Photo: ESPN Outdoors
The Elite 50s were still a big deal in 2005, but would be replaced by the Majors the following year.
(Editor's note: This is the second part of a multi-part story that chronicles, in timeline form, major milestones and events during the ESPN era of BASS. This part deals exclusively with the year 2005. To read part 1, click here.)
January 3 – Registration opens for inaugural Weekend Series season.
January 11 – Federation national director Don Corkran decides he won't relocate to Florida with BASS.
January 21 – BASS unveils sweeping changes to Tour, to take effect in 2006. Schedule stretches from spring through fall across 11 events plus three majors (dates given, venues not announced). E50s dropped for new Majors, Classic moved to February, Classic 1st-place prize increased from $200,000 to $500,000, with additional $300,000 paid through field. Majors are no-entry-fee with small field and $250,000 1st-place cash prize. With Classic move, 2005 standings determine qualification for two Classics. The 2006 Classic will fill field based on prior 2005 Classic and E50 finishes.
January 22 – BASS and the Bass Anglers Advisory Council (BAAC) meet in Bristol, Conn. News leaks several months later that BASS proposes giving pros their boats back on TV days, provided they display BASS sponsors on a quarter of the gunwale space (a "quarter panel," a la NASCAR), plus carve out a quarter of the front of their tour jerseys for BASS sponsors.
January 26 – BASS adds sixth Federation division, Mid-Atlantic, and an additional Classic spot for that division's qualifier.
February 9 – Longtime BASS sponsor Chevy gets back into fishing sponsorship, but signs with FLW Outdoors, not BASS. Toyota is already the official truck of BASS.
February 15 – Rumors intensify that Brunswick Corp. parent of Mercury Marine, will purchase Triton Boats. Mercury and Triton are the sole motor and boat sponsors of BASS.
February 22 – The BAAC addresses pros at the Guntersville Bassmaster Tour practice in order to present proposals BASS is considering. Consensus arises that pros must revive the dormant PAA.
February 25 – The BAAC and pros meet again at Guntersville. Anglers vote unanimously to contribute 1% of individual earnings to fund PAA. Hints of plans to stage tournaments.
March 16 – BASS revises 2005 E50 payout schedules. Anglers now paid after each event, rather than final lump sum.
March 25 – News surfaces that the pros plan to meet again, this time at the Table Rock Tour event, to further discuss a revived PAA. Same day, BASS announced 2005 Open payouts. Entry fees raised. Open Championship payout upped at expense of individual event payouts.
March 28 – Pros meet at Table Rock and officially revive the PAA with 100 immediate members. Elected officers are Kevin VanDam (president), Mark Davis (VP), Mike Auten (secretary) and Jay Yelas (treasurer).
March 31 – BASS announces new set of sweeping changes to 2006 Tour. After announcing plans earlier in the year (see Jan. 21), BASS makes full announcement of 2006 Tour. Details include:
> 200-boat field
> Increased payouts down to 125th place
> Changes cut format to 75 pros on day 3 (up from 12) and 12 pros on day 4 (up from 6).
> Pros fish in BASS boats only on day 4.
> Tiered entry fees charge pros more when they make the cut.
> Ability for top pro(s) from FLW Tour and WON Bass to join Tour.
> Classic field expanded to 50 boats for 2006 and beyond (more Tour pros make it).
> Entire Classic and Majors final days will air live on ESPN or ESPN2.
> Still no 2006 venues announced.
April 5 – FLW Outdoors chairman Irwin Jacobs addresses the Bassmaster Tour expansion and tells BassFan: "I think it will be difficult for (tour pros) to leave our tournaments and go fish (the Bassmaster Tour) when they see our schedule next year and the money we're giving away. I've said many times that I don't want to see anything bad happen to BASS, for boating and fishing and everything else. But I'm very confused as to what they're trying to do, and I think it's very confusing to the anglers."
April 6 – BASS/ESPN director of sponsor fulfillment Hunter Cole, a 20-year employee, opts out of the Florida move and joins Mann's Bait Co.
April 8 – BASS confirms 2006 Tour and Majors dates. Still no venues announced. Reworks Tour points to a 400-point system to further reward top finishers. Adds "wildcard" slots for Majors, whereby Top 4 in Tour points immediately prior to each Major qualify.
April 14 – BASS releases 2006 Tour payout details.
> Each Tour event pays out $77,950 more vs. the 2005 payout. Thirty-five percent of that (or $27,650 per event) comes in the new payout places, 76th-125th.
> Anglers 60th through 75th get $3,000, which is the total entry fee for anyone who finishes 1st through 75th. Anglers 35th through 59th get $3,500.
> 1st place still pays $100,000 but 2nd place is a little bit less – $30,000 in 2006 vs. $38,000 in 2005.
> The Classic and the Elite 50s (Majors) pay out better, at $325,500 and $285,500 (per event) more, respectively. Again, 1st at the Classic will be $500,000 to match the FLW championship and 1st at a BASS Major is worth $250,000.
April 20 – PAA makes its first official public statement. Announces Gene Ellison as interim executive director. BAAC resigns. PAA finds BASS's proposed 2006 Tour "very disappointing" and decides to make it "a top priority."
April 22 – Ray Scott confirmed as emcee for the following week's 2005 Federation National Championship.
April 25 – BASS leaves Montgomery, Ala. for new headquarters in Celebration, Fla. Former BASS salesman and Classic Outdoor Expo director Mike Swain opts out of the move and joins BassFan.
April 26 – BASS is short non-boaters for the Rayburn Central Open and must pair some pros with pros. Late schedule announcement seen as problematic. Also, word leaks that sponsors meet with BASS to discuss their increased overhead for expanded Tour.
May 5 – Pros air concerns about 2006 Tour format. Larger fields, bigger entry fees main concerns.
May 6 – In a BASS Times article, BASS GM Don Rucks notes that BASS will dump its co-angler shared-weight format on the 2006 Bassmaster Tour. Under the previous rule, a co-angler's weight was added to the pro partner's weight each day. Some felt the rule left too much to chance – the co-angler's standing was dependent on his pro partner's performance. It also could be problematic for rules enforcement, since a co-angler benefits from a pro's weight, and might be less apt to report rules infractions.
May 17 – BASS notifies pros via letter of an angler-relations meeting at the upcoming Lewisville E50. This comes after the PAA sends a letter to BASS requesting a meeting between the PAA and BASS.
Photo: ESPN Outdoors
BAAC members met with BASS and ESPN brass at the Lewisville E50. The event itself was a resounding success with huge crowds.
May 31 – Brunswick buys Triton.
June 1 – PAA publishes a newsletter on its site that discusses desire to plan and host fund-raising pro tournaments.
June 2 – BASS holds angler-relation meeting at Lewisville E50. Rucks makes clear that Ellison not invited to attend. Less than 15 pros attend – many are PAA boardmembers. Statements from PAA and BASS paint a rosy picture, but details later emerge that discussion is heated, and ESPN senior VP of programming and production Mark Quenzel reportedly warns PAA against running its own tournaments.
June 4 – Massive crowds turn out for Lewisville E50 final weigh-in.
June 19 – BASS unveils its 2006 Tour venues at 5:30 p.m. (Sunday) on BASS Madness: The 2006 Site Selection Special TV show on ESPN. BassCenter immediately follows. Schedule includes geographic "legs," which are nicknamed, as are the Tour stops. Regarded as the strongest schedule ever for a Tour, with stops that coincide with peak bites. Classic site announced as Toho, in backyard of new BASS headquarters.
June 16 – BASS announces new Women's Bassmaster Tour (WBT), to begin in 2006. Dates will coincide with "men's" Tour stops.
June 22 – BassFan publishes story that examines potential discrepancy in the way points were distributed in 2005 E50s for Top 12 pros who zeroed on a day of competition (after weights are zeroed at the cut). The discrepancy most affects Gary Klein, who's currently first out of the Classic in the E50s.
July 8 – After ESPN refuses to precede references to the FLW Tour and FLW Outdoors with Walmart, FLW Outdoors bars ESPN cameras from its upcoming Forrest L. Wood Championship. Later allows cameras in.
July 12 – BASS rules that Klein will fish Classic. Adds additional spot for him in both 2005 and 2006 Classics. Some pros feel the decision undermines Weldon's authority.
July 15 – BASS hires Gary Jones as director of angler relations. Jones notes in his announcement letter to pros: "While we had the best of intentions in setting up the Tour program...we now realize we need to rethink several key issues. In our opinion, it was a bold, courageous step to completely redesign the world's most prestigious professional tour. But it takes even more courage to admit that we didn't get it completely right. We will announce our new plans after the upcoming Bassmaster Classic, but before Sept. 1, 2005. This should give us plenty of time to hear from every angler with a stake in the Tour – and ensure that we get it exactly right this time."
July 20 – BASS clarifies that Jones is not only director of angler relations, but also Federation director. Thus he replaces Corkran who didn't move to Florida.
July 26 – Humminbird unveils Side-Imaging at ICAST – technology that'll redefine tour angling in the years to come.
July 31 – VanDam wins Pittsburgh Classic. BASS and ESPN officially recognize the PAA when Ellison meets with Rucks, Kessel and Quenzel at the Classic. "They did contact me, and we had a very pleasant meeting at the Classic on Sunday – the final day of the tournament," Ellison says. "It really was, in my opinion, a very productive introductory meeting. They stated they officially recognize the PAA."
August 15 – The PAA meets with BASS/ESPN. Several PAA boardmembers present. Brass includes Rucks, Kessel, Quenzel, Jones, Weldon and George McNeilly (BASS communications). Also in attendance is McKinnis. BASS floats ideas about a new Elite Series.
August 18 – The PAA issues details of the meeting, including aggressive entry-fee structure, reduced field, boat-wrap requirements and more. The PAA's details also tell of another warning from Quenzel about the PAA hosting its own tournaments. According to the PAA, Quenzel said: "The minute you enter the tournament business, you become just another competitor, and I will protect ESPN's business interests. This is not a threat, but take it how you want it." The PAA also question's the Tour's financial structure.
August 19 – BASS counters PAA rhetoric by issuing a prepared statement: "There have been significant omissions and gross misrepresentations made by the PAA. Furthermore, we categorically disagree with assertions made by PAA leadership questioning the long-time stability and success of the Bassmaster Tour. We view their comments as baseless and without merit."
August 26 – BASS unveils yet another round of sweeping Tour changes. This one, with plans for the Elite Series, finally sticks. Details, many of which were previously leaked by the PAA, include:
> 100-boat field with rigid qualifying and requalifying structure.
> Top 50 fish day 3, Top 12 fish day 4. Pros use BASS-supplied boats on day 4. Competition airs in episodes on ESPN2, with same-day coverage of the Majors final days on ESPN2.
> Total entry fees are $50,000 (a 260% increase over 2005).
> Second-chance Wildcard Qualifier after end of season.
> Rolling 3-year points average used for 50-boat Majors qualification.
> Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours replace Opens.
September 1 – Jay Yelas publishes a letter titled What Happened to BASS Class? He officially leaves BASS competition for FLW and voices opposition to BASS's direction. "For the first time in BASS's history, profits seemed to become more important to them than people," Yelas writes.
September 5 – Yelas and Mark Davis, as PAA boardmembers, meet with Jacobs to discuss possibilities for pros who don't want to fish the new Elite Series.
September 15 – BASS releases secret location of Busch Shootout as Table Rock. Event begins the next day.
Late September – BASS pros receive the Elite Series rules packet via mail, which is titled "Elite Series Participation Agreement." A section titled "Raising the Standards" raises several eyebrows, as does Rule 24, which states (in part): "BASS may, however, restrict the use of patches, logos, signage, etc. that promote or advertise products which are, in BASS' sole judgment, in competition with the products or services of official BASS sponsors or which are, in BASS' sole judgment, in poor taste." Pros spooked by new section titled "Media Comments, Public Attacks." Pros must submit their boat wraps to BASS for okay, and the display of competitive tournament trails is prohibited. Spaces are reserved for BASS signage. Skeeter temporarily balks on sponsoring BASS pros due to fear of BASS-reserved signage, which might include Triton and Mercury. FLW team anglers perceivably barred through the new rules, as their boats would, by contract, contain FLW signage. Everyone largely in a holding pattern until further details emerge. Polygraph rule reinstated.
September 28 – BASS backpedals on Rule 24, which now reads (in part): "BASS may, however, restrict the use of patches, logos, signage etc. that promote or advertise products which are, in BASS' sole judgment, in poor taste." Also:
> Anglers will not be required to display conflicting logos, except in the case of BASS title sponsors.
> For livewell-lid decals, anglers may choose one logo from a list of BASS sponsors.
> Anglers may retain the boat brand and model description on the rear quarter-panel of their boat "if part of the standard OEM design."
> Anglers still may not display competitive tournament-trail logos on their jerseys or their boats.
Photo: ESPN Outdoors
The first version of BASS's wrap-boat template that appeared in the Elite Series Participation Agreement mailed to pros. It shows reserved space for BASS and BASS-sponsor logos in blue. It was later revised.
September 30 – BASS moves Elite Series registration deadline from Oct. 14 to Nov. 1. On the same day, the PAA issues a press release that its members and the PAA board are opposed to the Elite Series Participation Agreement. The release states: "Since the new regulations and stipulations imposed would cause anglers to violate existing sponsor agreements, our anglers' sponsor contracts legally prevent them from signing the BASS contracts."
October 10 – BASS announces site of 2006 Federation National Championship – the Harris Chain – marking the second consecutive Florida National Championship.
October 11 – Based on conversation with PAA (Yelas and Davis), FLW announces new five-event FLW Series with hybrid rules package to accommodate BASS pros who don't want to fish the new Elite Series. FLW also morphs championship format into the Forrest Wood Cup – a Classic-like event that draws from grassroots trails as well as the tour level. BASS releases "final version" of Elite Series Participation Agreement which grants several logo concessions to pros. Rucks states: "In response to our Elite Series, other tournament organizations have announced their plans for the upcoming year. I hope you will take a very close look at what they are offering. If you do, you'll see they lack the forethought, synergy and vision of BASS's direction. We realize it may be a big commitment to fish the Elite Series, but the toughest decision is not to fish, as it will be extremely difficult to get back in once you're out. Finally, I'd like to remind each of you that life is a journey, not a destination. I hope you'll join me on this journey as we redefine the sport of professional bass fishing and take it to a new age of prosperity and prestige."
October 12 – PAA issues statement that lauds the new FLW Series, but also reconfirms its own plans to host events.
October 13 – BASS releases 2006 Northern and Southern Tour dates and payouts.
October 17 – Rucks confirms that BASS will guarantee 2006 Elite Series payouts even if field is not full.
Late October – With Nov. 1 Elite Series deadline near, several BASS stars opt out of the Elite Series, including Larry Nixon, Ron Shuffield, George Cochran, Stacey King, David Walker, Randy Blaukat, David Fritts, Luke Clausen, Dion Hibdon and Mark Davis. FLW star Greg Hackney opts out of FLW for the Elite Series. Some pros choose to fish both tours – a grueling 20-event schedule, plus championships.
October 31 – On the eve of the Nov. 1 deadline, PAA president Kevin VanDam commits to the Elite Series. BASS quotes VanDam: "The Elite Series is the best model we've ever had in the sport that will truly grow an angler's identity and offer a tremendous earning potential and opportunity. The smaller fields allow people to really get in their own gameplan, get out and shine. There's tremendous opportunity and a lot of money to be won."
November 7 – Quenzel leaves ESPN for "personal reasons." Many see him as the key player in ESPN's acquisition of BASS. After management reorganization, John Skipper, who's credited with the launch of ESPN The Magazine, is now responsible for all ESPN content, including BASS and ESPN Outdoors. Skipper reports to ESPN president George Bodenheimer. Christine Godleski, still VP and GM of ESPN Outdoors, reports to Skipper.
November 15 – ESPN revamps Saturday Bass Block. Cancels Loudmouth Bass and retools BassCenter for a softer presentation.
November 18 – The BASS/Federation rift reaches critical mass and questions arise as to whether the Federation will keep its affiliation with BASS. Rucks sends an open letter to all Federation members and revokes the BASS memberships of the six Federation divisional representatives – Robert Cartlidge, Chuck Rolfsmeyer, Gary Bradford, Joe McKinnon, Mike Dunkerly and Charles Mitchell. Cartlidge also serves as president of The Bass Federation Inc. (TBF Inc.). In addition, TBF Inc. VP Roger Fitchett has his BASS membership revoked. Rucks accuses the seven of threatening "illegal" activity.
> The root of the issue is the dues increase. BASS increased Federation dues from $15 to $20, but the divisional reps say BASS cannot institute a dues increase. According to them, BASS may propose a dues increase, but it ultimately must be approved by the state presidents. They suggest to the state presidents that they not support the dues increase, and rather than have members submit dues directly to BASS, ask the state Federations to collect the money and hold it until a meeting in early January, when the presidents and divisional reps will decide "a final path forward for the Federation as a whole."
> Cartlidge tells BassFan that he asked the state presidents to withhold the money from BASS because: "We've been pushing for over a year now for an accounting from BASS of where the current money's going, and have been unable to get those questions answered satisfactorily. We would need that before sending more money that's not being accounted for into BASS."
> Rucks states in the letter: "By instructing State Federation presidents to withhold 2006 club/member dues, which must be received by BASS by Dec. 31, 2005, the seven 'divisional representatives' have crossed the line. We are compelled to act, and to act decisively. To do otherwise would be detrimental to the sport of bass fishing. Threatening to illegally withhold annual BASS membership dues is a deliberate attempt to jeopardize the business of BASS and operations of the BASS Federation. By authority granted BASS in the BASS Federation Divisional Representatives Group Operating Policies and Procedures, BASS has decided to dismiss the Federation Presidents Advisory members and to terminate this Board indefinitely."
> Jacobs makes overture to Federation in interview with BassFan when he says: "It's a crying shame what's happened to this thing in the form of a deteriorating relationship. I have no idea why (BASS) did what they did. I read the letter (from Rucks). I think it's the nastiest letter I've ever read in my entire life to anybody, particularly in an open forum. So I don't know what these people have in mind, but as far as I'm concerned, we welcome them (the Federation) into our family. I'm ready any day these people want to sit down and talk to me."
November 29 – BASS founder Scott weighs in on the Federation controversy in a BassFan interview. He says both sides share blame, but calls the divisional reps "a cancer" that should have been cut from the Federation body when the initial trouble brewed in '03.
Photo: ESPN Outdoors
Mark Quenzel (pictured) left ESPN in November 2005, after which John Skipper became the senior ESPN manager in charge of ESPN Outdoors and BASS.
Week of December 7 – Jacobs meets with Federation divisional reps and makes offer to affiliate with FLW. Reacts to Scott's description of the reps as a "cancer" and says Scott should "go off into the sunset very quietly." States intention to meet with Federation presidents in Florida at the National Championship.
December 7 – ESPN regains NASCAR broadcast rights, which it lost in 2000. Signs an 8-year broadcast agreement. Many feel ESPN's decision to purchase BASS stemmed from its loss of NASCAR in 2000.
December 14 – BASS announces that more than 100 pros have registered for the Elite Series.
December 19 – Ellison confirms the PAA is in talks to host a charity event in conjunction with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).
December 23 – BASS includes a document, titled FAQ About BASS and the BASS Federation, in enrollment packets to individual Federation clubs. The 3,000-word document clarifies BASS's position concerning recent events. It additionally assures state Federations that, no matter what happens, its anglers will be able to fish all events they qualified for, including the Bassmaster Classic. Also notable is the strong language used to describe FLW Outdoors chairman Irwin Jacobs: "Jacobs, known as 'Irv the Liquidator' in corporate circles, made his mark in the business world through hostile corporate takeovers, not in the fishing industry. If he were truly interested in the Federation, he would certainly have tried to build his own by now. Instead he conspires to reach the top of our sport by climbing on the backs of the giants who built it — men like Ray Scott. Now he wants to use you for the same purpose. Is this the sort of man with whom you want to be aligned? With all of his resources and the time he's already been in the industry, what has Jacobs done for conservation? What has he done for youth? What has he done to support and perpetuate the fishing industry?"
After the craziest year in the history of bass-fishing, the sport retreats for a few days of needed rest at Christmas, and an anonymous BassFan treats us all to the following Christmas Eve verse...
'Twas right before the Classic, with thoughts at the "mouse," that these Federations guys were creating a rouse. BASS's strategy was set and made very clear, in hopes Irwin Jacobs was missing, and not soon appear. Management was quite happy, all smug with their plan, with visions of Ray Scott behind them, to serve as front-man. Everything was set, the event a sensation, but who should appear but The Bass Federation.
Now some of you can't fish because of five bucks, that was made clear from our leader Don Rucks. Now Robert and Chuck, and Gary and Joe, Michael, Charley and Rodger, you've been let go. We'll no longer put up with your unparalleled gall, now go away, go away, go away all!
Another error of judgment on BASS's part, done hastily in public, and not very smart. When out of the crowd came a statement, en masse, 'Don't treat us this way, you bigwigs from Ma BASS! We volunteer our time, not a penny we ask, We consider it our pleasure, not a disagreeable task.'
Opportunities have opened, they've begun to abound, BASS and the Federation should have reached common ground. No one party's quite innocent in this new rift, we're all partly to blame, and should cool off real swift. The world we inhabit has changed quite a bit, the evolution of our sport should not cause this split.
BassFan's reporting is honest, and should not pose a threat, as knowledge is crucial, though some will be upset. The more we all know, the better decisions we'll make, as it's just too important to commit a mistake.
So back to the message, back to the score, the Federation wants answers, that we implore. Some think we're disorganized and unable to agree, to BASS this mistake Gary Jones should not guarantee. We are not just fishermen, we're much more than that, 'cause conservation and youth won't lose in this spat. We're made up of volunteers, who give more than get, and don't take well to a big corporate threat. We want to get back to our roots and our goals, and hope our elected reps don't abuse their new roles. It's unfortunate politics has taken center stage, while polluters and PETA continue their rage.
Now there's more to the story, more to unfold, anticipating outcomes would be far too bold. But we'll shout from the rooftops, and type on the net, a firm message to those who should not soon forget. That we're good and we're strong and we won't go away, 'cause the Federation is here, and it's going to stay!