WMU gives ‘RTB’ to Fleck; he’ll fund scholarships

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Western Michigan has given “Row the Boat” back to P.J. Fleck.

On Wednesday, the university and the LLC for Fleck’s Chicago-based agent, Bryan Harlan, finalized an agreement to a transfer of the trademark rights.

Under terms of the agreement, Fleck, now the head football coach at Minnesota, will continue to fund a $50,000 gift he and his wife, Heather, committed to Western Michigan last year. So far, $10,000 of that has been given. Those funds will go toward Western Michigan facility upgrades.

Fleck, 36, also has agreed to donate $10,000 a year to Western Michigan to go toward football scholarships, athletic director Kathy Beauregard said. The terms of that agreement are five years.

Beauregard called the deal a “win-win” for both parties.

When Fleck arrived in Kalamazoo in December 2012, he started the “Row the Boat” mantra, a rallying cry in perseverance — started following the death of Fleck’s infant child. It essentially means, continue moving forward; you can’t change tomorrow.

Western Michigan’s Board of Trustees trademarked the phrase, so it could sell apparel. It became a hit on campus and throughout the community.

Beauregard said the university and Fleck have agreed to let Western Michigan continue using the phrase, as it was a big part of the best team in university history — the 2016 team that went 13-0 in the regular season with a Mid-American Conference championship, before falling in the New Year’s Six Cotton Bowl to Wisconsin.

But Western Michigan no longer can use the phrase in commerce. It no longer will sell “Row the Boat” merchandise, like T-shirts, mugs, key chains, etc.

Fleck also owes Western Michigan a $600,000 buyout, under terms of his contract when he left for Minnesota. That money, likely to be paid by Minnesota, will be used for football-facility upgrades and renovations, Beauregard said.