choose to engage Winthrop Intelligence as an administrator of the annual reporting package of the FBA?

We wanted a credible third party that had athletic experience, but would not compromise the study. We commissioned this study to get the truth and establish a baseline – good or bad. I have seen Win AD’s work for quite a few years now. Their understanding of athletics is excellent.

As executive director what do you hope the next five years will bring for the bowls?

Stability and the recognition they deserve, especially within the intercollegiate athletic community.