Thursday, June 10, 2010

What the NCAA should do.

First, let's get one thing absolutely clear: no way this actually happens. This is a fantasy. But it is a workable solution to the mess that is collegiate athletics. I realize my last post might have been a little confusing. Here, I'll try to dive deeper into the issue and provide an answer rather than more questions.

I mentioned that USC has been sanctioned by the NCAA. Fine. A slap on the wrist. Here is the current scenario for the Trojans: they vacate a few wins. Still doesn't erase the fact that they were dominant between 2004-2009. They lose a few scholarships. Fine, but this hurts future players that had nothing to do with Reggie Bush just as much as it sets the program back. As much as I disdain Kiffin, he doesn't deserve to suffer for crimes commited under Carroll. I understand the whole institutional accountability thing, but this type of punishment hurts some of the wrong people in the institution. They won't be able to go to bowls for a while. Let's say they are at BCS-level for the next couple of years (which they probably wouldn't be every year anyways, given the departure of Carroll, and the rise of the rest of the Pac-10), which means they lose some millions over the few years. Yeah, that hurts, but they'll recover.

Why is all that a slap on the wrist? Because when Bush played for USC, they WON. They won national titles. They won Heisman trophies. They can take that away from Bush, but you can't take back the memory. They sold jerseys. They recruited new athletes. They made millions off of Bush, and the money that they will lose from these sanctions is a pittance compared to what the school has made the last decade.

And why does USC do all this? Well, they obviously like to win. But that is only half of the answer. And that is a problem. Sports should be about winning, but as professional leagues and now, the NCAA, have shown us, there is a nasty "business" side. Officials at USC are concerned with winning because of the money they get, from ticket sales to TV revenue to merchandise. Also, winning increases the slice that USC (and the rest of the PAC 10) get from the NCAA, especially when proportionally compared to the take of other teams (like the Mountain West). The people involved in the business of college athletics want to win, but they want to make money more. It is telling that the highest paid coach in college basketball has never won anything (but has put two schools on probation).

So that's now out in the open. Money is a big part of college athletics. And for good or bad, it is there to stay. So what should we do about it? Make it equitable. Let me explain.

In my last post, I mentioned the current conference power-plays. They are based on Big-10 commissioner's revenue system utilizing a league television contract. This article by Dan Wetzel says it all: What the NCAA needs to do is to dump the broken conference system it has now and completely restructure college football. Right now, we have a bunch of independent conferences that get together for a busted BCS party at the end of the season. Let's cut the crap. This is the National Collegiate Athletics Association. And there is nothing "national" about what I just described. So how about this:

Keep the conferences. But standardize them. Make them the same size. Make them competitively balanced. No more Boise State, Utah, and TCU on the outside. But TCU in the Big 12. Put BSU and U of U in the Pac 10. Make all the conferences 12 teams. Stage a conference championship. Have a national TV contract. Negotiating as a the entirety of college football will force networks, bowl sponsors, everyone to cave into whatever the NCAA wants. The pie gets huge, and everyone wins. Then when bowl season comes, you have a national 16-team playoff and bowl games for the rest. Why do you think the bowl games make so much money and the schools see so little of it? They are bargaining with the BCS (aka old college chancellors against hardened business veterans) as a divided group. Think of what the NCAA could do with unity.

So that's the first part of it. Massive payoffs through better TV contracts, fans can see more national games (potentially, any national game). Now, what to do with the windfall? Simple. Split it evenly. Yup, you read that right. The biggest argument against splitting the money completely evenly is that the big-time schools that play the big time games earn a larger portion of the money deserve that money. And that is completely baloney. The big-time schools have to play someone. And it is so touching that they would stoop to beat (I mean lose to) small schools like Boise State. Thing is, this isn't professional sports where good teams deserve their money. This is college athletics which in part is federally sponsored. You know all those insolvent athletics programs? Who foots the bills for that?

Why would equitable sharing work? As Wetzel mentions in his article, the last major source of college sports revenue is football TV contracts. Every school would have more. Inequitable sharing would be like the federal government paying for better research facilities at USC than at Utah. It doesn't make any sense. Are we trying to make sure that smaller schools can never have productive athletic programs (yes)? Schools would of course be able to raise as much as they want through boosters and schools would still get stadium revenue from home games, but this would drastically even the field even while providing for the powerhouse programs. It's not like under these conditions Alabama or Texas or Florida are all gonna suck: good players will still want to play at high profile schools, except now they will be playing better competition, which is a win for everyone...except for those people in charge to whom the money currently flows.

This could work. It's simple and effective. It promises constant revenue without the need to cheat for money. And if a school does cheat? Cut its portion of the check. Simple as that. USC? You're portion of the football pie has been halved for the next 3 years. How 'bout them apples? But I digress. This is what makes sense, and is what college sports needs. You make the call.

Reflections on the NCAA and USC

The NCAA hit USC hard today. But regardless of the severity of the punishment, they are still treating symptoms of the problem. In their report, the NCAA cited USC for a "lack of institutional control," meaning that such things had a history of repeating themselves at USC. This is why the penalty (10 scholarships lost per year until 2013, vacating wins, and probation from bowls) is so harsh. But we are seeing the effects of a lack of institutional control that spans the entirety of college athletics.

It is naive to assume that a business (yes, it is a business) that generates hundreds of millions in yearly revenue would not be influenced by money. It is hard to measure the individual financial impact that athletes make on the sport and for their school, but for a high-profile player like Reggie Bush, it must be significant. Recruiting is a cutthroat business. I am by no means advocating schools cheat to get players. But when millions are on the line, it is impossible not to play dirty.

We are seeing the effects of dirty play now. Conference realignments? Just a power-grab for more money. The BCS? Glorified entitlement for the already-rich. Money is the problem (with Bush, it was improper benefits, including free rent for him and his family), and until money becomes the solution, there will continue to be such scandals.

Too much of NCAA revenue goes to outsiders (aka, the BCS). Too much is spread to inequitably. If the NCAA wants to continue to use the "National Collegiate" moniker, it must represent its member schools equally, and make sure that the money is spread evenly. This is not professional sports. The Trojans aren't the Yankees. Sure, for some players, college athletics are only pit stops to more glorified destinations, but for the vast majority, sports are a way to build character, leadership, physical strength, and all those virtues that the NCAA extols in its student-athlete ads. Sure, teams compete to win. But they should play on a level playing field, even on monetary terms.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog 5

The crowd is going bonkers for Robin Soderling. He has 2 match points on serve now. First serve just outside down the middle, then Federer sends the second serve long for the match! The world number one has been defeated!

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog 4

Federer is hitting with some ferocity now. It is notched 4-4 in the fourth set with the Fed down 2-1, and he cannot give an opening here. Problem is, Soderling is matching his intensity and Fed is making some unforced errors, especially on the backhand side. I think that Robin really has an advantage there. And Soderling breaks! An ace makes it a little more difficult, but Soderling is shooting the exact right spots. You can still tell the rallies Fed will win, but for some reason, some rallies get to the point where it looks like Roger is lost and he doesn't really have a plan with what to do with the rest of the rally. Soderling to serve for the match!

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog 3

Soderling held, but Federer is playing more in the court, and he has the advantage here. He is dropping Soderling and moving to the net when he can. Then again, Soderling is still going for (and hitting) lines, just had an inside-out forehand to Fed's backhand line, then another forehand pass that hit a line. Neither player is blinking right now. Oh! Just had a great rally exchange for Soderling to prevent break point, and then the hold. Fed tried to drop Sod, he chased it down and played some great net defense.

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog 2

I think Fed is having trouble with Soderling's first serve. I think it's moving in ways that he doesn't expect. For a lot of big service points, Soderling likes going down the line, and Fed seems like he's able to get there, but is unable to stick out his racquet and poke it back like usual. Then, when Robin goes cross-court, he just looks flabbergasted sometimes. Interesting. Notched at 3-2 Federe with Soderling about to hold serve in the 3rd set. Man, Robin just hit a nice line for a winner.

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog

After a shaky first set without many winners, Sod is really attacking Federer, especially on serve. You can see it in the way he moves into the court on each rally. He is not afraid to punish Federer, especially with the inside-out forehand to Fed's backhand side. Heck, even Robin's backhand is working winners at this point. I think that too many players have the mentality that Federer can create something out of nothing, so if you move into the court and hit a great shot, he can all-too-often create something, and then place you out of position. But I think this is the way that you beat Fed: sure he'll get his breaks, but you have to put pressure on him. There was a rally a few minutes ago where Soderling had Fed retreating on that backhand slice, and kept pounding it, creating insane angles, until Fed could no longer hit it back. Great tennis.