SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/Opinion

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  • New slates are blank; what should we write?

    This week I welcomed 125 freshmen to my Sports, Business and Society marketing class. As I stood in front of their inquisitive faces, in a room much like the one in the movie "The Paper Chase," the students all knew those business wizards at Major League Baseball had, exactly one month earlier, just barely averted their ninth work stoppage in 30 years.

    It made me wonder what I should tell these bright-eyed kids about our industry during the next 10 weeks of the term.

    Should I present the glass as half empty, given MLB's numerous 2002 debacles which included a hideously flawed plan to eliminate two teams, an All-Star Game snafu and reports of rampant steroid use? Should I get on my soapbox about ongoing Title IX inequities at countless NCAA schools? Lash out at reported declines in youth team sport participation? Bore them with stories of team revenue models that don't work for maybe as many as 50 percent of NHL and MLB clubs?

    Or, should I tell them that according to SportsBusiness Journal, the sports industry generates nearly $200 billion annually and represents one of the cornerstones of the American economy? Should I explain that intuitive planning from the NFL secures that organization approximately $2.2 billion each year from four broadcast partners (regardless of ratings)? And, while I'm at it, shouldn't I explain that Alex Rodriguez gets $22 million a year to play shortstop because the market will bear it? That means jobs for his agents, lawyers, accountants, marketers, trainers, chefs and limo drivers.

    If they ask me about getting a job in sports, should I tell them that education, internships, hard work and sales creativity are often rewarded with low-paying? Or should I announce that four years from now they'll find a sports world clamoring for Generation Y experts who know how to draw in non-Baby Boomer spectators?

    Perhaps if I show them some Nike ads or hand out samples of Gatorade, I could explain the dynamic nature of sport. Nike did an in-house video once that suggested all of us are passionate about sports because we get to see "the impossible made real."

    Of my 125 students, will 25 of them (20 percent) have what it takes to join your ranks? Or is it an impossible dream?

    Will they care to learn about public-private stadium economics and net present value? V-I-K sponsorship deals and licensing royalty contracts?

    As the sports industry lives off the memories of the 10-year bull market (1992-2001), there can be no question that strange times lie ahead. All of the big leagues are counting on Baby Boomers to sustain a golden economic heyday, but the front end of the Boomers have reached their 60s and will soon start losing interest. Some will even die.

    Generations X and Y, meanwhile, will merrily gravitate toward the X Games and Xbox where the impossible televises quite nicely. Discussing the World Cyber Championships is, in fact, a favorite of my class.

    That said, there are now more than 100 colleges and universities offering sport management and sport business programs. We're sexy, like journalism schools in the 1970s, because our colorful material presents well. But as an industry, are we mature enough (and smart enough) to keep pulling golden eggs from our golden goose?

    Baseball's protracted foibles point out that, at a certain level, we still don't get it. We are willing to spit into the wind of public opinion and flip off our loyal customers because we are sport. We appear to do it because we can.

    That's why too many of us still hire our nephews or the cabana boy who knew some statistics and seemed to understand the nuances of our product. We tend not to recruit on campus, practice a just-in-time hiring mentality and rarely require much more than a good smile and a willingness to work cheap.

    Is that good for my 125 students? Or should I warn them that our industry is trying to get ready for the coming market correction?

    I'd like to know because a lot of these 125 kids want jobs with you and believe you will be waiting for them in 2006. I want them to see the glass as completely full. I want to tell them enthusiastically that the best is yet to come. I want them to know we are dynamic thinkers, creative strategists and meticulous planners of our exciting businesses.

    What do you want me to tell them?

    Rick Burton is executive director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

    Print | Tags: MLB, NFL, NHL, Opinion
  • Same old, same old in coaching circles

    All across the nation, cheers greeted the return of college and pro football. Baseball's tangled labor negotiations and questions about steroid usage made the start of these seasons even more anticipated than usual. With great players, great teams and their fans, the fall arrived as a breath of fresh air.

    Yet serious commentators on sport have focused closely on football's lingering problem of the lack of African-American head coaches.

    In the entire history of the 117 Division I-A schools, some going back more than 100 years, plus the two schools that hired African-American coaches but no longer play Division I football, there have been 11,413 seasons of football played. Only 72 of those seasons have been led by an African-American head coach. Only 19 African-American men have ever led a Division I-A team. Their average tenure was less than four years, and only Dennis Green, Ron Cooper and Tyrone Willingham ever got a head coaching job at more than one school.

    Willingham

    Looking at all current and former NFL teams, there have been 1,636 seasons of pro football played. Yet only 34 of those seasons have been led by an African-American coach. If you count Terry Robiskie's three games as head coach of Washington in 2000, there have been six African-American head coaches in the history of the NFL. Their average tenure was less than six years. Only Ray Rhodes and Tony Dungy got second chances.

    Often we hear white coaches, in their press conferences upon hiring, say something like: "Dreams do come true. I worked hard. I was patient and my dream came true." History teaches African-American coaches to scale down their dreams.

    Only four Division I-A schools and two NFL teams have an African-American head coach in the 2002 football season. Five years ago, there were twice that many in college and three in the NFL. It is getting worse, not better.

    None of the African-American college coaches started the season at a top-25 school. In the Sports Illustrated preseason ranking, Michigan State was highest at No. 28, Notre Dame was 39th (though wins in its first four games brought the school into the top 10), New Mexico State 97th, and San Jose State was 107th.

    African-American coaches, when they do get a chance, usually end up in troubled programs where there is very little likelihood for success. Starting with Wichita State in 1979, here are the schools that have ever hired an African-American coach: Northwestern (both Green and Francis Peay), Ohio University, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Stanford (two African-American coaches, Green and Tyrone Willingham), Long Beach State, Wake Forest, Eastern Michigan State, Temple, North Texas, Louisville and Oklahoma State.

    The most significant hires arguably took place between 1996 and 2002. John Blake took over at the University of Oklahoma in 1996, Michigan State hired Bobby Williams in 1999 and Notre Dame hired Willingham in 2002. In that period New Mexico State and Southwest Louisiana State hired African-American head coaches. In 2001 the first 24 openings went to white coaches until San Jose State hired Fitz Hill for the final vacant position.

    In the last six years, there were 109 vacancies in Division I-A. African-Americans took over six of those posts.

    Throughout this history, various assumptions have been made by some athletic directors who did not consider African-American candidates. Among doubts frequently heard behind closed doors were that African-Americans cannot lead white players, that African-Americans cannot work with white alumni organizations, and that African-Americans would be unable to raise the funds to support a big-time football program. The fact that head coaching packages now regularly surpass $1 million makes athletic directors even less likely to take a chance on an "untested" coach. But how do you get tested without the opportunity?

    African-American assistant coaches were hired in the 1980s and 1990s. Hill, whose Ph.D. thesis studied attitudes on the issue, said many African-American assistants felt they were brought in to watch over and handle the increasing number of African-American players on the teams. Most were coaches of receivers, running backs or defensive lines.

    Hill said that African-Americans don't speak up for fear that they would be labeled malcontents while whites don't speak up for fear of retribution if they were thought to be "politically incorrect." The result is that real feelings are being suppressed and the undercurrents of stereotypes and covert racism are left to fester.

    In 1997, there was an all-time high of eight African-American head coaches. The number dropped to six in 1998, five in 1999 and four in the year 2001.

    Current hiring practices in college football can be portrayed as a pyramid.

    At the bottom of the pyramid, 50.6 percent of Division I-A scholarship athletes are African-American.

    Looking up the side of the pyramid, 20.4 percent of the assistant coaches in Division I football are African-American. Are there coaches in the pipeline below Division I? When you combine all three NCAA divisions, only 14.9 percent of assistant coaches are African-American.

    Approaching the pinnacle, approximately 10 percent of the coordinator positions, considered to be the most important channels to head coaching positions, are held by African-Americans.

    At that top, a narrow 3.5 percent of all Division I-A schools and 2.4 percent of all Division I schools have an African-American head coach.

    I don't think we need to know anything more than the Eddie Robinson story. As this college football season began, many debated whether Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno will hold the all-time record for wins in college football. Most seem to have forgotten that Robinson had 80 victories more than either one of these giants by the end of his incredible career. He sent more athletes to the NFL than any other head football coach in the history of college football. His athletes graduated at a rate of nearly 80 percent in a sport where the rate is nearly 50 percent. And only in this last year were any of his players ever in trouble for crossing social norms.

    In spite of this amazing record, Robinson not only was never hired by a Division I-A school but was never offered an interview. I think that tells the story even more than the numbers.

    Richard E. Lapchick is chairman of the DeVos Sports Business Management master's program at the University of Central Florida.

    Print | Tags: Colleges, NCAA, NFL, Opinion
  • There's real muck behind sleazy image

    Some say that the most prominent agent in sports is Leigh Steinberg, who had a knack for signing quarterbacks and a nose for the spotlight. He's the guy that Hollywood tapped to consult on "Jerry Maguire," the film that delved into the dirt of athlete representation and suggested a fantasy about how it could be cleaned up. The film fortified Steinberg's reputation as one of the few honorable agents, a fair and honest man who puts his clients first. That reputation has been bruised, but it's about to endure a Troy Aikman-like concussion if the knife fight against former partner David Dunn materializes this week in a Los Angeles courtroom.

    You might remember that somebody got stabbed in the back. Then Dunn took off with Steinberg's clients but left the dirt, a trail of it that seems to fit nicely into our prejudices of this shabby corner of sports. The trial won't captivate us like other famous L.A. courtroom dramas, but it may command a slice of the industry's attention as does an impending head-on between a quarterback and a 260-pound linebacker rushing unabated toward him. There's no deep meaning here, no imperatives for the sports industry other than exposing more muck in a profession that can't seem to police itself.

    A few weeks ago, I mentioned in this space that agents are sleazy, a base stereotype that is both cheap and impossible to defend. A reader and a friend, Phil de Picciotto, sent an e-mail saying my reference was funny. Phil, the head of Octagon's athlete representation, wrote: "It reminds me that sports business writers (and especially editors-in-chief) are ignorant and on the take. Agents and writers/editors should really hang out together more. Maybe I should consider writing a column."

    OK, Phil, the point is yours, but until you start buying the ink, your comments are relegated to the "letters" column.

    As for this space, I'm ready to admit the error of my ways. I didn't really mean to say that all agents are sleazy (but if the sneaker fits ...).

    What I meant was that most agent are sleazy. Phil, you may be one of the good guys, still you wouldn't want your mother to know what you do. Let's face it, athlete representation can be a less-than-honorable profession. It just seems that the few of you who maintain an ethical standard are fighting the irresistible forces of greed and self-interest. And you get colored by the same brush that taints used car salesmen.

    Image is what you live with, no matter how fair. The image of athlete representation isn't found in the fiction of the repentant Jerry Maguire, but in the fact of the high crimes of Tank Black, the back-stabbing of Dan Fegan and Brian Dyke, the client stealing of the Steinberg and Dunn case and the public bickering of Tom Condon and Mike Sullivan. It's about bag men, illegal payoffs, phony training camps and preying on the young and unwise. This is not just a perception, it's the reality.

    There are real victims here. We might not give a damn what becomes of the agents, but the athletes, the central players in the drama that is sport, are victimized. Some lose eligibility. Some lose respect. Some become unable to distinguish right from wrong, truth from lies. All lose innocence.

    The Steinberg-Dunn trial will give us a much more realistic view of the whole mess than "Jerry Maguire" did. It will spotlight an industry that has become indifferent to the scandals.

    The thing is, Phil, you belong to a profession in need of serious regulation. Players associations aren't getting it done. Congress is taking an interest and the courts will assign blame. But wouldn't it be great in this non-Jerry Maguire world if you cleaned up your own act? You're not going to like it if you leave it to Congress and the courts.

    John Genzale (jgenzale@sportsbusinessjournal.com) is editor-in-chief of SportsBusiness Journal.

    Print | Tags: Octagon Group, Opinion
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