Monday, January 05, 2004

A rare sports entry...

Apparently, Pete Rose has admitted to betting on baseball. This comes after more than a decade of consistent denials on the part of the former Cincinnati Reds' player and manager. He was banned from baseball in 1989 because of this, although in the agreement he signed, he did not officially admit to betting on baseball. Betting on the sport is strictly prohibited by baseball's rules and this ban is made known to every player and manager.

As a result of the ban, Pete Rose became ineligible to enter the Hall of Fame. Most believe that the admission is designed to facilitate his rehabilitation into the sport. My guess is that Major League Baseball will make him serve a probation period of a few years and then let him be eligible to join the Hall of Fame. I have no love for the man or the player. He always thought he was bigger than the game itself and that persisted even after his explusion. But his rehabilitation will satisfy those who think that he should've been excused for his actions because... he was, after all, Pete Rose.

If he'd held his hand up and said, "Yeah, I bet baseball. I screwed up and I'm sorry." He probably would've been slapped on the wrist, maybe suspended for a year or two. But most fans would've accepted it bad judgement. People realize that athletes aren't saints, any more than any other person.

But what made many fans, including myself, become so anti-Rose was his arrogant attitude to the whole thing. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Rose consistently denied betting on baseball. Even worse, but he savagely attacked the integrity and motives of anyone who would question the purity of his. After years of this, now...

His new autobiography notes how baseball commissioner Bud Selig asked the former Red if he bet on baseball. Rose replied, "Sir, my daddy taught me two things in life -- how to play baseball and how to take responsibility for my actions. I learned the first one pretty well. The other, I've had some trouble with. Yes, sir, I did bet on baseball."

Maybe, just maybe 14 years in the wilderness has made Pete Rose learn how to be the tiniest bit humble. If so, then for once, I might even tip my cap to him.


Yesterday, Louisiana State beat Oklahoma to win college football's national title. Or at least, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national title. The Associated Press national title goes to Southern California. Or I should specify, this refers to Division I college football. So there is a split national champion in college football, something the BCS system was designed to combat. The BCS system combines various human polls and computer rankings and other statistical information to churn out a table. At the end of the year, the top two teams in the BCS meet. This year, however, there were three teams with similiar records after the regular season; of course, only two could play in a game. There's been much remonstration and hand-wringing.

Pious arguments made by apologists for the present system include...

-"Hey, it's not perfect but it's the best we can do." This argument suggests that in order to revise the system, the wheel would have to be re-invented and a radical, risky new system would have to be adopted. Yet every other level of college football (Divisions I-AA, II and III) has a playoff. No wheel re-inventions necessary.

-"A playoff would add too many games and would distract [hold hand over heart] student-athletes during final exams." Football players from smaller schools in the lower divisions are able to juggle playoff games and finals. And since few of them will ever make the NFL, they are much closer to the NCAA's mythical 'student-athlete' than someone from a football factory. Furthermore, the big time Division I schools have far more resources to help their players do this balancing act. So this is a lame excuse.

-"No matter how many teams you have (2 or 4 or 16), someone will cry about being excluded." This is true. The Div. I college basketball tournament invites 65 teams and someone always complains about being left out. However, the point of any such tournament is to determine who is the best team in the country. In this year's college football, #3 (at the end of the regular season) had the same record as #2 and #1. A college basketball team that says they're really #65 not #66, doesn't make a compelling case that they'd win it if they were in it. [This is the same lame argument European soccer countries use about them deserving more spots in the World Cup]

Simply put, there is absolutely no reason why every other level of college football (and every other level of every other college sport) can have a playoff but not Division I. Except money.

And the hypocrisy is what bugs me. The NCAA speaks piously about student-athletes, blah blah blah. Most students are student-athletes. Because there is not huge money to be made in professional water polo or field hockey. But in big time college football or basketball (and to a lesser extent hockey and baseball), it's a different story.

My opinion is that NCAA should drop the academic pretense for Division I football and basketball teams and players. Let them simply be athletes and give them a living allowance. By all means, if they want to study academic subjects, they should be able to do so. But they shouldn't be required. Or otherwise, make athletics an academic major. If they are apprentices who hope to become professional athletes, then drop the pretense of making them take Dick and Jane 101... although having them take business and finance courses might not be a bad idea. Friends of mine went to school to study engineering because they wanted to be engineers. Why is professional athletics any different? Drop the pretense.

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