Saturday, August 29, 2015

Developing "Dogs and Turds"

The University of Maryland's football season opens next week.  There's all kind of reasons to be uncomfortable with the opener. 

First, Division I football subdivision players are exploited for the financial benefit of coaches, administrators, and businesses built of the sport.  The sport itself, as currently constituted, depends on this exploitation.

Second, the sport is incredibly violent and puts exploited amateur athletes at risk of severe, debilitating long-term injuries.

Third, games between FBS and FCS teams shouldn't happen.  FCS student athletes are sacrificed for operating funds for their school's athletic department.  The discrepancy in the size and speed between the teams on the field means that every big hit -- particularly on special teams -- has spectators holding their breath to see how badly a kid is hurt.

On the flip side, I was a poor kid that moved out of poverty by virtue of a college education.  I have an almost religious faith in the power of undergraduate education to transform the lives of this country's underclass.  College football makes a college education possible for thousands of young men every year.

The money generated by college football means that we have built structures to affirmatively seek out members of the underclass and offer a path out.  Sure, it would be better if there were scores of people looking for those kids that demonstrated unique talents in science, math, art . . . anything educational.  But that's not happening and that this recruiting and investment, in fact, happens with sport has an impact that can't be ignored.

Maryland's football team provides the illusion -- to me -- that there is a better way.  A stronger focus on earning a degree (and then earning a graduate degree) and excelling in studies under Coach Edsall brings the benefit to the student athletes to the forefront.

So, why am I heartened to see another football coach -- heralded for his commitment to the classroom and the improved academic performance of his student athletes -- in the B1G lose his job?  Because a college education isn't worth it if it is premised on the dehumanization of the student.  Abuse from coaches of unpaid students cannot be tolerated.  The system is, by its nature, abusive and exploitative.  Open physical and verbal abuse from coaches cannot be an acceptable form of interaction between those making a living off the game and those that are doing it to pay for their studies. 

While I am grateful to see Tim Beckman relieved of his authority, it makes little dent in the overall messed up nature of college football. 

Consider the assistant director of player development on the University of Pittsburgh's football team, Tim Salem.  In the Chicago Tribune's July piece on the paper's interviews with University of Illinois current and former players, Timmie allows himself to be quoted as calling those complaining about Coach Beckman as "dogs and turds."  This is both inartful and idiotic, but not as insanely dumb as the lengthier quote attributed to Salem published by the Tribune: 

"Every team in America's got those guys," he said. "Every team can have one kid who's not very good. He's not very tough; he was recruited to play the wrong level of sport."
"He's not very tough."  This underscores the basic, uncomfortable truth about college football -- the exploitation of the system means that a significant portion of those that get compensated (coaches) are idiots that revel in the exploitation.  The system is demeaning because the people within it, those that benefit the most, dehumanize and abuse those supposedly under their care.

Why would the University of Pittsburgh afford someone with this attitude a position through which he would have influence or control over the development of their student-athletes?  Because nothing about a dipshit questioning the fortitude of kids that put their health and welfare on the line for the principal benefit of others seems to be all that out of place in the culture of the sport.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Future Is Now

When Charlton Athletic took the pitch today at The Valley to open the season, only two of the squad's starting eleven were born before 1990.  Their opponents, Queen's Park Rangers (just relegated from the Premier League), were the mirror image, with only starters Matthew Phillips and Massimo Luongo born in the roaring 90s.  Indeed, QPR started Clint Hill, a man who began his professional career for Tranmere Rovers the same year (1997) that Charlton debutant Karlan Ahearne-Grant was born.  Charlton's old men were Alou Diarra (born 1981) and Ahmed Kashi (born 1988).

By rights, QPR, featuring CAFC academy alum Paul Konchesky, should have used its superior experience and talent to bully the young SE7 men off the pitch and begin their march back to the posh stratosphere of the top tier.

But that's not what happened.  The kids -- including four from the academy -- held a stalemate through the first half.  And when Tony Watt (born 1993) replaced Ahearne-Grant to begin the second frame, it did not take him long to put Charlton on top before Morgan Fox (also born 1993) placed the match out of reach.

A win is a win.  Except not really.  This is a win on CAFC terms that sets a foundation for the hard slog ahead and expectations of genuine ambition.  It is a win demonstrating that this version of Charlton is interesting.  What are the ceilings on these kids?  Are they going to wither under pressure or is the club producing diamonds to place in the storefront for the luxury set?

El-Hadji Ba (also born 1993) was replaced by Zarkaya Bergdich (born 1989).  Johan Berg Gudmundsson (born 1990) was replaced by Cristian Ceballos (born 1992).  Left on the bench at the end of the game with Johnnie Jackson were Harry Lennon (born 1994), Regan Charles-Cook (born 1997), and Dimitar Mitov (born 1997).

And they won.

I've been stewing about D.C. United all season.  Yes, they are winning.  But they're not terribly interesting.  Nor endearing.

The club's website reports that 19 players have seen at least 350 minutes of field time this season.  Of those, eight were born after 1990.  Perry Kitchen (born 1992) had logged the second most minutes on the team, with Nick DeLeon, Bill Hamid, and Taylor Kemp (all born 1990) coming in at fifth, sixth, and seventh.  The youngest of those 19 is Miguel Aguilar (born 1993) who has received 516 minutes of field time.

A win is a win.  DCU has twelve of them this year.  We remain season ticket holders, yet have not seen many of them.  It's a sunk cost but the additional expenditures involved for a night out to see Davy Arnaud, Sean Franklin, Fabian Espindola, and Chris Rolfe aren't worth incurring.  I've got nothing against most of them -- I could do without faithful Kurt Morsink-impression that Arnaud has perfected -- they just don't move the needle.  D.C. United are who everyone thinks they are -- the wind-up toy of the MLS.

It's an entirely different calculus if the team is also giving a runout to Mikey Seaton (born 1996), Jalen Robinson (born 1994), and Collin Martin (born 1994).  Instead, Seaton's been run-off, with a swift kick in the ass in the form of bizarre, cowardly attacks on his maturity to help him on his way out west.

An aside:  Jamaican international Michael Seaton, the teenager who went to Sweden to get playing time, is immature?  If the context is the MLS retirement resort that BRO has built, sure he's immature.

DCU is winning.  But it's not.  Not really.  The club currently has the lowest average attendance in the MLS.  I don't think it's because of the stadium; my kids love going to RFK, as do our friends.  And I don't think it's because people in the region don't support soccer.

Charlton Athletic has won.  Sure, it's one game.  But it's more than just one game.  It's a season.  And I'm tuned in.