Tag:NCAA
Posted on: August 20, 2012 4:55 pm
 

Barry, JoePa & Record Books

It’s not everyday you read something good about the NCAA.

Mind you, I’ve got no major gripe with the landlord of college sport. Not too happy about their cozy relationship with profiteers (Nike) and relaxation of player-standards in recent decades, but other than those two, most of what they do flies above my radar.

The NCAA is like your high school VP, a dirty job but someone’s gotta’ do it. Roaming the hallways, keeping order and quick to judge. No gray area with this guy. And he’ll probably turn gray fast, given the thankless nature of the job, policing the big-hearted youths of today, or as Joe Pesci would call ‘em, “utes” (My Cousin Vinny).

Last month the enforcers of collegiate merriment did something rarely done in today’s sporting world: they altered a record book. Not as shocking as Brett Favre hitting the Twin Cities’ tarmac and donning purple & gold (2009), but still, pretty big doings.

As part of the penalties levied against Penn St. per the Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, 111 of the Lions’ football wins from the years 1998-11 were “vacated” from NCAA rolls, knocking coach Joe Paterno from atop the D1 victories list (409 / 298) and moving the recently retired Bobby Bowden into the top spot with his tally of 377 (“Bobby” / CBS / 7-23).

Of all the sanctions handed down, that one’s gotta’ hurt the most. The others, including the 4-year bowl ban, scholarship cutback and fine ($60 XL) will all be absorbed easily enough over time. Some at PSU may welcome the shake-up as a means of penance to cleanse the soul. And the hefty fine, that’ll just get passed on to the students, like the insurance company that jacks their rates when the hurricane claims start blowing in.

It wasn’t the substance of their action that got my stamp of approval. While I appreciate the awkwardness of leaving JoePa’s name atop the wins-list, sadly, in striking 100+ from his total you hurt those people most who had nothing to do with the wrong-doing, the players & fans. Add-up the shame that will linger for decades at Penn State, the criminal course and other penalties, all together seemed punitive and deterrent plenty.

Instead, it was the NCAA’s deviation from SOP that has me nodding in agreement.

Changing a record book typically requires something just short of an Act of Congress. That’s a good thing. Records are sacred stuff. Whether they’re category leaders, personal or team titles, individual stats or holders of top marks, all will, in theory, stand the test of time. The number & name will change but the record itself will resonate long.

Can’t say the same for the Halls of Fame. Like today’s bloated Olympic field, HOFs are becoming so diluted with a steady-stream of marginal inductees that they’re fast losing that special flavor. Caught up in the enablement age, voters are turning what used to be a days-long walk amongst immortals into a three-day trek through Halls of Good ‘n Plenty.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Just imagine in the not-to-distant future, when those collectible crazed kids who put their Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds rookie cards under glass, hold sway over the BBWA and become guardians of the Hall. “Uh-oh!” ("Mr. Gopher" / Caddyshack). The flood-gates are gonna’ open wide.

There are two battles raging over baseball’s Hall of Fame.

One is over quality control. Is the candidate’s stature such that it separates him from his peers, like say, Warren Spahn and Bob Clemente, or, is he a ballot choice that develops a patina of greatness over time, building support for election like…well, you can fill in the names yourself. If you need help, give Reggie Jackson a jingle. His timing is tacky but his standard is right on point (SI / “Reggie / Taylor / 7-5).

The other is about PEDs, where one emerging standard goes like this: ‘He gets my vote because he was a Hall of Famer before he started juicing.’ Oh, brother. Assuming you have the powers of Carnac the Magnificent and can accurately pick the first year a PED suspect ‘Got needles,’ if you apply that standard, Pete Rose and Joe Jackson get in because both were Hall-worthy before they messed-up big time.

So, while the pride & joy of Cooperstown grows fat and a niche of players keep playing fans for fools (Ryan Braun / Melky Cabrera), the official record book must become the safe harbor for greatness, buffered from the winds of changing mores & personal extremes.

Long before Halls of Fame were doing a splendid job of preserving & displaying the rich history of sport, a myriad of record books & statistical surveys were telling the tale.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. Officially maintained by Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s rolls are tainted, filling-up fast with performance-enhanced pretenders of excellence. Some of the most cherished records are topped by seriously-suspected or proven PED-men.

Enter the NCAA. They’ve set a precedent, of sorts, in re-writing a small part of their own college football record book. It was a tough call that created some collateral damage (See above), but they had good cause, acted with all due speed and didn’t blink.

Now Bud Selig has a template, an impetus to finally move to fix baseball’s record book.

Sure, he’s got other fish to fry. Cheating, being the biggest flounder on his plate.

Victor Conti (BALCO) may actually believe “as many as half” of all players are juicing today (“Victor” / USAT / BN / 8-15). But anyone with any sense knows that recent test-troubles are par for the course when trying to change a culture of drug-use that’s international in its reach and as deeply imbedded into baseball as is performance-enhancement.

The PED problem will resolve in time. The clean-up effort has the backing of the nation, most players and the independent media. Patience & persistence are the watch-words.

But the foul odor that’s rising up from MLB’s record book is not going away on its own.

Naysayers will argue, ‘How can you fiddle with a record book when some of the marquee names never tested positive?’ Two-part answer: 1) An evolving test-policy that was way-late in coming can’t be the sole standard for finding a record-holder to have a PED pedigree, and 2) If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Go back in time to August of 1921. The Cleveland Indians are the reigning champs and Babe Ruth is in pinstripes, but the biggest story in baseball is the Black Sox scandal. When the implicated Pale Hosers are acquitted in a dubious Cook County trial after crucial evidence disappears, the newly appointed baseball Czar Kenesaw Mountain Landis is undeterred. Making reasonable inferences from available evidence, the next day he bans the lot of ‘em from pro-ball for life and adds a toxicity-tag.

Bud Selig has seen the evidence of proven & suspected PED users. As Commissioner and having no power to deny liberty (jail) or award civil damages, he’s not bound by the same standard of proof required in a judicial setting. Maybe that’s a good thing. As such, he can do, within certain parameters, as he pleases with the record book.

It won’t be easy. This ain’t 1921. Classifying the proven users vs. strongly suspected, removing names vs. asterisking (*), and then whether or not consideration should be given those few men who decided, for whatever reason, to come clean (Brothers Bash, Canseco & McGwire), will all make for one big sticky wicket.

And the media will have a field day. Some with their own form of collectible to protect, they’ll do their damndest to make sure it’s as thankless an undertaking as policing the high school hallways. It’s an action that’s likely to raise challenges by those players directly affected, claiming a right (intellectual property?) to a place in the hallowed book.

Set to retire after 2014, Selig certainly has the stature these days to afford the boldness that a record book revision requires, with rounder’s popularity and a drug prevention program that seems to be working, if not deterring some pompous players.

There’s no money to be made in re-working the record rolls. But it would be a big step in restoring to baseball some of what was lost when PED users and their enablers started disrespecting themselves, the fans, the game and its history.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” (JFK).  Doing nothing is no answer, Bud.

Steven Keys
Posted on: June 13, 2012 12:14 pm
 

College Football's Powdered Wigs

They are the overlords of college football, the people who package the game and put it on the shelves for millions to consume every autumn.

They are the Boards of Regents, trustees, college presidents, NCAA folk, a few coaches, big boosters & alumni and lots of corporate Suits with a finger stuck in the college pie.

I guess not one is a serious pigskin fan, you know, the dedicated type that can sit through ESPN’s College GameDay. Most are MBAs whose real passion is the game of business.

Think of ‘em as…the powdered wigs of college frolic.

Remember those guys? They were the blokes we gave the heave-ho back in 1776, only to return in 1812 when they torched DC (1814) and were finally sent packing by Mr. Jackson at New Orleans (1815). King George III was their poster-boy.

Not really cruel (Spanish Inquisition) or evil (Hitler / Pol Pot), but a portly upper crust (male and female) who looked down their noses at common folk.

They came ‘round to constitutional monarchy (1215) but distrusted popular will, vesting top power in the aristocracy (Lords). They viewed the republican-form with its checks & balances, separation of powers (Hume) and representative democracy as radicalism, its advocates deemed dangerous revolutionaries fit to be hung (Paine / Adams / Jefferson).

Guess we showed them, huh? Though, you gotta’ give the blue-bloods their props. The revolts that followed tended to overrun the bleachers, you might say (French ‘89 / Russian ‘17) and in some cases remain iron-fisted & repressive politically (China ‘49 / Vietnam ‘75).

But the powdered-wig lives on in America. Their handiwork survives in the Electoral College, a tried & true GOP fall-back Mr. Romney (and “bold” Mr. Walker?) will find handy this fall when the popular vote total falls a tad short. Expect a nail-bitter.

And you can feel their spirit in the hallowed hallways of many a college campus.

I used to think college ball held the moral high-ground vs the pros and their money game: greedy owners and greedy players. Not anymore. It’s not even close.

Not that avarice doesn’t inhabit the NFL as well. But at least you know where they stand. The National ain’t no democracy but if Roger Goodell is a king, he’s a philosopher king (Plato) who has one ear turned to the collective voice of the fan.

The college broker? Perched high, up in his ivory tower, he wouldn’t hear a holler.

That college ball still works the student-athlete charade and the amateurism angle ain’t what chaps my hide. Sure, the stars on the gridiron are way underpaid but too many today end-up on police blotters to invest too much concern.

What’s soured me on Saturday football is the fashionable disregard for fans.

Always a cash-cow, the easy-money from big sport venues isn’t enough for these sacred-cow institutions anymore. No sir-ee, Bob. The powdered wigs are grabbing with both hands.

1) Giving-over touchstones like school colors, uniforms and logos to merchandisers who care nothing for team / school tradition & loyalty.

2) The endless conference jumping that kills regional rivalries, ignores travel hardships and makes a musical-chairs mockery of all alignments. The fact it’s making the ship of college sport list heavily to the East Coast (SEC / Big East) has gotta’ be a red-flag. Makes Notre Dame’s & Army’s resolute independence that much more admirable, and sad if they ever flip (Navy).

3) Coaches packing-up for greener pastures is nothing new. Can’t begrudge a guy career advancement. But the brazen practice of schools courting prospective candidates in-season is a tacky new twist (ND, CU & Kelly / '09).

Few are shedding tears for demise of the bowl system. When the flood-gates opened in the 90s and the number of bowls shot-up (35), along with the cachet-killing, corporate-naming idea (TaxSlayer.com (Gator) Bowl), you could hear the bell toll. But then, maybe that was the whole point all along, for playoff-proponents.

Well, they got their way. A championship playoff is in the works. Yippie-yi-ya. Guess I’m suppose to be grateful for this crumb they’ve tossed down? Fiddlesticks.

If you think this playoff is for the fans, you best go back to school…grade school.

As imperfect as it was, at least the BCS Bowl system had a numerical logic to it. I know, LSU had no business playing Alabama twice. Cry me a river. Like any team was gonna’ beat Saban’s 2012 Crimson Tide? Not bloody likely. And I don’t recall anyone whining when the polling system was in play (AP / UPI), especially when two schools celebrated.

Now the same 10 schools will fight it out in a mini-playoff so one of ‘em can hoist (then drop) that god-awful, glass football thing in, what, March?

And the cherry on top: No one knows how to pick the four (?) participants. Good job.

If this money-grab, playoff plan has any element of fan appreciation, the wigs should let the consumers of college football award the golden-tickets.

I can hear it now: ‘Whoaaa, pardner! You can’t give the unwashed rabble such a lofty, complicated task as picking playoff teams, Steve. Only the wigs are qualified to make that call. Only they have the wherewithal to put aside bias & prejudice.’ Balderdash.

As voting for (Electors of) the President of the United States is well within the purview of John and Jane Q. Public, why not the selection of playoff participants? I feel the great minds at our institutions of higher learning can come up with a sound procedure for nationwide fan-voting. Their cuff-linked friends at DTT (Deloitte) can oversee it all.

Better a bias is diluted among 20 million voters than risk its greater influence on a small panel of twenty powdered wigs who are no more qualified to judge, thank you Bobby B. (CBS / “Former FSU" / CP / 6-6), than the mass of devoted college football fans.

But don’t sweat it, playoff proponents. There ain’t gonna’ be no revolution in college football. The wigs will make the call, pick the teams, fans will gripe, millions will watch and the only thing different will be the revolving-door of Nike uniform designs.

Rah, rah, for old alma mater. Onward to victory, rah, rah, rah.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com