King Kaufman's Sports Daily

College sports: They're hot, they're sexy, they're dead. Plus: What's a "visible minority"?


Salon Staff
July 2, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

Now that the Atlantic Coast Conference land grab is over, with Miami and Virginia Tech leaving the Big East to turn the ACC into an 11-team semi-super-conference, a lot of smart things are being written and said about the granular details of the whole mess, and rest assured they're not being written or said by me. But let's take a step back and look at the big picture, shall we?

What's going on here is the beginning of the end of big-time college sports as we know them. Mark my words.

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The ACC's expansion saga has been all about football. The league wanted to go from nine teams to 12 so that it could play a lucrative conference championship game, and more importantly it wanted to strengthen its position in the football Bowl Championship Series, the big moneymaker in college sports. Adding football powerhouses Miami and Tech certainly accomplishes the latter, and will do the former if the NCAA allows the ACC to play a championship game as an 11-team conference, or if the ACC adds another team in a year or two, which it reportedly promised Miami it would do.

Now the Big East, which has lost its two big grid schools, has to shore up its football position to keep its automatic BCS bid, and it'll try to raid other conferences, such as the sprawling Conference USA, which is big enough geographically to include Texas Christian, Army, Cincinnati and Alabama-Birmingham. The European Union is smaller and more cohesive. And so the dominoes will fall: A raid from the Big East will cause C-USA to try to raid other conferences in its turn, and on and on down the line, until the Sun Belt conference is buying another round of drinks and rubbing Boise State's knee suggestively.

All to jockey for position in the BCS, which is such a rickety, illogical system that it's bound not to last more than a few more years. It's the Jennifer Lopez marriage of the sporting world. It has a less promising future than the subordinate members of N*Sync. It's an attempt to merge two incompatible concepts -- the New Year's Day bowls and a national championship tournament -- that pleases proponents of neither.

And the BCS is just a symptom of what's wrong with college sports, which is also an increasingly rickety attempt to merge two incompatible concepts -- the university as academic institution and as profit-driven entertainment enterprise.

At some point, the most athletically powerful schools are going to realize that the NCAA, with its picayune rules and transparent nonsense about "student-athletes" and all, is getting in the way of the real business of making money through big-time sports. Eventually, I think, there will be talk among the powerhouses of forming their own association, paying the players, having a playoff series and declaring a champion.

Imagine if Oklahoma and Miami and Florida State and Michigan and other titans only played each other. Every week a big game. No more fattening the schedule against Pivnick Tech at the beginning of the season. No more having to dutifully go beat the snot out of Baylor or Rutgers just because they happen to be in your conference. Imagine every game on Duke's basketball schedule being against the likes of Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina.

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I don't know how it'll go. I do know that as the conference scramble plays out, one of the main pillars of the NCAA edifice, the unity, shared history and common cause of members of the same conference, will disappear.

In the long run, it doesn't matter if the Big East can attract Louisville or Marshall or Cincinnati or all of the above plus Navy. It's all just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. - - - - - - - - - - - -

The "White" Jays? [PERMALINK]

The Toronto Star raised hackles this week with a package of stories about the hometown Blue Jays being the "whitest team in the majors," with only six "visible minorities," whatever that means, on the Opening Day roster.

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"A study by the Star has found that this year's edition of the Blue Jays had the fewest number of visible minorities on the opening-day roster of any of the 30 major-league teams," the story by Geoff Baker said. "A Toronto club that boasted of its diversity in recent radio ads actually had the visible-minority players on its 25-man roster drop from 11 on opening day a year ago to only six this season."

I love that: a study of Opening Day rosters by the Star. How long did that study take, 10 minutes? Blue Jays players and fans reacted angrily to the stories, a headline reference to "White Jays" and a graphic that showed color mug shots of the 25 Opening Day players, the better to spot those visible minorities.

It's an interesting issue, diversity on the field. Is it something teams pay attention to? Should they? Do fans want to see a winning team regardless of its makeup or do they want to see a team that looks like their city, which in the case of Toronto means a rainbow coalition? Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi is a devotee of the roster-building philosophy of Billy Beane, detailed at the moment in the bestselling "Moneyball." That philosophy includes, among other things, a reliance on college-bred players, who are overwhelmingly white.

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But what the Star package shows more than anything is the limitation of using a small sample size.

So the Jays had only six "visible minorities" on Opening Day? An accompanying chart showed that two other teams had seven. That's not a huge difference, one guy. And let's not forget that we're talking about one year here, and since we're only talking about Opening Day rosters, we're talking about one freakin' day! Somebody has to be last, right?

I'm fond of saying that there isn't a conversation that happens in North America that isn't at some level about race, but let's see the Jays, with their dark-skinned Latino manager and their black top two hitters (and three of the top four), have the least minorities for a few Opening Days running before jumping to baseless -- but newspaper-selling -- conclusions.

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