Berkeley Athletics update

It’s hard to imagine Berkeley’s public presence degrading below the state our sexual harassment episodes have brought us to, but we have been doing a job on ourselves in intercollegiate athletics as well.  Today’s news has a twofer, a sexual assault accusation with a sports angle. Sigh.

The football and men’s basketball teams’ academic performance has apparently turned around and we are  no longer at the bottom of the NCAA; both teams also did creditably on the field this year. Good.  Unfortunately, we are learning that some really ugly stuff is festering in both programs, never mind that the campus subsidy of this operation is back up to twice the $5m per year a prior chancellor very firmly instructed them to live within.  In football, you may remember the death in practice of Ted Agu in 2014, which resulted from an inhumane, abusive training style practiced by strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington, aggravated by failure to take care of him when he collapsed, and pervasive, insistent lying in the university’s subsequent engagement with the police and the legal system.

Last week, the other shoe dropped: we’re going to pay $4.75 million to Agu’s family, not counting all our lawyers’ fees and presumably theirs. (Cal is currently trying to figure out how to deal with a $175m per year structural deficit, and there will be blood on the floor when that’s over.)  Harrington, it turns out, is an interesting fellow, apparently a combination of heartless thug, bully, and arrogant martinet.  He likes collective punishment, and when freshman Fabiano Hale missed a practice in 2013, he assigned extra drills to the whole training group and suggested they take out their anger on Hale.  J.D. Hinnant, overflowing with the team spirit and character big-time football is famous for, explained Hale’s shortcomings to him by beating him unconscious, sending him to the hospital with a major concussion and a laceration requiring stitches. Outside of a locker room, this would be a felony, but the DA agrees it’s just kids having fun and secret team discipline is fine.

My colleague Brian Barsky reports* today:

I conducted a lengthy personal interview with a Cal Bears football player who was present for both incidents….

He described how Coach Damon Harrington instigates the players to “police themselves” and that is the genesis of  J.D. Hinnant’s assault on Fabiano Hale on Friday Nov. 1, 2013.  He explained that this is routine and is part of the standard approach where the whole team is “punished” for the actions of a single team member, even if the other team members have nothing to do with the issue.  He described the frequent “punishments,” such as having to repeatedly roll over and over on one’s stomach which sometimes led to vomiting.

He explained that the team has over a hundred members, many of whom never play in the actual games [the average game time of a Cal football player is  a little over an hour per season (arithmetic corrected by KennnethJ 23/IV, thanks) –m.o’h].  This was the case for both Hinnant (the attacker) and Hale (the victim).  This practice was held the day before the Saturday Nov. 2, 2013 game against the University of Arizona Wildcats.  Rather than suspending the attacker from the team, Head Coach Sonny Dykes “rewarded” Hinnant by having him dress for play for this game.

He opined that the victim’s family did not press charges in order to enable Hale to remain a member of the football team and retain his football scholarship, which could be suspended at the whim of Coach Dykes.

So we have a training coach whose road to winning has killed one player and incited another to injure a teammate within an inch of his life, teaches lynchmob justice, and cost us five million dollars and no end of public shame. So far. He is still on the payroll and apparently head coach Dykes, the athletic director Mike Williams, and our chancellor are all just fine with Harrington. Why not?–we went over .500 this year (counting three teams we paid to roll over for us, but still…) and went to a bowl game, which means multi-thousand-dollar bonuses for Dykes.

That’s not all; keep in mind that the business of big-time college sports is business (at Cal, it even has it’s own web site with a .com suffix), and today we closed a yuuuge deal with Under Armour, in fact the whole campus is going to get in bed with them.  And really, if a great public research university can’t sell sweatshirts, what’s the good of it?

OK, men’s basketball, where we got to dip a toe into March Madness, woo hoo. Here the scandal is just an outbreak of smirking hypocrisy.  Our athletics boosters get all antsy and moral when confronted with the reality of intercollegiate sports at the top level, and always point out that athletic scholarships are “one of the few ways poor kids, especially minority kids, can get a college education”.  That’s always the phrase, “get a college education.”

Well, the magic of sports, and the discipline and training it provides, apparently enables these kids to get that college education in one year, even being in practices and meetings for hundreds of hours: our star freshman [sic] Jaylen Brown is headed out the door to the NBA.  Another freshman star, Ivan Rabb, might be back next year; guess he didn’t spend enough time in the weight room to pass all 32 courses like Brown. There’s not a word in any of the coverage of this “one and done” stuff that isn’t completely positive.

*[update, 23/IV] Brian provides the following clarification: “Both the attacker and victim were freshmen at the time and were “redshirted” meaning that the were not to play during that year.  This practice was held early Friday morning Nov. 1, 2013 and it was exclusively for members of the team who would not be playing in the game the next day (Saturday Nov. 2, 2013) against the University of Arizona Wildcats.  [Hinnant] was rewarded for doing what the coach wanted by being allowed to dress for the Saturday Nov. 2, 2013 game even though he would definitely not be playing in it.”

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.

7 thoughts on “Berkeley Athletics update”

  1. A headline like "Berkeley Athletics Update" is going to be O'Hare, and I know to expect the worst. I failed; this was worse.

    Ending such things is a crazy, but not impossible dream:
    That's about football at Swarthmore in 2000. One of the faculty involved in the decision told me about receiving death threats from 90-year-old alumni. She said the process was this. Admin: Here's how much money you can have for football. Coach: That's impossible, we may as well not have a program. Admin: Bluff called. (The picture painted in the link above is rather different, being about targeted admissions.)

  2. Before Pell grants (and their state-level counterparts), it made sense to say that playing a sport was the only way poor kids could get a college education. No longer true.

  3. On the substance, I will limit myself to my go-to generic comment on "big-time" college sports: it is a fundamentally defective system that should never have been set up that way, but is economically and culturally entrenched in ways that make it devilishly difficult to change. As to one detail, please recheck your math. Minimum 12 games times minimum 60 minutes per game times 11 players, divided by a squad of (high estimate) 120 gives me 66 minutes per player per season. The median (you did say average) would be lower, but I am confident still well above 7.

    1. fixed, thanks.
      Interesting that the corresponding figure for BB is about seven hrs [(35x40x5)/16], and basketball players are actually playing pretty much all the time the clock is running, while a lot of football clock time is walking around getting positioned between running plays.
      To be fair, I guess sprinters', shotputters', and ski jumpers' season "game times" are even less than FB, no big lesson here.

  4. So, who has the power to end a football program? How would that work? I don't think it would be so easy as at Swarthmore.

    After all, if the leagues aren't willing to reform the game to prevent CTE, then Cal really *shouldn't* have a team, even if it were run by angelic types.

  5. He opined that the victim’s family did not press charges in order to enable Hale to remain a member of the football team and retain his football scholarship, which could be suspended at the whim of Coach Dykes.

    This rule is outrageous. If the NCAA wanted to maintain even the slightest pretense that sports are about "student-athletes" it would require that scholarships be irrevocable for five years at least, barring major misconduct. A scholarship athlete who puts in honest effort at both sports and academics should not be at risk of losing the scholarship. If the athlete turns out not to be a good enough player, well, that was the coach's misjudgment, not the athete's.

Comments are closed.