Sunday, March 1, 2015

Shrug

Eight years ago today, I was one of a small band of hearty D.C. United supporters to troop out to RFK for the administration of last rites to C.D. Olimipia's CONCACAF Champions' Cup campaign.  I fell in love with Luciano Emilio that night.  Two weeks later over three times as many people attended the first leg of the next round's matchup against Omar Bravo and Chivas Guadalajara. DCU fell a goal short of reaching the final.  It was thrilling.  Something I hoped to relive, as a fan and season ticket holder, again and again and again:  An MLS team punching above its weight (because of circumstances) in CONCACAF competition.

This year?  No interest in going to watch the second leg match-up this week.  Not because I'm embarrassed by the 5-2 score line in Costa Rica.  Rather, because I'm embarrassed that there have not been significant improvements in the treatment of players through the auspices of a new collective bargaining agreement.

If you sum up the salaries of the 30 players listed as part of D.C. United in the MLS Player Association's September 15, 2014 release of individual salary information, the total amount the club was spending was $3.96 million.  The New England Revolution's Jermaine Jones, on his own, was paid a salary of $3.25 million.  As every MLS fan knows, there are several individual players that make more in annual salary than the entire D.C. United team combined, including Kaka, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey.

So what?  No big deal.  If anything, the fact that such high wages can be paid by so many different MLS clubs should be seen as a demonstration of the robust health of the overall league.

Maybe.  What can't be seen as healthy is when one of the starting fullbacks for an American side in the region's premier tournament is getting paid less than $37k a year for his services.  If you're counting at home, Taylor Kemp's salary -- the salary of a college graduate -- is 1.12% of the annual salary of Jermaine Jones.  Again, that's what a starting PROFESSIONAL soccer player is being paid in a single-entity league that is also refusing to entertain relegation and actively trying to undermine its lower division competition in the North American Soccer League.

The majority of the listed DC United players made less than $100k (16 of the 30).  Eight made less than $50k including a player with English league experience (Conor Doyle) and the starting goalkeeper in last week's debacle (Andrew Dykstra). 

How much is that?  With a bachelor of arts and no experience, the base salary of a D.C. public school teacher is $51,539

These numbers are insane.  They are a joke.  They undermine any possible claim that the MLS is on its way to becoming one of the major American sports leagues. 

If MLS imposed a minimum salary of $100k, THE MAJORITY OF THE  ROSTER WOULD HAVE GOTTEN A RAISE and the total salary cost for DCU's 30 players would have increased by less than $700k to $4.63 million, an increase of 17%.  All together, that's a little bit more than what Landon Donovan made last year.

When MLS owners draw a line in the sand and say no free agency, they've got to be held to account for the $37k Taylor Kemp made last year playing for DC United.  1.12% of what Jermaine Jones earned in salary in the same league, based on a salary JJ was able to negotiate with a single-entity competing with international clubs also vying for his services.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Popular



A lot of people go see college basketball.  A lot of people in the Richmond-DC-Baltimore corridor go see college basketball, as we're blessed here with a number of marquee programs. 

Maryland had over 14,000 turn out for the last men’s home game at the Xfinity Center (the win over Penn State).  And we were amongst the 10,937 in the stadium today for the women’s win over Nebraska.  Virginia’s pulling in almost 15,000 to John Paul Jones for men's games down in Charlottesville.  Just three weeks ago, we were four of the 14,281 at the Verizon Center for Georgetown's win over Butler.  

Virginia Commonwealth has routinely drawn 7,637 to the Siegel Center.  The University of Richmond sold out the Robins Center (7,201) for its loss to the University of Rhode Island today; George Mason got 6,473 into the Patriot Center for their loss to VCU on Wednesday; George Washington saw 4,579 come out to the Charles E. Smith Center for its win over Dayton on Friday night; and there were 3,847 at the SECU Arena for Towson's loss to James Madison yesterday.  

Some of the local teams play to smaller crowds.  Mt. St. Mary's last home game, a win over St. Francis (PA), got 2,524 people out to Knott Arena in Emmitsburg. When the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s men’s basketball racked up another miserable loss in a miserable season to Binghamton two weeks ago, there were 748 people at RAC Arena.  American University’s men’s team drew 1,230 folks to Bender Arena for their victory over Loyola last Wednesday.  Loyola, for its part, got 1,449 out to Reitz Arena for its disappointing loss to Lehigh last night.



As a general matter, local people go see college basketball.  Stadiums are built on campus and these stadiums are filled for basketball.  But with the entry into the Big Ten this year, the Xfinity Center in College Park is seeing people turn out for a lot of different sports.  

There were a lot of people at the women's game this afternoon and it took a long time to get off camps once the game was over.  While waiting, we had sometime to talk about all the different sporting events we've attended at Xfinity this academic year.  So far this season, we've been in the stadium for a volleyball match, against Penn State, that drew 4,522, for the remarkable "Beauty and the Beast" joint gymnastics-wrestling event that brought out 2,091 people, and then, this Saturday night, for the gymnastics dual against the University of Michigan that set an attendance record for that sport at Maryland with 2,207 people going through the turnstiles.  The one event we didn't make this past weekend that I had hoped to go to was the wrestling dual against Iowa -- for which 2,139 people walked into the stadium.  

Overall, the volleyball team ranked 25th in the country in terms of attendance this season, averaging 1,539 at each home match.

These numbers are crazy.  

And they're not driven by students.  Instead, on a weekly basis, people outside of the University are streaming onto campus to watch something at Xfinity.  Many of these people will become part of the University community -- our ties to the school are certainly growing, as we'll send our kids to camps there this summer and were at these athletic events with other families that intend to do so as well.  

There are probably all kinds of good reasons to quarrel with the move to a new conference.  But the switch to the B1G certainly promises an opportunity to grow many sports that had no similar prospects in the ACC.  In the meantime, what has been happening at Xfinity this year is a living, breathing example of how a academic institution's athletics program can be a public good.


 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

B1G

This is our fourth year as Maryland Football season ticket holders.  It took us nine years of going to Byrd sporadically before we were willing to make the commitment.  Then, for the first three years, we barely used the tickets, nor would we try to even give them away when were not using the seats.

No matter how entertaining a game was on the field -- last season's win against Virginia and the Monday night season opener against Miami in 2011 stand out -- sitting in the stands has been a miserable experience.  Our eldest thinks fights between drunken men is a routine part of a football game.  We regularly get to games late and leave early because of the obnoxious behavior of a vocal minority of idiots.

As much as we have come to love the team, the players, and the coaching staff, dealing with other fans made going to games with the entire family a non-starter.

Until this year.

Whatever else may happen with the move from the ACC to the Big Ten, the change in culture in the stadium has been a total unexpected surprise. 

There was nothing to indicate any major shift from the season-opener against James Madison.  We sit field level, 50-yard line, visitor's side and, as usual, there were minor skirmishes and major obscenity laced tirades between fans.  Certainly nothing from the West Virginia game seemed any different from the norm.

The surrounding rows in our section for the Ohio State game was about two-thirds Buckeyes and one-third Terrapins.    I can't remember ever enjoying a football game more, even with Maryland being drubbed.  Fans were pleasant and conversational.  More than anything they were reverent.

I left the stadium beaming.  It is a privilege to be able to watch elite college football.  The Ohio State partisans have no qualms about openly recognizing this.

Same thing this Saturday.  Huge number of Iowa fans descend on College Park.  No tension in the stands.  Free and easy.  There's a game.  There's fantastic athletes.  They're about to engage in an epic contest of strategy and skill.  And we're here, allowed to see it up close. 

There's a long shot of the visitor's side when Stefon Diggs takes off for his long touchdown.  Fans in both black and gold and red and black on their feet.  He gone.  No "You suck" chant.  No fingers wagging at the visiting fans.  Just joy on some faces, dismay on others.  Football at its very best.

Maybe the Rutgers game to close the season won't be like this, but I expect the Michigan State game will.  And that's B1G. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Just the Bestest

Hey, Minnesota Vikings... why did you hire Littler Mendelson to write a hit job masquerading as a summary of the RKMC investigation?:
When the investigation was complete, in order to further maintain objectivity and integrity, the Vikings engaged a nationally-prominent law firm in employment matters and one of the top-ranked and recognized firms for diversity, Littler Mendelson P.C. and partner Donald Prophete, to independently review and assess the findings and provide a report to the Vikings from an employment law perspective.
Maintain "objectivity and integrity"!  How do you know that the anti-labor law firm will be objective and demonstrate integrity? Littler Mendelson is recognized for its "diversity"!

Isn't the point the Vikings are making here that because the organization hired a professional firm that prominently features minorities they are insulated from charges of being biased or discriminatory?  If so, is the fact that they pay minority attorneys the equivalent of a secular indulgence, allowing the rich and powerful to behave poorly towards the marginalized?


Probably not, as the Sterling/Snyder playbook requires not only hiring minority professionals as your hit men, but the purchase of real indulgences from secular dispensationalists:
In addition, as a continued effort to support human rights and anti-hate causes, the Vikings will make a total donation of $100,000 to LGBT rights charitable and educational organizations.
Never mind then.

The behavior and response of the Vikings organization, as set out on their own website, is profoundly depressing.  How you feel about Chris Kluwe's conduct is really immaterial to the Vikings behavior.  Ownership of an NFL team (or an NBA team, or a MLB team, or a MLS team, or a NHL team) is not license to be an a**hole.  And, yet, there are a number of professionals -- in the legal and public relations fields -- that signed off on this idiocy.

With the Redskins, that organization's awfulness is obvious to everyone.  A trivial test for where we are in terms of sports culture is how people respond to this gambit.

Littler Mendelson, Zygi Wilf, and You're Not Even Trying That Hard

The Minnesota Vikings released a summary report from the independent investigation of former special teamer Chris Kluwe's allegations regarding misconduct by one of the team's coaches.

While the independent party conducting the investigation was the law firm of Robins Kaplan Miller and Ciresi (RKMC), the summary report was drafted by a different law firm, that of Littler Mendelson.

At this point in its existence, how is it possible that Littler Mendelson can be peddled to anyone in the media or elsewhere as a neutral, objective presenter of facts?  The firm and its lawyers have made their mark in the American legal market by aggressively promoting the interests of management over labor.

There's nothing wrong with that, particularly if you're an attorney that enjoys monetary compensation and power.  But it is quite a stretch to pretend that such a firm is likely to produce anything that approximates an objective analysis of facts in an employment dispute.

The Minnesota Vikings have not released the results of RKMC's (with the help of Waypoint Inc.) investigation.  Instead, the organization had Littler Mendelson write up a summary of the findings of another law firm.  From the Littler memo:
You have asked us to review RKMC’s investigative materials that you provided and to provide you with an assessment of the investigation’s findings from an employment law perspective, to help the Vikings decide how to address Kluwe’s claims fairly and in accordance with the law and team policies. You have directed us to be non-partisan in our assessment of the evidence uncovered by the Investigators.
What?  Do the Vikings expect to get away with releasing this "review" without actually providing access to the materials that Littler reviewed?  

They shouldn't.  Particularly when the memorandum concludes as follows:
In sum, our review of RKMC’s investigative materials you provided fails to establish that Kluwe’s activism in support of marriage equality and other equal rights motivated his release from the team in May of 2013.

We also did not find sufficient evidence to establish that members of the Vikings organization attempted to discourage Kluwe from engaging in marriage equality or equal rights activism or that the Vikings harbored a homophobic hostile work environment. The record does, however, support the conclusion that the distractions caused by the level, but not the nature, of Kluwe’s activism did create some discomfort in the organization during the 2012 season in which Kluwe’s punting performance was unsatisfactory to the team. The investigation materials support that the Vikings released Kluwe for football performance reasons and not his views on marriage equality.
Sure, ok.  Whatever you say.

Then there is the actual name on the memo from Littler, this guy.  Again, this guy.  THIS GUY:
OGLETREE DEAKINS — STATEMENT FROM KIM EBERT

Don Prophete’s letter constitutes an attack on our firm by someone whose larger motives are incomprehensible to us. Two indisputable facts provide critical context: the shareholders of the firm voted overwhelmingly for him to leave, and he never made any allegations of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation prior to his departure. Further, when we learned of his after-the-fact allegations (upon receiving a copy of the email he sent to others, not the firm), a full investigation was conducted and his allegations could not be substantiated.

The fact is that all of this occurred well more than a month ago, and we have moved on. Just six shareholders have chosen to follow Prophete to his next firm, and those that worked with him the longest have chosen to stay with our firm. His departure will have a minimal effect on our firm, its continued success, and its commitment to providing outstanding service to our clients.  In the final analysis, this unfortunate story should not deceive anyone as to the culture of our firm. In fact, our culture has and will remain famously collegial and supportive of diversity at all levels. The numbers speak eloquently: Ogletree Deakins hires a great number of laterals while losing very few shareholders to other firms. We are proud of our reputation for diversity and fairness, which reinforces our sense of ourselves, and our pride in the integrity and humanity of our firm.
Mr. Prophete's done well for himself since leaving Ogletree Deakins.  He got lead billing on Littler's amicus brief on behalf of the NCAA to the National Labor Relations Board opposing the College Athletes Players Association's efforts to form a union for Northwestern University's football team.  (The amicus brief, which is well written, predicts doom to universities should collective bargaining rights for collegiate athletes be recognized and includes this fun image of the apocalypse:  "Seats formerly occupied by students with school colors painted on their faces will be empty.").

Notably Littler Mendelson's summary memo reports that there were several NFL teams that declined to participate in RKMC's investigation.  From the Littler Mendelson memo:
Investigators contacted the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, and Cincinnati Bengals to ask for interviews regarding their evaluation of Kluwe as a potential punter. No one affiliated with these teams agreed to an interview.
Unfortunately, one person who elected to participate was Jerry Angelo.  And, for whatever reason, Mr. Angelo seems to have enthusiastically adopted the position of Vikings management lackey.  Again, from the Littler Mendelson memo:
Angelo said that, if he had held the title of General Manager of the Minnesota Vikings for the 2012 season, he would have “in all likelihood” released Chris Kluwe as the Vikings’ punter. He explained that his experience has shown him that “once players get into the later years of their career, they are more prone to decline and inflexible to change.” Angelo said that the Vikings’ impending move to TCF Bank Stadium, with a minimum of 11 outdoor games, would have made his decision even easier because Kluwe would not likely be able to maintain his performance outdoors.

Angelo said that, in his professional opinion, a team would be justified in releasing Kluwe if the team did not like (1) Kluwe’s style; (2) where he was in his career given his age; or (3) Kluwe’s veteran salary. Angelo thought it was reasonable for the Vikings to release Kluwe after his 2012 season given Kluwe’s age and the presumption that his leg strength would diminish as he got older. Angelo said this was especially true in light of the fact that the team would soon be playing in an open-air stadium for two seasons. Angelo noted that a punter’s hang time and distance are the most important criteria when playing outdoors.
Leaving to one side whether any of Mr. Angelo's claims are true, the decision to participate in something structured by the Minnesota Vikings organization reflects lamentable judgment.

As to the Vikings, you all just keep being you.  Free Adrian Peterson!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

There's Nothing Wrong with the American System

In the wake of the United States performance in Brazil -- which was fantastic -- it is now time for folks to weigh in on how this country will never produce elite soccer talent because of how the sport is organized.  One example, the Guardian's Liviu Bird contends that the whole system must be blown up here.

One of the more interesting aspects of Bird's piece is that it does not cite the British system as an example of something U.S. soccer should emulate.  Instead, Bird points to Belgium, a country with a population slightly more than half that of the state of New York and roughly one-fifth the population of England.

I've got no particular expertise in this area, but it strikes me that there is much to be learned from the British system in terms of why the incredible developmental academies and scouting networks in that country have not resulted in a talent pipeline equal to its continental and South American rivals.  We have sponsored a number of youth players in football sides throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.  It is not as if talent is automatically harnessed and nurtured in those structures.

Instead, up and out programs underscore intense competition at early stages.  While youth players with top clubs may have additional opportunities with lower tier clubs if they don't catch on with the mother ship, kids on other clubs face a bleak future if they don't stick.

Talent evaluation and identification is tricky.  Tell someone in December of 2008 that Omar Gonzalez would be a key part of the U.S. Men's National Team in Brazil and, if they followed college soccer, you wouldn't get much in the way of argument.  Tell them that another member of that team would prominently feature for the USMNT in 2014 and it would probably take a while before they guessed Zusi.  The team that played in the College Cup in 2008 had Jason Herrick and Casey Townsend up front.  Zac MacMath was in goal and the backline was, along with Omar, A.J. Delagarza, Rich Costanzo, and Rodney Wallace.  Graham Zusi played with Jeremy Hall and Matt Kassel in the midfield.

In the 2009 MLS Superdraft, Omar went third, Wallace went sixth, Hall went eleventh, and Delagarza was selected nineteenth.  Zusi was the twenty-third pick in that draft.

Zusi was still heralded enough to be recruited by the best college programs in the country and drafted by MLS teams.  The U.S. national pool player that I have become most fond of did not make the trip to Brazil but provides one of the better cautionary tales to those who are advocating for a stronger command and control system of youth development.

Joe Corona went to the same high school, Sweetwater High School, as many of my cousins.  He was part of San Diego's Nomads Academy ("for those serious about soccer"), where Eric Avila, Steve Cherundolo, Frankie Hejduk, Eric Wynalda, and Marcello Balboa also played.  But Corona's pedigree translated into a year at San Diego State University before deciding that the way to go was the Xolos youth setup.

How does that happen? 

The four countries left in the World Cup have populations of 201 million (Brazil), 81 million (Germany), 42 million (Argentina), and 17 million (Netherlands).  All together, that's a bit more than the population of this country (340 vs. 318 million).  Population isn't destiny -- India's 1.2 billion people and China's 1.3 billion isn't going to translate into soccer powerhouses any time on the horizon.  But the USA is a soccer nation.  And the thought that US Soccer and MLS academies are going to effectively identify and develop talent throughout the country is ludicrous.

What American soccer needs more than anything else is MORE.  More soccer.  Better collegiate soccer, with stronger programs and a bigger presence on campuses across the nation.  Better lower division soccer teams, meaning serious and sustained efforts to make the NASL work and mitigation of the damage done by corpses of USL franchises racking up debt and pissing away fan interest.  Better developed pipelines into Mexican, Central and South American, and Scandinavian football clubs for U.S. youth players.  More soccer, disaggregated, beautifully disorganized.  MLS constantly under fire. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Value of a College Education

One of the most remarkable facets of the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team that headed down to Brazil is the diversity of the squad.  When Alejandro Bedoya gets a pass across the box to a streaking Fabian Johnson, who controls and centers for an easy tap in to Jozy Altidore, there are a heck of a lot of loose threads being tied together.

This squad reflects a lot of what I love about the country.  But more than just the superficial diversity of different ethnic and geographical roots, there is another important aspect of American diversity that is exemplified by the team.  And that would be the many, many, many different vehicles available to exceptionally talented individuals to harness their talents.

Four members of the USMNT squad were part of the IMG Academy:  Jozy Altidore; Kyle Beckerman; DaMarcus Beasley; and Michael Bradley.

Another eight members of the squad honed their games in the academies and youth squads of professional clubs.  Five of those nine did so in Germany:  Jermaine Jones and Timothy Chandler were part of Eintracht Frankfurt; John Brooks came up with Hertha BSC; Julian Green with Bayern Munich; and Fabian Johnson with TSV 1860 Munchen.  Aaron Johannsson came up with Fjolnir in Reykjavik;  Mikkel Diskerud in the Oslo suburbs with Stabaek; and Tim Howard with the MLS's MetroStars (Red Bulls).

But nearly half of the roster played D-I collegiate soccer.  Some of those eleven were part of elite college soccer programs -- Omar Gonzalez spent 3 years and Graham Zusi spent 4 years at the University of Maryland; DeAndre Yedlin was a student at the University of Akron for 2 years; Matt Besler was enrolled at Notre Dame University for 4 years; Nick Rimando was at UCLA for 2 years; Brad Davis was at St. Louis University for 2 years; and Brad Guzan spent 2 years at the University of South Carolina.  The remaining four, however, went to schools that were far less heralded for their soccer programs.  Before Alejandro Bedoya went to Boston College for his junior and senior seasons, he played 2 years at Farleigh Dickinson.  Geoff Cameron left West Virginia University after 2 years to finish his college career at the University of Rhode Island.  Chris Wondolowski attended Chico State University for 4 years.  And the team's captain went to Furman University for 3 years.

One of the new goals of U.S. soccer is to streamline the process for identifying and developing youth talent through academy programs.  But talent identification in a country as large and diverse as the United States is not terribly accurate or efficient.  What would the U.S. look like had Tim Mulqueen not run across a young Tim Howard during a soccer camp?  Would Howard have been given the same shot with the MetroStars but for that connection?  How is it that Deuce and Wondo spent so many years at Furman and Chico State, respectively?

Collegiate soccer is not an ideal way to develop world class players.  But it remains a useful tool in the toolkit and ignoring the opportunities offered through partnerships with college programs would not be in the best interests of U.S. soccer.