How one Georgia Tech assistant helped get Election Day off for all Div. I athletes

ERIC REVENO is almost ready to begin the interview.

He first needs to text members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches about a call with Vote By Design, a nonpartisan group that conducts voting education sessions for college students and other young voters. Later in the afternoon, the Georgia Tech men's basketball associate head coach will meet with a committee working to get the school's athletes registered for Tuesday's presidential election.

That morning, Reveno also spoke with Holy Cross assistant Joe Kennedy about a post-election review of how the NABC approached voter registration and education, and next steps.

"Someone's going to have to tell me to take a break," Reveno said. "You're going to chuckle in December when I'm tweeting about voting."

Reveno, the right-hand man to Yellow Jackets head coach Josh Pastner, has responsibilities that include crafting the team's schedule and leading international recruiting. Before joining Georgia Tech in 2016, Reveno was Portland's head coach for 10 years, making four postseason appearances and winning WCC Coach of the Year honors in 2009.

But if his name sounds familiar, it's likely because he has become the leading voice about college athlete voting and education.

In early June, Reveno started the #AllVoteNoPlay campaign, urging the NCAA to designate Nov. 3, Election Day, as a day off from all athletic activities. He first tweeted about the idea June 2, and launched a petition shared on social media by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and others. By June 4, nine Georgia Tech teams that were scheduled to be in-season on Election Day said they would not hold mandatory activities. Other college teams, programs and conferences soon joined in.

On June 12, NCAA president Mark Emmert and the association's board of governors recommended Election Day be an off day for all athletic teams. In September, the NCAA announced practices and games on the federal election day in November would be prohibited for Division I athletes -- in 2020 and beyond.

"Coach Reveno, what he's done with the momentum, in getting to the different groups all across the country," Pastner said, "it's been incredible."

Reveno has continued to tweet, organize and advocate for student-athlete voting, and shows no interest in slowing down, even after Election Day.

"Until June, if you had asked me, what are my hobbies, I wouldn't have known anything," Reveno said. "I didn't have hobbies. Now I would say this has become my hobby. It is a basic, civic responsibility. It wasn't a change of heart for me. I didn't change a perspective or an attitude.

"It was an epiphany for me that it makes perfect sense. This was consistent with why I coach. I realized: 'Why aren't coaches doing this?'"

REVENO'S 15-YEAR-OLD SON, Andrew, was the first to pose a question his father has often asked himself since June.

"No one thought about this before?"

There is plenty of reflection, even guilt, as Eric Reveno recounts how he got here. He played center at Stanford, where he was a two-time captain and helped the Cardinal reach their first NCAA tournament in 47 years. After four years playing professionally in Japan, he returned to Stanford, where he obtained his MBA before beginning his coaching career there in 1997.

Reveno has coached ever since, paying close attention to each detail on the court and off. Or so he thought.

He doesn't remember any conversations about athletes voting during his playing or coaching career at Stanford. While in Japan, he lived near the U.S. Embassy, and would go there to pay his taxes, but not to vote. Reveno wasn't opposed to off-the-court education. He welcomed having players learn about nutrition, sleep and mental wellness. While at Portland, Reveno's players were active in community service.

"Visiting a children's hospital is impactful, feeding food to the homeless is important, but we didn't do anything about the election, voting," Reveno said. "I don't remember ever asking a guy, 'Are you registered?' I just thought it was something other people took care of. Most Americans take it for granted. We like to barbecue on Fourth of July, we like to thank our military for their service because it's well deserved, but we don't recognize our responsibility to get to the polls."

TCU head coach Jamie Dixon, president of the NABC, said he never fully grasped the logistical challenges for his players to vote, from finding time between basketball and academic responsibilities to actually reaching a polling place. Prior to 2020, Reveno had "zero idea" whether Georgia Tech players voted or not.

"It wasn't as a focal point," Pastner said. "It was more of a check-the-box thing."

Most coaches operated that way.

Joe Kennedy's father, Pat, coached teams at Florida State, DePaul and other spots, and loved politics. Joe remembers Pat watching "random Senate debates" on C-SPAN. They would talk about voting and candidates around each election cycle, but voting wasn't part of the life skills programming for Pat's teams.

Even when Joe (no relation to the Kennedy political family) entered college coaching, after several years working in the White House during President Barack Obama's term, voting wasn't a front-burner item.

"Those conversations took place in 2018 or 2016 or 2012, but there was a little more of a divide between athletics and thinking about the idea of engaging in voting in elections," Kennedy said. "This process has just felt totally different. Coaches feel empowered to talk about things that they didn't feel maybe before that they should.

"That barrier and that wall has just completely crumbled in the last two months."

When Boise State assistant Mike Burns saw his friend Reveno leading the push for player voting, he recalled his first job in coaching, at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington. It was the summer of 1992, not long after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles and other cities. Burns spoke with Highline players about police violence, systemic racism and the importance of an upcoming presidential election.

Twenty-eight summers later, Burns had the same conversations. But he noticed something different.

"What unfolded this summer was a bucket of water in all our faces," Burns said. "It got us engaged. It was really, really unique, and Rev was highly influential in all of that. The cool thing is now that coaches are engaged and the student-athletes are engaged, we're going to stay engaged."

ON JUNE 1, Georgia Tech coaches and players met for a video call, similar to those held by college teams around the country. A week earlier, George Floyd had died while in Minneapolis police custody. Protests and looting had started in many major cities.

The CNN Center in downtown Atlanta, three miles from Reveno's home, was vandalized. As the call started, Reveno heard police helicopters overhead.

The coaches and players went around the virtual room, each sharing how they felt. When Reveno's turn came, he expressed embarrassment and disgust. Why hadn't there been more progress since Rodney King?

He choked up, telling the group, "I promise I will do what I can to do better."

But how? Malachi Rice, a senior walk-on guard from Indianapolis, provided the answer.

"I really expressed it was somewhat hypocritical that people would want to go protest and then later, when it's time to vote, not vote," Rice said. "I felt like if people wanted to go protest, we need to act on both ends. [Voting] was something that would actually bring about change, something that is within everybody's grasp, that everybody has the right to do."

At 21, Rice hadn't registered to vote. He said he had never found time to educate himself on politics, and didn't want to make uninformed choices at the polls. But he saw the 2020 election differently.

He had to prepare and participate, and so did others.

"I'm sitting there on this call," Reveno said, "54 years old, well-educated, lots of opportunity, privilege, whatever you call it, and I haven't done my civic duty to the level that I'm supposed to. ... [Rice] pointed me in the right direction.

"Since then, I've been charging."

The next day, Reveno tweeted at the NCAA about taking off Election Day. He wasn't trolling. Reveno understands the criticism the NCAA receives but ultimately believes in its mission. As 501(c)(3) organizations that are exempt from federal taxes, the NCAA and member schools such as Georgia Tech have "civic responsibility," Reveno said, to engage athletes in voting.

Reveno began digging into voting trends: why young people don't vote in higher numbers, why college students register but often don't complete the voting process.

"Instead of basketball analytics, it's voting analytics," Reveno, who is known for embracing basketball analytics, said. "The voting engagement of 18- to 24-year-olds has declined since I was born. It's going down and it's going to keep going down unless people do something. As coaches, it's not our nature to just commentate, to just say, 'Boy, this isn't good.'

"We want to have a plan."

After launching #AllVoteNoPlay, Reveno began contacting coaches he knew: Dixon, Gonzaga's Mark Few, Missouri's Cuonzo Martin, South Carolina's Frank Martin -- anyone who could help spread the word. He also got a call from Kennedy, who expressed support and detailed his background in politics. They connected the NABC with the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, which organizes student voter registration and participation. In July, both organizations launched the Coaches' Voter Engagement Pledge, where coaches throughout the sport agreed to register all of their eligible athletes.

So far, 1,037 coaches have signed the pledge. Some 86% of Division I teams had one or more coaches sign on, including all the Power 5 programs.

"It was really easy for me to come in and continue to greenlight it and support Eric any way I could," said NABC executive director Craig Robinson, hired in July. "I have not run into a coach yet who didn't think this was a good idea."

Robinson, the former coach at Oregon State and Brown, is uniquely connected to voting and elections -- former President Barack Obama is his brother-in-law. Robinson, who entered college coaching in 2000, always promoted voter registration with players, including absentee balloting for those from out of state.

But Reveno's idea to cancel athletic activities on Election Day was new.

"You would think of all the people, it would cross my mind," Robinson said. "I always tried to have practice at a time when I knew everybody could get to their classes and get to a polling place if they were going to vote in town, but I never thought to say, 'OK, let's have the day off.'"

Ethan Good, chair of the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and a former Bowling Green basketball player, first heard about the Election Day proposal from Georgia Tech baseball player Hugh Chapman. Schools and leagues had started pledging to take the day off, but no formal campaign had launched.

Several people and organizations started reaching out to help, including former NBA star Chris Bosh, who played at Georgia Tech. Good also connected with Reveno through Chapman.

"I followed him on Twitter and he had 60% of my likes by the time the summer went by," Good said. "Every group that reached out to Division I SAAC about voting or getting student athletes to register, it felt like he was on every call."

Division I SAAC had never proposed legislation. Having Election Day permanently designated as an off day was "surreal," Good said, adding, "It eliminates a lot of excuses not to vote."

Rice said he will file an absentee ballot Tuesday, and plans to vote in every future election.

"My words definitely got through to people," Rice said. "Now everybody on the team is registered to vote. I've been very, very proud of Coach Rev, just seeing how he's been able to take my message and spread that to everybody, blow it up and make it what it is now."

WHEN REVENO began his summer crusade, he often thought about why coaches had resisted such a natural cause. Then, he went on Twitter.

"I realized that everyone who is anti-registering voters has less than 40 followers," he said. "I basically say, 'Voting is not political.' I'll defend that forever. Coaches used to shut up and dribble. 'We don't do politics.' That's what my generation hung sort of their hat on. And the schools reinforced that; they don't want to get involved.

"I just keep repeating: Voting isn't politics. It's the backbone of our country."

The political connection to voting, even if unfounded, made coaches hesitant to fully get on board.

"Every coach has boosters and there's all of those strings and nobody wants to alienate anybody," Burns said. "But the events that unfolded this summer transcended anything that a lot of us had ever been through before, and coaches were very much motivated."

Reveno also wants to educate players beyond the presidential election, to down-ballot races like attorney general and sheriff, magnified after the rocky summer.

The actual voting process also can be tricky, especially for those from other states. College athletics presents unique challenges there.

"My joke was when we got on this voting initiative, let's make sure we get all these guys to register for absentee ballots because we're putting in the transfer rule at the same time, so they're not going to be in the same place for four years in a row," Dixon said. "It's going to be a one-year engagement, let's put it that way."

The transient nature of college athletes, especially in basketball, underscores the importance of coaches to promote and facilitate registration and voting. While much of the data on young people and voting isn't promising, those who start voting in college are much likelier to become lifelong voters.

"Rev and I have talked about this a lot: 2020 can't be a one-time thing," Kennedy said. "As coaches, we haven't done our job of making civic engagement as important as other skills. We've got to change that, and we've really made a lot of progress."

Reveno will spend Election Day on campus. McCamish Pavilion, Georgia Tech's home arena, is a polling location this year. Players will spend the day voting if they haven't done so already, or volunteering with the campus effort. Georgia Tech has begun practicing and is set to begin the season Nov. 25, so Reveno's basketball duties are ramping up. But a focus on athlete voting and civic engagement has become a permanent part of his job description.

"I can't help myself at this point," he said. "It makes all the sense in the world for this to be part of a coach's repertoire. Ask me in a year: What am I doing for the local election? My plan was always to keep pushing."