Unverified Voracity Dreams Of Horses

Submitted by Brian on March 11th, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Programming note. Since the basketball team has definitively disproven the idea that a liveblog around these parts is some kind of curse—the curse obviously exists, mind you, but goes wider than just this here blog—we're going to do one for the Iowa game today. Why? I don't really know.

Weekend note. Michigan State is desperately trying to sell CCHA playoff tickets:

To purchase tickets for groups of 15 or more, click here to receive discount pricing!

Let's help them out!

Deford and the Dream of Horses. Frank Deford sits down to briefly address this Ed O'Bannon thing before dozing off and dreaming of horses…

…and the headline goes for the gusto: "lawsuit threatens NCAA amateurism." That seems akin to those headlines about a 16-team Big Ten with outposts in Nagasaki and Atlantis, but Deford does a pretty good job of justifying it, all things considered:

So here's the nub for the NCAA: Explain the exemption that absolves the organization from compensating players for their labor.

So far, the NCAA, whose office is in Indianapolis, has spent a great deal of pretrial energy trying desperately to get the case shifted from San Francisco to its home court in Indiana. However, its effort did not pay off, as Federal Judge Claudia Wilken denied the request. Now, the discovery phase begins.

The outlook is bleak. The 2009 decision to award retired NFL players compensation for the use of their likeness in video games must surely hang over the NCAA's head. If old pros should be paid for the appropriation of their personages, why shouldn't old collegians?

I'm coming up empty even when I approach the problem from the perspective of a slick-haired guy in a suit attempting to argue an obviously untenable position because that's how daddy gets a luxury car. I'm all for the collegiate spirit, but I'm also all for the vague semblance of fairness.

Remember how I used to rail about the ridiculous increase in head coaches' salaries? Good times. Also outdated times:

The trend of rapidly accelerating pay for major-college head football coaches is being replicated — and then some — for their top assistants.

With many contracts being negotiated or finalized, nearly a dozen schools in the NCAA's 120-school Football Bowl Subdivision have made deals under which they will be spending at least 38% more on their offensive or defensive coordinator in 2010 than they did in 2009.

This, like everything else in college football, is Lane Kiffin's fault.

Even so, every time a coordinator breaks a million dollars it's another blow to the idea that big time college sports programs can't afford to provide something to their players. If a BCS university's athletic department isn't profitable, it's because the university doesn't want it to be profitable. Period. You could hire a high school coach and fly coach and laugh as your terrible team gets a million billion dollars in TV revenue. You could drop the crew teams. You could become Donald Sterling, and laugh all the way to the bank. There is an unbelievable amount of money that could go to the players.

I can understand the point of view that you'd rather give someone else a scholarship and have another team or draw less from the general fund than offer something resembling fair compensation to football and basketball players, but that's not where the extra money goes, does it?

Conference du Gump. The Big Ten, as always, is slowwwww. John Gasaway gets a brief window to promulgate tempo-free whatnot in the Wall Street Journal and supplies a chart (chart):

The Tempo Index

Here are the fastest and slowest major-conference teams, based on their number of possessions per 40 minutes of conference play.

1 Wisconsin (57.6) 1 Providence (72.8)
2 Michigan (59.7) 2 Arkansas (72.3)
3 Iowa (61) 3 Texas Tech (72)
4 Penn State (61.3) 4 Villanova (71.6)
5 Northwestern (61.8) 5 Washington (71.4)
6 Pittsburgh (62) 6 Texas (71.4)
7 USC (62.1) 7 Kansas State (71.3)

Holy cold potatoes: Big Ten teams comprise the bottom five and Michigan is second only to Wisconsin.

Gasaway, by the way, confirmed for me that my previous instinct about Michigan's conference defense vis a vis its offense was correct. Tempo-free aerials are usually centered on 1.00 point per trip, and Michigan both averaged and provided just about one point per trip during conference play. Average at everything? Not so much. This was a twitter message, in case you're wondering about the terseness:

Assumption confirmed. In-conf defense 0.31 standard deviations better than Big Ten avg. Offense half an sd (.49) worse than avg. Zowie.

That latter won't surprise anyone given the Taj Mahal Michigan shooters have assembled over the past few months. The former, though, is one of the enduring mysteries of the Big Ten season. It may be one of the enduring mysteries of John Beilein's career: Michigan is currently 47th in the adjusted efficiency ratings at Kenpom. Barring John Lickliter going 12/12 from three in a couple hours, this will be the best defense Beilein has ever had according to Kenpom.

How in the hell is a team with basically one player over 6'5" (Sims and Gibson hardly ever play together) actually good at defense? Kenpom says it's a lot of forced turnovers and a Wisconsin-like aversion to giving up free throws making up for bleah eFG% defense and rebounding. That turnovers without fouling thing is a neat trick.

The thing is: that fingerprint is characteristic of the 1-3-1 zone Beilein is known for… and Michigan had to abandon midway through the nonconference schedule because mediocrities like Boston College and Alabama were treating it like a layup line. By the Big Ten portion of the schedule, Michigan had morphed into an almost exclusively man-to-man team.

This isn't like football where a terrible offense can sometimes make that team's defense look better than it is as opponents get their three point lead and play keep-away. The opponent's offense, or lack thereof, is of no relevance once you suck tempo out of the equation. So this appears to be a real positive that could last into next year. If anyone on the team can throw a ball into Lake Michigan, it could be relevant.

Default Big Ten expansion bits. Notre Dame rumbled a couple days ago, spawning panic across the Subway alums. I was doubtful that the "easy to construct" scenario in which Notre Dame is forced into a conference comes to pass—had a hard time constructing one at all—and this makes it even more doubtful:

A source within the Big Ten told the Tribune last month that given what transpired in 2003, when Notre Dame all but accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten before pulling back, "the only way they will be offered is if they first accept. The Big Ten went down that road and got burned. Fool me once, fool me twice."

Fat chance of that. Nothing to see here, move along, etc. At least ND Nation's reaction has been the usual wildly entertaining mix of garment-rending, arrogance and delusion.

Elsewhere, Bleed Scarlet digs up a bunch of things that went down 15 years ago when Rutgers was apparently a major Big Ten target. Here's life on the other side of the Rutgers/Big Ten divide:

On the flipside of that, Rutgers fans were almost nonchalant (which, certainly owed much to how frequently the topic has been debated to death on our side in recent years) and completely self-assured about it. ”Of course Rutgers was the most desirable option. How could anyone possibly think otherwise?”

Er… well, you see… it's just… nah. Never mind.

I said another piece on this in a Sporting Blog article yesterday and remain skeptical that Rutgers moves the needle enough in New York for the local cable companies to shell out for the BTN, but on WTKA today Ira made a good point: with a zillion Big Ten alums in the city, their combined might could be Captain Planet to Pollutin' Time Warner. Rutgers gets to be the fey South American kid whose special power is "heart".

Etc.: Jim Mandich has cancer, but it is apparently treatable. TOC puts together Big Ten efficiency graphs that show two things: holy God is the offense bad against teams not named Minnesota, and holy crap are they inconsistent.



March 11th, 2010 at 1:37 PM ^

I live in NYC and have Time Warner, which is the biggest cable company in the city, and I get the Big 10 network (in HD nonetheless).

I know RCN doesn't offer it and I'm unsure about Verizon Fios, Cablevision, etc.


March 11th, 2010 at 1:56 PM ^

when it was considering expansion in 1989. Considering the fact that there was no Big Ten television network back then, the conference would have been primarily interested in a school whose football team was going to be on TV most often. That certainly wasn't Rutgers in '89. Unless somebody can produce internal conference documents indicating otherwise, there's no way I will believe that the B10 seriously considered RU over PSU or Pitt. The interest was strictly one way on Rutger's part. Any talk of RU back then was simply bargaining tactics designed to get PSU to take the offer.


March 11th, 2010 at 1:57 PM ^

But I want back that Tam Beever thread! That had VALUABLE information that I couldn't live without. There is no way that I can afford such great analysis.


March 11th, 2010 at 2:17 PM ^

Isn't a $100,000+ worth of free education, food, lodging, tutoring and training for 5 years adequate compensation??

I don't see a lot of people turning down the scholarships saying this is a scam.


March 11th, 2010 at 2:39 PM ^

I'm not entirely opposed to giving athletes royalties for the use of their likeness, as they seem to be the only people in the world who don't get that.

But I don't see how at least $34,000 a year of tax-free income, plus free health care, and everything else, is somehow a lack of compensation for their labor.

As Ziff said: I don't see a lot of people turning this opportunity down due to the unfairness of it all. If it were truly an unfair deal, wouldn't you think somebody would reject the offer?

And don't forget this can of worms: Start doing this, and eventually some greedy prima donna is going to see himself, the Heisman Trophy contender, getting the same royalties as the backup punter, and want a little something extra, since he's featured a lot more than that other guy. Do you give them all the same thing, in which case some guys are being a lot more for a lot less? Or do you work out some kind of convoluted system?


March 11th, 2010 at 6:03 PM ^

As Ziff said: I don't see a lot of people turning this opportunity down due to the unfairness of it all. If it were truly an unfair deal, wouldn't you think somebody would reject the offer?

But isn't this just because of an unfair rule in the market? Basketball had to institute a minimum age because teams were ready and willing to pay for the services of John Wall right out of high school, and the massive failure rate of those same high schoolers.

Baseball and Hockey both draft from high school, and a large percentage of top prospects take the professional offer and go toil in the minor leagues.

Football is structured in its current version because the NFL loves the free talent evaluation and minor league that D-1 schools provide. The elite talent is cut down, providing the NFL a better product. 50% of 5* athletes don't produce in college, an even smaller percentage produces in the pros. Imagine if some NFL team drafted those kids. There's always a team dumb and desperate enough. (Tell me the Raiders wouldn't have drafted Terelle Pryor in the 1st round)

The other side of the coin is that Universities love the name recognition and money that a big time football program brings to the school. They are more than willing to fund 85 x 30k scholarships because they bring in 20x that in revenue. How would they react if all of the 5*s and many 4*s are poached off and go to some version of the minors modeled after hockey or baseball? Devin Gardner would play for the Toledo Ligers (fictional AAA affiliate of the Detroit Lions) instead of Michigan.

So, back on topic, some people reject offers if they get a choice,/i>. Michael Phelps rejected a swimming scholarship because he thought he could make more money off endorsements. Football players don't get a choice because of the NFL rules and draft system.


March 11th, 2010 at 8:26 PM ^

I don't think there was a particularly high failure rate for high schoolers who went pro. It was more a marketing issue. The NBA just didn't like having guys go pro when fans didn't know who they were. They like having players make a name for themselves in college first. Also, they'd rather have guys spend time developing in the free minor league of the NCAA rather than sit on an NBA team's bench for 2-3 years.

st barth

March 11th, 2010 at 3:22 PM ^

The problem with paying college athletes is that it throws a monkey wrench into the entire American sports landscape...and how it will inevitably evolve. College athletes (almost by definition) can not be paid. If they were and universities were allowed to vigorously pursue all money making opportunities in an effort to pay for & retain talent then they would have a huge advantage over professional clubs in gaining first access to young athletes & retaining loyalty.

Look at southeast Michigan, if the Wolverines were somehow allowed to compete with the Detroit Lions who would likely win? Imagine the Wolverines being able to pay talent like Tom Brady & Charles Woodson. Pro leagues like the NFL & NBA have very profitable monopolistic grips over their sports and I doubt they would want colleges. Paying college athletes would be the first step in breaking down the pro leagues. I don't think it would be a stretch for existing big budget athletic departments to simply break off direct affiliation with universities. Universities might be actually prefer this instead of dealing with the increasingly large headaches of big time athletics.

In the American spirit of free markets, I have no problem with the idea of an Ann Arbor Football Club called the Wolverines competing as professional sports organization. If Green Bay is big enough to support the Packers (a world champion club) then there is no reason that Ann Arbor couldn't also do it. Likewise, I wouldn't object to the University fielding a simple, Ivy league style (i.e., no scholarships) football team made of of students even if it wasn't on national tv every week. As an alumnus, as long as we still get to play & beat the Buckeyes, that's all I really need.


March 11th, 2010 at 3:44 PM ^

I don't think it would be enough to cause us to go down that slippery slope if EA Sports had to pay royalties to the players, as long as they had to pay the exact same royalties to every player.

Likewise I don't see the big budget athletic departments breaking off. They'd somehow have to do it all at once, because otherwise how, and against whom, is this Ann Arbor Football Club going to compete? Is the NFL going to allow them to join? Like hell. Are they all going to come to some kind of agreement to form a new football league? Do you think the University of Michigan is going to spin off its athletic department just because it's a "headache?" That "headache" is worth hundreds of millions in halo donations, prestige, and perhaps most importantly, applicants and tuition, to non-athletic pursuits. Because obviously the department can't just secede.

More likely, if you want to go down the slippery slope route, is a schism in the NCAA caused by a mass exodus of big-budget schools that want to start buying their football players, and a rival collegiate league being formed. But that too seems farfetched.


March 11th, 2010 at 4:17 PM ^

is that the court could force to pay royalties to former players without having to consider current players. (I can see two resolutions to that: some kind of escrow account where compensation for the likeness of current players is placed until certain conditions are met, or a sudden change where suddenly no real players appear in the game. After all, there won't be any college hoops games released this year. Coincidence?)

With respect to paying active players, I do agree that scholarship athletes are being compensated nicely, but they are also compensated well below what the market rate would be.

Unfortunately, there's no good way to address that. For one thing, it's impossible to do within Title IX compliance (for obvious reasons). For another, there is already a serious gap in D-I athletics ... requiring fixed compensation per scholarship could force more than a few low-end D-I schools to drop down (they simply can't afford to put more money into their programs), and allowing variable compensation (more like a real job), well, it would certainly be a different environment.

Obviously there are some schools who already could provide whatever salary is desired for their players ... it would probably shake out like a larger version of the EPL. You'd have teams who could afford just about any players, teams who could maybe make a run with a bit of lucky and a lot of money on a few guys, and a bunch of teams who were just happy to be in the same league, but would never really have a chance of winning anything, particularly in basketball. Maybe basketball is due for a I-A/I-AA split anyway. There are a lot of teams who are really only in D-I hoops to chase the dream of a tournament appearance, and how much money does that bring to the school anyway? I certainly haven't seen, say, a SWAC team suddenly on secure financial terms with respect to athletics thanks to back-to-back tournament bids.


March 11th, 2010 at 3:56 PM ^

But I fail to see how a highly-pixelated guy wearing a UCLA jersey in a video game is the "likeness" of Ed O'Bannon. EA Sports uses about 15 "heads" for every single one of the fictional players in a fictional 2D environment.

This seems as silly as the Lindsay Lohan/E-Trade lawsuit.

Didn't we settle this in the early 80s with the Falwell suit against Hustler?


March 11th, 2010 at 5:41 PM ^

There are differences. I don't think anybody looked at the etrade baby and said "hey, this baby reminds me of Lindsay Lohan because she may or may not be addicted to milk, which is a clear reference to both booze and cocaine."

OTOH, RB#20 on Michigan has the same height as Mike Hart, has about the same relative speed as Mike Hart, is from the same town, shares the same birthday, is in the same year at school, etc. It wasn't a random draw from a hat, that character is clearly based on Mike Hart. It's up to the judge and jury now to determine whether or not it there were enough differences to warrant a royalty check to Mike Hart.

In other words, the system did not suddenly randomly decide to put a 89 overall senior RB at Michigan with the number 20 from upstate New York.

Now, if and when the players win this lawsuit, what EA/NCAA will do to avoid paying money is probably what they're doing now, but in the end just hit all the players with a randomizer to change their number, appearance, etc. So in NCAA 13 Michigan might have a senior RB#22 who is suspiciously like Vincent Smith, but doesn't share his facial features, hometown, number, and possibly skin color. Then all you'll have is the stats like speed, agility, and break tackle. There's no way you prove RB#22 and Vincent Smith are the same player based on a speed rating.


March 11th, 2010 at 4:50 PM ^

Even so, every time a coordinator breaks a million dollars it's another blow to the idea that big time college sports programs can't afford to provide something to their players.

There's probably a word out there in logic or economics* for this, but since I don't know one, I'll make one up:

Fallacy of Perceived Scaling

This happens a lot with government spending; people see that $320 was spent on a toilet seat for a submarine and imagine that every single spoon in the Navy probably cost $75.50. It doesn't scale that way.

We just heard David Brandon, Fearless Leader, tell us that the football program accounts for the majority of the Athletic Department's budget. That's at a university with at least three viable revenue sports, and a huge financial base that supports the school's athletic program that may be "football" but comes in as "other" (like BTN, and Alumni Club, etc.)

At Texas Tech, we got to see that a lot of the turmoil around Leach was about the Athletic Department not wanting to pay him market price, because market price was the athletic budget.

Coaches' salaries are taking up a huge bulk of the revenue, especially in football centric regions like the Big Ten and SEC, because either you're making $4 million and paying $2 to your winning coach, or you're making $1 million and paying your losing coach $750,000.

The NCAA has oodles of money, true, but it's not all going into some enormous vat of gold for faceless executives to swim in -- they're spending oodles of money to support over a thousand teams in 25 different sports, on the revenue brought in by football and its cousins. It's a business, and they've hired business guys to make business money from it, but if you're looking at coaches' salaries and saying "ooh, there's a bajillion dollars that someone's pocketing right now," well, that's not how it works.

* Or maybe philosophy and economics have never and will never get together to define a fallacy, and that's what's wrong with the world.


March 11th, 2010 at 5:29 PM ^

The NCAA wants moar of the moneys. 96 team basketball tourney? more bowls than elligible teams? Why not?

I think individual schools have different resources. USC can afford Lane Kiffin, Monte, and the whole crew. Ball State wouldn't.

Of course, if this judgment came to pass, maybe it'll help push some MACrifice level teams out of D-1A football so they don't pay players royalties. This will make BCS level opponents have to play each other more if North Texas wasn't available for 5 different teams to beat the tar out of them.


March 11th, 2010 at 8:36 PM ^

..pay 'em anyway.

I have waited for the end of shamateurism for about twenty years now. If it was legal to pay players, the NCAA could throw out about 99 percent of their stupid (and I mean STUPID)rulebook. Then, they could pay players instead of compliance officers and investigative personnel.

Also, players should have as long as they need to finish their degree. If an ex-player wants to come back when he is fifty years old, great. Let him finish his degree free of charge. The price of doing this is only on paper anyway; it doesn't cost the school any more to have one more person sitting in a class.

Section 1

March 11th, 2010 at 8:43 PM ^

become "labor"?

Kids work for their degrees. Is that "labor"?

Is it "labor" as well for kids playing ball at Cass Tech, and Catholic Central, and Brother Rice? We got us some serious child labor law problems.

The mistake in these kinds of discussions over NCAA-athlete compensation is by taking any argument seriously to begin with. "You're freaking kidding me," is the first response. Laughter, is the second response.

I guess I might admit, that the seamy spectacle of the NCAA licensing itself to video game makers, might lend itself to the notion that it is merely a "minor league" to the NFL, and therefore the players must get the same kind of compensation as NFL players (!?) Only someone as dumb as a sportswriter could follow that logic. If it will make the sportswriters happy, cut the NCAA-video game contract. Fuck the video games. Okay? What else do you want?


March 12th, 2010 at 11:58 AM ^

We are already compensating these athletes with a free education, living expenses for four years, access to unparalleled academic opportunities and an "internship" with highly experienced coaches and staff who can help them develop for high-paying pro-careers if they choose to make football the focus of their post-graduation life. All of these types of "payments" fit somewhat comfortably with the nebulous "educational" mission of a university in a way that individual payments to players above and beyond their tution and expenses would not (e.g. it is not surprising to see a top law or med school give large tuition scholarships to high-scoring applicants, but it would be rather unseemly to see them slapping additional cash bribes to secure their attendance). I see the surplus revenue these athletes generate during their careers in much the same way I see the fruits of research from engineering and science graduate students at the University. In exchange for the opportunities the University gives them, most Universities retain rights to the intellectual property created during that tenure which can be plowed back into the University for improving research facilities, hiring top-of-the-field professors to help guide future graduate student's research, and kick back some money to the broader University to allow for the same benefits to other fields of academic study. If these student-atheletes would really prefer immediate cash payments to the broader opportunities of a University, let them go play semi-pro out of high school.