(ICYMI) It’s time to remake the university athletics department

The athletics department — during good times, a blight on the university in the minds of many people within higher education — is under intense scrutiny in the coronavirus era.

Recognizing that few athletics departments are financially successful, the critics are demanding athletics bear an oversized burden as financial decisions are made about the 2020-21 academic year and beyond.

Kill some sports! Let go of all those coaches! Discontinue the payment of student fees to fund sports!

Some critics are red-hot enough to argue that the entire edifice ought to be torn down and all sports terminated.

It has surprised some people that one atypical college football season, which doesn’t even start for another seven weeks, would be enough to compel some institutions to trim the number of varsity sports they offer. More are sure to come.

And let’s be frank, if there’s no college football season, the light-touch trimming we’re experiencing now will become bludgeon-like axing; under such a scenario, schools will maintain football and men’s and women’s basketball with all other sports under threat. The need to remain compliant with Title IX will guarantee more men’s than women’s sports are eliminated. (The NCAA rules regarding 16 sports for Division I status would have to be eliminated or else the number of D-I programs would crater.)

The critics would be quite happy.

Yes, now is the right time to reconsider the athletics department on the college campus. But, no, it’s not time to end it. What I’m proposing here is a radical reorganization of college sports.

I’ve made no secret on this blog and elsewhere that I love sports and see tremendous benefits to them. I maintain in the university setting they play a critical role in campus life. I’ve experienced as a faculty member and as a student multiple “wow!” moments as one of the school’s teams won big games.

Saying that, I’ve also made it obvious I find the concept of the student-athlete ethically vacuous, with the NCAA and the many institutions operating under its aegis having long since surrendered their collective souls for the almighty dollar. Please tell me how caring for the student-athlete is consistent with, among other things, largely separating athletes from the student body; allowing athletic events to start as early as 11:00 a.m. or as late as 9:00 p.m. (or later); and supporting “voluntary” workouts during the off-season.

And, most egregious of all in my opinion, these athletes receive not a penny while collectively bringing in millions of dollars to the athletics department’s coffers.

With all of that as the set up, here’s my proposal for the 21st century university athletics departments.

Spin them off from the university. Let them operate as for-profit entities.

Under my plan, the university would no longer set aside any student fees for the athletics department. It would allow the athletics department to use university facilities (i.e. stadiums, practice fields, gyms, etc. free of charge), but it would bill the athletics department for tuition, room, board and the like, all of which would be based on the number of student-athletes on campus.

The student-athletes also would have all rights and privileges offered to the general student body.

The athletics department would be a business. As a result, it would seek to at least break even every academic year. It could accept whatever sponsorship deals it wanted; it could work with the other schools that also are now for-profit entities on television deals; it could offer as many sports as it wanted, provided it remained within the legalities of Title IX; it could arrange its own championship tournaments; and it could schedule games on whichever nights and at whatever times it wanted.

Oh, and it would pay every student-athlete a salary; it would be up to the department’s leaders and the athlete (working with his/her legal advisor) to determine that fee. For example, the starting quarterback on the football team might receive $10,000 a year and the top setter on the women’s volleyball team might receive $2,000.

Let the market decide. There would be no minimum or maximum salary, just the requirement that every student-athlete be paid. The student-athletes also could earn additional money through endorsements, coaching and other jobs, which they could hold at any point throughout the year.

If the athletics department at the University of Southern California, which I pick because it’s where I earned my BA degree, could financially support football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s baseball, women’s lacrosse, women’s volleyball, women’s tennis and women’s golf, great. Those would be the only sports it offered. If the athletics department at the University of Alabama could support football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s baseball, women’s softball, women’s golf, women’s soccer and women’s gymnastics, great. Those would the the sports programs there. (In both hypothetical examples here, I’m presuming compliance with Title IX. Any error in that area is unintentional.)

As mentioned above, gone would be the days of the NCAA-mandated 16 sports to be considered a Division I program. And speaking of the NCAA…

The NCAA would resemble the headquarters of professional sports leagues in North America. It would mete out suspensions for players who, say, delivered an illegal tackle in a football game or who used performance-enhancing drugs. It would hand out the championship trophies. It would assist the various athletics departments with legal or other advice. It would heavily promote the institutions and the sports those schools offer.

It would discontinue reporting graduation rates because under my plan no student-athlete at a for-profit athletics department would be required to maintain a certain GPA or to continue progress toward a degree. If Joe Smith leaves Ohio State after three years in order to become a professional football player having never taken one class, fine. If John Smith leaves Michigan after playing baseball for four years — and, yes, four years would remain the maximum number of years an athlete could remain on campus (bye-bye redshirt years) — with a degree in finance, more power to him.

I anticipate maybe 50-60 athletics departments could operate under this for-profit scenario. They already are considered the “elite” athletics programs; so, although we won’t build that list here, we could rather easily identify the universities that might be part of this arrangement.

But what about the other 250 or so programs that currently participate at the top level of at least a few sports?

Sorry, critics, but we’re not getting rid of them.

They would largely continue to operate as they are now with some important changes.

Like the “elite” institutions, they, too, would no longer be required to offer at least 16 sports in order to be considered Division I; rather, they’d be allowed to operate as many sports as they wished, provided they remained compliant with federal laws. They would no longer tap into student fees to assist in funding their operations. They would continue to use all university facilities without charge. However, unlike the elite, they wouldn’t be required to pay their athletes. They would continue to be accountable for graduation rates, progress toward a degree and the like. They would be compelled to schedule sports events at reasonable times — not earlier than noon on the weekends and not later than 7:30 on any night.

My two-tiered structure for athletics departments, for which I’ve provided only a streamlined overview of how they would be run, isn’t perfect. Hey, professional sports aren’t perfect, so let’s get rid of that ideal in this conversation.

However, I’ve established a framework for getting rid of the nonsensical “amateur” athletes concept that continues to govern college sports. I’ve allowed the biggest of the big athletics departments to more effectively govern their actions. I’ve suspended the 16-sports rule.

A final point: This is a radical change to college sports. As such, I’m advocating a 4-year transition cycle that would become fully operational with the 2023-24 academic year.

So, let’s do it.

If you want high school sports this fall, then you pay for all the costs

A simple message to all those people — journalists, parents, alumni, players and more — demanding high school sports be played this fall.

You pay for all of it.

You pay the referees, many of whom are middle-aged or older and therefore at increased risk of suffering the worst from coronavirus.

You pay for the multiple deep cleanings of the facilities so that they are kept as germ-free as possible.

You pay for any modifications to the locker rooms so that safe social distancing is ensured.

You pay for any substitute teacher who must cover for any coach who contracted coronavirus and therefore cannot be in the classroom.

You pay any parent who must miss work so that he/she can care for their child.

You pay for any increased costs insurance companies might charge from sports taking place.

You pay the funeral costs for any player, coach or referee who dies from coronavirus.

All of you seem quite comfortable bashing local and state leaders using the most current medical information to decide how safe it is for the games to be played. So, if those leaders are moronic simpletons who are out of touch with your needs, then put your money where your mouth is.

Ball in your court.

Predicting the NHL Round of 16 playoff series

My 21-year-old son growled as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Game 4 of the Montreal-Pittsburgh NHL qualifying-round series.

“I waited for four months, and the Penguins are gone in four games,” he said (sort of said?).

I reminded him that I thought the best-of-5 qualifying round was a bit of a crapshoot because the teams were about as even as they could possibly be after four months of inactivity. All 24 teams were basically at full health. No team had any real momentum. Any team could quickly be tossed aside by simple rust.

That same 21-year-old replied, “They lost to the (ahem) Canadiens, who absolutely sucked during the regular season.”

Ah, fandom. And youth.

With that, my picks for the NHL Round of 16 playoffs:

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

Vegas vs Chicago: Remember when the Golden Knights were struggling, sitting in a precarious 7th place in the Western Conference? A coaching change has revitalized this team, which should handle Chicago with relative ease, but with no Las Vegas flare, unfortunately. Vegas in 6.

Colorado vs Arizona: Colorado lived up to the hype during the regular season and kept the motor running in the qualifying round. Arizona has the grit to make this the most interesting series in the west, but not enough talent to win it. Colorado in 7.

Dallas vs Calgary: The first team to 2 in each game wins? Goals should be at a premium, with Dallas’ anemic offense and stingy defense on display. Calgary took advantage of key Winnipeg injuries to win in the qualifying round. The Flames face tougher odds, but win. Calgary in 7.

St. Louis vs Vancouver: The Blues lost all three round-robin games scoring only 6 goals, and 4 came in one game. It was mere rust, right? St. Louis won’t go from being the west’s best team in the regular season to out this quickly, right? The champs aren’t dead yet. St. Louis in 6.

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

Philadelphia vs Montreal: Imagine your reaction if I’d had told you when the NHL regular season began in October that these two teams would be the 1 vs 8 playoff match up? Well, here we are. Montreal will not beat both Pennsylvania teams this summer. Philadelphia in 5.

Tampa Bay vs Columbus: The Lightning won’t be at full strength at the start of this series. And the longer Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are watching and not playing, the less likely Tampa Bay holds off Columbus. John Tortorella is ready to pounce. Columbus in 6.

Washington vs New York Islanders: What if New York head coach Barry Trotz pushes all the right buttons against his former team? What if Washington, a team known for “struggling,” shall we say, in the post-season does just that? Nah. Washington in 7.

Boston vs Carolina: The Bruins were the NHL’s best team in the regular season, and they then laid an egg in the round robin, losing all three. Boston had better find its game quickly because Carolina comes into this series looking really good. Carolina in 7.

So, put it all together and, if I’m right, the conference semifinal matchups will be Vegas vs Calgary and Colorado vs St. Louis in the west, and Philadelphia vs Columbus and Washington vs Carolina in the east.

I won’t ask my son for his opinion of these predictions. He’s still, shall we say, a bit upset.