Friday, August 19, 2011


The biggest little scandal to hit college sports since the last scandal to hit college sports has been flying under the radar for awhile, but this one looks like it could be the grandaddy of all the college sports scandals.

I won't go into the long, lengthy, sordid details here. I could never summarize 6744 words in a 200-line newsletter. You can read the ground-breaking story on the controversy surrounding the University of Miami athletic program here:

Let's just set a little background before getting to a few observations and questions that are raised by it.

Nevin Shapiro made millions in a ponzi scheme, filtered substantial sums of money to top football and basketball athletes at the University of Miami, as well as the athletic program itself. He lavished cars, cash, parties, and prostitutes at the players, eventually investing in a sports player representation firm. Shapiro then sheparded to the firm athletes with whom he'd nurtured very close relationships. After going to jail in connection with the ponzi scheme in 2010, he felt abandoned and betrayed by the Miami athletic community, so he dropped the goods on The U.

And that brings us to The Sports Bar's questions surrounding this mess at one of the country's most successful athletic programs:

1. Why didn't these allegations come out earlier? Shapiro's connection to Miami started in 2002. There were neighbors who saw the players at the Booster's house. Employees on Shapiro's yacht interacted with the player. Bodyguards saw everything. Restaurant staff served them. Prostitutes performed favors. Why didn't they come forward earlier? Maybe they did, maybe their stories weren't believable. Is a felon like Shapiro the most reliable source around?

2. Does the story establish Yahoo Sports as a major sports investigative reporting outlet? Yahoo Sports spent 100 hours interviewing the central figure, Nevin Shapiro, alone. They then sought corroboration of everything about which they reported. Right now, ESPN's Outside The Lines has nothing on Yahoo Sports investigations.

3. What part of the allegations were illegal? I don't think the Yahoo Sports story even once mentioned how, if at all, the gifts and favors were illegal. The story did refer to some activities as being "permissable", but I believe that was in the context of NCAA regulations. Just about every breath that Shapiro took on campus -- or off -- led to obvious NCAA violations. But was there illegal bribery? Prostitution? Was the conduct of the player agency in violation of Florida state laws? What about the use of the illegally gotten ponzi money?

4. What is the most disturbing of the allegations? The cash to players? The sex-induced parties? The conflict of interest in sending players to Shapiro's own player agency? The way the University either looked the other way, or was so stupid as not to see what was happening right under their noses? To me, the worst thing Shapiro initiated may have been the cash bounty put on Florida State quarterback Chris Rix. Money was offered to Miami players who could hurt Rix in the Miami vs. Florida State game.

5. Let's see how many steps it takes for this scandal to reach a messy political connection: 1. Donna Shalala is and was the President of the University of Miami when Shapiro was engaging in this behavior, including handing a $ 50,000 check to Shalala at a basketball fund raiser. Shalala was previously the Secretary of Health and Human Resources for the Clinton administration. There you go; just two degrees of separation.

6. That said, how long before someone tries to connect this to the White House (like I just did?). Will the Fair and Balanced network drum up an inference of impropriety on the part of a former democratic cabinet member? And will the Lean Forward network then blast the Fair and Balanced for trying to make the University of Miami story into a race issue, and blame the Tea Party?

7. The NCAA now says they have been investigating The U of Miami for 4 months now. Great! But why didn't they mention this before? I can understand confidentiality and "No Comment" on pending investigations, but why did they suddenly find it necessary to admit they were investigating? If their position before the Yahoo Sports story broke was not to reveal who they are investigating, why did they not stick to that policy?

8. If true, will the conduct by Shapiro and the athletic department be the Watergate of all college athletic violations? According to Yahoo Sports, several coaches knew what was going on. Will the NCAA invoke exceptions to their 4-year statute of limitations, or will The U get off easy because of the statute of limitations? And will this put a cloud over the entire athletic department at Miami, the entire Big East conference in which they play, or all of college sports?

You'll want to stay up on this, because it has all the makings of not just water cooler talk, but of being The Big One.

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Monday, August 15, 2011


I usually don't have a problem with ESPN's Outside The Lines stories. How can you? The Sunday morning show is informative, hard-hitting, and, well, accurate.

Its the accurate part that I am now questioning.

On Sunday's OTL, ESPN continued following the story of The Ohio State football program. This is the program that is the current poster child for what is wrong with college football, recruiting, and corrupt coaches. Of course, the story recanted the issues with former star quarterback Terrell Pryor's receiving goods and services in exchange for his autographing memorabilia, and with former head coach Jim Tressel's lassiez-faire (to put it kindly) attitude towards reporting known NCAA violations.

What bugs me was a small, but sensationalized reference in the piece. If you hadn't been scrutinizing the story, it would have slipped right past you. It was almost a throwaway line -- except that it unfairly damned The Ohio State University athletic department.

The reference was made in conjunction with OTL's reporting on the money allegedly made by OSU boosters in the market for autographed memorabilia. That's money which, as the story goes, eventually made its way to players in the form of favors or cash.

What OTL said in the story was:

"Ohio State may have seeded the market for autographed merchandise."

That was a reference specifically aimed at a particular OSU-sponsored player autograph event.

What is bothersome is that the ESPN story would try to damn OSU for doing something innocuous, while making it sound like OSU's conduct was part of the overall bad conduct on the part of the University and its employees -- and by employees, we include coaches and players.

This is no excuse for The Ohio State, but plenty of schools conduct events like this one. So are all football programs "seeding the market" for player autographs because they choose to hold player meet and greets like the one depicted by ESPN?

It is hard to understand how an autograph session or sessions even manages to "seed the market" for memorabilia, anyway. The accusation against the players were that they specifically and privately signed stuff for boosters who returned favors -- like tatoos -- to the players. It is not alleged that signed merchandise was taken from those official OSU events and resold in a manner which violated NCAA rules.

And their is no allegation that the autograph signing event was a violation of NCAA rules. So why did ESPN go out of their way to mention the autograph event?

Indeed, if the official Buckeye athletic department signing events had any effect, it would have been to diminish and water down the memorabilia market, not to "seed" the market, as ESPN alleges. By making more autographed gear accessible, OSU would have discouraged other boosters from getting players to sign for them personally. The official OSU events would have made the privately-signed stuff less valuable in a watered-down market for memorabilia.

This mention of "seeding the market" by the ESPN story was just one part of a much larger, well-done piece. It is just hard to understand why the reference was used, except to make the story more sensational and damning of The Ohio State University.

ESPN's Outside The Lines is great TV for anyone interested in the other side of sports. But we can do without the editorializing.

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Monday, August 8, 2011


I heard a funny guy on TV the other, which got me thinking a little
bit about the relationship between sports statistics and politics and

Hey, this is The Sports Bar Newsletter, where we can draw a
relationship between sports and ANYTHING.

The funny guy was uber-liberal commentator, columnist, and Nobel
Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman. You might recognize The Beard
from his Sunday morning newspaper columns and his appearances on
ABC's This Week show on Sunday mornings, which I still refer to
lovingly as "The Brinkley Show."

Krugman, if you've ever read or heard two words that he strung
together, is just about as liberal a guy as you can get. To him, FDR
was a conservative, and Barack Obama is a fascist.

I don't know if Krugman is a sports fan, ala his fellow Brinkley Show
round table panelist George Will. But I know that Krugman would make
a good sports fan.

On Sunday's This Week show, the panelists doing the round table
commentary with host Christiane Amanpour included Krugman, Will, and
conservative tax-hater Grover Norquist.

It was Norquist who made the "Better than" type of sports argument,
but in a political/economic context. He said that the economy was
better in states that had dealt with, and balanced, their
budgets. Places like New Jersey, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida.

SIDEBAR: Coincidentally (???), all the governors in those states are

Well, Krugman could not let this conservative argument go
unchallenged, like a great baseball question of "A-Rod or Pujols?"

Alex Rodriguez per 162 games: .302 / 43 HR / 128 RBI
Albert Pujols per 162 games: .328 / 42 HR / 127 RBI

Krugman responded to Norquist by saying "We can get into statistics,
but it just isn't true".

Ah. Krugman, so smug with that Nobel Prize apparently stuck up his
butt, could only respond to Norquist with "It just isn't true?" And
his evidence is "We can get into statistics." ?

By saying "We can get into statistics," I think Krugman is conceding
the evidence in favor of Norquist. It is like saying "Sure, you have
the statistical evidence on your side, and we could argue this stat
or that stat all day. I mean, sure, if all you want to do is look at
statistics, then you're right."

"But it just isn't true."

If they were arguing about great baseball players, the two This Week
panelists might have shared a similar exchange:

Norquist: "Hank Aaron was better than Willie Mays. Aaron had more
career home runs, RBI's, better batting average, RBI's. Hank Aaron
was better than Willie Mays."

Krugman: "We can get into statistics, but it just isn't true".

Paul Krugman doesn't need the statistics to be on his side. He just
has to look at you and say you're wrong. And I guess that's good
enough for the media who continue to put him on the air and in print.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Now that bad umpiring calls have stolen a win from the Pirates, in
addition to a perfect game by Armando Galarraga, and a World Series
from the St. Louis Cardinals, it is time once again for Baseball
Commissioner Bud Selig to reject instant replay for Baseball.

Selig, who has shown himself to be a baseball purist in few other
other aspects of the game, has repeatedly rejected the expanded use
of instant replay. In the wake of Wednesday night's 19-inning game
that was decided by one of the worst calls in baseball history,
someone on ESPN's The Sports Reporters or The Sports Bar Newsletter
will claim that now is the time to finally use replay to help the
umpires do a difficult job.

When Atlanta's Julio Lugo crossed the plate and was called safe by
umpire Jerry Meals in the 19th inning of Wednesday's game against
Pittsburgh, it showed how infallible are umpires, and how necessary
is instant replay.

MLB and umpire Meals later admitted the call was a mistake. But do
we need any more mea culpas from umpires, as was the case when Jim
Joyce made a bad call last year that cost Detroit pitcher Armando
Galarraga a perfect game? Or when Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta
safe in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series? That play
would have ended the Series in favor of St. Louis, but instead,
Kansas City went on to win the game and Game 7.

The technology for instant replay is not only available, but already
in place. MLB uses it for home runs. And every pitch of every game
is video recorded by MLB. The league doesn't even need to turn
everything into a reviewable moment. Strikes and balls should be
sacred, and not subject to replays. All close plays would not need
to be reviewable. Reviews could be limited to just scoring plays at
the plate. Or walk-off plays. Or just 9th-inning plays. The NFL
already changes the way replays are used late in the game, putting
reviews in the hands of booth officials in the final minutes of a game.

Would baseball games be longer with replay? Maybe not. If video
reviews were used, managers would argue less frequently. They would
not come trotting out of the dugout on every close play, because they
know that instant replay would solve the matter. And just like balls
and strikes cannot be argued, MLB could eliminate arguments for
reviewable plays, thus speeding up the games.

So there you have it, Bud. The ball is in your field.

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