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Archive for Omnibus

March 22, 2019 — A change in the sporting fabric in the Western Hemisphere?

Four days ago, the union representing men’s and women’s professional soccer teams was able to forge an agreement with the Argentina Football Association to begin a level of professionalism with the nation’s women’s soccer teams.

Argentina, for all of its excellence on the men’s side, has been little more than an afterthought on the women’s side. The Albicelestes have only played in two World Cups thus far, in 2003 and 2007. Argentina is winless in six matches, scoring two goals and conceding 33.

The inequality gulf between men’s and women’s soccer in Argentina was laid bare two years ago when the women’s national team called a players’ strike when their $10 stipend went unpaid.

But now, players in the Argentina first division will be guaranteed a minimum salary of 15,000 Argentine pesos per month.

Taken by itself, this is part of a trend in world soccer where nations like France, Mexico, Germany, Spain, and England have started to professionalize women’s club sides, and have even gotten clubs like Paris, Lyon, America, Arsenal, and Barcelona to sponsor women’s teams.

But I also wonder what is going to happen 10, 20 years down the line when young girls are provided choices of sports to play. How many of them will chase down salaries in women’s soccer and forego the largely amateur world of club field hockey?

Argentina, mind you, has been the dominant force in women’s field hockey in the Pan American Hockey Federation since the mid-1980s, even though the population of the country is about 1/7th of the United States.

I think this changes once Argentina’s women’s population generates its first Messi, not its latest Aymar.

 

March 21, 2019 — 50-49, such a long time ago

Thirty years ago this week, the order of men’s college basketball was nearly turned upside down when a group of smart young men from Princeton University, led by a madcap head coach with well-traveled ideas and tactics, nearly upset Georgetown University in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

It was a result which cemented phrases like “Field of 64,” “bracket buster,” and “mid-major” in basketball phraseology forever. Today, the Division I men’s basketball tournament is one of the largest annual sports-betting events on the calendar, even as the product has been steadily enervated with the advent of the “one and done” player, or even 18-year-olds choosing to play professionally overseas or in the NBA’s G-League.

How much has changed in three decades? Last night, an Ivy League team beat Georgetown in basketball. But this was Harvard, and the tournament was the NIT.

And the basketball world didn’t bat an eyelash.

March 19, 2019 — A widening promotion

Yesterday, the group of leagues forming Minor League Baseball announced that it had gotten 72 of its teams — about a quarter of teams with a professional development agreement with a major league team — to go along with targeted marketing to Latinx peoples in the United States.

The Copa de la Diversion involves the rebranding of these 72 teams into Spanish-language names from Bradenton, Fla. to Eugene, Ore. Some are direct translations of their English monikers, such as the Kane County Cougars and the Trenton Thunder (or, in Spanish, El Trueno).

The uniforms and nicknames are colorful and could be slightly controversial. There’s the appropriation of imagery from Mexican culture, like the sugar skull, and there’s the outright rebranding of one team, the Lansing Lugnuts, as “The Crazies.”

I also find it interesting that two of the teams — the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and the Florida Fire Frogs — have adopted the Puerto Rican tree frog, the Coqui, as their mascots.

But, given the fact that you’re seeing an entire generation of young people not taking up baseball, especially Latinx kids taking up soccer, this is something that was bound to happen.

March 14, 2019 — And how many more?

You’ll notice that we led off yesterday’s blog entry with two seemingly isolated stories.

This is the one regarding admissions fraud at LSU, and this is the one at the University of Pennsylvania. Taken together with yesterday’s indictment of 50 administrators, coaches and parents, that’s enough to make you think there’s a problem.

But William Singer, the man behind the admissions fraud and broker between parents and universities, has admitted to 761 fraudulent admissions — 20 times what were documented in yesterday’s charging documents.

Now, that’s remarkable enough, the damage that one man has done to the higher education system in the United States.

The question is, how many other self-styled education brokers, go-betweens, and hangers on are there? And we’re not just talking about the cesspool of intercollegiate football and men’s basketball. We know that there are plenty of Sonny Vaccaros, Lonnie Balls, and Curtis Malones out there trading favors for athletic talent.

But how many other side-door deals have there been made over the years? Hundreds? Thousands? Every time a name goes up on a building on one of America’s 5,300 colleges, universities, and trade schools, should you assume that the only reason was that money changed hands?

I’d like to think that certain kinds of naming are as memorials to great people in the past; two of the main buildings at my old high school were named for bishops in the Episcopal Church. The third, however, was named for a wealthy donor who, frankly, saved the school two decades ago.

But now that Harvard Medical School has the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University has the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell has the Zuckerberg School of Health Sciences, it’s hard to know where the university ends and the benefactor begins.

March 13, 2019 — A once-in-a-generation scandal

A couple of decades ago, I first got wind of a group of chemists and bodybuilders who had hit upon a so-called “designer drug” that would be untraceable by the technologies of the time. My first thought was that the ramifications of such a discovery — and its use — was going to be enormous.

The BALCO scandal resulted in the indictment and imprisonment of dozens of professional and amateur athletes and their handlers, as well as the ruination of a number of athletic competitions, including pro cycling and baseball. It also resulted in a very soft ban on the entire Russian Olympic delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics last year.

Which brings us to this past weekend. This site noticed a couple of news items, one at Louisiana State and one at the University of Pennsylvania, which involved bribery and dealmaking in order to get student-athletes admitted to a particular college. Of course, given the cesspool of college athletics these days and the recent removal of Rick Pitino as head basketball coach at Louisville under sordid circumstances, this was to be expected.

But yesterday, there was an indictment involving non-student-athletes. In Boston, an indictment was unsealed in Federal court. The indictment names some 50 people indicted on charges of mail fraud and other types of corruptive conspiracies involving college admissions, including the facilitation of admission for student-athletes, many of whom would never have survived a few days’ worth of practice, much less a season.

In one situation outlined in the charging documents, one parent arranged for his daughter to apply to the University of Southern California with a fake athletic profile showing her as a good lacrosse player. The broker in the deal facilitated the payment of some $55,000 to the university, a sum of money that resulted in an IRS audit about a month after the last payment. The indictment is silent as to whether the student was ever admitted, but it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that the student never got onto the lacrosse team, one of the top up-and-coming programs in the country.

Southern California is one of a number of schools which have been implicated in this scheme. Others include the University of San Diego, Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, and UCLA.

A number of college coaches have been named in the indictment. Mind you, there aren’t any household names in the group like Pitino, but the majority of the coaches named do have a couple of things in common. One was the prevalence of the fraud amongst women’s sports. Also, these were sports like soccer and tennis, ones which student and local media, the general public, and the student body widely ignored, meaning that there would not be scrutiny.

In a couple of instances, the team mentioned is women’s rowing — a sport that has grown rapidly over the last 20 years because it is an expensive sport requiring an enormous investment in equipment and infrastructure, plus sizable rosters that can balance out the lavish spending afforded big-time college football teams.

But that’s not even the most damning part of the indictment. The eye-opener here is the background of the 35 people who engineered the acceptances of their children into these universities on a student-athlete pretense.

Though the media has been fixated on two Hollywood actresses, the rest of the defendants are people of wealth and privilege. There are several entrepreneurs, a couple of professional investors, equity fund managers, investment firm founders, real estate investors, and the co-chairman of a law firm. These are the 1% of American wealth, people who are very casual with other people’s money.

It kind of reminds you of the scandals involving rich and powerful parents who give millions of dollars to universities. Elizabeth Paige Laurie, an heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune, was forced to give back a degree from the University of Southern California when it was proven that she bribed other people to write term papers for her. At the same time, the University of Missouri had put her name on an on-campus sports arena, an arrangement that was withdrawn after the scandal at USC.

And then, there was the story of Charles Kushner, who, after schmoozing with a part of U.S. Senators, gained an audience with the director of admissions at Harvard. That meeting, plus a donation of $2.5 million, resulted in the matriculation of a student that, according to the guidance counselor at his school, was not Harvard material.

That student, Jared Kushner, now has a top-secret security clearance and is married to the daughter of the President of the United States.

And so it goes.

March 8, 2019 — A matter of timing

Today is International Women’s Day.

And I find it interesting that the entire 28-member roster of the U.S. women’s national soccer team has joined a lawsuit accusing the United States Soccer Federation of long-term and systemic gender discrimination.

Interestingly, the U.S. men’s national team released a statement today joining with their sisters, the current World Cup holders, in support. One interesting sentence jumps out: “An equal division of revenue attributable to the MNT and WNT programs is our primary pursuit as we engage with the US Soccer Federation in collective bargaining.”

In other words, the men get it. They have seen the U.S. women having to play more matches to make less money, and to play in some substandard facilities with artificial grass rather than natural turf.

It’s as if though the cleat, such as it is, is on the other foot when it comes to gender inequity in sports. A lot of the profits made by the U.S. women fund the plurality of the operating budget for the USSF, and the Mia Hamms and Carli Lloyds of the world are tired of it.

And with just five friendlies to play before the Americans open up the defense of their World Cup in France this summer, I hope that the team has the full attention of the USSF.

Feb. 27, 2019 — When self-knowledge is a bad thing

It was about six or seven years ago when a college football quarterback named Johnny Manziel was one of the biggest names in sports.

While a player at Texas A&M University, he won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman, completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for some 8,000 yards in two seasons, and got the Aggies to one of the major bowls after the 2012 season.

Manziel’s combination of running and passing made him a media celebrity. The problem was, he knew it.

By the time he was the first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2014, he had gotten a reputation for partying instead of working diligently on his game. His professional career since the NFL draft has been, frankly, a disaster. In eight NFL starts, he threw for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

He then jumped to the Canadian Football League, where he didn’t play at all with his first team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then in his first game with his new team, the Montreal Alouiettes, he threw four interceptions in the first half. That first 30 minutes of play was one of the most discouraging things I’ve ever seen in sports.

Today, the Alouettes announced that Manziel had violated the terms of his contract with the team. The termination of the contract means that none of the other eight CFL teams are allowed to sign him.

It’s a sad situation, for a young man of 26 years of age who has publicly admitted to having bipolar disorder.

And I’m not sure that the presence of spring pro football south of the border will help him.