Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NCAA Enforcement & Dilemmas of Self-Regulation

The recent mistakes the NCAA made in its Miami investigation called forth a predictable firestorm from the media mavens who make a career out of attacking the NCAA. I think it is overblown and think we should examine the Miami case in a wider context of the issues facing any self-governing professional association. This means we can admit the mistakes but also see why they occur, how they can be corrected. This approach does not require NCAA conspiracy or corruption. The report that NCAA commissioned from an outside law firm does a good job assessing the legal and institutional issues. The report reveals the NCAA as a reasonably competent, harried and generally effective self-governing group.

The wedding of sports and universities occurred as a philosophical plan and historical accident. 19th century universities saw athletics as a natural extension of a classical education. Student athletes ran the early college teams. Very quickly teams took on outsize importance for alumni and school identity. By the 1870s teams were hiring ringers and nonstudents to play. Football ended up such a violent and important sport that when 13 athletes died in one year, President Roosevelt threatened national intervention. Colleges resorted to the classic American solution of a self-governing association to oversee sports. The NCAA grew slowly and awkwardly into a membership association with 1066 members trying to control the unwieldy and volatile world they inherited, spend money on, benefit from and barely control.

Self-regulating membership associations like the NCAA establish jurisdictional control over standards, membership and accreditation. Engineering, social work, medicine, law, construction and thousands of American enterprises depend upon professionals setting standards for membership and enforcing their existence.

The irony is that the media seldom worries about when doctors kill patients or or engineers design flawed buildings. The stakes in these self-governing professions are far higher than sports but largely ignored. These associations have elaborate systems of self-governance to ensure competent performance and reasonable competition. Professional associations police their own and have investigative and adjudicative procedures for sanctions.

American self-governing professionalism developed as a counterpoint to government control. Education remains no different with colleges subject to review by certifying professional organizations. When professional regulation fails, decisions may end up in the courts or before legislatures.
My point is the NCAA successes and failures are not unusual and reflect normal American practice with voluntary associations setting and enforcing standards.

Successful self-regulation requires member organizations internalize regulated standards. Most professional institutions will have inside compliance staff to help avoid pitfalls and keep standards. In major cases, the organizations might call in outside counsel or compliance experts.

The NCAA reflects this practice where local college compliance staffs work daily with central NCAA enforcement staff. As a professional association NCAA members have strong “affirmative obligations” to internally police and self-report violations.

 The reality of NCAA compliance, then, occurs in hundreds of weekly interactions between colleges and the NCAA staff. College compliance staff self-report, discuss and negotiate over thousands of major and minor issues to prevent, anticipate or creatively solve rules’ challenges. This quotidian reality of compliance and consultation works reasonable well.

The NCAA makes its fair of mistakes. I have direct experience of how UW and NCAA lost a major case against Rick Neuheisel when the NCAA forgot to follow new protocols. They are not perfect, but not fundamentally different from most self-regulating associations hampered by lack of subpoena power and facing incentives to hide information.

The report by Cadwalader Taft report on the NCAA performance in the Miami case exposes a reasonably competent and committed professionals. The report highlights the tensions between field investigation and internal legal accountability. The mistakes reflect the strain between the push to get the information and the legal constraints upon any investigation.

The NCAA faces the same problem all nongovernmental self-regulating groups face—not having subpoena power. Its members legislate rules, and members accept an affirmative obligation to report violations and cooperate with investigations. The vast majority of schools honor this obligation. Affirmative obligation and mutual trust are fundamental to self-governing professional associations such as the NCAA.

However, people lie.

Let me repeat, people lie, withhold information and misdirect.

People with high career stakes have incentives to lie. Miami coaches lied, mislead or withheld. Ohio State lied. North Carolina lied. Florida State lied. Michigan mislead. USC withheld and mislead. Head coaches claim convenient ignorance of the activities of their assistant coaches. New NCAA laws impose absolute accountability on head coaches so they could not slough off responsibility on assistants while benefitting from cheating.

The Miami report reveals that the NCAA investigators often piggy-back on other investigations to maximize capacity to get information. The NCAA investigators have limited budgets and need standard bureaucratic approval. Doubling up extends budgets and helps the NCAA get information they cannot find for lack of subpoena power.

All professional associations double up with formal investigations if they can. The Miami report explained that the NCAA had strong internal limitations upon how it can acquire information. Investigators are prohibited from sting operations or lying to elicit testimony. These are court-sanctioned activities but report makes clear that the NCAA takes limits seriously.

The NCAA internal process worked to a point. The investigator Mr. Ameen Najeer found third parties would not talk with him and hit upon what he regarded as an ingenious solution. He could double up on depositions taken by Mr. Shapiro’s defense lawyer over bankruptcy.

Mr. Najeer reported the idea to his superiors. They discussed it with the Executive Vice President Jim Isch to get authorization for budgets. The need for budgetary approval flows through the report emphasizing the NCAA like everyone else has resource limits and accountability issues. The compliance leaders also sought legal clearance.

This request for a legal opinion should reinforce confidence in the internal process and integrity. The head lawyer mentioned two basic issues. First, the use of outside counsel required approval and reporting to legal office. Second, the legal counsel argued that Najeer’s approach violated internal rules. Counsel opinion nixed the approach. The investigator’s superiors supported this and refused the request.

Up to this point the organization functioned on point. Najeer, however, developed a “work around,” but did not inform his superiors nor get budget authorization. This meant that Perez did conduct depositions for bankruptcy that she shared with the Najeer. This information helped shaped the NCAA bill of charges.

The report correctly faults the internal leadership for not following up on the investigator’s actions and not monitoring more tightly. When the NCAA discovered what Najeer had done, it eliminated the “tainted” information, notified Miami and revised the charges.

The report illuminates how hard investigations are without subpoena and when people with affirmative obligations choose to lie and withhold. We should not forget, that Miami President Shalala’s protestations aside, Miami has created a failed athletic culture with three major implosions in 15 years. The report makes clear how vital confidentiality remains during an investigation.

Good self-regulation requires internal legitimacy, affirmative obligations to cooperate, a responsible rule making process, and strong compliance and consulting programs. These need to be reinforced by a system of investigation and adjudication that is both professional, legally accountable and adjudicators that possess peer legitimacy and expertise but also have some claim to impartiality and fairness.

I think the NCAA process is basically intact and responsible especially in its daily work. It’s major investigations reveal the need for a more professionalized and accountable investigative arm. Moreover, the NCAA faces serious issues with excessive rule making as well as issues of how to ensure consistency across decisions made by the compliance committees. This is not conspiracy or corruption, it is the reality of self-regulation.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Who Does Sports Radio think We Are?

I listen to sports radio for professional reasons, at least that is my excuse. Recently sports radio has inundated me with discussions of seeding and bubble teams, but as I listened a debate about 2nd and 3rd seeds debate for the 15th time, the drumbeat of commercials underneath the sports news and hype caught my attention. Turns out sports radio covers a niche market. It only gets about 2-3 percent of markets but for a very desirable target demographic of 25-50 year old males who seldom do anything but work and watch sports. They have money and buy lots of electronic toys. ESPN now has launched a national sports radio network consolidating stations it grabbed up in cities all over the country.  Listening I began to wonder, “just who does sports radio think we are? “

I took notes on commercials and organized them into clusters. This clustering gave a pretty clear picture of who I am supposed to be. It will be only too obvious:

Man UP           Did you know there is a testosterone crisis in America? Well there is. Intergenerational testosterone is declining; men are becoming wooses. They (we) need more testosterone and clinics abound to help recover our lost sex drives, muscle tone and energy. If testosterone does not work I have five different ways to get cheap Viagra. Numerous health clubs will tone and refine your new chemical grown muscles. The tragic epidemic in hair loss can now be rectified with multiple doctors and medicines. All of this transformation comes together by solidifying it with joining a good golf club and having someone else carry your clubs.

Home Life        Sports guys don’t have homes; they have castles or cool condos. Super cool and very large televisions, stereos and advanced cell phones litter the castle and are powered by satellite or integrated sports delivery systems. A pervasive home challenge is answered by ads on getting good divorce lawyers who help “good men.” If you don’t need a lawyer castle or electronic toys, you can find lots of concrete and hammers and guy stuff that you can destroy or build stuff with. The counterpoint for divorce lawyers involves getting good mortgage rates or house insurance for your castle. Ads provide a huge array of cars, none really high end, but sports radio guys don't really do cars, we do trucks. Big strong powerful manly trucks that go with our excess of newly acquired testosterone. 

Entertainment & Food              Sports guys spend free time at golf courses or casinos. Lots of casinos with superannuated entertainers beckon each day plus we can bet on games or anything else. If all else fails, head for Los Vegas where you can bet, play casinos, get divorced or married—all options provided. Most casinos provide endless buffets and you can lose all the weight you gain the gyms mention ManUP. Food options range from pizza, to pizza, to tacos to sports bars. Now and then a high-end steak house might slide in, but pizza and fast fast food dominate the airwaves.

Of course we complement food and casinos with alcohol. But because sports guys care about waistlines and gyms, we only drink “lite” beer, lots of lite beer of all labels. If we need more, no wine allowed, but mega-liquor stores advertise many options.

Seasonal          Lite beer commercials are eternal, but many ads change by season. This is spring in the Northwest. Tax preparation options roll out in force, but a surprising number of ads urge people to get relief from unpaid taxes and liens. The IRS looms as a threat to all sports guys, who knew? Unpaid tax ads far outnumber tax preparation ads. Finally for spring in the northwest, we men fight off alien invaders. Sports guys are involved in a death match to protect their castles and mortgages from endless green slime moss monsters.
Enough ads have slowly sunk into me that I am now ready for my own Sport Radio makeover.

Here goes:

My renewed, replaced and regrown hair is flowing in the wind as I enter my new truck, my very very big low gas mileage truck, very sports guy. Strong chemical treatments have helped me overcome the testosterone crisis, and I am stoked, really stoked. If my new svelte chemically augmented body is not enough tonight, I have 50 Viagra tablets just in case. I hot-dog down the road listening to my six installed stereos playing rock music and sports games simultaneously. I speak or text on my super GMS smart phone as needed.

Am with a babe, no other kind of women exist for sports radio guys, or is she my wife or ex-wife? The testosterone fueled by Viagra has me a little confused here. I stashed my clubs after a day on the course before meeting the babe. After pulling into the casino we had a virile dinner of pizza plus steak plus lite beer. Bet in the sports room watching 12 televisions simultaneously with money I had got from not paying taxes for three years.

At home we had more lite beer and I regaled her with my conquest of the slime moss while we watch my four TV ultra-fast and large cable televisions. Then we retired to my super large sleep country mattress.

I am now a full fledged a sport radio dude.

(In case you did not notice, sports radio does not do women)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Hoop Dreams" versus March Madness

March Madness and NCAA tournament blitz begins. Talk shows spend endless hours debating seeds and bubble teams. Yet the hype and hoopla hide another reality behind the minority basketball players who drive the NCAA teams.

Hoop Dreams is a superb 1994 documentary that follows five years in the lives of two black American adolescents pursuing their dreams of making the NBA. Every college fan should be required to see this film, one of the greatest sports documentaries.

Stories about kids overcoming poverty and adversity will leaven tournament mythology.  Yet poverty is not about edifying stories, it hurts and drains and starts children off at incredible disadvantages. Hoop Dreams evokes a clear-eyed moral urgency to that world of poverty and despair that spawns the brilliant young athletes seeking to escape their world. One of the athletes William Gates says, “basketball is my way out.”

The documentary highlights the broken and resilient families who nurture, ride and exploit those dreams. The poverty and want peek out and glare at us despite the smiles and energy of the young men. We, the privileged fans, benefit from the excellence fostered by hoop dreams. We should never forget the reality behind their lives.  Nor should we forget what our colleges owe in education and support to these young athletes.

The probabilities of a young black teenager becoming a professional basketball player remain 1 in 65,000 orders of magnitude larger than being a lawyer or doctor. Yet thousands of families press young players to seek the lottery and glamor of basketball over studies. Hoop Dreams reveals the moral costs of the distorted path that lure many minority males to practice sports rather than academics.

William Gates and Arthur Agee are superb young basketball players busting with talent and infectious energy. No one who sees the film ever forgets their smiles and pure joy at playing. Gates especially epitomizes an elegant and explosive style. They dream of making the NBA. They dream of saving their families. Arthur talks about how the first thing he will do is buy his mother a house.

Basketball beckons as their way out. A black middleman brings them to the attention of St. Joseph’s a wealthy white suburban Catholic school. The school offers them partial scholarships. When raised tuition makes it unlikely Gates can continue a good “Samaritan” pays for his schooling. Both families scrape to send them to the school. 

The boys endure three hour round trip to arrive at the alien white world of St. Josephs. Both read at fifth grade levels and possess neither the clothes, language, study skills nor family support to succeed at a high performing suburban school.
This is not the fairy tale world of Blind Side. When Arthur does not develop as rapidly as hoped and his family cannot make the tuition increase, St. Joseph’s coach drops him from the team. The school then presents a tuition bill of 1800 dollars to a family that lives on welfare of 268 dollars a month.

The raw reality of poverty shoots through the film. The coiled violence, self-delusion and abuse of Arthur’s father poison his home. His father buys drugs behind the court where Arthur plays pickup ball. Drugs pervade the world, and Arthur’s best friend Shannon will succumb.

Yet despite it all, Arthur perseveres in basketball. His mother struggles to hold together the fragile household and give Arthur a center as well as a motive to escape. She achieves a nursing degree in one of the most powerful moments in the movie when she says in tears, "I didn't think I could do it. "And people told me I wasn't going to.”  

Arthur’s school gym and primitive playing conditions do not matter. He plays and practices. He endures his father’s abuse and his mother’s illness. The entire time he can never bring himself to take studies seriously and ends up unable to attend college because of his grades and ACT. Ultimately Mineral Area College in Missouri offers him a basketball scholarship to build up academics and get noticed. Like St. Joseph’s, the community college uses him. Of the seven black players in the college, six are basketball players who live in in a small cabin miles from the school.

The bleak isolated cabin highlights how Arthur must fight for his dream. The schools use him. He has to use them to play and escape. Ultimately he wins a scholarship to Arkansas State and has a successful college career. Neither he nor Gates will ever see the NBA. But he leaves with an intact and almost credible education that permits him to work with kids. Today he gets by and founded the  Arthur Agee Role Model Foundation that works with adolescents to support their dreams. He helped make a film called Hoop Realities that followed up the life he and Gates lived. 

William Gates’ path is no less hard. He excels at basketball and acclimates to St. Josephs and earns a decent GPA. He plays with explosive elegance. Colleges court him with boxes of scholarship offers by sophomore year. His father tries to sneak back into his life after years of absence when the dad thinks he might have a future. His mother is haunted by the failure of his older brother Curtiss, a superb basketball player, who never developed the self-discipline and study habits to succeed at college. Curtis lurks in background out of shape, unemployed. He haunts William as a symbol of failure and spur.

His high school lionizes him, his coach relentlessly pushes him. But disaster strikes Gates. Like Boobie Miles in Friday Night Lights, he injures himself. During surgery his mother worries “I just want this one to make it.” Bearing the burden of his family’s dreams, like so many young athletes, William Gates comes back too soon and reinjures himself. Another surgery and rehab follows.

The injury causes coaches to back off scholarship, and Gates tries to prove his worth at the NIKE summer camp with the 100 best high school players in the country.
Spike Lee gets it right then an now. He  tells them at the camp, “no one here cares about you…you are young male and black…they want you to play for their team to make money…that’s what it is money.” An independent scout summarizes the world where Gates struggles to impress celebrity coaches like Bobby Knight and Rick Pitino as a “meat market.”

Gates barely qualified for college after taking the ACT five times and enters Marquette. He had an OK college career, lost heart, quit the team but came back and graduated. During high school he fathered a child and stayed with the mother and married her. Thinking of his dad, he states, “I will not leave her.” Now he works as a minister in his old area of Chicago. Basketball helped him escape but did not provide him or his family salvation. At a certain point in the movie, both Gates and Agee stop smiling.

Everything and nothing has changed. Today these wonderful players would be recruited, culled and groomed from the age 12. Select teams and shoe-financed programs would feed them, coach them and have them travelling and playing a 100 games a year. Posses surround young players who get scholarship offers at age 13. The best are NBA ready at 18. Coaches and recruiting begin early, scholarship offers arrive at age 13. The corruption of college recruiting is more hidden but enticements of money, jobs to family clog the system. Young athletes are surrounded by intermediaries, on-the-take AAU coaches or bags of money like leeches.
The players still fight to escape the brutal poverty. Basketball not education gives them the focus and cache to escape the drugs and violence. NCAA rules force them to take more core classes and actually get reasonable grades. Graduation rates for black basketball players at Division I schools are improving but remain awful. Hoop Dreams reminds us of why. It cuts through the glitter of March Madness and reminds us of the moral cost and our school's moral obligation to get them the education they often do not achieve.

PS:          William Gate’s brother Curtiss was shot do death in 2001. Arthur Agee’s father was murdered in 2004. For a fine complementary review see http://etheriel.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/hoop-dreams-the-struggle-and-the-triumph/

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sacramento versus Seattle--Are Home Teams an Illusion?

Sacramento and Seattle are fighting over possession of a professional basketball team, the Kings. Seattle lost their Sonics to Oklahoma City five years ago. Sacramento stole the Kings from Kansas City twenty years ago. Now billionaires battle  to keep or steal the stolen Kings. Team roulette continues and the more I see between the tensions between capitalist ownership and community identity, I am amazed that I and we still care and invest our identities in "teams" that are nothing more than corporate shells. These shells hold our dreams. Dreams weave our reality and weave our identity into our loyalty to our teams. Are we all deluded in investing our loyalty in corporate creations. I think it fair to say put not your trust in corporate teams.

Governments battle to subsidize stadiums and provide tax breaks to keep teams because they believe teams will help support a fabric of community in cities.This is especially true for medium sized cities looking to make it to the big time. Owners extort these improvements and subsidies under the threat of taking "my team" to another city. In the Seattle versus Sacramento battle, Seattle has pledged to support a new arena largely financed by ihedge fund billionaire Chris Hansen.  Kevin Johnson mayor of Sacramento has failed twice to get a new arena but has put together another offer from a billionaire to buy the team and another billionaire to help finance a new arena.

These raw machinations remind us that our dreams make our teams, but dreams can be fragile. Only  money and capitalism builds the infrastructure of a dream. If profits fail or beckon, the team will abandon us leaving us with dreams and nightmares, like the Sonics.

Watching billionaires fight for the right to own a team and create a community of dreams and loyalty reminds me of the yearly game of the hot stove league.  "The game is not played in the newspapers, not played in the Hot Stove League. it is played on the field." That's how Jack Zduriencik, my Mariner's general manager, described his views on the status of the team after an interesting and frenetic off season of signing free agents, trading for high risk players and signing fine players to contract extensions. I love the Hot Stove League. Without the season around, I tend to go stir crazy and pretend to like professional football, but my heart  is not in it. The off season machinations of general managers trade, sign free agents and lose and gain players fascinates me. Football fans have the same fascination with 8 million people watching the rookie combine and others follow free agency signings.

But the hot stove league emphasizes how fragile and dreamlike the community around a team can be.

The moves and counters remind me that my home team is not really a "home team" in any deep sense. The Mariners, or any professional sport team, are not staffed by local players. The players are not long time players who live and play only for the "home" team. Only 7 players remain from the team of three years ago!!! Almost players play for the same team their entire career. Players come from four continents. Almost no players live in Seattle. They commute from Florida, California, Japan or Latin America.

The reality of modern professional sports is that home teams do not exist.

So in what way does a professional team like the Mariners or the once and future Sonics represent Seattle and the people who identify with the Mariners and Seattle as a "home?

Answer? They don't except as creations of our imaginations.

They are really corporate shells owned by others; sometimes the owners don't live at home. The Mariners are largely owned by Nintendo. Chris Hansen lives in San Francisco.  They are a shell in the sense that they are hollow of true connection to soil and people and area. Owners can sell teams and move them away. Owners can up and take their team elsewhere. If you go to an Atlanta Braves game, the outside murals and statues tell the story of their fabled migration from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta. Most teams, however, like Orwell's Newspeak, move and rewrite their histories and create new corporate identities and new homes.

On the other hand I can feel satisfaction or sorrow by watching the moves of general managers putting together a team of free agents and mercenaries. Let's face it, with very rare exceptions, the professional sports markets reduces players, coaches and front office folks to mercenaries. They can be traded, fired or removed at will for any reasons. I lived through watching a horrid General Manager Bill Bavasi literally destroy a team; now I am watching one pretty good putting together a good team built for the stadium and the future. The Seahawks have been resurrected by a new general manager and coach.

Maybe the guts of modern sports teams lie not in the players or owners but in the quality of general managers and coaches?

Does this  may mean that the Seattle fans can instantly embrace a carpetbagger team as their own just for the sake of having a team, any team, any corporate shell. Are we that gullible or that desperate? if players or local roots don't define home team loyalty, what does?

I believe our memories of past teams, or need to create a community of identity woven by strands of imagination and relations with our fellow fans leads us to give life to these lifeless hard-edged shells. They may spend the money to market the illusion of a home, but we collaborate and embrace that illusion, but we turn it into a collective dream.