Editor's note: This is part 2 of a 2-part Q&A with B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis. To read part 1, click here. BassFan will suspend feature publication during the holidays as it does each year, although important breaking news will still be reported. The staff wishes everyone a joyous holiday and we'll be back after New Year's.
By Todd Ceisner
BassFan: Last week, the 2013 Elite Series roster was released with 102 anglers on it Ė the largest field since 2008. What do you feel is an ideal number to maintain financial viability and the competitive reputation the Elite Series currently has?
Jerry McKinnis: Thatís a tough one. Right now, I feel like 100 is a good number. Iím trying to figure that out and learn just like everybody else is. Right now, I think 100 is right just simply because weíve got too many guys whoíve started paying those large entry fees and theyíve been paying them for several years. How do you cut the field and cut out somebody thatís been a partner of yours for 3 years or 5 years? There will always be a few that donít fish the next year for one reason or another, but it still doesnít leave us much wiggle room to bring in 10 to 15 Open guys and we want to do that as well. Thatís really important, too. We may be stuck on 100 for a long time. Iím just going to have to go along and figure this out with everybody else.
As the costs of competition continue to rise, itís becoming increasingly difficult for anglers without major sponsorship support to continue to compete at the highest level. Has B.A.S.S. examined any models that would allow for a percentage of new sponsorship monies to be ear-marked for paybacks, thus creating additional incentive for the anglers?
Let me just answer that with yes. I donít want to go any deeper into it, but absolutely yes.
With the issues that cropped up regarding the mystery event this past season and all the other factors involved, is it likely that B.A.S.S. will do something like that again?
We didnít do it this coming year, but I might do it again. It was fun. It was really interesting until we hit this unbelievable road block that we had no clue was coming at us. Incidentally, that turned into a fantastic thing because the folks in Wisconsin who were totally against us Ė their Game and Fish Commission. They thought we were the evil witches. We battled and it got nasty. They came out to our events and found out that we were really good guys and a lot of things they thought happened didnít happen at all. We built a relationship and Iíll be darned, they invited our conservation director Noreen Clough up there (recently). They wanted to know how we did this and what we thought of that. I just think weíve done a wonderful thing for the Wisconsin anglers because weíve opened everything up. Weíve got great friends up there now and they canít wait for us to come back. As it turned out, it was really good, but it was nasty there for a little while and it kind of took the starch out of what we thought was going to be a fun thing.
Kyle Fox was suspended from Elite Series competition in 2013 for an incident that occurred at Lake Michigan this year. Thatís a pretty serious penalty, in any sport, for an infraction that B.A.S.S. hasnít disclosed publicly. Can you elaborate on what the infraction was and how a year-long suspension was deemed an appropriate penalty?
I couldnít do that. That was awful strong for what happened there. There are some people that donít really know what happened. Thereís a big long story behind it, but I donít want to get into it now. I really hope that that young man does a little soul-searching and comes back a good guy and fishes with us again and becomes a good angler and a good friend of ours.
Do you think B.A.S.S. could benefit from having a more transparent system of meting out penalties for infractions during competition?
If you took the (Fox situation) into consideration, Iíd say no. I donít want to sound pithy, but some of these are just our business that we have to figure out. Maybe in some instances the answer to that question might be yes. Obviously, theyíre all different.
Just how worried are you that weather could wreak havoc on the upcoming Classic?
Iím not worried about it. I donít think about it a whole lot. I think weíre going to be fine. Weíre supposed to have a mild, mild winter which I kind of hate. I wish it would get bad. I donít care what happens up there, just so long as we donít have any sleet. Thatís the one thing that would bother me. Other than that, I wish itíd get cold and even have a little snow. I think it would be a great challenge for the anglers, but I donít think thatís going to happen. Itíll probably be chilly, but I bet everything works out good. Itís going to be a little bit different fishing situation than everybodyís used to. Maybe Iím being very naÔve, but I think weíre going to be fine. From all indications, itís going to be a dynamite Classic.
What was the driving force behind B.A.S.S.ís decision to extend the marshal program to the Classic? What has the response been like?
That question would be fourth or fifth on the list of things I get asked most about Ė ďWhen are you going to let co-anglers back in the Elites?Ē Thereís a good argument both ways there, but the argument that a co-angler learns so much and has such a great experience, I agree that they do. But these marshals do as well. That whole program has been very successful and itíd probably be a while before we go back to co-anglers. Getting (marshals) involved in the Classic just seemed like the right thing to do. Theyíre going to learn, I know that.
Why did B.A.S.S. feel it necessary to create the Classic Wild Card event, essentially creating another Classic berth?
Just to generate another event. It creates another Classic spot and we did it mostly to give everybody one more shot and we moved it to a time of the year when the guys are wishing we had another event or two. I imagine there will be a lot of Elite guys will get in that.
Because it did create another entry to the Classic, is the Wild Card event something B.A.S.S. is committed to long term?
No. Weíre not committed to it long term. That would have a lot to do with the other question about angler incentives. A lot of that stuff all ties together.
This year, only three Elite Series winners (Brent Chapman, Todd Faircloth and Chris Lane) finished among the Top 28 in points while the other winners wouldíve missed the Classic if not for the automatic berth that goes with a tournament win. Is B.A.S.S. committed to the win-and-youíre-in model?
No. This is another question that ties into all of that other stuff. Somewhere along the line, weíre trying to really look everything over and make sure we've got it right or should we change this or do that? Iím not committed to that forever. There are parts of it that we all like and there are parts that we donít like. Believe me, even though weíve created another event that gives another Classic spot, a Bassmaster Classic spot is about as valuable thing as weíve got, so we try to be very careful so it can continue to be extremely valuable to our anglers.