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Off on a Tangent

August 18, 2003 Columns No Comments

Off on a Tangent

by Dean Austin

I’m back from summer vacation as Hoopville Managing Editor Andrew Flynn watches his beloved Diamondbacks, known here in Northern California as the Eight-and-a-half Backs, plummet in the NL West standings. I had thought it difficult to envision a more surreal off-season and then yet there’s another curve ball.

Look, I’m not going to get into the whole Kobe mess in depth. Either Kobe is a cad at best or a beast at worst. Regardless of the outcome, what appears to be an emotionally fragile woman and marketable young man are going to have their lives ripped to shreds. The verdict will define a legal outcome but both will lose irrespective of the result.

It would be nice to think that after the horrendous coverage of the Patrick Dennehy case that some of the media had learnt their lesson but apparently not. If it’s possible this is going to be worst. Suffice to say that the media scrum around this one is going to make the OJ trial look like a stroll in the park.

I actually physically winced when I heard Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s comments concerning the impact of the case and the notoriety that it will bring to the NBA. Cuban as usual is 100% correct, this is a real life train wreck and people will watch a train wreck. However such brutal honesty, especially when the subject matter is alleged sexual assault, brings me to words of counsel that I heard from my Mother. “Some things, however true, are best left unsaid.” Predictably Commissioner David Stern reacted with outrage and it is reasonable to assume that Cuban will once more be fined for “comments detrimental to the league, especially because he had the temerity to voice what no one else would.”

I’ve been thinking what to write now for a couple of weeks. Ever since the worst fears were confirmed in the Patrick Dennehy case and the body of the Baylor basketball player was found outside of Waco. We in the media have a tendency to overuse and trivialize words. Disaster comes to mind. It isn’t a disaster when the starting point guard is ruled out with a stubbed toe, but don’t let a headline writer near that story. Another trivialized word is tragedy. Yet I’ll invoke it here. Ultimately the truth will come out but early indications are that this is a tragedy for everyone involved. A few moments of madness, characterized differently by the prosecution and defense I’m sure, have transformed the lives of everyone involved.

And I really mean everyone; relatives, friends, team mates, acquaintances and of course the victim and alleged killer.

The problem in writing or attempting to write a timely column can be events moving at a precipitous rate. Case in point is the Baylor basketball mess. The fallout at Baylor has only just begun. When I was pushing around some ideas for this column I started to say that I would be most surprised if Dave Bliss remained the coach when all is said and done. The allegations were flying thick and fast and have continued to do so. Having given my opinion on the ethics of the media in such mud slinging I was not about to be caught pilling on. However I will make an observation. It has become evident to me that there isn’t a single school in the nation who doesn’t have some kind of NCAA violation. I don’t care if you are Coach K, Roy Williams or Bobby Knight, all of whom run clean programs. If you dig deep enough and have enough of a witch hunt, someone will turn up something that breaks some obscure NCAA rule.

And quite simply put, there’s now a witch hunt at Baylor, or more accurately surrounding the basketball program and I’m afraid that Bliss leaving and the allegations of a cover up are just the beginning.

I believe it was Bill Self, the new coach at Kansas, who commented on this earlier in the summer. That minor violations are in many ways the proof that your compliance folks are doing their job, keeping track of things. The essential silliness that is the NCAA rulebook was never so evident than this earlier this month when Rick Majerus and the Utah program were cited for lack of institutional control because Majerus, who lives in a hotel, would buy the occasional burger for his players and have a meeting. That got the Utes three years probation and the loss of a scholarship. Apparently it wasn’t a stronger punishment because the players forgot to order fries. Could someone please cite the NCAA for lack of institutional common sense?

There is a solution to this. The concept of the student/athlete must be banished to the quaintness of the 20th century. The problem with any proposal, at least until now, is that it involves taking money away from the schools to give to the athletes. In the name of amateurism, although it is in my belief pure greed, the schools fight any proposal to pay the players. But what if a new source of money could be found, one that cannot currently be realized, but could if the players were being paid?

Ever play a video game such as Madden Football? The publisher, Electronic Arts pays a licensing fee to not only the NFL for the rights to the teams, logos etc. but also a separate license fee to the players association, NFLPA for the rights to use the players’ names. Now, play a game such as NCAA College Football, brilliant in its own right by the way, and there are no accurate player names.

Here is your source of additional revenue for college athletes. In each of the major college sports, the formation of a professional collegiate players association would allow appropriate negotiations. These associations would charge a licensing fee for not only gaming but also would allow the full exploitation of the player’s name and likeness by companies that wished to license the same. Revenue from such fees can be worth tens of thousands of dollars per player per year.

Is it perfect? Of course not. There are numerous kinks to work out, health and medical benefits, issues as they relate to nepotism at State institutions i.e. being allowed to coach your own kid. Would all revenue be shared equally between all Division 1 schools or by conferences? But it is a start. It is a point of discussion. For the first time that I know, here is a suggestion that does not take away revenue from the current college set up and instead looks for a new source of revenue.

And finally . . . Am I the only one really looking forward to some actual games being played?


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