On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
JUL 30 2015
PHOTO BY USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES
“Did you hear how they’re twisting your words?”
One of my sisters had been trying to get a hold of me for an hour.
I had no idea what she was talking about.
When I found out half the sports world was calling me “greedy,” I wasn’t online or anything. I don’t even have Twitter, man. I was jogging in the park with my family. You couldn’t really even call it jogging because my kids are still pretty small. It’s more like power-walking. My wife and I were trading off pushing our two-year-old son in the stroller. My six-year-old son was all about the workout. My eight-year-old daughter didn’t love it — let’s just put it that way — but she’s eight and wanted to be with her friends, so I get it. My wife and I believe it’s important for us to do outdoor activities together during summer vacation. I call it Smith family fitness time.
So my phone started blowing up. My dad called. Both my sisters called. I knew something was up. I guess I was the last person to find out that I was suddenly in the news. But like I said, I’m not on Twitter or Instagram and I barely watch sports news. I’m kind of old school like that.
Apparently the headline was: Josh Smith went to the Clippers press conference and said he didn’t make enough money? Even the idea of it is kind of ridiculous. Anyone who knows me, or knows how one-year contracts work in the NBA, understood what I was saying. This is my third team in less than a year. I was talking about how moving affects my family. But the headline about greed was the one everyone ran with.
Let’s just look at what I actually said so we don’t get it twisted. This is the quote people shared:
“It wasn’t about the money because of the Detroit situation, but at the end of the day, I do have a family, so it is going to be a little harder on me this year. But I’m going to push through it and try to do something long-term after this year.”
The whole thing about it being “harder on me” comes down to family. It seems obvious to me, but maybe I could have said it more clearly. If you know the NBA, you know that moving to a new team is a decision that affects an athlete’s whole family. That’s even more true when you’re signing a one-year deal. With a one-year deal, there’s less stability because you know you might be moving again in a year.
So I’m out there power-walking with the fam. My first response was, OK, who cares how a few people interpreted it? I know everyone on the Internet likes to be judgmental at one point or another. I try not to be too sensitive to any one thing. But it’s funny, because if you look at my whole statement, no one present at the press conference had any issue with it. Everyone seemed to know what I meant. It wasn’t until later that it took on a life of its own.
When I was waived from Detroit this year, it meant I had to move to Houston in the middle of the year. Like any parent, you think about how your work affects your kids. You want consistency for your kids — consistent teachers, consistent friends, a consistent home. You want some normalcy for them. I wanted to go to the Clippers (that’s a business decision), but I also wanted to be sensitive to how it affected my kids (that’s a personal one). I can tell you that the conversations this offseason between me and my wife were more about where they’d go to school than about finances.
Every athlete has had articles about them that aren’t 100 percent true. Most of the time, it’s not anyone’s fault — it’s just the reality.
Every athlete has had articles about them that aren’t 100 percent true. Most of the time, it’s not anyone’s fault — it’s just the reality. Earlier this year, everyone was making a big deal about how Detroit went on a winning streak right after I was waived. People had fun with that story. I get it. But to be honest, I wasn’t even mad. Detroit wasn’t the right fit for me at that time. I knew it, they knew it. So they waived me. I never said much in public because I was thinking,Just give me some time to prove myself. A couple months later, at playoff time, look at the damage Houston did. In the league, you just have to be patient.
I came to the Clippers to be part of an exciting team that I know I can play well for. I came to compete for a championship this year. I’m the first person to tell you how grateful I know I am. I’m grateful to have played in this league for going on 12 years — I’ll always have love for the Hawks, where I started — and to have earned a good living. I didn’t grow up wealthy, so I know how much it means to have security.
Now, I’m moving on to basketball, but thanks for reading. I don’t speak up that often, but I felt I needed to clear the air. I wish someone had just asked me for clarification before everyone immediately jumped to negative assumptions. A couple people sometimes ruin it for everyone else. I’ve got no hard feelings, but I do see why some guys are more skeptical about opening up when this type of thing happens.
There’s a little summer left still. I plan to spend it with my family. My kids go back to school next week. In the meantime, we’ll be having cookouts, playing card games, racing go-karts with my kids and just hanging out. I don’t think I’ll be signing up for Twitter any time soon (is @JSmoove taken?), but I’ll see y’all back on the court this fall. I know the Clippers are going to do some special things.
“When you make choices and decisions and think that it will never end, and then you get into spending and addiction and more spending, it’s a definite formula for losing,”
- · Ex-NBA star Vin Baker conquers demons and shoots for success in Starbucks managementBy Kevin McNamara
Posted Jul. 27, 2015 @ 5:51 pm
NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The world’s tallest, and perhaps most famous, barista is stationed behind a busy coffee counter. His smile and easy-going style welcome customers looking for their Starbucks fix as they fastbreak to work or South County’s beaches.
“I love North Kingstown. It reminds me of my hometown, so it’s comfortable,” says the man, who stretches to 6-feet-11. “I like this community. Starbucks draws a lot of repeat customers and so many know me now.”
This is Vin Baker’s world these days. This is the same Baker who grew up in Old Saybrook, Conn., and went on to become one of New England’s all-time great collegiate basketball players at the University of Hartford. It’s the same Baker who won Olympic gold in 2000, played in four NBA All-Star Games and spent 13 years in the pros, including parts of two seasons with the Celtics.
It’s also the same Baker who battled alcoholism toward the end of his career. That addiction, plus a series of financial missteps ranging from a failed restaurant to simply too many hands dipping into his gold-plated cookie jar, combined to wipe out nearly $100 million in earnings.
Now 43, newly married and with four children, Baker is training to manage a Starbucks franchise. He thanks CEO Howard Shultz, the former Seattle SuperSonics owner, with this opportunity. He’s also a trained minister who savors work at his father’s church in Connecticut. Most important, he has been sober for more than four years.
“In this company there are opportunities for everyone. I have an excellent situation here at Starbucks and the people are wonderful,” Baker says.
Hoop fans might shake their heads and view Baker’s life as a tragic, unfortunate fall from grace. Baker doesn’t see it that way. At all. He says his story is one of redemption, of conquering demons and searching for success in this next phase of life.
“When you learn lessons in life, no matter what level you’re at financially, the important part to realize is it could happen,” he said. “I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like 'Wow.’ For me, I’m 43 and I have four kids. I have to pick up the pieces. I’m a father. I’m a minister in my father’s church. I have to take the story and show that you can bounce back. If I use my notoriety in the right way, most people will appreciate that this guy is just trying to bounce back in his life.”
Baker, who lives in Groton, would love to balance a retail management career with some basketball. He recently accepted an invitation from former teammate Jason Kidd and worked with the Milwaukee Bucks coaching staff in the Las Vegas Summer League. He’s extremely well-spoken and has counseled current, and former, athletes on the challenges they face. Few have a tale like his.
Baker was the eighth player picked in the 1993 draft after his starry career as Hartford’s all-time greatest hoopster. He signed a 10-year, $17.5-deal with the Bucks and within two years was an All-Star. He was traded to Seattle in 1997 where he signed a seven-year, $86-million deal.
More superb play followed but by the time the Sonics traded him to Boston in 2002, Baker’s star was fading. In 2004 he recorded double-doubles in 21 of his first 35 games but clashes with coach Jim O’Brien ultimately revealed issues with alcohol. Baker told the New York Daily News in 2013 that by then he was leading “a double life,” star power forward at TD Garden, a binge drinker on the side.
The Celtics suspended him three times and ultimately terminated his contract with nearly $35 million remaining. The players union filed a grievance on Baker's behalf and the two sides eventually reached a financial settlement. Quick stops with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers followed but by 2006 Baker’s career was over.
Financial problems were Baker’s next hurdle. He lost a home in a Durham, Conn., development he was a partner in and a restaurant, Vinnie’s Saybrook Fish House, soured. In 2012 he sued his accountant, Donald S. Brodeur, for mismanagement and breach of contract. Baker said that lawsuit has “been resolved, somewhat favorably,” but makes it clear he needs to work to support his family.
“When you make choices and decisions and think that it will never end, and then you get into spending and addiction and more spending, it’s a definite formula for losing,” he said. “If you don’t have perspective in your personal life and you don’t understand what this $1 million or $15 million means, it will go.”
When he was in Las Vegas with the Bucks, he couldn’t help but talk to some players about their finances. He sees “fourth or fifth options” on some NBA teams signing players to $50-, $60-million deals these days and wonders if anyone in management is considering the challenges that await.
“I appreciate that in a lot of cases it’s more money, more problems,” he says. “I think in professional sports today teams have to deal with the personal challenges of giving young men this extraordinary amount of money. For me it was a struggle. I think when you’re giving guys who aren’t even All-Stars $80 million, there should be a framework in place where these kids can talk to someone.”
Asked what would sit atop his list of talking points, Baker said “I’d want guys to not take the money for granted. It can be here today and gone tomorrow. It can be gone from the wrong financial choices and decisions and people that you’re involved with or, in my case, gone from things that you struggle with off the court. As quickly as that contract can be signed, there are a hundred things that can also ruin it.
“I would insist that you surround yourself with the person you trust the absolute most, someone who can tell you, 'You’re wrong, don’t buy that, don’t go there, that person’s no good.’ I would also say be able to monitor every single dime that comes out of your accounts as if you’re a Starbucks barista. My check here I know exactly where my money goes. Don’t trust it with an accountant or a family friend. Make sure you’re aware and be responsible because next thing you know people are stealing from you.”
Like all recovering alcoholics, Baker says every day is both a challenge and a blessing. He now clearly has the perspective of a middle-aged man, not a fresh-faced, 22-year old newly minted millionaire who’s the life of the party. He just wants a chance to keep bouncing back.
“For me this could have ended most likely in jail or death. That’s how these stories usually end,” he says. “For me to summon the strength to walk out here and get excited about retail management at Starbucks and try to provide for my family, I feel that’s more heroic than being 6-11 with a fade-away jump shot. I get energy from waking up in the morning and, first of all, not depending on alcohol, and not being embarrassed or ashamed to know I have a family to take care of. The show’s got to go on.”
THE TIGERS TURNED A DAVID PRICE PROFIT
2We know that the Tigers aren't pleased to have wound up in this position. They've been one of baseball's most win-now organizations in recent years, and nothing about the 2015 roster construction really conveyed an impression of "building for the future!" Rather, there's been concern that the Tigers are headed for a cliff, on account of all the money they have tied up in declining players. And when that's what the future looks like, you at least hope that you can win soon. This year, the winning hasn't happened. The Tigers had to acknowledge their situation, and sell. There's no way that was an easy call for them to make.
There is a silver lining, though, one other than simply understanding that sports are frivolous entertainment and there are far more important things in the world. That's the steady and constant silver lining in the background. There's aparticular silver lining to the Tigers having dealt David Price to the Blue Jays. If the Tigers had their wish, they would've given the ball to Price in Game 1 of the ALDS. They got him for two years for a reason. But the return package the Tigers got from the Blue Jays is strong. The group, headed by Daniel Norris, instantly helps the Tigers' system, and the return seems at least equivalent to what the Tigers gave to get Price in the first place. Which was a year ago, when Price was available for two playoff runs, not one.
Put it another way: Dave Dombrowski traded for Price. Price helped the 2014 Tigers win the AL Central by one game, and then he pitched in the playoffs. Granted, the Tigers got swept, but they got to use Price for their opportunity. Then they had Price for another four months. Now he's been traded, for a strong group of young players. Even though Price himself has lost some value, given his imminent free agency, it looks like the Tigers managed to turn a profit here, overall.
To quickly review, here's what the Tigers gave up for Price, initially:
- Drew Smyly
- Austin Jackson
- Willy Adames
And here's what the Tigers just got from the Blue Jays:
- Daniel Norris
- Jairo Labourt
- Matt Boyd
Those might not seem equal on the surface. Smyly's a known major-league pitcher. Jackson's a known major-league outfielder. Norris and Boyd have only very limited major-league experience. So the first package is more familiar, but the second package is younger and arguably stronger. And to remind you, the Tigers got the second package after using Price, following the first. So these weren't two back-to-back swaps.
This'll be clumsy, but helpful -- let's pair off the players. We can pair Smyly with Norris, and Jackson with Boyd, leaving Adames with Labourt. You might not ever hear from either of those guys, but we'll get to them in a minute.
At the time of the first trade, Smyly looked like a league-average starting pitcher. So he had immediate value, and he had another four full years of team control remaining, albeit as a Super-Two player, meaning those would be four arbitration seasons. But while Super-Two players get paid more before free agency than other players, they're still values. Smyly was valuable, because he was a long-term asset who could help right away. That immediate value made up for his lower ceiling.
Norris isn't Smyly. Norris isn't a known anything. But he was a preseason top prospect, and he remains a top prospect today.Baseball America ranked Norris as the No. 18 prospect in its midseason update. Kiley McDaniel still has good things to say. While Norris is still working on issues with his delivery, which are causing issues with his location, he has good stuff and a full repertoire, and the Tigers are putting him in the majors right away, suggesting they think he's just about ready. Norris is a huge get, at a time when teams are more protective of their top prospects than ever. It's fair to think of Norris having more value now than Smyly had a year ago. It's not by a landslide, but Norris is advanced, and he could be special.
Moving on, we have Jackson. At the time, Jackson looked something like an average everyday center fielder. Maybe a little better than that, and he was under control for another full season, after the rest of 2014. That affordable extra year gave Jackson value, even though he wasn't then what, say, Carlos Gomez is today. There were some signs Jackson's game was declining, and he didn't appear to be a defensive plus.
Boyd has little in common with Jackson. It's not a great pairing, but this helps to keep things simple. Boyd isn't a veteran, and Boyd isn't a hitter. Before this very season, Boyd was considered almost the definition of a fringe prospect, but now, in 2015,Boyd has shown much-improved velocity, and much-improved secondary stuff. So Boyd's stock is rising, and though he's still seen as a back-end type, he could help real soon, and his strike-throwing ability makes him somewhat safe. Boyd might soon be seen like Smyly would've been seen. He could be a long-term No. 3/No. 4 starter, with all his control years remaining. Though Jackson's the more valuable piece of the two, the difference isn't big.
Finally, the last pair. Adames is the forgotten part of the first Price trade, because he was so far away. But he was a legitimate prospect, a quality shortstop in Single-A, andBaseball America ranked him No. 84 overall before this season. McDaniel ranked him No. 90. It's not fair to leave Adames out of the calculation, because he was a big reason why the Rays were willing to give up their ace. Adames had, and has, a good amount of value.
Yet Labourt isn't nothing. He's a lot more than nothing! His stuff is playing up, and though he's also far away, he's young, big, talented and occasionally dominating. McDaniel likes to rate prospects based on his idea of their future value, on the 20 - 80 scouting scale. Before this season, he gave Adames a 50 rating. Labourt also just got a 50 rating. It's a "softer" 50, meaning Labourt isn't quite on the level of Adames, and being a pitcher means he comes with more risk, but again, the difference here isn't enormous. Adames is the better value by only a little bit.
So Adames seems to top Labourt, and Jackson seems to top Boyd. But Norris seems to top Smyly, the last difference probably about canceling out the first two. This is a lot of approximation, and it's far from good science, but it gets to how the players are perceived. You have to try to figure out value somehow. When you do that, it seems like the Tigers didn't lose anything, and in fact they gained a whole year of Price, including a shot in the playoffs.
This is always kind of forgotten: When a team trades for a player, in many cases, it can later trade away that player. Much of the time, the team might end up trading the player away for lesser value, but it doesn't always have to be the case. On a smaller scale, the A's traded Ben Zobrist for at least as much value as they gave up to get him. And on a bigger scale, the Tigers seem to have done the same with Price. It doesn't mean their situation is good. It doesn't mean Dombrowski is happy. It doesn't mean this is how the Tigers wanted things to go. It's just some consolation, is all. The Tigers got to enjoy Price, and in the end, they turned less of him into just as much. Sad stuff aside, it's a neat trick.
“Good framers turn pitches outside of the zone into strikes and keep pitches within the zone from being called incorrectly as balls. “
BASEBALL 7:00 AM JUL 30, 2015
By ROB ARTHUR
At the top of FanGraphs’ wins above replacement leaderboard, you will find the two leading candidates for MLB’s Most Valuable Player, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. But despite his comparative lack of WAR, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey may be just as deserving of the MVP. He possesses a secret skill that WAR doesn’t detect: He’s the league’s best pitch framer.
Posey is not an MVP candidate solely on the basis of his hitting (.325/.387/.494), even though it’s about 50 percent better than the league average.1 Trout and Harper are 89 percent and 106 percent better than average, respectively. It’s only once you begin to consider the defensive value of each player that Posey begins to look like a contender.
No current version of WAR accounts for framing, a catcher’s art of carefully receiving the pitch in such a way as to cause the umpire to call it a strike. That happens to be Posey’s most important defensive talent. Good framers turn pitches outside of the zone into strikes and keep pitches within the zone from being called incorrectly as balls. This ability, in turn, scares opposing batters into swinging at less-optimal pitches, making the impact of good framing significant. Our best estimates put a good framer as worth up to three or four wins per year.
So far this season, Posey has racked up 11.8 runs in value from his framing, more than an entire win’s worth to add to his total and putting him within a win of Trout. Catchers who consistently earn strikes where umps usually call balls are clearly good at manipulating the umpires, but there’s some mystery as to how good framers like Posey get those calls. I wanted to understand not just what Posey does when a pitch comes in, but also what he does that other catchers don’t do.
Notice how motionless Posey’s body remains, even as he absorbs the impact of the pitch. Notice also that Posey subtly drags the glove higher into the zone, perhaps making it appear to the umpire that the pitch crossed the plate higher than it did.
Posey is especially valuable to his team because his backup, Andrew Susac, is essentially a league-average framer. In just less than half the number of pitches Posey has taken, Susac has cost his pitchers a strike or so overall. In other words, he has hardly any effect. Here’s Susac receiving a similar pitch:
The pitch Posey received was called a strike, Susac’s a ball, and you can see the difference in technique. Susac tries the same maneuver as Posey, pulling his glove up into the zone, but does so in a slightly more exaggerated manner. And watch his back as he moves the pitch up — he lifts the ball by standing a bit, while Posey stays more or less at the same level.
Former journeyman MLB catcher Jason Kendall famously argued that “there’s no such thing as pitch framing,” chalking up any differences in ability to get called strikes to the catcher’s reputation. It’s difficult to disprove Kendall’s argument. Previous studies of catcher framing technique have universally relied upon anecdotes and GIFs. There is some opportunity here for confirmation bias to creep in: Because we know that Posey is a better framer, we are looking for reasons why.
But what if we found a way to quantify Posey’s greatness in terms of his actual technique? I did just that. I took 24 receptions of Posey’s and six of Susac’s,3 all to nearly the exact same location in the strike zone. These strict criteria limited the total number of catches, but removed many potentially complicating factors.4 I then wrote some code to calculate the total amount of movement in each frame for the second after each pitch was caught.5 The sample is small because I don’t yet have the ability to contrast two catchers’ framings across all the places they can receive a pitch. Still, if catchers agree that stillness is good, then Posey should grade out as more motionless than Susac.
Good framing isn’t as simple as a quiet catch. Both Posey and Susac dampen the momentum of the ball for about a tenth of a second. Then each pauses, as I noted in the videos above, before motion accelerates again as they toss the ball back to the pitcher.
Posey is stiller at every stage of the catch. Posey also transitions more smoothly from trapping the ball into a pause as he holds it and then from out of the pause into his return throw. Susac’s path is jagged by comparison, snatching the ball suddenly before quieting it briefly and returning to his throw. Even at his most motionless, Susac falls considerably short of Posey.
Without extending this method to all catchers,6 we can’t say yet whether stillness is the driving force behind good framing. Contrasting Posey’s pattern of motion with Susac’s suggests that Posey’s relative tranquility may help explain the extra 80 strikes Posey has stolen.
Once you factor in framing, Posey becomes a legitimate contender for the MVP. At 4.3 FanGraphs WAR, plus at least 1 win for his defensive skills, Posey is not far from Trout and Harper (6.3 and 6.0 WAR, respectively). Although his careful framing technique may go unnoticed by some, when you take it into account, Posey could be the best player in baseball right now.
July 30, 2015 Patrick Hruby
THE COLLEGE SPORTSPOCALYPSE THAT ISN'T
Remember the O'Bannon trial? Last summer, federal judge Claudia Wilken ruled against the National Collegiate Athletic Association in a landmark case brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon, finding that the association's amateurism rules prohibiting campus athletes from profiting from the use of their names, images, and likenesses in video games and television broadcasts violate antitrust law. Alongside her 99-page decision—as thorough a shellacking of the NCAA's neo-plantation non-logic as you'll find this side of The Atlantic's Taylor Branch—Wilken issued an injunction allowing schools to offer big-time football and men's basketball players at least $5,000 a year in trust fund payments, which they can access after finishing with college sports.
The injunction begins on Saturday. Predictably, the NCAA is unhappy. More predictably, the association has asked a federal court to stop it from taking effect, pending the outcome of its ongoing appeal of Wilken's decision. In court documents, NCAA lawyers lay out the "irreparable harm" that will befall the booming college-sports industry if its on-field workforce receives a slightly less tiny slice of a multibillion-dollar pie: slashed scholarships and teams, "tarnished goodwill," with an amateurism-loving public, "diminished undergraduate experiences and diminished success afterward" for newly-enriched campus athletes, and even a burdensome amount of paperwork for athletic administrators.
The alarmist rhetoric and slippery-slope arguments are reminiscent of the losing side in another series of court cases: same-sex marriage. Its opponents—charitably, traditionalists; uncharitably, bigots—armed themselves with talking points that continue to echo across the cultural landscape: allowing gay couples to marry would somehow weaken and destroy heterosexual marriages. Children of same-sex marriages are "disadvantaged." Same-sex marriage will produce nearly a million more abortions, and persuade children to become gay. Homosexuality leads to "early death." Same-sex marriage will lead to "fathers marrying sons," equal rights for "people who sleep with St. Bernards," and an ultimate collapse of American society to rival the Fall of Rome.
Of course, the analogy between that fight and the battle over amateurism is far from perfect: the former has taken place against a larger, centuries-old backdrop of religious intolerance, social oppression and violent bigotry toward gay people; the latter involves money and campus athletes. Moreover, while the NCAA and its member schools are acting out of greed and self-interest, association president Mark Emmert and Co. aren't about to show up outside locker rooms holding placards reading "GOD HATES SIGNING BONUSES." In both cases, however, fear of the great unknown—via a hypothetical parade of horribles—became the bludgeon of choice in attempting to maintain the status quo.
In the case of same-sex marriage, that strategy ultimately backfired.
In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to grant same-sex couples the right to marry. Did the state succumb to the Visigoths, one dual groom wedding cake figurine at a time? Not exactly. Nothing much changed. Certainly not for the worse. Instead, people saw what the Boston Globe described as "a wave of same-sex weddings, where countless aunts, uncles, coworkers, and friends witnessed gay couples pledge to love and support one another."
Love and support? Yawn. This wave of boring normalcy—of same-sex couples doing the exact same thing male-female couples do, to the same for-better-or-for-worse effect—discredited same-sex marriage opponents. Why trust a wolf-crier? In turn, that helped helped shift public opinion. Barney Frank, the first openly gay Congressional representative, told the Globe as much: "As long as there was no marriage then the argument that same-sex marriage wasn't going to cause problems couldn't be refuted," said Frank. "It gave us a basis to use some evidence, and show that the notion that this was going to hurt society was totally baseless."
Such is the genius of Wilken's ruling: it creates a Massachusetts-style test case for the NCAA's dire predictions, a real-world experiment, allowing college athletes to be paid without completely overturning the existing order. If a free-ish player market sends campus athletics spiraling toward oblivion, then we'll know soon enough—and the appellate judges reviewing the O'Bannon decision will have plenty of time to rescue a beloved American institution.
On the other hand, if permitting competitive compensation for athletes doesn't sink big-time college sports—if treating players more like coaches and administrators and professors and university presidents results in the same old college sports, only with schools spending more on talent and less on fancy weight rooms—well, then we'll know that, too. And the NCAA will look even more foolish. Foolish to the public at large, and especially foolish before Wilken, who currently is overseeing an O'Bannon follow-on case that threatens to end campus amateurism entirely.
College athletes are being shut out from a basic right—in this case, the freedom to enjoy competitive compensation for their valuable talents—that everyone else already enjoys. The NCAA is Rick Santorum, bleating about a slippery slope to legalized bestiality. In fact, the louder and more hysterical the association's dire warnings about schools being allowed to pay athletes become, the less supported by evidence they seem to be:
* Schools just can't afford to bid for star athletes: Wilken's injunction doesn't force any particular institution to pay any particular player a particular amount of money. It simply prevents the NCAA cartel from hammering schools that choose to do so. As O'Bannon's lawyers state in their response to the association's delay request:
"The simple fact is that no member school needs to change a thing under the injunction if it does not wish to do so. If the NCAA is correct, and modest compensation to college athletes is truly so thorny, no member school will choose to offer it after August 1, 2015. The NCAA's rampant speculation is no reason to deny the schools the freedom to make these decisions."
Moreover, there's a whole lot of cash in the burgeoning big-time college sports industry, from the association's $900-million-a-year March Madness television deal to ESPN paying power conference schools $608 million annually for the broadcast rights to seven football games. Bottom line? Athletic departments that decide to redirect more of that money to their most valuable employees probably aren't going to go broke.
* Okay, maybe schools can afford it, but they'll have to cut non-revenue sports:Maybe! Schools slashing men's baseball or women's soccer over the objections of students, parents, and alumni—all while courting backlash from boosters, donors, the press, advocacy groups like the Women's Sports Foundation, and industrious Title IX lawyers—is certainly possible. Alternately, athletic directors could decide to cover increased football and men's basketball player costs by trimming gold-plated coaching salaries, facilities upgrades, administrative pay packages and other bloated budget items. Does Indiana University need a $150,000-plus-a-year men's golf coach, or could it find someone competent for half that amount?
* Fans will abandon college sports if players aren't "amateurs": Again, maybe! Perhaps people don't love major college sports for the school affiliations and high-level athletic competition. Perhaps the real joy comes knowing, deep in one's soul, that talented athletes such as Ohio State University quarterback Cardale Jones will be punished severely if they receive a single motherfucking dollar more than the listed value of their room, board, tuition, and—starting this season—cost of living stipends. Of course, were that the case, one might expect football fans in the bag-man-sodden Southeastern Football Conference to defect en masse; for television networks to throw gobs of cash at Division III football programming made up of small-time talents paying for the privilege of playing at small-time schools; and for audience numbers for the 2011 Sugar Bowl—featuring an Ohio State team led by gear-for-free-tattoos amateurism violators—to have been moribund, not robust.
* Money is bad for you, but only if you play college sports: Earning money absolutely leads to diminished undergraduate experiences and post-school success, which is why NCAA member schools ban all students from holding campus jobs. Oh, wait.
* But-but-but figuring out how to set up athlete trust funds is an awful lot of work! If only schools already knew how to run payrolls and retirement plans for hundreds of employees, or manage large investments over multiyear periods, or set up lucrative deferred compensation packages for individuals connected to their athletic departments.
Worse still for the NCAA's doomsday rhetoric? Big-time college sports already are adjusting to the O'Bannon decision. The world, and University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, continue to spin. Once upon a time, the NCAA argued that paying athletes stipends covering the full cost of school attendance would lead to fewer scholarships, schools quitting Division I and general chaos; in January, the association's five wealthiest conferences voted to do just that. Middle Tennessee State University is funding its stipends by eliminating pay raises for its head football coach; Colorado State University is funding the same by repurposing a $7 million buyout it received from a departing coach; and the University of Texas is reportedly covering $10 million worth of stipends for 500-odd athletes by trimming funds for its marching band. Alabama's reported stipend for out-of-state football players is $5,386—higher than likely trust-fund payments.
Meanwhile, scholarships and teams remain intact. The University of Kentucky announced plans to increase its athletics budget from $109 million to $124 million. The NCAA's top lawyer is coming off a reported 25 percent pay raise in 2013-14. At the University of Florida, football coach Jim McElwain says he's "excited" for players to receive more money, while University of Georgia coach Mark Richt reportedly is setting up a program to teach his players how to manage their newfound cash.
"As a freshman, if you start saving, you can have a large sum of money saved," Georgia lineman John Theus told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. "Some guys like to spend their money. Some guys have the things they like, watches or whatever it may be. They might to choose to spend it on that. But Coach Richt is going to educate the guys and try to make them realize this is money they can save."
Money they can save. While the NCAA warns of a looming threat to "college sports as they have long been known and loved by participants and fans alike," actual athletes receiving actual paychecks will be learning about the miracle of compound interest. How very ordinary. How very boring. Sound familiar? During the battle for same-sex marriage, equality advocates made a surprising discovery: opinion polls moved in their direction as soon as the public realized gay couples weren't attempting to change marriage, but rather be a part of it. They didn't want to destroy a social institution; they simply wanted an equal opportunity to celebrate love.
Similarly, the O'Bannon plaintiffs—and other former and current college athletes pressing for change—aren't looking to ruin campus sports by making them commercial. They're just looking to fully participate in an industry that's already commercial, joyously and unapologetically so. Wilken's injunction will be their first real chance. The NCAA knows as much. And that's why the association is running scared, begging the courts for a last-minute timeout. Like the same-sex marriage foes that came before them, the worst-case scenario for amateurism's true believers isn't a predicted parade of self-enumerated horribles. It's business as usual on an empty street.