Wednesday Links

1)Michael Hausfeld, the lead attorney in the O’Bannon litigation and an attorney in a class action lawsuit against UNC and the NCAA alleging educational “breach of contract,” wrote a letter that appeared in today’s Daily Tar Heel.  Hausfeld distills nicely the contradiction at the heart of the “collegiate model.” Quoting a portion of the letter:

On one hand, the NCAA contends, in filings before one court, that its principal mission is to maintain intercollegiate athletics as “an integral part of the educational program” and to promote the academic well-being of the athlete. The NCAA likewise insists that it is dedicated to the athletes’ educations first and foremost — that “at its heart, the NCAA is an education entity.” As recently reported, conference commissioners are “bemoaning a rule they say doesn’t fit the NCAA’s educational values” and object to students having the ability to transfer because the NCAA has “raised” them and “educated” them.
But then, before a different court, however, the NCAA claimed that it has no responsibility to safeguard “the academic integrity of the courses offered at its member institutions”. It further declared that it has no role in ensuring “the quality of the education student-athletes receive at member institutions or (in) protect(ing) student-athletes from the independent, voluntary acts of those institutions or their employees.” The NCAA emphasized that it is far “removed from students’ day-to-day academic experience.” Most emphatically, it contended it has no “direct relationship with student-athletes in the academic realm.”

We’ve seen it here and elsewhere – leaders of collegiate sports puffing themselves up as tribunes of academic integrity and the educational bona fides of the college sports enterprise until the moment it behooves them to deny that they know anything at all about their players’ academic performance.
2) Dave Berri has a good column in Vice on the state of the WNBA. Dave argues that, given how long the league has been in existence, it’s doing reasonably well. It has cultivated a loyal fan base, is working under a new television contract and, the woes of two franchises aside, attendance has grown steadily, if unspectacularly. One interesting dynamic Berri highlights is the divergent assessment of the league by WNBA commissioner Lauren Richie, on the one hand, and that of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, on the other. While Richie is pretty upbeat about the league’s progress, Silver has been doleful. Berri suggests that Silver’s view may be motivated in part by a desire to hold down the=a;ready the low wages paid to WNBA players:
Acknowledging the league’s popularity can impose costs on the league owners. Looking at other sports leagues, history suggests that the WNBA is doing just fine for a league approaching its 20th year. It also means that we shouldn’t be surprised if Silver continues to focus on the league’s problems, as many in his position have done before. To argue the league is doing quite well given its age might lead some to wonder why the WNBA players receive so little for their part in its success.
It’s a good general rule never to take at face value the expressed views of any of the grand poobahs of the billion-dollar sports enterprises in North America: the NFL, MLB, the NHL, the NBA or the NCAA.
3) The Senate has released a report on a Pentagon-funded program to pay sports franchises to stage pro-military displays at games. Arizona Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain spearheaded the investigation, which revealed that the Pentagon paid $9 million to stage events such as military-family reunions, mostly at NFL games. As Deadspin notes, nine mil is a drop in the bucket in the context of a $600 billion annual budget. The language of the report suggests that Flake and McCain were, apart from the inherent lack of transparency in these spectacles, disenchanted by the teams’ pretense to authentic patriotism when, in fact, they were engaged in “paid patriotism.”
The United States has, by far, the largest global military presence in the world. It has, as one scholar has termed it, “an empire of bases” and has pursued a path of more or less permanent war. The decision by sports franchises to embrace our war machine, paid or unpaid – and whether they do it in the guise of celebrating individual soldiers, the bottom line is an endorsement of American militarism broadly – is, of course, a fundamentally political one. If you believe in such things, knock yourself out. But let’s please, please refrain from misplaced conversations about whether sports are an appropriate political venue when athletes identify publicly with Black Lives Matter or Bob Costas takes a moment during a broadcast to question the epidemic of gun violence in America or Washington’s NFL team nickname.
That ship has sailed.

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