Why not the Walmart 12?
This was during a recent conversation with Paul Pendergast, the preeminent fundraiser in UConn history and the school's former athletic director. Amid the normal repartee, Pendergast offered a modest proposal:
"How about the 'Walmart 12?'" he said.
I held strong, resisting a Walmart joke, settling for an absorbing, "What?"
"The 'Walmart 12,'" he said. "There's corporate sponsorship for everything else. Why can't the new league's name have a corporate sponsor?"
Pendergast alluded to UConn's yet-to-be named conference than spans more of the United States than American Airlines.
Now let me just say this: Paul Pendergast knows more about the vagaries of money — finding it, cultivating it, applying it and then finding, cultivating and applying it again — than anybody reading this. And so while your first reaction might be that Pendergast might be, you know, knitting with one needle, shall we examine?
The new league's name promises to be vanilla. A corporate name might offend the purists, but it would generate a buzz, good and bad, not to mention potential money streams. Again: The concept might cause eyerolls and nose wrinkles, but as a wise man once said, "money's money and there was only one Mother Theresa."
Think about it. Corporate sponsorship is more all over the place than horse manure on the farm. Met Life Stadium. Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300. The Beef O'Brady's Bowl. European soccer players and WNBA players wear corporate logos on their uniforms. Greg Gumbel didn't unveil the NCAA brackets two weeks ago until he mentioned the corresponding "NCAA corporate champion" in each region.
So is the "Walmart 12" all that implausible?
Pendergast used "Walmart" as an example. It could be any corporate name with which the league feels comfortable. Obviously, it's not Budweiser or Marlboro. (Or heaven forbid the NRA). But if you think about the frequency with which a conference's name is mentioned, a corporate sponsor might present an empty checkbook to the new league.
A spokesperson at the NCAA on Thursday said there is nothing in the rules preventing any league from using a corporate name.
A favor, por favor from all the idealists and Utopians: Not now. Don't want to hear it. You can bemoan how money's ruining everything and pine for the old days when you could walk up and buy a ticket for a nickel. It's a scourge on society, sure. But this is the real world of institutional Darwinism. And Pendergast's suggestion is a real-time, real-world idea that deserves some consideration.
UConn's new league has no identity. Given the power and influence of other, bigger leagues throughout the country, UConn's new league threatens to fade into irrelevance. This would get people talking. I'd rather be criticized than ignored.
I've had this corporate sponsorship conversation with coaches, athletic directors, high school principals and Board of Education members ad nauseam. It's the answer to budgetary crises in every community. But there's either a moralist opposed to the idea somewhere in a position of authority or others too lazy to solicit the money.
And so rather than naming a field or a gymnasium and using the money to help our kids, we sit there and scream damnation at each other in various public forums.
Which is why Pendergast, who raises money for a living and knows how people with money think and act, understands this could be an answer for UConn's new league. An elixir? Of course not. But a corporate name would generate attention and money, the two things UConn's new league lacks most.
Blogger Mark Blaudschun wrote Thursday that "several options are being discussed," about the league's new name, "but (league officials) have moved away from a number (America 12 was one early suggestion, but drew a negative feedback because of the uncertainty of the number of teams who will actually be part of the conference in future years)."
More Blaudschun: "A combination of Big, American and Metro is being seriously discussed, but no definitive decision has yet been made, although an effort is being made to speed up the process for an announcement from mid April to early April."
Big, American or Metro. No number.
Give me Walmart.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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