The selection of Bill Battle to replace Mal Moore as the athletic director at the University of Alabama has largely been applauded by the media and public.
Battle played on legendary Bear Bryant’s first national championship team at Alabama in 1961. After serving as an assistant coach for several years following his graduation from UA, he took over as the head football coach at Tennessee for the 1970 season.
Battle’s first Tennessee team beat Bryant’s 24-0. Tennessee only lost six games in Battle’s first three seasons. His teams did not beat Alabama again during his tenure, losing six straight, most of them tough, hard fought games. Although Battle’s record at Tennessee following the 1976 season was 57-22-4, his last four teams lost 16 games and only went to two bowl games. His final team finished 6-5. UT fans had been clamoring for his dismissal for some time and he was fired immediately after the 1976 season.
Battle went to work in the business world. Four years later, he had the idea of forming a company to license college teams’ memorabilia. Coach Bryant became his first client and quickly brought in the University of Alabama as the second client. Bryant used his personal influence to help Battle’s new company quickly get eigh more schools as clients and the new business took off.
Battle sold the company, Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), to the IMG group in 2007 for more than $140 million. He remained affiliated with the company until 2011. It was during these later years the company joined with the University of Alabama in a lawsuit against sports artist Daniel Moore, the United States Sports Academy’s 2005 Sport Artist of the Year. CLC in fact spent some $2 million financing the university in its legal quest to force Moore to license his paintings depicting famous moments in Alabama football.
CLC is also one of the three named defendants in the trademark lawsuit filed a few years ago in California by former UCLA college basketball star Ed O’Bannon. There are currently around 30 named plaintiffs in that case. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status.
As a result of plaintiffs winning legal battles over discovery in the past few months, Battle was deposed by plaintiff attorneys. During the deposition he was asked if CLC’s actions in the Moore case (which Moore has largely prevailed in) were something he wished had been handled differently? In his answer, he basically admitted that CLC’s siding with UA in that case had been “a public relations disaster.”
Battle was hired with almost no search being conducted by Alabama. He was recommended by Mal Moore and others in the Alabama inner circle. It appears that he was hired because of his ties to Coach Bryant, his background in coaching and his success in business.
Mal Moore passed away on March 30. He will not be around to advise Battle. Battle has said that he intends to spend the next six weeks listening to coaches and others about what they feel is needed at this time to keep the athletic department moving forward. One has to wonder if Battle will be able to fill this high-profile position successfully.
During Battle’s first three seasons as Tennessee’s coach, he was coaching players recruited by Doug Dickey. Those teams compiled a 30-6 record. His last four teams compiled a 27-16-4 record, a considerable drop in success. It can be argued that Battle won big with Dickey’s recruits and that things started slipping as his own recruits started playing.
It can also be argued that Coach Bryant was responsible for the early success of the licensing company that became CLC. Bryant’s approval of someone’s business venture was considered almost to be a guarantee of success. It also has to be noted that Battle’s decisions in the case against Daniel Moore look very shortsighted in retrospect.
Battle is 71 years old and has agreed to a four-year contract. With Nick Saban in charge of the ultra-successful football program, financial security is probably not going to be an issue. It remains to be seen, however, as to whether or not Battle will be successful on a broader scale. There is no question that he is a man of integrity. It is not as clear that he is the best qualified person to run the Alabama athletic department.
Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.