As not seen on TV: Meet the Bag Men

Everyone loves college sports. Even non-sports fans can appreciate the sense of community that surrounds them and the entitlement that people feel when their team performer well. That being said, there are many reasons that schools are able to poll together such an amazing group of talented athletes season after season. It’s not always about the reputation of the coach, the program legacy, and the alumni network. Generally its about the off the field and outside the media attention that players it. It’s really about how the organization can help the player and his family in the immediate future. College sports are not as simple as they seem. There is the business of college sports but then there are also a lot of little micro economies that are created as a result of people ‘handling’ tasks and carrying out duties to entice athletes and their families on what choice to make. There duties are fulfilled by professional who run business that produce excessive liquidity.  As bank accounts and phone are easy to track this is a business of exclusively cash transfers.

 

There are two sides of the success of the college football team. There are the really rich alumni’s who donate hundreds of thousand to the school every year for scholarships, recruiting, facility upkeep, etc. These people have very good relationships with the head coaches, the board of trustees and a special thank you page in the programs handed out at each game. While these types of contributions help the school on a public scale they would be less effective if the bag men didn’t exist. The bag men are the ones who get the players to commit to the school. As one person introduces a bag man to the head coach of a division one football team he say that this guy “Takes care of things for US.”  The life of a bag man is super inconspicuous. They do not wear fancy cloths, drive fancy cars, or even get media attention for all the great things that they do for the sports program. No one knows their names, recognizes their faces, or thanks them for their efforts. These are passionate fans with some disposable capital and choose to put it up to support the school that they have developed such a passionate devotion towards.

 

Bag man embrace a simple philosophy, passion “A good bag man will never be famous. He will never be that guy hovering right next to the head coach after a big win. His name will never be known by the majority of students, fans, and alumni of the university he loves. There is no dead bag man memorial on the campus of any football powerhouse. There are no memorial scholarships named after the guy who gave a running back’s mother $3,000 a month for four years.”

 

This is reminiscent of agents in the Sugar Bowl reading who scout baseball players from a vary young age. Like the bag men these agents go to great lengths to protect their interested parties identity.  While the agents are in it for profit they also have a deep connection with their roots and enjoy helping players transition from one level to the next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank You Adam Silver

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We got what we wanted and he got what he deserved. Adam Silver had possible his defining moment very early into his career as NBA commissioner suspending L.A. Clippers owner for life and fining him 2.5 million dollars, the maximum amount allowed by the NBA owners agreement, and donating that money to charities that fight racism. This came a few days after the racist remarks made by Sterling in a private conversation were released to the media by his girlfriend/archivist V. Stiviano. Along with the fine and suspension Adam Silver also said he would recommend that the NBA Board of Governors move to force Sterling to sell the team in which two thirds of the owners would have to vote yes on.

Silver handled this situation as well as he could and did what the people, players and fans wanted. He stood up and made his mark clear that racism of any kind will not be tolerated in his league. This punishment may have been a little harsh and legally could cause some problems since it was based off of a private conversation the Sterling had and there is no doubt that Sterling will fight back. Again Sterling has done this before. Look back at the mind 1980s when sterling moved the team from San Diego to Los Angeles he did so unilaterally in response the NBA tried to fine him 25 million dollars and Sterling countered by suing them for 100 million dollars.

This may be the just the begging of the Sterling saga but it’s a good start for Silver. He did what he needed to do and I completely agree and believe that his punishment is fair. It’s 2014 there is no place for racism anywhere especially in today’s sports.
According to The Huffington Post 66 percent of Americans supported fine and 71 percent supported the suspension of Sterling. A forced sale was supported by only 47 percent of Americans. Thirty-one percent opposed the idea, and 22 percent said they weren’t sure. When breaking this staticatic down it showed that democrats supported a forced sale by 68 percent to 16 percent, and independents were also more likely to support the idea, by 42 percent to 34 percent. Republicans, on the other hand, were more likely to oppose it, by 48 percent to 26 percent.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asked why Sterling’s actions have been tolerated for the last 30 years. He thought that he should have been gone a long time ago. “Even people in the Clippers corporate structure are happy that Mr. Sterling can no longer dictate how the franchise is run, and there’s light now at the end of the tunnel” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It’ll be interesting to watch the rest of this story play out. It’s apparent that the players of now and then want Sterling out of the league and most coaches and hopefully owners will want him gone and will get him gone, but it won’t be easy. The only thing that Sterling wants is to own the Clippers he has made enough money to last him five lifetime and support a small countries economy the only thing he still wants in the world is the fame and prestige that comes with being an owner of a major professional sports team in Los Angeles
I predict a long and unnecessarily painful process for the NBA and Sterling trying to completely resolve this problem but I hope the sake of humanity and the NBA that the owners find a way to get Sterling out of the owner’s box and make him give up those court side seats. But how will take over as of now it’s looking like Magic Johnson ironically a Laker great and one target of Sterling’s remarks will be the one to take over and there will be another minority owner in the NBA.

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Third Time’s The Charm?

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What went wrong with the WPS? They tried to establish teams in markets where women’s soccer isn’t traditionally watched, such as the United States

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) completed a modest inaugural season in 2013 and is now in full swing for its second. This is the third attempt to sustain a professional women’s soccer league in the US, following both the W-USA (2000-2003) and the WPS(2009-2012). Like most past efforts to kick-start a professional women’s league in the US, the NWSL followed a widely-watched event that the US Women’s national team won: this time the 2012 Olympics, where they won gold. But given the debacles that caused previous failures, there has been a lot of skepticism, contrasted only with cautious optimism, about the NWSL. This spoof report of the WPS’s failure from The Onion hits marks that are so close to the truth that they sting a little: “tried to establish teams in markets where women’s soccer isn’t traditionally watched, such as the United States,” and “many of the best players chose a more lucrative career path, such as unemployment.” When the WPS folded, players had no paying options left in the US, with only the semi-professional W League. Many opted for that just to keep in shape (the Sounders Women were particularly stacked in this period, with Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo all headed to Seattle), or headed abroad to more stable leagues in Norway, Germany, or France. 

The collapse of previous leagues seems to be from problems in marketing and management. Coverage of the W-USA collapse focuses on their financial troubles, starting with almost $100 million and turning it into a huge loss. The WPS tried to avoid the same issues, but was not helped by the 2009 economic crisis. The economic troubles were further complicated by legal troubles, after MagicJack owner Dan Borislow bought the struggling Washington Freedom in 2010 and moved them to Boca Raton. It was ugly, and there’s plenty to read from sportwriters and players alike. 

NWSL is tip-toeing towards the magical four-season mark that evaded the W-USA and WPS, hoping to avoid the same kind of spectacular failure by starting small. The salary cap for non-allocated players $200,000 per team, causing many to take on second jobs. This league is trying to straddle the line between keeping star players from heading to more lucrative fields, and keeping costs sustainable. The solution they’ve come up with is the allocation system: salaries of a few national-team players on each team from the US, Canada, and Mexico are paid by the national federations. The organization is investing for their own future: having a domestic league would help the national team immensely, keeping players closer to home and growing the talent pool by keeping all high-level players in competition for more months out of the year. 

The new league has also showed the beginnings of another partnership that could help the league survive: between the MLS and the NWSL. For 2013 there was only Portland; with the Thorns and Timbers sharing ownership, a stadium, and to some extent, a fanbase. The Thorns were incredibly successful, winning the championship and having the highest attendance numbers by far. For 2014 the league’s first expansion team, the Houston Dash, followed a similar model in joining the Houston Dynamo in BBVA Compass stadium. Their opening match attendance was an encouraging 8,097 and as far as I can see, they have a good support system that will hopefully give the team similar success.

Moving forward for the league as a whole, this season needs consistency: national team players will be missing a number of games which means the teams will rely on their non-allocated players. It also needs a TV deal, which is a tricky thing to navigate: broadcasters are reluctant to take a gamble on a league with a small viewership and TV so key to reaching a larger audience. For the inaugural season, Fox Soccer picked up 6 regular-season games, as well as all 3 of the playoffs, but as of now, there is still no news on a deal for the 2014 season, which started a month ago.  The Thorns have a local deal with CSN, as do the Dash, but for the rest of the league, there’s only YouTube and the promise that all teams are required to provide live-streams in HD this year. The live-streams are still lacking, with poor camera quality and connectivity problems that often leave viewers in the dark for 10-20 minute stretches. But none of this is a problem exclusive to this league, or to women’s soccer: it’s the tired argument that women’s sports aren’t marketable. 

One ESPN writer claimed the lack of fantasy league contributed to the W not a very convincing argument for failure, given that men’s sports managed to get by just fine before fantasy leagues were invented. Nonetheless, if it’s any help, the NWSL has had a fantasy league since its inception. I think there is some value to it, as it gives fans a reason to watch other teams’ games beyond their own. I also think that online interaction does a lot to help the growth of a fan base outside of the W-USA and WPS’ tradition of targeting yound soccer-playing girls: they might be passionate and willing to buy posters of their idols, but an adult fanbase is crucial. Adults who have disposable income, who can buy season tickets, and who are educated fans. I have seen a growth of this kind of support through the growing popularity of social media. Each team and almost every single player has twitter, as well as supporter’s groups, that help connect fans and build their passion for the teams. The group I follow, Seattle Reign’s “Royal Guard” has an agreement with a bar in Seattle where they will meet up to drink/socialize before home games, and have convinced them to put the livestream on a big screen for away games. This is the kind of long-term, socially-based support that is crucial to the survival of this league. I remain cautiously optimistic: it seems that most of the previous mistakes are on the forefront of the minds that run the NWSL, and though there are growing pains, I think this slow and steady growth can turn into something lasting. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The United States is not a rugby country. Not right now, at least. That’s reserved for places like England, Wales, South Africa, and New Zealand, where the All-Blacks are so much a part of the nation’s identity and spirit of community that there is a movement to replace the colonial flag with their fern. The efforts of rugby promoters in the U.S. could be likened to playing catch-up, running after the nations with higher percentages of rugby fanatics. At the invention of rugby, as the rough-and-tumble game that schoolboys played with mutable rules on running, kicking, and throwing began to split into soccer, American football, and rugby, it was much like the situation across the pond. But as rugby spread and took hold in other places visited or colonized by English ruggers, the U.S. was taken by storm in a football frenzy. When 15-a-side rugby union was briefly included in the Olympics (1900, 1908, 1920, 1924), the U.S. won the last two gold medals.

Most of the representatives of the US in these games were from college teams in California. Colleges were not only the start of rugby in the U.S., they were also its last bastion and the site of its renaissance in the 60s and 70s. A lot of these college players, like the Olympic generation, went on to the national team: the men’s Eagles started in ’76. College “old boys” were often also founding members of adult-level clubs, with a high concentration of the oldest ones still centered around college towns. Women’s college and club rugby also started around campuses in the 70s, facing more obstacles to recruiting women to play a sport seen as “rough” and “manly.” Women’s teams also struggled to gain recognition and support from national and international governing bodies: the first American international women’s squad to play abroad was and invitational team in 1985, and weren’t officially “Eagles” until two years later. In 1991, the first Women’s World Cup was held in Wales and included 12 squads The first women’s World Cup, which the USA won, was in 1991 though none of the teams from that year were supported: the IRB didn’t recognize it as a World Cup that year, nor the next incarnation in 1994. It wasn’t until until 1998 that the tournament was sanctioned by the international governing body.

Adult club rugby in the U.S. is very unique among the American sports landscape. After college, it seems that the sporting opportunities take a huge nosedive for driven athletes in team sports who don’t go on to some sort of professional career.  But club rugby is distinct from most adult recreational leagues: at the “premier” and Division I levels, especially, the games are incredibly tough, and players travel all over the country for games. The level of passion and commitment from players: with their time, money, sweat, and blood, is truly unique. For clubs, the social aspect definitely drives team spirit and travel, especially at seasonal tournaments that often have a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” code, but there are also attempts to professionalize. Even from the national players’ pool, very few players have professional contracts, but increasing numbers are heading to France, England, and Japan to lose their day jobs. The talks surrounding professional rugby in the U.S. have mainly started with modest goals: adding one or two teams to an Americas or Pacific-based league, or partnering with the NFL.  I think with the growing popularity of rugby, and college teams increasingly reaching the varsity level (at least 15 currently), professional men’s rugby in the US could become a reality in the next 10 to 15 years. This might also be accelerated by the concussion debate surrounding football: though rugby players don’t any protective gear (except mouthguards) the concussion level isn’t nearly as high. 

Despite being billed as a brutal sport for knuckle-draggers with a high pain threshold, rugby has actually been designed to be safer for the head than football. 

Many attribute this to the different tackling techniques, and rugby’s safety-first emphasis could provide an alternative to football that still has big hits and big adrenaline. 

On the women’s side, to my knowledge, there’s nothing even close to a professional rugby league anywhere in the world.  The majority of women’s national teams still struggle to get the attention and funding they need. The highest level in the US is the WPL/Women’s Premier League, which isn’t professional (as far as I know, no players are paid). It has two conferences of four teams each, playing a limited 6-week season. The next tier of the club game is Division I (which includes both men’s and women’s clubs), with incredibly disparate teams playing in leagues that can span across several states. A recent article by the coach of ORSU, one of Portland’s club teams, highlights some of the biggest problems facing club rugby, and especially the women’s side, at the moment. The distance and districting are among the main issues: ORSU (who plays their home games less than half an hour from our campus), is one of the highest-level teams in the Northwest: just this past weekend, they beat one of Seattle’s DI teams by more than 80 points, securing a spot to Nationals. These blowouts don’t do much to develop the team’s skills: it’s hard to build to anything if the players aren’t challenged on a consistent basis. 

“There is no stepping stone to the National Team, no LAU (local area union) or Territorial competitions where good players can get a taste of higher level rugby to help build their skills and strengthen their motivation.” 

Some reform is needed, and to improve and develop American rugby at all levels: youth, college, and adult. One possible direction that I personally support comes from the Demand Rugby proposal that followed this article, which would see clubs split into a 2-tiered system with chances for promotion, and regional all-star camps. Currently, both the men’s and women’s national teams are teaching rugby to elite athletes from other sports, going again and again to crossover scouting and development. This doesn’t seem sustainable or reasonable, when there are thousands of ruggers who’ve played for years already and are looking for a challenge.

The other thing I think American rugby should do is take advantage of its newness. With women’s sports, problems in funding, or popularity stem largely from a historical imbalance: in countries where men were playing a sport for 100 years before women could pick up the ball, there’s a lot of catching up to do. It’s undeniable that rugby in the US has this issue as well, but it’s the difference of a decade or two, instead of a century. Especially with such a large number of players still only learning the sport at the college level, the gap is fairly small: it’s crucial that as rugby develops here, we don’t let it widen. Considering all of this, it is an exciting time to be involved in rugby in the United States. The passion of American ruggers to grow the game continues to surprise me day to day, with a sense of community that is truly unique. There’s a million possibilities, and I can’t wait to see what comes of them. 

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What a Sight: The Kentucky Derby

One of the topics we discussed and seemed to be somewhat present throughout the spring was the social status of the people and what sports they played, watched, or enjoyed. For example, football and basketball could be  associated more with lower class. On the other hand there is sports like baseball and golf that are expensive in certain areas. This is all debatable but the one event and sport I would argue that is solely upper class is horse racing especially every year on the first Saturday of May at the Kentucky Derby. Today the running of the 140th Kentucky Derby took place at the historic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky where California Chrome captured the first place finish.

So what makes this sport and particularly the Kentucky Derby more attractive to the upper class? Well first off the horses themselves are extremely expensive. Take today’s winner California Chrome for instance. According to USA Today he cost $10,000 which is cheaper than most of the horses. Since horse racing has so much to do with the genetics of the horse and breeding it is not uncommon to have breeding fees that get into the millions! All of the money is invested in creating a winner and then the owners of the horses have to make sure the horses are pampered until they are able to run and compete on the big stage.

As for the event itself it is a status thing plain and simple. Celebrities and millionaires are always in attendance. I was curious as to what the cost of a ticket was to attend the Derby and it said you can buy a General Admission ticket for only $56 which is not bad, but it does not guarantee you a place to sit. As for the cost of some other sections and amenities of the event I found these numbers: Parking pass $146, Barnstable/Brown Party $1,310, Seat at a table on Millionaire’s Row $3,342 (kind of ironic that it is called Millionaire’s Row, proves my point) with the most expensive ticket being at the Clubhouse Box near the finish line for $11,592. All a little pricey if you ask me especially when you consider the race lasts about a minute, but it is all about the experience and being able to say you went. There is another aspect of the Kentucky Derby that is well known and a little bit of a competition, the hats. Mainly the women but some men do to have the biggest most outrageous hats. The bigger and more flamboyant the better.

Now by no means am I knocking the upper class or belittling the Kentucky Derby. It is actually a fantastic event and I find myself watching it each year. It is one of the great events that takes place in the United States. Maybe I am just a little bit jealous because I will never get to wear a big hat, or watch on Millionaire’s Row. For the people that do get to go enjoy and remember you are amongst the elite.

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Bubba Watson: The Common Man’s Man in an Elite’s Sport

All semester we have talked about the differences in sports for people in different social classes. How many people play the sports that fits their social class structure. Whether that be football, soccer, or baseball for the working class Joe or sports like golf and tennis for the high society class,but many people do not stray out of the sports that are outside of their class. Reasons being that many obstacles stand in the way for many people considered lower class like money, coaching, etc. However, there are people who have taken a chance to make a name of for themselves where they did not have all the advantages that others in their sport had. The prime example of this adventure is PGA golfer Bubba Watson.

Bubba Watson is a two Masters champion along with winning multiple other majors. He is one of the few lefties that is in the PGA and has one of the longest drives the PGA has ever seen. But what sets Bubba apart from his counterparts? Bubba has never had a golf lesson in his life. He is a true self-taught golfer. Many pros have had some type of coach through out their lives, whether it be one they have had for years or they change constantly to improve their game. The hiring of a coach can cost tons and tons of money and is a prime reason why one does not see many lower class people making their way up in the ranks in golf. His swing and his style are all home-made. He likes to have fun and let loose with his bright pink driver. For decades, the game of golf has been seen as conservative. You do not stray outside the lines if you want to have success. But then there is Bubba who is seen in pictures wearing only overalls and nothing else like the country folk he is. Throw all those conceptions of golfers aside for Bubba because the only similarity that he has is the love for the game and a white ball that goes far, very far. He embraces the life he has grown up and never forgets where he came from. After winning the Masters a couple of weeks ago Bubba posted a picture of his celebration dinner. One would think that after winning one of the most prestigious events that golf has and the paycheck he just got from it, Bubba and his family would be celebrating in style. But that’s not Bubba, he went to the Wafflehouse with his family and friends. A common people restaurant for a common man.

Bubba embraces the idea that one has to have fun in the sport they play. In golf especially, sometimes it can be hard to find that sense in fun through all the rules and expectations one must follow if they want to gain success in golf. Bubba thinks outside of the box which is helps with the success he has seen on the course. He sees things other golfers do not see because they were trained a certain way to play. The only way Bubba knows is to hit the ball and get the ball in the hole, no ifs, ands, or buts. However, the change that Bubba has been making in golf, even how unpredictable and obscure he is, it has earned him a spot at the table with some of the greatest golfers the world has ever seen. A boy who came from a quiet, humble lifestyle has become one of the funniest and amazing golfers to watch because he always leaving you guessing what will happen next. You never know what he will do next because he is something the golf world has never seen before. Next time you’re watching golf or catch a glimpse of a tournament, look for that bright pink driver, in a maybe not mechanical sound swing but one that works because you will be watching a piece of golf history. The beginning of change is here for a sport that has been considered very high-class and strict in its players and structure, and his name is Bubba Watson aka the self-made common man.

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The Game that Fuels it All

Pine Tar is a substance found in every MLB dugout. Pine Tar is a sticky material used to by batters to give a better grip when using wooden baseball bats. However, currently Pine Tar is illegal for any pitcher to use while actually pitching. Similar to how pine tar gives a batter grip, pine tar gives pitcher grip and control of his pitches. Pine Tar has led to many scandals including the Pine Tar Game or the Bryce Harper incident. The most recent incident happened last week when Yankees Pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected from the game and suspended for ten games for having a foreign substance on his neck (pine tar).  The Yankees were playing the Red Sox’s when the Sox’s manager brought attention to a substance on the neck of Pineda. This was not Pineda’s first offense with pine tar; he was warned the earlier in the season for having pine tar on his wrist/hand while playing the Red Sox’s.

Michael Pineda is a 25 year old pitcher form the Dominican Republic who signed with the Seattle Mariners at age 16. He had his Major League debuted with the Seattle Mariners in 2011. He was traded to the Yankees in 2012.  Pineda suffered an anterior labral tear in his right shoulder in the beginning of the 2012 season. He underwent surgery during the 2012 season and was unable to play at all during the 2012 season. After a season spent in the minors, Pineda was able to make it to the Yankees starting rotation.

The Yankees and the Red Soxs have a long standing well-known rivalry to say the least. Games between the two are highly-competitive and heated meaning there is pressure on all the players to preform (or deal with the wrath of their fans).  Looking at Pineda’s relatively difficult start in the MLB it is easy to say that the man is under a lot of pressure. While Pineda has only pitched 4 games so far in the 2014 season, I do not think by any means it is a coincidence that both times the pitcher has gotten in trouble it was against the Red Soxs a high pressure game where he could make a name for himself.

According to Klein, Dominican players have extreme pressure on them to succeed in the majors due to the poverty of both their families and their community and the past success of Dominican players in the league.  This means that many players do anything possible to make their big league dreams a reality including cheat. Dominican players have been heavily linked to the usage of steroid and HGH. The rationality of cheating has been linked to pressure in recent studies. Dominican players constantly fear a premature end of their career which for Dominicans means “You’re worthless. This is a failure. He was given the opportunity and he failed” (Klein 1993). This pressure seems almost inevitable when you are in a foreign country trying to make yourself and your whole community proud and simultaneously play good baseball. In the end, I am by no means justifying cheating. I am however arguing that the baseballs biggest concern should not be a pitcher with pine tar on their hand, but a country and players who are completely dependent on the pipe dream of playing professional baseball.

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