Thursday, March 24, 2011

Preemptive Questions for Ralph Nader

Preemptive Questions for Ralph Nader

It is being reported by multiple media outlets that former presidential candidate Ralph Nader “is calling for the elimination of college athletic scholarships, saying the move is necessary to ‘de-professionalize’ college athletes.” Though almost completely absent of detail, the Associated Press story (they have obtained a copy prior to the official release) notes the following:

Nader argues that his plan would also help reduce the “win-at-all-costs” mentality in high schools, by reducing the incentive of college scholarships.

Additionally the piece notes:

Nader’s League of Fans, a group aimed at reforming sports, proposes that the scholarships be replaced with need-based financial aid. He says that would help restore academic integrity to college sports.

Now in fairness to Nader the context of such a statement demands self-control of the public. There could be qualifying stipulations to the argument which would not marginalize a segment of our nation’s students.

Yet there is something to be gleaned from the sparse information at hand.

First, the use of “win-at-all-costs” seems to present itself an unfair generalization of high school athletics in general. I will use football as an example.

Atlantic Coast High School was recently opened in my Jacksonville, Florida neighborhood. One of the most prominent additions that the school brought with it was a successful and well-respected football coach by the name of Kevin Sullivan. Coach Sullivan had spent the previous 11 seasons with inner-city Jackson High School, leading them to a 93-33 record over that time.

Earlier this year Sullivan was nominated for the NFL’s first annual Don Shula Coach of the Year award. St. Augustine High School coach, Joe Wiles, offered his opinion on Sullivan.

Kevin is very deserving. He does a lot with underprivileged kids and really goes out of his way. He’s relentless about getting his players into college, so that they can lead better lives. He’s always been a guy that is incredibly unselfish and all about his kids.

I am not so naive to believe that any coach is a Christ figure and may not, at times, make a decision which might lean a bit towards Nader’s qualification, but I have experienced Sullivan first hand and his philosophy is considerably student before athlete.

Should we think for one second that he is alone? What of the 28 other nominees, much less Ray Seals from Madison High School in Houston, Texas, the coach that actually won the Coach of the Year award? It is clearly unfair to diminish the accomplishments of these and other great men, and women, based on the abuses of others.

Next is the correlation between the “need” to win at the high school level and the “professional” atmosphere of college athletics. While it might look good on a coaches resume to “win-at-all-costs,” it does not necessarily follow that said coach’s focus is on getting players to the next level. A coach could just as easily sit a star player in favor of another due to personal issues and still win.

Simply put, if the coach puts the coach first there is no “incentive” beyond the want to win at the high school level.

Moving our inquiry into the collegiate realm, would Nader have us believe that ever sport at every level is run in a “professional” mind-set? What of those which do not have a payday after college like field hockey, soccer or swimming? There is certainly a degree of anticipation regarding whether Nader will group athletics at the NCAA Div-1 and Div-2 level with NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) Div-1\2 and NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) schools.

He may simply be riding the March Madness wave, but his actual targets may be disclosed in a quote from this piece:

…it’s time we step back and finally address the myth of amateurism surrounding big-time college football and basketball in this country.

Lastly, the students themselves may be the most interesting component of his proposition. Beyond the perception that Nader is framing all coaches of all sports as a problem there exists the limitation on the kids. For some, even those who might not qualify for “need-based financial aid,” the only means of attending college is through athletic scholarships.

Since Nader’s attempt is to put a greater focus on academics we should assume his position accounts for that. NCAA D-3 schools, who do not offer athletic scholarships, do offer aid for those students being recruited for athletics in the form of grants and other scholarships.

Yet even in the D-3 example the act of playing a sport still rewards the player and thereby elevates high school athletics.

It may be the case that I am simply criticizing The Last Temptations of Christ without actually seeing it. Let me be clear that it is not my purpose to render any decision.

When I first saw the release my first reaction was to applaud him for taking a stand. It would be disingenuous of us to ignore the bloated self-worth that college football and basketball carry as a proud standard, but does that warrant eliminating scholarships for all sports?

It is fair to wonder just how Nader might plan to accomplish this cleansing. At the very least I think these questions warrant answers if he is going to win us over.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Be Careful Where You Put Blame In Jaguars Loss

Looks like Dominic Rhodes was right. Today at Lucas Oil Field the big brother got the best of his up and coming younger sibling as the Jaguars fell to a well prepared Colts team 34-24.

The 10 point victory both is and is not misleading. Tyjuan Hagler's 41 yard onside kick off return was a garbage score but the Jaguars 67 rushing yards discloses the fact that Jacksonville was playing from behind the entire game thanks to a rebirth of the feared Peyton Manning.

Sure would have been nice to see the faulty one.

If we are being totally honest, had Austin Collie not been taken out due to a concussion Manning might have doubled his output. With the weapons of Collie, Garcon and Wayne at his disposal, the first half was a clinic on how to confuse a defense. Jaguars defenders were turned around and out of position as if they were looking for that last seat in a game of musical chairs.

There was, however, no quit from the visitors. Garrard, statistically, out performed his counterpart and save an overthrow of Jason Hill that was intercepted on a sure scoring drive, he might just have been the hero we have seen in some of the great wins this season. Behind some shaky protection which allowed David to get pounded on multiple occasions, number nine kept picking himself off the turf, allowing the surprising Jaguars to show everyone that you had better be prepared to play 60 minutes of football.

And it was not just David making plays. There was a Mike Thomas punt return for a touchdown, a Marcedes Lewis acrobatic one handed catch and a wasted sack by Daryl Smith.

In the end there were simply too many mistakes to overcome. The aforementioned interception, an unfortunate fumbled punt by Thomas, problems with the toss pitch and a questionable fourth down attempt are but a few guffaws that the Colts managed to avoid while the Jaguars monopolized them.

However, when all is said and done, I blame myself.

I knew my role in this team's success and I failed to live up to my obligation. The same long sleeve teal performance shirt was worn over my gray Nike cold weather shirt (temperature appropriate). The beard was not cut, except for the bits of mustache hair which had begun to obscure my mouth.

But instead of the Jaguars visor or Live Strong head warmer I grabbed my Jaguars ski cap. There was a third layer on the torso: a short sleeved UNF tee shirt. For the first time all season I watched an away game from other than the comfort of my own home.

Consider this. The good luck beard, Amish style, began growing before the home game versus the Titans. After that travesty the full beard was adopted. Since then loses made perfect sense based on what I did. I was on the Appalachian Trail for the Kansas City game and I was in the gym for the first half of the Giants game.

Dressed properly and in attendance for the home games, while on the coach for all of the Cowboys and Titans games, the formula was obvious but my hubris got the best of me when I agreed to cheer on the teal and black from Chicago Pizza at the Jacksonville Landing.

Now in my defense my daughter was performing at the Landing at 4:15 so I would have missed her troop's rendition of songs from Suessical the Musical. But I have seen it twice already this month. Watching a Jaguars home playoff game is a rare bird that has not shown it's beak in 11 years. The decision should have been easy regardless of what the wife and kid said.

The universe has its laws and she is unforgiving when you break them.

So while you are reading the articles and listening to the comments on who to blame and why, give the players and coaches some slack. This one is on me.

- Brian Fullford

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Sportswriting History