Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Charlie Weis Representing Notre Dame With Class, Again

I know I've been a bad blogger lately. Not much going on with Irish football right now + a whole lot going on at home and work = very light blogging. But there is one Irish development worth noting: Charlie Weis recently took several days out of his busy schedule as head football coach at Notre Dame to go golfing with Ty Willinham, visit our troops overseas. He started at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, then flew to Germany and on to several stops in Southwest Asia (including Qatar, Bahrain, a ship in the Persian Gulf, the UAE, and unnamed locations). Then he took a long flight back to Washington D.C. where he and the other coaches on the trip met with President Bush at the White House.

Sounds pretty worthwhile, if a little boring, until you read about how excited the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were to see Coach Weis. Many of them were Notre Dame alumni, and many more were life-long Irish fans who couldn't believe they were actually getting a chance to meet Coach Weis to take a picture or get an autograph (or a free Notre Dame T-shirt). When you read about Charlie putting a smile on the faces of those men and women serving our country halfway around the world, you're proud to be a Notre Dame man, and proud to have Charlie as your head football coach.

Charlie's trip diaries, which are highly recommended reading, are at the following links:

Day One
Day Two
Days 3 and 4
Day Five

And here's the link to the official White House story on the coaches' visit with the President, including Coach Weis' remarks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Baseball Holds the Key to Fixing College Basketball

In retrospect it seems obvious that no good would come from a high-profile athlete named "O.J." enrolling at the University of Southern California. And I use the term "enroll" very loosely. This time the USC scandal is centered on basketball player O.J. Mayo, the "freshman" sensation who has recently made himself available for the upcoming NBA draft. Again, I use the term "freshman" loosely since that term has a meaning generally associated with being an actual student pursuing an academic degree at a university, as opposed to being a basketball mercenary who is being paid to wear a particular college's uniform during his audition for the NBA.

I'm sure nobody was more surprised that shady sports agents might be funneling improper benefits to star athletes at USC than basketball coach Tim Floyd - except for maybe USC Head Football Coach Pete Carroll. The O.J. Mayo experience stunk from the start, and USC deserves to get the full court press from the NCAA over this. But USC is not the only entity deserving of blame. A system that allows these young players to accept a "scholarship" to a "university" to play basketball, and then walk away from their school, their coach, and their teammates after just one season of play (and about one semester of classes) is obviously flawed.

One of the things that makes me most proud to be an alumnus of the University of Notre Dame is that ND has always taken the concept of the student-athlete seriously. Student-athletes at Notre Dame live in regular dorms with "regular" students, they dine in the same dining halls as the rest of the student body, they attend the same classes as other students, they earn good grades, and they graduate with an honest-to-goodness degree from one of the best colleges in the nation. Those things are very important to me, and I think they are consistent with the highest ideals of the NCAA. I have always been bothered by those schools who place athletic (and financial) success ahead of education. By permitting (encouraging) their athletes to enroll in patty-cake courses, and then setting the bar of expected academic performance low enough, these institutions do a great disservice to their students, most of whom will need to find "real jobs" eventually. It also compromises the overall academic integrity of the institution itself, and cheapens the value of its diplomas. Tangentially, it's also unfair to the real student-athletes at other schools who have to compete on the playing field against these semi-professionals.

The current system in college basketball makes a mockery of the concept of the student athlete. Athletes whose only intent in accepting a scholarship is to use it as a springboard to the pros at the first opportunity deprive college athletics of what's left of its purity. What makes college sports great (at least to me) is all the students in the stands (and alumni across the country) cheering on their fellow STUDENTS. One of them. Not random guys off the street who are just wearing the colors for a while, but guys they know from the dorms, and from class, who are struggling to graduate. I know, big-time college sports aren't "pure." The money and pressure to win at any cost has worked to corrupt the revenue sports to a significant degree. But I think the ideal of the student-athlete lives on and we need to do what we can to preserve and nurture it. And I think that has to start with college hoops.

I was just looking at recent projections for the upcoming NBA draft. No, I don't know why I was doing that, since I have plenty of other ways I should be spending my time. But I digress. According to projections, the Top 5 picks in the NBA draft could well be 4 college freshman and 1 college sophomore. The Top 10 would be 7 freshman, 2 foreign players, and 1 sophomore. The Top 20 projects as 9 freshman, 7 sophomores, 2 foreign players, 1 junior and 1 senior. If the projections are correct, 18 college players would be drafted in the first 20 picks, only ONE of whom would have completed four years of college and thus have a reasonable chance of having earned a college degree. That's absurd. If you want to play pro basketball - then by all means please go play pro basketball. But don't go to a university and waste everyone's time with the charade that you are a "student" there.

Baseball has it right, and the NBA should adopt the Major League Baseball model as its own. Under the rules of the MLB draft, players are eligible for the draft coming out of high school. If they sign a contract with a team, then they play pro baseball. If they don't sign a contract (either because they didn't get drafted, or didn't get drafted high enough, or couldn't reach terms with a team), then they can choose to go to college. If they enroll at a junior college, they can go back into the draft the following year. But, if they enroll at a 4-year school, they are not eligible to be in the draft again until they complete their third or fourth year of school, or reach 21 years of age. This system has worked very well for players, colleges, and Major League Baseball. Kids who are extremely talented coming out of high school, or who just aren't interested in more education, can go pro right away. Those that need more development, or who value an education, can decide instead to go to college. Colleges and universities who place a player on athletic scholarship know that they are getting a student who is at least somewhat committed to education and who will be there (on the field and in the classroom) for at least three years. Win-win-win.

The flaw in this plan of course is that, unlike Major League Baseball, the NBA doesn't currently have an extensive farm system in which to incubate developing players that they have under contract. But that can be fixed. The NBA Developmental League can be expanded. The NBA could buy the Continental Basketball Association for a song and use it for player development. The NBA could adopt a junior college rule similar to MLB, so that players not intent on earning a degree can at least take a few general educational courses at a JC while playing and waiting to be drafted. If viable paths to the NBA other than through the NCAA are available after high school, then college basketball can regain some of its integrity and allure. We can return to cheering for students who play basketball for their schools, rather than basketball players who merely wear the uniform of a school while waiting around for a better offer.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Why Blogging is Morally Superior to "Journalism"

People love to hate bloggers. They read our posts, then write comments saying that "nobody cares what you guys think anyway." Huh? What the haters don't get is that blogging is a labor of love (or passion, if you will), not just something we do for a paycheck. Thus, it's more real, more genuine, and more noble than most of what you read in the newspaper (does ANYONE read a newspaper anymore?). Think about the difference between amateur and professional athletes. Remember when we all lauded the purity of the Olympics because they were about the love of sport, not about the money?

So the other day I'm checking my usual sites (NDLNA.com) and there's a link to a terrific rant over at The Rock Report about how the sports media is always on Notre Dame's ass with a proctoscope about some minor instance of political incorrectness, while ignoring the very real and pervasive problems facing college sports across the board. I don't always agree with The Rock, but his blog is generally excellent, and I sure agree with him this time. So I left him a nice comment at NDLNA. The some other reader at NDLNA leaves a comment that starts out with "I don't disagree with the general point of this blog" and then eventually chimes in with the following:

The sad fact is, you would probably trade this blog for a shot to be a real "media talking head" in a heartbeat. You'd get your press pass to sit in a media box and all this writing you do wouldn't just be for your own personal benefit and the benefit of the folks at NDLNA who comprise the entire blog audience.

And you know what, the minute you strapped the credential to your shirt pocket, you'd be talking about the same exact shit your crucifying the media for in this blog piece.

I'm no media apologist and It does suck that Notre Dame gets labeled "arrogant" for putting education first... but for the love of God, quit your bitching and write something worth reading. As it stands now, you just make yourself look like yet another disgruntled blogger who wishes he could work for NBC or ESPN but doesn't have the formal education or the wherewithal to go do it. So instead you just railroad the media every day on your free blog.

Bitter much?
If you've been reading blogs or internet message boards for any length of time, you've seen a variation on this theme many times. Every once in a while I feel compelled to set these guys straight. Here's my response to NDIrish50:
I love how bitter commenters (like yourself) always assume that those of us who blog for free on a subject we are passionate about must be (1) secretly covetous of a job in the paid media, (2) totally without principles, (3) without the education or talent to get a job as a "real" journalist.

I can't speak for "The Rock", but as a member of the Notre Dame blogging community I can speak for myself. I blog for free, usually about Notre Dame football. I do it because I love the University and the game, because I enjoy the challenge, and because it provides a fun creative outlet. Sure, it would be fun to be on TV getting paid to spout nonsense like the guys at ESPN, but I don't secretly covet a job as a sports hack for the South Bend Tribune or the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The fact is, I couldn't afford the pay cut.

As for our willingness to sell our integrity for a press pass, I think you miss the point. Any idiot with a keyboard could write conventional, politically correct tripe by the gigabyte for some corporate megalith. But we bloggers would rather write what we really feel and believe FOR FREE than compromise ourselves for a little coin.

And finally, there's our education and wherewithal. The last bastion of the blog critic. Precisely how educated does one need to be to write about sports professionally? Have you read a sports page, or any sports publication, recently? Sure, there are some stars who can really write. But most of the work out there is GARBAGE. A degree in "communications" or "journalism" is nothing to write home about (pun intended). Again, I can't speak for The Rock, but I wish I could have had all the free party time in college that the journalism majors had. Instead, I was busting my ass trying to get an aerospace engineering degree (which I followed up with a law degree). As a lawyer, I actually do get paid to write professionally. In fact, I get paid very well to convince important decision makers that my client's opinions should be theirs too. Real world writing, not fluff like football.

So maybe you agree with us. Maybe you don't. Maybe you don't have the balls to form an opinion of your own. But please stop with the "bloggers are bitter, envious, untalented hacks with no integrity" bullshit. Not only is it misinformed, it's so damn tiresome.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. That was self indulgent. But if you can't be self indulgent on your blog, when can you be?