An athletic director has resigned, a football coach is stirring public turmoil, and a contract has all but ensured litigation for the nation’s highest-profile historically Black athletic conference.
These are the cliff notes on the last 24 hours in Florida A&M University athletics, and they stand-in for real information on why promising athletic executive Kortne Gosha has bolted from Tallahassee while bigger brands and higher stakes are on the line as a result of what happened on his watch.
It all started with a partnership FAMU announced in February with the Urban Edge Network, granting broadcasting rights to the company of all university sports contests and content from the school’s Marching 100 marching band. From a FAMU Sports release:
The network will broadcast all available sports, the Marching 100, and other university-related content with a dedicated channel to FAMU Athletics on HBCU League Pass+. This allows FAMU to join Urban Edge in this latest black-owned media initiative. The live streaming network is primed to create new revenue streams and ensure fans, students, and alumni can watch their teams play anywhere there is an internet connection and on-demand 24/7.
“Urbanedgenetwork.net was created to transform the landscape in advertising monetization for HBCUs. It is our goal to bring advertising dollars, NIL, and streaming video enabled by AdTech to 101 Historically Black college and university communities, students, and alumni,” said Todd F. Brown, CEO at Urban Edge Networks.
Grambling State University announced a similar deal days later. Earlier this week, HBCU Gameday broke the news that the Southwestern Athletic Conference in which both FAMU and Grambling are full members, had been sued by UEN and alleged to have infringed on the company’s ability to secure corporate sponsorship.
SWAC rules prohibit streaming and advertising rights to be negotiated by individual member institutions. Conference officials say the lawsuit could impact deals in current negotiations to the tune of $100 million.
McClelland expressed concern that the issue could jeopardize the league’s relationship with PepsiCo, who the league is renegotiating with for potential eight-figure payment. He stated it poses a potentially bigger threat to the league’s negotiations with Byron Allen Media Group for secondary broadcast rights. The email states that the total funding jeopardized could potentially be in excess of $100 million.
While Grambling has remained silent on the issue, Rattler Nation reports that Gosha’s exit may be related to signing the contract without presidential or board approval.
According to sources familiar with the deal, Gosha entered into the agreement without having it reviewed by the university general council or consent from his supervisor.
On its face, the contract violates the terms of his employment agreement and university regulation 1.019 (sub. 7) which prohibits university employees from creating a legal obligation on the part of the university. University policy states that, ” all agreements, understandings, and contracts must be reviewed by the Office of General Counsel before execution.”
FAMU officials were also blindsided when it learned through the news media that UEN and HBCU League Pass+ had entered a FAMU branded NASCAR race car using the university’s official trademarks into the nationally televised Pennzoil 400 race in Las Vegas without university approval.
If the story of Gosha going rogue is true, it is almost impossible to imagine an unauthorized deal being signed, promoted, and intact for months only for personnel action on it to take place yesterday. If it is not true and officials knew all along, someone either didn’t read or didn’t know the basic bylaws of SWAC conference membership and is also allowing Gosha to take the fall for this extraordinary mistake.
In either case, FAMU’s president and general counsel should be in the crosshairs.
While UEN and the SWAC are contemplating suing each other, there are only two entities with which both organizations have formal agreements; FAMU and Grambling. And if either side has a problem with corporate partnerships being blocked impeded by independently-created alliances, then both the conference and the network need to aim their legal teams at these schools for signing off on competing deals.
BCS programs have made these kinds of deals standard for conferences and institutions, with schools like the University of Texas sharing and creating content with the Big 12 Network and its own deal with ESPN.
That FAMU and Grambling didn’t structure deals similarly or lacked awareness on how one deal for individual growth could impact revenues for an entire conference, is a frightening view of how two of the biggest sports brands among all HBCUs could lack the leadership and legal insight to avoid national embarrassment and potential litigation.