Archive | March 2014

Four Questions about Northwestern Football Union Decision

As you’ve heard, there was a regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that approved the organization of a union at Northwestern University, specifically for their football team. Although this could rescue struggling national unions from declining membership and revenue (via Biz Journals), this issue is far from settled.

BCS Championship Oklahoma Football

The pay-for-play question has been bouncing around for years in college football, with comments from Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops and others saying they’re not really for paying their players. Stoops said, back in April 2013 (via CollegeFootballTalk):

“I tell my guys all the time,” Stoops says, “you’re not the first one to spend a hungry Sunday without any money.”

He went on to say that the student-athletes should be grateful for getting a free ride in college regarding tuition, room and board:

“You know what school would cost here for non-state guy? Over $200,000 for room, board and everything else,” Stoops said. “That’s a lot of money. Ask the kids who have to pay it back over 10-15 years with student loans. You get room and board, and we’ll give you the best nutritionist, the best strength coach to develop you, the best tutors to help you academically, and coaches to teach you and help you develop. How much do you think it would cost to hire a personal trainer and tutor for 4-5 years?

“I don’t get why people say these guys don’t get paid. It’s simple, they are paid quite often, quite a bit and quite handsomely.”

I agree with Stoops that players should be grateful for their scholarship. But, these college athletes are employees because they have a rigid schedule and receive benefits.

terrelle pryor

However, there is the issue of other expenses not covered by an athletic scholarship. Terrelle Pryor and other Ohio State football players exchanged their jerseys and got tattoos for cash, and Pryor and his other teammates got suspended 5 games because of it. What did he use it for? Paying his mother’s utility bills. Athletes typically get around $1,100 per month as a stipend, as one former Wisconsin player O’Brien Schofield told Yahoo’s The Post Game Blog back in July 2013.

There are talks to increase that stipend to about $2,000 (as ESPN.com reported) to help athletes, but the Northwestern football players want a union for health benefits across the board. I agree they need health care coverage because of the risk of significant injury. It is optional for the school to cover it, but not required. However, there are some large concerns about this union formation:

1. Will only be football and basketball players?

If two sports, which are the moneymakers of the NCAA, have unions and get these medical benefits, then what happens to the other non-revenue sports? Baseball, gymnastics, track and field, water polo…would those be covered by medical coverage?

2. Will the unions exclude non-revenue sports athletes?

And, if these student-athletes are excluded, will they get equal stipend or pay as the major revenue sports? If they don’t, I feel that would be a great disservice because they are all student-athletes and if they’re in a union, they should be treated equally. After all, isn’t that what a union strives for? Having known swimmers and gymnasts at the Division I level, I feel they’re just as athletic and deserving as the major revenue sports.

terps swimming cut

Schools, facing budget shortfalls and budget cuts, have already cut these non-revenue sports. My favorite hometown team, the University of Maryland, cut 7 sports teams like men’s tennis, both men’s and women’s swimming and women’s water polo because they ran a deficit in their budget (credit: Washington Post).

If all have medical coverage and receive a stipend, will this incur too much cost and lead to the dissolution of the non-revenue sports? Then more of those student-athletes will never have the opportunity to gain a good college education at the university level while on an athletic scholarship.

That isn’t right.

3. How would a union affect the NCAA profit model?

I’m no fan of the NCAA and how its burdensome regulation has led to dumb self-reporting like Oklahoma Sooner football players eating too much pasta (credit: CBS Sports). But, will the presence of unions create an atmosphere of schools signing contracts, not just letters-of-intent or commitment? Will there be a signing bonus with the school? Will boosters be more influential? That problem, which was big news during the 1980s at Southern Methodist University, led to the “death penalty” (credit: Wikipedia) and the sidelining of the football program for a year in 1987. The program only had one winning season in the next twenty years.

michael drake ohio state

Maybe it will make the schools more responsible and lower the outrageous salaries of the sports department, the coaches and even the university presidents. Ohio State’s newest president, Dr. Michael Drake, has a $800,000 base salary with about $200,000 in deferred compensation for a grand total of $1 million salary (credit: Cleveland.com). Why is it that high? Because of Ohio State sports and their research arm.

But my main concern is, will the cost be passed onto fans even more? The athletes will benefit and their families too, but will the fans rise up and protest? I doubt it because the huge NFL, NBA and MLB contracts haven’t stopped fans from going to games or rooting for their teams.

But I don’t think the NCAA’s outrageous $1.15 billion from TV ad revenue will be hurt too much by providing medical coverage. They made a little more than the NFL in 67 games than the NFL did in 11 games, with the NFL making $1.10 billion (credit: Business Insider). Still, it’s a big unknown.

4. Instead of unions, can’t we come to another agreement?

This is the slow, plodding NCAA we’re talking about. In a perfect world, we would combine the free market with centralized governance, or simply, make it like the pro sports. The players will have certain rights, like medical coverage and a cut of the revenue, and the athletic departments and schools will adjust accordingly and still make money.

Here’s one idea, via ESPN’s Darren Rovell (via 95.7 FM The Game). Why not give out an allotment to athletes of items to sign or autograph per year? If you make a standardized number of autographed balls, cards and jerseys, then you let the athlete benefit and allow the free market to dictate the value of these items.

Also, you could give out medical coverage to every athlete of every sport. But, it forces the athletic departments to be smarter with their money. That is a GOOD thing.

tebow florida

Then, you could make a standardized pay sharing agreement where the school and the athlete see a split of the jersey and other merchandise sales. Could you imagine how much money that the University of Florida Gators made off of Tim Tebow? He should’ve gotten a cut of that. If it’s 50-50, 45-55, or even 40-60 in favor of the school (or the athlete), it’s still better than nothing.

Sounds like a union? Pretty much. But, the main difference is that this is broken down into each school so the enormity of the college student-athlete landscape doesn’t burden the NCAA even more. Unions usually specialize for a specific skill set, such as a steelworker. The proposed Northwestern football players union would only include them and maybe basketball players.

northwestern football union

This way, each school and their athletes (all of the sports, not just football and basketball) can bargain or discuss an agreement, like contractors. The NCAA could barely get things right, so why trust them with more responsibilities on a national scale?

Those are just my thoughts. What do you think?

#NBA’s Top 5 Draft Prospects Part 5: Kansas’ Joel Embiid

Oklahoma State at Kansas

Joel Embiid is still a top five prospect for the upcoming NBA draft, even with his recent back injury. Let’s take a look at Embiid’s body of work in his freshman season.

He publicly said he won’t go to the draft because he loves Kansas, but that could change if the NBA comes calling. But his recent back problems which have kept him out of the Big 12 conference tournament could worry NBA scouts as well as fans. He had a spinal stress fracture in his back, and this could keep him back in college one more year (unless it becomes more serious).

But, Embiid could pull a Nerlens Noel and come out even with a significant injury history, although Noel tore his ACL and everyone knew he’d sit out most if not all the season (update: Noel could come back to play for the tanking Philadelphia 76ers this season, per ESPN.com).

Still, I hope he gets well and gets the rest and rehab that he needs.

However, you can’t ignore Embiid. I personally like him a lot more than Wiggins, which is why I would have him above Wiggins if he wasn’t injured. Embiid’s post moves are polished and smooth, which is rare for a budding basketball player and first-timer. Here’s a short highlight video of his performance against Toledo:

As you can see, he has a variety of post moves and did set screens to get shooters free. He’s a complete package as a post player.

Before his injury, Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and an eye-dropping 2.6 blocks in 23 minutes of play. That’s impressive because in mid-January, he led the nation in block percentage as ESPN blogger Eamonn Brennan wrote.

In Big 12 conference play, Embiid averaged 11.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game (all stats from Sports-Reference.com). How about some blocks for fun? Here’s Embiid blocking Georgetown’s Aaron Bowen:

As basketball analysts Jay Bilas said in the video clip, “That is a meeting at the summit.” That is a great block and that is what NBA teams love to see.

Also, his shooting percentage is high at an astounding 62.6%, which is great because it means he won’t waste shots in the college level and could translate better to the NBA. To put that in perspective, pure shooters can’t shoot that well. Doug McDermott, for example, shoots 52% from the field and he is one of the best shooters in college, if not the best. But, post players always have higher percentages because they play closer to the rim. Still, that’s really impressive.

But, Embiid’s back injury is worrisome and I wish the best for him. I still think he should leave for the NBA when the season is over and maybe take time to prepare for the draft instead of playing in March Madness.

#NBA’s Top 5 Draft Prospects Part 4: Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins

andrew wiggins

Andrew Wiggins is a top-five talent because of his high potential and pure athleticism. I like to consider him a slightly better Ben McLemore, who was drafted no. 7 by the Sacramento Kings and has averaged a lackluster 7.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.9 assists in his first pro season. McLemore is struggling from the field at 37% shooting overall (stats via Basketball-Reference.com).

But, Wiggins could even end up as a second version of DeMar DeRozan, who at Toronto is averaging 22.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. DeRozan is also shooting 43.2% from the field, 30.5% from 3 and 45.6% from 2 (via Basketball-Reference.com).

Still, Wiggins is an athletic beast. As this announcer said on this monstrous dunk, “Look out!”

Per NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk, Wiggins is averaging 16.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. And, as they pointed out, “For all the criticism that Wiggins has gotten this season, he finished the year as the leading scorer, third-leading rebounder and best defender on a top five team and national title [contender] that won the nation’s toughest conference outright. Not bad.”

Wiggins, as Sports-Reference.com stats show, shot 45.2% from the floor, 50% from 2, 34.5% from 3 and shot 76.5% from the free throw line. In Big 12 conference play, he averaged 17.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and shot 76.2% from the free throw line. Wiggins also shot 36.8% from 3, 49% from 2 and 45.2% from the floor overall. Not a bad line at all.

But, I like this take from Hardwood Paroxysm, who compared Wiggins and Parker. The blog said the following about the two:

“Perhaps more important than the quality of each player’s teammates is their quantity. Parker and Wiggins, both 6’8” with broad shoulders (but far different body types), always projected as skilled forwards in college and the NBA despite playing the role of nominal big men in high school. Due mostly to Duke’s discernible lack of size on the interior, that hasn’t changed for Parker; he’s always one of the Blue Devils’s two biggest players on the floor. Wiggins, on the other hand, is a full-time wing for the Jayhawks with players like Embiid and Ellis occupying the paint, a move that requires wholesale adjustment not lost on his head coach.”

The blog also pointed out how both Wiggins and Parker have high usage rates, or how much they have the ball or are used in plays:

“Parker’s rate of 32.5% ranks second in the ACC and 19th in the country; Wiggins’s mark of 25.3% is eighth in the Big 12.”

It is such a great read, and the blog made the point that Jabari is usually one of the two bigger Duke players on the floor while Wiggins shares time and the floor with other big men, forcing him to play on the wing. Wiggins’ coach Bill Self had this to say about his top player:

“[Wiggins] is playing on the perimeter, he’s playing guard,” Self said recently. “He’s never played guard before. There are so many things that go into it that have allowed him probably to be not as comfortable as what a lot of people would expect him to be immediately.”

To be honest, I never thought about how Wiggins is playing on the wing as a guard when he is more natural down low. But, I think NBA teams would want him to play guard, even at 6’8’’. And I trust Bill Self regarding his players because he is such a great college coach and loves his players. He will defend them, but this is a realistic take that I haven’t thought of before.

Yet, I think his potential is through the roof, but I’m more of a ‘safe pick’ guy.

#NBA’s Top 5 Draft Propects Part 3: Creighton’s Doug McDermott

In part 3 of our 5 part series on my top 5 NBA draft propects, let’s turn to Creighton shooter Doug McDermott.

doug mcdermott SI

Sports Illustrated resurrected the old Larry Bird cover for their magazine and put McDermott in Bird’s place. That’s an awfully high ceiling, which I doubt will be McDermott’s future, but he is such a great shooter and seems to be a high character guy.

Doug McDermott should be a top-five pick in my opinion. Yes, he is white and not a great defender, but boy he can score. I see him as anything between a Kyler Korver and a Mike Dunleavy, but with some limited post moves. That should get him into the top 5, I would argue. Let’s take a look at a piece on him by Fox Sports One (hat tip to Sheridan Hoops blog for the video):

My favorite quote from the video?

“It takes a lot of practice, but the main thing for me has been patience. As a freshman or sophomore, I was in a huge hurry trying to make the quickest decision possible. But what I’ve learned throughout the years, the more patient you are with the ball, the better look you’re gonna get.”

Some could say he could turn out like Adam Morrison, but taking a shooter high will have that risk. And, he is polished from range, mid-range and can bust out some good post moves, something that Morrison lacked at Gonzaga. So let’s look at McDermott’s stats his senior (and last) year versus Morrison’s junior year (and it was his last at Gonzaga).

doug mcdermott vs cal

So far this season, according to Sports-Reference.com, McDermott is shooting 56% from 2, 44.7% from 3 and 52.2% overall. He is averaging 26.5 points per game, 7.2 rebounds and … 1.6 assists. He is also shooting 86.7% from the free throw line and plays 33.3 minutes per game out of a possible 40.

In 18 conference games in the new Big East, McDermott is scoring 27.7 points per game and collecting 7.1 rebounds. He is shooting 46.3% from 3 point land, 57.8% from 2, and 54.1% from the floor. He shoots 83.8% from the free throw line. And, he is playing an average of 34.6 minutes per game (out of a possible 40).

As Sports-Reference.com showed, Morrison last played for Gonzaga 2005-2006 and that year, he scored 28.1 points per game, 5.5 rebounds and, like McDermott, a dismal 1.7 assists per game. Morrison shot 42.8% from 3, 52.3% from 2 and 49.6% overall. He shot 77% from the free throw line and averaged 36.5 minutes per game.

Compared to Adam Morrison, McDermott is better because he shot a better overall percentage from the floor, better from 3 point land and better from mid-range as well as shot free throws much better. That is why I feel he won’t be a risk at such at a high draft pick and is a complete package.

Here is another take on McDermott, whose nickname is Dougie McBuckets, via NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk:

“Dougie McBuckets was considered by most to be the consensus National Player of the Year entering the final weekend of the regular season. Then he went out on his Senior Night and scored a career-high 45 points, giving him 3,000 for his career while passing Oscar Robertson and Hersey Hawkins on college basketball’s career scoring list. If it wasn’t a consensus then, it should be now.”

He will most likely win the player of the year award for all of college basketball, and he deserves it. I love this piece by ESPN.com’s Scoop Jackson, where he pointed out how McDermott should go number 1 overall. Here’s one excerpt:

“He’s been scoring more than 20 ppg since 2011-12. Since he entered college, he’s grabbed more than 7 rebounds a game and never shot worse than 50 percent. So this season that he’s having — 26.5 ppg (leads the nation), 7.2 rpg, .522 percent field goal, almost 90 percent free throw, 44.7 percent 3-pointers — is really nothing new.”

Go Dougie McBuckets!

#NBA News: Why Kobe Bryant is Right on Jim Buss, LA Lakers

kobe bryant mad on the bench

I know there are a lot of Lakers and Kobe haters out there, but Kobe Bryant’s recent comments on the dysfunction and disarray of the Los(e) Angeles Lakers organization are right on target.

Kobe, when asked about the current state of the Lakers, said the following (via ESPN.com):

“I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team…What kind of culture do we want to have? What kind of system do we want to have? How do we want to play? It starts there and from there, you can start building out your team accordingly.”

“You got to start with Jim. You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff and what Mike (D’Antoni) is going to do, what they’re going to do with Mike and it goes from there. It’s got to start at the top.”

“You know how I feel about Phil. I have so much admiration for him and respect and I have a great relationship with him. Personally, it would be hard for me to understand that happening twice. It would be tough. I don’t really get it.”

“How can I be satisfied with it? We’re like 100 games under .500. I can’t be satisfied with that at all. This is not what we stand for. This is not what we play for. A lot of times it’s hard to understand that message if you’re not a diehard Laker fan. It’s hard to really understand where we’re coming from and what we’re accustomed to, which is playing for championships and everything else is a complete failure. That’s just how it is. That’s how it was explained to me by Jerry (West) and all the other great Lakers who have played here and that’s how I grew up thinking. So that’s just how it is.”

“Oh yeah, let’s just play next year and let’s just suck again. No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. Right? You got to get things done. It’s the same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court is the same expectations I have for them up there. You got to be able to figure out a way to do both.”

“I just want to get a phone call before somebody gets traded.  Let’s start there first.”

Well, he’s right. After Jerry Buss passed away, his son Jim decided to put his imprint on the organization. He hired (then fired) Mike Brown, hired Mike D’Antoni and pretty much kept his sister, Jeanie, on the sidelines. According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, D’Antoni has one year left on his contract worth $4 million and has a 62-74 record, or a 0.456 winning percentage. Yes, he barely has anyone on his roster, but his roster has been riddled with injuries.

phil jackson

But, how do you NOT get Phil Jackson, a Hall of Fame coach, to come back to the Lakers when he strongly considered it? He was willing to come out of retirement to coach the team in 2012, but Jim Buss nixed it. Jackson himself said he was shocked at not being offered the job. Jackson had won the Lakers FIVE championships. How do you treat your championship coach that way? If you weren’t going to hire him in the first place, don’t even start the process.

jeannie buss

Yet, what had worked for years was how Jeanie, a well-respected NBA executive, was able to help improve the roster and manage Lakers coach (and her fiance) Phil Jackson. That is no longer the Lakers organization today.Even Kobe Bryant joked, after the Lakers lost by 48 points to the Los Angeles Clippers, “Now I know what it feels like to be a Clippers fan all these years.” (hat tip to Bleacher Report). Ouch. 

Colin Cowherd, also an ESPN personality, disagreed with Kobe and said that he should put up or shut up after the Lakers graciously (and foolishly) paid him $48 million for the next two years. I see where Cowherd is coming from, but I just think that Kobe makes a better argument of why the Lakers are so toxic. Here’s what Cowherd said about Kobe playing general manager on his radio show “The Herd“:

“The new Laker president Kobe Bryant spoke out yesterday. He is currently the new Laker president. Oh, he’s not in management? He’s the only one talking too…”

“In the NBA when you lack leadership, your aging, popular super star becomes your leader. Coaching hires, player acquisitions, trades, Kobe is now the new Laker spokesperson.”

“In the NBA…who is the most popular guy and he gets the megaphone…it’s that players, aging, 35-year old super stars in the NBA should not be making the trades, asked about acquisitions, that’s why you have scouts…”

kobe bryant shrug

Kobe is spot on. He is a great competitor and if he ever wants to, could be a great assistant coach or mentor down the road. The Lakers have to get Jim Buss off his high horse and allow Jeanie to run things as she used to. There’s one thing to hire and appoint people, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to empower them to do their job.

Now that the New York Knicks, the epitome of disarray in the NBA due to their meddlesome owner Jim Dolan, have Phil Jackson… Jim Buss is on the clock in the Lakers fan nation’s eyes.

Oh, and another thing. I have historically hated the Lakers because I feel they’re the New York Yankees of basketball. I just want the Lakers to be respectable so SportsCenter can stop talking about the Lakers drama and get back to talking basketball X’s and O’s.

#NBA’s Top Five Propects Part 2: Julius Randle

Julius Randle is a great post player, but I feel his talents are getting wasted on another young and disjointed Kentucky Wildcats team. But, he will go top 5 in this year’s NBA draft because he is a top talent.

julius randle dunkface

But, Randle has not disappointed scouts while playing at Kentucky. According to Sports-Reference.com, he is shooting 52.2% from the floor, 53.5% from 2 and 72.2% from the free throw stripe. He is averaging 15.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. In SEC play, Randle averages 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

He has been the only consistent player on Kentucky, who boasts the likes of James Young, the Harrison twins and Will Cauley-Stein.

For example, this coast-to-coast play just amazed me. The opposing guard thought about it before getting the heck outta his path to the hoop:

His post moves are just great, and he has so much upside. Not much attention has been paid to him by ESPN when Kentucky’s season started going downhill, but others are noticing his contributions. He doesn’t have a lingering injury like Kansas’ Joel Embiid, and has so much upside. NBA scouts loved him in high school and love him even more in college.

Considering the importance of post players in the NBA, a player like him cannot be passed up. He will go in the top 5 of the upcoming draft for sure.

#NBA Top 5 Prospects Part 1: Duke’s Jabari Parker

There is a lot of anticipation about the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft, considering the plethora of highly touted recruits that could leave after one year of school. Let’s take a look at my breakdown of the top five prospects.

jabari parker vs kansas

Parker should be the consensus number 1 draft pick because he has all the skills necessary to cut it at the next level. He can stretch the floor with a long jumper, get to the basket, draw fouls and plays good defense. He has the court awareness that many freshmen ballers lack and seems to be a high character guy.

And, his best trait is the open floor. How about an alley-oop versus North Carolina State?

One of the most attractive traits is how he has fought through a grinding ACC schedule, where Duke will always get their opponent’s best shot. After dropping points and assists during the nonconference schedule, Parker struggled at the start of ACC play but picked it up at the end of the season.

He even dropped 30 points on archrival North Carolina, which hasn’t been done by a Duke freshman, ever. In the rivalry, he becomes the second freshman to score 30 points in the Tobacco Road rivalry to Walter Davis of North Carolina in 1974, per Bleacher Report. Here’s the highlight tape from that rivalry game:

He can do the up-and-under, drive to the basket, floaters, jumpers, with the left and right hand. Jabari Parker is the real deal.

He is not an assist leader by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t seem to be a part of the Duke’s vision for Parker. He averaged under 1 assist per game in conference play and 1.3 assists per game overall.

But, his shooting numbers are very good by college standards. He is no Doug McDermott (who I ranked as the no.4 prospect in the draft), but he is a very good and all-around player. Parker shot 48.6% from the floor, 52% from 2, and 37% from beyond the arc. But, his free throw percentage is 73.8%, which is less than ideal but it can be worked on.

Yet, after averaging 19.2 points and 9 rebounds per game as a freshman (including 17.6 points, 9.7 rebounds in ACC play), he lost the conference’s player of the year award to North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren. Warren was the only bright spot in a so-so Wolfpack season and averaged 24 point per game and almost 7 rebounds, per NBC CollegeBasketballTalk.

Parker’s all-around game is too tempting for NBA scouts and fans alike, and that will mean he’ll be a no.1 draft pick.