War on Nonrevenue Sports returns: USOC gearing up

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun isn’t going to give up on Olympic sports in colleges without a fight. He sees the threat of budget cuts and reallocations as athletics departments start paying more for its football and basketball players.

There are so many things that we can do. What we need to do is get together and decide what is our top priority, what are our top three priorities. We have identified a donor who’s willing to support us, subject to us collectively — and by that I mean the athletic directors and the USOC — finding a program that we think is really going to move the needle. … We need to preserve these Olympic sport programs.

College campuses are ideal training grounds for Olympians. They have the facilities, and athletes can live, train and study in one spot. We’ll see if these sports can hang on.

A couple of reports: USA TODAY, Louisville Courier-Journal.

And the previous dispatches from the War on Nonrevenue Sports:

More to come. I hope not, but probably.

College sports 2020: A plausible fantasy

Jan. 6, 2020 …

Alabama defeated Montana 35-34 tonight to win its third straight NCAA football championship.

The Crimson Tide’s experience in big games proved to be the difference against Montana, which made the NCAA playoffs for the first time after winning the Western Football League championship.

But the Grizzlies earned plenty of respect for the second-year WFL with their performance. The WFL was founded in 2017 after the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences stopped organizing football competition.

The championship pairing showed how much has changed since Northwestern University football players won the right to organize as a labor group in 2014. The cost of football became too much for many colleges. Alabama and the SEC continued, with some programs taking direct help from state legislatures willing to do whatever it took to keep beloved traditions alive.

Football and basketball, though, are the only men’s sports the SEC schools play in the wake of a court ruling that all money spent meeting new labor regulations for football players would be considered in all future Title IX proceedings. Georgia now has 22 women’s sports programs, adding teams in synchronized swimming, team handball and roller hockey in an effort to balance the ledger between men’s and women’s teams in proportion to the student body.

At other schools, many of whom were already losing money on football before the Northwestern ruling, the former nonrevenue sports have struggled to take center stage. Notre Dame’s soccer teams moved into the otherwise vacant Notre Dame stadium, never managing to fill more than half of the cavernous structure.

Fearful of other labor movements and a possible downswing in alumni interest, many athletic departments continued wholesale cuts in their sports programs. Only 14 schools competed in Division I wrestling last season.

Many schools attempted to continue in other Division I sports while fielding a Division III football team. The NCAA refused to allow this move for reasons that are still unclear.

Meanwhile, Montana and a handful of other colleges saw an opportunity to make a name for themselves as the rest of the college football structure collapsed. They invested heavily in football, cutting all other men’s sports, even basketball.

The NCAA’s response to the crisis was hindered by its inability to find a new president. The job was offered to Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, but he was critically injured laughing at the news.

College sports: End “shamateurism” but don’t pay players

Jay Bilas, with whom I’m proud to share an alma mater, stirred things up recently when he exposed the NCAA for selling shirts with athletes’ names on them. Bilas is a thoughtful guy, not a rash flamethrower, so his interview with Richard Deitsch is worth a read. He distinguishes between bad policy and bad people.

Key quote:

This is about NCAA policy, and a small part of the larger, overall point that the NCAA’s policy on amateurism is unjustifiable in this multi-billion dollar commercial enterprise of college sports.

He’s right, but that shouldn’t lead us into “pay the players” territory. Here’s why:

1. College athletes already get something substantial out of their playing careers. Here’s another Dukie, Seth Davis:

Davis took some criticism on Twitter, but he also heard from someone who pointed out that college loans are crippling a lot of people these days. Athletes have a little less to worry about on that front.

2. Most college sports programs aren’t profitable.

Granted, colleges sell a lot of merchandise on the backs of their sports teams. Merchandise isn’t always easy in accounting terms. When I buy a Georgia sweatshirt, the football team plays a big role in my purchase, but so does the fact that my father was on the faculty there for 40 years. When I buy an MIT shirt for my kids, a smaller percentage of that purchase reflects my admiration that so many smart kids at the school participate in sports. (It was 20 percent until a few cuts were made a few years ago. Cal Tech, by the way, is on probation. Seriously. And yes, it doesn’t make the NCAA look good.)

3. Nonrevenue sports shouldn’t just be collateral damage as colleges ramp up spending wars in football.

I have another idea, and it’s related to what I’ve discussed in the past on getting the NCAA to drop the ridiculous regulations and focus on actual cheating.

Let players make and keep outside money.

EA Sports wants to use current player likenesses in their games? Fine. Pay them. (Obviously, they should also pay former players like Ed O’Bannon, whose lawsuit should have settled long ago.)

Someone wants to pay Johnny Manziel $1,000 to sign autographs? Fine. Let him keep it.

Katie Ledecky breaks a world record and is eligible for bonus money? Are you kidding me? What organization in its right mind would say she’s not eligible for it? (As Philip Hersh points out, swimmers who have turned down the money and gone to college have had better careers, which just adds fuel to the question of why people have to choose.)

The NCAA, for its part, says the following:

The NCAA membership has adopted amateurism rules to ensure the students’ priority remains on obtaining a quality educational experience and that all of student-athletes are competing equitably.

But how does “amateurism,” defined by NCAA practice as not making a dime off one’s rare talents, achieve either of the underlined goals?

If Katie Ledecky takes her world record bonus, does that mean she won’t study hard? Will swimmers who otherwise would have been able to keep up with a world record-holder somehow be disadvantaged if the record-holder collected her money?

The point we can’t stress enough: That money isn’t coming from a college that’s trying to recruit Ledecky. No college is gaining an unfair advantage.

And if she’s a student in good standing, who is the NCAA to say she’s not receiving a “quality educational experience”? My “priority” my senior year wasn’t the handful of classes I needed to graduate — it was the newspaper. I saw Seth Davis in the office a good bit as well. That’s how we got employed after graduation.

I’ll repeat from posts past: The NCAA’s enforcers should be concerned with two things:

1. Making sure schools aren’t paying players.

2. Making sure players are students in good standing.

And that’s it.

Woly Award: Double-distance hurdler rules NCAAs

Stanford’s Kori Carter set an NCAA record in the women’s 400-meter hurdles (video) with a time of 53.21, also the fastest in the world this year. By a large margin. The second-best time of the year was set six days earlier on the same track in Eugene, Ore., by the Czech Republic’s Zuzana Hejnova — 53.70.

That alone would put Carter in consideration for the Woly Award, given to the top U.S. Olympic sports athlete of the week.

But Carter had competition from Clemson’s Brianna Rollins, who also set a meet record and world leader in the 100 hurdles at 12.39.

What set Carter apart? Check out who finished second in the 100 hurdles. That’s right — Kori Carter.

That’s 18 points of Stanford’s 33 points in the NCAA meet, and it’s enough to give Carter the Woly Award for the week.

Meet Carter at FloTrack, where she talks a bit about her 400-meter performance and the audacity of running both events.

Other top performances from the NCAA meet:

Women’s 100: English Gardner, Oregon, 10.96, third fastest runner in 2013.

Men’s 400: Bryshon Nellum, USC, 44.73, fourth in 2013.

Women’s 400: Ashley Spencer, Illinois, 50.28, fifth in 2013.

Then at the Golden Gala in Rome, the latest Diamond League stop:

Men’s 100 hurdles: Justin Gatlin (9.94) beat Usain Bolt (9.95). Yes, THAT Usain Bolt.

Men’s 400 hurdles: Johnny Dutch (48.31) held off Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson (48.36) and now owns the top two times of 2013.

Women’s long jump: Another good duel between Brittney Reese (6.99) and Janay Deloach Soukup (6.97).

Also in track and field, last week’s Woly winner, Mary Cain, … stop me if you’re heard this before … broke a U.S. high school track and field record, this time in the 5,000 meters. Time is 15:45.46. That’s three high school outdoor records this spring.

And the other nominees this week:

WATER POLO: Betsey Armstrong made eight important saves as the U.S. women clinched bronze at the World League Super Final.

TENNIS: Serena Williams and the Bryan brothers won French Open titles. Not enough room here to talk about their career accomplishments.

The rest of the Oly week is at TeamUSA.org as always.

Sports to watch this week:

– Archery, World Cup
– Beach volleyball, Grand Slam
– Volleyball, World League, Tulsa
– Water polo, men’s World League Super Final
– Track and field, Diamond League ExxonMobil Bislett Games, Oslo
– Mountain bike, World Cup
– Judo, Grand Prix Miami

NCAAmageddon and the numbers

The NCAA has released updated numbers on how much money is being flushed down the pipes at your local athletic department, and Sports Law Blog relates it to the sure-to-be-landmark O’Bannon vs. NCAA case.

I think O’Bannon has a case that shouldn’t hinge on such things. The initial argument was whether O’Bannon was entitled to money from his likeness being used in a video game. You’d think a judge could simply say yes, giving athletes a small but substantial victory.

But no, as this SI piece says, a judge instead interpreted “profiting off likeness” to include televised games. I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that if they win, TV news broadcasts would suddenly be responsible for paying everyone who appears on camera. Welcome back to the age of radio.

Perhaps common sense will prevail, and everyone will make a deal allowing athletes to be paid if their images are being used to sell video games and T-shirts. Or not.

In the meantime, the NCAA numbers once again feed all sorts of arguments, particularly Title IX.

Duke, Lance Thomas and the NCAA’s “strict liability”

Could Mike Krzyzewski’s program get the same scrutiny as John Calipari’s? Dan Wetzel asks this question at Yahoo.

From the headline and the first few paragraphs, you might think it’s simply a question of whether the sanctimonious NCAA will look the other way when a case involves a much-touted model program like Duke. But Wetzel isn’t one of these knee-jerk Duke-bashers waiting to see Coach K and company get their come-uppance. (Disclaimer, in case you don’t know: I have two degrees from Duke.) He raises much more difficult questions.

First, shouldn’t athletes have a little more freedom to cash in on the money and prestige they’re bringing to their schools? That’s a big one addressed only in passing here, and Wetzel focuses on the next one:

Second, is the NCAA’s “strict liability” policy simply overkill?

That question is usually raised in more sympathetic circumstances. A 17-year-old kid gets stranded without a ride or without dinner money, a booster gives him a ride or a hamburger, and voila — the school’s in trouble.

Thomas, at least as portrayed in this lawsuit, isn’t a kid stuck without a ride. The suit says he had money for a lot of jewelry and insinuated he could pay the rest. (Bear in mind: I don’t recall people talking up Thomas, a good college role player, as a sure-fire NBA prospect.)

This isn’t the first time Duke has been in this situation. Corey Maggette had a much more damaging case against him — taking money directly from the wonderfully named AAU hoops coach Myron Piggie. That money would theoretically make Maggette ineligible. And so people often ask: Why are other schools punished for “strict liability” while Duke isn’t?

Wetzel, again, didn’t write his column to snipe at Duke. He doesn’t think Duke knew about Thomas’ jewelry or gained any competitive advantage from it:

It’s unlikely Krzyzewski knew about this purchase. Smart money says Thomas hid the jewelry from any member of the Duke staff. Right now Coach K is probably furious and mortified. There is very little benefit to having a starting forward blanketing himself in jewelry and winding up embroiled in a lawsuit. The diamonds didn’t draw Thomas to Duke. They didn’t maintain his academic eligibility. They didn’t make him stronger or faster.

And the same is likely true for the Maggette-Piggie case. But it was likely true for Memphis and John Calipari when it had results stripped away because of a recruit’s test scores were fishy.

Wetzel thinks the Thomas case may be enough to more people question the mighty NCAA:

The NCAA can’t ignore this because it’s Duke, but if it’s Duke that loses its national title over a jewelry-store loan, of all things, how can the NCAA continue to ignore that its entire busted rulebook?

I’m a little more skeptical just because I’m used to seeing people gloat over my alma mater’s problems — to my knowledge, there’s no book called “Memphis Sucks” — but I can also imagine Dick Vitale screaming for years if Duke loses its 2010 title over this case.

Here’s the underlying problem: The NCAA can only punish athletes while they’re still playing in college. If the NCAA knew Maggette had taken money from Piggie before he finished his one year at Duke, Maggette wouldn’t have finished out the season.

Instead, the NCAA goes after the institution. Even if the institution had nothing to do with it.

Let’s toss out a solution and see if any lawyers can speak up:

Suppose the NCAA and all its colleges included a clause in scholarship offers stating that any misrepresentation of their “amateur” status would result in a forfeiture of their scholarship money plus fines.

So in that case, the NCAA would tell Maggette to pay up. And Maggette, who has carved out a long NBA career racking up big stats for bad teams, would need to send a check. Thomas’ jewelry would be a matter between him and the jewelry store.

And let Duke, Memphis or every other school worry about the normal business of college sports — practicing only during prescribed periods, meticulously counting the text messages they send recruits, that sort of thing.

The Atlantic, the NCAA and the wrong discussion

By now, you’ve probably seen at least three of your friends Tweet or share The Atlantic’s sprawling expose, The Shame of College Sports.

My question: Was anyone else disappointed? Is anyone else worried that the wrong issues are emphasized?

A lot of effort went into reporting this story, and it touches on several issues that rarely see the light of day. The NCAA comes across as a petty organization, consumed with power, that aims to destroy the careers of anyone who dares to question nonsensical rules. The cases are shocking and should be fodder for follow-up discussion.

But reporter Taylor Branch digresses from this damning expose to pontificate about amateurism and offer simplistic solutions for paying players. And in doing so, he doesn’t address the fact that most schools with football programs actually are NOT making money on sports, and many of them are losing money on football alone. See for yourself. And it doesn’t help that the bowl system is a gravy train for all the wrong people.

So most schools’ athletic departments are accomplishing two things. First, they’re enhancing the prestige of the school, giving students more reason to attend and alumni more reason to donate. My alma mater’s rise to national prominence came partly through a slow-moving movement to enhance and advertise its academic stature, but the 1986 Final Four team of Dawkins, Bilas, Alarie and company turned that slow growth into an outright boom.

Second, they’re fulfilling that Greek ideal of developing mind and body. Or, more simply, offering students activities through which they can be well-rounded. A swim team is like an orchestra — it won’t generate much direct revenue, but it’s a part of the school’s student life. And the occasional rare talent may go on to make a living at it.

So before we can call football players slaves — a suggestion Branch dismisses and then uses anyway — we have to bear in mind a couple of things. The money from jersey sales (as an aside: I was told in my college days that schools couldn’t sell jerseys that *named* a player — is that no longer true) does more than fill coaches’ and administrators’ pockets. And while those coaches may be overpaid, their work enhances a player’s earning ability down the road. If they’re excelling on a college playing field so much so that they’re selling merchandise by the ton, they’re likely in that 1-2 percent of people who’ll reap pro benefits down the road.

All that said, Ed O’Bannon’s suit is interesting. Once a player has completed college eligibility, shouldn’t he be allowed to trade his fame for modest fortune? Perhaps so.

And paying college players, frankly, would be less of an issue if other people paid them. What is the harm to the game if Lauren Cheney takes her bonus money from winning the 2008 Olympics and returns to the UCLA soccer team? If a collegiate golfer wins the U.S. Open, what’s the point of returning the money?

Sponsorships are trickier. If Nike and adidas start sponsoring college players, the divide between “Nike schools” and “adidas schools” will just get wider. But if the school doesn’t gain a recruiting edge from, say, a basketball player endorsing Starbucks, then why not allow it?

Those are the real issues of “shamateurism.” The NCAA is full of counterproductive rules, and woe be to the college tutor or student-athlete who questions them. Might be nice to see a follow-up that focuses more on that aspect and less on questions of slavery.

Expand the NCAA Tournament AND make the regular season interesting?

Yes, it’s rare that SportsMyriad will delve into sports that already covered ad absurdium elsewhere, but being a fan of international sports tends to give you a perverse interest in how to organize leagues and tournaments. Should MLS be a single table? How much tradition would the Premier League wreck with a 37th game overseas? Is the Page playoff system the greatest playoff innovation ever? (Answers: Yes, a lot, and absolutely.)

So with the NCAA pushing a 96-team basketball tournament to national consternation, it’s hard to ignore the controversy without putting in a totally different idea.

And here it is …

Keep the tournament proper at 64 teams. Have play-in games that vary in number each year. The reason that number will vary: The play-in games will be for regular-season conference champions who didn’t win their conference tournaments and didn’t earn at -large bids.

This year, we had six such teams — Stony Brook (America East), Jacksonville (Atlantic Sun, which had a four-way tie), Weber State (Big Sky), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Kent State (MAC), Jackson State (SWAC). That would give the tournament three play-in games for a total of 67 teams.

The advantages are:

1. The regular season would mean something in every conference. As it stands now, in a lot of leagues, the conference games are meaningless. Any team in a weak conference has to make a big statement in non-conference games early in the season to have a shot at an at-large bid. When that doesn’t happen, the conference record means squat. Make the regular season a race for an NCAA bid, and it’s a bit more interesting.

2. The conference tournament would still be meaningful. Notice that no conference champion would play in the play-in games. So a regular-season champion still has incentive in the conference tournament.

Expanding to 96, mostly through at-large bids for the major conferences, accomplishes none of this.

And the NIT, now joined by the CBI and CIT, can be interesting. A North Carolina-Dayton NIT final is much better than a dreary matchup of ninth-place major conference teams for the right to be whacked in the “second round” by a top seed. The three non-NCAA tournaments do what football bowl games are supposed to do — create good matchups and a nice postseason treat for many schools.

Next week: How to fix the Champions League. What? That’s not broken?