Jeff Bacon – Deputy Commissioner / Chief Operating Officer of the Mid-American Conference

Background

Mr. Bacon began his legal career by pursuing a law degree at Akron University School of Law. Since the beginning, Mr. Bacon always knew that he wanted to work in college athletics.

Initially, Mr. Bacon hoped to become a sports agent, as that was his first instinct when thinking about the intersection of sports and law. However, while at Akron Law, Mr. Bacon developed a relationship with Akron’s Faculty Athletics Representative, Dean Carro. Over time, Mr. Bacon was introduced to individuals at the Mid-American Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. One thing led to the next, and Mr. Bacon accepted an internship while doubling as a law clerk at a firm down the street from the conference’s office during law school.

After graduating from Akron Law, and working in private practice for nearly 9 months, Mr. Bacon then accepted his first full-time job with the MAC. There, he began his career in the field of compliance and governance. After several years working in this field, and with the change in Commissioner, Mr. Bacon was promoted to the conference’s Championship division. During his beginning years at the MAC, Mr. Bacon grew to love the people he worked with, the schools he interacted with, and the Cleveland-Ohio area. In addition, Mr. Bacon also credits consistent professional ascension as a foundational reason why he has worked and will continue to work at the MAC.

Mr. Bacon enters his 18th year with the conference and credits his longevity to the people and culture of the MAC. Photo Credit.

Today, Mr. Bacon enters his 18th year with the MAC and is the Conference’s Deputy Commissioner / Chief Operating Officer of the Mid-American Conference responsible for all things MAC college football.

Day-to-Day Tasks

Mr. Bacon describes his day-to-day tasks as Deputy Commissioner as “a series of big buckets” to fill, and within each bucket, one to two additional staff members assist Mr. Bacon with the day-to-day tasks. For example, Mr. Bacon oversees football scheduling, championship games, bowl games, external television partners, game-day operations, rules and regulations, and additional committee work. This list is not exhaustive, as additional external responsibilities include working with multi-media sponsorship, ticketing, media, and public relations. In addition, Mr. Bacon notes smaller buckets, which include working with championship staff, including, but not limited to, the hiring of said staff and overall strategic planning.

In addition to all the day-to-day tasks, Mr. Bacon serves as the Conferences liaison for all of its institution’s athletic directors and oversees the conference’s professional development program targeted at developing administrators and faculty that aspire to become directors, provosts, and college presidents.

The priority of each of these tasks varies from day to day, and Mr. Bacon explains that communication across his staff is crucial in prioritizing and balancing these responsibilities.

Photo Credit

Questions and Discussion Regarding Issues Surrounding College Sports Today

What led you to working outside of private practice?

As noted before, Mr. Bacon had always intended on working in athletics. Furthermore, after his internship experience at the MAC, it became clear to him that working in college athletics was the path for him. Specifically, Mr. Bacon explained that his excitement to work in college athletics is derived from the excitement and fulfillment he gets in helping college athletes, and colleges overall.

Mr. Bacon noted that all successful people need to know their “why,” meaning, “why do you do what you do every day, i.e., what drives you?” For Mr. Bacon, it’s the ability to be in a position to positively impact college athletes and colleges because he knows firsthand the impact that an excellent college experience can have on the development of young people.

What are some of the forks in the road in college football?

Mr. Bacon noted that the big picture issue in today’s college football is the dichotomy of institutions situating themselves with seemingly other like-minded institutions while still trying to anticipate a world that is still undefined.

One example Mr. Bacon pointed to was the recent expansion of the college football playoff. Specifically, in that it now naturally incentivizes institutions and conferences to create their schedules so that the best two teams can be situated for a playoff berth. Mr. Bacon notes that while this may be a priority today, no one truly knows the long-term direction of the college football playoffs, including the landscape of its membership, and thus the scheduling of today may not be what’s best for the future.

Name, Image, and Likeness

As for the current name, image, and likeness issues, Mr. Bacon notes that the difficulty lies in a lack of federal assistance to even the playing field. Since the advent of name, image, and likeness, states are interpreting rights differently across the board and thus there are varying levels of inconsistencies.

Revenue Generation

One of the issues facing all college athletics, including schools in the MAC, is finding newer and better ways to generate revenue. Schools in the MAC compete in FBS football, but they do not necessarily have the budgets to compete with institutions in the Power Five. Therefore, Mr. Bacon and the individuals at the MAC are constantly discussing ways to generate more and more revenue for their institutions.

Enrollment Decline

Higher education institutions as a whole have taken a hit since the pandemic introduced the concept of a virtual education. Currently, Mr. Bacon and his staff are having conversations about how they can best assist their institutions in addressing enrollment issues across the board.  

Sports Gambling

Mr. Bacon noted that the MAC’s main priority concerning sports gambling is the education of their coaches, administrators, and players. Specifically, the conference has implemented programs to instruct its members on the do’s and don’ts of dealing with individuals in the sports gambling space. For example, the reality is that bookmakers will pressure coaches, athletes, and administrators to gain inside information before a particular event.

Advice for Lawyers Aspiring to have a Career in College Athletics

Generally

 Mr. Bacon notes that an important quality to have in general is the ability to talk about the current issues in a respective industry. For college athletics, for example, aspiring professionals should find themselves being able to discuss and understand issues of antitrust, employment relationships, membership realignment, and other big-picture issues in today’s college sports world.

In addition, Mr. Bacon notes that athletic departments and conferences tend to hire individuals who possess some background in related college athletics. While one does not have to be a former Division 1 athlete, experience in the athletics space is important because it demonstrates a natural level of understanding of the world of college sports.

Furthermore, Mr. Bacon explains that a willingness to volunteer and work for free goes a very long way. While it is never the goal to work for free, volunteering illustrates a willingness to take on tasks solely because an individual loves the work that they are doing.

Finally, Mr. Bacon offers personal advice to those aspiring to work in college athletics. Specifically, Mr. Bacon believes it is important to find and understand your “why” so that you can answer whether or not this type of job is what you want to do. Once you understand your foundational why, a career in college athletics is very much achievable because the day-to-day tasks of college athletics are teachable.

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President of the Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Before law school, I coached college football at the University of Rochester for five seasons. I am excited to take these experiences, along with a legal education to make an impact on the ever-evolving landscape of college athletics. Thanks for reading our posts!

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