Really dumb things college athletics officials say

I wasn’t there, but I have it on good authority that at a recent triangle area symposium on the future of college athletics, featuring the athletic directors of area schools, Duke’s AD Kevin White managed a doozy.

In a discussion of whether athletes should be paid beyond the current grant-in-aid, White said that if schools increased the grants the students received, then many of them would be less dependent on Pell Grants, the government program that provides need-based aid to low income students.

So far, so good, you might think. But not according to the esteemed AD of one of the country’s elite universities. According to White, this was a problem – I’m told he was quite indignant about this – because it would mean, in effect, that Duke would be subsidizing the federal government. To repeat, if the athletes under his charge were better compensated, they would be less dependent on a federal program for low-income students. And as far as Kevin White is concerned, that is a *bad* thing an unfair burden on Duke university.

By White’s logic, we can draw any number of conclusions. It is widely known that many Wal-Mart employees are dependent on government programs of various kinds, including Medicaid, because of the inadequate compensation they receive from Wal-Mart. If therefore, Wal-Mart were to increase its wages, making its employees less likely to draw government support, this would be wrong because – per White – it would be an effective subsidy by Wal-Mart to the government.

But we needn’t pick on Wal-Mart here. If Duke were to fire Kevin White, or any other employee tomorrow, they would likely be eligible for unemployment insurance. Duke would then no longer be on the hook for Kevin White’s well-being. Therefore, the fact that Duke is supporting Kevin White, rather than the government, means that Duke is effectively subsidizing the government. Indeed, any employer compensating its workers is doing that which, according to White, the government should be doing instead – supporting those workers.

This kind of nonsense is right out of the Mark Emmert playbook. Recall that, by Emmert’s own impeccable logic, any player suiting up for a school in a state that does not allow state workers to unionize would be a “scab,” were players to be allowed to unionize. That is because, apparently, Mark Emmert does not know what the definition of a “scab” is. Likewise, Emmert has argued that if college athletes are workers, then they would no longer be eligible for health insurance, only worker’s compensation. Because, you know, employees like Emmert himself don’t get health insurance as a condition of employment.

The degree of entitlement, insularity and self-righteousness among high-ranking college sports officials is bracing.  And it leads otherwise presumably intelligent men to say mind-numbingly stupid things.

Rice’s suspension (updates below)

The reaction to Ray Rice’s two-game suspension has been overwhelmingly negative. Critics are charging that Rice got off too lightly and that Commissioner Goodell, in only imposing a two-game punishment on Rice, missed an opportunity to send a much stronger message about domestic violence. Mark Schlereth has been particularly adamant this morning in arguing that Rice’s suspension is inadequate. Schlereth has been pointing out that the NFL has handed down much harsher penalties for far less serious acts. Bayless, Cowherd, Olbermann and Ian Fitzsimmons, among others, have also strongly condemned the NFL’s leniency.

Terrelle Pryor was suspended for the first five games of his rookie season in connection with NCAA violations because he traded Ohio State memorabilia for tattoos. Wade Wilson, an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, was suspended for five games for using HGH. Obviously, he wasn’t using it to enhance his performance as a coach. In fact, Wilson says he was taking it to help treat his type 2 diabetes.

The point is that the league imposes fines and suspensions for off-field conduct in order, in large measure, to impose standards of behavior that put the league in the best possible light in the eyes of the public. Suspending players for PEDs (whatever my personal feelings about that) fall into a different category, because those punishments are intended, in part, to police the nature of the on-field competition itself. But the league does, indeed, use the personal conduct policy to make statements about the kinds of off-field behavior it finds acceptable.

It may be true that Goodell avoided doling out a longer suspension to Rice because Rice would have appealed such a punishment. But it won’t do, as Jonathan Coachman has been insisting this morning, to argue that Goodell must have seen something in the video that caused him to lighten what otherwise would have been harsher discipline. In fact, Coachman doesn’t know that. He’s assuming it because two games sounds like a pretty piddly penalty. If Goodell thinks two games is adequate for punishment for assault, he should say so. Alternatively, if he thinks there were mitigating factors in this case, he should say so.

Otherwise, many people are going to conclude that, in the grand scheme of things, the NFL regards other kinds of transgressions as much more damaging to the league’s image than what Ray Rice appears to have done to his now wife.

Update: Stephen A. has stepped in it. In so doing, and for all the wrong reasons, he’s probably introduced a new meme-worthy phrase: “the elements of provocation.” Michelle Beadle responded on twitter with, for example, this:

“Violence isn’t the victim’s issue. It’s the abuser’s. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away.”

Check out her twitter feed for a sense of what she has had to put up with because of that eminently reasonable tweet.

Second Update: Olbermann’s in his element this week. As Olbermann points out, Rice’s actions and his punishment make a sick joke out of concerns that a guy who admits he’s gay might be a distraction significant enough that you wouldn’t want him on your football team. This is a world with a pretty warped set of values and concerns.

Odds and Ends

1) Jane McManus, at ESPNW, criticizes the NFL for its insufficient suspension of Ray Rice. The Ravens’ running back received a two-game punishment in connection with his assault earlier this year on his then fiance and now wife Janay Rice. McManus points out that the league metes out harsher punishments for almost everything else it considers worthy of discipline.


Two games. This comes in the same offseason when elite pass rusher Robert Mathis got four games for, according to him, using an unapproved fertility drug as he and his wife tried to get pregnant. Is the NFL saying that knocking out your fiancé is less problematic for the league than knocking up your wife without Roger Goodell’s sign-off?

The NFL is sending a strong message by issuing such a weak suspension: It’s about as meaningful as a yellow card in a soccer game.

McManus acknowledges that the league has taken some steps to address the problem with its players. But not enough.

2) some recent stadium shenanigans.

a) Neil DeMause reports that, back in February, University of Nevada Las Vegas  President Dan Snyder said he’d look for “creative” ways to finance a nearly one billion dollar football stadium. Now, deMause says, creative appears to mean taxpayer funded. Among the arguments proponents are making is the positive economic benefit such a project would bring.

As I’ve said before, there may be no single issue on which there is more consensus among economists than that the supposed benefits of tax-payer funded arenas and stadiums are basically hogwash.

b) as David Sirota reports, Detroit is vying for most demented priorities award. The already beleaguered city is now cutting water to tens of thousands of residents.

Meanwhile, writes Sirota:

Officials in the financially devastated city announced [Monday] that current and future municipal retirees had blessed a plan that will slash their pension benefits. On the same day, the billionaire owners of the Detroit Red Wings, the Ilitch family, unveiled details of an already approved taxpayer-financed stadium for the professional hockey team.

Many retirees now face a 4.5 percent cut in their previously negotiated cost-of-living adjustments, which is part of a larger plan to cut $7 billion of the city’s debt. At the same time, the public is on the hook for $283 million toward the new stadium after giving the Ilitches key parcels of land for $1.

In case you were wondering, Ilitch’s net worth is north of two billion dollars.

3) Today, Brandon McCarthy is making his third start for the Yankees. As I am writing this, he has a 1.53 ERA so far for the “bombers” (yes, quotations now necessary for that nickname). He won’t keep that up, of course, but he’s pitched very well so far for the Yanks. He’s no Cy Young, but he pitched well for the A’s in 2011 and 2012, is only 31 and has a strikeout to walk ratio of well better than 3 to 1 since the start of the 2011 campaign.

He got lit up in Arizona in the first half of this season, pitching to an ERA in excess of 5. This prompted the Dbacks to dump him for essentially nothing. McCarthy is calling to mind Jeff Weaver, only in reverse. In mid 2002, the Yankees traded for the then 25-year old righthander. I didn’t like the trade at the time and, though he pitched OK in the second half of 2002, he was absolutely pounded throughout 2003, after which the Yanks got rid of him.

In both cases, teams clearly put too much stock in the players’ most immediate recent performance. In 17 starts with the Tigers prior to the 2002 trade, Weaver managed a 3.18 ERA. Nowadays, that just sounds OK. But back then, that was an outstanding figure. Weaver’s lifetime ERA was 4.71 and in no other season in his career did he have an ERA below 4. In other words, he was in over his head. Indeed, his peripheral stats during that first half were not all that great – his strikeout to walk ratio was little better than two to one.  What made Weaver so good for that half season? He allowed only four homers in 121 innings, a total fluke completely at odds with his otherwise homer prone career. And Weaver also had an unusually low BABIP (Batting average on balls in play), a volatile stat that usually moves around quite a bit and typically involves factors beyond a pitchers’ control.

In other words, all the signs were there that Weaver was unlikely to keep pitching as well as he had between April and June of 2002. Granted, Weaver was young, was regarded as having a really good arm and it was easy enough for Yankee management to convince itself that he was emerging as the pitcher his potential had always suggested.

But this is really just another example of a very old truth – we have a tremendously difficult time ignoring what’s immediately in front of us, even if there is more than ample distal information to suggest that what we see at any given moment is not necessarily an accurate representation of reality.

McCarthy, as I said, is not a great pitcher. But man, has he been unlucky the past couple of years. He’s had fluky *high* BABIPs since the start of 2013 and was unusually homer prone from April to June with the Diamondbacks. Apparently, Arizona told McCarthy to junk his cutter and he says that was one cause of his troubles there. The Yanks have, by contrast, told him to knock himself out with the pitch and, so far, so good.

But to the extent that McCarthy pitches reasonably effectively for the Yanks, what we’re probably looking at is, in addition to that trusty old regression to the mean – that McCarthy “true” ability level was probably hiding in plain sight, just like Weaver’s was.

Political Correctness

Tony Dungy’s attempts yesterday at clarifying his earlier remarks about Michael Sam – especially since there is some question about whether he accurately characterized their timing – only deepened the sense that Dungy’s professed concern with “distraction” was really just a cover for a more basic prejudice.

Unsurprisingly, though, some are defending Dungy on the grounds that he’s entitled to his opinion (a fact no one is actually disputing) and that he’s a man of conviction being unfairly trampled by the forces of political correctness.

Dan Patrick, Dungy’s Football Night in America colleague on NBC, said this morning that while he disagreed with Dungy’s views on gay marriage, for instance, he admired the fact that Dungy takes strong stands. In this instance, that’s something of an odd tack to take, since Dungy has been quite indirect in this instance.

But on the larger issue of the laudatory nature of taking strong stands – that’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? I doubt very much whether Patrick would admire David Duke for taking strong stands on race relations, for example. I am not, to be clear, arguing that what Dungy has said about Michael Sam or gay marriage is the exact equivalent of the stuff that David Duke has spewed. I am, however, arguing that very few people actually praise strong stands for their own sake under all circumstances. Instead, what is typically going on is that the person praising the strong stand simply doesn’t find the position in question *that* objectionable. Yes, Dan Patrick supports gay rights. But Dungy’s views on gays, grounded as they are in the bible, are understandable to him strike Patrick as the valid views of a deeply religious man, even if he doesn’t agree. If Dungy were anti-Semitic and attributed those views in the bible, I doubt whether Patrick would admire Dungy for his intestinal fortitude.

This brings us to the larger subject of political correctness. Since the 1980s, PC has been used as an epithet – typically directed at those on the left – to signal that the guilty parties are trying to shut down legitimate debate and otherwise impose their beliefs on everyone else. Political  correctness poisons the commons by using the pretext of a joke or stray phrase to ensure that no meaningful dialogue about vitally important issues can take place. It squashes open debate, forces everyone to walk around on eggshells and generally makes us worse off as a society. Those are the premises implicit in invocations of the term.

Political correctness is, however, invoked highly selectively. When Dwight Howard and others athletes were pilloried last week for tweets that expressed sympathy with Palestinian rights, their critics were not generally accused of ‘political correctness.’ Instead, the term PC is typically deployed to defend those who’ve made comments that insult historically disadvantaged groups. In doing so, it attempts to flip prevailing realities of power on their head.

For example, last week, Kirk Minihane of WEEI/NESN called Erin Andrews a “gutless bitch.” The remark caused quite a bit of controversy. Today, on Dennis and Callahan, Minihane apologized for using the b-word, though he stood by all of his other comments and insults directed at Andrews. D and C clearly thought Minihane had nothing to apologize for and, naturally, lamented how the forces of “political correctness” had once again taken a simple “joke” and blown it up into a federal case. In doing so, they did what countless bigots have done – painted themselves as courageous soothsayers unfairly victimized by a culture blind to truth and only interested in making certain groups feel good about themselves.

It’s an audacious inversion of reality. There was nothing courageous about calling Andrews what Minihane did. Of course he can criticize her and her chops as a reporter. But it takes no guts to do what countless men have done to women from time immemorial – demean them merely for being women (that’s what it means to use gender specific language to insult women). Nor does it follow that draping yourself in the cloak of victim of political correctness makes you a hero. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a jackass is just a jackass.

Likewise, it doesn’t take courage for Tony Dungy to “take a stand” against a group of individuals that, historically, has been remorselessly historically demeaned and persecuted. It is true that there has been a significant cultural shift, so that there is now *some* price to pay for  expressing ideas that, directly or indirectly, cast aspersions on historically disfavored groups. But that new reality is not a reason to confuse ignorance with bravery.

Dungy (Update below)

At the risk of sounding pollyanna, the most noteworthy aspect of the aftermath of Tony Dungy’s comments Sunday about Michael Sam was the nearly universal criticism of them. For the reasons Olbermann’s enumerated last night, I think Dungy’s “distraction” argument is more or less BS. Apparently, so do the vast majority of columnists and others with media platforms.

In 2007, Dungy received an award from the Indiana Family Institute, an organization aligned with the odious James Dobson. The fact that he was to receive the award first surfaced during Super Bowl week, when Dungy was on the cusp of making history as the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. In March of that year, when Dungy spoke to the group and received the award, he said that he embraced the IFI’s opposition to gay marriage. The timing was interested because, in the previous couple of weeks, former NBA player John Amaechi said he was gay, touching off an intensive discussions about gay athletes. That series of events is most memorable because Tim Hardaway, Sr. said he hated gays and would not want to play with a gay teammate, a statement for which he was widely attacked. Hardaway, Sr. has had a well-documented change of heart in subsequent years.

In part because Dungy has attributed his feelings about gays to the bible, he’s tended to get a pass for what is, in the end of the day, simple bigotry. In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, I’ve been thinking lately about religious belief as a privileged form of consciousness. There has been a dramatic change between 2007 and today with respect to attitudes about gay rights and so on. But Dungy’s faith, much like Chris Broussard’s, has tended mitigate judgments about his views of gays  versus other kinds of anti-gay avowals.

In that light, here’s what I wrote in 2007 about Dungy vs. Hardaway:

“…it’s fascinating to ponder the differences in the reaction to Dungy’s position compared with Hardaway’s. One of Hardaway’s no-nos was that he said he “hated” gays. Additionally, Hardaway also failed to couch his arguments in religious terms. Hence, his anti-gay sentiments lacked the credibility that religiously based opposition to homosexuality still enjoys. But, is the difference in their positions really significant? One arguable point of difference is that Dungy can still say, and presumably believes, that one can “hate the sin and love the sinner.” Hardaway, though he has now repeatedly backed off his original comments, could not stand on similar ground. That difference aside, there’s little credible in Dungy’s sentiments. The notion that the IFI isn’t “anti anything” or trying to “downgrade anything” is obviously false on its face. It’s the very purpose of the anti gay marriage movement to downgrade or, more properly, to prevent from attaining equal status, same-sex marriage alongside opposite-sex marriage. That insistence on codifying the greater status of one over the other is the raison d’etre of the movement.

And, the contention that anti- gay marriage advocates are not anti gay is similarly unserious. Almost all cite the bible, as Dungy does here, to support their position. But, the bible, of course, does not condemn gay marriage specifically. It condemns homsexuality in toto as “abomination.” So, Dungy is simply being disingenuous to cite the bible as the authority for his position on gay marriage while insisting he’s not anti gay, when the bible’s specific prohibition is against homosexuality, not gay marriage per se.

Furthermore, the notion that the handful of biblical references to homosexuality amounts to a credible defense of a discriminatory public policy position in contemporary America is also deeply flawed. The bible prohibits many things, including: charging interest, dishonoring parents (penalty: death), having sex with a woman during menstruation (penalty: death), adultery (penalty: death) and allows other things (like slavery) that we find abhorrent and unacceptable. How it is that gay marriage has been raised to the position of the practice most needing condemnation and legal prohibition is unclear, because nowhere does the bible rank order condemned practices (For a good discussion of some of the problems in using the bible as a basis for contemporary public policy debates, go here).

Dungy’s entitled to his position, of course. But, I stand by what I have said about him previously: given the endless harping on character that is a staple of sports discourse, it’s frankly bizarre that someone can maintain such a clear and blatant prejudice without any questioning his character when, by contrast, Tim Hardaway was absolutely vilified for his remarks. To repeat, I understand that a distinction can be made. But, the fact is that Dungy has lined himself up with forces that do, in fact, preach hatred of gays and have promoted an issue that has the effect of further marginalizing and vilifying an already marginalized and vilified group.

I am inclined to think that Dungy is not acting with willful malice here. But, he’s fully responsible for his prejudice, whether or not he cites the bible to back him up. Slaveowners did the samething 150 years ago.”

Update: Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky is pissed by a debate on ESPN’s First Take this morning between Bayless and Stephen A. in which Stephen A. says Dungy’s comments ought not to be controversial at all. Petchesky finds objectionable ESPN’s legitimizing of bigotry by turning Dungy’s remarks into a debate about “distraction”:

a bullshit, mealy-mouthed, value-neutral word that allows homophobia to be treated with the same sterile gloves as other news items. You can shove a lot under the “distraction” umbrella—there, a gay player is no different than a player who beats his wife, or a player who speaks out on social causes, or a player who runs a dogfighting ring, or (40 years ago) a black player”

Among Stephen A’s arguments was that while it’s wrong that people are prejudiced against gays, gays don’t have the “right” to insist that people are comfortable with them.

You know what else people don’t have the “right” to? Being immune from criticism when people don’t like what you say. No one is suggesting that Tony Dungy suffer *any* legal harm because of his views about gays. But here’s the bottom line: Dungy has associated himself with noxious organizations propounding hateful views. As a result, he very much does not deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his views on this subject. Call it unfair. But it’s people’s right to remember the very clear “principles” he has avowed.

Facts on the ground

Just a quickie for now.

ESPN has published the results of a survey of high football recruits. It asked ESPN’s 2015 top 300 a range of questions. Over half responded.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority (seven out of eight) favor receiving a stipend for their efforts.

Sixty percent also answered yes to the question: “Should players be allowed to unionize?”

This is, it should be noted, a misleading question. As it stands (an appeal is pending), college football players are workers under American labor law. That is the result of the initial ruling, in March, by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board.

In other words, players *are* allowed to unionize. Whether they would *choose* to is a separate question. The distinction is important, though. Remember that the NCAA continues to insist that the athletes are students first, athletes second and, in no way employees. Unless the NLRB subsequently rules otherwise, the NCAA is simply wrong, when it comes to college football players. The premise of the question – unless the goal is to query the players’ opinions on American labor law – is that we’re still having a theoretical debate about whether college football players are workers.  But we’re not. It’s a legal question that, as of now, has been answered.

I know it’s just a quick and dirty survey of high school kids, but perhaps a better question would have been: “as of now, college football players are considered employees. As university employees, do you think you have a right to negotiate some of the conditions of your work?”

Disappearing Act

Bill Simmons’ piece this week about ‘Melo manages to dress up a simple argument in a lot of numbers and verbiage: Carmelo is a great player, even if not an all-time great, because he scores a lot. He’s been unlucky, says Simmons, in that he’s had relatively little help in his career.

Contrary to the naysayers, Simmons believes ‘Melo can be a top-dog on a championship team, were he to have the right pieces around him. Simmons contends that the 2011 Mavs, led by Dirk Nowitzki, provide an interesting potential model for how a Melo-led team could win an NBA title . Notable about Simmons’ analysis of that Mavs team is that he does not so much as mention Jason Kidd.

Here’s Simmons on the 2011 Mavs:

“The 2011 Mavericks won the title with a veteran team built around a spectacular coach (Rick Carlisle), an elite rim protector (Tyson Chandler), an elite perimeter defender (Shawn Marion), an elite heat-check guy (Jason Terry), quality 3-point shooting (39.4 percent and 184 made 3s in 21 playoff games), savvy team defense and one historically good scorer with crunch-time chops (Dirk Nowitzki). If you believe Carmelo can lead a championship team, you’re leaning heavily on that 2011 Mavs playbook — you’d need all the elements we just covered, and you’d need Carmelo to unleash a damned good Dirk impression.”

You’d never know Kidd so much as suited up for them. It’s kind of funny, especially in the context of what Melo needs to contend, since he just happened to be on a 54-win Knick team in 2013 that included Kidd. The 2013 Knicks and 2011 Mavs had something notable in common – Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd were, by far, the most productive players on both those teams. Indeed, for all the reading of entrails about why the Knicks were so much worse in 2014 than in 2013, it wasn’t that complicated – 1) they lost Kidd to the coaching ranks and 2) Chandler missed substantial playing time. Those two factors alone accounted for the bulk of their decline to 37 wins in 2014.

Kidd’s skill set is vastly undervalued by Simmons’ preferred metric for basketball production, PER. That’s because PER prizes shot-taking, whereas Kidd just did everything else well on a basketball court, including in 2011, when he produced the most wins on the team. OK, we can argue about player performance but, seriously, Jason Kidd doesn’t even rate a *mention* in a discussion of the 2011 Mavs? Don’t tell me this is a debate about intangibles, or making your teammates better, or any of that stuff. Kidd would rate super-high in such discussions.

This is a debate about whether shot-taking and point totals are the best way to evaluate players. Simmons reflects well conventional wisdom in NBA circles in this regard. Here’s wondering whether folks will start catching on to the fact that the Spurs, for instance, tend not to see the world that way. Suggestively, in that regard, the Spurs did not have a single player in the top 50 in field goal attempts in the NBA this season.