Lunacy of college sports

This is completely crazy, not to mention abusive. A ninth-grader is committing to a college because of a soccer scholarship. It verges on the immorality of arranged child marriages: this kid spent almost every evening in eighth grade talking to coaches instead of doing homework (or having fun!).  The whole story is worth a read, as it shows how this madness isn’t even good for soccer itself, never mind the players.

No fourteen-year-old (putting aside prodigies who have already blown away their high school courses) can possibly know what college, or what kind of college, will be the best fit for her four-years-older and -more-experienced self.  Period. What if she decides she wants to be an engineer and CalTech starts to look attractive, or a singer and discovers Berklee, or for that matter decides rugby is more fun than soccer? She can ditch the UTA scholarship and go elsewhere, but will she even explore those things if she’s spending her whole high school career assuming her die is cast, taking her commitment seriously, and living on a playing field?  What if she gets hurt in 12th grade and didn’t get the GPA that would put her on a good career track that uses the inside of her head?

This industry is deeply and pervasively sick.  The presidents — yes, and AD’s -who allow it to go on as it is are simply contemptible and cowardly. And Ms. Berg’s parents could spend some quality time thinking about their responsibilities, too.

Olympics grinch

There’s plenty to not like about how the Olympics have evolved: nationalism, commercialization, appropriation by vile host regimes…and now we’re going to be biting our fingernails right through February waiting for a terrorist outrage, or a Russian security outrage, or both.  They have become a hot mess, but fortunately that apostle of cool, tasteful elegance in dress, Ralph Lauren, designed the US team uniforms: understated, gracious, and confident, that’s us. Continue reading “Olympics grinch”

How low can we go?

Let’s just check the scoreboard here:

Cal football and men’s basketball have the lowest graduation rates of any FBS school.  Not PAC12, FBS: that’s national, baby!  The football team is 1-10 and a 31-1/2 pt underdog for Saturday’s Big Game; MBB is not ranked in either poll for this year.  The campus is on the hook for a third-of-a-billion dollar loan for a coaching office palace/booster party venue/conditioning center: losing programs don’t sell tickets.  The program is supposed to break even, but loses $7 to $10m per year, year after year.  One of the football players sent a teammate to the hospital a couple of weeks ago in a locker-room fight.

You might think our Intercollegiate Athletics Program, who get to sell the Cal logo for chotchkes and sweatshirts, has some kind of pervasive management problem, but you might be surprised to learn that they seem to have an even more serious morality problem. This billboard is glowing above our local freeway only a few miles from campus.  The pic is fuzzy, taken with a cell phone; if you can’t read the text, it says “we will sell drugs to our students, and everyone else, if there’s money in it for sports.” Mark says “Alcohol is not just a drug, but the archetypal drug: the drug most widely used and the drug that causes the most addiction, disease, and violence.” We have a real student drinking problem at Cal, and it seems to be getting worse.

Cal and Coors BillboardThe Associate Vice Chancellor, to whom an inquiry from one of our profs was bucked by the Chancellor, assures us

The Intercollegiate Athletics program has a master agreement to sell advertising and promotional space using Cal assets with a number of vendors.  Part of the overarching agreement includes a contract with Coors/Miller.

I understand your concerns, and will be talking with the vice chancellor of administration to discuss the alcohol ads and to explore ways to ensure that future promotions are aligned with the core values of Berkeley and our brand.

Discuss?  Explore ways to insure?  Am I missing something here; can this discussion take more than thirty seconds?

Which cigarette brand do we think will win the bidding to put a Cal logo on their packs?


Really smart students are sort of a dime a dozen at my school; students who can finish in three years and get into graduate school, not so many.  This guy obviously has some real chops; too bad for me he was in such a hurry and didn’t have time to take any of my courses!  He has a really promising career in front of him; if it unfolds as it appears it will, it will be good for my health and yours down the line.

Unclear if that career will be as long as we might hope, though; the incredibly cool software he will code  after he’s, say, 40 may be left for someone else to do, or not done at all. See, to the best of my knowledge, our smart students do their thinking and like that with their physical brains, Brazinski too.  For some reason, Cal’s idea of how to take care of that particular device is to send it to collide with really big guys, again and again, to entertain the rest of us and pay for our fancy new stadium and coaching office palace.

Maybe that’s efficient use of a class-A brain; Mark weighs 305 lbs and will surely give us some Really Great Hits this season - the kind you can hear over the crowd and the announcers on TV - to go with all the one’s he’s taking and dishing up in practice. In the seven minutes of play he will probably get (that’s the average playing time of a member of our football squad), should be at least two or three of those!  As between doing some wonky computer stuff for a few decades, and steering an offensive lineman into collisions for a couple of years, don’t the fundamental values of a university clearly favor the latter way to use up a good brain?

The Leaking America’s Cup

Hey, the famous America’s Cup Yacht Races are happening right now in San Francisco Bay!  Hey, really, is that exciting or what; you can watch this immortal series, cheer for your favorite boats, see thrilling…are you listening to me?  Is anyone watching?

What a bust.  The Chronicle loyally slips an annoying page-and-a-half sheet about it over the front page every day, that I have to peel off and discard.  I have not heard a word of conversation about it anywhere and I don’t know anyone who has a clue who’s winning.  Or knows who’s even racing except Larry Ellison, whose brainchild this stinker was and who is spending $80m to put two of the boats in the water.  Fifteen teams have shrunk to four, and the hopes of the city making money have evaporated.

What happened here is that Ellison (and the whole arrangement, including the design of the boats that would compete, is his call) completely misunderstood what’s important about the sport, and what’s not.  What he thought was important, and would gin up public engagement with the sport, was going fast, so the boats, if you can call them that, are enormously expensive catamarans with rigid airfoil sails and hydrofoils that can lift the hulls out of the water.  Wow, they really go fast! But they don’t have any of the tradition of real sailing; no spinnakers or even Genoa jibs (at least not in any pictures I’ve seen yet) to balloon out on downwind legs and change at the turn, practically no rigging, no worrying about luffing. Most important, they have nothing to do with what constitutes sailing for people who sail, whether dinghies or ocean racers.  They are capable of nothing except course racing: they have no cabins, you can’t sail them to anywhere or take your friends out for a weekend trip, and  they are extremely dangerous in unprotected waters (trimarans and catamarans have, last time I talked to a sailor, a very bad record of leaving port and not coming home).  One of these even killed someone right on the bay earlier this summer.

But they go really fast.  Here is where Ellison got it wrong, because extremely fast is what power hydroplanes do even better, and make more noise doing it - got a lot of friends who follow that sport?  Losing the culture, aesthetics, and spirit of yachting to just go fast is sort of like trying to make music better by playing it louder with a bigger amp, or “improving marksmanship” by putting lots of processing power into the rifle. Ellison browbeat and bullied everyone into playing a game by rules amusing to him, and in the end almost nobody came, nobody is watching, and nobody cares.


Class acts all around

Mariano Rivera, the long-time lights-out Yankee closer is retiring this year.   The sport agreed to retire Jackie Robinson’s number 42 from all teams, and Rivera is appropriately the last player to have it.  I’m properly skeptical of sports journalism regarding the personalities of players, having read Ring Lardner’s Champion in youth (for example) but as far as I can tell what you hear about Rivera is what you get, a real gentleman on and off the field, awesomely good at what he does, confident in his skills and not a tidge arrogant or jerky. Class act all the way.

Probably no recent ballplayer has administered more heartbreak and frustration to the Red Sox (maybe Dennis Eckersley). Before tonight’s game, the last between the rivals for the season, the Sox put on a ‘time’ for Rivera with gifts, speeches, and applause.  Another class act, what sports is supposed to be about but too often lacks.  Thanks, Mo, for the great ball, and thanks, Sox, for saying goodbye so graciously.


One of Richard Nixon’s Many Faults

Nixon even cheated at bowling

Megan McArdle related a funny Richard Nixon story last week, concerning his creation of a White House Palace Guard. The palace guard episode is silly at any level and also reveals something of Nixon’s character. Let me start off your August weekend with a similar anecdote.

BowlingIf you tunnel deep down under The West Wing, you will find a maze of poorly lit, unpainted hallways with exposed pipes and wires (no OSHA rules apply underneath The White House, apparently). If you stumble about the labyrinth for awhile you will come to a nondescript door that, quite surprisingly, opens onto a two-lane bowling alley which was built for President Truman.

Here I am showing fantastic form therein. I bowled 300. It took me about 50 frames, but I did it. I can’t bowl at all really. But I am very good at looking like I know what I am doing when in fact I don’t — an essential Washington D.C. survival skill.

Anyhoo, almost every President since Truman has gone down at least once to the White House bowling alley and posed for a photo, bowling ball in hand. Most never return. But Richard Nixon actually liked to bowl and did so frequently. Study his left foot in the photo below and ask yourself: “Was there anything at which this guy wouldn’t cheat?”

Baseball Trivia Quiz

While cleaning out the garage, I found some Major League Baseball trivia books from which I adapt the following quiz. Google not and see how many of these you can get right:

1. No player has hit .400 since major league baseball extended the length of the season from 154 to 162 games. Who was the last player to hit .400 over 154 games?

2. On the final day of the 1910 season, Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie was in second place in the American League batting race. The St. Louis Browns gave him some help by placing their fielders in the wrong positions and “losing fly balls in the sun”. LaJoie benefited with 8 “hits” in the doubleheader. The Browns assisted Lajoie because everybody hated the guy who was leading the batting race. Who was he?

3. Lajoie had the highest batting average in the league that year, but did not win the batting title. Why not?

4. The legendary Bob Feller pitched his first no hitter in 1940. What was his ERA at the end of the game?

5. Hitting for the cycle is an extremely rare feat and only one player in history accomplished it three times across two leagues. Who was he? Hint: Think of a word people might use for an infant, and, the father of the Munster family.

6. In 1973, Yankee Ron Blomberg drew a bases-loaded walk off of Luis Tiant and thereby made baseball history. How?

7. In 1979, Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro led the league in wins with 21. Who led the league in losses?

8. Los Angeles was a hitter’s nightmare in the early 1960s. Don Drysdale won the Cy Young Award in 1962 and his teammate Sandy Koufax won in 1963 and again in 1965 and 1966. What L.A. pitcher won in 1964?

9. Bob Gibson had perhaps the most dominant performance by a pitcher in world series history in 1967, when he pitched three complete game victories, giving up only 3 runs in total and netting 26 strikeouts. Yet he only won 13 games during the 1967 season. Why?

10. Knuckleballer Ed Rommel once gave up 29 hits in a game but won anyway, but if he is remembered at all it is because of something he introduced to baseball after his playing days ended. What was it?

Answers after the jump Continue reading “Baseball Trivia Quiz”

Multiple Sports in One

The mighty Nadal has been swept out of the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament in straight sets by an unknown in the first round. Yes he has had some injuries lately, but he has been dominating clay court play for months. He could fairly point out that tennis on grass is a remarkably different sport than tennis on clay (or concrete).

Think how shocked we would be if a professional basketball team announced that they were changing the surface of their floor from wood to cement and were also going to raise their rim by six inches. We expect consistency in the conditions of basketball, ice hockey and bowling, but not tennis.

Is there a sport that allows as much variation in the game under the same name? The only one I could think of is baseball, in which a stadium can have artificial turf versus grass and the outfield fences can be arranged in a variety of ways.

Are there other examples of sports that are really multiple, different versions of a game? And are any of them as variable as is tennis?