Mark Davis; Lew Wolff/Chuck Reed; John Brodie/Y. A. Tittle; Aldon Smith/Colin Kaepernick/Chris Culliver; Yoenis Cespedes; Lebron James/Kevin Love
THE WORLD of intercollegiate sports is changing rapidly and nobody can be certain of the future, only that it will be much different from the past.
The latest explosion came Friday when Federal judge Claudia Wilken rejected the NCAAís claim of amateurism for collegiate athletes and suggested ways they could be paid, either now or in the future.
The NCAA, of course, said it would appeal the decision. It would be far better if theyíd take a long look at what has been happening and do something constructive, strange as that might seem.
The whole system of intercollegiate athletics is, as far as I know, unique to our country. Other countries have club sports, and thereís no question athletes will be paid for their participation. In this country, weíve long pretended that athletes are amateurs and even students. Stanford is probably the only school that now competes well at the top level in both football and basketball while maintaining academic excellence. Vanderbilt, Rice and Northwestern have high academic standards but have had only sporadic athletic success.
Our collegiate system has always been riddled with violations. Wealthy alumni have paid athletes to do jobs which didnít exist, and coaches have looked the other way. Even the sainted John Wooden was aided greatly by illegal money flowing to his players, which he never acknowledged.
Even before that, Iíve always remember a line in a Sport magazine article that Hugh McElhenny found his way from Compton JC to the University of Washington by following a trail of $5 bills. When McElhenny was drafted by the 49ers, coach Frankie Albert quipped, ďHeíll have to take a pay cut.Ē
There was also an understanding in the Ď40s and Ď50s that, if a player was really good but not even close to being a good student, a wealthy alum would find a spot for him post-graduation. Working on a used car lot was a favorite.
But, this was when intercollegiate sport at the major universities was an all-white proposition. When blacks started to play at even Southern universities, the formula changed. No white business owners wanted to hire blacks.
That was the first crack. An even bigger fissure has since developed as television money has come into collegiate sports in a very big way. Now, there are some colleges and conferences which are swimming in a very deep money pool, while many other colleges are drowning. And, of course, the last ones to even be considered are the athletes.
So, we have a situation where schools in the big conferences, especially the Southern and Southwestern schools, are building huge stadiums with expensive luxury suites and filling them for every game, while other schools are desperately trying to keep up. One of them is located at Berkeley.
The athletes? Oh, theyíre supposed to thrive on athletic scholarships which donít come close to providing a living wage. And the demands of playing intercollegiate sports make it almost impossible to get an education; graduation rates at Cal have been criminally low. Most schools with big time programs donít even pretend to educate athletes. Those are the ďtwo-trackĒ schools, which have a regular curriculum and a far easier one designed only to keep athletes eligible.
Whatís going to happen next? I suspect that thereís going to be a serious splintering of the national intercollegiate system. Some schools, especially in the South and Southwest, will stay with football because they can afford it, with their new stadiums and sky boxes. They can even afford to pay athletes a living wage, just so they donít expect to get educated, too.
Schools like Cal will be caught in the middle. Now that the school has an active chancellor, instead of one who shirked from any decision like the last one, the deplorable academic situation with athletes will have to change. Itís a huge embarrassment for what is regarded as the best public university in the country and one of the best in the world.
But that also means it wonít be able to compete in football with those schools who donít pretend theyíre educating their athletes.
Meanwhile, the school still has to pay for the rebuilt stadium, a rebuild which was a necessity because it is sitting right on the fault which is expected to be the source of the next big one.
There are no easy solutions, for Cal as an institution or the NCAA as a whole. The NCAA has to stop pretending athletes are amateurs; at a time when the Olympics admits professional athletes, itís silly to pretend college sports are ďpure.Ē I donít think it will bother the big football schools if they have to pay players. Just donít make them get a real education.
AN ARTICLE by San Antonio writers made it clear that the city had made some big promises to Mark Davis if heíd move the team there. That doesnít change the reality: that it wonít happen. San Antonio doesnít have the business/financial center to support an NFL team and the two current teams in Texas, the Cowboys and Texans, would mount a full-blown attack on another team moving in.
Perhaps this is Davisís attempt to put pressure on Oakland, but that isnít going to work, either. Taxpayers, which include me, are still paying for the changes made in the current stadium and arenít about to pay for another stadium. The idea that a private business would pay for a new stadium is equally fanciful.
What the Raiders should do is move into the 49ers new stadium but, of course, they couldnít take that shrine to Crazy Al in the northwest corner of the stadium with them. Thatís an embarrassment but Alís widow, Carole, thinks itís a fitting tribute, so it will stay as long as she lives.
If the Raiders moved, the city could turn the Coliseum into a real baseball park for the Aís. Now, Lew Wolff says heís always loved Oakland, though he labored mightily to move the team to San Jose. That cityís mayor, Chuck Reed, is still spending city money on a frivolous law suit challenging baseballís anti-trust exemption. A judge on the appellate review panel sharply criticized the city for this suit, so itís going to fail on this level, too.
PREDICTABLY, AFTER I wrote that the 49ers wouldnít have as good a season at theyíve become accustomed to under Jim Harbaugh, a reader sent me a long e-mail which talked about what he thought would be offensive improvements which would overcome defensive problems.
That didnít surprise me. Football coaches always talk about the importance of building a strong defense but fans are excited about offense and put too much value on that.
When I was first with The Chronicle, the 49ers writer was always criticizing John Brodie, which just showed the writerís ignorance. When I got a column, I praised Brodie; by that time, the 49ers were in the postseason because coach Dick Nolan had built a strong defense.
Years later, when I was doing interviews for my 49ers history book, I talked with Brodie and Y. A. Tittle, and they both told versions of the same story. Brodie talked about the time when Tittle was with the Niners and they would talk during each week about how many touchdowns they needed to win that week. Often, the figure was five. Tittle told me that, when he was traded to the Giants, Sam Huff told him that it didnít matter how he did, the defense would win the game. In San Francisco, when Tittle threw an interception, coach Red Hickey would scream at him when he came out. In New York, when he threw an interception, Huff would pat him on the rear and tell him, ďDonít worry. Weíll get it back for you.Ē
His three years with the Giants and that defense got Tittle into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Brodie was being crucified by fans and media because he couldnít overcome a weak defense.
Under Harbaugh, the 49ers have had a very strong defense, so they could go for field goals against strong teams and count on their defense holding the other team down. With injuries to key defensive players and the likelihood that Aldon Smith will probably be suspended for 6-8 games, they wonít have that safety net this year so Colin Kaepernick is going to have to show he can be a consistent quarterback instead of one who makes some spectacular plays but breaks down in the red zone. Perhaps he can do it, but I think not.
SPEAKING OF the 49ers, Iíve been amused by those writers who werenít here when Brandon Lloyd was originally with the 49ers who talk of him being a disruptive force in the locker room.
In fact, Lloyd was a productive receiver, an excellent pass catcher though without blazing speed, on bad teams. He was also a great interview because of his intelligence and very smooth in TV interviews. Iím sure that antagonized some of his less intelligent teammates but, so what? Thatís their problem, not his.
I greatly enjoyed Lloyd myself and was on some television programs with him. Iíve never believed the old stereotype of dumb athletes because Iíve known some who were both very smart and very good. Steve Young would lead the field. Though I donít know the current 49ers personally, I have a sense from their public comments that theyíre generally a smart group. I would make an exception for Chris Culliver.
SOMETHING ELSE that amuses me: The overreaction to the trade of Yoenis Cespedes. Iíve seen comments that the Aís offense has gone south since Cespedes left.
In fact, if you examine the Aís play earlier, theyíve had stretches where they really struggled to score runs. Thatís the nature of baseball. Hitting, even for the best, is very erratic Ė and Cespedes himself was an example of that. Thatís why itís much smarter to build around good pitching because the best pitchers are usually very consistent.
Cespedes is an often spectacular player, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of his career goes. My feeling about him when he was with the Aís was that, too often, he was trying too hard to be spectacular instead of consistent. Heíll never be the great player he should be until he strives for more consistency, but his personality may not allow for that.
IT APPEARS that King James has spoken so Kevin Love will soon be coming to the Cleveland Cavaliers, so Cleveland will have a chance to win a title for the first time in this century.
There are many who claim Lebron is the best player of all time. My nominee has always been Wilt Chamberlain, who could do everything on the court, but I limit my evaluations to those Iíve seen on a regular basis. I havenít gone to NBA games for many years now and, frankly, donít miss them. So, I havenít seen enough of James to evaluate him against Chamberlain and other greats of the past, such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others.
ANOTHER SPORT I donít follow closely is golf but Iíve been very impressed by Rory McIlroy, not just for his ability but for his personality.
Reading about McIlroy, he seems to have a good balance between his life and his sport, certainly much better than his predecessor as the best, Tiger Woods. I read one story which was describing the difference between the two: If you happened to see McIlroy, if you called out to him, heíd stop and talk to you for awhile. If you saw Tiger, it was best to keep walking.
Not all top golfers have been warm and fuzzy. Ben Hogan was always distant, for instance. But, there have been many who have enjoyed interchanges with the gallery, which is much closer than fans at most sports events. Arnold Palmer, of course. Lee Trevino was also excellent. Jack Nicklaus was distant at first but loosened up. McIlroy is definitely in a class with the golfers who like people.
But, not Tiger. Heís always kept people at a distance and made it clear to the media covering him that he blamed them for his problems. I guess it was writers calling those skanky women he liked.
Heís always been the one drawing the biggest galleries and still is, but those days are fading. Itís McIlroy whoís the big fish now, and the sport is better off for that.
I WAS interviewed yesterday for an NBC Evening News segment on Candlestick Park. Thatís tentatively scheduled for this Friday night, 5:30 p.m. PDT. Adjust the time if you live in a different time zone. We talked of many things that happened at Candlestick, including the good Ė The Catch in the 1982 NFC title game Ė and the ugly Ė the earthquake that stopped the 1989 World Series for 10 days. I was at both those games, of course, along with many, many others, dating back to the 1961 All-Star game and the 1962 World Series, when I was still working in Watsonville.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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