7 April 2014

NCAA Sacrifices Student Athlete to God of Mammon

7 April 2014,

I have loved college basketball over the years. An Indiana University alum and fan, I have also liked the University of Kentucky Wildcats since my wonderful brother and sister-in-law live in Lexington and are fans. I am happy for them and all the UK fans and students who have always been rabid and knowledgeable.  Yet I wasn’t rooting for them in the NCAA Final Four semifinal match against the Wisconsin Badgers a few days ago.

Why? Maybe I am old-fashioned but to me college basketball is about a student athlete who takes classes and more than likely earns a degree. He combines education and athletics. There’s a purity that separates it from the pro game.

Until recently. A perfect example is when Wisconsin and Kentucky played last weekend—the Badgers played amateur student athletes and Kentucky essentially started non-student professionals. It was not a level playing field.

How did this happen? A few years ago the NBA and NCAA made a deal with the devil. They adjusted the age at which amateurs could turn pro and made a joke of the requirements for NCAA eligibility to be considered a student athlete. What’s required of players to be considered student athletes and compete against other student athletes?

  • Do they need to graduate? No.
  • Take three years of classes? No.
  • Take two years of classes? No.
  • Take one year of classes? No.
  • Take one fulltime semester of classes? Not even.


All that’s required of an NCAA student athlete is six hours of classes for a single semester (a full course load is 15 hours). They don’t even have to attend class spring semester. Student-athlete graduation rates will continue to nosedive from historical rates of around 70 percent.

The NCAA is motivated by greed. It didn’t want to risk losing to the NBA any of the top-20 talented basketball players it showcases each year and the television revenue that they create. The price to the cheering public is the death of an icon: The hardworking student-athlete balancing an education with athletics.

Welcome to the new era of the player who has zero interest in college and is essentially a hired gun who uses a year of college hoops to showcase his talent, drive up his value, and jump right to the NBA. He should be playing in the NBA or in the NBA development league and not competing against real student athletes.

However, you can’t blame the kids that are recruited by Calipari. They are 18 year-old kids who don’t want to go to college and just want to play pro basketball. Nothing wrong with that, just don’t go to college.

Calipari, though, lures them with promises of big notoriety and more money.  I might well say yes if I were the kid. The fault is our society, the NBA, the NCAA and coaches like Calipari, who in college basketball, stands in a class by himself.

I am told that Indiana University would not accept a Calipari style of recruiting. I hope that to be the case.

The NCAA and NBA may say they didn’t anticipate the new rules would be abused. True, most college coaches haven’t turned this loophole into a permanent strategy the way UK’s John Calipari has. Sure, Calipari follows the letter of the rule. Yet it is dirty pool in my mind. Sports aficionados know Calipari’s strategy but it’s not talked about much by the media (or the NBA or NCAA) because of the money involved. So public criticism is blunted by the people who control and make money off the airwaves

Calipari smartly muddies the water around the issue. He has two tactical defense strategies: 1) he focuses on a few token players (who play little if at all) who are good students; and 2) he employs savvy word-smithing to replace the “one-and-done” phrase that’s critical of his strategy with the elegant “succeed-and-proceed.”

Calipari simply avoids the central issue of false advertising surrounding calling his players “student-athletes.” Heck, even one-and-done is too generous because it suggests the players take classes for a year. “Two-classes-and-done” is the truth for too many players.

Yet it has yielded results in the NCAA tournament. During the past four years, Calipari’s semi-pro, virtual high school all-star team has got to the Final Four three times and won one (or two if they win tonight) national championships.

Wisconsin was too classy to call foul. Although Badger Coach Bo Ryan did say in a post-game interview how proud he was of his student athletes. College Basketball doesn’t mean students playing basketball anymore. Yet my admiration is great for the teams like Wisconsin that have true student athletes and give Kentucky’s hired guns all they can handle.

The NCAA had better be careful. As more and more people realize what is happening, they may sour on this charade. Most fans have a sense of fairness and a nose for false advertising. More and more, they will realize that these are not students-athletes they’re watching.

17 December 2012

Guns In America: The Elephant in the Room

17 December 2012,
 I have four lovely granddaughters ranging from 4 to 8 years old, I nearly lost one son in a car accident years ago, and another son wrote many articles for Newsweek about school shootings. That’s the context for how heartsick I am about the Connecticut shootings. I’m also sick to my stomach over political leaders who’ve shown zero leadership on passing minimal sensible gun-management laws. Laws governing toys and cars are more stringent.
There will be the familiar cries of politicizing this issue in the wake of tragedy yet I agree with The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein. He says conservatives’ “calls for silence” is politicization in and of itself, to protect their political construct and keep the status quo (loose gun laws), knowing that given time, the tragedy will recede.
This has nothing to do with the millions of wonderful hunters and sportsmen or those who have a gun in their home to protect themselves. By and large this group is responsible. National Rifle Association (NRA) leadership is another story.
Republicans are brazen about this issue. Until Friday, Democrats’ (including the presidents’) silence on guns has equaled complicity, even while America’s mayors and police departments outside the Washington bubble constantly make noise for better gun management.
Help me understand this:
·         On September 11, 2001, nearly 3000 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks and our politicians started two wars and spent 6000 lives (50,000 wounded) and trillions of tax-payer dollars
·         Every year, 11,000 Americans are killed in gun-related homicides and our politicians are silent
Nor do I understand this:
People kill people. Guns don’t kill people.
It’s what opponents of minimal gun management measures always say. The old saw is that murder sprees are caused by crazy people. Indeed, mentally ill people commit most mass murders … and they’re aided by the most efficient machine ever invented to express hate, a gun.

3 December 2012

AMC Theaters Gets Blockbuster’ed

3 December 2012,

I just saw a great example of a company—the theater chain AMC—become irrelevant overnight. AMC is big so let me explain. AMC La Jolla Theater just north of San Diego has always had big lines and tons of business. Mary and I have stood in them for years. Then a month ago, ArcLight La Jolla opened with a vastly superior business model: Pre-selected seating, comfy seats, lush lobby and theaters, alcohol, better food options, more and friendlier employees. 
Result? According to our eyes and an AMC employee, AMC La Jolla has lost half its business in one month. What was their response a month into ArcLight’s incursion into their territory? (After all, AMC had 18 months notice that ArcLight  was coming.)
AMC simply hung a sign at its theater saying they had more comfy seats on the way. Sorry, AMC. Too little, too late. Kansas City-based AMC used to be a leader. Now it looks like a weak follower.
You have to prepare for competition like you’re going to war. When I had Tires Plus, we got 18 months notice that Sears subsidiary, National Tire Chain (NTB) was invading our home base of Minneapolis-St. Paul. What did we do? Took multiple competitive espionage trips to their stores in other markets and upgraded our stores and people to insure NTB had zero edge when they arrived. In addition, during NTB’s grand opening we had our biggest promotion of the year and slashed our tire prices. Result? NTB closed all five of their stores, packed up, and left the Twin Cities 24 months after arriving.
No matter how big AMC is (they were recently bought by a Chinese company), whomever the CEO of AMC is should be fired for being asleep at the switch. If what happened in La Jolla happens in other markets, ArcLight (or Icon or Alamo) will play Netflix to AMC’s Blockbuster.
In the meantime, Mary and I will enjoy our movie nights at ArcLight La Jolla.

4 August 2007

Of Bridges and Proactivity

4 August 2007,

Which is better? Correcting a problem after you’ve experienced it? Or, watching the dashboard for warning signs and taking corrective actions to avoid the problem in the first place? Obviously, the latter is better: Proactivity saves more time, money and, in some cases, lives, than reactivity. I grade the business world a “C” on being proactive. Government? Regretfully, it gets an “F.”

Which brings us to the matter of the I35W bridge failure in Minneapolis, my hometown. Indeed, hindsight has all kinds of advantages that foresight lacks, and the catastrophe’s cause will take a long time to determine. But the human and engineering disaster looks like a perfect example of reactivity trumping proactivity. A few years ago, inspectors judged the bridge “structurally deficient.” They graded it on two scales: On a scale of 1 to 9, it earned a 4; and its structural integrity marks were 50 point out of a possible 120. In every school and class I’ve ever attended, those are failing grades.

The failure of this bridge, which I had used a few times every week for the past three decades, has provoked a lot of tortured semantic arguments about the meaning of structural deficiency. Yet this tragedy, as tragedies often do, is provoking a gross bulge of reactive actions by government and its custodial politicians. Think about it. How do you, in your business, or the representative that you elect to make large community decisions, operate? Poised to pounce when things go horribly wrong? Or, snooping for symptoms, digging below the surface to root causes and acting before a full-blown crisis explodes?

If transportation was your business and you read a report on a 40-year-old bridge, built to carry 40,000 cars daily and now carrying 140,000 cars each day, that graded it structurally deficient with a rating below 50-percent of where it should be, would that cause you to take action? Or, would you delay another few budget cycles? The answer is as obvious as it should have been when President Bush was handed a daily brief entitled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US” one month before 9/11.

Here’s the lesson we all need to keep learning: Throughout your day, be aware of symptoms, not just their negative results. It will save a lot of heartache in the long run. Whether government or business, whether it’s bridges, airplanes or widgets, let proactive snooping to discover root causes ring across the land.