Our Old Friend, Texas AD Steve Patterson, is in Midseason Form

In a sit-down with Texas Monthly Magazine, Steve “Total Socialism” Patterson continues to distinguish himself as among the NCAA’s most incorrigible and scattershot defenders. As I’ve written before about NCAA President Dr. Mark Emmert, Patterson seems undeterred by the prospect of contradicting himself from one sentence to the next. This is the guy who, you’ll recall, denigrated as “total socialism” the suggestion that the wealthiest football schools should share more of their wealth, scoffing at the idea that programs that attract fans and TV dollars have an obligation to those that don’t. And this very same guy has insisted that it would be bad for America if players in the sports that draw those fans and TV dollars receive *any* added benefit in comparison with athletes in sports who don’t generate comparable revenue. In other words, when it comes to allocating spoils among *athletes* in the different sports, he’s all for ‘total socialism.’

Patterson was at the top of his game with Texas Monthly. For example, he first lamented the fact that:

“We have allowed ourselves to be trapped,” he says. “All of us, the NCAA, colleges, coaches, and athletics directors. We have done a very poor job of talking about what college athletics really is all about for the 99.5 percent of student-athletes who will never play professional sports. We have allowed ourselves to have a discussion about that half percent.”

OK, so when we talk about what makes college athletics such a benevolent enterprise, we shouldn’t be talking about the .5%.

Naturally, therefore, he then said this:

“I don’t think college athletes are the equivalent of minor-league football players,” he says. “They are students who wouldn’t get into the university but for the athletics and wouldn’t stay in the university but for the sports. If you look at them as a group, approximately eighty percent of them are the first in their families to go to college. In American colleges in general that group has about a fifteen percent graduation rate. With athletes, the rate jumps to between seventy-five and eighty percent. That is because of the resources the university puts toward helping them.”

Of course, if we are talking about *all* NCAA athletes, including the swimmers, the tennis players, the golfers, gymnasts, lacrosse players and so on, then Patterson’s assertions about first generation college students and graduation rates are simply not applicable. Athletes from those sports come largely from affluent families, are not first generation college students and graduate at very high rates (Patterson’s assertions about graduation rates even in his intended comparison group are misleading at best, and flat out wrong at worst). Patterson, as is the habit among NCAA deadenders, has shifted the goalposts. When it’s convenient to talk about the 99.5% when trying to downplay the importance of football and basketball to the whole model, he does so. But when it’s convenient to extoll the charitable nature of the enterprise, then it’s precisely the .5% that he focuses on.

And by the way, the 99.5% vs .5% paradigm is a joke for another obvious reason. Those sports I mentioned above – swimming, golf, gymnastics etc. – have little to nothing to do with whether Steve Patterson keeps his job. Everyone knows that. Including him.

It’s worth noting that Patterson’s characterization of the academic level of the football players also contradicts the party line among his peers. If you’ve heard Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick recently, or Bubba Cunningham or any other AD from a big-time collegiate sports school, you know what that line is: we only accept students who can do the work at the university. Education is the number one priority. Our student-athletes are, indeed, students first. By contrast, Patterson is saying as clearly as one can that these are academic charity cases. They’d simply have no place at the university but for their athletic ability. They are not students first. They are lucky we’ve admitted them to our august premises. They sure didn’t earn it on the merits.

Patterson does no better in trying to explain why the Vince Youngs and Johnny Manziels should receive *zero* dollars for the use of their names, images and likenesses:

“I am not saying they did not benefit the university. But you have to understand that both parties benefit. The university is largely creating the value. The athletes are trading on the value the universities have created. No corporations are going to be lining up to pay them money out of high school. They also get a huge benefit on the college stage by having such assets as strength coaches, nutritionists, psychological support, tutors, mentors, media training. All of that costs money. It is too easy for those in the sports press to say, ‘You are manipulating and using these kids. You are giving them nothing.’ We are not giving them nothing.”

By this logic, it’s hard to fathom how his football coach could be worth $5 million a year, or Patterson himself could be worth nearly $2 million a year. Indeed, coaching salaries make no sense at all if conversations about compensation begin with the premise that it’s the universities that create the value. Charlie Strong might be a terrific coach. But he cannot possibly be deemed responsible for the brand that is Texas football. And Steve Patterson sure as hell isn’t.

No one, by the way, is arguing that the players are receiving “nothing.” But what many critics, and now a federal judge, do argue is that the schools have conspired to fix compensation below its fair market price for college athletes in football and men’s basketball.

Patterson also made the ridiculous assertion that it would “almost certainly” be the case that rowers and soccer players and such would sue on equal pay grounds if football players received additional compensation. Yeah, because the rowing and volleyball coaches are suing the university right now because they’re not making as much as the football coach. And major league baseball players are constantly in court to claim that it’s illegal for some of their brethren to draw higher salaries than others.

Could Patterson himself really believe this nonsense?

There’s something wrong with American culture

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Arguably, there’s lots wrong. But what I have in mind at the moment is this: there is a steady stream of corpses and general brutality on American television. Indeed, rivers of blood, much of it spilt in quite gory fashion, suffuses our airwaves.

And yet, and pardon my french here, but we digitize a middle-fucking-finger?! (and of course, there was mass hysteria when we caught the briefest glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple.

Seriously, what is wrong with us?

That’s about as much Johnny Manziel commentary as I can muster at the moment.

As much as sports media have given themselves over to the almost non-stop worship of all things football, I get the feeling that even many of them cannot pretend to find compelling what has simply been dreadful, indeed unwatchable, preseason football. So, we end up talking – to repeat myself – about a fucking middle finger.

Yeesh.

 

Kareem on Ferguson (update below)

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer has a provocative piece in Time Magazine on Ferguson in broader context. It ranges from the killing of two students at Jackson State University in 1970 (an event that took place within days of the Kent State massacre but which received little media attention); to the payday loan industry; to the realities of middle class decline in America and to the ways in which race contributes to, but can distract from our understanding of power and and injustice:

With each of these shootings/chokehold deaths/stand-your-ground atrocities, police and the judicial system are seen as enforcers of an unjust status quo. Our anger rises, and riots demanding justice ensue. The news channels interview everyone and pundits assign blame.

Then what?

I’m not saying the protests in Ferguson aren’t justified—they are. In fact, we need more protests across the country. Where’s our Kent State? What will it take to mobilize 4 million students in peaceful protest? Because that’s what it will take to evoke actual change. The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

It’s an admirable essay.

To their credit, Grantland has a moving reflection by contributing writer Rembert Browne about his experience there last week.

I wrote something about Ferguson in broader context late last week, fyi.

I am curious as to whether we might hear from some active professional athletes, as was the case in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing.

Update: I missed this, but the Washington defensive backfield participated in the “hands up, don’t shoot” protest at the beginning of the Monday night game.

Useful Title IX primer

From the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Women’s sports are, contrary to much commentary, *not* the cause, in the typical case, of the elimination of men’s sports. That can be a convenient excuse for university administrators who are looking to cut budgets or axe a program popular with alums but that is bleeding the institution (like Boston University football in the 1990s).

College sports bigwigs are spending a lot of time these days warning that if football and men’s basketball players get to start sharing more fully in the revenue that their labor produces, it will have “Title IX” implications, because Title IX, they imply, requires exact parity in spending between men’s and women’s sports. This is false.  Instead, the government applies a three-pronged test that gives schools much more flexibility than Title-IX bashers typically acknowledge. As the WSF explains, there are significantly more male collegiate athletes than female ones and a substantial disparity in spending on men’s and women’s athletic scholarships (and that doesn’t account for the much wider gulfs between men’s and women’s sports when it comes to coaches’ salaries and facilities).

These are mainly just scare tactics. As Jay Bilas has said, schools will have choices. If they choose to cut women’s sports, it won’t be because they were forced to. They will simply have prioritized huge coaching salaries and palatial facilities over athletic opportunities in sports that don’t generate significant revenue. The changing legal landscape will, without question, force some institutions to think differently about how they allocate resources and opportunities. But Title IX isn’t shutting down any successful football program. And the richer-than-ever big-time sports machine can find the money, if they wish, for sports that don’t draw millions of TV viewers, but do achieve what the NCAA claims is its primary purpose – to provide great educational and life opportunities for its participants.

Read the whole primer (linked at the top).

Interesting quote from Forty Million Dollar Slaves

I am too busy doing other stuff today (classes start soon!), but I wanted to get this down for future discussion.

Forty Million Dollar Slaves is William Rhoden’s classic on black athletes. In another book, Game Day and God, about football as the south’s civic religion, author Eric Selbo quotes Rhoden:

“The integration of intercollegiate sports n the mid-1970s created an insatiable appetite for black athletes, which in turn triggered a strip-mining of black communities across the United States. Talented young black athletes and their families were wooed and pursued with the promise of scholarships and, often, material gifts…On the conveyor belt, young athletes quickly learn that easy passage through a white-controlled system is contingent upon ‘not rocking the boat,’ not being a ‘troublemaker,’ and making those in power feel comfortable with the athletes’ ‘blackness.'”

Lots to unpack there. I think there are better metaphors than ‘slavery’ for explaining the relationship of college athletes (black and white) to their institutions, as Richard Southall and I have explained. But the notion of ‘domestication’ that Rhoden evokes in the above quote seems especially relevant in light of recent events in Missouri.

Clutch Hitting

I am not going to get into the endless discussion about clutch hitting in general. Suffice it to say I buy the argument that it’s more or less a mythical beast. To clarify, what the sabermetricians mean when they say there is no such thing as clutch hitting is that it is not a repeatable skill. Of course, hitting successfully in the clutch is great. It’s just not something a team can control or count on. Some players and teams will excel in a given year in clutch situations. But for the most part, they will fall back to the mean the following year. In general, players (and teams) that hit well with runners in scoring position, are good players and good hitting teams, period. There are exceptions. But when a player or team significantly outperforms (or underperforms) his/its normal batting level in clutch situations, it’s probably just good (or bad) ‘ole luck. In other words, it’s not likely to continue indefinitely (yeah, yeah, Ortiz. I know).

Two nights ago, I was listening to John and Suzyn in the car during the Yanks’ dismal 11-3 loss to the O’s. Adam Jones had just doubled in a run with two outs, giving the Orioles a 5-3 lead at the time. John and Suzyn said, with evident exasperation, that that was exactly the kind of hit that the Yankees have not managed this year (true enough!). Suzyn then said, that’s what good teams do, they hit in the clutch. Again, insofar as hitting in the clutch helps you win games, Waldman is correct. But it’s not an approach, or a strategy, or a reflection mental fortitude or character. It’s either just an outgrowth of the team’s offensive level in general, or happenstance. For example, the two teams with the highest batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP) this year, according to this sortable Yahoo tool, are the Tigers and the Rockies. They’re also the two teams with the highest batting averages overall.

The Yankees’ triple slash with runners in scoring position is a pedestrian .250/.325/.356 and they are especially bad in terms of RISP slugging – only four teams slug worse in such situations. The key contextual point, though, is that the Bronx Ineffectual Projectiles’ overall offensive performance isn’t much better: .250/.313/.383. The batting average is the same and there is only a ten point difference in OPS. The Yankees do slug more meekly with RISP than they do normally (and the overall slugging is no great shakes). It is also true that the Yankees are hitting especially poorly with runners in scoring position and two outs – they’re batting .208 in those situations. But everyone does worse in those circumstances. Six teams are hitting below the Mendoza line in that category this season, including the first place Washington Nationals. And now we’re talking about small sample sizes with lots of volatility.

I am not picking on John and Suzyn here (who, in any event, are like the weather. You can complain – but that ain’t gonna change anything). And the Yankees are, indeed, incredibly frustrating to watch. But the real problem with the team isn’t the lack of clutch hitting – weak though it’s been. It’s that the Yankees just have a sucky offense.

(Matt Snyder, at CBS sports, has some well-placed rants about RISP, including here and here).

The Marxists Running College Athletics

I will get back onto something other than the NCAA, I promise. But since college athletics bigwigs keep saying ridiculous things, I feel compelled to document them. As I noted the other day, Texas AD Steve Patterson said last week that there was no need to embrace “total socialism.” The context for that remark was worry that the assertion of greater autonomy by the Power Five Conferences would result in ever greater disparities between the haves and have-nots in college sports. Patterson, who heads athletics at just about the most have-y university there is, naturally is unconcerned about such a gulf. After all, if your product thrives in the marketplace, why should you have to prop up companies whose products don’t?

Of course, none of the muckety-mucks who run big time varsity sports in America seems to think that logic extends to the players themselves. Those who play in sports that thrive in the marketplace should be no better remunerated than those who don’t. Bob Bowlsby, the Big-12 Commissioner, was explicit about this point when speaking on Mike and Mike yesterday and said, and I quote: “We can’t have an open marketplace.”

Lest you think that was just one errant statement, and not evidence that Bowlsby is a crazy commie socialist, Bowlsby recently, and astonishingly, took a page right out of the Marxian play book. Here’s what he had to say about why college basketball and football players should not be remunerated any more than other athletes:

“If you apply any form of the labor theory of value, that is to say the work that goes into something is determinant of the cost, football and basketball players don’t work any harder than any other athletes.”

To the delight of many, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi passed along a question that Jay Bilas wanted to pose (see the above link): does Bowlsby think he works harder than his secretary since, by his own labor theory standard, he probably shouldn’t be making around 60 times what his secretary does? (Bowlsby makes around $1.8 million a year). Bowlsby chuckled and then continued on the circular reasoning merry go-round that since the players aren’t employees he does, indeed, deserve more than his secretary (or something like that. His answer was mainly a non-sequitur).

In the same interview on Mike and Mike yesterday in which he warned against an “open marketplace,” Bowlsby was happy to run with Golic’s concern that paying profit sport players will result in the elimination of non-profit sports. Earlier yesterday, Bilas had explained to Golic quite clearly why that worry was a canard. If institutions want to eliminate those sports they will. But they don’t have to. As Bilas noted, Division II and III manage a full compliment of sports with a fraction of the resources of big-time sports universities. And they could make decisions about spending less on their coaches and facilities. But Golic regards that as an impossibility – that’s toothpaste that won’t go back in the tube, he repeated. So, naturally, if the people who are already getting rich off college sports are to be left alone, what choice does one have but to blame athletes pulling down $5,000 stipends for the denial of opportunity to other athletes?

Bowlsby, of course, felt that it was perfectly reasonable to pin the potential elimination of college sports like wrestling and gymnastics on players who receive some compensation for playing football and basketball. After all, his own $1.8 million salary is a birthright. And those gold-plated facilities? How are programs to compete with one another in a marketplace without them? A martketplace which, to reiterate, should exist for everyone who is already making a killing but not for the (primarily) less well-off athletes who power the industry.

Of course, Bowlsby, SEC Commish Mike Slive, Big Ten head Jim Delaney, Steve Patterson and their ilk aren’t really Marxists. They’re just self-serving. But they do fit in a long and venerable tradition in the United States – as tribunes of socialism for the rich, and free markets for the poor.