Archive for the ‘Basketball’ Category

Jim Tressel recently resigned as head coach at Ohio State University. Normally, I’d ask, “So? OSU is no longer a top-5 program in college football, and there insistence otherwise annoys me, so I’m not watching.” However, the resignation has reenergized the debate on whether high school athletes should be paid, and South Park and the Daily Show have jumped on board, so I’m joining the debate as well. As to whether college athletes should be paid, here’s my answer:

Yes and no.

Most of my friends will sigh and say, “Typical lawyer’s response.” Well, they’d be right, but not because lawyers are afraid to commit to a point of view. Lawyers study issues more deeply than most others before opening our mouths and quickly learn to appreciate that the right answer is almost never perfect; it’s just the best one available. Almost all answers have something good in them, but all answers have at least some bad attached. The goal is to find the answer that creates the best net effect (i.e., the good minus bad). I wish more people would show that understanding in political debate.

But I digress.

Why Should We Pay Them?

Yes, NCAA athletes should be paid for all the reasons we typically hear. They’re adults (legally-speaking) who are working hard to make a ton of money for their school. They do so at the risk of great bodily injury that could derail their potential careers before they even start. It just seems unfair for so many people to make so much money off of other people’s work, even in the cases of those lucky few that do hit the big time.

Just How Bad Is It?

So the system is unfair, but it’s not that unfair. Even for the sports that make a ton of money (e.g., basketball and football), the student athletes are often getting a free education that costs tens of thousands of dollars for the rest of us. They also get free housing, meal plans, and paid tutors to make sure they succeed despite themselves. For most student athletes, that’s an important perk because they won’t actually have a professional career. They need that degree more than most of them will admit, and it’s handed to them on a silver platter. It takes a special form of stupidity and irresponsibility to screw up that.

Still, the issue of fairness remains because the dollar amounts the big sports generate should result in payments that would pay for all of these things for not only the student athlete, but for his children (future or otherwise) as well.

Why Not Pay Them?

What’s the downside to paying them? They may be adults legally, but are they really mature enough to handle all that money? Remember that statement about a special kind of stupidity and irresponsibility two paragraphs up? It happens all the time. Of course, there are plenty of examples of professional athletes screwing up even after making millions in a major professional league, but that happens to everyone, and after you’re out of school, you’re your own problem. Universities can’t be expected to be responsible for people after they’ve left the school, but they are responsible for them during school.

Another concern is that the bigger schools will buy the better high school student athletes. Really? Doesn’t this happen anyway, even with schools that aren’t breaking the rules? Still, if the university has the means to teach their students good ethics, they should, so it’s a concern.

The Solution

The best answer I have is to create an interest-bearing escrow account from which student athletes can withdrawal their fair share when they graduate. This is not a novel idea; others have considered it, and I don’t mean to take credit as the only one. A student athlete fund would give student athletes a much-needed and much-deserved financial boost on graduation, and — depending on how it’s implemented — could actually satisfy the concern of bigger schools buying up the good players.

Some Options

If they don’t graduate, allow them to withdrawal only a percentage of what they’d otherwise get, with the rest of the money remaining in the fund and increasing the amount future athletes can withdrawal. Why give a non-graduating player less money than one leaving with a degree? While the non-graduating player, in theory, needs the money more than the graduating player, the benefits of providing an incentive to graduate probably outweighs that. I could, of course, be wrong, because I don’t have all the information I need to answer that question, but let the experts determine these details.

Another good question for the number-crunchers to consider is the possibility of placing the same limit on withdrawals on any student that gets a professional contract with a major sports league (NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB). Again, I don’t know whether that’s better. Remember, if it’s a common fund, the amount students could get might be tied into how much is in the pot (as opposed to a set amount), in which case the guys who really don’t need it don’t need to take from it.

Yet another question for the number-crunchers to consider is how to deal with players in different sports. Basketball and football players clearly bring in more money for the school then lacrosse players, so shouldn’t they get paid more? That seems fair. Warning: If you think this is all about fairness, think again. You know damn well that when fairness demands that men be paid much more than women under this thinking, there will be a cry of discrimination loud enough to drown out all logic you might have in support of it. Don’t worry, though; I’m sure universities will choose logic over political correctness. *sigh*

Details, Rob! Details!

So, how much do we pay them? This is yet another area where I honestly don’t know because I don’t have the data I need to form an opinion. I refuse to answer that question until I can do so knowledgeably. I wish more people would take that approach to political debate as well. 🙂

Just some food for thought. Considering we can’t get the NCAA to implement a football playoff system because it’s not immediately as profitable as the bowl system, I seriously doubt there’ll be a change without the government getting involved, which they shouldn’t.

Reminder: I’ll be interviewed by Fight Fans Radio on Monday, June 6. Listen in through UStream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/fightfans-radio.

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WNBA-Shirt

I consider this post to be my first attempt at suicide. The issues raised here could get me into a lot of trouble with at least 50% of the human population. Still, I think an honest, fair analysis of this issue would be a good thing. As with every area influenced by political correctness, the heart is in the right place, but it very quickly is lead astray by zealotry, ignorance, and stupidity.

WNBA Is a Joke

First things fist: WNBA is pronounced WIN-ba. Get used to it.

In WNBA’s first year, I was in a bar in Greenwich Village with my cousin, Mike. I told him that WNBA isn’t a real sports league, but rather a politically correct effort to jam a piss-poor product down our throats. If the league can’t earn its place on its own merits, it has no business in the sports universe. Mike approached the issue from the perspective of affirmative action. If we just give WNBA a chance, it’ll earn it’s place, and giving women’s sports a chance is a matter of “fairness.”

Ugh.

He went on to add that if WNBA couldn’t pay for itself within 5 years, it would disappear. “There’s no way they’d keep it around if it weren’t making money.” We should be so lucky. After all this time, it still can’t hold it’s own financially, and that’s despite lower salaries (compared to other pro sports), a growing US population (and thus, consumer base), a larger economy, and politically-correct, charitable spending. WNBA survives only because it’s subsidized by a real sports league, the NBA.

Chart

Why is WNBA such a joke? It’s because WNBA is trying to be something it isn’t. WNBA players try to dunk on a men’s size hoop. They try to play on a men’s court. They try to be the same as men, when they’re clearly not.

And stop treating this as an issue of “equality.” Women don’t have a Constitutional or statutory right to their own pro basketball league. They don’t even have a moral right to it. Besides, this is an issue of “sameness,” which is something different. This issue isn’t about civil liberties; it’s about height, upper body strength, and other purely biological characteristics, and on those points, women aren’t the same. In a Playboy article, Craig Kilborn talked about how he often plays his friend, Rebecca Lobo (then playing for the New York Liberty), in one-on-one basketball and beats her every time. Yes, Craig played basketball at Podunk state university, but he’s a talk-show host. A talk show host! She was one of the best players in the league at the peek of her career. Try to imagine how embarrassing this would be for any other sports league.

This means that WNBA actually retards women’s sports. As things stand, it makes women’s sports the subject of ridicule, distracting people from a very important point . . . .

Generally, Women’s Sports Is Not a Joke

As a follower of tennis, I can assure you that women’s tennis is just as good a game as men’s tennis. It’s just as much fun to watch despite the fact that the #1 women’s player would probably get destroyed by the #100 men’s player. The reason is two-fold: First, women don’t play men in tennis one-on-one, making the comparison to their abilities meaningless. Second, technique is more important to tennis, being that it’s not as dependent on the physical differences between the sexes. This is why, for example, plenty of women who are half-decent, casual players of tennis can destroy male counterparts.

The same effect can be seen with hockey. In January 2009, I put on ice skates for the first time (age 40), and by June, I was playing on my first C-league team. There’s still segregation in league play, but I have plenty of opportunity to play against women in hockey classes and scrimmages. As a new player to the sport, I get completely outplayed by women all the time. The technique is often independent of the physical differences. I will add, though, that if it was a full contact game, their ability to check me at will wouldn’t hurt me, but if I got just one shot against one of them, I’d be able to take them out of the game with a single, legal hit. Really, I’d destroy them. However, it’d be tough for me to catch them. Overall, they whoop my ass.

Even in combat sports, the same thing can be said, though not surprisingly to a lesser extent. I’ve trained with women in Tae Kwon Do, American kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, and aikido. Many of them deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what they’ve accomplished in their respective sports. As a heavyweight, (I could never quite drop below 100 kgs during my judo days, dammit!), I could probably take out every single woman I ever faced, though I’d have to take them very seriously in order to do it. Assume that they’re “just a girl,” and you’ll find yourself on the toe end of a groin kick.

Of course, all of this depends on the individual, and comparing amateurs to each other does less to prove the point than comparing pros. As I stated above, when comparing pros to pros — people dedicating their lives to the sport — women can almost never compete with men, but that’s okay, because they don’t.

Except in fake sports, like auto racing.

Danica-Patrick

The Point

My point is that WNBA makes a mockery of women’s sports. Rather than rally behind it, you should see it for what it is — a financial drain on our society — and treat it accordingly. Otherwise, the ridicule for all women’s sports will continue, whether deserving or not, and that hurts those sports that otherwise should have an equal place in the sports world. If WNBA wants to become a legitimate sport, they need to change the way the game is structured. At this point, however, they’d lose so much face in doing so, there’s no possibility they will. The only way to truly bring women’s basketball into the mainstream is to fold WNBA and hope a smarter group of investors create a new league with a better structure.

But if it’s this much work, why bother? It’s bleeding horribly. Let it die.

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Gary-kneel

Last Thursday, my fellow University of Maryland alumni and fans learned that Gary Williams, coach of the men’s basketball program, is retiring. Needless to say, over two decades of memories have been pouring out of everyone’s brains. Scott van Pelt of ESPN, a Maryland graduate himself, was being interviewed on ESPN 980 this afternoon on a segment about remembering Gary’s greatest moments, and that caused my favorite memory to jump to mind.

It was 1993, and I was one year out of Maryland working my first job as a software engineer. It was an exciting time. I had a little disposable income and recently had been a Washington Capitals season ticket holder. It was an exciting time, both personally and professionally, and sports were a part of that.

My extended family on my mother’s side consists primarily of Maryland fans/alumni and Georgetown fans/alumni. Georgetown had refused to play Maryland for 13 years, telling us they were too good for such a low program, but the ACC and Big East entered into a deal, and Georgetown was forced to play us. The Hoyas in the family told us, “Be careful what you wish for,” but we knew we had Joe Smith, we knew we had Kieth Booth, we knew we had “X-Ray O’Hipp,” and we knew we had Gary Williams.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, November 26, 1993, the two teams took to the court at the US Air arena (which I thought of as the Capital Center until the day it was demolished). I was watching from Croton-on-Hudson, NY, where some of the family lived. The game was back and forth, and you could see the frustration in the eyes of the Hoyas. Maryland just wouldn’t go away.

It was the end of the game. Maryland had the lead. Georgetown had one chance to force overtime. The Hoya passed the ball inbounds to his teammate, but the teammate ran out of bounds and inbounded the ball to someone else. Possession should have gone to Maryland. Game over, right? Nope. Big time programs are always coddled by the refs. The ref that was right on top of the play didn’t call it. It was classic “screw the little guy” we expect in college and pro sports. At that point, the Terp fans began to have their doubts. If the refs wouldn’t call the game objectively, how could we win?

I’ll let you watch if you’d like.

Final score, Maryland 84, #15 Georgetown 83.

Joe-Smith

I was so proud of my alma mater that I asked my cousin, John, to design a t-shirt with an anthropomorphic terrapin dunking the head of the Georgetown bulldog. The image was nothing like I was expecting, but as always, the artist outdid even my imagination. A coworker made the shirts for me, and they came out great except the date was wrong. 😦 I had 12 shirts done and gave one to each current and past Maryland and Georgetown alum/student in the family for Christmas.

After we won our first national championship, my friends and I went from Champions in Crystal City (where we watched the game) to College Park, MD and joined the “riot.” When Maryland beat #1 North Carolina at Cole Field House, my cousin Tom and I rushed the court with everyone else. When #3 Maryland beat #1 Duke but Kansas was given the #1 ranking that week, I loved it when we beat Kansas in the Final Four one our way to our first national title. (“Who’s #1 now, bitches?”) All of these were fun and important.

For me, though, Maryland’s first step on that journey — beating #15 Georgetown in 1993 — is my finest Gary Williams moment.

Thanks, Coach.

Williams-Podium

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Just what the hell do I mean by this?

Well, I’ll tell you, because I love to write. Although we haven’t always lived up to the standard, America has traditionally been about rooting for the underdog. If you don’t have a vested interest in the outcome of a game – that is, it isn’t your home team’s interest that’s on the line – you always find yourself rooting for the upset.

Look at college basketball. The NCAA tournament’s major selling point is the existence of upsets. It adds a level of “I don’t know what’s going to happen” that makes everyone happy, but this ultimately arose from our love of the underdog.

Look at the NFL. Parity was brought in for the sole purpose of creating exactly that uncertainty, giving every NFL market a reason for investing faith in their team. It’s always good economically to play on American values.

Now let’s get *really* nerdy. Let’s look at our patent system. For its entire existence, our patent system was based on a “first to invent” standard that makes proving your case in court very difficult. The rest of the world has a “first to file” system and thought we were crazy for not having one. Our rationale? A “first to invent” system favors the little guy over the big corporate machine. We recently bowed to international pressure and switched, but it literally took centuries for us to do that.

You’re a Bunch of Jackholes

So, what does that say about someone who chooses their “home team” based solely on the fact that they have a winning record? You do the math.

While I was in law school, I met a rather annoying New Yorker who was a Dallas Cowboys fan based on having grown up in the 80s. He provided the counter argument: “I strive for quality!” First, dumbass, you aren’t responsible in the least for their success other than, perhaps, the purchase of a Cowboys jersey. (I never saw him wear one.) Second, that’s not the way Americans are supposed to think. The fact that they (at that point) were the team to beat is exactly why you should want them beaten. I find it not the least bit surprising that this guy was a fair weather fan and a very obnoxious person. They tend to go hand in hand.

Dallas Sucks

Dallas Sucks

Of course, Dallas Cowboys fans are the most notorious for being fair weather fans. I have no problem whatsoever with a Dallas native rooting for the Cowboys. I still hate you guys, but I respect you. Anyone from Texas generally, or even from a neighboring state without a pro football team (e.g., Oklahoma) also gets a pass, and reasonably so. However, if you walk up to the average Dallas fan, try asking them the following questions:

1. Are you from Dallas?
2. Have you ever lived in Dallas?
3. Have you ever been to Dallas for anything other than a Dallas game?
4. Can you spell Dallas?

Don’t be surprised if they answer no to each of those questions. My favorite Redskins fan T-Shirt simply asks the reader, “Have you ever even BEEN to Dallas?”

And by the way, I’m consistent. When someone tells me they’re a Redskins fan, I always ask in what area near DC they grew up. When they answer, for example, El Paso, Texas, I get a bit miffed. I’m willing to accept the “foreign” support, but they’re definitely viewed as second class citizens in our community. I hope the true Cowboys fans view non-Texan Cowboys fans the same way.

Wrapping It up

Some of you have legitimate reasons for liking a team other than your home team. For example, some of you might say, “My parents were fans of some other team.” If that’s true, I can accept that. No problem. All I’m saying is that if the basis of your loyalty is to side with the winning team (whether you admit it or not), you’re rejecting one of the principles on which this country was founded.

And you’ve earned my disgust.

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Full disclaimer: I’ve never traveled overseas, unless you count Vancouver, Niagra Falls, Montreal, or Juarez (twice). Other than those trips, I’ve spent my entire existence within the borders of the continental United States. I live in the DC area, though, and besides how diverse our residents are, the World Cup has come here, and I’ve attended it. Why? Because I like soccer. Keep that in mind before chalking this post up to being anti-soccer.

Moving on, soccer is not nearly as popular as football, basketball, baseball, hockey, or martial sports in America. You might think that this is because there’s only so much room for sports in our lives, but that wouldn’t explain why soccer, which predated many of those other sports, wasn’t the one onto which Americas latched in the early 1900’s. There must be a better reason for it’s lack of popularity.

The Problem

Americans view sporting events as much a social event as a competition. From what I’m told by both Americans and non-Americans, non-Americans do not. We (Americans) attend the games not merely to watch them but to bond with our fellow fans, some of whom we might hate in any other context. My fellow sports nuts will absolutely agree with this. Politics, religion, and any other source of social tension is thrown to the side, and we’re all friends for a few hours.

Now let’s consider soccer. It has two characteristics that, taken together, make it nearly impossible for mainstream America to enjoy. It’s 1) low scoring, and 2) has continuous play. As a result, Americans are forced to watch soccer non-stop without taking time to socialize. If they take their eyes off the game, even the boring parts, for just a second, they could miss the only score of the game. That’s too much to take. I also don’t think the commonality of ties helps its cause. Fans want resolution, not sister-kissing. If ties are anything more than an abnormality, it’s going to hurt the sport.

So, let’s examine the other sports to see how this plays out.

Football

Football is probably America’s true pastime at this point. Why? Because it doesn’t suffer from either problem (or from ties). It clearly has lots of stops and starts, and scoring (especially nowadays) is relatively high. Have 3-0 games occurred in its history? Of course. I was at one in which Booomer Esiason led the Jets to a 3-0 win over the Redskins. (I just can’t forget how cold it was that day.) Nevertheless, those are rare occurrences, so rare that they are quickly forgotten by everyone except geeks like me. The same can be said of ties.

So, when you go to a football game, this is what happens: The center snaps the ball to the quarterback. The QB drops back and throws a 20-yard pass to a receiver who’s leveled by the free safety but somehow manages to hold on. While not a score, it’s an exciting play. In any case, the play is over. We now have 45 seconds (more with a time out) to talk about the play to each other. (“That’s what I’m talking about!” or “I would have caught that!” for an incomplete pass.) Thus, the game feeds our need to socialize on all levels. It gives us both the material to discuss and the time to do so.

Martial Sports

Like football, martial sports don’t suffer from either a lack of action or a lack of excitement. There is excitement at virtually every move, and the action stops periodically (when rounds are used), giving us all time to socialize. Observation: Since being regulated by state athletic commissions, the Ultimate Fighting Championship in America used three 5-minute rounds for a non-title bout and five 5-minute rounds for a championship bout with one minute breaks in between. Pride FC in Japan used one 10-minute round and two 5-minute rounds with two minute breaks in between. Apparently the Japanese fans didn’t need to socialize every five minutes, and the shorter breaks for the UFC bouts results in a faster match, which gets spectators more quickly to the point of being able to have longer conversations.

Martial Sports do suffer from one of the three characteristics though: ties. However, a “draw” remains relatively rare (some, along with me, say too rare). Moreover, many fights “go the distance.” The resulting judges’ decisions often have an offensive psychological effect (disclaimer: I’m no shrink!). Decisions with which we disagree actually appear to “steal” a bout from the fighter we thought won. This can be very frustrating, but let’s face it: it gives us more material to talk about when socializing. This actually plays in favor of martial sports.

People who don’t like martial sports because of how “violent” they are are simply ignorant of the statistics that show them to be, when regulated properly, the safest competitive sport. In fact, the most dangerous thing about boxing and kick-boxing is the use of such huge gloves and boots designed to protect the striker’s weapons rather than the opponent’s brain. The less padding, the better, and that’s a concept that the sissies just can’t be expected to get. They’re a lost cause. Martial sports will still be popular without them.

Basketball

Basketball is not as popular as football, but it’s pretty damn close. It suffers from only one of the problems I’ve identified: continuous play. There are relatively few stops and starts. However, it counters this effect by having so many scores that you can afford to turn your head and socialize while the game continues. It’s also an exciting game, so that even if you miss a really great play, no need to worry. Another will be along shortly.

Baseball

I’m sure you understand my point, so you should be able to predict how this one will go. Baseball suffers from the problem of low scoring, but you need not fear taking the time to socialize. The time between plays, as well as the predictability of when these breaks occur, results in little danger of missing a score or even an exciting play. Some would say that there are too few exciting plays in baseball, and that the time between plays is too long, but that helps to prove my point. The fact that baseball allows for socializing is why it continues to be so popular despite these perceived defects. Our ability to socialize is the most important factor to the success of all of these sports.

Hockey

Hockey Fan

Hockey has always been the least popular of all of the sports I listed, and my theory would help to explain that as well. While not suffering from soccer’s characteristics quite as much, hockey has traditionally been a little too close to having all of those characteristics. It’s relatively low scoring, with 1-0 games hardly rare, and the action is closer to soccer than football in terms of its downtime. Moreover, my first hockey game at the Capital Center (IIRC, 1975, age 7) was a 2-2 tie between the Caps and the Minnesota North Stars. Even at that young age, I was an intellectual, so I found the concept of a tie intriguing, but that’s not common amongst Americans.

If you look at every important change hockey has made, it’s been designed to increase scoring and eliminate ties (or eliminate injuries, which is not the subject of this post). By increasing the scoring, hockey becomes less likely to disappoint the average spectator who turns away to talk to his fellow fans. Yes, hockey (and all the other sports) have huge marketing budgets, but that just gets people’s attention. You actually have to provide a good product or people won’t come back. The only exception to this rule is the “celebrity” factor (i.e., getting people to idolize or identify with the players), which is important to marketing, but nevertheless a small part of the story.

What’s Soccer to Do?

As far as a solution is concerned, I have none. Indoor soccer has tried to create a product that’s higher scoring, but it’s been largely a disaster. My guess is that, because it offends the soccer-loving base (“It’s a perversion of soccer!”), it wasn’t able to generate the minimum revenue it needed to properly market itself to the casual fan. Shootouts to eliminate ties were intended to help a bit with the casual fan, but that further offends the base. I suspect that soccer is just going to have to deal with its place in our society: a second-class sport.

This isn’t the end of the world, though, for soccer fans. The latest census report showed our population at over 300 million, and our economy (despite all our complaints) makes attendance at games more affordable, even if you resort to scalping. As a result of our richer, more populous society, even hobbies like skateboarding and snowboarding have become a spectator sport capable of surviving on its fan base, which is tiny when expressed as a percentage. I’m sure soccer will always out draw that.

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