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Ron Francis and Dave Hakstol didn’t know they were participating in a four-week audition.

They bonded at the 2019 IIHF world championships in Austria and Slovakia, where Francis was part of Team Canada’s management brain-trust and Hakstol was a member of the men’s team coaching staff.

“I got to know him as a person and watch his work ethic, building that respect for what he can do,” Hakstol said.

Francis was named the first general manager for the expansion Seattle Kraken later that year. After his first NHL head coaching gig with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2015-18 — making the leap from coaching the University of North Dakota — Hakstol was hired as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs before the 2019-20 season, working under Mike Babcock and then Sheldon Keefe.

Francis kept him in mind as he cast his net for the first Kraken coach. On June 24, it was announced that Hakstol got the job — a surprise to some, given that his name wasn’t among the ones rumored to be in the running.

But Francis wasn’t surprised in the least that Hakstol ended up being his guy.

“As we went through the process, he was certainly a guy that I had interest in talking to. He’s got the experience. It was maybe a big jump from college the first time, but now he’s been in the league for six years, he’s worked under some different coaches and has a bit more experience, so we’re comfortable in that regard. We were always comfortable with his hockey acumen,” he said.

ESPN spoke with Hakstol recently about getting this coveted job, the upcoming expansion draft, learning from failures, and whether the Vegas Golden Knights have set the bar uncomfortably high for Seattle.

ESPN: Let’s start at the very beginning: What was your reaction when you heard Seattle’s nickname and saw its colors for the first time?

Hakstol: [Laughs] I didn’t know what it was at the time. I had learn what it was.

ESPN: You mean what a Kraken was?

Hakstol: Yeah. But something I’ve learned over time is to be open to new things, right? Once I started seeing the merchandise and learning what it was and seeing how attached the fans were to the name, it’s really cool. Seattle’s going to be a great spot for the NHL. You’re going to see a lot of the merchandise, not only in Seattle but around the NHL.

ESPN: How did this stay so quiet? Were you watching all the speculation about possible coaches and thinking “wow, I’ve really kept this under wraps?”

Hakstol: Around 7:45 a.m. PT, the day of the announcement, it started to get out a little bit. I don’t think we really tried to keep anything quiet. We just dealt directly with one another. There was no special effort to keep things quiet. I obviously paid attention to everything that was going on. Speculation is part of the business, and there were a lot of really good people that were a part of the process. It’s a pretty special opportunity there.

ESPN: You’ve obviously interviewed with an NHL team before. Was there anything unique about this process in talking with Seattle? Like, for example, if you talk with the Flyers, you know you’re coaching Claude Giroux. So you might get asked about coaching Claude Giroux. But here, there isn’t a single player yet.

Hakstol: Yeah, that’s unique, when there’s no players that are obviously in place. But the most important part of the [hiring] process, in knowing that it’s the right spot, is the people that you’re working with. I had a chance to get to know Ron a few summers ago and then through the interview process. That’s still the most important thing. Players aren’t in place, but philosophically, we can be on the same path and really work well together.

As we were over at the world championships, I understood what [Francis] was seeing on the ice. He places a ton of value on players that can think the game. Intelligent players. The pace of the game is a really big aspect. But most importantly, the competitiveness.

ESPN: So in other words, Ron Francis likes guys that who play like Ron Francis.

Hakstol: Yeah, I think that’s probably an accurate statement.

ESPN: Francis spoke a lot about second chances at your press conference. You’ve said in the past about failure that “if you evaluate it, deal with it, learn from it, a lot of good can come out of it.” I don’t want to qualify the Philly experience as a “failure,” but what did you learn about yourself in evaluating it?

Hakstol: The bottom line was there were successes and there were failures, and as you add it up, we didn’t get to the finish line. I didn’t get to the finish line of what I had hoped to accomplish. That’s the bottom line. But I learned more about the everyday business of coaching and building an NHL team, from start to finish every year. That’s the biggest part of the experience that I take away.

Now, I have some experiences doing this once on my own. And I worked with a couple of really good coaches in Toronto to see their way of doing things. That’s all made me a better coach than I was six years ago.

ESPN: You were an outstanding college coach. I have to imagine dealing with college-aged players is a lot different than dealing with NHL players. What have you learned about managing pros?

Hakstol: How important every interpersonal relationship is. You have to grow those relationships. It doesn’t matter if that player is playing seven or eight minutes or he’s playing 20 minutes a night. You really need to do a great job in relationship building with each and every player, and communicating with each and every player, because there’s going to be ups and downs. There’s going to be some good and some bad.

ESPN: Obviously, part of that communication process is having players in the dressing room who can help sell your message, who can be your guys in the room. Are you looking to maybe bring in some guys that you already have a relationship with or that you’re familiar with that could be maybe eyes and ears in the room?

Hakstol: The process for [the expansion draft] … Ron and his staff have been preparing for that, and they’re going to approach that draft with all the knowledge that they built. I’ve been asked my thoughts about guys along the way, and if I have clear opinions on them, I’ll offer those opinions. If the right player is available, and that previous relationship exists, I think that’s a head start. It’s a benefit, but not a main focus. Everything after [the expansion draft on] July 21 is about building relationships with all the new players.

ESPN: It sounds like Francis and the front office are selecting this roster. That maybe you can give your input, but you’re not sitting there with a back-of-the-napkin expansion list, and saying “hey, get me this guy.”

Hakstol: Yeah, that’s accurate.

ESPN: Is that a bit of a bummer?

Hakstol: Everybody has their roles and everybody has their things they have to execute. I actually look at the opposite way. I do have a part. I do have a seat at the table, to know and understand how we’re building. I do get an opportunity to give my opinions where they fit. It’s a great way to start.

ESPN: The front office is very analytics-driven. I know that was the case in Toronto, too. You seem like someone who is open-minded about them but likes to keep a foot firmly planted in the “this is still a human game” realm. Which side wins out in the end?

Hakstol: Coming up of the college game, we used very little analytics. We used some basic analytics data, but certainly not in the modern sense. But I learned a lot about it through my time in Philadelphia and as an assistant in Toronto. And I think it’s a great tool. It really is.

There’s an awful lot of good information that can help us as coaches. We’re gonna use and take that information. We have a lot of very smart people in the analytics department. I want to take full advantage of the information they can provide us, so that we can connect that with the human side of the game.

ESPN: Are you ever worried that going with your gut too much, with a numbers-driven front office, could create a conflict?

Hakstol: No. I gotta be who I am, and I’ll do that. I think the real key there is that you work hard and gain all the information. Because all that goes into gut feeling, right? The preparation, the mindset that you have. Those all help.

ESPN: You worked with newly hired assistant coach Paul McFarland in Toronto, but adding Boston’s AHL coach Jay Leach was a surprise for a lot of us. How did he come to join your staff?

Hakstol: I was just fortunate that after an initial phone call he had interest. It’s not a long-standing relationship. We didn’t know each other before the interview process. I’ve just been really impressed with what he’s done. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a player that didn’t love playing for him, and had gotten a lot better. He’s got a unique ability in that sense. I was thrilled to have him join us in Seattle.

ESPN: Have you spoken to anybody that was involved with the Vegas Golden Knights when they started, to get some advice?

Hakstol: I know [Gerard Gallant] well and we’ve stayed in touch. We saw each other two world championships ago … you know, maybe I’ve been in too many world championships? That’s not a good sign, right? [Laughs]. But in 2017, we were in Paris and Cologne together, and that’s when I got to know Turk well, and he had accepted the job in Vegas. I kind of got an early look at things through him as he was going in, and then had the benefit of seeing the great job that he did there.

ESPN: Was it weird having him in the mix for this job?

Hakstol: I wouldn’t say it was weird. He’s a great man, great coach. The world is too small to be affected by that. Anything good that happens to him, I wouldn’t be anything but happy.

ESPN: There was a time in recent NHL history when the expectations for an expansion team were quite low. Then came the Golden Knights and their run to the Stanley Cup Final in Year 1. Did they ruin the process for the Kraken? For example, you guy have better odds to win the Stanley Cup than Detroit and Buffalo.

Hakstol: [Laughs] I think it changes the comparisons, without a doubt, but I don’t think it changes the standards from within. We have our own standards. We’ve gotta live to them every day. Will the comparisons be there? Absolutely, 100%. We’re all really well aware of that and prepared for them.

ESPN: Finally, a lot of us hadn’t seen you in a while. We didn’t realize you had a goatee now. Did you grow it as a point of demarcation in your career? To be a “new” Dave Hakstol in Seattle?

Hakstol: [Laughs] No, I had to go into quarantine when I got to Toronto in late November, and I didn’t shave for two weeks. Bam, there it was. My wife and my family weren’t up there with me, so the goatee stayed. I started out with a full beard, and that was awful. So I shaved it and it stayed with me. At least for now.

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College athlete employment bill moves forward




College athlete employment bill moves forward

A Congressional committee voted Thursday to move forward with a bill that would prevent college athletes from being deemed employees of their schools, conferences or the NCAA.

The vote in the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce represents the first tangible signs of progress the college sports industry has made in its years-long push for a federal law to help reshape college sports. It comes just weeks after the NCAA and its power conferences announced they have agreed to share significantly more revenue with athletes as part of an antitrust lawsuit settlement.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Good (R-Virginia) on the same day the antitrust settlement was announced, is in the early stages of the legislative process. It is likely to face opposition from Democrats in the Senate as well as legal challenges if it’s passed.

The NCAA is currently a defendant in multiple ongoing court cases that argue college athletes should be granted the rights of employees. One case in federal court — Johnson v. NCAA — is seeking minimum wage and other workplace protection for college athletes. Two other active cases in front of the National Labor Relations Board are seeking to give college athletes the right to form unions and collectively bargain.

NCAA president Charlie Baker said earlier this week that he hoped the recent antitrust settlement, if it’s approved by a judge, would provide the framework for a college sports model that allows schools to compensate their athletes without turning them into employees. Baker said he does not believe most college athletes want to be considered employees.

“A lot of the conversations I’ve had with people in Congress is: ‘The reason we’re interested in employment is because of the compensation question,'” Baker said earlier this week. “If the court blesses [the antitrust settlement], then it puts us in a position where we can go to Congress and say one of the three branches of the federal government blessed this as a model to create compensation without triggering employment.”

The NCAA and power conferences have lobbied Congress for laws that would limit their legal liability and prevent athletes from being employees for the past several years. College sports leaders say these laws are necessary to preserve many teams and athletic departments that cannot afford to pay their athletes like workers. Both the NCAA and power conferences have publicly stated their support for Good’s bill.

The bill is intended to be a narrow part of a broader package of federal legislation that guarantees more benefits for athletes in the future while preventing them from being employees. However, no partner bills that would guarantee athlete benefits have been introduced yet.

The Workforce and Education Committee voted 23-16 to move forward with the bill. All 23 votes in favor came from Republicans. All 16 votes against came from Democrats. The debate over whether Congress should weigh in on the college sports business model has been a partisan debate for the past several years.

Democrats in the House and Senate have previously co-sponsored bills that would have the exact opposite effect of Good’s bill — codifying college athletes’ right to unionize. Those lawmakers and other advocates say athletes need the ability to bargain collectively to make sure they can negotiate for items such as improved medical care and a fair share of the money they generate for a multibillion-dollar industry.

Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) — a former college volleyball player who has been an active participant in the Capitol Hill debate on the future of college sports — said she will vote against Good’s bill if it reaches the House floor.

“Once again, Republicans in Congress have decided to plow forward with legislation to limit the rights of college athletes with little to no input from athletes themselves,” Trahan said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.

If passed, Good’s bill would stop the ongoing efforts of the NLRB and in the Johnson v. NCAA case to make athletes into employees. Paul McDonald, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the Johnson case, said he believes the bill as written would violate federal equal protection laws. McDonald said it’s against the law to prevent some college students from being employees while others in that category — like cafeteria workers or teaching assistants — are allowed to earn wages and unionize.

“If enacted, [the bill] would never survive judicial challenge. To wit, it is a waste of time,” McDonald said in a statement provided to ESPN after Thursday’s vote. “Dilatory tactics have consequences. The only thing accomplished by the NCAA in needlessly dragging out the recognition of college athletes as hourly employees like their fellow students is to significantly increase the cost of resolution borne by its membership.”

In a news release issued prior to Thursday’s vote, Good said his bill was aimed at making sure the tradition of college sports wasn’t “ruined by reclassifying student athletes as employees.”

“My legislation will help maintain a balance between athletics and academics, ensuring that college sports programs remain viable, beneficial, and enjoyable for all student athletes,” he said.

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College football odds: Using FPI to gain an edge on lines




College football odds: Using FPI to gain an edge on lines

The NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals are coming to an end. The men’s College World Series wraps up shortly after, and all that’s left to get us through the scorching summer months are MLB, WNBA and soccer. Of course there’s some golf and the Olympics mixed in, as well.

Without other distractions, it’s the perfect time to get a jumpstart on some college football prep.

ESPN Analytics released its 2024 College Football Power Index (FPI) ratings and ESPN BET has posted lines for Week 0 and Week 1, as well as some other marquee matchups on tap throughout the fall. Where’s the value in what has been posted? What is the public seemingly valuing early on in the process?

You might think 10 weeks is too soon to start looking ahead, but you know how the saying goes: the early Jayhawk catches the Banana Slug.

Odds by ESPN BET. For the most up-to-date lines, click here.

1. Read, then react

Before firing away at August and September bets, take some time to refresh on how last season ended and the sheer volume of change the sport has undergone this offseason. Last year’s semifinalists have vastly different outlooks heading into 2024, with all four getting a new coach, starting quarterbacks or moving into a new conference.

The Pac-12 ceases to exist, three times as many teams can make the playoff, and the transfer portal carousel continues to spin. ESPN Analytics and FPI factor all this into their projections, so it serves as an ideal jumping-off point.

2. The Florida State vengeance tour begins, but will it start with a bang or a whimper?

After an undefeated season and subsequent playoff snub due to Jordan Travis’ injury, FSU will look to silence its doubters in the upcoming campaign. ESPN BET currently has FSU as the favorite to win the ACC at +260, followed closely by Clemson at +275. Yet, the last time we saw the Seminoles, their performance was anything but spectacular, as they needed a fourth quarter comeback against Florida, squeaked by Louisville in the ACC title game and then were walloped by Georgia 63-3 after half the team opted out.

Florida State kicks off the entire collegiate season in Ireland against Georgia Tech, in what’s currently the most bet-on game at ESPN BET. They’re installed as 13.5-point favorites, a fair line since FPI has it as a 13.8-point FSU win. The Noles then travel home to face their second straight ACC foe, laying 21.5 against Boston College, where ESPN Analytics has a much less rosy outlook. The Eagles are given a 16% chance to win and should be only 17-point underdogs, according to the model, a far cry from the 9% chance to win that BC’s +1000 odds are implying.

3. Georgia will be ready to bounce back

The Bulldogs only lost two first-round picks to the most recent NFL draft, which would look like a rebuilding year to nearly anyone except Georgia, which had eight first-round picks in the previous two drafts combined.

Since November 7, 2020, Georgia has gone 46-2, with both losses to Alabama. When the Bulldogs take the field against Clemson, it will have been 1,392 days since Kirby Smart lost to anyone other than the now-retired Nick Saban.

After missing out on the Playoff last season following back-to-back title runs, Smart and Georgia will be ready to hit the ground running this year against a Tigers squad that won only half of its ACC games last season. The Bulldogs are FPI’s top-rated team heading into the season, with Clemson at No. 15. ESPN Analytics has Georgia favored by 15.2, a couple points of value on the current line of 13.5 and also crossing the key number of 14.

4. Is Colorado “primed” to make noise in Year 2 of the Deion Sanders extravaganza?

The literal answer, of course, is yes. There’s going to be a lot of noise coming from Colorado‘s campus as Coach Prime motivates his team, but are the Buffaloes ready to compete? Their season opener against FCS North Dakota State should be a great litmus test. The Summit League powerhouse could easily hold its own in a Group of 5 conference, having reached the FCS title game in 10 of the past 13 seasons, and they’re rightfully respected as just 8.5-point underdogs in Boulder (ESPN Analytics has it projected as an 8.7-point victory).

We tackled the idea of combating the hype with a true analysis of on-field play last season after Colorado started 3-0 (it promptly lost 8 of 9 to end the year), and the same can be done in 2024.

Colorado was plagued by terrible offensive line play last year, ranking at the bottom of FBS in sacks and pressures allowed and couldn’t create in the run game. But Colorado has the No. 3-ranked transfer portal signing class, adding third-team All-AAC OL Tyler Johnson, All-CUSA honorable mention OL Justin Mayers and signing the No. 1 OT in the ESPN 300 (19th overall) in Jordan Seaton.

Colorado’s O-Line last season:

  • 56 sacks allowed (second most in FBS)

  • 232 pressures allowed (third most)

  • 45.3% blown block rate (third most)

  • 0.32 yards-per-rush before contact (last)

All that being said, I can’t bet against North Dakota State in this spot. Since rising to FCS royalty just over a decade ago, the Bison are 6-1 straight up and 6-1 ATS against FBS teams, including 5-1 straight up and 5-1 ATS against power conferences. Their average cover margin is an absurd 17.2 points per game in that span, and sportsbooks have seemingly failed to rate NDSU properly.

5. Public is fading USC following the departure of Caleb Williams

According to ESPN Bet, the single most lopsided betting market is one of the crown jewels of the Week 1 slate, as the Trojans and LSU square off in Las Vegas on Labor Day eve. All eyes will be on this matchup as the final Sunday before the NFL season begins, and so far a whopping 78% of spread bets in this game are in favor of the Bayou Bengals.

The public seems to be fading USC on the basis of Caleb Williams carrying the team for the past few seasons, but ESPN Analytics sees it differently. LSU also lost the No. 2 pick in the draft in Jayden Daniels, and two of his record-setting teammates in Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. were both first-round selections, as well. FPI suggests the Tigers should be favored by just 1.9 points, so this could be a prime upset spot for the Trojans.

6. The Big 12 has been completely flipped on its head

It’s true that the poorly-numbered conference hasn’t had 12 teams since 2011, but the massive upheaval across college sports has created a 16-team conference where half of the league was elsewhere just two years prior (BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF joined last season, Colorado has returned, along with Arizona, Arizona State and Utah having their conference unveiling this fall).

It’s rather fitting that the two favorites to win the conference, according to ESPN Analytics, have been mainstays since the formation of the league back in the 1990s. Kansas has a 17% chance to win the conference, best in the Big 12, with Kansas State nipping at their heels at 16%. Both Sunflower State schools face FCS opponents — Lindenwood and UT Martin, respectively — to open their season, and there aren’t currently lines available at ESPN BET, but FPI has both teams projected to win by 30+ points.

But don’t get too confident in rock chalk nation just yet. There are seven teams with +1000 odds or shorter to win the Big 12 at ESPN BET.

Shortest odds to win the Big 12:

Utah +325
Kansas State +350
Kansas +600
Arizona +750
Texas Tech +900
Iowa State +1000
Oklahoma State +1000

Quick hitters

  • ESPN Analytics runs simulations to project the leverage a certain game has on teams’ chances to make the CFP depending on whether they win or lose. The game with the highest leverage in Week 1 is Notre Dame vs. Texas A&M, with both teams likely in the mix for a playoff spot and both ranked top 15 in FPI, making it the second-best matchup of the opening week, as well. According to the model, Notre Dame is projected to win by 3.6 points, which is notable because ESPN BET currently has the Aggies favored with -115 money line odds.

  • The largest gap between FPI and ESPN BET on opening weekend comes in an intrastate battle between Georgia State and Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will be coming back from Ireland and will be playing from a travel disadvantage despite hosting the Panthers. Tech is favored by both ESPN Analytics and ESPN BET, but the line is at 19.5 with Georgia State +750 on the money line. FPI has it as a 7-point game with a 34% chance that Georgia State pulls the upset.

  • Looking ahead to Week 2, the national semifinal rematch between Michigan and Texas is actually the second-most lopsided spread bet at ESPN BET, with 77% of tickets coming in on the Longhorns of the SEC. Similar to the Caleb Williams theory, this is a double fade in the public view with JJ McCarthy and Jim Harbaugh both abandoning Ann Arbor and advancing to the NFL ranks. Oh, and leading rusher Blake Corum and leading receiver Roman Wilson are gone, as are four other top-100 picks in the draft back in April. Maybe the masses are onto something here, as Texas is favored by 3.5 while ESPN Analytics sees it as a 6.3-point victory.

Where the lines don’t align

ESPN BET has a few other notable games cued up with lines for later in the season, and there are two games with significant discrepancies between the sportsbook line and the FPI projection.

  • Oregon and Ohio State face off as Big Ten opponents for the first time on October 12. ESPN BET has the Ducks favored by a single point at home, which actually means they view Ohio State as the better team on paper. ESPN Analytics projects the Ducks as the second-best team in FBS this season and would make them almost a touchdown favorite in this spot despite losing Bo Nix to the pros.

  • Alabama and LSU renew their rivalry on November 9, with LSU currently laying 2.5 points. However, FPI values Kalen DeBoer and Jalen Milroe enough to have the Tide rated fifth best entering the season and has Alabama winning by 5.6 points on average.

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Sources: Big 12 mulls windfall for naming rights




Sources: Big 12 mulls windfall for naming rights

The Big 12 is exploring selling its naming rights to a title sponsor, with potential revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of the deal, sources told ESPN on Thursday.

The commercial sponsor would potentially take the name “Big” out of Big 12 and replace it with the sponsor’s name. It could end up as one of the largest commercial deals in collegiate athletics history, not including media rights.

The conference, which has explored this option for the past six months, has had in-depth discussions and a decision is expected in the upcoming months, sources told ESPN. A deal could mean millions of dollars annually for the conference’s member schools.

The Big 12 distributed nearly $470 million to its member schools in overall distribution last year, and that number projects to be higher once its new media deal comes to fruition in 2025-26. That projects to be tens of millions of dollars less per school annually than those in the Big Ten and SEC, prompting the league to find new revenue streams.

The Big 12 has also been in discussions with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for a stake in the league between 15% to 20%, sources confirmed to ESPN. That could give the Big 12 up to a $1 billion cash infusion and would be the first known large-scale private equity investment in college sports.

Sources, however, cautioned that the private equity pieces include some skeptics, especially among presidents. Regardless, there is a clear desire to boost revenue in the Big 12 in the near future.

“Every commercial opportunity the commissioner is bringing is a way to close the financial gap between the Big 12 and SEC,” a Big 12 source told ESPN. “The No. 1 priority of the Big 12 is maintaining competitiveness, and these opportunities potentially help.”

Discussions between CVC Capital Partners and the Big 12 were first reported by CBS.

The Big 12 will have a new look amid the shuffled college landscape in 2024. Gone will be conference stalwarts Texas and Oklahoma (to the SEC), and a new 16-member lineup will include Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah joining the 12 returning members from last year.

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