USF athletics director speaks on busy spring season and name, image and likeness rights

As Michael Kelly spoke to the media last week about the state of affairs with the University of South Florida athletics and the collegiate athletic landscape in general, he did so among several trophies on either side of him.

The collection of hardware highlighted the fact no less than 10 American Athletic Conference team and individual championships were won during a spring that was much busier than normal, thanks to some fall sports being pushed back due to the pandemic.

“It is interesting to juxtapose this great success with the tough times everybody has had in the world, in our country,” said Kelly, who three years ago this summer was hired to be the university’s athletics director. “It makes you all the more proud of the accomplishments of our young people here at USF.”

Kelly was proud of the perseverance, and diligence, shown by his staff, training staffs and student-athletes at a time when the pandemic forced everybody to greatly alter how to go about their business. His leadership abilities and past work experiences were key in seeing that everything ran as smoothly as possible.

“This, obviously, was unprecedented and caused you to really understand everyone’s concerns the best you could,” he said. “I think I have a good temperament in terms of staying calm, trying to find the next step and provide some feeling of comfort and security. Hopefully, I was able to do that. Some of these things we go through in hardship help you become better as a communicator.”

The unfortunate side effects of the shutdown, throughout college sports, included the loss of revenue and employee cutbacks. USF was no exception, as more than 60 employees were let go by a department that, Kelly said, lost at least $10 million in revenue. That is a sizable amount, especially when considering the department’s budget is $50 million.

“It was a hellish year, in that respect,” said Kelly, who on a few occasions during his media session asked for public support. “I hate every aspect of it. But we will build it back up.”

Athletic department building is also taking shape, in a literal sense. In February, the university unveiled plans for renovating the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center, which began as scheduled in April and should be complete about August 1. Ground will be broken, as scheduled, in August for a new indoor and multi-use football facility to be completed by next August. The projects come at a cost of $25 million and are being financed through public funds.

Not only will student-athletes look forward to new and improved facilities, but also opportunities that can enhance their experience at USF as the collegiate athletic landscape embarks on significant change.

That includes the opportunity to earn income through name, image and likeness (NIL) rights. There is still much to be learned, including what will be passed down from the NCAA and to what degree an academic institution would be involved in a student-athlete’s affairs.

At USF, an in-house committee was formed to get educated on everything from state laws to the kinds of companies that want to get involved with what will be business models developed by student-athletes. Kelly feels his department is as prepared as it can possibly be.

“There will be undetermined limits to what we can do for them, and I think we are well positioned to lay it out so we can make it work for them,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have 400 to 450 student-athletes that are coming here to play a sport they love and get their education. Now, they can enhance that even more with some benefits that they could earn off their own image and likeness, as well as any benefits that we can extend.”

Kelly, a former College Football Playoff executive, touched on another hot topic: the proposal to expand the playoff from four to 12 teams. That would give teams from conferences outside what is considered the Power Five conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) a real opportunity to play for the national championship.

“If we put ourselves in a position to win the American, there is a very good chance of going to the College Football Playoff,” he said.

Kelly hired Jeff Scott, in December 2019, to lead the football program. It was a hire he feels will pay great dividends.

“I believe with every fiber of my being that coach Scott is going to lead USF to a conference championship,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

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