The late great William F. Buckley Jr. once said that he'd rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book rather than the 2000 members of the Harvard faculty.
For my part, I'd prefer to be governed by anybody, rather than the the editors and columnists of the New York Times. Today's example: Business columnist Joe Nocera. Who has written this lengthy Times Sunday Magazine commentary on "Let's Start Paying College Athletes."
Nocera is a relative newcomer to the Times; within just weeks of his arrival this year, he had written a wildly intemperate column in which he compared "Tea Party Republicans" with terrorists, and wrote that they "have waged jihad on the American people," with a further suggestion that they "can put aside their suicide vests." Nocera's rhetoric didn't raise an eyebrow among his Times editors, apparently, who published it. But the public blowback was such that Nocera soon apologized, writing:
The words I chose were intemperate and offensive to many, and I've been roundly criticized. I was a hypocrite, the critics said, for using such language when on other occasions I've called for a more civil politics. In the cool light of day, I agree with them. I apologize.
Joe Nocera was born and raised in that hotbed of college football, Providence, Rhode Island. And his college degree was earned at that traditional football powerhouse, Boston University. That extensive background in college football explains why Nocera apparently never interviewed any college football coaches or administrators. In any event, he didn't quote any.
Joe Nocera essentially starts with that kernel of truth that underlies most Times editorials, before they go completely haywire. It is the notion -- one that I agree with -- that increasingly, college football players, as well as players in men's college basketball, are distanced from the rest of the student body in terms of being real "student-athletes." That's no doubt true, and in fact Nocera later gets to a very good quote from former University of Michigan President James Duderstadt which underscores that point; "Most sports can be justified as part of what a university does. But big-time football and men’s basketball are clearly commercial entertainment and have been pulled away from the fundamental purpose of a university."
So what solution has Joe Nocera given us? A five-point plan, that is so insane on its face that if one were not careful, one could easily get caught up in the details of the plan's workings, and lose sight of the fact that the plan isn't even remotely intended to, or capable of, remedying the basic problem outlined in the previous paragraph. In a word, what Joe Nocera proposes is a college football operation that appears to be NFL-Lite, and would, beyond any doubt, set college football on a path to erasing any serious connection between colleges and football apart from marketing snazzy apparel. Joe Nocera is the boldest idiot since, well, Tom Friedman.
The Nocera plan (I commend it in all its glorious detail in the linked article) is basically this:
Allow colleges to pay players. Pay would be in the neighborhood of 40k-60k, for reasons outlined below. Minimum salary of 25k per player.
Nationwide team caps. About $3 million for football, and about $650,000 for basketball. Nocera wants this to sound tantalizingly cheap, and it is.
Extended scholarships ~ possible six years. Every player who stays in school as an eligible athlete for four years, would be given whatever scholarship assistance he needed for two additional years, to complete a degree.
Lifetime health insurance.
A college football players' union, to assure legaliziation of the pay-and-cap scheme, and to admminister benefits, etc.
When you read the article, you'd be tempted to think, "Who the hell came up with this idea?" And you eventually find out; it is the people whom Joe Nocera has been talking to. Lawyers, and their litigation experts, who are now beginning some hig-profile lawsuits against the NCAA and the larger world of college sports. Nocera's wife, he reveals, works for one of the law firms who have worked on the leading case. Nocera never once quotes anybody like a Lloyd Carr, or David Brandon, or any other big-time college coach or administrator. He does quote such uninterested personages as Leigh Steinberg, and some of the paid experts in the current litigation. And naturally, he mentions Penn State, Ohio State and Miami. As if there is some cognizable thread running through all three situations.
The illustration that leads off the article is a doozy. There is a composite photo of leading college coaches with the stat-healdine that the combined 2011 salaries of the 15 highest-paid football coaches was $53.4 million. That composite is counterposed with one of college football players (including one Dilithium-powered QB) with the headline-stat that the combined salaries of the 13,877 Div.-I football players was (you'll never guess) $0 dollars. This is such laughable propaganda; God forbid the Times showing any interest in the 2011 salaries of the 15 highest-paid University Presidents (you know, the guys like Lee Bollinger who write Op-Eds for the Times on the side) or the total amount paid by universities for all of the of the collegiate grants-in-aid and other benefits for all of those football players. [Edit - There is a sidebar-graphic in the Times Magazine, featuring a bunch of eye-popping multi-million-dollar numbers that are supposed to impress us. I gather, what really pisses off the Times is something like 'income inequality' in college athletics. A millionaires' tax, perhaps? Anyway, attention is owed one item of substance given my comments just above. The Times cites the total amount paid in tuition scholarships for the Texas team ($3+million) as being less than Mack Brown's annual ($5+million) salary. Mack Brown is of course the single highest-paid coach in the country, by quite a lot. And University of Texas tuition is one of the cheapest in the country. A better example of a cherry-picked statistic is hard to imagine.]
I could go on and on. You can't go more than a couple of paragraphs at a time without encountering some complete howler, from a guy who's never spent a day as a college coach or an athletic director, and who seems to be largely disinterested in interviewing any of them. The lawyers and the economist-experts are more interesting to Nocera. Anyway, I leave it to you. I shudder to think that in the months and years to come, this garbage might become the go-to article for everybody (Occupy the Rose Bowl, apparently) who thinks that what we really need to do to fix things as they are is to pay college football players, certify a union for them and, naturally, give them all tax lawyers. I can't wait until the College Football Players Association hires a lobbyist and they begin making campaign donations to their new political action committee.