Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How the 2010 World Cup ruined soccer in the United States

For years people have predicted that soccer would catch on in the United States and become one of our country’s major professional sports.

With a respectable performance by Team USA in the 2010 World Cup those predictions ALMOST came to fruition.

Unfortunately for soccer, it was the attention that the sport drew to itself during the World Cup that permanently relegated it to minor sport status.

Over the past two weeks I was initially taken aback to see many sports fans who had never followed soccer take a genuine interest in the World Cup.

In the initial round the United States team even played well enough for the passive fan to overlook some blatantly erroneous calls that nearly cost them a chance to advance to the second or “knockout” round.

While vacationing with friends we went to a bar to watch the United States play against Ghana in the second round. Despite strong anticipation for the match, a crowd that started out with anticipation quickly turned hostile.

Reminded by the many terrible calls that changed the outcome of matches in round one, the fans I was watching the game with began to bemoan every call that went in favor of a Ghanaian player who fell to the ground despite not having been touched.

The jeers only grew louder when those players would lie on the ground and wait for a stretcher that seemed like it was straight out of a cartoon to come and carry them off the field, only to immediately hop back to their feet and re-enter the game.

The crazy thing is that the crowd at the bar wasn't cheering against Ghana and their antics, they were cheering against the sport of soccer itself for allowing them.

When a soccer fan at the bar with a European accent suggested that we “should run up and down the field a few times and see how it feels” after we implicitly questioned the masculinity of the game, it was clear that he was missing the point.

Hell, most of the out of shape guys in the bar played sports in their prime, so we all know what that feels like to "run up and down the field a few times." The truth is that fans in the United States just can't respect a game like soccer that allows overblown theatrics and sketchy officiating.

In football players take a hit, head back to the huddle, and get ready to do it 20 more times a game as if nothing happened. Soccer players act as if they severed a nut in order to draw a penalty when they simply got nudged.

In most U.S. sports officials explain or signal the calls they make to the fans in attendance. Soccer referees don’t even have to signal who they called a penalty on, let alone explain what the call was.

In basketball and football close games are decided by buzzer beaters as the crowd counts down the clock. In soccer the end of the game is surrounded by the cloud of secrecy known as injury time, which is approximated but not announced to the crowd with any real specificity.

Let's face it, there is a borderline scandal about the quality of the officiating at the 2010 World Cup, yet we as fans are supposed to simply take them at their honor as to when the game is going to end?

Holy WTF's!

And I didn't even mention how the French team quit during this year's World Cup because they didn't like the attitude and disrespect that was exhibited by their coach, which is odd since they've prepared for that by living in France their entire lives.

The 2010 World Cup was the first time I ever witnessed a large segment of sports fans in the United States actually attempt to take an active interest in watching soccer.

Unfortunately, in what turned out to be soccer’s biggest audition to capture the attention of millions of sports fans in the United States, the game itself simply proved to be unwatchable in spite of a strong showing by the U.S. team over the course of four very close games.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Economic & legal obstacles make it impossible to pay college athletes

(This post was published in the Detroit Free Press on February 8, 2011)

One of the recurring hot topics in sports is whether college athletes should be paid. Many people believe that college athletes should be compensated based upon the perception that colleges and universities are making millions of dollars off of them. Others argue that it is philosophically wrong to pay student athletes given their amateur status and the in kind compensation that they already receive.

While compensating student athletes may be a fun topic to debate, it is simply not a viable option due to the current economic circumstances within college athletics and the mandates of Title IX.

Athletic departments at NCAA schools are not nearly as profitable as one might think. According to Dr. Dan Fulks, a Professor of Accounting at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky who has also analyzed financial data for the NCAA for the past 15 years, only 14 of 119 of athletic departments for Football Bowl Subdivision schools made profits in 2009.

When asked about the feasibility of paying college athletes Dr. Fulks explained, “Over the last five year period, we are seeing the median institutional cost for athletics to be approximately $8 million, and this is true in all subdivisions of Division I. The average number of athletes per school in all three subdivisions is approximately 600, and the average cost per athlete in the FBS is over $70,000. Thus, it is not financially feasible to pay the student athletes.”

Very few sports programs within NCAA athletic departments generate positive revenue. The only teams that even stand a chance of operating at a profit at most schools are men’s football and basketball. In fact, the only programs other than men’s football and basketball that were profitable at any Football Bowl Subdivision college or university in 2006 were men’s baseball at Louisiana State University and the University of Texas, and women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee and Duke University.

To make matters more difficult, athletic departments would not be able to selectively compensate athletes from sports that are profitable at the expense of athletes from non revenue producing programs

Dr. Fulks explained, “While it is true that over half of football and men's basketball programs are profitable, we cannot select the programs whose student athletes would be subsidized. Such pay would have to be across the board for all programs.”

Even if financially constrained athletic departments wanted to drop non revenue producing sports in order to make it easier to compensate athletes in profitable programs such as men’s football and basketball, they would still be handcuffed by the requirements of Title IX.

Title IX is the Federal law that states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Among the factors that are looked at in order to determine compliance with Title IX are “travel and per diem allowance.”

Thus, in order to pay college athletes and comply with the requirements of Title IX, athletic departments would need to compensate female athletes at roughly equal numbers and rates as they do male athletes. While the few athletic powers that have economically self sufficient athletic departments might be able to afford to compensate their student athletes with a few program cuts in non revenue producing sports, even some of the most prominent colleges and universities in the nation would be unable to pay their student athletes.

Not only did 105 out of 119 FBS athletic departments operate at a net loss in 2009, barely half of those 119 FBS schools were even profitable in men’s football and basketball, the two programs that typically generate positive revenue in college athletics. If so many prominent schools don’t even generate enough revenue to compensate athletes in the only sports that are typically profitable for most athletic departments, how could they ever manage to compensate student athletes in non revenue producing sports without major program cuts or subsidies?

Compensating college athletes would have ramifications far beyond paying elite players who participate in high profile sports at the biggest colleges and universities. Any NCAA policy that would allow athletes to be paid would have to be applied evenly to all athletes at all colleges and universities, which would likely lead to the death of the traditional student athlete and most athletic departments as we currently know them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tom Izzo almost left Michigan State for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Spartan basketball will be better off because of it

Tom Izzo almost left Michigan State for an opportunity to coach LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many sports writers have looked at Izzo's interest in that job over the past two weeks as a having a negative impact on Michigan State's basketball program. In actuality it will only make the Spartans better.

While Izzo may not have gotten the commitment to stay in in Cleveland from LeBron that he needed in order to leave the banks of the Red Cedar for the shores of Lake Erie, he didn't get shot down either. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a "high-level source" said James would "100 percent" endorse Izzo being hired as head coach for the Cavs. LeBron has previously stated that he would have played for Izzo at Michigan State had he gone to college instead of going directly from high school to the NBA.

To put frankly, Tom Izzo is the state of Michigan's version of a regular Joe, and our regular Joe just spent a couple weeks flirting with the NBA's equivalent of Angelina Jolie. When you walk arm and arm with Angelina Jolie, other girls are going to notice, and when I say other girls, I mean college recruits.

To date Izzo has won a National Championship and guided the Spartans to 6 Final Fours in the last 12 years. He accomplished those feats with recruits from primarily from Michigan and border states like Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Now that Izzo has been linked with LeBron James for the past two weeks in US Weekly...I mean ESPN and the national sports media, top college recruits from all over the country are going to start seeking out Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans.

It's no secret that Izzo hates the recruiting process and some of the dirty deals that some schools make in order to procure commitments from top high school players. While Izzo has had the Spartan basketball program on the verge of being elite for several years, he still had to chase after the girl. Now that he has been linked to the hottest girl in school, the rest just might start chasing after him.