Your Higher Ed Tax Dollar Hard At Work

“Students” at the University of Minnesota rioted twice over the weekend; once when (I suspect) the sale of someone’s soul resulted in a literal last-second victory over the UND Sioux…

…and another on Saturday after the GoGos’ defeat at the hands of, I dunno, the Idaho School of Business for all I care.

And so I scoured the web looking for video of the riots that no doubt broke out in Grand Forks after UND’s loss.

But, in what I suspect is a cover-up, I could find none.

Weird.

Sportucopia

…or things I don’t understand about Minnesota sports media coverage.

Mullet Over.  Let’s try a thought experiment to better understand NFL salary logic.  We’ll take two defensive ends for the same franchise.  One is 31 years-old, has 4 Pro Bowl appearances, 128.5 quarterback sacks, and has been named one of your franchise’s 50 best players.  The other is 30 years-old, has 39 sacks to his name, and might be most famous for kicking a Green Bay Packer in the crotch.  Now guess which one of them is considered to be at the end of his career while the other has just been resigned to a 4-year contract extension and is considered in his prime.

We’re often told that the NFL is simply a business – a rationale often employed when popular, successful veterans like the soon-to-be-former Minnesota Viking Jared Allen finds himself without a home.  And considering that Allen is looking for a salary around $10 million a year, in theory it becomes easier to understand why the Vikings decided to pass on renewing his contract – a team filled with holes could use that salary space to address other needs.   Continue reading

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It’s “Super Bowl” Sunday.

Just a reminder, as you watch a couple of teams of overpaid thugs gambol and prance about a stadium owned by a couple of modern-day robber barons who’ve built their stadiums at the expense of the cities and states where they do their dirty business, playing a mobbed-up game; this is the ad that the NFL thought didn’t serve their image properly:

Sorry, NFL. I’ve watched my last Super Bowl…

Continue reading

Thoughts On The Richard Sherman Crisis

When I saw the viral video of Richard Sherman’s verbal end-zone happy dance the other day, I thought “This is truly a threat to democracy”.

But beyond that, it’s a symptom of a deeper problem in American society, one where civility is merely another…

…um…

…oh, who cares? It’s FOOTBALL. A game where people are paid more than heart surgeons to bludgeon each other while moving a ball around a field. It’s a barroom brawl with referees. A game entirely controlled by the Mob, to make itself fortunes in gambling (with a little help from our idiot legislatures, who not only grant them tax-free status but pour our tax dollars on them like whipped cream onto high-priced hookers). It’s a game for athletes who don’t have the attention span to tackle Baseball, run by a business that doesn’t have enough ethics to criticize the Crips, facilitated by legislators who don’t have the brains to call a scam a scam.

Richard Sherman may be the most articulate spokesman the game has ever had.

At the very least, he dispels the notion that pro football is in any way different that pro wrestling.

It’s Apparently Not Just The Players Who Are Suffering From Concussions

To: Roger Goodell, President, The National Football League
From: Mitch Berg, Uppity Peasant
Re:  It’s Apparently Not ThePlayers

Mr. Goodell,

You run a tax-exempt “non-profit” that is the biggest license to print money in the United States.

Your organization regularly loots city and state treasuries to build your venues – including mine.  You’ve crudely extorted hundreds of millions of dollars from our idiot governor and from a bunch of legislators who should have known better, using tactics that well befit the mobsters that are among the main beneficiaries of your profits.

Your athletes have turned, over the past thirty years, from role models into reprobates.

But you turned down this Super Bowl ad, from Daniel Firearms?

(To whom I’ll be giving free advertising, today and on Super Sunday, and likely more than a time or two in between)

I’m picturing the reasons.

Because you’re worried about violence:  So are we.  Especially when I go into a bar or restaurant where there might be NFL players present. (Yep, I used to DJ at the old Eddie Websters.  To be fair, back then the biggest danger was being on the same stretch of road as a Viking after closing time).

Because you’re worried about the game’s image:  Right.  Hey, is that Miley Cyrus’ ass at the halftime show?

Because you’re in bed with a bunch of liberal metro-area politicians:  Oh.  Right.

I think you might just be creating some baseball fans out there.

Fits and Starts

Jerry by the Numbers: 12 wins, 4 seizures (and 16 losses)

The debate over the future of Jerry Kill’s tenure at the U of M gets seized by political correctness.

The scene last Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium was tragically familiar – the Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach lying down, surrounded by medical staff, the victim yet again of his epileptic condition.  It was the fourth such game-day incident since Jerry Kill inherited the mess of a program left by booster-in-chief Tim Brewster.  And as reports trickled in throughout the weekend, conflicting stories surfaced about how many off-field seizures Kill has had since joining the Gophers, with numbers as high as nearly a dozen seizures in one week being casually thrown about by sports radio talking heads.

Ever-present in the wake of Kill’s latest health scare was the maddening silence from Athletic Director Norwood Teague, or any official from the University of Minnesota.  Teague would eventually issue the standard press release of support backing his head coach, but not before Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan did what most journalists and sports commentators have apparently found verboten to discuss - is Jerry Kill’s health a determinant to the football program?

Even those who admire him most can’t believe that he should keep coaching major college football after his latest episode. Either the stress of the job is further damaging his health, or his health was in such disrepair that he shouldn’t have been hired to coach in the Big Ten in the first place.

The face of your program can’t belong to someone who may be rushed to the hospital at any moment of any game, or practice, or news conference. No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.

The reaction to Souhan’s comments showed precisely why few, if any, major media figures have dared to broach the subject.

Souhan’s column was deemed “ill-informed, dishonorable, and just plain nasty.”  Callers into Dan Barreiro’s KFAN radio show denounced the topic even being discussed, with one caller even comparing the questioning of Kill’s fitness to coach as a form of bigotry.  Multiple voices demanded Jim Souhan be fired.  And all this just for questioning the health of a coach whose had four seizures in 28 games.

Souhan’s harshest criticism was directed not at Jerry Kill, who has little control over the frequency and severity of his seizures, but at Teague’s combination of silence and dismissive attitude on the matter.  The lack of information from Teague allows speculation to run rampant (how many seizures has Kill really had since coming to Minnesota?) and fosters the concern that Kill’s health is a bigger hurdle to the program than assumed.  Such silence doesn’t help when there are legitimately poorly-informed commentaries on the issue, such as CBS Sports‘ Gregg Doyel who believes Kill is taking his life in his hand by continuing to coach.  But credit Jim Souhan for starting a conversation that needs to be taking place, if not in public, than at least in private within the University.

Removing Jerry Kill based solely on his health is almost certainly impossible, as the University would quickly run into Americans with Disabilities Act provisions.  But a negotiated buyout of Kill’s contract, right now at $1.2 million a year for the next five years, might be possible – if extraordinarily expensive.

The better question is should Kill step down?

Let’s dispense, if we can, with the obvious.  Jerry Kill is admirable for coming as far as he has with his condition and seems like an honorable man and a competent coach.  Stepping down from his job would be a major career reversal and disappointment for both Kill and fellow epileptic individuals from whom he rightly ought to be a role model.   But if stress is a major factor in Kill’s epilepsy, how exactly will that stress lessen as the coach of a Big 10 team on gameday?  What if Kill suffers another seizure while leading against a top-ranked team?  Or in a major bowl game?  Will fans be as accommodating with his condition if they believe, rightly or wrongly, that his health cost them a game?  Forget the opinion of fans, how will recruits react to Kill’s health?

If Kill’s condition worsens, even with the program reducing his day-to-day activities, at what point has the University reduced Jerry Kill to more of a figurehead than an administrator?  Given the trajectory of Kill’s health, with seemingly an increasing number of seizures, that point may be coming sooner than anyone wishes.

ADDENDUM: The Star Tribune editorial board, rarely a fount of wisdom, offers the definitive assessment of the impact Jerry Kill’s health has on the team – and it comes from the coach himself:

[Kill] confessed that a seizure he suffered during halftime of last November’s Michigan State game had been a low point for him because he realized “you can’t be the head football coach and miss half of the game.” If that were happening all the time, “the university wouldn’t have to fire me,” Kill said. “I’d walk away if I didn’t think I could do it.”

#Still So Focused

“Kluwe’s tactics are the epitome of his generation – foul-mouthed personal attacks against anyone who disagrees. Pro-lockout players are “douchebags” who stand for “pretty much the definition of greed.” His opponents are “a**hole f**kwits”, which also suggests he’s a plagiarist since I’m sure he stole that from Oscar Wilde.” – SITD, May 6th

—-

“plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing” – novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Stay classy, Mr. Kluwe.

The Mulligan Session, Part II

The same DFL employees who gave us “E-Pulltabs” as a means of supplying “the state’s share” of an extorted payoff to an out-of-state billionaire for his real-estate upgrade (which fell 95% short of predictions, as predicted by certain right-wing bloggers) are going to try to take a mulligan and get it right on the second try, says this piece from the MinnPost’s James Nord:

The governor’s proposal would increase the cigarette tax from $1.23 per pack to $2.52 per pack – a larger jump than the 94-cent target he’d earlier proposed — and would require retailers and wholesalers to make a one-time payment on existing inventory that would funnel $24.5 million into the stadium reserve account, solving the shortfall there.

Where have we seen this before?

Oh, yeah – cigarette taxes never, ever raise the money they’re supposed to.  They rarely get 2/3 of the way to their goals.  Ever.

And a “one-time tax on existing inventory?”  Look for a fire sale on smokes the week before the tax goes into effect, and for chain convenience stores to shuffle inventory out of state pronto.

Then, if electronic pulltabs or linked bingo games fail to produce the revenue necessary to fund the state’s appropriation bonds for the stadium ["if" - heh.  Ed], the commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget would have the authority to direct revenue from a closed corporate income tax loophole toward the stadium.

Frans said that closing the “tax avoidance loophole” would prohibit the current legal practice of some Minnesota companies that avoid paying full corporate income taxes on sales they make by shielding themselves through a subsidiary in a different state. He said more than 20 states have similar regulations in effect.

Dear Mr. Nord:  Not that I’m going to tell you how to do your job, but did you happen to ask Mr. Frans what states those were?  And how they’re doing in terms of business climate?  How well “closing” that particular “loophole” worked?

Remember – these are the same people who said “E-Pulltabs” would…y’know…work.

That measure is projected to bring in $26 million in the first year and roughly $20 million annually after that, although those totals could change as the conference committee works out the specifics of their compromise.

Frans said with the new contingency plan, which would also be backed up by current taxes on suites and memorabilia if for some reason it doesn’t perform, officials are ready to close the book on the shaky stadium funding issue.

“We believe it’s reliable, it’s consistent,” he said.

The Messinger Dayton Administration ”believed” a lot of things that didn’t turn out to be true.

If only we had an institution, with printing presses and transmitters and websites, staffed by people who see themselves as part of a truth-seeking monastic order, whose job it was to tell the public about these things.

And Here You Go

The new Vikings stadium has been unveiled.

About a year after $500 million in public money was approved by the Minnesota Legislature for a new Vikings stadium, the curtain was pulled back Monday, May 13, to let the public see what the $975 million facility will look like.

The new design was unveiled at a 90-minute event Monday evening at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

The building will be asymmetrical and multisided. The roof will slope to ensure snow doesn’t pile up atop it.

It looks like a microwave that fell out of a truck on the freeway.

But at least it’s being paid for by electronic pull tabs oops.  It’s going to be paid for out of your taxes.

The least the Strib, WCCO, KFAN and KSTP could do is give away some free tickets, since this is our “present” to them and their long-term viability.

He Knows What Matters

Mark Dayton apparently thinks he was elected pope.

I say that because of his style of interacting with the public; he pokes his nose out of his office, makes a pronouncment – “get this stadium deal done!” or “don’t shut down the government” or whatever it is he’s saying – and then disappears back into the office.  He couldn’t be any more pseudo-papal if he built a balcony outside his office overlooking the Capitol Mall.

And that’s fine – he’s probably used to having absolute doctrinal authority in interpreting Alida Messinger’s revealed word, so it fits.

But if there’s anything striking about Mark Dayton as governor, it’s his time management skills.  The guy just knows what matters.

So when he emerges from his sanctum to render a comment for his Praetorian Guard the media, you know it’s about something that matters deeply for all Minnesotans.

Without a Kluwe

The foot of the Minnesota Vikings’ punter will no longer be in his mouth.

Chris Kluwe: so focused on his job

There is a truism in all professional life that your cost, real or perceived, cannot outweigh your value.  Once that threshold is crossed, there is often little incentive for an employer to maintain such an employee.

Of course, that truism seems to take an extraordinary beating when it comes to being applied in the world of professional sports.  Athletes are excused all manner of crimes and statements while staying employed.  Kobe Bryant hardly suffered despite allegations of rape.  Michael Vick emerged from jail for the cruel practice of dog fighting and resumed his NFL career.  Mike Tyson’s been in and out of jail three times.  If he goes back a forth time, apparently it’s free.

Chris Kluwe: so totally focused on his job

In that light, the Minnesota Vikings’ expected release of outspoken punter/gay-marriage advocate/musician/video-game enthusiast/Deadspin contributor/gameboard store owner/all-around stunted adolescent Chris Kluwe hardly seems fair.  Kluwe has maintained a decent-to-high punting yards average since joining the NFL (notwithstanding his drop to 22nd in the NFL in 2012). And in a league that doesn’t even have a punter in their Hall of Fame (another source of Kluwe-influenced controversy), Kluwe may be the most relatively famous punter in history.

The problem?  None of that notoriety comes from his actions on the field.  The Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins danced around the elephant in the stadium when he wrote Kluwe’s Vikings career post-mortem in advance:

Kluwe’s departure will make the Vikings locker room a lot more dull because he is incredibly intelligent, articulate and passionate about societal issues. He’s a fascinating individual in a sport that breeds conformity. The NFL has become so big and so powerful that players often cling to political correctness for fear that a ripple might swell into a tidal wave. Kluwe is that surfer dude on top of the wave, hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion.

“No single thing that I do defines me as a person,” he said. “Just because I play football, that doesn’t define me as a person.”

Chris Kluwe: like so very focused on his job

The message is unmistakable – Chris Kluwe’s gay marriage advocacy cost him his job.  And Scoggins et al are correct…sort of.

Kluwe’s value to the Minnesota Vikings was as a $1.4 million a year player at a reasonably expendable position.  Simply put – you don’t get to be a distraction if you’re easily replaceable.  And by every definition, Chris Kluwe is a distraction.  Kluwe has run his mouth on issues beyond gay marriage.  He’s been fined for “campaigning” for Ray Guy to get into the Hall of Fame.  He’s appeared on the website Deadspin several times over the 2011 NFL Lockout where he attacked numerous players over their views.

Chris Kluwe: so super duper focused on his job

Worse, Kluwe’s tactics are the epitome of his generation – foul-mouthed personal attacks against anyone who disagrees.  Pro-lockout players are “douchebags” who stand for “pretty much the definition of greed.”  His opponents are “a**hole f**kwits”, which also suggests he’s a plagiarist since I’m sure he stole that from Oscar Wilde.

In truth, the media needs Chris Kluwe’s release to be about his vocal and abusive activism.  Because admitting to solidarity with Kluwe’s political views, and his ability to deliver good copy to sportswriters and sports radio networks, is harder than portraying the SoCal punter as a victim of a 1st Amendment NFL crackdown.  Does anyone seriously believe that if Kluwe had come out passionately against gay marriage (ala Matt Birk), and saw his production dive, that those arguing against Kluwe’s release today would be defending his penchant to “hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion”?

Chris Kluwe: so focused…on finding his next job

Kluwe mocked even his own Special Teams coach for suggesting the punter needed to focus on his job with the hashtag “so focused.”  Here’s hoping that Chris Kluwe finds the time to focus on realizing that being a public relations bully to those who don’t share his worldview isn’t the best way to advance what’s left of his career.

Fumble

The Monday Morning Quaterbacking over electronic gambling heats up.

Two gambles that haven’t paid off

When breaking down the various back-up funding plans for the Vaseline Dome, one step was neglected – the finger pointing.

For a funding mechanism that was originally billed to deliver $35 million in revenue per year, and continuously revised down to $17 million and then $1.7, the process of assigning blame should have been viewed as inevitable.  But like a legislative Atlas, who would shoulder the majority of the ownership of such a flawed model?  Gov. Mark Dayton, who was so publicly aggressive in his defense of a new stadium?  The hapless former Republican legislative majorities who acquiesced to the bill?  The Star Tribune, whose rampant conflict of interest with any Metrodome-site construction should have called into question their vocal support?

No, the Star Tribune has decided the real culprit are the gambling firms that provided the electronic pull-tab games:

While flawed, the gambling board’s sales estimates were extremely detailed, including the number of bars and restaurants that would adopt e-gambling, the number of devices in play, what hours they would be played and how much money would be wagered.

It projected 2,500 sites would be selling electronic pulltab within six months, or nearly 14 bars and restaurants joining in per day….

Nearly a year after those projections were made, about 200 Minnesota bars and restaurants offer electronic pulltabs, not the 2,500 that had been predicted. Electronic bingo games have just been introduced.

Average daily gross sales for electronic pulltabs have increased to about $69,000, but sales per gambling device have declined.

The firms may have been making bad assumptions about the capacity for Minnesota to support increased charitable gambling, but at least the firms’ figures came out of experiences in states like Montana, South Dakota and Oregon.  Still, the basic math of the gambling mechanism was public knowledge long before it was formally added to the final bill.

Minnesotans spend about $1 billion in charitable gambling, which equals the comparatively paltry sum of $36 million in revenue.  The Vikings stadium, requiring $35 million a year to cover the State’s $348 million share, would necessitate charitable gambling to either double to $2 billion or entirely overrun the current charitable competition.  In that light, it’s little wonder that other charitable organizations were not asked for their opinion.  A decision that now is being heavily criticized as charities across the State say some version of “I told you so.”

All the finger-pointing in the world doesn’t help hide the reality that the responsibility for flawed legislation needs to rest with the political leadership that authored it – a fact even the Star Tribune acknowledges:

“There was a willful blindness … driven by pressure politics,” charged David Schultz, a Hamline University political analyst and a professor of nonprofit law…

“This was a deal that was going to happen no matter what,” Schultz said. “The governor wanted a stadium. The money couldn’t come from the general fund. The charities had been asking for electronic games.”

Purple Bribe

Upon further review – the Minnesota Vikings spent a fortune to acquire their new stadium.

The Vaseline Dome has re-entered the media picture in the last few weeks, as new concerns have been raised about the viability of the electronic pull-tab funding mechanism which has fallen $13.2 million short of yearly estimates.  Or more accurately, completely fallen apart since the State had expected the pull-tabs to generate $15 million a year, putting the threat of needing general funds to finance a luxury item back on the table.

Flawed or not, the stadium financing figures aren’t the only numbers that have come to light in recent weeks.  We now know how much Zygi Wilf and company spent in their multi-year lobbying effort to build a stadium in the exact same location as their current home – $4,270,000.

Via MPR’s Capitol View and Paul Tosto

The Vikings were the 6th largest lobbyist group (by dollars spent) in the last six years.  And while the $610,000 spent last year as the stadium was finally approved was a drop in the bucket of the estimated $54 million spent by all lobbyist groups in 2012, the $1.5 million used by the Vikings during 2011-12 would have made them the 3rd largest lobbyist of the cycle. Even lobbying powerhouse Education Minnesota spent slightly less at the Capitol in that period.  Purple pride indeed.

$4.2 million for $975 million is a tremendous value (although the Vikings spent millions more in stadium-related advertising).  But the end product may not look like such a deal if the financing structure collapses in on itself.  Which begs the question – what happens when the State finally admits the pull-tab solution isn’t working?

The state’s $498 million share of the $975 million project is to be paid for through sales of electronic pull-tabs. But the final two pages of the stadium bill provide for two “blink-on” funding provisions as backups. The first is an NFL-themed lottery and the second, if necessary, is a 10 percent tax on luxury suites.

And what of the doomsday scenario, where all three provisions fall short of the money required for the state’s annual payments? At that point, from what I can tell, the state would have to produce money from its general fund — something Gov. Mark Dayton promised not to do when campaigning for the facility.

Would either of these other solutions generate the revenue necessary?  A Vikings-themed lotto doesn’t sound fundamentally different than the pull-tab concept.  The Minnesota Lottery brought in $123 million in profit last year, but that’s among 9 different games.  A 10th lotto isn’t likely to expand the number of people playing, only shrink the total amount left that would otherwise go into the State’s coffers.  Besides, over 70% of the funds generated by the lottery go either to paying winners or towards lottery administration.

The most likely end game for the Vikings stadium financing shell game lies within the 10% luxury suite tax.  Current suite rental prices aren’t terrible by NFL standards, running around $15,000 to $26,000 a game.  Slapping another $1,500 or $2,000 is unlikely to cause any corporation to abandon their suite, but certainly won’t make the Vikings happy as they compute what to charge going forward.

The only real problem with the luxury tax idea is that it was envisioned as a last-gasp measure, meant to fill in a minor funding short-fall – not the State’s entire share.  If the Vikings lotto goes the way of the pull-tab, that’s precisely what the tax will become.  And if that occurs, the political football of using general funds will be kicked right at Mark Dayton’s 2014 prospects.

Only At The U Of M…

…could they manage to lose money selling beer at a football game:

The school released the figures to the Associated Press after a records request, which showed it incurred significant expenses from its first season selling alcohol stadium-wide at TCF Bank Stadium. Those include hiring additional police and security officers, setting up tents and other facilities, and equipment rental. Roughly half of its revenues went directly to Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., which had the contract to sell beer and wine.

The booze itself cost the university about $180,000.

This bit here made me wonder if they really focused their spending properly (emphasis added):  

About $30,000 of the school’s expenses were one-time costs to prepare the stadium — from setting up ATMs to buying plants.

Plants?

In conjunction with beer sales?

Isn’t that what urinals are for?

They apparently expect to turn a profit next year.  Not sure if that’s tied with the GoGo football team making the playoffs “next year” or not.

Te’oible Lies

Manti Te’o grasping at straws. Also missing a tackle.

Perhaps Andy Warhol’s famous quote should be amended.  In the future, even fictional people will be famous for 15 minutes.

By now, most of the world has heard the too-crazy-to-be-true story of Notre Dame and Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te’o’s fictionally deceased fictional girlfriend Lennay Kekua.  The facts are relatively few yet terribly convoluted for a love-story that might as well have been crafted by Nicholas Sparks.  What is known is that Te’o purported to have a long-time girlfriend in distant California who communicated with him largely via Twitter.  In a 21st Century George Glass sort of relationship, Te’o's girlfriend was a digital creation of his friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.  The revelation of Lennay Kekua’s true identity has resulted in he-said/he-said allegations of whether Te’o was the victim or willing perpetrator of the elaborate hoax.

Captain Tuttle was unavailable for comment.

The details of the hoax have been engaging.  Theories abound.  Is Te’o, who is a practicing Mormon, in a homosexual relationship with fellow Mormon Tuiasosopo?  Did Te’o invent the girlfriend (or at least her Lifetime moviesque demise) to play upon the heartstrings of Heisman voters?  Or is Te’o the victim of a long-term ruse – perhaps the least plausible theory unless Te’o also believes he’s about to claim millions of dollars from a Nigerian prince he met via email.

The “real” motivation is less interesting than the motivations of the media, fans, and anyone else who makes up the sporting establishment to believe Te’o's lies.  And whether Te’o's initial motivation was to hide his sexual orientation or not, Te’o most certainly did lie to further his career.  The narrative of Te’o's loss of both his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day was by Te’o's own standards a near storybook tale of woe.  Te’o's otherwise great season was bookended by every reporter gushing on his ability to perform amid such personal torment.  Te’o himself declared his greatest career challenge as September 12th – the date his very real grandmother died and a very big lie about his girlfriend got even bigger with her “passing” from cancer.

The timing of Te’o's story coincides quite well with another high-profile web of lies - the Tour de Farce of Lance Armstrong’s career.

Te’o did not do what Armstrong did – no rules or laws were (as far as we know) broken.  But the connection of Te’o and Armstrong lies within the motivation for their appeal – our desire for compelling narrative that overwhelms a needed dollop of skepticism.  Manti Te’o having a strong statistical year is a nice story.  Manti Te’o overcoming death and loss is a much better one.  Lance Armstrong surviving cancer to ride again is a nice story.  Lance Armstrong winning 7 Tour de France’s in the face of cancer is exceedingly better.

The fans and media’s desire for narrative to drive accomplishments can be seen even when the truth isn’t at stake.  Adrian Peterson’s near record breaking year was given phenomenal coverage, as it should have been.  But while Peterson may win the MVP, just a few short years ago Tennesse Titans RB Chris Johnson ran for over 2,000 yards but didn’t even receive one first place MVP vote.  Why?  A lot of reasons can be suggested, but nearly breaking a record isn’t nearly as impressive as nearly breaking a record after reconstructive knee surgery.

Manti Te’o, at some level, understood this.  Sports ”journalism”, like most reporting, has little connection to facts and almost everything to do with emotionalism.  Actions don’t count – narrative does and the anger being expressed by reporters against Te’o today is less for his lies than for what they reveal about the motivations of journalists.  As one sportswriter remarked, even the man who beat Te’o for the Heisman, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, won in part on his ability to manipulate the media.  Afterall, there was no “Johnny Football”, as Manziel is known, on the Heisman ballot.

Two Strikes, You’re Out

Dear NHL,

It’s not you.  It’s me.

We’ve had some fun times, locally.  The 1991 North Stars playoff run?  Classic (I’ll continue our agreement not to discuss Game Six, however).  And that 2003 Minnesota Wild team?  Ah, good times.

We even overcame some painful memories, like when you left with that Alberta shopping mall developer for Dallas.  I was hurt.  But then I realized that a former booster for the North Stars was right when she said: ”When [Norm Green] came here, he said, ‘Only an idiot could lose money on hockey in Minnesota.’ Well, I guess he proved that point.”

Since you came back it’s been nice.  Not the same, but nice.

But as I said, it’s not you, it’s me.  I just can’t take what will likely be a second lost season in nine years.  Especially with both sides of your lockout seemingly unwilling to even sit in the same room with a federal mediator and salvage, ala 1994-95, a condensed season and the Stanley Cup:

With the hockey season hanging in the balance, Saturday could prove to be a pivotal day on all fronts. The sides have less than a week to reach a new collective bargaining agreement to save what would likely be a 48-game hockey season….

The players’ association will conclude a two-day vote among its members at 6 p.m. Saturday that will determine whether the union’s executive board will again have the authority to declare a disclaimer of interest.

If the vote passes, as expected, the disclaimer can be issued, and the union would dissolve and become a trade association. That could send this fight to the courts and put the season in jeopardy. The disclaimer would allow players to file individual antitrust suits against the NHL.

Ok, maybe it’s a little you.

Having conceded the necessity of a salary cap after the last strike in 2004-05, the cap has risen from $39 million in 2005 to what will either be $60 or $65 million in 2013.  That’s more than a 12% increase every year.  And it’s not exactly that the NHL has been booming in popularity or revenue.  The Toronto Maple Leafs rank as the NHL’s most valuable franchise at $1 billion with $200 million in revenue generated each year.  Solid numbers, to be sure.  But paltry in comparison to other major American sports.  The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys bring in $500 million each year for a league with a cap of $120 million.  The NBA’s New York Knicks generate $244 million each year with a “soft cap” of $58 million – and that’s in a league where 14 of the teams are currently losing money12 of the 30 NHL teams are ending up in the red.  Even the mightly NFL, supposedly the pater familias of sports business, has three teams losing money.

At least the NFL and NBA have strong TV viewership.  The NHL saw the weakest TV ratings for the Stanley Cup in years, despite having two of the largest television markets represented in the series.  In that context, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman must be a negotiating genius to get NBC to agree to a 10-year, $2 billion TV deal.  Sure, it’s a pittance compared to MLB’s $3 billion, 7-year deal or the NFL’s $3 billion a year contract, but compare numbers.  The 2010 Stanley Cup finals had their best ratings in 36 years with 14 share of the TV audience.  That’s only a few hundred thousand more viewers than the average audience for a Sunday night NFL game which has a 12.9 share.

In short, among the few who will care if yet another NHL season is lost will be NBC’s executives.  Don’t count me among the rest.

Sure, I thought perhaps I’d give you another chance.  You almost had me with the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signings, until I realized that not unlike Kevin Garnett’s contract years ago, the signings represent exactly why your league is in decline and locked out.  I can’t continue worrying about someone who is so self-destructive.

So goodbye, NHL.  I hope you find someone who accepts you despite your many, many flaws.  I hear Canada’s single right now.

ADDENDUM:  Like the jilted lover who can’t accept being rejected, the NHL returns – at only the cost of half the season:

Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger reports some details:

Deal to end NHL lockout tentative with 10-year CBA (opt-out after 8 years), 7-year contract limit (8 for own players) and $64.3 M cap ’13-14.

That’s right: After the NHL asked for a $60 million cap, the players got the League to move all the way to $64.3.

Even the NHL’s proposed $60 million cap is frankly too high.  The $64.3 million cap would currently place 22 teams under the limit (and the cap, of course, is a limit, not a minimum) and force 8 teams to shed payroll – including your Minnesota Wild.  All this in a league were nearly 1/3rd of the teams are financially struggling.

The end result?  The length of the CBA (10 years) probably means an increased exodus of teams from the US to Canada, as we just saw last year with the Atlanta Thrashers becoming the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets.  The NHL’s 90′s mistake of expansion in southern US markets is slowing coming back to bite them.  Moving some of the teams north would probably be the best economic decision but only further the NHL’s regional appeal.  Not the NHL has learned this lesson yet – the American cities proposed for expansion include decidedly non-hockey markets like Houston and Las Vegas.  We may see an NHL franchise contract before this CBA expires, which while being a PR letdown, might actually be what’s best for the league.

 

Open Letter To NBC Sports

To:  NBC
From: Mitch Berg, guy counting down the days ’til pitchers and catchers report
Re:  ”Sportscasters”

Dear NBC,

Yesterday, Bob Costas used your “sports” air time to babble an uninformed, utterly wrong anti-Second-Amendment screed.

Now, don’t get me started on sportscasters and sportswriters and “sports radio” people; for the most part, they are at the cutting edge of everything that’s wrong with America.  They glorify a sports culture that once at least paid lip service to the best our society had to  offer, but today mostly glorifies all that is base and stupid in our culture.  And let’s not kid ourselves; whatever they glorify, it’s all about making bank for the people that own the teams that give the Sports Media a market, which in turn allows you, NBC Sports, to make bank yourselves.

And when they get into politics?  Forget unions and welfare; sportswriters, sportscasters and the drooling baboons and chattering lemmings that take them seriously were the ones that badgered the Legislature into giving Zygi Wilf a billion-dollar spiff to his investment.  Just as they did in turn for the owners of the Twins, the Wild and the Woofies before them. Sports America is the biggest welfare state there is.

And now we have Bob Costas – a guy who wants to be his generation’s Frank DeFord so badly you can smell it on the wind – using your “sports” airtime to prate and gabble about the Second Amendment.   As if taking an troubled boy with a talent for running or blocking or tackling or catching a ball, glorifying his talent from the age of eight on, allowing him to grow into a rich, spoiled, entitled adult with no education or sense of perspective to feed the system that has made him, his team owners, Costas and all of you obscenely wealthy along the way, didn’t have a role in creating someone so unstable he thought he was justified in killing another human being.

Let’s put this another way; after a career spent making America’s sports industry (and, incidentally, himself) rich, what caliber of handgun did OJ Simpson use?

Or is there a Bob Costas riff against butcher knives out there that I’m not aware of?

Oh, yeah – I don’t watch NBC Sports, and haven’t for decades, so any threat to boycott will be an empty one.  But you get the picture.

That is all.

Jerrymandered

The University of Minnesota redraws the lines of success for Gophers football.

Since the state’s introduction to Jerry Kill’s persistent problems with seizures (in what was only his second game, no less), the topic of the health of Minnesota’s football coach has been near verboten by both the University and a complacent media.  That may finally change following a turbulent week which saw the team’s leading offensive player quit with a Tolstoy-length screed, the team lose badly to a very beatable Michigan State, and Kill suffer a seizure which forced him to miss the second half:

After Minnesota fell 26-10 to Michigan State, athletic director Norwood Teague said Kill was comfortable and all of his vital signs were fine. Kill was cleared to go home after resting for a few hours.

“I know this will bring up questions about him and moving forward, but we have 100 percent confidence in Jerry,” Teague said, adding: “He’s as healthy as a horse, as they say. It’s just an epileptic situation … that he deals with.  He has to continue to monitor all the simple things in life that we all have to monitor, in that you watch your diet, watch your weight, watch your rest, watch your stress.”

The seizure is Kill’s fourth since taking over the Gophers’ program in 2011 and the third during a season (one seizure occurred in the off-season).  Newly installed AD Norwood Teague is certainly correct – Kill’s seizures are not the sign of deeper health concerns, nor is there much Kill can do to lessen their occurrence or severity.  That fact alone is the main reason why few in or outside the media have taken up the issue.

But can a Division-I football program grow when the man in charge likely can’t make it through an entire season?  Kill’s health may not be a concern to the University administration, but it will certainly be an issue in the cut-throat world of college recruiting.  Few rival recruiters in Wisconsin or Iowa will have any qualms about raising Kill’s health or the AJ Barker diva saga.  Both call into question whether Kill is truly able to handle coaching at a Big 10 level.  Kill’s insistence that he treats all players equally sounds wonderful outside of the realities of college athletics where star players expect some deferential treatment.  And there’s little question that Kill’s seizures are becoming more frequent  He suffered one in 2005 coaching for Southern Illinois.  Now, the seizures are a multiple, yearly occurrence.

The University may have few choices in the matter.  Kill’s 7-year contract places the U on the hook for $600k each year they buy-out.  The U already had to pay $775,000 to get rid of Tim Brewster and is now out a similar amount simply to avoid a home-and-home series against a mediocre North Carolina team.  Nor would the University seriously contemplate firing a head coach two years into his stay as his team has improved from 3 wins to 6.

Yet what does the future hold for a Jerry Kill-lead Gophers program?  2012 has revealed a few hints: that Kill doesn’t think his squad can handle an 8-4 team at home in 2014; that he doesn’t know how his best players perceive him; and (fair or not) that his body hasn’t learned to adjust to the stress of coaching a low-level Big 10 team.  What exactly about any of those qualities will change in the short-term?

Instead of worrying about such issues, the University seems content to redraw their expectations.  $800,000 is a small price to pay for ensure two non-conference victories against Hamline’s intramural flag-football team or whatever cupcake opponents replace North Carolina.  Who cares if the head coach is healthy enough to be on the sidelines when you might make the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

The University of Minnesota might be better served asking if those short-term hopes are worth mortgaging their long-term goals – and Jerry Kill’s health.