John Calipari; Mike Montgomery/Jeff Tedford; Sonny Gray/ Jim Johnson/Grant Balfour/ DeSean Jackson/Randy Moss
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 02, 2014

NORTHWESTERN ATHLETES dropped a bombshell on the NCAA when their appeal to join a union, saying that they are employes and should be given salaries and benefits, was approved by a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. The ruling was immediately appealed by the university.
This is only the beginning of the process but it’s another sign that the system of collegiate athletics is very corrupt and in serious need of overhaul.
The original idea was a good one, that athletes needed some financial help because they could not maintain their academic work if they were playing sports and also had an outside job. But there has been a dramatic change in the playing field, so that the money paid to those on athletic scholarships does not come close to what they need just to survive. And, any athlete who tries to supplement his scholarship with outside income, immediately violates NCAA regulations.
At one time, I argued that an athletic scholarship is a bargain for an athlete who wants an education. Ironically, Northwestern, which has very high academic standards, is one of perhaps four schools in the top level (Stanford, Vanderbilt and Rice are the others) who actually give athletes a good education. Michigan often has had that reputation but Jim Harbaugh blew the whistle on his alma mater when he was hired by Stanford, telling me that Michigan is also a “two-track” school with a curriculum for good athletes who don’t want to be academically challenged to skate through courses that are designed only to keep them eligible. They’re being cheated because only a tiny fracti0on of them will ever play professionally. I still remember when Delvin Williams showed me the picture of McDonald’s top 100 high school football players when he was a senior. He was the only one who played a down in the NFL. The fallout isn’t that dramatic at the collegiate level but even on national championship teams, it’s rare for more than 5-6 players to make it to the NFL, let alone star. The dream of professional athletics is a cruel one for most collegiate athletes, and it is especially cruel for the black athletes.
Even beyond that, collegiate sports are in a mess. The model once was that a successful football program would pay for the non-revenue sports but that has gone out the window because football expenses are so much higher. They’ve added too many coaches and are paying them too much. Meanwhile, they all have to have the glamorous workout palaces that Phil Knight originated at his alma mater, Oregon. That works for Oregon but for schools which don’t have a wealthy alum willing to sink that kind of money into the program, which means virtually every other school, it’s a budget breaker.
And, it isn’t just football. Kentucky coaches got $300,000 in bonuses when the Wildcats made the Final Four of the Office Pools tournament. Head coach John Calipari got $150,000, on top of his $5.2 million salary. The athletes got nothing extra, of course. That would be a violation of NCAA rules.
This system will soon collapse of its own weight, and if the players can join a union, that will hasten the collapse. Maybe schools will have to adopt the Ivy League pattern, dropping athletic scholarships and actually educating athletes.
And, the NFL will have to start its own farm system, instead of relying on colleges.
I just hope I’ll live long enough to see that.
MIKE MONTGOMERY brought a glorious college coaching career to an end when he announced Monday that he was retiring as Cal’s basketball coach.
Montgomery had two years to go on his contract but as this season wound to a disappointing end, I think he’d decided weeks ago that he was going to retire. The Bears started their Pac-12 season 5-0, missed the NCAA cut and then lost in the NIT, too, and there was an especially discouraging pattern in which they hardly showed up until the second half. They’d clearly tuned Montgomery out.
It reminded me of a private conversation I had with Jeff Tedford a couple of years before he was fired in which he said it was really hard to find team leaders because so many of his players had grown up playing individual games on their computers. It would be interesting to see how many of the Cal basketball players fell into that mode. Certainly, it seemed Justin Cobb was the only one who tried to be a leader, and that wasn’t enough.
Tedford was young enough at 52 to be able to go to another job, and he found one in the NFL as an offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was his work as an OC for the Oregon Ducks that got Tedford the head coaching job at Cal.
At 67, Montgomery wasn’t going anywhere and he didn’t want to leave the Bay Area, which has been his home since he came to Stanford before the 1986-87 season. Stanford had gone through several coaches and didn’t seem like a great opportunity but Montgomery turned the program around immediately.
He did it with a very structured program. As he told me one time, “This is not an equal opportunity offense,” meaning that there were some players who always had the green light to shoot, like Casey Jacobsen, and others who were supposed to rebound, pass the ball or play defense.
That system worked very well for Montgomery at Stanford, so well that he was hired by the Warriors. As I wrote at the time, that was a mistake. Montgomery was never going to be a good pro coach, but he did make a lot of money before he was fired.
When he went to work in the Stanford athletic department, it was assumed he was a Stanford lifer, but he still had an itch to coach. Cal AD Sandy Barbour heard that through a search committee and hired him. He didn’t match his Stanford success but his overall record of 130-73 isn’t shabby.
Now, it will be up to Barbour to find somebody who can fill his shoes. There’s pressure on her because she made a mistake with the football hire, Sonny Dykes.
Montgomery recommended that his assistant, Travis DeQuire, succeed him, showing his loyalty as he did at Stanford when he recommended that assistant Trent Johnson succeed him when he signed on with the Warriors. Johnson led the Cardinal to three NCAA tournament appearances, once to the Sweet Sixteen, and one NIT appearance in his four years, before he left for LSU. He gave other reasons but I’ve always thought that the pressure of following Montgomery was too much for him.
Personally, I always enjoyed my interviews with Montgomery as a Stanford coach, when I was much more actively involved, because of his sarcastic wit, which often bothered other writers. Sarcasm aside, he was very straightforward with me, which I enjoyed.
I no longer go to college basketball games and I haven’t gone to even a group interview with Montgomery in two years. But, my memories are intact.
CORRECTION: I erroneously wrote last week that Lefty O’Doul introduced the Japanese to baseball in the 1920s. Actually, the sport was introduced to Japan by Horace Wilson, an expatriate American teaching in Japan, in either 1872 or 1873, according to historical reports. O’Doul was instrumental in spreading the popularity of the sport when he was on a goodwill tour in the 1920s. He returned in 1949. Both Wilson and O’Doul are in the Japanese baseball Hall of Fame. O’Doul is also in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
THE A’S set a major league record by losing their 10th straight opener Monday night. Perhaps they should just concede that game and start with the second game.
Despite their problems with their opener, the A’s are held in high regard around baseball. Sports Illustrated even picked them to get to the World Series for the first time since the 1990 season, though SI also predicted they’d lose to the Nationals.
The A’s have risen back to the top the last couple of seasons by emphasizing pitching, which is always the basis for success in baseball. Even letting Bartolo Colon go and losing Jarrod Parker and A. J. Griffin to season-ending injuries hasn’t disturbed the pitching-rich A’s. It may even work to their benefit because it’s pushed Sonny Gray to the top of the rotation and he’s going to be a great pitcher.The Angels, by contrast, have gone for big hitters in the free agent market but their pitching, after Jared Weaver, is a mess.
Though he gave up the winning runs in the ninth inning of the opener, Jim Johnson should be an improvement as the A’s closer on Grant Balfour, whose record was deceptive. Balfour often gave up long drives that seemed destined for the seats, only to have an A’s outfielder make a sensational catch. Johnson had a great record despite pitching home games in a Baltimore park that is very hitter friendly. A’s fans booed Johnson when he came off the mound Monday night but they’ll be cheering him the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, the A’s signed Joe Blanton, a one-time starter for them, when Blanton was released by the Angels. It’s a no-brainer for the A’s. The Angels are responsible for Blanton’s $8.5 million salary. He’s been assigned to Sacramento but if the A’s bring him up, they’d only have to pay him the major league minimum, with the Angels paying the rest.
Blanton had some early success with the A’s, winning 42 games in a three-year stretch, but when he fell off in 2008, he was traded to the Phillies. He’s since pitched for the Dodgers and the Angels, seldom looking good.
My memory of Blanton is that he was a decent pitcher who looked soft. I never had much confidence in him, and I wasn’t surprised when his career went downhill in 2008.
A’s pitching coach Curt Young is the best I’ve seen at working with young pitchers. Blanton is no longer in that category, at 31, and for the moment, Young is letting him work out his problems in Sacramento. But the A’s are looking for starters at the Triple-A level, in case of further injuries to starters, so Blanton may yet get another chance.
That’s when Young would try to work his magic.
After getting in their opener despite earlier rain on Monday, the A’s got rained out last night and have an unusual day/night doubleheader with the Cleveland Indians today. I’m going to the day game. It will be interesting to see an A’s game with modern TVs in the press box, instead of the 1950s models that have been there for both A’s and Raiders games.
AFTER A slow, and much-criticized, start in free agency, no team has been more active than the Raiders. Their latest move was to sign cornerback Carlos Rogers, released by the 49ers as they try to stay under the salary cap. The Raiders have no such problems because general manager Reggie McKenzie has spent the previous two years clearing the roster of the overpaid underachievers accumulated by Al Davis in his final years.
There had been speculation that the Raiders would get in the De Sean Jackson sweepstakes but he signed with the Washington, a.k.a. the most dysfunctional organization in the league. A bad move for Jackson but, as much as I enjoyed Jackson’s often spectacular plays at Cal, signing him would have been a big mistake because of his personality – which I’m sure McKenzie realized.

Raiders fans should remember the Randy Moss experiment. Moss took a two-year vacation when he came here, then went back to New England and set an NFL single season record for touchdown receptions. Temperamental stars need to be in a very controlled situation.
THE MOVEMENTS this offseason have brought the NFL’s salary cap back into focus. I saw one column arguing that baseball’s system, without a cap, is better because so many different teams have won the World Series in recent years. But that’s not because baseball has no salary cap. It’s a result of a change in the postseason.
In the long ago, there were two baseball leagues with eight teams each. The teams which won the league championships met in the World Series, so there was no argument that those were the two best teams.
The current system is much different. Now, there are wild card teams and a much more complicated postseason. That is a significant change. Football doesn’t change in the postseason because, with only 16 games in the regular season, each game is important. But baseball plays an 162-game schedule because there is so much variance in individual games that it takes a long season to sort everything out. In the postseason, though, success swings on a few games.
The Giants are an example of that. In the 2012 postseason, there were seven times they were a game away from elimination. To their credit, they won each time but they could just as easily have lost the first playoff series, to the Cincinnati Reds.
Last year, the World Series did match the two best teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, but that was almost a fluke.
And, arguing that money is not the most important factor in baseball is ignoring history, especially as it pertains to the New York Yankees, who have the most championships because, since they bought Babe Ruth in 1920, they’ve had the most money. It takes good judgment to win, too, and the Yankees haven’t had much of that lately, but it would be foolish to think that will continue.
And now, we have the Dodgers, who have outspent even the Yankees this year. They still have their problems but they have the money to overcome them.
The salary cap isn’t perfect, especially in the NBA with its ridiculous exemptions and rules which can’t be understood by anybody who isn’t a real computer nerd.
But, I think the NFL cap is working well. Nobody can do what the 49ers did with De Bartolo money in the late ‘80s, stockpiling players who are reserves but would be starters elsewhere; the 49ers at one time had Joe Montana, Steve Young and Steve Bono all under contract.
Eddie’s moves forced the NFL owners to work with players on a reasonable system. He gets a lot of undeserved credit for the 49ers success – he was more of a problem than a help in the Bill Walsh years – but he was the inadvertent architect of the NFL salary cap.

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