Youth Sports

I have been spending eye-watering amounts of time at football fields the last month or so. As the mother of three boys I tend to spend most of my waking hours at sports venues in general. After many different teams competing in many different towns, I have come to one steadfast conclusion: Adults are messing up youth sports.

What? You think I might be over-stating things? Look no further than a crew of referees in Mandeville, LA. The exact details haven’t been released, but what we do know is that two of the game’s referees were escorted off the field mid-game.  No, they were not in danger from overzealous fans. No, the coaches had not threatened to show them what a hold looks like in the parking lot after the game. Nope. The referees were arrested because they were threatening the police. Yup, that’s right. They were arrested. In the middle of the game. How can you expect people to respect your calls if you can’t manage to muster enough respect for a police officer to simply manage to not get arrested?

Being the referee or umpire in youth sports is a lousy, thankless job. You have to know every rule, no matter how crazy and/or archaic (if you fake a punt and then throw a pass, the refs cannot call pass interference…did you know that one?) You have to do this while watching the field without getting yourself tackled or being in the way of the plays. In baseball it means seeing a little ball traveling at over 90 miles an hour and figuring out in a split second if it went over the plate between the letters and knees. When you think about how close most of these calls are, its amazing that the officials are ever right.

So you sign up to do this thankless thing, knowing full well you will get an earful of “I could see that from up here!” and “Get in the game, REF!” Since you are a volunteer or get paid some kind of laughable amount, you either do it because you love sports (and God bless you), or you do it because you are a gigantic tool with a continent-sized ego who likes to be IN CHARGE.

For the most part my experiences have been pretty good with the “sports law” for my children’s teams. I haven’t agreed with all their calls, but have noticed that the louder a coach/group of parents complain, usually the worse the calls become. Give them a reason not to like you, and they will take it all the way. Of course, it is hard to hold your tongue when they are doling out home-team calls like Halloween Candy, especially when they are not calling things like horse-collars and face masks – y’know…things that could cause profound injuries to my child or one of his team mates. What really sucks is that certain ref crews out in these parts are widely known to not make these calls against the home team. Considering the PR push by the NFL and football in general to assure people that football is a safe (enough) sport, you would think this kind of thing wouldn’t be tolerated. But in a world where Friday night really is all about the local football team, I would imagine it would be easy for weak minds to get sucked into the good-old-boy thing and try to be popular with the coaches, instead of doing their jobs. So children risk getting their heads snapped off so that some middle aged guys can feel like big-swinging-dicks in their hometown. Lovely.

The parents aren’t off the hook either. Every team has the parent that can’t help but scream loudly from the sidelines. Most of the time we are screaming encouragement, but sometimes parents are just plain mean. Just try to remember that the kid that missed that tackle or dropped the ball, his parents are probably sitting near you. Shouting that “we need to find some kids that want to PLAY FOOTBALL” isn’t going to win you any friends. And blowing up your Coach’s email with tirades about how your little darling isn’t getting enough playing time at the position you want them to play at only teaches your kids not to respect their Coach.

All this adult over-involvement manages to do is ruin it for the kids. Whether it’s people wagering thousands of dollars on a single play of pee-wee football in Florida, parents yelling at officials, or coaches quitting because parents are too much work, we are all sucking the fun out of something that gave us so many good memories as kids. I’m beginning to think those good memories were only possible because our parents hardly ever came to our games. They didn’t buy t shirts in school colors to sit at a rec field and question whether or not I should be playing something grander than right field (I did not). And if I got in trouble with a coach and had to sit out, my parents would have been disappointed with me. They would not go running off to confront my coach about how I can’t miss playing time or I won’t get onto the team at Stanford.

We all wish there were more coaches like Matt Labrum, who suspended his entire football team because of their lack of character off the field. But what I think we don’t realize is that we really wish there were more communities like his…where the parents said, “Yeah, they are acting like jerks and need to bring it down a notch or two” instead of storming the Coach’s office with pitchforks and torches.

Maybe someday people will remember that youth sports used to be about letting the kids wear uniforms, learn about the rules of the game and maybe surprise themselves with what they accomplish. It was not about free rides, pro careers, or other such nonsense. Let them learn how to lose with pride and win with grace. Let them come to terms with the fact that they are not the next Peyton Manning or Derek Jeter, and that’s okay. Most people have neither the talent or the drive to play organized sports past high school anyway.

Try this for some perspective: there are more wild pandas than MLB players, so everyone just relax and have some fun.

Good Omens

Woke up this morning to this at the bus stop

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So I’m thinking I’m in for a good day.

J hits the field for the first time tonight. But I figured I’d go ahead and share some snapshots of O Man and The Rookie.

Here is The Rookie:

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The Rookie's First Tackle

The Rookie’s First Tackle
(on the right with his knee down)

Here is O Man

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I still can’t get over how simultaneously grown up and little they look in their uniforms. They get to play on the super-fancy high school field, which makes the whole thing seem so  “official”. There was music during the game breaks, and someone announcing the plays -though often the announcements would go something like this:  “Ball carried by Fennville #1, John Smith. Brought down by a tribe of Indians.”, which would always make me giggle.

Can’t wait for J’s big home opener tonight.

Go Indians!

The Boys of Fall

I was talking to my friend at the PTA meeting and she said “The DH said you have a blog! I had no idea!”

And I thought “Holy Crap. I have the Blahg! I should really write on that.”

We are in the throws of football season here in Pure Michigan. Three Terrors. Three different teams. Thank God there are only two different practice schedules or I might actually go insane. J stays after school for practice. O Man and the Rookie come home on the bus, do homework, eat dinner and then we pick J up and drop them off. J comes home, eats dinner, showers, and does homework.  Then I (or the DH…I don’t want anyone to think he isn’t helping) go get the other two who have to immediately shower upon entering the house and inevitably need to eat yet again before we trundle everyone off to bed. Thank God the practice on Thursday is in town…right next to a lovely establishment that sells adult beverages. It’s the one bright spot in a long, dreary week.

We have practice or a game every night of the week except Sunday, which we will spend watching football on tv.

J and the O Man are hard at work trying to catch up due to a lack of any prior football experience. Most of the kids on their teams have been playing together since they were in 3rd grade. It’s been rough at times, but O Man has made two picks and J seems to be settling in on the official Middle School team.

The Rookie, on the other hand, is a flipping natural. He is benefiting from starting at a much younger age, and a complete lack of fear or sense that he could ever get, oh, I don’t know, hurt. He blocks kids twice his size. He gets tackled by kids that are even bigger. He comes home head to toe in mystery bruises. Ask him how he got them and he will give you that infuriating man-shrug and say “dunno”. He has one on his jaw that I find especially perplexing because I think that area is covered by his helmet.

Watching the boys on the gridiron is making me crazy jealous. I’ve probably said this before, but there are only two times I ever wish I was a boy: when I need to pee outside, and football season. Even now that I am well past the age for tackle football for any gender, I still dream of playing. I don’t even dream of being a quarterback or receiver or something sexy. Nope, I dream of making bone-shattering tackles. Perhaps I need help with some latent violence issues, but I can’t help but think about how satisfying it must be to stuff a running back behind the line of scrimmage.

The big home opener is tomorrow, so I am sure to be posting pictures of the children in all their pad and helmet glory in the not too distant future.

Are you ready for some football?

 

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It’s Not About the Money

Yeah, right, and a spanking hurts me more than it hurts you.

Did you ever think you would read the headline “Indianapolis Colts release Peyton Manning”? Would you have ever thought it possible that both Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning would be tripping over themselves to try to convince us that it doesn’t have anything to do with the $28 million dollar bonus Manning was due this year?

The press conference was full of tears. An emotional Manning bid farewell to his fans. Irsay announced they would retire number 18. All sweetness and roses. A Bruce and Demi type split.

If they all love each other so much down in Indy, why did they have to let him go? Even if they take the QB Andrew Luck with their number 1 draft pick, wouldn’t you love to have Peyton around to teach the kid a thing or two? I know I would.

But QB Coaches don’t get paid a $28m bonus. No team can afford to have a $51m bench warmer.

If Peyton had really wanted to stay, he could have deferred the bonus. He could have agreed to a rider in the contract that would have made it possible for the team to cut his salary if he didn’t play. Now, the Players’ Union might not allow things like that, and I wouldn’t put it past them. But, if Peyton really wanted to stay, they certainly could have worked out a way to keep him there. Peyton didn’t want to give up the elite contract. Isray didn’t want to pay elite QB money. No matter what fiction they weave, that is the long and the short of it.

Could it be that Irsay wouldn’t guarantee that Peyton, if healthy, would be the starting QB? I can’t believe Irsay would give the slot to Luck. How many college players are actually ready to start in the NFL first year out? Sure, Peyton Manning was, but as we all know, he was just a little special.

Any of us that like to live under the delusion that team matters more than money need only to look at LeBron James, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, among others to see that money holds all he cards these days. We might say “when you make that much money, is $4m really that important?” Yup. I’d be willing to bet that it does. It isn’t just about the money. The money is the easiest way to gauge how you stand against other players. If you let someone less talented than you get paid more, well, you look like a chump.

We can’t expect players to stay loyal to teams when we know that they will trade anyone away. No one is immune. When you are no longer the shiny new toy, they can’t wait to search out the newest and best. Teams are notorious for cutting players loose. Why is it that we only look to the players to show a little class. The teams are just as guilty.

Maybe there really was no way for this to end differently. It is possible Peyton Manning will never play again. It’s possible that Indy will never again have the kind of team Peyton Manning built for them again. Dynasties are meant to be dismantled. There are waves to every cycle.

I just wish they would call a pipe a pipe. The only reason this relationship falls apart is because of money. At one of their meetings both men realized that they all look like assholes if they make it about money. So they agree to go out there and put on a show. Peyton doesn’t want to make the franchise he built look like a bunch of jerks. Irsay doesn’t want to be they guy who makes America’s quarterback look like a money guy. But we are all money guys. We all chase the bigger paycheck.

Now the real money will start flowing. They say this will be the biggest free agent hunt in history. At least 12 teams are tripping over themselves to at least talk to Mr. Manning. Who knows, someone might be just desperate enough to pay him close to his Colt’s contract for the chance that he will be healthy enough to play for them. He did not pass the Colt’s physical. But the Colt’s were probably looking for an excuse, and any new team might shade the exam in the other direction.

No matter where he ends up (I’m thinking Houston or Miami), he will be an unbelievable asset. He didn’t have to be on the sidelines for every game last year, but he was. He seems smart and composed and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as head coach for someone someday.

I just hope to see him as a part of my football experience for years to come.

Good luck to everyone involved.

I Can Hardly Wait…

Not really.

On Monday I will watch the National Championship Game for a second time. The BCS is forcing us to relive the matchup that brought us the possibly-most-boring-game of the season: LSU (1) vs Alabama (2). Yawn.

In case you missed it, LSU squeaked out a 9-6 win against the Crimson Tide earlier in the season. As you can guess from the score it was a bit of a snoozer.

Thanks to the playoffless system in place now, they really had no choice but to give us a sequel. It is No. 1 vs No. 2. That’s all she wrote.

In the lead up to the “big game” there was a very interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about collegiate teams and what they would be worth if you could buy and sell them like NFL franchises.

Number 1 on the list was the Texas Longhorns. The football team, just football, is  worth: $805 million dollars.

To give you some perspective, the Jacksonville Jaguars recently sold for $770 million. The Minnesota Vikings are valued at a hair under $800 m.

In the $600 million range was Florida and Michigan. Followed by Notre Dame, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and LSU in the $500’s. So while Texas is the only college team that rubs shoulders with NFL valuations, the fact that any collegiate sport is worth that kind of money is astonishing.

I began to wonder how much money these big time colleges actually spend on their teams. One would think you could just Google “how much does Texas spend on football” and come up with a number, but you really can’t. At least I couldn’t. I could find the Athletic Department budgets, which includes basketball, baseball, hockey (ice and field), volleyball, swimming, and any other men’s or women’s varsity sport. Then I found a lovely little chart on Self-Sustaining Athletic programs that showed me what they spend on just football.

What is most surprising to me, however, was that there are only 22 programs that do not need monetary support from their respective Universities or any government funding. I am assuming that these are only State schools, because Notre Dame isn’t on that list and I find it VERY UNLIKELY that it isn’t self-sustaining. I found the list on The Business of Collegiate Sports, a guide to all things NCAA/financial. What blew my mind is that Texas is not only worth the most…it pays the most. It put over $130 million dollars into football. That’s an eye-watering amount. The lowest amount spent by a self-sustaining school is the $42 million-plus Kansas State allocates.

Just for grins I looked up the FY 2012 Athletic Department budget for the University of Michigan. It was $109.8 million. They spent just under $90 million on the football program.

Oregon had the highest profit, oh, excuse me, operating surplus, of any school with something like $40 million left over after all the receipts were totaled. Yikes.

Money translates into BCS championships.

Over the past ten years these 22 schools have held all but four of the slots in the BCS Championship game. The four not in the club are Auburn, Miami (Florida) and USC (who went twice). The other 17 big-spending schools’ average football budget was $103 million.

The more you spend, the more prestigious the program, the better your recruiting, the better your team, and so on…the cycle is self-perpetuating. Would these teams be this good if they didn’t spend that much money? Nope. Maybe, however, the question ought to  be “SHOULD they be spending that much money?” Even if we only look at the self-sustaining schools, should universities place this much emphasis on football? Should football be this important to the collegiate culture?

These 22 non-for-profit schools cleared roughly $200 million. Major League Soccer would die for those numbers. Of course, MLS has to pay it’s players, something the NCAA and its  free labor force don’t have to deal with. You all know how I feel about that.

Most of the Athletic departments do not have to share that money. I don’t have the energy to do all the research that would go with telling you who gets to keep what and how much and for how long… but basically that means that Oregon football keeps the surplus. They sometimes write checks back to the University, but they don’t necessarily have to.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know if Saint Mary’s would have been nearly as attractive without those student tickets to ND football games being part of the deal. But I was lucky: I tested well, had reasonable grades, and had parents that could pay for college. I had a choice of several schools. Most people don’t have that luxury. So I think more people wish they could go to these schools because of football than choose these schools because of football.

What a good football team/athletic department does do is keep the alumni writing checks.

And since money and prestige are the driving forces behind the BCS, I am constantly left speechless at the fact that they won’t institute a playoff system. Everyone knows that they are leaving money on the table by not holding playoffs. I guess they like to keep the club small. But it takes the Cinderella story out of college football…look how hard Boise State had to hump to get the BCS to take it seriously.

Maybe I would be looking more forward to Monday’s game if there had been playoffs. Of course, playoffs seldom guarantee a riveting game…look at the Superbowl, or the last few World Series (excluding the most recent one). But it might make the build-up better, or make us care more about who is in it. Who knows, maybe it would just make us sick of football.

Monday I will tune into the championship game, marvel at the machine that makes all this possible, and hope that the pollsters give me something worth watching.

Pimps and Whores

I am referring to the sad state of affairs that is NCAA athletics.

The debacle at Miami is just the most recent in a long and deep list of how this system is set up to lure kids in with visions of glory, and then make MILLIONS of dollars off of their athleticism and hard work, then dump them into the world with dubious educations and, for the vast majority, no hope of a pro career.

There is this ideal that college sport should be for sport’s sake. The players should not be, and by NCAA laws cannot be, paid more than the offer of a full ride to the institution of their choice.

Never mind that Notre Dame penned a deal with NBC extending their contract another 5 years. They made nine million a game off the last contract. I would imagine the numbers are roughly the same in the new deal. They rake in untold amounts in ticket sales (we have season tickets and I can tell you they make plenty off us), concessions, and bookstore traffic on those weekends. They benefit in attracting students with the promise of an exciting sports program. They revel in the prestige that they garner when things are going well. For adding all this revenue to the University the players get Squat. Nothing. Zilch.

You might say: “Sarah, college players get the benefit of a first class education at an institute of higher learning.” Ah yes, that would be true if these boys were in the general student population. How many of these guys are engineering students, or biology majors? Most universities certainly don’t go out of their way to push them into demanding majors. They are there to play sports, not learn anything. They are put into cushy majors with faculty that are willing to play by the rules so everyone is academically eligible to play. There was a recent article about this strange phenomenon, which they call “clustering”. How surprising it must have been to find that 50% or more (at some schools) of the football players are in the same major. The NCAA overlooks that, because they wouldn’t want any of the famous players sidelined for something as silly as academic ineligibility. That wouldn’t be entertaining.

These boys go out on the field risking catastrophic injuries to entertain us each weekend. They have little hope of being a pro player. In 1998 there were just under 59,000 boys playing NCAA football. There are roughly 1,600+ professional slots. You do the math. Most of these boys will never even see a training camp. So the idea of NCAA programs as a farm system for the pros is a little misleading, wouldn’t you think. Sure, if you go to Nebraska or Texas you might have a good shot at being one of the four guys picked off your team. Most of these guys don’t play at Nebraska or Texas.

Why can’t something be worked out so that the majority of the guys who will end up in middle management somewhere can reap a little of what they made the Colleges they played for? Because the Colleges don’t want to share. They may spout all the right talking points about amateurism and the purity of college athletics, but the Miami revelations only confirm what anyone who has been to a University with a big NCAA team has known all along. There is nothing pure about college athletics, nothing amateur.

The one ray of sunshine in the evil fog of NCAA sports was the decision this week by the NFL to uphold the suspension of Terrell Pryor, who fled OSU and his last year of eligibility to avoid serving the 5 game suspension that the NCAA handed down. Now he will serve that suspension for the first 5 games of the pro regular season. Thank God the NFL has some balls. They didn’t want the supplemental draft to be the halfway house for wayward NCAA players and I agree with them. Tressel says he volunteered to serve his suspension by sitting out his first handful of games as a gameday consultant for the Colts (what exactly is that anyway). Yeah…right.

So, how do we find a way to share the wealth a little with the players? Sure, you can’t officially give them anything now, but what about in the future? There has to be some way to form a trust. Something that they guys can apply to after they get to 30 or something. They could get grants or interest free loans for a down payment on a home, money to seed a business, funds to help with chronic health issues. There are much smarter people out there than me, someone should be able to come up with a reasonable way to reward these guys without it messing with them while they are in college. Make the dudes who make it in the pros ineligible for this superfund money. It has to be possible.

I know that I enjoy watching the college games, but more and more I feel like some kind of pervert contributing to the player’s delinquency. I can’t stand to watch coaches pen multimillion dollar deals while the boys who toil and sweat get nothing.

Argue all you want, I still will argue that compared to what they give, they get so little it is a joke.