Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's time to end NCAA "Shamateurism"

I have been on record for years as wanting the NCAA to put an end to "shamateurism" and allow players to have a piece of the rather large pie their work creates. Arguments such as "the scholarship is enough" or "it will no longer be all about the students" are well-intended, but I don't agree with them.

First of all, while the opportunity to earn a degree at a major university is very good compensation for playing sports, the kids at least need to have a little bit of spending money. Enough to bring their parents in for a game or two would be nice, as would enough to go out once in awhile, or to even buy snacks for in between meals.

When compared to the millions of dollars that football and basketball bring in, the schollies aren't all that much. Remember that a kid spends 20 hours a week on his sport in season, plus studying and attending classes. And that kid's 20 hours a week is a lot more demanding than someone who is working 20 hours at Subway for a few extra bucks. Players deserve to be able to live a somewhat "normal" life when they aren't playing. They aren't allowed to hold a part-time job during the season, so they need to get money from somewhere.

The main drawback to paying players in revenue sports is Title IX. I'm not an expert on Title IX, but my understanding is that if they paid 85 male football players and 12 male basketball players, they would have to find a way to pay 97 female athletes who bring no revenue into the school to make things "equal" for the female, non-revenue producing athletes.

Also, paying players would turn the athletes into "employees" of their institutions, opening a Pandora's Box that nobody wants to open. So, players being paid by the schools would be too problematic, but the money doesn't have to come from the school. This brings me to my solution for giving players their "slice of the pie:"

Throw out 99 percent of the NCAA rulebook and let players take outside income from whoever they want.

This is so "full of win" for everyone involved that I can't believe it isn't being done already. The schools would win becuase they wouldn't have to worry about NCAA sanctions anymore, and because they would save money on not having an unwieldly compliance department. The players would win because they could finally have some of the money they deserve. The boosters would win because they could brag to their friends about how they pay the players. The NCAA office would win because a huge pain would suddenly disappear from their collective gluteal area.

Really, the only people who would lose here would be the myriad "compliance staffers" whose middle management jobs would no longer be neccessary. And most of them would be able to eventually find administrative jobs within athletic departments again if they really wanted to.

What would be great about this for all concerned is that the free market would determine who gets paid and how much. The schools wouldn't be responsible for paying the players, so there would be no employer/employee relationship, and no Title IX consequences.

There are those who would argue that teams would be able to "buy" players and that the rich would get richer. To them, I would only say one thing: open your eyes. The rich are already "richer" and the bigger programs already get the better players. If anything, this would allow smaller schools with rich alums, such as SMU, to become major players again without fear of NCAA penalties. For those who say it "wouldn't be about the students anymore," it really never has been "about the students," so the point would be moot.

As for the NCAA rulebook, it really only needs about one page. Wouldn't that be nice?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Dominos" fall at Michigan

Maybe those who feel that Rich Rodriguez's "last year" at the University of Michigan is already etched in stone are being a bit hasty. Apparently, David Brandon is cleaning house of those who, by accident or on purpose, have sabotaged RR's tenure at Michigan.

The first "Domino:" Lloyd Carr. While I respect Carr for his accomplishments at Michigan and will forever be indebted to him as a fan for the National Championship that he delivered, I still think that Carr has been active behind the scenes and has played a major part in the dissension within the University of Michigan Athletic Department.

When Bo took over for Bump Eliott, under similar circumstances as RR taking over for Carr, Bump was sure to let anyone who complained about Bo's housecleaning that "Bo is the coach now" and encouraged them to support him 100 percent. Bump basically didn't tolerate anything that undermined Bo's position, even though he had been encouraged to "retire" and Bo was his replacement.

Fast forward to 2007. Carr was "encouraged to retire" and replaced by RR. RR immediately did exactly what Bo did: he turned the atmosphere around the football team from "Barton Hills Country Club South" to "Fort RR." Sadly, though, Carr never really showed support for RR, preferring to say he "doesn't want to get involved."

However, "someone" in the Athletic Department leaked info to Freep columnist Micheal Rosenberg, resulting in an embarassing wrist-slap for the team and compromising RR's tenure as coach. Am I saying that Carr was the leak? No. But I'm not saying that he wasn't, either. What is obvious to me, though, is that Carr has never supported RR like Bo would have if he were still alive.

The second "Domino:" Brad Labadie. As any UM fan knows, it was Labadie's negligence, along with that of Scott Draper, that is directly responsible for most of the confusion over CARA and countable practice hours. In other words, if Labadie and Draper had done their jobs correctly, there would have been nothing to "leak" to the Freep.

Were Labadie and Draper part of a conspiracy to undermine RR's tenure at UM? Was Carr involved? I don't really know, but I definitely subscribe to the opinion that there is a faction in the Athletic Department that is working against the interests of the head football coach and therefore the program.

This has been covered in a "nuts and bolts" fashion by Brian at mgoblog:


And in a more conspiratorial fashion by "The Other Brian" at Genuinely Sarcastic:


I think the "retirements" of both Carr and Labadie were the direct result of pressure from David Brandon to not allow their personal hatred of RR to keep them from working fully in the interests of the program. Brandon's time as Domino's CEO, along with his time playing for Bo, have made him more than capable of managing shark-infested, corporate waters, and was perfect training for handling petty power struggles from underlings in the Athletic Department.

I think that Scott Draper may be the next "Domino" to fall; I also think that RR is going to be given the benefit of an Athletic Department that is all on the same page and is working with the best interests of the football program in mind.

Rodriguez deserves a chance to succeed or fail without being undermined by those who are supposed to help him accomplish his goals. Thankfully, it looks like he is finally going to get it, at least for one season. Hopefully, one season will be enough to show what he is capable of doing.

Tinfoil hat rating: five out of five. There is definitely something going on here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The "solution" to the "Korean Invasion?"

In the past, I have stated my opinion that the biggest hurdle facing the LPGA tour is the "Korean Invasion." Basically, the health of any tour in any country is usually dependent upon people from the host country winning "their share" of tournaments or games, whichever applies. In this case, the LPGA Tour is no different. Americans aren't winning enough and the leaderboards are dominated on a regular basis by Korean players.

To me, it all comes down to this: if the LPGA Tour is to even get back to being healthy and relevant in America, Americans are going to have to start winning on a regular basis again. In Men's golf, Tiger Woods has bailed the PGA tour out from the inability of US players to dominate their own tour. It is my belief that one of the main reasons Tiger Woods, even with his problems, still increases the US television ratings so much is because he is a US player. Sadly, though, the LPGA tour doesn't have anyone close to dominating as Tiger did.

Basically, the LPGA tour needs US women to win more, whether it is from one dominant player, such as Michelle Wie, or more likely Lexi Thompson in a few years, from improvement of multiple players, or from an influx of talented young players.

I have stated previously that I think the Korean golfers are outworking the US golfers, and it would be easy to stereotype American golfers as spoiled brats who would rather go to the mall than the practice range. This may be partially true, becuase economics currently seem to determine which juniors have more access to teaching, playing, and practice time. Rather than make a blanket indictment of American golfers, though, I would ask a question:

For every player like Paula Creamer, whose parents made a lot of sacrifices so that she could become the golfer she currently is, how many talented kids are there whose parents having no time or money left to sacrifice because they are too busy putting food on their table and a roof over their heads?

To me, the only way for the US to once again dominate its own tours, both male and female, is for a major overhaul of what currently serves as a "development program." At this point, the financial costs of developing a golfer are so steep that they automatically disqualify a large percentage of the population. Worse yet, that portion of the population is probably that which would be the most motivated to put in the work neccessary to become an elite player: those who would see golf as a way to break free of economic hardship. Tiger Woods is doing great work with his foundation, but it isn't enough.

I would propose that the USGA, PGA, and LPGA need to work together and make the identification and development of elite junior players its number one proirity for the health of the game in this country. I know that there are many programs out there, but there has to be a way to provide equipment, practice, and coaching for those who possess the potential to be the best of the best but lack the financial means to fulfill that potential.

Maybe, since those with country club memberships already have the means, it could be done in cooperation with the Public Links Golf Association, but something has to be done to give those who would outwork their competition if given the chance a chance to do just that.

There are a lot of very intelligent and capable people in golf who could make this happen. Sadly, though, it doesn't appear to be a priority. Instead, many would rather sit on their hands and do nothing but complain about the Koreans. Once again, we are all built from the same cloth. If people from one country can do it, people from any country can do it by using the same methodology. All it takes is resources, direction, and motivation. The US has the resources to help develop a greater number of talented and motivated players. The question is whether or not the US has the motivation to provide the direction.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What does Paula Creamer's victory mean? Not as much as I would like it to.

Yesterday, Paula Creamer finally transcended her status as one of the "best players to never win a major" by winning the US Open. If the TV commentators were correct, US players have now won ten of the last 41 majors, which comes out to a "batting average" of .244. Creamer's victory is seen by many as a Godsend for the tour right now, but the tour is still struggling. Until more US players can step up, the LPGA Tour will continue to struggle.

To be blunt, the LPGA's number one problem is the "Korean invasion." This is, after all, the US tour, and it is bad for the game in this country when US players can't win at least fifty percent of the events on their own tour. Ironically enough, two of the most charismatic US players who could become among the most iconic on the tour with a few wins have Asian blood: Michelle Wie and Christina Kim. So, it's not a matter of race, but a matter of players who speak English playing under the US flag.

Fair or not, as long as the leaderboard is dominated by people from another country, who don't speak the language and don't really try to promote the tour here, the LPGA will continue to struggle. Thanks to the old adage "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," I think the tour trying to schedule some Asian dates is a great idea. It can help the tour stay solvent awhile longer.

On a side note, when I put on my tinfoil hat, I can't help but wonder if there is a connection between the negotiations for Asian dates for the LPGA tour next season, the dearth of Asian names on the leaderboard after the third round, the softening/shortening of the course for Sunday's final round, and the subsequent subpar rounds on Sunday by a few Korean players. It may be coincidence, but I will give it three tinfoil hats out of five on my unofficial rating scale.

When the tinfoil hat comes back off, though, it seems to come down to an obvious but apparently taboo observation: the American LPGA players need to work as hard as Korean players do. Because, once you get around the cosmetic factors of a different language and a different facial structure, race doesn't matter, nor has it ever mattered. We're all equal on the inside and always have been.

The only difference between successful players and those who don't succeed is the amount of work they do on a daily basis. Koreans, as a culture, have apparently tapped into something Americans used to think they had copyrighted: work hard and succeed in the "Land of Opportunity." Sadly, Americans seem to take their "opportunity" for granted now, settling for a comfortable lifestyle, while those from other countries still percieve the US as the "Land of Opportunity."

Too many golfers nowadays remind me of a very famous golfer on the men's tour whose name I won't mention. He has won quite a few tournaments, a major or two, and had a couple of very good years. But he is seen as never having reached his potential. Those who know him from his hometown say that he prefers to practice one or two hours a day and make a very nice chunk of change on the tour. He is capable of winning majors and being in the top two or three in the world if he practices eight hours a day, but he would rather "have a life." In other words, he doesn't want to pay the price for the increment of improvement it takes to win majors and dominate the tour when he can make a great living having fun.

Sadly for the LPGA tour, it looks as though players in one country want to pay that price and players in most others don't. Until US players, starting on the junior level, work as hard as Korean players do, the leaderboards will continue to read like a Korean telephone book, with a few Japanese, European, and American names sprinkled in from time to time.

Sadly, though, for every Paula Creamer, Christie Kerr, or players with their work ethic, there are ten Americans out there who are failing to reach their full potential as players because they are being outworked. I guess it all comes down to this: Americans can bitch about the "Korean Invasion" all they want, but it is ultimately their fault for allowing themselves to be outworked.

In my next post, I will propose a solution for the US to help "us" get back on top.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bob Probert- did this have to happen?

Sadly, we are finding out that the rumor is true: Bob Probert is dead at 45. As a hockey fan, I always appreciated his rough-and-tumble playing style. He asked no quarter, gave no quarter, and always left it all on the ice. As an "enforcer," his job was to deliver hard checks and fight the opponent's "enforcer" on a regular basis. Red Wings fans cheered him on; in spite of his well-documented personal problems, he was still one of the most beloved players to ever don the Winged Wheel. His early death, though, begs a question:

Was Probert a victim of his own playing style and the expectations it brought?

Enforcers fight and deliver crushing body checks; it's what they are expected to do every time they go onto the ice. They are involved in many high-impact collisions every time they play a game. When one considers an average close to a hundred games a year counting playoffs over a period of ten or fifteen years, that is a lot of collisions and a lot of impact. It isn't much of a stretch that it would involve a lot of concussions. According to a CNN article from Jaunary 27, 2009:

"Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)."

CTE is routinely found in ex-NFL players, and the beginnings of it were even found in the brain of an 18-year-old who had suffered multiple concussions.

Chris Nowinski, an ex-WWE wrestler and founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, which researches head injuries, had to retire from one concussion after a kick to his chin connected with more force than intended or scripted. According to Nowinski:
"My world changed," said Nowinski. "I had depression. I had memory problems. My head hurt for five years."

On January 21, 2008, Science Daily stated:

"Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University have identified the neurological basis of depression in male athletes with persisting post-concussion symptoms."

In the case of Probert or any athlete, I believe that drug and/or alcohol abuse can result from "self-medication" of depression symptoms. While I am unable to find a study showing a causal relationship between depression and drug abuse, they have been found to occur together too many times for it to be mere coincidence.

Depression is often treated by SSRI's, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Those with clinical depression have been found to have low serotonin levels, and the drugs keep the body from breaking down its own serotonin, thus increasing the serotonin level. However, there are many substances that also increase serotonin, which would be a different way of "medicating" the problem. A few of those substances are alcohol, cocaine, and ecstasy. Marijuana hasn't been proven to directly increase serotonin, but researchers concede that it "may" do just that.

It isn't much of a leap to see that drugs are an effective way to unconsciously treat depression, whether or not it has been diagnosed. Unfortunately, we all know of their myriad "side effects." One in particular is that when one raises one's serotonin with recreational drugs, it tends to "crash" the next day. It is easy to see how addictive patterns can be formed in short periods of time for those with chronically low serotonin levels.

Probert's problems with drugs and alcohol were well-documented and kept him from moving freely across the US-Canada border on a regular basis. Between the drugs and a typical professional athlete's lifestyle, there was probably enough to ravage his body to a point where dying young was inevitable. But I also think that the repeated blows to the head had a lot to do with his addictions, his quality of life, and his ultimate death at 45.

I know many may see Probert as a victim of his own shortcomings, but I think he was much more a victim of his sport and how he played it. No matter what a tox screen or autopsy shows, I believe that it was chronic impact, both directly and indirectly, to the head that was the root of most of his problems.

I also believe that it is time to take research even further and to explore ways to make all sports safer for their combatants. I couldn't find any stats for NHL players, but NFL players now have a life expectancy of 52 years. It is usually blamed on their BMI, but it is beginning to appear that both NFL and NHL players are at least anecdotally more prone to Alzheimer's Disease and depression than the general population.

I think a lot more research needs to be done on athletes in contact sports, depression, CTE, and its relation to drug and alcohol abuse. Athletes live in a macho world, and are probably the last people who would ever "admit" that they have clinical depression. Active players are under peer pressure to play through injuries and illness, and a condition that is often percieved as "all in the head" would be seen as unmasculine by a players peers. I would imagine that athletes and ex-athletes percieve depression as a "bad mood" that needs to be "shaken off."

The culture needs to be modified so that a player can spot early signs of depression and CTE and get the proper care early enough to have a long life and a good quality of life. Drug and alcohol abuse, instead of being seen as a "lack of maturity" or a "lack of discipline," needs to be investigated as a possible early symptom of CTE and depression.

Nobody has any idea what an autopsy of Bob Probert will find, but I can't help but think that unless more research is done regarding athletes and chronic head trauma, his death will have been in vain no matter what the autopsy shows.

For those who want research, here are a couple of links to articles with more links:


And a link to the Sports Legacy institute:


Friday, July 2, 2010

A Modest Proposal

It' s really too bad for fans in this market, but Detroit is the last place most FA's would want to play in any sport but hockey. Maybe the people who want to obliterate part of the city have the right idea, after all.

I have a "modest proposal:"

Why don't they raze a sizeable percentage of Detroit, put a moat around it, and turn it into a zone for privileged athletes and others who are obscenely rich?" Athletes playing for Detroit's sports team could have their own private fiefdom, administrated as a de facto oligarchy, and Detroit may even become a "destination" for FA's. They could even have a groupie farm where only the genetically superior are allowed to procreate, and there could be a "downtown" similar to the Disney town of "Celebration," but only the "creme de la creme" would be allowed to enter.

That way, players wouldn't have to have untidy encounters with the people who ulitimately pay their wages: the fans, and they could further insulate themselves from reality. There could even be a strip club for "VIP's only," so that the Ben Rothlesbergers, Ray Lewises, and Vince Youngs of the world wouldn't have to be exposed to the "little people."

That way, everybody wins. Detroit gets elite FA's, and the FA's don't have to sully themselves by having encounters with the "common man."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tiger on the prowl again soon?

Finally, one of the most inevitable "events" in golf is going to happen soon: Tiger Woods' divorce. I am squarely in the camp of those who think his personal life is his own business, but I think this will have a great effect on Tiger professionally. The rumored financial settlement is about fifty percent more than I thought it would be, but it will be seen as a bargain ten years from now.

Tiger was an idiot for ever admitting his infidelity in the media. My immediate reaction to his announcement was that it would cost him at least $500 million because he had just made Elin's case a slam-dunk. Also, going into therapy to try and save a marriage that was already irreconcilibly broken was a terrible decision. His honesty is admirable, but it cost him a lot of money. I wonder if any of his critics would tell the truth if it stood to cost them a few hundred million dollars.

The main problem that I see with Tiger going into therapy is that he probably "cured" some of the borderline OCD that made him the best golfer on the planet in the first place. Nobody can be as driven as Tiger was without having what many would see as obsession bordering on disorder. Apparently, Tiger was sincere and thought he could actually save his marriage, and bought into the diagnosis of "sex addiction" that many thought appropriate for him.

So, Tiger did his twelve steps, many of which were on display in his interviews after he got out of therapy, and probably made himself a better human being. Unfortunately, it affected his ability to compete on the golf course and be the best golfer of all time. It is nice to see a "kinder, gentler Tiger" making a genuine effort to be a better person, but he is probably doing it at the expense of his game.

In golf, as in most sports, fans, writers, and participants use cliches such as "go for the jugular," "killer instinct," or "cutthroat." These are only metaphors, but they are indicitive of an attitude that is neccessary to win on an elite level. Elite athletes need to disassociate themselves from their true personas while in the arena of competition. It is not an accident that the cliche "nice guys finish last" has lasted so long. Luckily for Tiger, he didn't do rehab for himself; he did it because he thought he had a chance to save his marriage. Why do I see this as "lucky?" Because as soon as the ink is dry on the divorce settlement, the old Tiger will be back.

Soon, Tiger will be living his life for himself again. Some may see it as selfish, but the magnificent obsession that gave him a chance to compete for the label of "greatest golfer ever" will be back, without interference from Elin or any of the myriad doctors and psychologists who have tried to "fix" a person who wasn't broken in the first place. While I don't agree with what Tiger did, I'm not ready to put him in stocks and flog him for it, either. Tiger has a lot of fame, a lot of money, likes to get laid, and can pretty much have almost anyone he wants. I don't think most of his aforementioned critics could resist the temptation to take advantage of the situation like Tiger did.

Another facet of Tiger that has, so far, mostly been "covered" by comedians, is that when he becomes single, his lifestyle choices will make him a hero to many. It is no accident that on Bleacher Report, an article about the "20 hottest mistresses in sports" literally had a thousand times more readers than most sports articles.

Tiger Woods is poised to become what those who run the PGA tour secretly want but would never admit in a thousand years: a champion golfer with "street cred." To most men, other men who get laid whenever they want by beautiful women are viewed through a lens of admiration. If Tiger runs through a prolific string of photogenic "encounters," a majority of the male population will idolize him, at least while talking candidly to other men." And they will definitely buy whatever he is selling, from golf clubs to clothes to after shave, or even condoms if he were ever to show a truly absurd sense of humor.

Most importantly, though, Tiger will be free to be himself again. And a Tiger who is being himself will dominate the tour as much as he ever did. If Tiger's therapy and all of the fallout from his indiscretions changed him at all, it is because it made him want to, as the great Walter Hagen used to say, "stop and smell the roses." This will result in Tiger having more friends off the course, but allow him to keep his "killer instinct" on it.

That is the best of both worlds. And it will show on the leaderboard. Make no mistake about it: Tiger will be back soon. And he will be a hundred percent in control of his life, both personally and professionally. I am willing to bet that the public forgives him a lot quicker than they forgave Kobe.