Thursday, March 10, 2011

 

Buckeye Bull

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated gets the Jim Tressel/Ohio State University football story perfectly. The coach and the school's reaction to the scandal is, in a word, a crock. 

Sorry, I don't buy Tressel's "Father Flanagan" act. Occam's Razor applies here: The simplest explanation is the most likely. Tressel didn't like the idea that he'd lose several of his best players -- so he tried to cover it up. And now OSU is complicit in trying to get him off the hook. Here's hoping the NCAA -- not that the organization's archaic rules didn't help create the circumstances in the first place -- doesn't fall for this.  

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

 

Mike's Crosstown Traffic

Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it. So goes the saying and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the walking embodiment. He wanted a third term, got the term limits law overridden to attain it -- and now finds headaches on all fronts. He's quietly feuding with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the parameters of how to layoff city teachers.  There's a stunningly embarrassing $800 million fraud-and-cost-overrun scandal involving a contract to develop an electronic timesheet for city employees.

But scholars Fred Siegel and Sol Stern go into full detail on why the, ahem, bloom has left the rose of this administration.  While last December's snow storm perfectly dramatized the collapse of Bloomberg's much vaunted "managerial" reputation, Siegel and Stern assert that the writing was on the wall much earlier:
It is tempting to depict Michael Bloomberg’s reversal of fortune in his third term in office — a term he secured by muscling through a change in the city’s term-limits law before spending $150 million to win only 50.7% of the vote — with hubris metaphors drawn from classical tragedy. But this assumes there was glory before the fall. In reality, there never was greatness. There have been no lasting fiscal or education reforms.

The story of Bloomberg’s mayoralty is this: There is no there there.

It is now abundantly clear that the myth of Bloomberg’s accomplishments was the result of two forces: his own immense wealth and the city tax dollars generated by the stock-market surge of the 2000s. Both sources of revenue, private and public, were used to co-opt and silence his opposition and thereby allow the glamorized portrait of an indispensable manager and the guardian of the public purse to be drawn without countervailing criticism. 
An objective accounting of Bloomberg’s tenure reveals the many ways that Bloomberg’s standing as New York’s richest citizen actually undermined New York’s democracy, even as the city’s fiscal health and essential infrastructure deteriorated.
It's an excellent, comprehensive piece. The "New York's richest citizen" part should be kept in mind throughout.

Meanwhile, if Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and departed Schools Chancellor Joel Klein epitomized the sturdy professionalism of Bloomberg's first two terms, a different individual symbolizes the third one. The Times explored the vexing problem of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has managed to infuriate parts of all five boroughs with what, to many, seems like an anti-car agenda -- bike lanes everywhere and traffic shut down on Broadway at Times and Herald squares.  Indeed, residents of the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn have filed suit over a bike lane around Prospect Park. 

Counterintuitively, The Post, in a rather tongue-in-cheek editorial Monday, urged the mayor to keep Sadik-Khan -- after first noting a Bloomberg quote from last year:
"I've always said that if you want lifetime employment in our administration, you just get The Post to demand that I fire you," you said last December.
Lest anyone think the above quote from Bloomberg on whether he listens to media when it comes to dealing with his closest aides was simple throw-off line that the mayor didn't really believe, I humbly refer you to the following commentary. It didn't see print at the time, but was written by yours truly three-and-a-half years ago after an interesting encounter with Hizzoner. The date was August 28th, 2007. Some elements of the present day troubles might be gleaned even then.

Read more »

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Monday, March 07, 2011

 

The Oozing Corruption That Is College Sports

Last December, news broke that five members of the Ohio State football team -- including quarterback Terrelle Pryor were found to have sold game-worn clothing, trophies, championship rings and other paraphrenalia on the Internet. Some items were traded for personal tattoos.  For any other Ohio State student, this wouldn't have been a big deal, since the items belonged to the students! 

Alas, being a scholarship athlete means that you are something akin to an indentured servant:  Things that are "given" to you or that you win for your exploits?  You're actually only "renting" them from the school until graduation. If you sell them before then, you run afoul of NCAA regulations stating that the athletes can't unduly "profit" from their special status on campus.  (So, to be a Division 1 scholarship athlete is, ironically, to have both a higher profile, but less rights than the average student.  Pryor, by the way, admitted to selling his items on eBay to help raise money for his mom.)

In any event, OSU announced that they were shocked -- simply shocked!! -- that this had been going on. The NCAA declared that the students would be suspended for five games next year -- but they could play in the January 2nd Sugar Bowl. Head coach Jim Tressel sternly told the five players that -- if they wanted to play in the bowl game -- they had to promise they would return to OSU next year to serve their punishment.  In other words, they had to swear they weren't going pro.

Many observers were ticked off that the players weren't automatically suspended for the bowl game. Others thought the image of a head coach essentially blackmailing his players to return next year appeared somewhat, well, unseemly.  Anyway, OSU won the Sugar Bowl.

Monday evening, the proverbial other shoe dropped.  Yahoo! Sports reports that Tressel apparently knew about the gear scheme -- nearly a year ago:
According to a source, a concerned party reached out to Tressel last April, alerting the coach that memorabilia transactions had taken place between Rife and a handful of Buckeyes players, including Pryor. The selling of items violates NCAA eligibility rules. The source said Tressel was troubled by the information, and the coach indicated that he would investigate the matter and take appropriate action.
Whether the coach initiated an investigation of the accusation is unclear, but all five players remained on the field in the coming months, playing out the 2010 regular season.
After Ohio State alerted the NCAA of the memorabilia sales in early December, the NCAA’s student-athlete reinstatement staff ruled the players were banned from the first five regular-season games of 2011. The players also had to repay the improper benefits gained – $2,500 for Pryor, $1,505 for Thomas, $1,250 for Posey, $1,150 for Herron and $1,000 for Adams. Linebacker Jordan Whiting also had to pay $150 to a charity for receiving a discounted tattoo.
These are all, of course, just "allegations." Yeah, right. I actually believe every word of it. Which means that Tressel basically lied to the world last December and January, acting like he was as surprised as anyone that his players had acted improperly. Nope, he allegedly knew from the very beginning of the season. Nonetheless, he goes through with the charade of "punishing" the guys by getting them to give up their rights to turn pro and "allowing" them to play in the Sugar Bowl. 

Before this latest news came out, Tressel just looked like a jerk blackmailing students to play the game. Now, instead of blackmail, this looks more like, oh, conspiracy.  If Tressel knew, didn't tell his boss or anyone else at the university -- and then went through this whole BS of acting like a good stern disciplinarian -- that suggests he cut a deal with the five players, told them to dummy up and play cool so nothing bigger would come down.

As they say in politics, it's not the crime; it's the coverup.  Tressel could -- and arguably should -- lose his job over this. Ohio State is looking at some tough sanctions. 

Pryor and company may as well turn pro at this point.

And, oh, for those keeping track, both BCS Championship Game teams -- Auburn Tigers and Oregon Ducks -- are operating under the cloud of prospective investigations. And now, it  appears that the storied OSU Buckeyes may have been caught acting, well, less-than-candid.

Here's an idea: Figure out a system that pays the big-program student-athletes compensation slightly more commensurate with the millions that they're bringing in.  Or give them the same rights that ordinary students have -- getting a part-time job, selling their own property, etc. 

Otherwise, expect the slimy cartel that is the NCAA to infect even more premier programs -- as well as the students and, yes, their parents as well.

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