Barstool Sports sponsorship of Arizona Bowl raises concern inside, outside of Mount Pleasant

Controversial comments and Barstool personalities cause some concern among faculty


In a college football bowl game unlike any other, Central Michigan football will clash with Boise State in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl on Dec. 31. 

Instead of marching bands at halftime there will be a performance by former Creed lead singer Scott Stapp. 

Instead of game coverage from more traditional college football voices, like Chris Fowler of ESPN, viewers will be entertained by the likes of rowdy hosts Dave Portnoy and Dan "Big Cat" Katz. 

The Arizona Bowl, launched in 2015, pits the Mid-American Conference against the Mountain West Conference. This is the first year Barstool Sports has sponsored the event. The game will not be broadcast on traditional TV networks like ESPN, CBS Sports or ABC. It will be streamed on YouTube and Barstool's platforms. 

Little is known about the financial payout for CMU other than, in a Sunday press release, the Athletics Department asked fans to donate money to the "Bowl Game Championship Fund" to help pay for a "first-class bowl experience for Chippewa athletes and the Chippewa Marching Band." 

So far, the events leading up to the game at Arizona Stadium include a "Buckled Bar Crawl," golf scramble, Pup Punk concert, pep rally and tailgate festival. 

CMU's participation in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl has created controversy among some people inside and outside of Mount Pleasant. 

Barstool is a multimedia entity that covers sports, popular culture and gambling. The companies podcasts "Pardon my Take," "Call Her Daddy," and "Spittin Chiclets" rank among the top podcasts in North America. Portnoy is known for his "One Bite" online pizza reviews. 

Portnoy, Barstool's founder, is a polarizing, controversial media personality. In 2010, Portnoy posted on Barstool: "Though I never condone rape, if you're a Size 6 and wearing skinny jeans, you kind of deserve to be raped, right?"

He also has come under fire, since the company's launch in 2004, for some of his comments on social media. Specifically, he tweeted in 2016 that Colin Kapernick “looks like a terrorist,” and “I’d like to actually follow those bloodlines then and see if there is any bin Laden in him.” Kapernick holds several quarterback records at the University of Nevada, a school in the Mountain West Conference that has ties to the bowl game. 

Portnoy also dropped the N-word in a 2016 video.

A November Business Insider article interviewed three women who said they had aggressive sexual encounters with Portnoy. One of the women "was screaming in pain" during the altercation. 

Bothered by Barstool

At the Dec. 7 Academic Senate meeting, Senator Deborah Gray expressed her concern to President Bob Davies about the controversies surrounding Barstool Sports and questioned if CMU's participation in the game would reflect poorly on the university.

"I'm just really worried that this alignment might send a mixed message to prospective students," Gray said. "Particularly, given our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, supporting victims of sexual assault and to protect our community from the harm that the n-word brings."

The university has no say in what bowl game the Chippewas are selected to play in, Davies said. He also told Gray that university officials are in contact with Barstool's Chief Executive Officer Erika Nardini.

"We will be vocal on what we stand for," Davies said. "We will be vocal for what Central Michigan University stands for on these various issues. And it does give us the platform to do that." 

Athletic Director Amy Folan was contacted for comment for this story. She was unavailable for an interview this week. 

Davies was contacted for comment for this story. Executive Director of Communications Heather Smith referred all questions about the bowl game to Athletics stating "... Folan is best positioned to discuss this."

Barstool sponsorship criticized  

After seeing bowl game projections in November, Northern Illinois University's student paper, Northern Star, published an editorial calling on the Arizona Bowl to remove Portnoy from any bowl game festivities. The editorial cited NIU's stance on social justice and equality issues over the last 18 months.

"If we were selected, would (the bowl game) be right for NIU to be going?" said Northern Star Editor-in-Chief Wes Sanderson. "Would it be hypocritical of (NIU) to accept a bid from a company that has made questionable comments and created a culture that, in the eyes of the editorial board, demeaned woman, minorities and went against what (NIU leaders) have stood for?"

Staff members of San Diego State University objected to the school representing the MWC in the game. 

Despite its negative media coverage and controversies, Barstool has recently received some praise for supporting small businesses. It raised more than $40 million through the Barstool Fund which allowed the company to give money to restaurants and local businesses struggling to survive the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to withdraw about $40,000 funding and asked that its presence be removed from the bowl's website because of the association with Barstool. In a letter to the board before the vote, acquired by Arizona Republic, Arizona Bowl executive director Kym Adair praised the company's commitment to diversity. 

Adair cited the company's change of culture after hiring a female CEO, Nardini, and an all-female executive group. The company also has a staff of 280 people that is "inclusive of every race, creed, color and sexual orientation," Adair wrote.

The company has evolved from its early years, Adair wrote, since its founding and "had jokes that missed (and) comedy and content that didn't land or stand the test of time."