There's only one way to look at all the news of the past few weeks: The next era of the sport is about to begin.
FLW Outdoors president and CEO Charlie Evans stepped down, or more likely was asked to do so. That means Trisha Blake is the effective head of the organization, although her father Irwin Jacobs will probably remain involved on a macro, rather than micro level.
And BASS will be sold in a few weeks to private investors Jerry McKinnis, Don Logan and Jim Copeland, which inevitably means new management there as well.
So we stand at the brink and face a potential new life for a sport that nearly hit rock bottom this year.
Change will come quickly. Some has come already. We'll probably see changes in field size, changes in format, changes in TV and house-media coverage, changes in sponsors, new faces and ideas. And we'll certainly see some old mistakes.
Already, though, there's a new pulse amongst the brass in both leagues. After several years of a strained relationship between BassFan and FLW Outdoors during the Evans era, I had lunch with Blake at the Forrest Wood Cup and we both pledged to have a more open line of communication.
And McKinnis made the same pledge to me: He invited me up to fish the White River this fall – to spend a day in the boat and bounce ideas off each other about what can be done to start over and get everything back on track.
That's the immediate difference I see: The management of both leagues is asking, not telling. And they're talking to BassFan in a friendly way – not hiding behind prepared statements or blue-sky talking heads.
That's because there's a common understanding, I think, that the arms race of the past 10 years pushed the sport onto unstable ground.
I certainly think it did. The reckless expansion of the past decade – the "throw money at it and it'll work" and "outspend the other league" mentalities drove us backward, not forward.
It didn't create a new crop of superstars like we saw in the '90s when payouts were a shadow of what they are today. Just the opposite: It created a sport muddied by mediocre talent split between two major tours with no unifying championship. It's a formula that killed other sports much more popular than pro fishing. Watched a boxing match recently? Still get fired up about the "golden days" of CART and IRL?
I give credit where credit is due. FLW Outdoors spent this year listening to its anglers, and changes already announced (like cumulative weight) and others forthcoming are a direct result. It's wonderful. And I believe McKinnis' pledge that he doesn't have a plan, but he's ready to listen.
That's a profound shift in philosophy – the kind of change that comes only when you've reached bottom, and you need to find a different ladder to climb out.
It won't be an easy climb, but if either league asks me what I think should be done, I'd paint in broad strokes and give them commonsense advice I think most BassFans would agree with, such as:
1. The sport needs a unifying championship to survive. Period.
2. The sport needs a joint conservation, youth and legislative body to take on the antis and polluters. We must ensure there are players and a playing field for the sport in the future.
3. Tours should be exclusive, not inclusive. Billy Joe shouldn't get to fish against Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese or Brent Ehrler just because he's got a trust fund or a gas well in his backyard. Make it tough to get on a tour and demand a multiyear performance level to stay there.
4. The sport needs to ditch its focus on 1st-place payout and balance the payout down the field. Once you pay your dues to reach a tour, it should be a profitable or break-even venture to stay there. And fans simply don't care how much a pro athlete wins at an event.
5. Outlaw made-for-TV events and formats, like the BASS post-season or the FLW Tour cut to the Top 5.
6. Distribute house money fairly. As BASS stabilizes, it should use sponsor money to cut entry fees first, boost purses second. Same for the FLW Tour. But also, performance should dictate who gets FLW sponsor-team deals, not who you know, what you look like or which boat you drive. And FLW team money should go to tour pros only, not co-anglers.
There'll be a lot of discussion this fall about little things – fields, venues, formats, rules, boat deals and who's fishing where. But everyone needs to keep the large issues to the front.
I'm excited that we do stand at the brink – a cliff upon which we can view below the wreckage of a decade gone wrong. I'm hopeful the new management will see the larger picture, and turn away from that wreckage to strike a new course.
How about it BassFans? What would you suggest to league management? Click here to let us know.