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Inside the University of Minnesota’s Creative New Rewards Program

Mike Wierzbicki and Ben Fraser join us for another episode of Shot Callers as they break down their loyalty program and the success they have found with it.

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Why America East Conference Continues to Put Focus on Mental Health

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The America East Conference is strengthening its efforts to be a leader in mental health among its athletes.

The conference last month announced its Board of Presidents adopted the NCAA autonomy proposal to improve student-athlete access to mental health resources. The proposal was originally approved by the Power Five conferences in January, and America East is the first outside the group to adopt the proposal, but Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said the conference’s efforts stretch back several years. Huchthausen also said it wasn’t a major lift to adopt the proposal because of efforts in the past.

Several years ago, the conference’s student-athlete advisory committee surfaced mental health as an area where it wanted greater attention on the campus and league level. The America East’s 4th Annual Health & Safety Summit will be held in May at UMass Lowell, with part of the summit focused on mental health.

“They had seen what we had done in diversity and inclusion from broader conference initiatives,” Huchthausen said. “We were very open to that, but recognized as league leaders and staff, we’re not educated on what we need to talk about.”

The conference then formed a mental health working group comprised of stakeholders ranging from athletic directors to psychologists and student-athletes to identify the major issues. From there, the focus has become to continue to destigmatize mental health subjects and to improve education and access to mental health resources.

READ MORE: NBA Working to Improve Player, Community Mental Health

“Even though there’s more visibility, people still don’t know what it means,” Huchthausen said. “They don’t have a good understanding of what to do next.”

A baseline report of campuses was performed by athletic directors and presidents, and now a standard of best practices will be implemented across America East campuses.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the interest in our athletic directors to spend time on this issue,” she said. “Their frustration and willingness to say it’s important, but don’t know how to address it — that was really encouraging. That’s helped us advance the conversation.”

The impact of college on students’ mental health is already a lot but add in the added pressures of being an elite athlete and those risks are compounded, said Tim Neal, head athletic trainer at Syracuse University.

Neal said one in four adolescent adults meet criteria of a mental health disorder, and athletes are not immune, no matter the pedestal they’re often put on. The stressors of student-athletes can exacerbate existing conditions or bring on new ones, he said.

“There are unique stressors to an athlete, under constant scrutiny and pressure in the classroom just to remain eligible,” Neal said. “One quarter of a newspaper is dedicated to sports; they’re often well-known on campuses; the psychology of injuries. There are a lot of dynamics most people don’t have to think about.”

Neal said an important factor in the improvement of how colleges, administrators and athletes think about mental health stems from the NCAA’s Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline, who has said mental health is the number-one issue in college athletics.

“He’s done more for the student-athletes than anyone else,” Neal said. “He’s made this a priority and is full-speed ahead in developing best practices.”

READ MORE: ‘Diet or Die’: Jesse Marks’ Story Shows Importance of Life Balance in Sports

At the America East level, Huchthausen said the initial reviews of the schools showed most weren’t far off from the pending guidelines, but it did help provide a solid base for standard operating procedures.

She said it’s now more about having a system in place and treated as a true program, rather than a discreet to-do list. Having the conversations also help connect all the resources on campus, that might otherwise be hidden from each other.

“This is an issue that really does touch almost every stakeholder,” Huchthausen said. “The message we want to send is you have to start somewhere. Even if you want a program that would require hiring extra people and adding resources, those might have a high price, even the ideal state, it shouldn’t prevent starting a conversation.

“You have to take the first few steps and that’s what we’re trying to do and hope other leagues follow.”

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Nike Releases Statement in Wake of Zion Williamson Injury

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During the first half of last night’s UNC vs. Duke game, freshman phenom Zion Willamson tore through his Nike PG 2.5 PE shoes.

Following the incident, Nike released the following statement to Front Office Sports:

“We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

After the incident occurred, Twitter lit up with questions as to whether Duke’s star, who is expected by many to be the top overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, should return to the court this year.

Jay Willams even suggested that the injury is further proof that Zion, and other players like him, should be able to go straight from high school to the Draft.

NBA players like Donovan Mitchell chimed in to offer their thoughts on the situation. Mitchell, in particular, called on the NCAA to change.

According to the Sporting News, the most expensive tickets for the game were sold for a whopping $10,652. That number was nearly double the $5,400 price for the most expensive ticket to last season’s game.

That has been the norm for Duke this year as Zion’s presence has jacked up the prices for tickets to games that feature the Blue Devils squad.

According to Vivid Seat’s Stephen Spiewak, sales traffic to Duke basketball’s ticket page on Vivid Seats is up 82 percent so far this season.

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How College Football Bowl Games Provide Experiences and Impact Beyond the Game

College football bowl games provide not only an experience for players and coaches, but also are an avenue for impact on the host cities.

Jarrod Barnes

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Photo via Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

With the large majority of the 40 college football bowl games already completed, postseason competition has certainly lived up to the hype.

For example, while not every game has featured traditional powerhouses, over 3.3 million viewers tuned into this year’s Las Vegas Bowl featuring Fresno State and Arizona State — both of whom welcomed a payout of $1.35 million for participating.

Outside of the revenue generated, bowl games offer more than just a chance to end the season with a victory, but rather a unique experience for players, coaches, and fans. In one fun instance, the Capital One Orange Bowl created a personalized bobblehead of each student-athlete who participated in this year’s game.

To put this all in perspective, media coverage and game highlights can overshadow the overall experience bowl games provide to student-athletes. Here are three examples of players enjoying activities beyond the game and off the field this postseason.

Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Toledo Rockets vs. FIU Panthers

One of the youngest and most unique bowl games, the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl was certified in May of 2014 and is the lone bowl game where fans need a passport to travel.

The Toledo Rockets and FIU Panthers had an opportunity to make a difference off the field prior to their game last week by participating in two community outreach events in the capital of Nassau. Both teams visited the Ranfurly Home for Children, where players enjoyed basketball, foot races, and volleyball with the children residing there.

READ MORE: Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

“For someone like me, I have never been out of the United States until now, so I can speak firsthand on the importance of staying disciplined and watching things work in your favor,” said Willie Ross Jr., a junior defensive tackle for the Toledo Rockets.

Richard Giannini, the executive director of the Bahamas Bowl, took things a step further and donated 3,000 bowl tickets to students in New Providence in an effort to introduce Bahamian students to the game of American football. Within a span of four years, the Bahamas Bowl has pumped over $23,000,000 into the Bahamian economy and even convinced the Bahamian Minister of Education to introduce TackleBar Football into schools on a trial basis.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Florida Gators vs. Michigan Wolverines

Making an impact on the community is important, but another reward of the bowl experience is player hospitality events.

The Gators and Wolverines enjoyed competition outside of this past weekend’s Peach Bowl in the event’s Battle of Bowl Week, featuring go-kart racing, a basketball challenge and other events designed for players to have fun.

“We think of it as a reward for the players,” said Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan. “They’re the ones preparing through the winter, spring, summer, and then playing in the fall. They deserve to be treated first-class. We have a theme we use: live, laugh and learn.”

Players also squared off at the Andretti Indoor Karting facility with high-speed super carts and then in a basketball challenge at the team hotel.

“(Entering the week), we (set) a competition every night for the belt, and whoever won the cumulative rankings got the belt to take home with them,” Stokan said. “We’ve seen that belt in a lot of different places. The guys really get into the Battle for Bowl Week belt.”

In addition to competing, Stokan and the Peach Bowl committee also placed a high value on providing an educational experience as well.

“We wanted them to learn,” Stokan said. “We had Congressman (John) Lewis and Andy Young and C.T. Vivian, who are three of the top eight people in Dr. King’s Civil Rights movement. They talked about leadership. We did it in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King spoke. And we had both teams sit together, which is a no-no in the bowl business. So it’s a living history lesson.”

While the Peach Bowl offered one of the highly anticipated, marquee matchups this season, the impact of the bowl experience was felt far beyond the playing field.

RedBox Bowl: Michigan State Spartans vs. Oregon Ducks

Not to be overshadowed by this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the San Francisco Bay Area is also host to an annual bowl game. After four previous name changes since the game’s inception in 2002, the Bay Area’s college football bowl game was renamed the Redbox Bowl earlier this year following a multi-year deal with the new-release movie and video-game rental company.

READ MORE: Inside the Meteoric Rise of College Football Games

“The Redbox Bowl is thrilled to welcome two storied college football brands with shared history like Oregon and Michigan State to play in front of a primetime national audience at Levi’s Stadium,” said Ryan Oppelt, executive director of the RedBox Bowl and director of the Bay Area Host Committee. “The Ducks and Spartans have large alumni contingents in the Bay Area, so we couldn’t ask for a better way to kick off an incredible week of postseason football.”

Players attended a premiere matchup this week at Oracle Arena between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers. Several Michigan State players were welcomed by Spartans alumnus and current Warriors star Draymond Green after the game.

Student-athletes were also given a tour of the world famous Alcatraz Prison on Alcatraz Island. Outside of sightseeing, both Oregon and Michigan State players volunteered to help those in need at GLIDE and St. Anthony’s in San Francisco ahead of Monday afternoon’s tilt.

As you can see through just a small handful of examples, bowl games provide not only an experience for players and coaches, but also are an avenue for impact on the host cities, local communities, and even countries that participate. The level of responsibility for sports commissions and planning committees is high, but the outcomes can create memories far beyond the game.

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