Thursday, April 29, 2010

New NCAA President Emmert – will it be business as usual?; Stunning fall of the Capitals

Some days it is hard to know where to begin. Yesterday, a number of people I know with ties to Seattle and the University of Washington urged me not to be my usual judgmental self (me, judgmental?) on the subject of Mark Emmert, the newly-named President of the NCAA. Emmert was the President of Washington and apparently did an excellent job of fundraising (always a college president’s primary job) and was well-liked by people out there.

That’s fine. And I will try to reserve judgment until I see what sort of action he takes on various issues going forward. I was encouraged to read this morning that he plans to contact NBA Commissioner David Stern about the one-and-done rule. Maybe he reads the blog.

Then again, maybe not.

Emmert was quoted two years ago as saying that a college football playoff was, “inevitable.” It took him about 15 minutes to start back-pedaling from that comment once he was named to succeed Myles Brand. All of a sudden he’s saying that the NCAA has no say in the BCS and that his personal views aren’t really relevant as NCAA President.

Really? They’re not? Why in the world is he about to be paid something like $1.7 million a year (Brand’s annual salary) if his views on critical issues aren’t relevant? What’s he being paid to do, look good in a suit? Excuse me for being judgmental but I am pretty sick and tired of people being paid big bucks to allegedly be leaders who claim that it isn’t their job to lead. If the President of the NCAA, who is on record as saying that a playoff is the right thing to do, won’t try to do something about it, who will?

One almost wonders if Emmert was told he wouldn’t get the job if he didn’t back off on the playoff issue because he couldn’t wait to stake out the, ‘we have no say in this,’ position.

That’s one of the great copouts in history. In fact, after the NCAA’s Final Four press conference a few weeks back when Greg Shaheen and I had our now famous (or infamous depending on your point of view I guess) exchange on the 96-team basketball tournament, I made a point to Shaheen that it was ridiculous for the NCAA to try to shove a 96-team tournament down people’s throats when it could make all the extra money it wants or needs by creating a football playoff—which would NOT cause, ‘student-athletes,’ to miss any more class time.

“But we have no authority in football,” Shaheen said.

Oh please. If the NCAA wanted control of football it could acquire it in about a 15-minute meeting with the BCS commissioners and presidents. Here’s how it would go:

NCAA: “We are starting a football tournament next season. We are going to sell the rights to corporate America and the TV networks the way we sell the rights to the basketball tournament.”

BCS goons: “We have the BCS. We won’t participate.”

NCAA: “No problem. You can turn down the invitation to the football tournament. By the way, any school that doesn’t participate in the football tournament can’t participate in or receive revenue from the basketball tournament.”

Now, the BCS will scream and yell and threaten legal action. Fine. To begin with, the NCAA already set this precedent years ago when it told basketball teams it had to play in the basketball tournament if invited. It’s known as the, ‘McGuire rule,’ because it was put in place after Al McGuire took Marquette to the NIT in 1970 because he thought his draw in the NCAA’s was unfair.

What’s more, the NCAA is a private organization. Membership is voluntary. It can make any rules it wants (and does) and any member has the right to drop out if it doesn’t like the rules. Aha, you say—the BCS schools will drop out and form their own organization. Not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, the basketball contract for the next 14 years is with the NCAA. And, even if they formed their own superpower tournament the magic of the tournament would be completely lost. Butler makes the NCAA Tournament a must-see event. So does Cornell. The superpowers are semi-pro teams with zero romance attached to them other than by their own fans. The BCS would be cutting off its nose to spite its face if it went rogue. The easiest and best way would be to go kicking and screaming into an incredibly lucrative—for all—football tournament.

Emmert seems to have no stomach for that battle. So, my friend Bill Hancock and his PR goon Ari Fleischer will continue to put out disinformation on how the bowl system would be hurt by a playoff (bologna, to use a polite word Bill might use) and how the regular season would be devalued by a playoff. (Hooey, to use another Bill word). By the way, how ironic is it that the NCAA, which uses the regular season argument as much as the BCS folks do, was thisclose to throwing the entire basketball regular season overboard?

Anyway, I’ll wait and see what Dr. Emmert does going forward before passing judgment. But my gut feeling is he’s going to spend a lot of time looking good in a suit. Business as usual in Indianapolis.


I would be remiss as someone who has lived in Washington for more than thirty years if I didn’t take a moment to bemoan the stunning defeat of The Washington Capitals Wednesday night in the opening round of The Stanley Cup playoffs.

My hockey team, as people know, is the New York Islanders but when the Islanders are a non-factor (as they have been for the past 17 years except for an occasional blip of being a tad better) I do pull for the Caps. Like everyone else in town, I like and respect owner Ted Leonsis. I also like general manager George McPhee and have enjoyed watching their climb from a non-playoff team to having the best record in the league this past season.

The Caps have a history of playoff collapses. Give them a 3-1 lead and you have them right where you want them. This one was different though and worse than anything in the past. Not only did they have a 3-1 lead but they were the top seed in the playoffs and they were playing the bottom seed. After winning two games in Montreal to get that 3-1 lead, they came home for game five and came out as if they were out for a morning skate.

The Canadiens, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1993, jumped to a 2-0 lead that night and basically let Jaroslav Halak do the rest. He made 131 saves on 134 shots over the next three games—meaning the Caps averaged just under 45 shots per game but only scored once in each of those games—and the Canadiens somehow won the series. In fact, the Caps never led during the last three games and Halak held the Caps scoreless on Wednesday for almost 58 minutes and kept the puck out of the net with the Caps playing six-on-four during the last 1:44.

As my mother might say ‘ov-vah.’

Washington is a town that doesn’t get to cheer a lot. The Redskins were good during Joe Gibbs Era 1—three Super Bowl wins in 10 years—but have been decidedly mediocre since Dan Snyder rode into town on his constant wave of bad feeling. The Wizards won their only NBA title in 1978 and were a national laughingstock this season when they became—literally—The Gang That Shot Empty Guns. There was a 34 year gap between baseball seasons and only now, in their sixth season, are the Nationals starting to show some potential. The Caps had the worst record in NHL history in their first season (breaking the record set by my Islanders two years earlier) and have been to one Stanley Cup Final—in 1998 when they were swept by the Red Wings. Heck, even the once powerful soccer team, D.C. United has fallen to the bottom of MLS.

This was supposed to be a spring of celebration ending in a parade. It ended in embarrassment and frustration Wednesday night. No knock on the Canadiens, who played their hearts out to beat a team that finished 33 points in front of them in the regular season, but this was inexcusable. For now, the Alexander Ovechkin-Sydney Crosby argument is off the table. Crosby has one Cup, one Olympic Gold medal—and counting as the Penguins take on the Canadiens in the conference semifinals. Ovechkin has scoring titles. Last I looked, no one engraves the name of the scoring champion on The Stanley Cup.


Mr. X said...

I wouldn't put it past Synder to have paid off the refs to stop the Caps stealing all the local sports limelight from his pathetic NFL franchise.

Anonymous said...

The entire BCS piece predicated on understandings of antitrust law, property law, and corporate finance that would make any second year law student or first year business student cringe. I challenge you to print it and show it any student in either of the above two graduate programs, and I guarantee you'll get one of two reactions: a jaw-drop or an uncontrollable laugh.

Gordon said...

The BCS is little different than the Gambino crime family. Bill Hancock is little more than a "Made Man" who follows the lead of his "Bosses". Until someone takes the leadership of the NCAA who has some guts nothing will change. Everyone needs to get over it and realize that as with everything else the NCAA does it has nothing to do with students or athletics. Its all about money which is fine but at least admit it! Honesty and the NCAA are mutually exclusive terms.

I feel sorry for Ted Leonsis and George McPhee. Both are good guys who want to win the right way. However with all the talent the Caps have they don't play as a team.

The Penguins are on the verge of joining the Canadians , Islanders and the Oilers as a dynasty TEAM. The Caps are are a group of talented individules who don't or can't play as a team when it counts

Andrew Armiger said...

Thanks for another great piece, John. Not only do I enjoy reading your thoughts on sports that interest me, but I also find your thoughts on sports I do not care much for to be compelling reading.