“Lettergate” has captured the imagination of the San Diego sports landscape since The Athletic published the first article on the topic. Among local fans and the media, the reaction has varied between two poles.
One side believes SDSU’s administration has blundered its attempted exit from the Mountain West, while the other thinks the local university has pulled a fast one on the conference, baiting it into unwittingly granting the Aztecs the extension they wanted all along.
With so many vested interests opining on the subject, the perspective of someone more removed from the issue can help clarify what is taking place. On the Fourth of July, retired Fox Sports president and co-founder of the Big Ten Network, Bob Thompson, offered his thoughts in a tweet.
I don't understand how this entire SDSU thing could have turned into such a huge mess. One would think they had their consultants and lawyers involved. Somebody messed up somewhere. 🤔
— Bob Thompson (@rltsports) July 4, 2023
Unlike the sea of people, pundits, and prognosticators waxing eloquent on the topic, Thompson draws from decades of personal experience. Having negotiated numerous media rights deals in the past, he is an expert on the subject. His words hold the weight of expertise.
On Monday, EVT interviewed Thompson to better understand his thoughts on the subject. According to the former media executive, the main issue with what is transpiring is that it became public.
“Normally, (conference realignment movement) is done behind closed doors and not in the press,” Thompson explained on Episode 79 of The SDSU Podcast. “It doesn’t happen that way. Unless I’m missing something, something’s gone amiss. … it just makes no sense for either party – whether it’s the Mountain West Conference or San Diego State – to have this public negotiation going on. It’s just usually not how things are done.”
Thompson does not believe the June 30th deadline for the university to notify the conference about its intention necessitated a public response. He explained that no matter what the contract says, the terms of a media rights agreement are rarely followed to the letter. SDSU and the MW could have negotiated an acceptable outcome away from the public eye.
Thompson pointed to the secrecy of Texas and Oklahoma negotiating an early exit fee with the Big XII as a similar situation to what the Aztecs are facing. The Longhorns and Sooners were able to pay far less than what their contract required without the leaks or drama of “Lettergate.”
The silver lining in Thompson’s analysis of the situation is that nothing concrete has transpired. Aside from some norms being broken and the parties suffering a little in the court of public opinion, little harm has been done.
“I think it can be cleaned up,” Thompson explained. “There’s a variety of ways. … Certainly, a simple way would be if the Pac-12 had a TV deal and actually invited San Diego State, and then, boom, it’s fixed. … It can certainly be resolved. There’s nothing that’s unresolvable if you’ve got motivated parties on each side.”
According to a report by the Union-Tribune, the MW Presidents are meeting on July 17th to discuss SDSU’s fate with the conference. If the Pac-12 fails to invite the Aztecs this week, there is reason to expect cooler heads to prevail on Monday.
“The last thing you want to do is end up in legal situations, which universities, conference, chancellors, university presidents, they don’t like that at all,” Thompson said. “You try and get these things done quietly and behind close doors.”
However, “Lettergate” is resolved, Thompson expects SDSU to eventually end up in the Pac-12. What year they start playing in the conference is as unclear to him as it is to the rest of us.
Episode 79 features a conversation with former Fox Sports executive, Bob Thompson (@rltsports). Below is a segment from the interview where he describes #SDSU's fit in the #Pac12. pic.twitter.com/7h1H6AOLcL
— The SDSU Podcast (@TheSDSUPodcast) July 10, 2023
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.