Jim Host, one of the most prominent names in sports marketing and communications, will not mince words about the lack of character in collegiate athletics Wednesday night (Feb. 2) as Billy Reed’s fourth guest in the series of “Conversations with Champions at Georgetown College.” The free fireside-chat in John L. Hill Chapel begins at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
Particularly galling to Host – the man who years ago founded Host Communications, which counted the NCAA, and numerous Division 1 programs and athletic conferences as clients – is “the ongoing, never-ending quest for revenue.”
“The difference between big-time programs today and 30 years ago is (massive)…and translates to the quest for winning at any cost,” said Host, who won’t hesitate to name names as he and Reed, the College’s newest Executive Scholar-in-Residence, examine the lack of character in collegiate sports. “I see it among administrators and on down to student-athletes.”
Host indicated the case of Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy and led those football Tigers to the national title on January 8, didn’t pass his “smell test.” Did the player know his father allegedly shopped his son’s talents to the highest-bidder? Did the NCAA go far enough in its investigation – or was there a fear that television ratings would plummet if Newton wasn’t able to play in the BCS Championship Game against Oregon?
“Whatever happened, the whole thing is a culmination of the never-ending quest for revenue,” Host said.
Revenue, he said, also comes to play in today’s obsession for bigger, better, newer facilities. And, just this week, Host was quoted extensively in a Lexington Herald-Leader story about what should be done with aging Rupp Arena. When asked by new mayor Jim Gray to weigh-in, Host recommended renovating and retro-fitting the home of the Kentucky Wildcats – and capitalize on the mystique of such historical treasures as the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park.
Ironically, Host – chairman of the Louisville Arena Authority that recently christened the palatial KFC YUM! Center – told the newspaper: “If it were me, I’d make this (Rupp Arena) the Wrigley Field of college basketball.”
But, what Jim Host will really stress with Georgetown’s student-athletes is the importance of getting a college education. “I wouldn’t be where I am today, if I hadn’t finished college,” said one of the state’s most influential citizens. “I was the first one in my (large) family to go to college, and the first to graduate.”
Back in the late Fifties, Host received one of the first two baseball scholarships at the University of Kentucky. The star pitcher would later sign with the major league Chicago White Sox and work his way up to Class B (the equivalent of today’s AA, he said). “Then I blew my arm out…and back then they didn’t have ‘Tommy John surgery’,” he said. “So, at the end of the day, that college degree is vital.”
In 1967, at age 29, Host would become the youngest member of Kentucky Gov. Louie Nunn’s cabinet as commissioner of the department of public information. And, he built Host Communications, Inc., into a very powerful sports marketing and production services agency. Billy Reed, who earlier in his career was a sports columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal and Sports Illustrated, said “Host literally invented the modern concept of college sports marketing.”
When Host became Secretary of the Commerce Cabinet, he hired Reed to be his executive director of communications. For a year beginning in August 2004, Reed helped with several of his pet projects, most notably the state’s “Unbridled Spirit” branding campaign and the Louisville Arena Task force.
Reed writes of his long-time friend: “Over the past 60 years, Jim has left his mark in the worlds of sports, business, politics, and government.”
Chances are that during that time span if you are talking about sports and a combination of those other three elements in Kentucky, Host has had his finger in it. For example, Host had a hand in the original vision for a Kentucky Horse Park that became a reality in 1978. And, he served as the original board chairman (2005-07) of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that was such a success at the horse park in September and October.