Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Manatee County taxpayers to get clotheslined again with new football league

One of the advantages of living in one media market and working in another is that you get to see several different local governments play the economic development game.

The good part about the game is that the taxpayers always lose, and anyone unfortunate enough to be hired by the companies that relocate to the area for the tax breaks ends up back on unemployment soon enough.

For those seeking to play one county against another in Florida, it’s a fun game because the people in one county rarely read the newspapers or websites in another county, and may be oblivious to what’s happening elsewhere in the state.

I live in Ellenton, Fla., a suburban area just off I-75 and U.S. 301 near Bradenton. Bradenton is in Manatee County, which is north of Sarasota County and its county seat, the city of Sarasota. Just north of us is the Tampa-St. Petersburg metroplex.

I work, however, in Polk County, which features the cities of Lakeland and Winter Haven. It’s about a 40-mile drive north on I-75 and then about 20 miles east on I-4 for me to get the 63.5 miles to my job at the Lakeland Ledger. It’s also a privilege to see two very different areas of Florida, and watch the counties get screwed over by economic development schemes, especially those involving sports.

Sarasota County has the legendary Sanborn Studios mess, which is still plowing through the courts, but Manatee County has shown that it likes being screwed, too.

Recently, Manatee’s Economic Development Corporation offered a financially busted entity called “Major League Football” more than $200,000 to place its headquarters in Lakewood Ranch. The promise is that the league would succeed where the U.S.F.L. and the XFL failed, and make great profits in football outside the regular NFL season.

Of course, many promises fail to get kept, and the fact that the U.S.F.L. and XFL now exist as Wikipedia entries shows that taking on the NFL is not a winning proposition.

According to the Bradenton Herald, on Friday, June 5, a press conference will announce the league’s location decision.

According to the very seriously deluded Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., as quoted in a May 23 piece in the Bradenton Herald:

“While MLFB has not officially announced it will locate its headquarters and training facilities in Lakewood Ranch, the anticipation is building, said Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.

“‘We would obviously be thrilled to have Major League Football here in Manatee County,’ she said. ‘Just goes to give further credibility of the sports performance industry as an important sector in the economy.’

“This speaks volumes in terms of sports performance as a driver for the local economy, Hillstrom said.

“ ‘This is a big deal,’ she said.

“Manatee County and the region are set apart from other areas with its sports performance industry focus, Hillstrom said.

“ ‘I don’t know other areas that have sport performance as a targeted industry sector,’ she said.”

“When companies locate to the area, there is typically a multiplier effect as employees will buy houses and go to restaurants, Hillstrom said.

“ ‘This is all good stuff, she said.’ ‘The other thing is the Major League Football will be bringing events here. …I don’t see a downside.’”

Lakeland vs. Lakewood Ranch

There was similar hyperbole up in Lakeland, when a nearly defunct X-League arena football team called the Lakeland Raiders, which had been playing at The Lakeland Center – across the street from The Ledger – managed to persuade Polk County that its economic future was in some form of indoor football.

The Raiders tried all sorts of gizmos and tricks, including turning nonprofit and inventing a military tie-in – very popular in sports today – by renaming the team the Lakeland Marine Raiders. Recently, according to my paper, the Ledger, the team canceled its final game at The Lakeland Center amid an issue about rent payments.

A May 31 story in the Bradenton Herald on Major League Football noted that the league was financially in pretty bad disarray, including an accumulated deficiency of $12.8 million and cases pending over nonpayments to other entities.

The person running the league made much of negotiations underway for team locations and TV deals, but as usual nothing has been finalized yet.

Remember the Lakewood Ranch hockey arena?

Local government officials tend to get wet over the prospect of minor league sports in their communities, and will open the government’s checkbook – or do so through an economic development corporation – to get the league or a franchise of a league to sign up.

I like to tell the story of the great Lakewood Ranch hockey arena, and how the plans for a minor league hockey team in that area fell apart.

The astoundingly rich founder of the AFLAC insurance company pitched the idea of a hockey arena in Lakewood Ranch. Indeed, one of the roads in the development was called “Center Ice Parkway.”

Work began on the arena but stopped when contractors stopped being paid. At the end, there were three walls that had been built, and they were dubbed “Stonehenge.” They stood for years as various maneuvers were made to try to get construction restarted, and finally the three walls were razed, and the road was given a new name. Today, the idea that there would be an ice hockey arena in Lakewood Ranch has been forgotten for the most part.

So I guess that’s why the area is prime territory for a new pro football league: No one remembers what happened last time pro sports was pitched in the area.

Stadium game redux

I have always been critical of governments getting into the sports funding business. While minor league baseball is a little more on the level than these independent football leagues that seem to crop up like wildflowers on the highway, we have to remember that cities in Florida have been screwed in the stadium game. Vero Beach got a royal screwing from the Dodgers before the team packed up for Arizona. Decades of tradition are no protection against a fast departure, and when a municipality buys a stadium from a team and then leases it back to the team, it’s a sure sign that the team is getting ready to leave town.

No one remembers, I’m sure, that there was a minor league basketball league called the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), and there was a franchise in West Palm Beach called the BeachDogs. The latter didn’t last very long.

Sports is simply a bad bet for economic development. I guess that’s the gist of what I’m saying. I doubt if this new football league will ever attain anything beyond being a footnote in a Wikipedia entry. But so long as elected officials keep buying into the schemes, I suppose we taxpayers will have to keep funding them.

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June 5, 2015 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Colleges that drop football should be cheered, not jeered

When the University of Alabama at Birmingham, also known as UAB, announced it was going to drop football, it was as if the Marines had decided to stop training for amphibious invasions or the Air Force was dropping fighter plane training.

There’s a dangerous notion afoot in the realm of higher education that goes something like this: “Real universities do football.” It’s been around since the turn of the last century and it brings up the heroics of Knute Rockne, George Gipp, former President Ronald Reagan in the movie on Rockne, the phrase “Win one for the Gipper,” the culture of football in states like Texas and Florida, and the belief that football can redeem young men from the scourges of drugs, drink, poverty and premarital sex.

A recent article in the Tampa Bay Times took readers to one of the worst parts of Florida, an economically deprived town of South Bay on the south edge of Lake Okeechobee, where high school football was the key – not to better education – but to escaping from the town to colleges where the educational expectations are minimal but the gridiron hopes are astronomical.

The message young men get is simple: Football pays. Learning doesn’t.

It’s easy for teenage boys to buy into this culture. Older men are out there pitching it every day and offering approval for those who worship at the altar of athletics. The one or two former players who actually make it into the National Football League are lionized as the examples of what can be achieved if one gets the breaks. And for good measure, there are those who reached the heights and fell back, tempted by the evils of the big city: drugs, booze, easy women, easy paychecks that vanish.

Or their body fails them. A turn the wrong way can turn an ankle into a mass of bone and gristle that never regains its former form. Knees break, brains get squished around and you see the result of the old joke of the baseball scout: “Want to sign for a bonus or a limp?”

I was of the most despised class of student at Florida Atlantic University in the early 1990s, the commuter student. Oddly, the professors and adjuncts didn’t imbibe the culture of denigrating the commuter student. There were many in the administration and the student body who viewed the older undergraduate as a kind of hit-and-run driver. We came to the college for venal purposes, just for our own selfish benefit, and left with education and a degree, but hadn’t really put our hearts into it.

One professor told me that the commuter students he knew made his work worthwhile. “You guys show up on time for class, turn in your assignments, sit in the front, participate and have life experience to bring to class,” a political science professor told me.

Sure, there were bright folks among the traditional-age students, but there were a lot of people who lived in the horrible dorms at FAU, joined every club and extra-curricular they could find and whined that they were bored.

“Where’s the football team?” students at FAU would sometimes ask, and they were stunned to learn that they had signed up for a Florida university that had committed the ultimate sacrilege: it did not have a football team.

Though FAU had a good complement of other sports in which it competed with other colleges, including baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis and more, the one that really counted was football. Some students left FAU, and an editorialist on the student newspaper declared that if you thought coming to the university was a mistake because they forgot to tell you about the lack of a football team, you probably were right.

One year, an April Fool’s Day issue of the University Press, the student newspaper I worked on, had a fake front page announcing that a football team was being started.

Florida Atlantic University was less like the University of Florida or Florida State University or Florida A&M, and more like the University of Central Florida or Florida International University or University of South Florida.

The student body was skewed older by people like me who were writing the checks for our tuition, living in our homes and ambitious to change our lives. We didn’t live on campus and didn’t have to cope with the dislocation of leaving our parents’ home because we had dealt with it years before.

Perhaps the traditional-age students of that time (the late 1980s, early 1990s) were frustrated by the lack of a unifying ideal like a football team. But even back then there were many colleges without football teams.

One thing that stands out is an AT&T commercial from the late 1980s that played to all the stereotypes of the young college freshman. The voiceover went like this: “AT&T understands the special relationship between fathers and daughters.” (It was a more innocent time. Today that has a mind-bending double meaning.)

It went along the lines of an 18-year-old girl heading off to college and dealing with the dislocation of being away for the first time. She repeatedly calls her father, often late at night, in tears over being lonely.

Then, one day, she attends a college football game and the team stages a stunning come-from-behind victory. She again calls her father late at night, in tears but in tears of joy, to announce, “Dad, we won! We won!”

The message is: college football is my new family structure.

Football and college have been associated, as I said, since the late 1800s.

Corruption in the college game has been endemic, and the movie “The Freshman” from 1925 and starring Harold Lloyd, was a comedy that, according to Wikipedia, told “the story of a college freshman trying to become popular by joining the school football team.”

One of the funniest quotes is an intertitle: “Tate University — A large football stadium, with a college attached.”

For many people, especially parents struggling to pay for their children’s college, the thought of having to pay to have their progeny attend what is basically a minor league football team with a college attached adds insult to injury.

UAB noted in its press release that it was giving up football because it was “financially unsustainable.”

Here’s the full quote, from SI.com: The fiscal realities we face — both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint — are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the Athletic Department and UAB,” (President Ray L.) Watts said. “As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the Athletic Department, football is simply not sustainable.”

Far from being the source of financial largesse, the football program was sucking the university dry in a financial sense. According to an article in The New York Times by Joe Nocera:

“Watts, it turns out, is a Birmingham native who played football in high school and who attended the university. He gets how important football is in Alabama. But in pulling together a five-year strategic plan for the school, he came to the obvious conclusion that it simply made no sense to continue fielding a football team. (The school is also eliminating its bowling and rifle teams.)

‘Our athletic budget is $30 million,’ he told me when we spoke. Of that amount, $20 million comes directly from the school — either through student fees or direct subsidies from the overall university budget. A consultant Watts hired concluded that it would cost an additional $49 million over the next five years to keep the football team competitive with the other schools in Conference USA.
‘We could not justify subsidizing football if it meant taking away from other priorities,’ he said. Then he added, ‘This is driven significantly by the changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics.’

Not surprisingly, students, players and boosters were horrified that an economic decision was being made to drop football, but why is that so surprising? Other colleges have made the decision to leave the gridiron and have gone on to great success in an academic sense. In fact, some have reinvested the money in intramural sports, allowing more students to actually play sports than watch sports.

Sure, there is dislocation. Scholarship players dreaming of an NFL deal can go elsewhere and retain eligibility, but students claim that the heart and soul of the college is being cut out.

That’s nonsense. UAB didn’t even have a football stadium. It’s true that a stadium is a sunk cost that makes it harder to cancel the game, but other uses can be found for a facility that’s maybe used 12 times a year at most for its intended purpose.

Florida Atlantic University finally did get its football team. In late 2001, the team, attenuated by about half because of academic eligibility issues, played its first game.

The need to use Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale and Dolphin Stadium in Miami limited attendance at first. The opening of a $70 million stadium, to be funded by private donors, student fees and naming rights, had to be delayed until 2011.

Florida Atlantic has won some games, but gets beaten badly by stronger opponents. When I was working for the Gainesville Sun, FAU was paid $750,000 to play the University of Florida in then-coach Will Muschamp’s coaching debut on Sept. 3, 2011. UF won easily, 41-3.

The battle over whether FAU should have a football team had gone on through the 1990s, and a rigged survey seemed to show that local businesses were in favor of it, so long as they didn’t have to pay for it through higher taxes.

The argument at the time was that the Boca Raton area was not a community, and having FAU football would make the area a community.

It’s a common argument when a sport that is not present in an area is trying to establish itself against strong opposition. “We’re not a community” is a catch-phrase that you hear a lot when someone wants the government to front them the money for a stadium.

I always thought that FAU was a special place with a focus on academics and developing people in the community who would go on to great things, and that sports would be in the background. Watching it succumb to the football culture hurt. This college, opened by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, was to be the kind of place where learning and scholarship ruled.

It would stand apart from UF and FSU, but now it longs to be in that august company with football teams that mostly are paid to lose. It’s sad. Very sad.

Many colleges have made the calculation UAB made and turned in their helmets and shoulder pads. Sure, you take a big hit up front, but in the end UAB will find its way.

It saddens me that FAU will probably struggle along. Maybe, with enough time and effort, the team will become a winner, but the opportunity cost will be incalculable.

UAB made the right choice. Let’s hope more follow.

 

 

December 17, 2014 Posted by | Education, The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t judge Florida Atlantic by its football stadium’s name

I don’t get all teary-eyed about my alma mater, Florida Atlantic University, but sometimes I think I should.

The thing is, I was in my early 30s when I went to FAU as a junior after finishing the first two “years” of my college degree in community college. I didn’t live on campus, never went to sports events and my only extracurricular activity was the student newspaper.

Still, I found my future there in many ways. While my Postal Service job was the deadest of dead ends, I could see a bright future ahead after receiving my diploma. Those dreams came true thanks to very, very dedicated professors and some amazing fellow students.

To me, that more than makes up for the embarrassment of the school selling the naming rights to its stadium to a prison company, the GEO Group. Like others, I was frustrated on hearing the news but now have decided that it may not be the most ideal situation, but I’ll have to live with it. And so will everyone else.

I have learned that in life, there are times when things are just not going to go the way you’d like them to. I have found that you can spend all your time, treasure and effort fighting things that won’t change and decisions that won’t be reversed or just go on with your life.

FAU should never have had a football team in the first place, and the stadium is just another wasteful extravagance, so my solution to the whole mess has been to act as if they don’t exist. My diploma and my degree exist, and that’s good enough for me.

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Education, Life lessons, The business of sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

University of Miami’s football program lives a charmed life

The recent controversies over the University of Miami’s football program just go to show that, when it comes to sports, there are many in high authority who have a gigantic blind spot.

Revelations from an incarcerated Ponzi scammer that he pretty much had his way with the football program and the college show that, like many colleges today, UM is a football program with a college attached to it.

That’s nothing new. I recently read a book about the University of Washington’s football program in which the final paragraph refers to a scene in a 1927 silent film called “The Freshman.” The film stars Harold Lloyd as a young man who takes to the gridiron to impress a girl at Tate University, described derisively as a giant football stadium with a small college attached to it.

Nothing changes.

Probably the biggest joke out there, aside from Donna Shalala’s vapid nonsense about the whole issue (I mean, she’s in photos taking big cardboard checks from the scammer, so she must have known about it), is the NCAA. Whenever there is talk about a program that’s made a mockery of the rules, someone says it’s time for the NCAA to wheel out the “death penalty.” Killing a football program – even temporarily — is a big step, and would probably benefit the universities that lost their programs, but the NCAA’s leadership lacks the balls to do it.

After all, the Southern Methodist University “death penalty” was about a quarter-century ago, and the NCAA knows that even “dirty” sports programs can offer great benefits. Universities wallow in the illusion that the actions they take will clean up their reputations, even though everyone knows it’s bogus.

Let’s face it, the main priority of any university football program is to win, and win by any means, fair or foul. Only a few colleges actually take seriously the notion of football (and basketball) players as students as well as athletes; the rest just pay lip service to the concept and really don’t care if the players take classes beyond basket weaving or something.

That book about UW that I mentioned earlier pointed out that it was not even considered odd by many that the entire football team took and passed Swahili with high grades, yet none of them could say more than a few basic sentences in the language. It was obvious that the professor was passing the players without imparting any knowledge, but the administration didn’t care.

An integral part of the university when it comes to sports is suppressing and silencing the whistleblowers, and keeping those who’d foolishly think they ought to report violations from doing so through threats to livelihood and even physical threats. There’s a lot at stake when a university fields a football team, and when players are mostly majoring in eligibility one person can be a real problem if he or she goes to the news media with absurd complaints about “gimme” courses and free grades despite nonattendance at classes.

There’s a saying among the college presidents that “real colleges do football,” but that’s arrant nonsense, as many colleges either never had the sport or dumped it because of the cost of fielding a team, in financial resources and in credibility and reputation. Having an English major go on a rampage isn’t going to hurt a college the way having an athlete go on a rampage would.

For decades, the NCAA has vowed to make college sports departments obey the rules, and for decades, college sports departments have found ways around the rules. Eligibility is a joke today, and everyone knows it. A few “student-athletes” actually try to get an education and enjoy the benefits of higher education, but when the NFL and NBA – with their gigantic contracts – beckon, it can be hard for even the most determined student to knuckle down with the books between practices and games.

There’s an old saying about a famous football coach who declared to a group of parents that “football is war.” Then a man who was missing an arm, having lost it in World War II, informed the coach that football was not war.

I have always believed that being defeated on the playing field can impart more lessons than winning, but I have watched as even high schools engage in countless offenses to score more points. I understand that if you are a winning coach, a player on a winning team or even a student at a college that has won a game, you feel good about being associated with winning and everyone wants to talk to you and pray with you and hear about your guide for living, but defeat isn’t the end of the world.

At the end of all this, Miami’s program will continue until the next atrocity. There will be a patina of reform, but it’s the same game and the same temptations are there. You can’t stop it, and neither can I or anyone else. It is an empire unto itself, with no accountability and no restraints. The sooner we all accept that, the better.

August 19, 2011 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time for colleges to dump football?

With the big controversy over Jim Tressel and his performance at Ohio State University, and the behavior of his football players at the college, it’s time for colleges to consider what might be seen as unthinkable: Eliminating football.

There are plenty of other sports that can bring the name of a college forward. Granted, football is a marquee sport, like basketball, but when a team becomes a liability and starts to hurt a college’s reputation, something clearly has to be done.

In recent research, I found that the biggest reason colleges gave for eliminating football from their sports program was money. For example, Hofstra University on Long Island ended its Division II-A football program in the late 2000s for that reason. I’ve read of other colleges, also mostly in the low, non-scholarship divisions, that decided football was a non-starter.

It might seem I’m picking on football because I’m not suggesting that basketball be eliminated. There are plenty of dirty basketball programs, but the staggering size of the football program at many Division I colleges makes the other programs look like rounding errors on a balance sheet. The National Football League and the National Basketball Association both use the colleges as their “minor leagues,” though there is NFL-Europe and the NBA’s development league that are kind of minor leagues. Still, the major focus is on the college teams and they are the main pathways to the pros. The development leagues seem to be for injured and washed-up players whose best days – if they ever had best days – are behind them.

In baseball, players are signed out of college but often end up in a team’s farm system, not in the major leagues – unless the player has absolutely awesome talent.

Unless the NFL is ready to pony up cash to keep the colleges’ football programs going, I am sure that in the current economic climate, a lot of colleges are going to decide to end football.

I was somewhat present at the creation of Florida Atlantic University’s football program. Near the end of my time as a student there in the mid-1990s, there was much talk about the “need” for a program, and the old saw that “real colleges do football” was thrown around by the president of the college. I could point to plenty of “real” colleges that did not have football, but the president was insistent that football could do plenty for FAU.

The cost estimates were staggering, though, and naturally the local pro football team wasn’t about to pay more to help out. When FAU finally got a college football team, it was in Division III, with dreams of moving up, and in its first game, nearly half the team was ruled academically ineligible.

Anyone who criticized the college for deciding that it needed to be a “real” college and have a football team was deemed an obstructor of the holy goal. Then-president Anthony Catanese was determined to have a team, it was said, so he could then build a stadium and strong-arm donors in the luxury box as FAU played Notre Dame.

Well, right after FAU got the team, Catanese split for the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, and his departure was marred by the infamous red Corvette controversy, in which an assistant in the college’s foundation managed to purchase a Corvette for him through donations to the foundation. It’s a long, boring story.

In any case, FAU had a football team and the head of the search committee for the head coach, Howard Schnellenberger, managed to find himself to be the coach. The leader of one of the dirtiest football programs ever, at the University of Miami, became the head of the newest program.

FAU is close to having its stadium and has had the usual array of issues with its program, though nothing on the level of Ohio State.

But as noted in a recent article in The New York Times, colleges and universities are adept at gaming the system and cheating. A piece on Title IX noted that in an effort to inflate the number of women athletes, some women are counted two or three times if they are on one team, and men who practice with the women’s teams are counted as women even though they don’t play.

The lesson for all of us is that if there is a way to cheat, American college programs and athletic staffers will find a way to cheat, even if they don’t get away with it and are severely punished for doing so.

Years ago, I read about one college whose leader finally had had enough. The teams weren’t competitive with other colleges and the pressure to win was enormous, so the president ended sports and used the money to create intramural sports at the college: men’s and women’s softball, soccer, flag football, etc. The result was that participation in sports went up, the pressure to spend more and more to win was eliminated and the college saved a lot of money – and its reputation.

This should happen at public colleges, and even in the K-12 system. It will save taxpayer money and provide sports experiences to a wider variety of students. Private leagues could be started for those who wish to play more competitively in football and basketball, and the professional sports teams could be persuaded or forced to fund them as their minor leagues.

The current system is clearly not working and easily corrupted. That Tressel continued for so long in his lying, deceitful and corrupt ways is a clear sign that college sports is irretrievably broken. If the rules cease to matter, what’s the lesson for the rest of us?

June 5, 2011 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Urban renewal in UF’s football program

I was at the barber shop this morning getting my hair – or what’s left of it – cut and talked with the woman wielding the scissors about the biggest news in Gainesville.

All I know is, I take a couple of days off from work and everything falls apart. I’m sure everyone has heard that Urban Meyer has decided – again – to resign as UF’s football coach.

This is earthshaking, “Sarah Palin quitting the governor’s office” news. Meyer quit last year, too, I heard, and changed his mind the next day. This time it’s the real deal.

The barber said Meyer is giving up $20 million in salary he would have made, and expressed disbelief that someone would leave that kind of cash on the table, even to “spend more time with (his) family.”

My former colleague at Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, Ray McNulty, wrote that he wants to believe Meyer, but … who leaves a job that lucrative and high-profile for his family?

Maybe in the next few days or weeks we’ll know the real story, but in the meantime we’re left with speculation that will undoubtedly run rampant.

One thing I have noticed is that football has a major role in college today, and that worries me. In the early 1990s, I was at Florida Atlantic University for my last two years of college and while the lack of a football team had no impact on me because I was an older student, many of the kids just out of high school were horrified that there was no football team.

Even worse than no football team is a losing football team, it seems. Who wants to see others laugh at your diploma because the football team sucked in those years?

This morning, while driving to the barbershop, I decided that four-year colleges need to create a special “football disclaimer” form for freshman students to sign, indicating that they are aware that:

A. The college does not have a football team.

B. The college has a football team, but it is not winning that many games.

This would serve to indemnify the college if a student sues because the team’s poor performance is causing him or her extreme fears about their future career due to the college being a laughingstock.

To help the colleges, as a public service I have included sample letters.

By the way, FAU did eventually get a football team at enormous expense, but the team still sucks.

Letter to incoming student (non-football team disclaimer)

Dear student:

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of No-Football University, please accept my sincere welcome to our college. We have a full array of sports, including baseball, soccer, basketball, lacrosse and more, for men and women, but we are obligated to inform you that we do not have a football team.

We realize that this means you will have no opportunity for drinking, drugging or running wild on game days, and hope that you haven’t expended too much time trying to find the football stadium. Our college has never had a football team, and there are no plans for one. If you feel that this is just too much to bear, please visit the registrar and file form NF-GMTHOOH2010, which will withdraw you from our college and enable you to register at a college with a football team.

We apologize if this has caused any inconvenience.

Warmest regards,

Dr. Elbert C. Countinthebucks

President, CEO and Maximum Leader, No-Football University

Letter to incoming student (football team blows chunks disclaimer)

Dear student:

Welcome to Our Football Team Blows University, where you can be assured that there is a full range of sports, including football, to give you an excuse to get wasted and pass out in your own waste on the admin lawn, as well as wreck the town, the dorms and any students too unenlightened to care when we win.

Sadly, that won’t be happening much on the football gridiron during your four years amid our buildings and dorms. See, the team was once great but now it blows chunks. It gets beaten not only by Division I powerhouses like Notre Dame and the University of Miami, but also Division III teams that barely exist. We know, you came here to feel – and misspell – the camaraderie of cheering on a winning team, but let’s face it, our team is going nowhere.

This could affect you because everyone knows that prospective employers judge workers on how their college’s football team did while the applicant was there. We apologize in advance for the questions you’ll have to endure, and hope you’ll avail yourself of the educational opportunities our institution offers instead.

You were just born in the wrong year, that’s all.

Then again, the Mets were underdogs in 1969 (probably before your parents were born) but beat the Orioles 4-1 in the World Series that year, so anything’s possible.

Please accept my best wishes for a successful college career.

Warmest regards,

Dr. I.M. Rollinindough

December 10, 2010 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Super Bowl has one thing going for it

I’m not a football fan, so the Super Bowl isn’t that big a deal for me.

Nonetheless, my life has been affected by it because I worked in the news media as a copy editor and usually found myself on the job on “Super Sunday.” Even if it was just hearing the people in the sports department talk about the game while working on the page, it was a part of my work life.

It has always been an overhyped game, possibly because unlike in other sports it’s the only game for the championship. In baseball, hockey and basketball, the “finals” are decided in several games; in football it comes down to just one.

The Tampa Bay area’s news media has been going overboard in the past few weeks, as if hosting the Super Bowl means something. Even the staid St. Petersburg Times’ Web site has given the game prominent play. If there’s one way to draw attention to your cause, tie it to the Super Bowl and the media will follow.

The game itself is often anticlimactic and sometimes remembered for things that have nothing to do with football. The half-time show often makes more history than the game.

I was working on the copy desk at the Vero Beach Press Journal on that awesome Super Bowl Sunday in 2004 (was it really five years ago?) when the story moved on the wires that one of Janet Jackson’s breasts had been briefly exposed on worldwide television. (See this site on Wikipedia for all the juicy details.)

On Super Bowl Sunday in 2001, I was working in the sports department of the Boca Raton News and watched the game, which was played in Tampa, on a snowy newsroom TV. It didn’t cause too much controversy, apparently, that a sideline microphone picked out the word “motherf—er” shouted by a player as his team ran onto the field.

For all the hype, absurd ads, philanthropic stunts, jingoism and other excesses of the Super Bowl, I do have to hand it to the NFL for one thing, though: at least the game ends at a reasonable time so that it can get into the next day’s newspaper. Unlike the World Series, whose games often don’t start until nearly 9 p.m. and can run into 2 a.m., you can make the first edition deadline with the final score, the game story and more analysis than you can stand to read, and be finished with work by 10:30 p.m.

Maybe Major League Baseball will see reason someday and push the World Series start times back so that games end at a reasonable hour. Maybe baseball will even commit the ultimate blasphemy, and resume day World Series games.

But until then, the Super Bowl is the only game that kids can watch on a school night – at least until the next “wardrobe malfunction.”

February 1, 2009 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My alma mater’s football frenzy

In the early 1990s, I was a student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Some wags dubbed it “Free And Unemployed” or “Find Another University,” and it was not hard to see why students of the so-called “traditional college age” found the place less than ideal.

Many of the students were commuters, like myself, who attended classes part time and then left for jobs and homes off campus. There was a very active Lifelong Learning Society for retired folks, who got to attend lectures and talks by professors seeking to enhance their pay. Also, the general atmosphere was less party, more work since a significant proportion of the student body was less focused on self-discovery and the freedom of those first years out of parental supervision than preparing for a new career.

But the biggest problem for traditional-age students was that there was no football team.

FAU did have a full array of sports you’d expect to find at a university – baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, tennis, swimming and track – but some people felt the lack of a football team was what stood in the way of being a “real college.”

Even more frustrating, the teams FAU had were not in the top divisions, though the baseball team was pretty good and the coach of the softball team was a former major league baseball player whose daughters attended the college.

But the belief then and now was that “real colleges do football,” as one college president once said. And without football, FAU was condemned to second-class status, some vocal people sincerely believed.

The opinions for and against played out in local newspapers in the mid-90s. One that sticks out in my mind was the argument that the lack of a football team at FAU was all that stood between Boca Raton being just a collection of neighborhoods and being a “community.”

“We’re not a community,” people would say, and then declare that football at FAU would bring people together and create this elusive sense of community.

I was not a fan of the idea of bringing football to FAU because it would be spectacularly expensive and then lead to a whole array of expenses for a stadium and other accoutrements. I wrote a column for the college newspaper, where I was a copy editor, detailing the progression. FAU would need a football team, then a stadium, then a winning football team. There would be academic compromises and all sorts of trouble, I wrote.

I left FAU in 1995 and embarked on my career after college, and withdrew from the debate, though I was soon back in it as a copy editor for the Boca Raton News, where I again commented on the push for FAU football. Nonetheless, the university decided to go for football, and when I briefly returned to the Boca Raton News in 2001 the team played its first game.

Today, FAU has its football team, but not a stadium. It has had to play elsewhere as, horror of horrors, there’s no dedicated football stadium on its main campus in Boca Raton. Plans for a new stadium are always in some stage of development, but money has been a problem of late.

A recent deal with a bank for naming rights fell apart, as the financial crisis is breaking a lot of well-laid plans and sports dreams.

I remember reading an article years ago about how FAU’s then-president, Anthony Catanese (repeatedly misidentified by numerous media outlets as Anthony Cantonese) wanted a football team and a stadium where he could entertain donors in a luxury box as FAU’s football team played Notre Dame or UM or UF or any other great name in college football. To me, it just seemed an absurd and circuitous process to get donations. In any case, some big donors reneged on their pledges after the dot-com and telecom busts.

Catanese left FAU soon after it completed a mansion for him to live in, and I won’t even mention the red Corvette affair.

As finances tighten for colleges across the U.S., it may be time to rethink the most expensive sports, like football, and consider what may be unthinkable: ending football due to the cost. I’ve heard of colleges that dropped the sport and bad things didn’t happen to them.

Colleges with a mission to educate and not try to beat Notre Dame should be the focus now.

November 15, 2008 Posted by | Education, The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Extra innings in the stadium game

Unlike baseball, which ends when the third out is made in the ninth inning or the winning run scores, the stadium game never ends.

Is it any surprise that in the aftermath of the Boston Red Sox spring training affair, Sarasota city and county officials have decided that Baltimore Orioles spring training may not be so bad, after all. The word is in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The current Ed Smith Stadium would either be refurbished or replaced at a cost of $40 million to $50 million. It’s not like we’re in a recession or anything, right?

As Roger Drouin notes in his H-T story:

Sarasota is vying against Vero Beach, Lee County and Fort Lauderdale, which are all pitching deals to the Orioles.
“The Orioles look forward to receiving a proposal from Sarasota,” said Orioles’ lawyer Alan Rifkin. “And we expect the process to continue.”

As I said before, stadium deals are like Bill Compton in “True Blood.” They never die, they just re-emerge from their coffins.

When it comes to sports teams and stadiums, politicians are sort of like children going through a well-stocked toy store three weeks before Christmas, and eager to get someone else to buy them all those lovely toys. Sometimes, politicians lose all sense of proportion and lose sight of the people they are serving. You can’t blame children for being children, but we have to hold politicians to a higher standard. “I want it” is just not justification enough for blowing taxpayer money on a little-used stadium.

While we’re on the topic, Fred Grimm over at the Miami Herald really hits the nail on the head in his latest column: Stadium plan won’t rev up the economy.

Grimm writes: “Economists don’t agree on much — except on the economic payoff from publicly financed sports stadiums. ‘We’ve got 30 years of consensus,’ [Brad] Humphreys told me Wednesday. ‘Those promised benefits almost never materialize.’ ”

But again, politicians refuse to see reality, Grimm writes:

One might think that 30 years of consensus and an ever-growing body of independent impact studies might give pause to public officials before investing several hundred million in a sports stadium.
Or that 30 years of economists saying “No!” might prompt our own elected officials to hesitate before they give that final “Yes!” to a deal financing a stadium and parking garage in Miami for the Florida Marlins.
Not likely. “Our argument just doesn’t win. We’ve been making this argument for years and the subsidies haven’t stopped,” Humphreys said.
Instead, public officials across the country have indulged in dogged disregard of overwhelming evidence and voted to donate public land and finance stadiums and cover construction costs over-runs with tax money and then hand over control of the building, concession profits, even the naming rights to some billionaire team owner.
Of course, sports operations enable public officials to rationalize signing away $400 million or $500 million or $600 million by offering up their own, privately financed, not very independent economic impact studies promising thousands of new jobs, giant dollops of new sales taxes and the magical regeneration of shabby neighborhoods. The one promise sports owners always keep: that elected officials will get access to luxury skyboxes where they can hobnob with the very, very rich.

And just for a final pitch, check out this story in The Palm Beach Post: FAU stadium plans short of cash after naming deal is dropped.

I have a blog post about FAU’s football program and its origins that I have yet to put up. The dream of a stadium was there from the beginning and it looks like it will not appear in the foreseeable future. A lot of projects, worthy and otherwise (and this one is in the latter category), have fallen out of the realm of possibility in the current financial crisis.

And here’s FAU’s student government chief, who has apparently downed some serious Kool-Aid if he’s saying this. His is the last word for now:

“I think the stadium is really, really important because it will increase the value of our diplomas in the long run,” said FAU Student Government President Abe Cohen, referring to how the stadium would raise the school’s profile, increasing its popularity and making admission more competitive. “More people will want to apply here.”

November 13, 2008 Posted by | The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment