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February 4, 2013

On the Record: Charles Bloom



For 17 years, he was arguably the second-most important person in the Southeastern Conference, behind only the two commissioners under whom he served, Roy Kramer and Mike Slive. In his capacity as conference spokesperson and associate commissioner, he was in the room for the creation of the Bowl Championship Series at a time when opposition to it was stiff from conferences such as the Big Ten and PAC-10, and it was his formula that was and still is used to determine the BCS rankings.

He helped grow the SEC Championship game from a novelty in Birmingham to the sports signature event in Atlanta, and as supervisor of SEC baseball, he saw six teams claim the national title for the conference. In short, more than anyone else, he has had the best seat in the house as the Southeastern Conference has made the move from a regional power to a national dominance no conference has enjoyed in living memory across the sporting spectrum.

He's also a Gamecock, and as of December, he's back home in the athletic department in which he got his start as a student back in 1985. Recently, he sat down with GamecockCentral.com's Ron Aiken to discuss all that and much more.

Meet Charles Bloom, the most important man you've never heard of.

Gamecock Central: First, some housekeeping. You're a 1985 USC graduate but are from Virginia. How did you pick Carolina?

Charles Bloom: I'm from a town south of Richmond called Emporia, just north of the North Carolina border. It's about a 5-hour drive from here. My family moved to Las Vegas when I was in high school, and I wanted to get back closer to home.

I came here in January of 1983. I was a journalism major, location and journalism were the main interests I had. I actually transferred here from UNLV, and I was a student assistant in the athletic department there. It just happened that my boss there knew Jamie Kimbrough, who was here and who became my boss at USC. I graduated in the summer of 1985 and stayed for one semester of graduate internship. Jamie left in the summer of 1985 to go to LSU, and in the fall of 1985 he had an opening, so I went there to work with him.

That got my feet wet in the SEC. I was a year-and-a-half at LSU, then a year at Ole Miss, then East Carolina from 1988-1995, then to the SEC office.

GC: How did the jump from East Carolina to the SEC office come about?

Bloom: I got very lucky. When I was at East Carolina, because I had worked in the SEC before, someone in the SEC office knew of me and thought I would be a good candidate for the job in the SEC office. I went to the interview with Commissioner Kramer in 1995 and was able to get the job.

I wasn't looking at the time to go to conference work; it was a transition, but it worked out very well.

GC: Going back to your undergraduate days, what are your best moments from that time?

Bloom: The 1984 football season was tremendous. I remember it well. It was a lot of fun. It was very difficult to concentrate on classes. We had started out the season so well and we had some great games. I remember the Florida State game pretty well, the game that made us 9-0. I did not travel to road games; the only game I traveled to was the Clemson game. I also went to the Gator Bowl. That season was really good.

GC: Did you party before games and sit in the student section during that season?

Bloom You know I have never tailgated, actually, because as a student I was a student assistant in the athletic department and worked in the press box for every game. I would get to the games early, stay late, help out. I majored in journalism but probably actually majored media relations and sports information because I stayed in the office a lot. I knew it's what I wanted to do and I enjoyed it. We had a great staff.

But my best memories then actually weren't from football, because we worked several sports as a student. Back then, students really handled a lot of the Olympic sport publicity. So I did swimming and diving, I did golf, tennis, and helped with volleyball. That allowed me to get my feet wet in other sports and there were some great moments I had in those sports. I accompanied the tennis team to Albuquerque for a tennis championship, I went with the swim team to Tuscaloosa for an NCAA championship, and all this as a student. That helped me to build a resume so that when I graduated I could work.

GC: You're the Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs. What does that mean?

Bloom Ha, good question! On paper, I oversee five external departments: media relations, marketing, Gamecock Sports Properties, video services and the ticket office. Really the only external office I don't oversee is the Gamecock Club. As part of that, I work with those departments and bring them together. Some of that, I really haven't changed anything - it's too early.

I like to observe for a while then see what can be improved. I'm not the type to come in and do it my way right away. If it's the best way to do it for USC athletics, we'll keep it that way. We have great people. I inherited an outstanding staff, and they've been tremendous from Day One, letting me know what the issues are, working together. I really haven't had any fires.

GC: No Manti Te'o stories to diffuse, right?

Bloom: Exactly.

GC: When those things happen, do you ever think, 'How would I deal with that'?

Bloom: Always. At every place I've worked, when you see something happen somewhere, you pay close attention. The way this business is in intercollegiate athletics, you never know what's going to come at you, so you're always thinking what the potential issues are.

You never say, "That can't happen here" or "This will never happen to me," because they can. You try to think ahead, and to me, that's one of my strong points. I try to think ahead on the issue. What's next? Take something that's today, and try to think through what's the impact next week, next month, next year? That's one of my strong points and I hope I can relay those thoughts here.

Intercollegiate athletics is a huge enterprise with a lot of stakeholders, so you hope that everyone is in harmony and message the same way. That's the goal, really.

GC: Social media has really made that a challenge, hasn't it, because it's given student-athletes a voice they never had before?

Bloom: It has. Our participation in social media takes on a lot of those areas. Not only are we a promoter in social media using our space, but we also monitor our student-athletes and are strategists in terms of "what are we going to say and when are we going to say it?" and we monitor what others are saying about us. It's everywhere now, and it's getting more and more important. That's one of the areas I'm very passionate about.

GC: With the SEC Championship Game, you were around as that mushroomed into college football's biggest game.

Bloom: This past year was the twenty-first year of the game, and I missed the first two in Birmingham, the first one in Atlanta and was at every one since. So I worked 18 of the 21 games. It's a great environment, a great game and means a lot to the league.

We set the pace for college football. Now other conferences have championship games, and that Saturday, now, has turned into a championship Saturday, kind of expanding the regular season a week.

GC: And of course it wasn't a popular idea across the board at all at first, was it?

Bloom: When the SEC started the game, they were told, "Now you'll never win a championship." And shoot, we've won seven in a row now. That's been proven wrong. It's a great league, and the championship game is the crowning moment. The league is so good with history and passion, it's a moment where SEC fans can come together in one venue and experience an atmosphere that's better, in my opinion, than most bowl games and many regular season games. The excitement is off the charts and the national interest is tremendous.

GC: The brings me to the BCS, which you are intimately associated with. Talk about how that opportunity came about.

Bloom: I got in on the ground level with that and was very fortunate. Commissioner Kramer was a central figure in getting that started. Prior to that there was the Bowl Alliance, which was the BCS without the Big Ten, PAC-10 and the Rose Bowl. Commissioner Kramer was responsible for getting those three to the table to create that one versus two match-up.

In one of the final teleconferences before the BCS was announced, there was a discussion and Commissioner Kramer asked me to come in and listen. The bulk of the conversation was, "Now that we have this, how are we going to get the best two teams in the game?" We had the conversation, and after the call I got with Commissioner Kramer and said I had this idea. The caveat was, it'd been real simple to say AP and the USA Today Coaches' Poll, put them together and you have your teams.

Well, the coaches didn't trust the writers, and the writers didn't trust the coaches. The writers wanted to be involved, but they didn't want to be a major component. So, taking all that, I created a formula that I presented to Commissioner Kramer. I researched the previous 10 years, and you have to remember, this is 1997, so information on the Internet was not as good as it is today. We did a lot of searching through old record books and we took the formula, we made some deviations to my initial plan, and created the BCS formula.

Over the years we changed it several times, though it hasn't changed much over the past six or seven years; you can see the formula now at bcsfootball.org. The initial formula was the AP and USA Today poll gave you an average in one component, and the second component were computer polls. We set forth that in order to use a computer poll, it had to be published in a reputable media outlet. So we had three of them, we had Jeff Sagarin in USA Today, Anderson & Hester in the Seattle Times and we had the New York Times poll. That was the second component.

The third component was schedule strength. We ranked the schedules one through a hundred and something, and came up with core tiles, a division formula set up for schedule strength that we gave Jeff Sagarin to run for us with the parameters we gave him. That was the third component. The fourth component was a quality-win component, which gave you a numerical benefit for facing a tough team and beating them.

Those components made the formula, and with a couple of deviations along the way it's what we have now.

GC: Do you get upset when you hear people trash the BCS?

Bloom: I did, originally. It doesn't take much to wake me up in the middle of the night, and I had some sleepless nights. I probably take things too personally, but I got over it. I think the way I feel about the BCS is that it's an evolution. Before the BCS, we never had a method for one versus two. Now we have it, and we've have had it now for 16 years. We're now going to the plus-one, and I was involved in that, though not as much. The plus-one is another step in the evolution. I feel very strongly that postseason football should be limited. We ask a lot of our student-athletes, and more games is asking a lot, especially in a sport like football that's so physical.

GC: What are your thoughts on the conference realignment movement we've seen? You were there as the SEC welcomed Missouri and Texas A&M into the fold.

Bloom: I was there on the media/p.r. side of it, not the negotiations, but I think it's all market-driven. Schools want to put themselves in a position to be in the best league they can be for their fans and for their teams. You can trace it back forever; schools have been trading leagues for years.

GC: Are 16-team super-conferences inevitable?

Bloom: It's a good question. It could happen. The SEC is at 14, and it's a lot to manage, having overseen scheduling for baseball. The issue is you can't play everybody, so the teams that you miss are important. It's equitable scheduling. No longer, as in baseball before we expanded, do you play 10 series and just miss one other team. Now you're missing three, so there's a chance you can miss the three best teams.

It comes with some headaches, but a lot of benefits. In the SEC, we inherited two very strong programs so it was very good for the league. Going forward, I have no idea what things will look like, but there's a financial component and a travel component to consider, though it's exciting for fans. That's a positive impact.

GC: What brought you back to Columbia? Was it your connection with Ray Tanner as the administrator for SEC baseball in the league office?

Bloom: Ray and I had a good relationship. Ray knew I was a grad. We never really formally talked about it, but Ray would always say, "I know you're a Carolina guy!" So when this happened, he asked if I'd be interested, we continued talking and Ray and Commissioner Slive talked together in person the weekend of the Vanderbilt football game in Nashville, and from that I came here twice for interviews and it became a job that was very attractive to me.

Commissioner Slive is very important in my life and it was tough leaving him, but this was a great opportunity for me.

GC: Did you have a relationship with Steve Spurrier when he was at Florida before coming to USC?

Bloom: I did; we have a good relationship. He's not the biggest BCS fan in the world! We talk on occasion. He loves the league. I got that sense when I was at the SEC. We always take pride in our championship. That's our signature event. So when Coach Spurrier says, "We have to get to Atlanta first," that he's not going to talk about anything else, that says a lot to the conference people, how much he values it. He doesn't mention national championships, he mentions SEC championships. That's what's important to him.

GC: Overseeing baseball in the SEC, what was it like for you during USC's back-to-back championships?

Bloom: I got to go to Omaha every year, so I was in the press box when Carolina beat UCLA, and it was an amazing moment. As an alum, as a baseball administrator, as a fan, it was incredible. It's one of my top five moments, if not higher, in my career with the SEC. I was not able to be at the national championship game the next year when we beat Florida, but I was watching on TV.

As a conference person, you stay pretty neutral when it's conference versus conference, but deep inside, I have to tell you I was pulling for Carolina. I couldn't say it at the time, but I was glad Carolina won.

GC: You were here as a student in 1985. You're here now. How would you characterize the difference in facilities since then?

Bloom: While it's sad, in some respects, to watch the Roundhouse go down, it needed to go, especially as you work in the conference and travel and get to see what's going on at other schools. The facility build-up is real. Schools around the league and country are building at an incredible pace.

Recruits want to go where they see good facilities, so seeing the Rice building, the Dodie, the baseball stadium, the new tennis and softball stadium, even the basketball arena wasn't here when I was here. It's amazing across the board, and there are plans for more. It really promises a tremendous future for USC athletics, and I'm excited to be here for it.

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