Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back to $chool

Here’s all you really need to know about how money drives everything in college sports:

Alabama football coach Nick Saban gets paid $4,000,000 per year. The average yearly salary for a professor at Alabama is $116,000.

Alabama won the National Championship last season. It is estimated that a home game in Tuscaloosa brings in over 21 million dollars to the university.

That’s PER GAME.

Just sayin'.

Nick Saban received a bonus of $200,000 for beating Texas in the title game. And what did the hard working young men who played for Nick Saban get?

A nice ring and a chance to study for free.

I’m sure got some swag, maybe a nice Rose Bowl sweat suit and some gym shoes.

But that’s about it. Or is it?

A few weeks ago Nick Saban referred to sports agents as “pimps” amid allegations that several Division I players, including former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, took money (in Bush’s case over $250,000) from agents while in school.

Imagine that.

The system is screwy. The NFL and universities have done a fine job fostering a “farm system” for the pros to develop players, so-called “student athletes.”

Think about that. How much does it cost for an employer to hire and train a new employee? For the NFL, not much.

Basketball is no different. The NBA imposed a “one and done” rule requiring players to play somewhere until the minimum age of 19, effectively letting colleges train them for a year, at no cost, with the idea that kids would benefit from “the college experience.”

Hooey. This is America, right? If someone told me when I was 19 “drop out now and we will pay you millions” do you think I would even consider another year of Mac and Cheese and Old Style? Money can’t buy you love, but it makes livin’ a lot easier.

Modern college athletics has turned the concept of “student athletes” on its head. I’m talking revenue sports, not fencing or field hockey.

And yes, I know there are plenty of college athletes who go to class with no aspirations of making a living shooting a ball or knocking people over. For every jock studying ceramics or martinizing, you have one majoring in astrophysics or electrical engineering.

But let’s get real. The time commitment to play a major revenue sport is year-round, the pressure tremendous.

And there are some silly rules. Athletes are not allowed to work in season (presuming they could find the time). But they are allowed to get paid to play another sport. Drew Henson was a quarterback at Michigan while under contract with the New York Yankees for a cool 6 years/17 million dollars.

Agents are pervasive in amateur sports, and the temptation is real because the “free education” carrot is not enough for many athletes. When I was in school at Missouri I certainly saw a few fancy cars, but I also witnessed guys who waiting until Thanksgiving to go home and do their laundry. Many wore team issue clothes every day.

So here’s a modest proposal: How about taking a slice of that revenue and paying players a small stipend, say $50 - $100 per week? It wouldn’t get rid of agent “pimps,” but it might help level the playing field a bit.

Pay to play? Please.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Kase Fer Book Lernin'

"Dad," I heard my 11 year old son call from the kitchen.

"I want to go to college at USC, Florida, LSU, what's LSU?, Ohio State or Penn State."

I guess there are worse criteria for picking a school than Football polls.

My two seventh graders and I have had quite a few talks about college lately. They are curious as a number of their cousins and friend's siblings go off to school.

They want to know "what you do there" and are intrigued, to say the least, by the idea that they are on their own. Our talks have me thinking about the value of education and the pressures kids face.

Growing up, my parents led by example. We lived in a home filled with books and newspapers and they were consistent in emphasizing effort and thirst for knowledge over grades.

They stressed the importance of being well read and the value of knowing a little bit about a lot of things. I remember coming home from college and my parents asking what I learned, not what I got.

Which isn't to say that if I crossed the Bluto Blutarsky line I wouldn't have faced the music. I did well. But graduation day was the beginning of my education, not the end.

Somehow we have bought into the notion that a college degree is a necessity, for everyone. Not sure I buy that.

My freshman year at Missouri I was in a large Marketing class with a visiting professor from Australia. On the first exam he gave 2/3 of the class a C or lower and heard moans when he posted grades. One student yelled, "Everyone deserves a chance" and he quickly replied, "No, not everyone deserves a chance. Everyone deserves an oppotunity to take a chance." He turned his back to us a moment and then said "You know what I am saying don't you?" (pregnant pause) "Most of you don't belong here."

College isn't for everyone, and yet we seem backwards compared to many cultures where kids serve as an apprentice in a chosen field before going to college or trade school.

Mr. Marshall at my high school was one of the most interesting, well read people I have ever known. I don't recall whether or where he went to college. He was a custodian, in charge of cleaning our athletic locker rooms. A good man.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”

And for my kids: No matter where life takes you, be a learner, an interesting person. That's an "A" on my report card.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Found At Sea

RIP Captain Phil.

That would be Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie, star of Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch," who passed away during filming earlier this year.

I've been hooked(pun intended) on "Catch" for a few years now, my one dose of reality TV.

The formula is simple enough. A group of crab fishing boats head out in the Bering Sea (between Alaska and Russia) with cameras aboard. While they "compete" to see who has the most crab at the end, ultimately it's about their individual haul, a year's pay condensed into a few months.

The show opens with close ups each captain in front of his crew as Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" blares in the background. At one point Captain Sig Hansen is shown thrusting his arm forward as if to signal a "first down." The faces are worn as an old tire, but the rush is on.

The ship's men are classic "bad boys," hard driving cowboys willing to risk their lives in one of the most dangerous jobs on earth.

And the danger is ever present. They work 18 hours at a time some 300 miles from shore. As they fight the raging waves, snow, rain and sleet, the crew offloads over 100 crab "pots" into the sea, each weighing about 800 pounds. Go overboard or get struck with a pot and your're toast.

They don't gather for yoga in the morning, and the work hardly lends itself to a spread in Men's Health or GQ. The captains in particular are overcaffinated, chain smoking and sedentary. Captain Phil suffered a massive stroke followed by a fatal embolism. His two sons are part of his crew, and one struggles with an addiction to pain killers.

So why watch? The show is pure testosterone, and there is a certain honor with each of the crews, many of which are second and third generation.

But there's no free ride. A rookie on the boat, called a greenhorn, goes through a stiff test in order to move up to deckhand. Some might call it hazing. With no HR department the vets have free reign.

I'm hooked, because it's my ultimate fantasy. When I was a kid we used to vacation in Wisconsin and had a neighbor (in the proverbial "house on the hill") who was a commercial fisherman. Paid to fish. Cool.

Not quite my career choice. I suppose someone could run up to my desk and douse me repeatedly, and I do recall a female co-worker many years ago with a mouth that would make a longshoreman blush, but that's as close as I get to life on the Bering Sea. A man can dream, can't he?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Leggo my Blago

I'm "all in" for the Blago Trial.

Thoughts so far:

- He's incompetent and delusional. And LeBron is a shameless self promoter. Tell me something we don't know.

- Speaking of LeBron, it would be great if they had a "Sportscenter" type Blago wrap up on the tube, although I must say this time old fashioned print journalism trumps TV, especially with tapes we are privy to in transcript form.

- The testimony is damning yes, but how? From what I can tell, Blago is guilty of being a naive idiot and betraying taxpayers by making a sham out of his time in office, but it sounds like he never took money and failed with his "schemes." In other words, he couldn't "close the deal" and as a crook he is quite the amateur. Will "honest services fraud" hold up once the defense phase begins?

- Speaking of defense, what surprises await once the defense has a chance to cross examine and bring their own witnesses? Illinois is bipartisan in corruption, and both parties have to fear this trial continuing into election season. There have to be a few state politicians shaking more than hands these days.

- Half a mill on clothes? Wow. How much does he pay KidSnips for a trim?

- After his trial and (hopefully) jail term end, Blago will have a long career as an political entertainer. It's downright Shakespearean the way he waves to the crowd and poses for pictures each day on his way from the courthouse. It's not a crime to be a national joke, and it can be quite profitable. Think Jersey Shore or Clara Peller.