Another day of shame on the gridiron

College football season opened with another humiliation for my school, to go with our financial disasters (last year we spent $2m on a coach and athletic director who no longer work for us), bottom-of-the NCAA graduation rates, and lousy on-field performance.  We beat Grambling State University, a historically black school in Louisiana, 73-14! Late in the fourth quarter, I think  a 110-lb cheerleader was our right tackle. If it had been a boxing match, the ref would have shut it down (52-0 at halftime); in kid’s sports they would have invoked a mercy rule.
But who would schedule such a senseless, unsportsmanlike exercise in the first place? Grambling’s entire athletic budget, one of my colleagues  found out, is third from the lowest of all Division I public schools’, 1/15 the size of ours.  Their football  roster is 89 players, almost all from east Texas and Louisiana; ours is 133, recruited from all over the west. Their coach makes $195,000; ours makes ten times that.

Until now, I had idly wondered why our first couple of games are always complete mismatches (next week, San Diego State), but I am learning how naïve I was.  It turns out we pay these schools to lie down and get trampled, in this case $600,000 [corrected 10/IX/15], or about three professor-years with fringes.  They’re called “guarantee games” and apparently common in football and men’s basketball.  The idea seems to be that  athletes prepare best for real competition by administering a complete beatdown to a helpless adversary; builds courage, character and sportsmanship.  Odd, because the Marines and Seals know something about ‘tough’ and ‘winning’, but as far as I know the navy sets these guys against each other, not out in the street to beat up homeless drunks and skinny high school kids. There’s no shame for Grambling in being so poor that they have to roll over for the amusement of fans at a (relatively) rich school (with so few black students, awkwardly, that we are rolling out a big project to fix it) to get their uniforms laundered. But it’s a shanda for us that we do it.
This theory of building competitors by making them bullies is insulting to our players and at least as repulsive (and, I hope, wrong) as the idea that sexual entitlement and abuse of women gives male athletes a competitive edge. I can’t for the life of me understand why our guys take the field for this perversion of a game they say they love to play, or keep trying as the score heads for basketball numbers: what are we teaching them in those locker-room character sessions?  However, what do I know? Big-time, big-money college football is managed by People Who Understand These Things.
Like our San Francisco Chronicle sports reporter, who kvelled for multiple column-inches over the event, framing it as a practice, and provided this truly priceless quote: “Cal stuck to its blueprint, built morale and gave young players critical experience. But Dykes [the Cal coach] was careful not to let Saturday devolve into a merciless shellacking.” A 59-point margin…he what?
There’s more, unfortunately. GSU’s real pride is it’s enormous and nationally famous marching band/dance team. They turned their practice at a Richmond high school in a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken part of town into a 90-minute pitch for black kids to go to college. At the game, they put on a hell of a show, but it got precisely sixty seconds of air time in the TV broadcast; too many important commercials and too much vapid commentary on tap to waste time on a bunch of kids who, face it, wouldn’t offer a single really satisfying hit.
I’m tired of being a grinch about big-time sports, especially at Cal, and I am happy to say I can make a real contribution to the enterprise.  If it’s OK to rent out players as punching bags, why don’t we make money on the deal instead of spending it? Our athletic program runs a deficit, too! Wouldn’t the Raiders or 49ers be happy to build their own players’ character by having them beat up on the Cal team, and pay nicely for it?

Chancellor, AD, coach: get on it! And I want credit for this idea when the money starts rolling in.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

5 thoughts on “Another day of shame on the gridiron”

  1. "Wouldn’t the Raiders or 49ers be happy to build their own players’ character by having them beat up on the Cal team, and pay nicely for it?"

    Raiders? 49ers? Heck, keep up the "competition facade." Schedule your opener against Alabama or Ohio State!

    Not only that, but think of the benefit if you happen to pull off a Virginia Tech upset. Last year, Tech had their own JV warmup opponent for their opener, whipping hapless William and Mary. Then they beat OSU by two touchdowns, in what Ohio State expected to be one of their pushover games. Sadly, Tech went on to lose six games. But at the end of the season, my son Jim (Tech class of '84) had a bumper sticker made up:
    Virginia Tech, 2014 National Champions
    (We were the only team to beat OSU)

  2. Another way to put it is 'moving target practice'. Play against some people who aren't the other squad on your own team, but who aren't so good that you'll lost. And perhaps more importantly, who aren't so good that you risk injuries to key players.

  3. "why don’t we make money on the deal instead of spending it?"

    UC probably did make money on the deal. UC collects all the money derived from ticket sales and television rights. They turn a chunk of the money over to the opposing team and keep the rest.

    If UC didn't pay GSU, GSU wouldn't derive any revenue from the game. So the options for UC are to either (1) pay GSU for the game, or (2) play two games against GSU, with one game being an away game where the ticket and television revenue goes to GSU rather than UC.

    I'm not defending the decision to play against a much weaker team. But, given the decision to play one game against GSU, paying GSU makes sense.

  4. …or about three professor-years with fringes.

    Interesting choice of a ruler.
    Given that the public university system is morally corrupt for floating itself on the backs of adjunct-serfs.

    So what's the translation in terms of thousands of adjunct hours (without fringes of course)?

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