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Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

It’s Time To Call Off College Football

If you are not a regular watcher of the Tennis Channel, it may surprise you to learn that the sport is back. Reruns of prehistoric Grand Slam finals have given way to live coverage of top professionals in exhibition tournaments that none of the players seem to treat as mere exhibitions.

Did I say top professionals? A June team event in Charleston included this year's Australian Open winner, Sofia Kenin, and 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist Monica Puig. A recent all-Czech tournament in Prague was won by Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion.

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12 Things You Should Know About Ken Starr’s Baylor Rape Scandal

Reposted with permission from Alternet.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but Ken Starr is accused of ignoring sexual violence at Baylor University mostly because doing something about it would have jeopardized a cash cow. In his near six years as president of the school, Starr led an administration that law firm Pepper Hamilton concluded“as a whole failed” on every front to adequately address or attempt to investigate sexual assaults carried out by student athletes. Last week, the school’s Board of Regents issued a statement that it was “shocked and outraged” by the gross “mishandling of [sexual abuse] reports,” and announced it was firing head football coach Art Briles, sanctioning and placing on probation athletic director Ian McCaw and demoting Starr from president to chancellor. Days later, Starr announced he was stepping down from that role, but would continue to teach law at the institution.

Starr, who was once the special prosecutor behind the investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, now has a place in the pantheon of finger-wagging moralists turned scandalized figures. The man who let slip—or rather, leak—into the public record every titillating detail of Clinton’s sexual indiscretions has, as Baylor president, been decidedly less transparent abount grave and disturbing instances of sexual misconduct on his own campus. The contrast between the Starr of nearly two decades ago and today seems a complete inversion. It seems worth it to question why.

In the meantime, let’s review some of what we now know about what happened during Starr’s Baylor tenure, a period during which the school football team’s meteoric rise seems to have come at the cost of its female students’ well-being. Here are 12 things you should know about the rape scandals at Baylor.

1. Baylor ignored new federal mandates regarding sexual assault investigations.

In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights sent every college and university that receives federal funding (essentially all but a scant few schools nationwide) a letter reasserting and clarifying the legal requirements according to Title IX. Popularly referred to as the “Dear Colleague”letter, among numerous other responsibilities the 19-page document placed particular emphasis on the need for institutions to hire a dedicated Title IX coordinator. For three years, until November 2014, Baylor failed to comply with that regulation, instead allowing sexual assault investigations to be handled by untrained and underprepared senior school officials, including football staff.

2. Baylor makes huge money off sports, and profits allegedly drove decision making.

Baylor athletics raked in $106.1 million in revenue during the 2014-2015 school year, according to CBS Sports, which based its estimate on figures reported to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education.

3. Football culture ruled at Baylor.

The chapel of football worship at Baylor sits in the school’s McLane Stadium, which it spent $266 million to open in 2014. The arena’s 45,000-plus seats are regularly filled with sold-out crowds, a testament to the immense popularity of the team in its Waco, Texas, hometown. ESPN notes that Starr was often seen rooting for the school’s various sports teams from the stands, and “was popular among students for his participation in the ‘Baylor Line,’ a school tradition in which freshman students wear yellow shirts and rush the field before home football games.” Joe Nocera at the New York Times writes that Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogelman’s voicemail message ends, “Sic ‘em Bears!”

4. A former advisory board member says the school was well aware of its athletes’ rape issues.

Earlier this year, ESPN’s Outside the Lines spoke with Michele Davis, who until 2014 served on a Baylor advisory board that examined how sexual assaults were handled with community stakeholders. She told the outlet that Baylor’s advisory board was concerned enough about sexual assaults by athletes that it “recommended that someone from the athletic department join the board.” That still is yet to happen.

Davis is also the “sexual assault nurse examiner for McLennan County,” a role that often entails being the first person to speak with sexual abuse survivors who arrive at area hospitals following their assaults. She says the university’s rape problem is outsized.

“Baylor has more sexual assault cases—that we do exams on—compared to the other schools with the same approximate population,” Davis told ESPN, referring to the two other Waco-based colleges.

She reports that she engages with approximately eight Baylor students annually. Davis also estimates that Baylor athletes, just 4 percent of the male undergraduates at the school, comprise somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of alleged sexual assault perpetrators.

5. Six women reported being sexually assaulted by a single football player, but their reports were ignored.

ESPN’s investigation found that six different women, speaking with police, implicated Baylor linebacker Tevin Elliott in sexual assaults that took place between October 2009 and May 2012. Baylor administration officials would not disclose to the outlet when the school became aware of the alleged assaults, but ESPN was told internal records indicate the university had knowledge of a separate 2011 “misdemeanor, sexually related assault citation” against Elliott made by student at an area community college. (Elliott, who was sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2014, told ESPN writer Paula Lavigne the charge never came up with any of his coaches.) The first time media became aware of any of the allegations facing Elliott was when he was arrested. Previously, football coach Art Briles had publicly stated that Elliott was suspended indefinitely for an unspecified “violation of team policy.”

6. A sexual assault victim was told by an administration official to “hope for the best.”

One of the women allegedly assaulted by Elliott told ESPN that she and her mother were directed by Baylor officials to meet with Bethany McCraw, the school’s chief judicial officer. That’s when they learned of Elliott’s five other alleged victims—news which left them justifiably confused by the school’s lack of action.

“I’m like, oh my gosh, six?” the woman, who ESPN calls “Kim,” told the publication. “We essentially asked, ‘Well, why are there six?’ and, ‘Well, does the football team know about this? Does Art Briles know about this?’ And [McCraw] said, ‘Yes, they know about it, but it turns into a he said-she said, so there’s got to be, actually a court decision in order to act on it in any sort of way.'”

But as ESPN notes, that isn’t true. Title IX explicitly states that a criminal investigation does not absolve the school of its responsibility to conduct its own inquiry. The student contends that when she requested a restraining order, McCraw informed her the best the school could do was write Elliott a letter telling him to keep his distance. “[A]nd then you kind of hope for the best,” the official allegedly stated.

7. Baylor officials allegedly pushed one survivor and her mother to get over it and stop pestering them.

Jasmin Hernandez, who says she was raped by Tevin Elliott in 2012, filed a Title IX lawsuit against Baylor in March. In court documents, she alleges a pattern of clear and utter disregard by administration officials in the days and weeks following the alleged attack. After reporting the crime to Waco police, Hernandez called her mother, who flew to campus the next day. One of her first actions was to contact Baylor Counseling Center, both to make them aware of the rape and to request followup counseling services, which are mandated by Title IX. The suit states that she was first told the center was “too busy” to see her daughter. She then reached out to the psychology department at Baylor’s Student Health Center in search of services, but was told “all counseling sessions were full.”

Days later, she telephoned Baylor’s Academic Services Department and was informed that “if a plane falls on your daughter, there’s nothing we can do to help you.” She called Briles’ office and was told by a secretary that the “office had heard of the allegations and were looking into it.” Hernandez’s father also placed calls to the office several times, but never received a response.

8. When the school did investigate, it allegedly did an incredibly poor job.

In 2013, Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu was accused of rape by a soccer player at the university. In response, the school initiated a Title IX investigation so poorly handled a judge later refused to allow Ukwuachu’s lawyers to refer to it during his 2015 trial. According to Texas Monthly, the school’s examination of the case “involved interviewing just Ukwuachu, his accuser, and one friend of each, and…the school never saw the rape kit collected by the sexual assault nurse examiner.”

The school also reviewed results of “a polygraph test Ukwuachu had independently commissioned,” which are almost never admissible in court. The school cleared Ukwuachu in the matter and pursued no disciplinary action against the player.

9. Baylor made a concerted effort to keep various accusations against players quiet.

In May 2013, Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor from Boise State, where he had been removed from the football team for violent behavior toward a woman. According to Texas Monthly, in a press interview that year, Ukwuachu alluded to the fact that Baylor’s coaches weren’t in the dark about what had gotten him kicked off the team; he stated they “knew everything and were really supportive.” (Baylor coach Art Briles has said he was unaware of the conditions precipitating Ukwuachu’s removal, while Boise coach Chris Petersen has refutedthat claim.) Baylor attempted to secure a waiver so Ukwuachu could play football without having to wait out the one year required of athletes who transfer. Per Texas Monthly, “Boise State informed the school that they would not be providing a letter of support.”

Ukwuachu then had to sit out a second season after he was indicted on rape charges in June 2014, a fact that remained unknown to the press, because Briles obliquely cited “some issues” for keeping the player on the sidelines. Just weeks before the start of Ukwuachu’s 2015 rape trial, Baylor Bears defensive coordinator Phil Bennett told attendees of a luncheon that the defensive end would finally be playing in the coming season.

Ukwuachu was sentenced to six months in county jail and 10 years probation in August 2015.

10. There are more recent cases of sexual assault involving a football player and frat member.

Jacob Anderson, president of Baylor’s Phi Delta Theta chapter, was arrested in March for charges related to the alleged drugging and rape of a woman following a fraternity party. Shawn Oakman, a former defensive lineman for the Baylor Bears who had been regarded as a likely NFL pick, was arrested in April for sexual assault.

11. Starr has continued to hold up Art Briles as a model for players, even in recent days.

Despite law firm Pepper Hamilton’s findings that suggest Briles, as well as numerous other football staffers and top administrators, elevated football above student safety and pretty much all else, Starr continues to sing his praises. In anESPN interview Wednesday that NBC Sports called a “a PR disaster for Baylor,” Starr called Briles “a person of genuine character” as well as “an iconic father figure who is a genius.”

“Coach Briles is a player’s coach,” Starr said, “but he was also a very powerful father figure.”

12. Starr’s recent comments show he hasn’t learned anything from this controversy.

“We’re an alcohol-free campus,” Starr said in that same interview. “It’s not happening on campus, to the best of my knowledge. They are off-campus parties. Those are venues where those bad things have happened.”

NBC Sports responded with a drubbing so well done it deserves to be cited here:

But those bad things happened involving representatives ofyour university and football program, andyour coaches reportedly interfered with the investigation process, thus protecting them from more extreme punishment and failing to give your victims, who are students at your university, a fair chance at justice in any form possible. Just because an incident happens off your campus, does not mean you are excused from failing to uphold the investigation process and response accordingly. Your students may not live on your campus, but they are a part of your community and it is your job as a university to assure all students they can feel safe and secure while attendingyour university.

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

Photo: Attorney Kenneth Starr speaks during arguments before the California Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8 in San Francisco, California March 5, 2009.  REUTERS/Paul Sakuma

College Bowl Games Become Corporate Money Games

Growing up in Texas, I learned that God and guns were important, but football — well, football was the real religion, the essence of life itself.

So I can understand the hyperbolic exuberance of a radio hypester in Montgomery, Alabama, who declared that the Dec. 20 Camellia Bowl was “going to be the biggest event Montgomery has ever had.” Really — bigger even than Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on one of the city’s buses in 1955, igniting America’s historic civil right movement? Maybe not that big, but still, this game must be a rich part of Montgomery’s history, a product of civic pride and the flowering culture, right?

Not exactly. It’s actually a TV production, created and owned by ESPN, the all-sports channel based in Connecticut. The bowl’s less-than-historic debut drew two low-tier teams, one with a mediocre 7-6 season record, and the other with a more-mediocre record of 6 wins and 6 losses. Even Montgomery’s mayor admitted that the town was hardly awash in excitement about the Camellia Bowl. But the game had a corporate sponsor and could count on bulk purchases of tickets by other corporations. So who needs fans, when the real play is about programming for ESPN, TV exposure for the corporate sponsor and tax-deductible entertainment for corporate ticket buyers?

The Camellia fabrication is hardly unusual in today’s galaxy of corporate bowl games. Of this season’s holiday matchups, 11 are owned by ESPN. And forget team spirit — corporate sponsors are in it for themselves, promiscuously hopping from one bowl to another. In the current go-round, 12 bowl games find themselves in the arms of different corporate partners from less than a year ago.

From Dec. 20 through Jan. 12, a record 39 football “classics” will have been televised, allowing bleary-eyed, beer-sedated gridiron fanatics to binge on what amounts to a nonstop buffet of plays, replays and sports clichés. On just the first day of the bowl blitz, there were five games on the telly, from 10 a.m. to midnight. So you could’ve had brunch, lunch, dinner, happy hour and midnight snacks without ever leaving your La-Z-Boy. Is this a great country or what?

Still, football tradition just isn’t what it used to be. Rather than reflecting a sense of place and local pride, the new bowls are money hustles, owned by whatever no-place corporation has a few million tax-deductible ad dollars to buy the game and use it as a gaudy billboard to hype the corporate brand. Thus, we’re blessed with the likes of not only the Camellia Bowl, but the GoDaddy, Bitcoin, Quick Lane, Advocare V100 and Taxslayer bowls. Then there’s the Duck Commander Bowl — a made-for-TV event sponsored by a TV show! And what sense of place are we to get from the Outback Bowl, a chain of steakhouses that celebrate Australia, where “football” means soccer or rugby?

Meanwhile, the proliferation of bowls has produced an embarrassing deterioration in the level of team excellence that these contests claim to celebrate. Of the 76 teams awarded bowl slots this season, roughly half came from the deep ranks of football mediocrity — 20 barely had winning records, 11 lost as many games as they won, and one actually had a losing record. It’s hard to hide the silliness of chanting, “We’re the champs,” when your team has 6 wins and 7 losses.

Bowl games these days are redefining the concept of “hustle” in sports. They no longer exist for the game itself, the players, the schools or the ideal of sportsmanship. Rather, they’re just another piece of our culture that’s been purchased for the enrichment and self-aggrandizement of corporate interests. Instead of sponsors simply bringing the games to us, the games now bring us to the sponsors.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) leaps over Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Landon Collins (26) on his way to a 54-yard run in the first quarter of the Allstate Sugar Bowl and college football playoff semifinal on Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015 at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. (Eamon Queeney/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Weekend Reader: ‘Strong Inside: Perry Wallace And The Collision Of Race And Sports In The South’

When Vanderbilt University recruited Perry Wallace in 1965, he was to be the first African-American scholarship basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. It wasn’t easy. His experience is the subject of Andrew Maraniss’ new book, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South. 

A richly detailed, intimate account of the experiences of Wallace and the generation of African-American students who blazed the trail for integrated higher education, Maraniss’ history explores how, under the tidal force of integration, people endured mundane cruelty and everyday ignorance. Not merely the story of triumph we’ve come to expect from the genre, Strong Inside tells a more complex story, and paints an honest, penetrating portrait of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the agonizing loneliness of a pioneer.”

In the following excerpt, Maraniss introduces Eileen Carpenter, one of Wallace’s contemporaries, and another of the first African-American students at Vanderbilt. “I thought that since Vanderbilt had opened, it was open,” she later recalled. “After our parents had struggled through the real fight, the physical and the name calling and the killing and the lynchings, I think it set my generation up for expecting movement to another level. We actually expected community.”

You can purchase the book here.

For Eileen Carpenter, who grew up in an upper-middle-class black family in Nashville, the crash came gradually, and at first she couldn’t put her finger on what was happening. In the summer following her senior year of high school, a puzzling pattern repeated itself when she attended parties for incoming Vanderbilt freshmen.

Carpenter arrived at the parties, held in the homes of wealthy alums, excited and happy, only to find herself standing alone with her plate of food while others in the room laughed and talked as if they all knew each other. “People were not mean or anything, and if they caught your eye, they’d smile, but I started having this sense that I was just kind of there, just being politely ignored,” she recalled. “At the time, it did not occur to me that maybe it was because I was black. I was making mental notes, but things weren’t clicking.”

It wasn’t until Carpenter sat alone in the Rand Hall dining room that everything began to click. A cat darted through the cafeteria, but nobody seemed to notice. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m just like that cat. I don’t make any difference.’ Nobody paid any attention. Nobody looked up. It was then that I started understanding what I was feeling and what was going on. It was Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. You were not there. You didn’t impact anyone’s life. You could be totally ignored, and if you disappeared, nobody would notice.” Frustrated by these experiences, Carpenter would come home from school, throw her books in the corner of her room, and crawl into bed. “My parents couldn’t understand,” she recalled, “because nobody was being mean to me.”

These periods of isolation only told half the story. When not completely ignored, many black students felt that they were on the receiving end of piercing stares from their white classmates. They could experience both extremes in a matter of minutes, creating a chronic self-consciousness that made even the most mundane of activities unpleasant. Perry Wallace accompanied a small group of white classmates to dinner one evening in the cafeteria at the women’s quadrangle. As he waited in line to choose his food, he looked up and realized that every pair of female eyes in the room was focused right on him, the coeds’ pinched faces betraying feelings of fear, hatred, or maybe both, he couldn’t be sure. Wallace’s mother had warned him to “stay away from the white girls,” and now, before he could even take a bite to eat, it seemed to him that the smartest solution might be to just leave the room.

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Whether it was naïveté or just the fact that they hadn’t really thought about it before arriving at Vanderbilt, the degree of seclusion they felt on campus initially came as a surprise to the black students. They would do the best they could to make the most of their days at Vanderbilt, but they would also seek alternative social outlets. While the grand social experiment of integration might take decades to sort itself out, these students only had one college experience, just four years to determine what worked best for them as individuals.

For some, this meant approaching student life at face value—attempting to do the same things white students took for granted. Unaware that none of the Vanderbilt sororities admitted blacks, Carpenter arrived on campus thinking she was going to “have a great time and join a sorority like the college days you saw on TV.” She walked past all the sorority houses and picked the one she liked best—Kappa Alpha Theta. Carpenter attended the sorority’s first rush party. Everything seemed to be going just fine, and when Carpenter’s aunt came to visit one day, Eileen told her all about her plans to join the sorority. “She looked at me like my head had just dropped off my body,” Carpenter recalled. “She said, ‘You can’t join a sorority there, they won’t allow Negroes.’ I couldn’t quite believe her, so I called (a member), and I immediately knew by the way she started sputtering that it was true.”

Bedford Waters joined the men’s residence hall executive board and eventually becoming the organization’s first black president— a feat that earned him ridicule, not so much from whites but from blacks who accused him of selling out. Waters felt he was constantly engaged in a game of tug-of-war, trying his best to enjoy his college experience by participating in the pursuits that interested him, all while catching hell from some whites who didn’t want him around and some blacks who thought he was betraying them. “You want to be accepted among all your peers, but there was this perception that if you’re doing anything outside of what was considered to be the norm for African Americans at the time, that you were being disloyal and you were trying to act white,” Waters recalled. “How the hell do you come out of that with some kind of sanity? Obviously I did, but it was a very, very difficult time.”

Perry Wallace has long remembered those early days at Vanderbilt, when black and white students were inelegantly trying to figure each other out—succeeding and failing, improvising, accepting and rejecting. Two worldviews were colliding, he said, one that saw society advancing by placing its trust in movements and causes and legislation, the other rejecting such things, believing that what really mattered were one-on-one relationships. In the end, Wallace concluded, both ideologies were necessary. Without the civil rights movement, much progress would not have taken place. But even with a strong movement, what ultimately mattered to the people living through it were their daily interactions and experiences with individual human beings. Integration was a new exercise for everybody, black and white. “People talked about, ‘Let’s all come together and we’ll all get along.’ Nope, we had too much practice not getting along,” Wallace says. “A lot of us blacks had to practice not feeling inferior after all of that segregation bull. There were a lot of whites who had to practice not feeling superior. We had a chance to practice at Vanderbilt, and some of us did.”

Segregation doesn’t need any extra condemnation, Wallace says. Its evils speak for themselves. There’s a certain level of decency everyone should be afforded. But look at who was being ignored at Vanderbilt in 1966: the best and brightest black students from North and South, the class presidents, the valedictorians, the salutatorians. “Just think about the stories we had to tell,” Wallace said. “The students on campus who rejected us, who ignored us, who isolated us—we brought the opportunity for them to ‘practice being equal.’ The irony is that we were just who they needed to know. We brought with us insights into the world that they lived in that they did not have because segregation had set people apart. We had the other half of the story about race. And we were articulate messengers.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt, purchase the full book here.

Excerpt from Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss. Copyright © 2014 by the author and reprinted by permission of Vanderbilt University Press.

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Freshmen Make Former USC Stars Take Notice With Their Play In Opener

By Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Their stellar USC careers spanned different eras during the last two decades.

Receiver Keyshawn Johnson dominated games in the mid-1990s. Quarterback Matt Leinart won a Heisman Trophy in the mid-2000s. And receiver Robert Woods played the last of three record-setting seasons in 2012.

The former All-Americans watched USC’s season-opening victory over Fresno State and were struck by the same thing: A seemingly unending parade of freshmen making dazzling plays for the Trojans.

“Definitely something to be excited about,” said Johnson, who watched from a suite on the Coliseum field.

“They looked the part,” said Leinart, who monitored the game in a San Francisco television studio.

“Very, very impressed,” said Woods, who watched from his home near Buffalo, New York.

Receivers JuJu Smith and Adoree’ Jackson, tight end Bryce Dixon, and offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao were among 11 freshmen who contributed in the Trojans’ 52-13 victory.

Smith sped and powered his way to 123 yards receiving, the most ever in a debut by a USC true freshman.

Jackson caught a touchdown pass and also played cornerback and returned a punt.

Dixon caught a touchdown pass, and the young linemen helped protect quarterback Cody Kessler from being sacked.

It was a stirring first game for a freshman class hailed among college football’s best on national signing day last February.

“I feel like everybody hyped us up,” Jackson said, “and we had to live up to it.”

Jackson is the USC first player since Chad Morton in 1996 and 1997 to play a significant amount of plays on offense and defense.

After the Fresno State game, and again this week after reviewing it, Jackson graded his performance a C.

Johnson, Leinart, and Woods gave the freshmen collectively higher marks.

“It didn’t seem like it was too big for them, which is a great sign,” said Leinart, who is a college football analyst.

Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NFL draft, said he was surprised by Smith’s size and speed.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith turned several short receptions into long gains.

“His size is going to allow him to be explosive, break tackles, and gain yardage after catches,” Johnson said. “People are going to be afraid to hit him.”

Smith and Jackson also impressed former Trojans coach John Robinson, who said he watched part of the game from the sideline.

“They looked as natural as hell,” he said. “I don’t remember thinking, ‘These guys are freshmen?'”

With the opener behind, the freshmen will face a new challenge Saturday in a Pac-12 Conference opener at Stanford.

Woods, a second-year receiver for the Buffalo Bills, said there was a marked difference between playing at the Coliseum before 80,000 cheering fans and playing on the road at Stanford, where USC has not won since 2008.

The Cardinal program, Woods noted, develops smart teams not prone to making errors.

“You have to be on your game,” he said. “You can’t have any freshman mistakes. You have to play more mature than a freshman.”

USC’s freshmen accomplished the feat last week, and USC Coach Steve Sarkisian expects they will again.

“I didn’t think the moment was too big for them to play in the Coliseum,” he said, “and I don’t anticipate it will be that way Saturday.

“But if it is, we have to do a good job of recognizing it as a coaching staff and help continue to motivate those guys to get back into the right frame of mind so that they can compete at a high level. Because it’s really clear we’re a better football team when those guys are playing at a high level.”

Photo: Bobak Ha’Eri via WikiCommons

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Since When Is College Football Not A Business?

Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) — So the National Labor Relations Board hearings on the Northwestern University football team’s proposal to form a union have just gotten under way, and we already have our first howler.

Here it is, from the mouth of Northwestern’s vice president for university relations, Alan K. Cubbage: “We do not regard, and have never regarded, our football program as a commercial enterprise.” OK, Alan, but you may be the only ones who don’t. How, exactly, is an entity that sells tickets to its events — not to mention the national TV rights to broadcast those events — not engaging in commerce?

Not surprisingly, the claim — that big-time college sports do not represent commercial activity — has been consistently rejected by the courts. It also directly contradicts various statements made by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its current and former officials.

Consider, for instance, a strategic report written in 2011 for the University of California at Davis by ex-NCAA president Cedric Dempsey. Davis had recently moved up from Division II to Division I, and the partly related fallout — specifically, the decision to cut some non-revenue-generating sports — had kicked up controversy on campus. Dempsey, who had become a consultant after leaving the NCAA, was hired to explain to everyone how the world of big-time college sports works. As he put it, Division II still uses an “educational model” that relishes “the history of noble amateurism.” Division I, by contrast, is run on more of a “business model,” with schools investing resources in the sports with the greatest potential to generate revenue. Hmmm.

Dempsey’s successor at the NCAA, Myles Brand, put an even finer point on it. In a 2006 speech to NCAA members, Brand explained that “commercial activity” — like selling broadcast rights — is mandated by the “business plan.” The failure to “maximize revenues,” he said, would be “incompetence at best and malfeasance at worst.”

It was just one of many occasions that Brand used to push the NCAA to embrace commerce — or to more enthusiastically embrace its commercial roots, which actually predate the existence of the organization itself. The very first intercollegiate competition, a regatta between Harvard and Yale on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1852, was the brainchild of the superintendent of the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad, who figured it would help fill his cars. It did. Before long, the Harvard-Yale regatta was an annual event to which both schools were selling tickets.

From these humble beginnings, big-time college sports were born. Now, a handful of collegiate football players wants a seat at the table where workplace conditions are being discussed. And the school that’s trying to deny them that seat apparently can’t come up with a more compelling argument than the self-evidently stupid claim that a multi-billion-dollar industry is not a commercial enterprise.

(Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmahler.)

Photo: Party_Of_Five via Flickr