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Title IX missile on collision course with football arms race

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The Obama administration announcement that it is stepping up enforcement of Title IX, the law that requires equal gender opportunity at any educational institution receiving federal funding, and the possible expansion of the Big Ten Conference appear to be separate stories. But soon enough, they will become one.

That’s because colleges are going to have to reconcile two differing mandates: providing fair representation, opportunity and funding for female and male athletes, and plowing every dollar possible into football in for what for most schools will be a vain hope of creating an athletic cash cow. Not for nothing have the lords of football and their protectors fought numerous times, including soon after Title IX was passed in 1972, to exempt football from the law.

The Obama administration, trotting out Vice President Joseph Biden for the grand announcement, on April 20 said it would increase enforcement of Title IX (technically, since 2002, the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, named after the late Hawaii representative who created it), and that it would rescind a George W. Bush-era rule that gave  schools more leeway with “model surveys” as a means of proving compliance.

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Since 2005, schools could use email surveys of women to determine athletic interest, and could use a lack of response to indicate a lack of interest. Now, my wife is an Internet consultant for associations, and her line of work, a 10 percent response rate for a member survey is considered golden. So the possibility existed that women’s actual interest in sports would be skewed way downward, one of the many reasons the NCAA was against the Bush approach, and why so few schools implemented it.

Biden announced that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, will still allow the use of surveys, but that a nonresponse can’t be used to indicate lack of interest. (If you want to read the full scope of the tests used to ensure schools are in Title IX compliance, it’s here.)

Even those who aren’t the biggest Title IX fans will say the law has been a great success in expanding opportunities for women. On the college level, we’ve gone from a time when schools openly admitted to requiring women to have a higher grade-point average than men for admission to women representing around 55 percent of college graduates. There were 30,000 female college athletes in 1972; now, there are 150,000. (Just in case you’re wondering how girls’ youth sports became as cutthroat and mercenary as the boys’.)

However, the argument against Title IX is that men’s opportunities have remained static — and in many cases have been eliminated — as schools used quota systems to prove compliance, turning men in nonrevenue sports such as wrestling and gymnastics into would-be Allan Bakkes, arguing their opportunities were sacrificed unfairly on the mantel of supposed gender equality. Title IX, in its own language, declares that opportunities should not be a zero-sum game. However, even if Title IX hasn’t been the real reason a men’s sport has been eliminated, it would be logical to think it’s entered the conversation at some point.

Testimony about declining men’s opportunities is present throughout a 2003 Bush administration report on Title IX  (titled, tellingly, “Open for All’) that helped bring about its changes in approach, and the 2008 Republican Party platform stated that Title IX “should not be distorted by Washington bureaucrats to micromanage collegiate athletics or force cancellation of men’s sports programs.”

The Title IX opponents don’t like when you bring up raw numbers, but I’m going to bring them up anyway. Despite all the progress made over the last 40 years, and despite all the cuts made to men’s sports, women are 55 percent of college students, but 43 percent of athletes. In high school, the gap is 49-41 for women — meaning boys are 51 percent of students and 59 percent of athletes.

And what is skewing these numbers? For the most part, football.

With 85 scholarships at the Football Bowl Series level (formerly Division I-A) and 63 scholarships at the Football Championship Series level (formerly Division I-AA), football by miles has the largest rosters and the largest representation of athletes. Throw in nonscholarships walk-ons — who count in Title IX computations — and the numbers grow higher. The American Football Coaches Association has fought against Title IX pretty much from its infancy, and four times Congress has considered bills to exempt football from Title IX. All have failed.

The argument for all the attention and money on football is that it supports the rest of the athletic department. However, that’s usually not true. Football does usually stay in the black, but not enough to underwrite losses elsewhere — that’s covered by student fees and general fund contributions. Plus, it’s getting harder for more schools to keep their football financial heads above water. The average salary of an FBS head football coach jumped 46% from 2006 to 2009, to $1.6 million. Even if most of it is paid by boosters and sponsors, not the athletic department, it’s still reflective of an arms race for coaches, facilities and whatever else can attract the nation’s best football players and turn a woebegone program into the next Boise State.

This is where the Big Ten’s possible expansion comes in. It’s all about football (and a little bit about spreading its cable property, the Big Ten Network). Adding to the 11 teams in the misnamed Big Ten means that the conference can have a conference championship game, more teams in the postseason bowls, and the geographical reach to negotiate a larger network television contract. (Commissioner Jim Delaney said April 21 that expansion would not happen for 12 to 18 months, at least — but it’s coming.)

The Big Ten’s move would spark another round of conference reorganizations, starting with the Big East. That once-powerful basketball conference, now at 16 members, could lose Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Notre Dame (a member in every sport but football) to the Big Ten, and perhaps have other powerful football members like West Virginia poached by other conferences as well, leaving it mostly with private schools with no football — and frozen out of the Bowl Championship Series elite.

What this is creating is a one tier of elite football programs and conferences, and everyone else, who are going to have to look at cutting football (if they have it) not only as a means to keep Title IX compliance in tight financial times, but mostly as a way to keep its athletic department solvent in tight financial times.

The College Sports Council, a passionate spokesorganization when it comes to what it sees as the (mostly) men-hurting excesses of Title IX, has already blamed Title IX for the elimination of football at Hofstra and Northeastern, and it says more FCS schools could have football in their sights. After all, at the FCS level, football really doesn’t make any money.

The Big Ten expansion highlights a growing gap between the football haves and have-nots, and schools left on the outside will have to decide if football is worth the money. Throw in the garnish of more aggressive enforcement of Title IX, and you could have the ingredients of football’s demise at some institutions.

I’m not saying Title IX would be the real reason for cutting football. I’m just saying, it would be logical to think it would enter the conversation at some point.

College scholarships: harder to win than the lottery

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In advance of Feb. 3′s National Signing Day, college football’s orgasm to the child porn that is the recruiting watch, the Houston Chronicle’s Jenny Dial asked a question. Just what are your kid’s chances of getting a scholarship, anyway?

If you didn’t read her story (or see it on Youth Sports Parents — hat tip your way), then in the afterglow of signing day, with the sweet throb of the fax machine still faintly pulsating, you’ll get an instant cold shower from her answer: almost nil.

You would think it’s generally understood that the odds are long. But Dial’s excellent piece makes you wonder if, as a means of future earnings potential, parents should buy lottery tickets instead of paying big bucks for travel teams and private lessons. The chance of success is about the same, and so is the usual justification — you can’t win if you don’t play.

How do we know the odds are so long? Dial took numbers from the National Federation of State High School Associations on school sports participation, then took numbers from the NCAA on the number of scholarships awarded to Division I athletes, and did the math. The numbers might not be 100 percent accurate: they don’t count kids who play at elite club levels only (increasingly common), and they don’t count kids who might have gotten scholarships to NCAA Division II or NAIA institutions. But those figures would probably not move the needle much one way or the other.

So, without further adieu, the percentage of high school athletes in the class of 2008 (the latest figures available) who got Division I athletic scholarships nationwide, in alphabetical order by sport:

Baseball: 0.6

Boys basketball: 0.7

Girls basketball: 0.9

Boys cross country/track and field: 0.5

Girls cross country/track and field: 0.9

Football: 1.4

Boys golf: 0.6

Girls golf: 1.6

Boys soccer: 0.4

Girls soccer: 1

Softball: 0.7

Boys swimming and diving: 0.8

Girls swimming and diving: 1.2

Boys tennis: 0.6

Girls tennis: 1.1

Volleyball: 0.8

Boys wrestling: 0.3

Man, I think you get better odds from the lottery ticket.

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Your odds are 1 in 300 for this lottery.

Dial also talked to parents to see what they spent on sports. Golf parents spent the most: about $11,000 per year. A lot of sports fell in the $2,000-$5,000 range. Football parents spent the least, about $300 a year for offseason expenses. Football is relatively cheap because, unlike every other high school sport, you’re also not duty-bound to join a travel or elite team in addition to your school team in order to get college recruiters’ attention. However, you can rack up expenses paying for all-star camps and Nike-sponsored combines that require you to jet around nationwide to get the attention of your top football schools.

And for what? Not only are the chances of a scholarship tiny, but Dial’s survey included partial scholarships. Every athlete is not getting a four-year free ride. In most sports (mainly, outside of football and basketball), just about everyone is getting only half, or one-quarter, or less covered in tuition expenses — if they’re getting a scholarship at all to play.

This is not to say that you should immediately dump your kid’s golf clubs in the nearest water hazard. If you and your child love the youth sports lifestyle, and you’ve got the money to spend, then have fun. But if you’ve got a hard-on for a college scholarship, chances are that on National Signing Day, you’re going to be limp with disappointment.

Update on the player Drew Pinsky saved

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I’m a few weeks behind here. But in case you were wondering, Jackson Allan, the high school football player whose life was saved by television personality/physician Dr. Drew Pinsky, is home. From his Facebook support page:

Jackson returned home to his mom’s place on the evening of Thursday, Dec 17th.

Jackson’s leaving Rancho is simply the best gift everyone in his family and friends could have. He’s made incredible progress and I’m sure it will continue.

Les

“Rancho” is Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, where Allan was transferred for rehab after recovery from brain surgery at UCLA Harbor hospital. “Les” is Allan’s father.

The backstory: Allan, a 10th-grader at Polytechnic in Pasadena, Calif., collapsed after suffering a head injury during his October football game against rival Chadwick. Pinsky, whose son plays for Polytechnic, ran to the bench where Allan collapsed and, along with Chadwick parent Dr. Roger Lewis, administered emergency aid that is credited with keeping Allan alive. It appears Allan still has a long way to go with rehab, but given where he was a few months back, that’s incredible progress.

Mike Leach gets fired, or how not to handle injured prima donnas

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Texas Tech fired Mike Leach as its football coach on Dec. 30, ostensibly because he sent wide receiver Adam James to solitary confinement in a shed and electrical closet (says James’ father Craig, a former NFL running back and current ESPN college football analyst) or in a garage and a media room (says Leach and his attorney) after James was diagnosed with a mild concussion.

Of course, as clear by the argument over what to call where James was stashed, the situation is more complicated than that, with Leach accusing James of being a prima donna and malingerer, and his father of being overbearing like a “Little League parent,” players coming out pro and con on how Leach treated them, and the specter of Leach’s past, very contentious contract negotiations providing some insight as to why the Texas Tech athletic department thought him more pain in the ass than their previous feeling, savior of a generally hidebound program. (He’s the second Big 12 coach to make that fall in a month, following Kansas’ Mark Mangino, fired after players and parents alleged various mental and physical abuse.)

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Mike Leach shouldn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

As a youth coach, I look at a situation like Leach’s and wonder, is there something I and other coaches can learn from this? Why, yes indeedy there is. While I am never going be fired before I get an $800,000 bonus (because I never will be getting an $800,000 bonus), I can see some lessons here on the relationship between a coach and a player who, for the sake of argument, was a prima donna and malingerer with an overbearing, Little League parent. There are three main lessons I see coming out of this, for youth coaches on any level — even (or especially) the college level:

1. You can’t magically turn a prima donna into a model citizen.

The speculation in the Leach case is that if James wasn’t being punished for being hurt, this was a chance for Leach to punish him for being an asshole. After all, what doctor recommends a concussion patient be sent to solitary confinement in a shed, garage, electrical closet, media room or Windsor Castle? Leach and other Texas Tech coaches portray James as being a prima donna, and apparently tried to hard-ass the prima donna right out of him.

My experience — at the kindergarten- to eighth-grade level — is that if a kid has a lousy attitude, you can’t yell it out of them. You can’t run it out of them. You can’t lock them in a closet out of them. One of the traits of a prima donna is a disrespect and distrust for authority, and you getting all Sgt. Hartman on them is not going to change that. Particularly at the youth level. You only have players for a short amount of time, and it’s not like you can threaten to take away their scholarship.

I’ve found the first step to dealing with a prima donna is to accept that the player is a prima donna. That way, you don’t overreact to everything and end up creating friction on the team. For example, on a basketball team I coached, I kicked one particular pain-in-the-ass to the sideline. Not only did that have no effect on him, but it also had his teammates wondering why they had to keep working when they were following the rules. I tried running the kid — same problem. It didn’t work on him, and his teammates were distracted because one of their own wasn’t doing drills with them.

The best I can do now is try to impress upon him the importance of being part of the team, and point out (which is true) that we win when his attitude is good, and we lose when it’s bad. I do this because I know his mood swings are subject to whether he thinks his team is good enough to be around him, and whether we’re winning or losing. You might find other ways to motivate a prima donna. But I don’t expect miracles, and neither should you. Your best hope is that, eventually, the prima donna gets to trust you and see it your way. Whatever I do with prima donnas, I tell them, whether they believe or not, that I like and respect them. Then I hope for the best.

I am a coach, not a magician, no matter how much I might like to think I have an incredible life force that turns children into the greatest human beings of all-time.

2. You’re a coach, not a doctor.

In Leach’s case, he had a team doctor to advise him on what to do, although team doctors are notorious for bending to the wishes of coaches to get players back on the field right away rather than their long-term health. Generally, unless you are a doctor also serving as a youth coach, it’s not up to you to judge whether someone is capable of playing. If they say they’re hurt, you have to lean toward taking them at their word.

That doesn’t mean you can’t teach them how to push through small amounts of pain. When my coed fifth- and sixth-grade basketball team had only five players show last week, I told them there wasn’t going to be any rest, so they would have to save being tired until game’s end. I also once had a kid tell me he couldn’t do a passing drill because his arm hurt. I said, OK, take a rest. When he went back out onto the court to shoot three-pointers, I told him he lost the argument about his arm. I’m no doctor, but if your arm hurts, you’re not shooting long bombs.

On the other hand, I have two asthmatics on my team. Even if they were among the five that had showed up on the day we only had five (and neither did), I would have never told them to work through the pain of being tired and losing your breath. I tell those kids to raise their hands immediately when they need a rest. I tell the referees to please stop the game when they do so. I also tell their parents to feel free to run onto the court if something looks wrong. They know better than I do.

3. You have to deal with parents.

It is every coach’s dream to have parents who drop their kids off at practice and games, and never make a peep. Every coach lives in fear of the overbearing parents who questions everything they do. Well, every coach has to get over that. You’re the coach, but you’re being trusted with somebody’s child. You will have many children under your watch for a short time. The parent has only that one child, or a few more, under their watch forever. Any parent who feels like a coach is risking their child’s well-being should speak up. That’s a good parent.

The problem with most parent-coach confrontations is that they’re confrontations. The parent comes flying in upset about something, and the coach gets defensive and tells them to pound sand. As a coach, you have to have this attitude: on first blush, the parents has every right to be unreasonable. It is your job as a coach to explain why you do what you do, and why you feel like that is in the child’s best interests. I’ve had a parent pull his kids off a team I’ve coached because he didn’t like what we were doing (he thought we weren’t intense enough). My reaction: I’m sorry to hear that, but they are your children, and you know best.

I’m not sure Mike Leach could make any reasonable explanation for locking a player in solitary confinement for any reason. But as a coach, you have to accept that parents have the right to ask you anything. You have the job of giving an even-keeled response. That might not help. The parent might not always be right. You might have to get others in your league involved. It’s a pain in the ass. But when you’re dealing with children, you’re also dealing with parents, so you had best accept it.

Charlie Weis not fired as online coach

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home_MeetCCBrian Kelly might have Charlie Weis’ old job as head football coach at Notre Dame, but Weis is still give you child a decided schematic advantage at CampWeis.com. It’s the only online football game where your kid can brush up on skills like hiding who your starting quarterback will be.

Weis says “you might even find me inside playing the game, too!” Yeah, especially now that he’s got so much time on his hands.

Weis’ attempted influence over child comes from a company called Play Action Online Kids Camps, which also features virtual camps run by USC coach Pete Carroll, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer. I believe the Carroll and Spurrier games involve screwing up a pro coaching gig to land yourself a sweet college deal, while Switzer’s games allow you to either get your team on probation or fall ass-backwards into winning a Super Bowl with someone else’s veteran players.

Written by rkcookjr

December 12, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Hofstra football dies, and an athletic scholarship gets harder to find

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The already remote chance that all that money you spent on extra-special speed drills and creatine is going to get your kid a college athletic scholarship is growing ever more remote. That Hofstra University followed Northeastern’s recent lead in dropping football is not a case of individual schools making individual decisions. They are canaries in the toxic coalmine that is the bloated athletic department budget in an age of newfound collegiate austerity.

Hofstra, in its Dec. 3 announcement, said it came to the conclusion that the $4.5 million a year it spent on Football Championship Series (formerly known as Division I-AA) football could be better used to provide need-based scholarships to students or expand academic programs. Side note: the announcement came the day after the NCAA named Hofstra alum and former New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet as its official, inaugural ambassador to the FCS playoffs. Oops. Chrebet would do just as well to say he’s the ambassador from Freedonia, which, if I recall “Duck Soup” correctly, also was a little hard up for money.4049750020_dd3d24e73b

Hofstra was the second Colonial Athletic Association program in two weeks to drop football, following Northeastern, which said it did so for financial reasons. But I think the Boston school is actually responding to my call that everyone in the state of Massachusetts stop playing football because of the high knucklehead factor of its players, coaches and parents.

So why is Hofstra (and Northeastern) a canary in a coalmine? Because the pressure is on for colleges to cut costs, and the athletic department won’t be spared. In fact, it might be first to the firing squad, given that, as Murray Sperber pointed out nearly 20 years ago in his book College Sports Inc., almost every college athletic department, even the ones with the biggest football stadiums filled to capacity, loses money.

A little stroll around the Internet brings up a lot of examples to show why athletics is under such pressure.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the same organization whose studies inspired the NCAA to boost academic standards for athletes, in the fall put out a report calling the current state of athletic spending “unsustainable,” citing an arms race for facilities and big bucks for coaches. “Athletics are increasingly seen as occupying a position of privilege, which the recession has brought to a harsher spotlight,” Knight Commission Cochair R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University, said in U.S. News and World Report. “Athletics costs are growing three times faster than elsewhere at institutions.”

There’s little evidence to show students give a rat’s ass about whether their school has sports, particularly football, if they are not athletes themselves. The history of colleges that have dropped football is that most have gone on their merry way without any decline (unless you think Swarthmore has gone to shit since dropping football in 2000). The colleges that died were already in trouble before they cut football – that’s why they cut it.

Speaking of students not giving a rat’s ass, in 2007 East Tennessee State University students got to vote on whether they would support their $75 athletics fee rising to $350 so the school could bring back football, which was dropped in 2003. The students voted no, and football ain’t coming back.

Plenty of other universities are looking at cutting athletic programs. For example, the University of New Orleans, which does not have a football program and whose enrollment has not reached pre-Katrina levels, is considering a drop from Division I to nonscholarship Division III. That way, it can save a bundle on the $6-7 million it needs to spend to maintain Division I status, and wipe out a current $1.3 million athletic department deficit.

Why would that save so much money? The University of Central Arkansas, which is in progress of moving to full Division I status (including FCS football) by Sept. 30, 2010, estimates 81 percent of its athletic budget is scholarships, travel and coaches’ salaries. So it has to look at the other 19 percent of its budget to satisfy a state-mandated 2 percent budget cut.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Community College system just cut seven out of 22 sports, while Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is suggesting his state’s community colleges downsize or even eliminate sports – a $20 million savings. Another institution looking at cutting sports? Stanford. It has to cut $8 million from its athletics budget, which supports 35 states – more than any school but Ohio State.

Resentment also is growing over general fund money being used to support the athletic department. You might call the University of California-Berkeley academic senate sports-hating granola eaters because it recently voted 91-68 to end general fund subsidies to sports. But the athletic department didn’t help by, in a document meant to SUPPORT its case, noting $31.4 million in pre-2007 debt to the general fund had been forgiven, and that even after recent cuts in its subsidy, it still gets $6 million a year – but it’s working on getting better! Not exactly the message of sacrifice anyone wants to hear in a state where protests flared up because of massive tuition hikes and budget cuts because of the state of California’s fiscal woes.

When the University of Texas-San Antonio conducted a feasibility study on adding football, it noted that, apropos to Hofstra, having an FCS program would cost it millions of dollars per year that it would have no way of making up.  Its only hope for making money was to move to the former Division I-A, what we now call the Football Bowl Subdivision, and join a conference. (Thus, it could get some shared money when members go a bowl game. That’s why FBS schools aren’t fighting for a playoff – the current system guarantees more money spread among more colleges.) So Texas-San Antonio is making just that kind of plan, starting up football in 2011 under new coach Larry Coker, who won a national championship at the University of Miami.

Alas, as California, Stanford and others prove, even if you do spend the money to play at the highest levels, you probably won’t make any. So parents, you’re better off spending your time and energy persuading colleges to drop sports so they might have a few bucks to shave off of tuition or to send a little money your kid’s way to pay the outrageous price for books – like what Hofstra says it wants to do now that its football field is silent.

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