Category Archives: post-mandatory-amateurism planning

Instead of prosecuting bartenders in speakeasies, let’s repeal prohibition

NY

The federal government alleges that Chuck Person, Emanuel Richardson, Lamont Evans, and Tony Bland abused their positions as assistant coaches at Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State, and USC, respectively. The Justice Department and FBI charge that these coaches were bribed by sports agents and financial advisors to steer talented players their way. These same federal authorities are also charging that James Gatto paid out six-figure sums to players on behalf of Adidas to secure their commitments to programs (e.g., Louisville, reportedly) affiliated with the shoe brand.

I’m not building any parade floats in honor of any of the above alleged activities, particularly as those activities relate to an alleged willingness to prey on young men so guileless or trusting or both that they would sign up a financial advisor without even Googling the guy. But I also don’t particularly need to see my state actor visit its displeasure upon these actions through the draconian and imprecise medium of its punitive machinery. Above all, I would much prefer to free up my state actor and its limited resources for any number of other far more pressing prosecutorial needs.

Because, speaking as longtime observer of the business of mass-spectator sports on college campuses, we’ve got this one. Trust me. We can fix it ourselves without wiretaps or indictments, though, paradoxically, your wiretaps and indictments may be just the jolt that was needed to do so. Continue reading

The political economy of college sports is infuriating, profitable, and remarkably resistant to asteroids

Paige

The viewership for this game was, comparatively speaking, terrible. Why didn’t that matter to advertisers? (USA Today)

This week USA Today followed in Kyle Whelliston’s venerable footsteps and termed college sports a “bubble” that’s sure to pop sooner or later. Something strange happened in between the piece’s inception and publication, however, because the final product turns out to consist of a labored and rather convoluted lede placed atop the latest iteration of what has long been an excellent and even invaluable set of data.

For starters the nominal news hook presented by the numbers — most athletic departments operate at what they are pleased to term deficits — would seem to be something of an awkward fit for our traditional stock of “bubble” iconography. Maybe it’s me, but I always assumed that tulip merchants in 1637, the South Sea Company in 1720, Webvan.com in 1999, and subprime lenders in 2006 instead showed astronomic operating surpluses. In fact I rather thought this was precisely the red flag in those cases.

Nor is it clear why a bubble would aptly describe a revenue model now entering its sixth decade of “Seriously! Any day now!” impending legal doom. Finally, fretting about those darned young people and their cord-cutting in a piece based in no small measure on a brand new TV deal whose lead signatory is a legacy broadcaster founded in 1927 qualifies as still another curious ratiocinative choice, surely.

Far from being an “unstable situation,” college sports in general, college basketball more especially, and the NCAA tournament in particular instead present a series of successively smaller and progressively more advantageously situated concentric circles characterized by an unusual degree of hardiness solely as media properties. There are variables in play, naturally, and it’s not too much to term the threat of legal exposure “existential” — with regard to the NCAA. I don’t know who or what will be governing the sport in 2032, and I do trust that by then the players will have long since been receiving their fair share of the resulting revenues.

But if we view the essentials of the tournament as nothing more or less than 68 college teams playing 67 games of win-or-go-home basketball over three weeks from mid-March to early April, I’m yet to see anything even remotely persuasive in the way of a Book of Revelation. The essentials are eyeballs and basketballs, and if a tournament that earned record-setting revenues for a decade before, during and after the largest economic calamity since the Great Depression constitutes a bubble, well, put me down as bullish on this particular bubble.  Continue reading

A selection at war with itself

spoiler

Every year a bracket comes out, and every year there’s plenty of yelling and screaming to the effect that this is the worst bracket in history and lovable mid-major X that just missed the cut has been traduced in a way no other team ever has been before. That’s what Sunday night and Monday morning are for. Then we promptly forget about the yelling and screaming and we savor the actual games.

The same sequence will play out in 2016, and that’s fine. In this brief, fleeting moment when there are no games, however, I want to hold on to this feeling of dissatisfaction for just a second and suggest that it’s the product of a selection process that’s undergoing an arduous and unavoidably public transition. If I’m right, many of the same bracket objections will be filed by we the people next year even if the committee doesn’t pull a Tulsa.

In effect the selection process is navigating three transitions at once. All three changes are difficult to navigate (or at least the NCAA’s making it look that way), and last night we saw the stormy petulance of an adolescent raging at its fate. Continue reading

Louisville, path dependence, and punditry

BMH

Billy Minardi Hall.

Last Friday Louisville announced that its investigation of its strippers-and-escorts scandal had led it to self-impose a postseason ban on the men’s basketball team for this season. This means Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, who transferred into the program this season as seniors and thus had no connection to the events described in Katina Powell’s book, will not play in an NCAA tournament where otherwise the Cardinals were most assuredly going to land a really nice seed.

I’m obviously late to this particular topical party (Mondays and Tuesdays are hectic around here), and, anyway, my first order of business is a simple amen. It really is awful that the postseason dreams of Lee and Lewis have been sacrificed on the altar of post-facto justice, and I dare say they’ve carried themselves far better than I would have at age 23. Please file what follows not under “Yes, but,” much less “On the contrary!” This is more of a “Yes, and,” exercise.

Once strippers and escorts were paid to be at Billy Minardi Hall, everything else — even any correct decision taken subsequently — was going to be a footnote
Louisville’s decision to forego the 2016 NCAA tournament has its fair share of critics in February, but back in October there was no lack of published speculation that the Cardinals would in fact do precisely what they’ve just done. What has changed over the last four months is nothing more complex or material than the fact that Rick Pitino has turned out to have a much better team than we thought he would have. This fact makes the postseason ban all the more painful for Lee and Lewis, surely, but, speaking now as a punditry, is this really how we wish to codify our theory of moral sentiments? That postseason bans are fine (hello, Missouri) as long as you’re not going to make the tournament anyway?
Continue reading

How Walter Byers built, fought, lost, and wrote

Byers in 1986. (AP: Cliff Schiappa)

Byers in 1986. (AP: Cliff Schiappa)

Longtime NCAA executive director Walter Byers passed away this week at the age of 93, and his New York Times obituary says that late in his career “he viewed the college sports landscape with increasing cynicism.” Granted I never spoke to the man — as near as I can tell no one did on the record after about 1997 — but I must say this strikes me as incorrect.

Anywhere that lawyers gather to contest the future form and very existence of the NCAA in 2015, there are two histories of college sports close at hand. (Literally.) Taylor Branch wrote one, of course, and Byers authored the other, in 1995.

Both histories were written in anger. Branch will tell you he’s angry that oligopolists are piously mouthing empty platitudes about amateurism while maintaining a cartel that allows them to profit off the sweat of young brows. Byers, conversely, wrote what on the surface is a far more conventional post-retirement jeremiad. At the age of 73 he yelled at a cloud, and did so at some length. Continue reading

I rushed to finish this judgment of our rush to judge a rush to judgment

When historically bad sports-transcending actions transpire in your program, your peer institutions may take note. That's unobjectionable, unless of course the peer institutions call themselves the NCAA.

When historically diabolical sports-transcending actions transpire in your program, your peer institutions may object. That’s unobjectionable — unless of course the peer institutions call themselves the NCAA.

If tomorrow it emerges that a staff member at a blue-chip college basketball program has for decades used his position of power and prominence to secretly carry out terrible criminal actions of unimaginable scope and magnitude, I will have no problem whatsoever with the other revenue-sports-playing universities in the vicinity collectively considering — at the conference or national level — whether some form of censure and redress, subordinate to and cognizant of criminal proceedings, might be appropriate.

Apparently I’m in the minority. Today the conventional wisdom is that those universities rushed to judgment in 2012 when they reacted to Jerry Sandusky’s crimes by fining Penn State, imposing a postseason ban, taking away some football scholarships, and vacating 14 years’ worth of Joe Paterno’s wins. Reasonable people can differ over whether that was the best blend of sanctions, but what’s being asserted now is the far more sweeping claim that any action at all undertaken by the universities was categorically unwarranted. That strikes me as a novel contention, to say the least.  Continue reading

Academic life after UNC

It appears some of these guys weren't subjected to particularly rigorous challenges in the classroom. It appears in some instances there was no classroom.

It appears some of these guys weren’t subjected to particularly rigorous academic challenges. What’s far more surprising, however, is that neither were some of their fellow students in the stands. (Grantland)

After reading Kenneth Wainstein’s report on the University of North Carolina’s academic misdeeds between 1993 and 2011, it occurred to me that if I were a graduate of UNC the really galling thing would be that my highly prestigious alma mater was so badly outperformed in this one respect by Auburn.

Eight years ago more or less the exact same transgression that has now been documented so thoroughly in Chapel Hill also came to light at Auburn. In both cases a faculty member was found to be offering an inordinately high number of “independent studies classes.” In both cases the grades that athletes received in their independent studies were far higher than their overall grade point averages. Continue reading