EL HOMBRE KNOWS SPORTS
All hail Ed O’Bannon.
For those of you not familiar with the current exploits of the former UCLA forward, who played on the Bruins’ ’95 national championship team back when Professor Jim Harrick was running things in Westwood, he has brought a $1 billion class action lawsuit against the NC2A, claiming the sausage factory (thank you, Raging Bill) profited illegally from the likenesses and exploits of college athletes. It’s a potentially explosive case, and it’s easy to see just how much the claims of O’Bannon et al have scared the folks in Indianapolis by the extensive resources they are devoting to squashing it.
At first, it seemed as if the NC2A wouldn’t have much trouble making the lawsuit go away, since it first appeared as if it were directed primarily toward the video game world. But a succession of favorable rulings has given it considerable traction, and it appears more and more likely the case will reach a courtroom, as well as potentially expose the NC2A as the exploitative entity that it is. The most recent bombshell – as reported Tuesday by SI.com – was the ruling by Judge Alfred V. Covello that espn must turn over its collegiate TV and licensing contracts to O’Bannon, the better to let the plaintiffs see how the colossus profited from the likenesses and names of former players. It was a huge victory for the O’Bannon side, and a potential body blow to the four-letter people, who fought hard against the release and will now have their business practices exposed to the world.
Judge Covello should be considered a hero for athletes and those of us who consider the NC2A and its member institutions to be running amok in the pursuit of money and promotional opportunities. It seems as if every week brings news of some new outrageous television contract or sponsorship deal designed to enrich universities, while continuing to subjugate the players. All the while, the NC2A and college presidents try to sell us on the fact that they actually care about their labor force, one of the biggest lies on a sporting landscape filled with untruths.
With each grab for the buck, college athletics move closer and closer to their professional cousins. The one major difference is that professional athletes are compensated fairly for their efforts, while participants in D-I revenue-generating sports continue to be told how the “college education” they are receiving is adequate remuneration for their substantial contributions to the leviathan. Ha! In most cases, athletes are shunted into majors that will not serve them well in the future, if they graduate at all. Meanwhile, we are fed a steady stream of propaganda by the NC2A about how companies can’t wait to hire former players. Sure they can’t. In an economy in which recent college grads struggle mightily to find gainful employment, it’s hard to imagine those holding “degrees” in multidisciplinary studies or social sciences will be in high demand on the job market.
Not that the NC2A cares about that. So long as it can sell the public on the notion that its labor force is getting an education, it can rake in the dough. Talk to any athlete at a big-time college – and El Hombre has – and you learn quickly that their lives are jam-packed with responsibilities for their sport. Their academic mission is to stay eligible, so that they can help their teams win and their institutions prosper.
And they are prospering. Look at the money being paid out by TV networks for broadcast rights. Last month, the Big 12 inked a 13-year deal with Fox and espn that will pay the conference $200 million annually. That’s $20 mil per team for those of you who aren’t so good at math. Thanks to its new contracts with Fox, espn and its own regional network, the Pac-12 will be able to pay its members about $30 mil for the next 12 years. And one can only imagine what the big dog, the SEC, will get when it finalizes negotiations and creates its own TV channel. It will buy a lot of grits and Goody’s Headache Powder, that’s for sure.
As those numbers go up, the students get nothing more in return than “a college education”. No spending money. No stipend that represents the gigantic physical sacrifices they make for the greater financial glory of State U. But they will dutifully play the roles of live-action mannequins, as schools and apparel companies dress them up in uniforms that seem decorated with the nightmare paint Bugs Bunny spread throughout Elmer Fudd’s dreams in “The Big Snooze”. If you watched last week’s Wisconsin-Nebraska game, you know what I mean. This week, Notre Dame tries to appeal to a bunch of teenagers with duds that should make Touchdown Jesus think about rooting for TCU or Boston College. And don’t forget to buy the jerseys on the web site after the game.
The NC2A’s continued pursuit of money, power and control leaves the athletes behind. There’s no guarantee O’Bannon’s suit will change things, but it will be great to see what happens if it reaches a courtroom and even better if the Indy crowd and its robber baron membership are forced to pay a fat, nine-figure settlement to the plaintiffs. For now, pay close attention as the details of espn’s contracts are revealed and never forget who the victims are in this case.
And don’t forget to buy Your School’s alternate jersey. It’s a great way to show spirit – and stick it to the kids.
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EL HOMBRE SEZ: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman must think he is in charge of the one product that will cure cancer, eliminate male pattern baldness and make women find beer, sports and flatulence intolerably sexy. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be presiding over the third hockey labor dispute since 1994. It’s hockey, Gary, and it is the fourth (maybe) most popular sport in this country. A prolonged lockout or the loss of the season will likely erase any (modest) gains in interest garnered over the past couple years. Let’s hope Bettman gets smart, because God knows it would be a crime to miss all those compelling Blue Jackets-Predators matchups…The NBA has announced it will fine players who flop repeatedly during games throughout the season. It’s a good idea, since watching people like Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and the South American trip-and-fall law firm of Ginobili, Scola and Sideshow Bob go down like they have been shot every time an opponent grazes them has gotten old. The bigger question is whether the new flop rule covers Magic Johnson’s broadcasting career…Reports surfaced last week that coaches in a Tustin, CA, pee-wee football league have been suspended for allegedly putting bounties on opposing players in 10 and 11-year old playoff games. They also are accused of recommending unhealthy methods for kids who needed to lose weight to become eligible. It’s nice to see that the NFL’s youth initiatives are making an impact…Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer twisted his ankle when a teammate stepped on it during Detroit’s celebration of its AL Central championship. In a related story, the Chicago Cubs iced their egos for the 104th consecutive year of having nothing to celebrate…The WNBA playoffs are in full swing, and you can justzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…The big news in Washington isn’t that the Nationals won the NL East. It’s that Teddy Roosevelt finally won the mascot race at a Nats game. Now that the seemingly impossible has happened, perhaps other previously unfeasible things will occur, like the Beltway crowd’s actually filling the stadium for a game. Leaving a quarter of the seats (at least) available for most games is extremely weak.
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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Phillies fans had better hope this isn’t their winter of discontent, as GM Ruben Amaro tries to fortify an aging, overpriced roster with much-needed help in the outfield, at third base and in the bullpen. It’s a tall order for a guy who has yet to show the requisite creativity necessary to fill such a large menu of needs in a way other than just wielding a big checkbook. The Phils made a good decision to jettison a large portion of their coaching staff, but the game is about players, and the team needs a lot of them. The fans shouldn’t be too confident in Amaro, and they should be outraged if the 2013 Opening Day lineup includes a collection of players better suited for the bench. The franchise can moan all it wants about how it has $128 million committed for next season, but it isn’t the fans’ fault Amaro overpaid for Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon. The team’s sellout streak ended in 2012, and an off-season of inactivity and excuse making will drive even more fans away in ’13. It’s time for action, and Amaro had better deliver.
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AND ANOTHER THING: Let’s hear it for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which played two days of great golf last weekend at Medinah. Unfortunately, the competition lasts three days, and the Americans’ final matches resulted in giving away a four-point lead to the Euroweenies. Apologists have wasted a lot of words over the past several days trying to convince us that the U.S. didn’t “lose” the Ryder Cup; the visitors “won” it. Nice. First, our best golfers gack it up on home soil, and then some in the media prove our lack of spine and character by arguing that competitors from the countries we spent either conquering or saving last century “made shots” and “played better”. If you lose a four-point lead in your own country on the last day to opponents that aren’t considered obviously superior to you, it’s a choke. Got that? So, let’s stop coming up with salves for the wounds and name a captain (sorry DLIII, but you’re too soft) who won’t add washed-up big names to the roster next time, so the U.S. can win. That’s the goal. It’s not about spirited competition. It’s about winning. The Americans didn’t, and they deserve every bit of hell they have been receiving.
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ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: Please stop with the “arguments” for Angels rookie Mike Trout in the MVP race. Trout has had a superb year, but he doesn’t deserve the MVP. In fact, it’s not close. Not only was Cabrera the first player to win the Triple Crown (The Triple F---ing Crown!) in 45 years, he also led the majors in Slugging Percentage, OPS, extra-base hits and total bases. Further, when the Tigers made their charge to the AL Central pennant, in August, September and (three days of) October, Cabrera was on fire, hitting .344, with 19 homers and 54 RBI. During that same span, Trout hit .287, with 12 homers and 28 RBI. The Tigers surged during that period, while the Angels sagged. Coincidence? Not a chance. It’s great that Trout stole a bunch of bases, but so did Lou Brock and Maury Wills, and they never won MVP awards. The Triple Crown should be enough to give Cabrera the trophy, simply because nobody has dominated hitting stats the way he has in 45 years, but in the era of geekball, where WAR and contrived stats get too much play, people are pushing for Trout. The kid deserves a lot of credit, but he doesn’t get the MVP. That goes to the guy who led his team to the playoffs and who completed a legendary season.