Friday, October 22, 2010

Potpourri: (For the love of) Money

“I know money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people.
Give me a nickel; brother can you spare a dime;
Money can drive some people out of their minds.”
Making an oblique reference to the O’Jays is always a great way to start a post (and just remembering the coolest opening to ANY song ever).
Paying to play
No one should be shocked or surprised any more when a story emerges about some agent funneling cash, cars or anything to a college athlete in the past. It happened too often, at too many schools, into many sports, under too many different circumstances, for all the wrong reasons, but without the proper resolution.
Fortunately, no Michigan athlete has been fingered in these so-called “confessions of the soul,” made to various media outlets. Former Spartan quarterback Tony Banks was among those “outed” in the Sports Illustrated article two weeks ago, but he was just part of a laundry list of clients to this particular agent.
I won’t begin to claim that Michigan is a lily-white, squeaky clean athletic program because, in modern times, it would be foolish to stand by such a statement. I would HOPE all Wolverine coaches abide by the rules (notwithstanding the current NCAA investigation in the violations of rules governing practice – to quote Allen Iverson “We’re talking about PRACTICE!”) and that all U-M athletes live within the letter of the NCAA law during their time in Ann Arbor.
But if it is ever revealed that they didn’t, I wouldn’t be shocked … not particularly upset. The sacrifices made by the modern day student-athlete, asked (actually the proper word to use is “required”) to excel in BOTH areas by the university and NCAA, are almost too heavy to bear.
Consider what happens in college football – the biggest examples of such infractions and disparities. You sign a national letter of intent to attend and play football for a particular university; you must alter your class schedule, study times and social life to accommodate daily practices and film sessions. You must perform to the utmost of your ability before thousands of screaming critics (also known as fans) each Saturday, enduring pain and punishment for your troubles.
On the next day, you get up and start the weekly process all over again from mid-August until late November or early December (or possibly until January), and even more practice in the spring.
For this, you receive a scholarship which pays for your tuition, book and board – but nothing else. If it involves an in-state student, the package is worth around $100,000 for four years – an average of $25,000 (or slightly above a 40-hour weekly salary at $10 an hour). It’s not THAT much in reality.
The university, for its part, gets to make hundreds of thousands of dollars each week (in the case of the Michigan football program, more than a million dollars worth of revenue per game) from attendance, parking, concession and merchandize … all because of your talent and that of others like you.
The university gets to use your presumed success to recruit other players and solicit donations from eager alumni, waving those pennants (minus the raccoon coats of yesteryear) and high-dollar checks. The athletic department takes all that revenue and spreads it among other “non-revenue” sports and athletes to enhance its image as an athletic powerhouse.
Here’s what you, as the athlete, cannot have – anything else. You cannot accept a bowl of chili from a coach at his home, you cannot accept airline tickets from a coach when you need to fly home to see your sick mother but don’t have the scratch to do so and can’t make long-distance calls from that coach’s office to check on her.
Allegedly, you are not allow special “privileges” not afforded to the “regular” students, even though any of the “little people” can do a thousands of things deemed ineligible to you. A chemistry major can damn well accept the keys to a new car from anyone they wish and a political science major (are there such people anymore?) can dash off to Aspen or Hawaii with any person on campus or in his/her life. Wanna buy a pre-med student a five-course meal? They’d love it but you cannot.
The list of unfair practices against NCAA athletes goes on and on. In order to maintain some unreasonable level of “purity,” the NCAA is only encouraging rule breaking by student-athletes and agents (and/or coaches) over the simple desire to have some money to enjoy a normal life. A change must come forward.
My proposal would be simple – a living expense stipend paid to each athletes on a monthly or weekly basis, monitored by the university’s finance department as a “savings” account. The amount would have to be honest and accurate – the costs of meals, clothing, transportation, recreation and other things that comprise the COMPLETE student experience. Other NCAA rules MUST be re-written to reflect some honesty in the system; that acceptance of small things like a home-cooked dinner at a coach’s home is NO different than a student being invited to a professor’s house for the same damn thing.
If you want the potential corrupting influence of money being shuffled from agent to athlete, then remove the incentive – take away the temptation by providing enough of the taste to keep a student-athlete from him (or her) from jumping off the deep end and infecting ALL of college athletics.
Playing Alabama in 2012
The scheduling of a season-opening contest against Alabama still puzzles me. I continue to wonder why new athletic director David Brandon would place this kind of marquee pressure on the U-M program and agreeing to do it so FAR away from home.
A home-and-home series I can understand – Texas and Ohio State had a two-year quickie like that a few years back and when I was in school, Michigan played UCLA on the same short series basis – in Ann Arbor and in the Los Angeles Coliseum. But without formalizing any Big 10-11-12 schedule (with Nebraska coming aboard starting that season), and still WANTING to play Notre Dame (or so Brandon says), why in the world would you slap that kind of anvil on the neck of your football coach, staff and players?
It ain’t about money because The Big House in Ann Arbor STILL dwarfs the Jerry Jones-owned-and-operated Death Star (Little Barn) by 20,000 seats or more. And neither Texas A&M nor Arkansas, or Texas Tech or anyone collegiate program, has YET to sell that place out. I also cannot imagine that Jones is sacrificing any revenue with his $25 parking fees or concessions … or anything (the man is in it strictly for the moo-lah). Revenue-wise, it would be smarter to do home-and-home with ‘Bama (either in Tuscaloosa or Birmingham) and agree for the schools to keep all home revenue. The contest will be nationally televised, regardless of where or when – so that’s not a factor.
The game, theoretically, will be played around Labor Day weekend – not exactly the best fit into people’s schedules. This agreement locks out almost the entire Michigan student body – either because of cost-factor or scheduling conflicts (unless a three-day holiday is declared on campus for anyone late to classes on Monday or Tuesday because the exact date has NOT been established; it could be a Monday night or Sunday night affair).
Transportation-wise, it’s a terrible place to go, unless you have 3-4 HOURS to kill. Add a possible traffic conflict with the baseball Texas Rangers (whose stadium is right next door to the Death Star) ... and you see what I mean. Actually, for those who do NOT live in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, you DON’T know what I mean because you’ve hardly seen the kind of traffic mess that takes place around this dual-stadium complex (oh yeah, I forgot to mention the third neighbor in the complex – Six Flags Over Texas, which will STILL be operational around Labor Day weekend).
So tell me again – why in the world would Michigan agree to come 1,400 miles for less money, without student support, to play such a difficult opponent, in the first week of the season?
Please, to quote the Beatles, “Tell me why…”
Money, money, money.

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