King Kaufman's Sports Daily

George O'Leary returns to college football, and that's no lie. Plus: Mark Cuban, the smartest owner in American team sports.

By Salon Staff
Published December 10, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

It was nice to see former pope and rocket scientist George O'Leary get hired as the head coach at Central Florida this week.

O'Leary is the former Georgia Tech coach who as a young man told some outrageous, easily refutable lies on his résumé and left them there for most of his adult life. He claimed to have earned a master's degree from New York University and three football letters at the University of New Hampshire. These howlers were finally uncovered after he was hired to coach Notre Dame two years ago, and he was fired a week after taking the job. The Vikings quickly hired him as their defensive coordinator, a job he'll keep through the end of this season.

I had a lot of fun with O'Leary two years ago, but honestly I'm glad to see him get another shot at coaching. I'm also glad to see he'll have to work his way back up to the big time. That seems fair. He shouldn't get the professional death penalty for what he did, but he shouldn't be handed the reins of a top program after two years of "exile" in a very good job in the NFL either. The Golden Knights, a newcomer to Division 1-A, were 3-9 this year and had lots of off-field problems.

It would be easy to say that O'Leary, once famously exposed as a liar, is all too appropriate a choice to return to college football, a multimillion-dollar business predicated on a lie -- that it isn't a multimillion-dollar business but a part of the educational process. Too easy, in fact. The guy made a mistake and paid for it.

Given his past, checkered as it is with success and spectacular failure, O'Leary can be a role model to his young charges at Central Florida. He can use the state's educational geography, for example, to illustrate an important point. The University of North Florida is in Jacksonville, up north, while Central Florida is in Orlando, roughly in the middle. But the University of South Florida is also in the middle, just barely south of Orlando in Tampa. The lesson here is that truth is a slippery thing.

I made that very same point in 1961 when I invented the Slip 'N Slide following a summer afternoon of frolicking with my wife at the time, Sophia Loren.

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Awful haircut, great mind [PERMALINK]

Mark Cuban, the mercurial owner of the Dallas Mavericks, looks and acts like a clown. He's hyper, he has a bad haircut, he never wears a shirt with a collar and he's given to shooting off his mouth in a fashion that gets him fined in record-breaking increments by the NBA, which he gleefully pays.

And I think he's the smartest owner in American team sports. I'm not a student of his every move, but it strikes me from time to time that however (deliciously) impolitic his referee-bashing is, I have yet to hear him do or say anything that wasn't pretty damn intelligent.

In the past week Cuban, who became a millionaire by building a computer consulting business and a billionaire by starting and selling, has been in the news for two more interesting, smart things.

On Thursday he refused to release an attendance figure for the Mavs' home game against the Lakers, arguing that the information, required by the league, is a private business matter. Cuban, who resumed reporting attendance Saturday night, says he wanted to make his point, and he wanted to make it when the Lakers were in town and the building was full so no one would accuse the Mavs of trying to cover up an end of their streak of sold-out games, now at 83.

He says the Mavericks' competitors in the Dallas entertainment market can use attendance information to market against the team and admits that he's not above doing the same.

"Our competitors know our trends," he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "If there is a point where we don't have a sellout streak, then people who sell advertising against our ads in our games can point to change in interest levels, and use that to sell against us. It's exactly what we would do selling against the Stars or Rangers."

I happen to disagree with Cuban on this one. He makes a good point, and one I've never considered before, but the attendance figure is a fact about the news event of the game, and the media covering the game should have access to it. Whatever small business disadvantage releasing the attendance figures presents for the Mavericks is more than made up for by the massive amounts of free publicity given to the team by the very local and national media outlets that want those figures.

And anyway, as the Washington Post showed in a piece this week about the Wizards' wholesale giveaways of tickets, which the team is allowed to count as paid attendance, it's easy to make any game look like a sellout. It's not just in college sports where the truth is slippery.

The other smart thing Cuban has done lately -- and I read about this in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram too -- is sell isolated single seats just before game time at drastically reduced prices.

The tickets in question are for empty seats surrounded by seats that have been sold. A few hundred of these go unsold to most games, and teams just eat them. Cuban decided to sell those seats on game nights. Upstairs seats, normally $10 to $50, are $5, and lower-level seats, which start at $64, go for $30.

"Tickets are perishable inventory," Cuban said, "so why not make it easy for people to buy?"

The plan lets people get into the game cheaply if they don't mind going alone or sitting apart from their friends. It pulls in $5 or $30 in revenue from tickets that would have gone into the shredder. And it turns as many as a few hundred people a night into customers who will pay to park, eat, drink and maybe buy a souvenir, and who might have such a good time they're persuaded to come back another night.

The word for such an obvious idea is "duh!" But according to the Star-Telegram, no other NBA team has done it. It doesn't seem like it should take the smartest owner in American team sports to come up with the scheme. But it did.

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