Cal graduation rates/Jeff Tedford, Mike Montgomery, Sandy Barbour; Terrelle Pryor; Mario Manningham/Michael Crabtree/Colin Kaepernick; DH controversy
by Glenn Dickey
Oct 29, 2013

29OCTOBER
CALíS MISERABLE graduation rates for football and basketball players have been a big story, for good reason, but before I discuss that, Iíd like to dismiss a couple of side issues:
--Graduation rates seldom tell the whole story because many schools, and especially the football powers have courses athletes can take to stay eligible but which do nothing to advance their education. Even schools with good academic reputations do this. When Jim Harbaugh was named coach at Stanford, he told me his school, Michigan, was guilty of that, which I had heard earlier from Robert Berdahl in a wide-ranging interview I had with him in 1997 when he was Cal chancellor. Cal does not have those snap courses for athletes.
--No comparison with Stanford is ever valid. Stanford is a small, private school which sets its own standards. Stanford has high entrance requirements and they do not make any exceptions for athletes. Once students are admitted, the goal is always to graduate them. They all have to live in dorms the first year to get acclimated. Classes are small and tutors are there for struggling students. Cal is a very large public university which has to evaluate applicants on their high school grades, which have long been inflated in California schools. Even in my college years, a much simpler time, the policy was ďsink or swimĒ and many who were admitted because of inflated grades flunked out.
None of this, however, excuses the abysmal graduation rates at Cal. Similar rates for football players got Mike White fired as football coach after the 1977 season. Though I was very close to Mike, a classmate, I concurred with the decision by athletic director Dave Maggard.
In the Ď80s, an Athletic Study Center was set up to monitor athletesí academic progress. A faculty advisor also followed the athletes academic progress. I was close to one of those, Jack Citrin, an excellent law professor who loves sports. Even then, there were glitches. Cal was put on NCAA probation for a year because two receivers were given credit for a class they never attended. That was done by an overzealous professor but I was told that both athletic director John Kasser and coach Tom Holmoe were warned about it but did nothing.
Cal was on that probation when Jeff Tedford was hired, so Cal did not go to a bowl that year, though the Bears would have been bowl-eligible.
Meanwhile, the basketball program under Ben Braun was also not keeping track of players as it should. Current coach Mike Montgomery inherited a troublesome situation but, with his Stanford background, Iím sure heíll get that program back on the right track, academically. Itís also easier to do in basketball with far fewer players.
Iím not sure what happened in football. I know that Tedford and his staff were monitoring the playersí academic work closely early on, but I suspect he got distracted trying to get the training facility built and to recruit with the great disadvantage of the tree sitters.
I also think the change of chancellors made a big difference. Berdahl wanted athletes to do well academically; he told me that Stanford was the model. I didnít have an interview with his successor, Robert Birgeneau, but he didnít seem to have the same interest in athletics that Berdahl had. From my perspective, he didnít do much on any front. The university has had many problems since he took over. I have much more confidence in his successor, Nicholas Dirks.
When Steve Gladstone resigned as athletic director, the popular favorite for his job was Mark Stephens, his assistant, but Birgeneau wanted somebody who was his person, not an alumni favorite.
So, heís responsible for Sandy Barbour, who has made some good hires in basketball but made a puzzling one when she gave Sonny Dykes a seven-year contract as football coach. Dykes was campaigning for the job and could have been signed to a much shorter contract.
Now, Barbour is saddled with Dykes. She alienated alumni with that insane plan to play the 2014 Big Game at the 49ers new stadium. Sheís taken responsibility, sort of, for the poor graduation rates because they came on her watch. And, sheís lost her protector, Birgeneau.
I hope sheís renting.
Whoeverís in charge, the graduation fiasco has to be fixed. Basketball will be, Iím sure, with Montgomery in charge. Football is much more difficult but it can be done, and it must be. As a Cal alum, I know itís unreasonable to expect the Bears to be successful year after year, but itís not unreasonable to think most of the players should be graduating. Cal is the best public university in the country (some think, in the world) and these graduation rates for athletes are not acceptable.
MEANWHILE, THE Bears have two midday starts coming up, against Arizona on Saturday and USC the following week. Iíll be at both games but probably only for a half. I go now mostly to visit with friends before the game. The actual games are usually over by halftime, with the Bears taking another resounding loss. Even by Cal standards, this is an awful season, right up there with the worst of the Holmoe years.
The big story, of course, is the Stanford-Oregon clash, but thatís on next Thursday night, starting at 6 p.m. If you want to know how far college football has fallen, thatís a good place to start. A game with possible national title implications and itís being played on Thursday night? Good grief.
THE RAIDERS continued to show improvement two days ago in one of the strangest games Iíve ever seen. It started with an explosive play as quarterback Terrelle Pryor rolled to his right, saw an opening and ran through untouched, 93 yards for a touchdown. It was both the longest run by a quarterback in NFL history and the longest by a Raider in their history, beating touchdowns of 92 and 91 yards by Bo Jackson.
The Raiders dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first half, yielding only a field goal as they took a 21-3 lead.
But at halftime, coach Dennis Allen decided to keep the wraps on the offense in the second half, rarely throwing the ball and letting the defense shut down the Steelers. So, the second half was a total reversal, with the Steelers shutting down the Raiders running and dominating in time of possession.
Allenís strategy worked, barely, because the Raiders defense played so well. The Steelers closed to within three points but one of their two touchdowns was set up when they recovered a Jacoby Ford fumble at the 11. And, the clock ran out on the Steelers at the end of the Raidersí 21-18 win.
Their defense continues to be the major reason for confidence that the Raiders will have a decent season. Itís mostly young, with Lamar Houston the only significant holdover from last year. Their pass rush is relentless Ė five sacks of Ben Rothlisberger Ė and their secondary plays tight coverage as well. I thought they might tire in the second half when they were on the field so much but their staying power was impressive.
This is the kind of team general manager Reggie McKenzie and Allen have been trying to build, young and eager, instead of the older, overpaid stiffs Al Davis had accumulated.
Iíve said all along that I expect 2014 to be the breakout year for the Raiders. With another good draft and more experience for those playing now, I think it is reasonable to expect them to make the playoffs next year. This year, they have to get by the Denver Broncos, with Peyton Manning perhaps in his final season, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who are now 8-0. That isnít going to happen.
Meanwhile, the 49ers entered their two-week bye with an easy win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. I didnít even bother to record this one. I got some glimpses of it while eating in the Raiders lunch room before their game, and that was enough to confirm that there was nothing happening I needed to see. The Jaguars may well be on their way to an 0-16 season.
This game is part of NFL commissioner Roger Goodellís plan for the league to have a bigger place on the London sports map. That isnít going to happen. Londoners love soccer (football there) and, to a lesser extent, rugby. American football is no more than a novelty.
The only American sports with a world-wide audience are basketball, and there are now several NBA players who have come from Europe. Baseball is big in Japan and in the Latino countries around the Caribbean but commissioner Bud Seligís plan to expand it to other countries with the ill-advised World Baseball Classic has failed dismally.
Football has been the least successful internationally Ė except for telecasts of the Super Bowl, which is an event. I remember when the ďCoca Cola ClassicĒ matched two collegiate teams. I went with Cal when the Bears played Washington State in 1987 and it was a very curious game. There were quite a few American service men at the game, and they cheered for plays in the game itself. In between plays, recordings from the school bands were played and the Japanese spectators cheered them! Otherwise, they were quiet because they had no idea what was happening in the game. The game has since been discontinued.
The NFL is all about selling merchandise, though, and its NFL Europe sold a lot of it. So do these annual games, which is why Goodell wants more and is even talking about putting teams in London. Letís not worry about those road trips. Just schedule a bye week after each one. Iím waiting for the leagueís name to be change to $$$NFL$$$.
The 49ers will almost certainly make the playoffs because this is a down year for the NFC; the New York Giants lost their first four games but are now only two games out of first place in their division. But, the Niners have to prove they can beat the Seattle Seahawks, who come to Candlestick on Dec. 8. The Seahawks got a scare last night from the St. Louis Rams, barely eking out a 14-9 win, but they remain a game ahead of the 49ers
The 49ers should soon get a boost as receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham return from injuries. It will probably take Crabtree longer to return to form because he had a more serious injury, but at least, it will remove the excuse for Colin Kaepernick that he had only two targets. I never thought that was a legitimate excuse, anyway, because Davis is virtually uncoverable because of his combination of size and speed and Anquan Boldin makes catches on balls that seem uncatchable. He made two such catches in the Ninersí last home game, against Arizona, which made Kaepernickís stat line misleading. The fact is that he wasnít throwing very accurately in that game and hasnít been all season. Heís run very well the last two weeks, though.
THE RED SOX seem to have a big edge in the World Series, leading 3-2 and going back to Fenway Park, but surprising things often happen in the Series so it wouldnít be a shock if the Cardinals came back to win. The Sox havenít won a Series which ended at Fenway since Babe Ruth was playing for them in 1918.
This has been a classic Series because it matched the teams with the biggest win totals in each league. Itís amazing how seldom that happens; the Cardinals won one Series after only winning 83 games in the regular season.
As always, the Series also revives the argument over the DH. It really isnít an argument because logic is on the side of the DH. The designated hitter is an offensive player replacing a pitcher who is there because of his defense.
It didnít matter in the early days that a pitcher wasnít much of a hitter because nobody could hit the dead ball very well. That was the era when the idea of playing for one run was paramount because that might be all that was scored in the game. Christy Mathewson once pitched a shutout in which he gave up 14 hits. In each of the first seven innings, he gave up two singles; in the eighth and ninth, he retired all six batters. He didnít issue any walks.
The game changed greatly when the lively ball was introduced in 1911. Because hitters werenít accustomed to hitting home runs, they still concentrated on just hitting the ball safely, so home run totals did not go up but batting averages soared. In 1911, Joe Jackson hit .408 but finished well behind Ty Cobbís .420 in the American League.
It wasnít until Ruth became a full-time outfielder that hitters realized the new lively ball could be hit over the fence. That ushered in the ďbig inningĒ theory: In many games, the winning team scores more runs in one inning than the losing team scores in the whole game.
Thatís in the American League, of course. In the National League, theyíre still playing for one run, bunting, using the hit-and-run, because they have to pretend that pitchers are also hitters. Itís a rare pitcher who even hits .200, which would get any regular player benched.
Itís become even more ridiculous that the National League sticks with the 19th century model as high schools, colleges and minor leagues have gone to the DH. Itís dangerous for pitchers who have had almost no opportunities to hit suddenly have to come to the plate. Some of them get injured, as Ryan Vogelsong did last year with the Giants.
Last year, it seemed logical that the DH would be adopted by the National League because there were inter-league games every day. But Selig wouldnít make that move, probably because NL owners didnít want to have to spend more money on a DH than they were spending on a backup infielder. But, Selig has found many ways to bring more money into baseball, so he should be able to convince NL owners to get out of the 19th century.

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