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Archive for Omnibus

Mar. 17, 2017 — Where’s the accountability?

Yesterday afternoon, Steve Penny tendered his resignation as the president of USA Gymnastics.

The resignation came after months of investigative reports on the part of the Indianapolis Star, focusing on lax policies that allowed a team doctor named Larry Naser to have access to hundreds of young women in his job with USA Gymnastics as well as with Michigan State University.

The numbers, as reported by the Indy Star, are staggering.

But the ramifications could be even greater.

Just look at what happened this week in the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. If you remember, the first drips of the scandal occurred in November 2011, when charges were leveled against PSU athletic director Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, the school’s senior vice president for finance and business. Curley and Schultz, just this week, took a plea deal for their part in the scandal. And next Monday, the president of Penn State, Graham Spanier, is to go on trial for his part in the abuse.

Penn State, in the intervening 5 1/2 years, undergone a lot of fraught changes. Football coach Joe Paterno was made to resign, and died only a few months later. A statue of him was removed from the area around the football stadium. Some 112 coaching wins were stripped, then reinstated just two years ago.

I have a feeling that the affairs surrounding Larry Naser are only beginning. The gymnastics are just a sideshow; what did people at his other employers — Twistars, the City of Holt., Mich., and MSU’s athletic department — know, and when did they know it?

This is a powerful question, one which we’ll be following with some interest.

 

Mar. 16, 2017 — A third front in an inequality war

The United States Olympic Committee, and, by proxy, national governing bodies of sport, are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis when it comes to gender equity.

There’s been a silent war raged on social media when it comes to men’s field hockey, but the figures bandied about are pretty much spot on. While the women’s national team enjoys a budget of some $2.5 million, men’s field hockey receives a total budget of less than $350,000. Granted, the number of men’s members of USA Field Hockey and participant figures are dwarfed by their female counterparts, but a team of 11 is still a team 11, no matter how the team is assembled.

Since the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the disparity between men’s and women’s pay by U.S. Soccer has been revealed, and it’s just as dire a situation for the successful U.S. women. The women make only $15,000 for getting selected to a World Cup roster, while the men are awarded $50,000. For each game, the U.S. women make less than $2,000 per game if they win, while the U.S. men are paid a minimum of $5,000, win or lose.

Now, the women who represent the United States in women’s ice hockey are close to their own version of the nuclear option. Citing a stipend as low as $6,000 for making the Olympic roster, as well as the $3.5 million for a young men’s national team development program (there is nothing for young women) the U.S. women’s national hockey team said yesterday that it was considering sitting out the IIHF World Championship this year. And given the fact that tournament is being held in the United States, a strike would be of particular embarrassment to USA Hockey.

In a desperate move, USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean hit back in the media, indicating that the national governing body might hire replacement players.

That might open its own can of worms, especially if the replacement team does reasonably well. It might be an example of how the two-year-old National Women’s Hockey League stands as a player development tool, one which receives some support from USA Hockey.

But the embarrassment of having the host team strike for a living wage? I think it’s a bridge too far, and requires negotiations. Post haste.

 

 

 

 

 

Mar. 12, 2017 — How a major player in television is seemingly ready to dump sports

You may not have heard of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, but it is the second-largest owner of local television stations in the country, with stations from Fresno to Washington,D.C.

It also owns Tennis Channel, the Ring of Honor wrestling promotion, and a concern called the American Sports Network. ASN, for the last three years, has broadcast a hodgepodge of athletic competitions including Ivy League and small-college basketball and hockey, Conference USA football, Major League Soccer, and today’s broadcast of Army-Mercer women’s lacrosse.

Yet despite this burgeoning collection of sports properties backed by a public company, it was announced that the plug is going to be pulled on ASN at the end of this month. Reports say that Campus Insiders, a digital news and streaming network focusing on college sports, will take on the labor and the risk of broadcasting most of what was on ASN’s docket.

Which brings up the question: what went wrong?

ASN’s business model, much like Sinclair’s, is that of a “roll-up,” where a holding company buys a number of smaller properties in the same industry, hoping to build economies of scale to make the distribution of television content cheaper over time.

But as what happens at many roll-ups over time, such as MCI-WorldCom and U.S. Office Products, debt accrues or the projected revenue simply is not there. American Sports Network typlically didn’t pay rights fees in order to get programming, spending its money only on the production of the games and securing ad backing from sponsors.

We don’t have exact figures as to how much a 30-second commercial on an ASN sports broadcast is worth, but the fact that ASN is shutting down tells us that it wasn’t enough to remain in business.

It’s a shame, because the network is following in the footsteps of One Sports Network and the World Championship Sports Network as broadcasters aspiring to a wide focus on many different athletic pursuits, but which went out of business.

Mar. 10, 2017 — Might the USA Gymnastics scandal have a nuclear option?

This afternoon, the governing board of USA Gymnastics is meeting to determine whether they should demand the resignation of Steve Penny, the president of the national governing body of the sport.

At the same time, however, there is now pressure from the United States Olympic Committee and from defendants in multiple lawsuits in the matter of former team doctor Larry Nasser. Indeed, John Manly, a lawyer representing some 70 plaintiffs against Nasser, yesterday called on the USOC to decertify USA Gymnastics.

That is, to strip the current organization of the power to organize the sport and its various competitions in this country.

This “nuclear option” has been threatened before in the current reign of USOC chairman Scott Blackmun. It was used to compel USA Track & Field to shrink or get rid of some of its committees and bureaurcracy a few years ago.

But for the USOC to go after a sport which has a pretty high profile and success rate on the international level? This is, to me, unheard of.

And it should leave other national governing bodies looking over their shoulders. After all, gymnastics is not the only sport heavily marketed towards young females whose lone aspiration is to be in an Olympics, and they and their parents don’t see the fact that there is little to no international competition for them after their careers are over.

I am, frankly, surprised that there hasn’t been more of an attempt by USA Gymnastics and its sponsors to create a professional circuit for artistic or rhythmic gymnastics.

Which makes you wonder where all the money is going.

Mar. 7, 2017 — Result, or de-sult?

The U.S. women’s national soccer team does not play any match of significance until late 2018, when the team has to qualify for the next Women’s World Cup.

As such, a lot can happen in the years since a World Cup, even an event such as a dominating triumph by the United States against a good Japanese team.

But in this evening’s She Believes Cup, the Americans are showing that there is about to be a top-to-bottom rebuild of the side.

And this is above and beyond what’s already happened:

  1. Retirements. A lot of marquee names have retired since the end of the 2015 Women’s World Cup — Boxx, Rampone, Wambach. Decisions are going to have to be made on a few more before the cycle is complete.
  2. Enormous changes in the feeder system. When Lindsey Horan was being considered for a 2015 World Cup roster spot, it was impressed upon her that she needed to be playing in the U.S. domestic league instead of the club she signed with out of high school, Paris-St. Germain. But now a lot of European clubs are poaching American talent, diminishing the profile of the National Women’s Soccer League.
  3. Defense. Last World Cup, the story of the U.S. team was the defense. Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, and Meghan Klingenberg in front of Hope Solo were absolute stalwarts in front of goal. But with the U.S. going to a three-back, the extra space was exposed (and how!) by the French team tonight.
  4. It’s a young woman’s game. The U.S. women’s national team has been at its best when it has gotten young and fearless players into the side. Think of a 19-year-old Mia Hamm at the 1991 World Cup. Or the teenage prodigy Mallory Pugh last year. At a World Cup or at an Olympics, there is no substitute for the speed that young players can bring to a national team.

So, where does this wounded U.S. side go from here? I think the future is extremely uncertain, given the fact that major stars have abandoned the American domestic league (albeit some of these agreements are temporary), and that there is still every thought that the players could go on strike for better pay.

Problem is, they’re now looking up at France — winners of the 2017 She Believes Cup and, as it happens, host of the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Mar. 4, 2017 — Chaos on the ice

While the U.S. women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams are going to be playing in some major world tournaments this summer, another U.S. women’s national team of note is less than a month out from hosting this year’s world championship.

The sport is ice hockey, and the United States has customarily done well at the world-level competitions, winning seven IIHF World Championships since 2005, although they have not won gold at the Olympics since the debut of the sport in Nagano in 1998, the U.S. team has always been a team which has been athletic, prepared, organized, and well-coached.

Which makes one wonder about the current coaching situation within the team.Ken Klee, who has coached the team to the last two IIHF World Championships, is no longer with the team, according to numerous sources.

The coaching position for the U.S. women’s ice hockey team has gotten to a point where players often don’t know who their coach is going to be from event to event, a policy put in place by women’s hockey GM Reagan Carey.

Problem is, when you are in the midst of your domestic season (the NWHL Isobel Cup Finals and the NCAA Final Four are in two weeks), there aren’t a lot of opportunities to recruit a successful head coach, and it’s mind-boggling that Carey has let this situation get to this point.

Mar. 2, 2017 — Chasing dollars, making little sense

In the next week or so, the Big Ten will choose its champions in both men’s and women’s basketball.

On the men’s side, the biggest story could be the fact that Northwestern can clinch its first NCAA Division I tournament berth if they go deep enough in its conference tournament, which is being held in Washington, D.C.

On the women’s side, the biggest story is the University of Maryland, which is a Top Five team looking to earn a top-four seed if it can win the conference tournament being played in Indianapolis.

Sounds like the tournaments should be reversed, no?

But that’s the new normal when it comes to college superconferences.

The upheaval in college sports conferences the last several years means that rivalries which may have had more of a regional flavor have been jettisoned in the chase for lucrative football and men’s basketball dollars. It also means that you have to pretend that a game between Texas and West Virginia has the same kind of rivalry implications as, say, Syracuse vs. Miami.

But we all know that the real rivalries are between Pittsburgh and West Virginia, or Maryland vs. Virginia or Syracuse vs. St. John’s. Only there’s no guarantees these teams will meet over the course of a season.

And instead of listening to their fans and alumni/ae, the schools instead are looking for the next big payday.

And that’s a shame.