Friday, March 28, 2014

Put the Student Back in Student Athlete

With the recent declaration from The National Labor Relations Board in Chicago that ruled the student athlete football players at Northwestern University are employees and therefore can unionize, the topic of paying players in this multi-billion dollar industry has once again garnered attention.

While I personally commend the actions taken by the students at Northwestern to receive a larger piece of this ever growing pie that is being created on the backs of their labors, I do think there is a much better and different approach to this entire conundrum that deserves to be discussed. In the last decade or so, the industry has begun to treat these kids more like employees and less like students. Worse then that, more like profit machines and less like people with a future outside of sports. The decision needs to be made by the industry to either take a more back seat approach when determining how these kids spend their time enrolled at a college or university or commit to the idea that these kids are, in fact, entitled to monetary compensation for the demands that are placed on them.

The first argument we hear is that these kids receive full ride scholarships, usually complete with room and board and meal stipends. A package deal that could easily equate to a very handsome salary, there are two ways to consider that these forms of compensation are not adequate. The first is that scholarships are granted to the athletic programs by the academic branch of the school, and not paid for out of the pockets of the academic programs. In fact, for about 90 percent of schools, the school's athletic program can not afford to run itself on it's own revenue. Not that this stops schools from paying athletic directors and coaches huge salaries. The revenues that are generated are made by ESPN, BTN, and other telecast companies that see huge margins on their broadcasts of collegiate football and basketball games. That is the were the money flows to.

To that end, the other argument is how to distribute such payments, and would having a merit based system, in which the more successful schools would pay the greater wages, only further the gap between schools like Texas, who generates lots of revenue, and Houston, who also has a very large enrollment, but garners a fraction of the revenues in it's athletic program. This would create a huge advantage between the 'have' athletic schools and the 'have nots'. I envision a future were instead of 5 or 6 'super conferences' with 10-15 schools in each, there would be at most 2 conferences with 10-12 schools each comprised of the schools that can afford to pay lavish salaries to the best student athletes available. The lines between college and pro football would fade to next to nothing.

So, how can the schools pay their student athletes? The answer is they can't. It is the networks and sponsors of these sporting events that are both making the money and that are dictating when, where, and how often these athletes are playing, they even have contracts that can dictate the students class attendance. This swing that negatively impacts students academic time and general admittance that sports take precedent is reflected when you compare the overall graduation rate of division I college athletes of 79 percent to that of division I football rate of 71 percent, the sport that has the most money flowing through it. In fairness, these numbers have slight improvement in recent years as many schools start enforcing higher academic standards on their athletes.

Back to Northwestern, what happens if this new collegiate union survives the inevitable court appeals and expands their demands to monetary payment? The telecast companies aren't going to pony up much more money for the same product, the expense will be put on the schools who may be put in a situation of paying their kids out of their own pocket with no increase in revenues, and for the vast majority of schools who can't afford that, to begin having less leverage when it comes to negotiating appearances in tournaments and championships, furthering my aforementioned scenario of a limited number of 'elite' athletic schools.

It would take some time to get to this extreme scenario, sure, but who would stand in this futures way? ESPN? Are you kidding me? The would love to have just enough games to fill a fall schedule where every game would have huge talent and huge national audiences, rather then splitting up their production teams to appeal to multiple audiences across multiple regions. The NCAA would become the NFL light. And believe me, Ames, IA can not support an NFL team.

What to do about this conundrum? The answer is simple and yet almost impossible. Colleges need to take back control of their athletes time and priorities and force them to gain value from the free education that they are receiving. A few simple measures to get started.
  • Varsity players need a 2.3 or better to play, period
  • Students can miss no more then two weeks worth of class a semester to sporting competitions, period
  • Stop allowing subsidies to athletic programs out of academic general fund to pay for outragious salaries of coaches.
  • Change the way the NCAA organization obtains and disperses it's funds that takes into account academic standards, not just performance
  • Stop expanding, and perhaps even reduce, the number of games and events, made available to the student athlete. 
I said these steps are almost impossible to implement, and here is why. It reduces the glory associated with college sports. It asks them to assume the proper role of being second rate to a pro league  (which is justified considering a tight BCS title game TV ratings to that of the Super Bowl). College sports aren't profitable despite the lack of pay for it's employees, it's lucrative because they don't. There is a collision course with the profitability of college sports and the demands of athletes time in order to perform well academically. For example, the NCAA wants to add a round of football games to the FBS, that's another week of training, interviewing, and traveling that the 85 students of both teams that advance in the tournament spend away from the classrooms and studying. 15 years ago most teams played 11 regular season football games before bowl selections, now they play 12, plus a conference championship, plus the aforementioned FBS tournament. Another round to the NCAA basketball tournament may be coming soon, with the same outcome almost inevitable. This was done because the athletic/profitable side of the argument won out over the academic/student side. 

These arguments leave you with two options in the end; start paying athletes and watch the NCAA dwindle down to a nigh-pro league. Or, do the right thing and start putting the Student back in Student Athlete.

And on a side note GO CYCLONES!!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Thank You Google

Google just announced that as of today, Gmail is more secure than ever before. And the company isn't shying away from the fact that it's actively trying to stop the thwart the government from spying on your email activity. Google made HTTPS encryption the default for its users back in 2010 when sending from point of use devices to get into and out of the Google network, but in it's efforts to continually make improvements wherever possible to keep out prying eyes and as an additional barrier between you and the NSA, Google is making the additional change that every single email message Gmail users send or receive will now be encrypted as it moves internally between the company's data centers. That would seem to defeat a popular strategy of the NSA, which involves the agency intercepting email messages as they move between data centers and servers located within Google's massive network. Google says this change became "a top priority after last summer’s revelations" from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

It's not so hard to see why Google is taking this action. There is a fundamental concept that the NSA is completely disregarding, that when you send someone a message that it is intended for the person that the message is addressed to. We no longer live in the era of wax seals and blood bound couriers. Is it so unreasonable that we be able to send a message to someone without it being logged by our government that I did it without first having a responsible suspicion case brought before a judge in order to issue a warrant?

Read 1984, see how the main characters in that story have to take extraordinary measures to avoid what is considered suspicious activity out of the massive web of Big Brother's surveillance and then tell me with a straight face that we are not moving in that direction. People are not pissed off because they have something to hide, they are pissed off because they now re forced to accept living in the world where our own thoughts and communications are no longer our own. They are pissed that another entity outside of their control has deemed the masses undeserving of a simple degree of trust and privacy. And we are pissed that there is so little that we, as individuals, can do about it. 

Thankfully for us, Google does appear to be slightly pissed as well and is in a position to do something about it. They, along with several other large communication and social media groups have launched the website http://reformgovernmentsurveillance.com/ where they outline governing concepts and principles that should be followed by the NSA and other spying agencies should the surveillance activities be allowed to continue under the law of the land. Yes, the people are telling the government how they should be acting, and their voice is very reasonable. It appears, at least for now, that Google is focusing its efforts on protecting our right to privacy – Thank you Edward Snowden for all the leaks!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Distractions Be Damned!

World War II was started when Germany invaded Poland, The Korean War started when North Korea invaded South Korea, The Persian Gulf War started when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and now Russia has invaded Ukraine.

Not too many pundits and politicians are advocating to start up another war, considering we are still trying to get out of the last couple we started, but I state these to bring some weight and context to just how grave and serious an action it is when one country violates the sovereignty of another.

Need another anecdote to showcase my point? How about the President of the United States just a few days ago stating "We are now deeply concerned over reports of military movements taken by Russian Federation inside of Ukraine."

Well, it's been about a week and Putin and Russian Federation are showing no sign of letting up their pursuit of taking control of at least the Crimean Peninsula. I've been watching the President's response to events as they unfold, and even though I could make some snide comments about the pace of his responses, an indication of just how prepared he is to handle such a response, and have already written about the need for reforming our approach to foreign policy in much broader terms, I've been reasonably pleased with his calls to ban Russia from the G8, granting loans to the recognized Ukrainian government, and freezing assets of individual Russian officials and overall flexing what little leverage we have over Russia in an attempt to raise the price, both monetarily and politically, of Russia's actions.

Obviously this leverage is not enough to stop Putin, it was glaringly obvious from day one that US was in no position to actually stop him short of a massive military mobilization. Then what is the correct course of action? What else can our Commander in Chief do to dissuade Russia and continue to increase the cost to Russia for this clear violation of International Law? 

Well, apparently the answer is to gut up from the table, tell your Phone Czar to hold all your calls and your Airplane Czar to gas up the jet, and to go on vacation. Because that is exactly what he is doing.

Are the European's joining us in establishing sanctions? Idunno. Are we changing to Defcon 3 and mobilizing a force to help stabilize the region? Shrug. Will more calls to Putin finally wake him up to reason? Obama only knows that he isn't letting the incursion of Russian troops into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula prevent him and his family from enjoying a weekend away from Washington, currently beset by cold temperatures and sloppy piles of melting snow.

I'm sure staff and resources will travel with the President as they always do, but when you wake up every morning at he beautiful Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo. Will that Jack Ryan want to be CIA agent be traveling with him? I dunno, you can't take all of Washington with you on vacation.

It's an insult to the seriousness of the situation and another example how this President prioritizes the aspects of his office. Imaging the phone call Saturday morning when Putin finally calls Obama to try and negotiate some terms. So in the spirit of not taking this thing seriously at all, here is what I would imagine a phone call between President Obama and President Putin going this weekend.


"Yes, Barry, this is Vlad, I have seen light and am prepared to withdraw my forces. You have time to go over the terms for removing sanctions and get G8 summit back on schedule now, yes?" 

"Oh, yeah, Vlad, I'd love to, but... can I have you call back in about 5 hours, I got a tee time in 10 minutes and it is really hard to get one of those at this place, <chuckle>. I mean, how much taxpayer money do you have to spend to get some respect around here, you know what I mean?"
"I do not, Barry. In Russia, we have none of these golf courses. I spend vacations wrestling bears, not because I find it fun, but because if bear enters Russian Village, everyone gets in a hoopla, demanding show of force with nuclear weapons, I try to explain, 'bear is in Russian village and we cannot use nuclear warhead on Russians'.... well, you know how it is."

"Oh sure, sure. Like this one time, <chuckles> Michelle and I were trying to decide what stars to invite over to the White House for dinner last Tuesday, well, I wanted to invite the entire cast of Game of Thrones..."

"<interrupting> Mr. President, I am sorry, but Para-Olympic Ice Hockey game is currently in final period on Russian TV distracting people who oppose me making this call, if we can not come to deal right away I fear window of opportunity will close like Church once Vodka store opens."
"<Inhaling through teeth> You're putting me in a tough spot, Vlad. We have fantastic weather here, 76 and sunny."

"I understand, one time I shrug off meeting with fur hat makers union to enjoy 8 mile swim in lake, it was 20 of your degrees outside, who could refuse? I am sorry we are unable to come to terms today, perhaps you call me after we invade Lithuania?"

"Sure thing, Vlad. Always good to catch up, say hi to the Mrs. for me?"

"Absoloutely, and you give a hug and a kiss to Michelle for me, no?"

There is a moment of silence before both men break out laughing and hang up the phones.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Someone Should Call the Cops

Syria is using chemical weapons, Russia is re-establishing the USSR, China is disputing Japanese claims to waters in the South China Sea, and even Iran has warships en route to our shores.

It reads like the introduction to a superhero movie, or an episode of 24, or a summary of the entire plot of Team America: World Police.

There is only one small problem, Team America does't appear to want to be the World Police anymore.

Since World War II, the United States has assumed the position 'guarantor of world order' and the 'enforcer of global rules'. Whenever a threat to world peace or stability has emerged such as in 1991 Kuwait or 1998 Kosovo or 2002 Afghanistan or even the 'lead from behind' route taken in 2011 Libya. In any of these instances, if the U.S. had not acted, nothing would have been done to combat tyrants and terrorists.

That argument that it is the responsibility for the United States to take action has hit a roadblock. The American people are not interested in playing that role any more. In truth, Americans have never been enthusiastic about assuming the burden of global leadership. We didn't get into World War I until the final year of war. We entered World War II only after we were bombed by the Japanese two years after the war started. And especially after the Vietnam conflict, it is hard for the American people to take an interest in the affairs of other nations.

This is reflected in the political standings of our politicians too. Democrats are quicker to abdicate this responsibility to international groups such as the UN. Where as the Republican party has been historically up to the task of being the muscle in foreign policies. Now, the political landscape is shifting on the Republican's side, where ever louder subsets of libertarians and tea party members promote policies that include limited government and non-intervention all the way to reducing our global military presence. 

In all of this we are trying to answer one fundamental question; Is it in our best interests to expend our resources to promote our agenda in other countries? The resolve of one who believes in the blanketing 'You leave us alone and we'll leave you alone' is tested greatly when we see a democratic republic like the Ukraine invaded by an embolden President Putin. The fear of the such a large portion of the globe falling into a limited number of ruling countries is a valid fear that has lead America into almost every prior war. The person who wants to accept the duty of being the worlds police and draw a line in the sand must be prepared to defend that line with capital of money and blood. 

For years we enjoyed the relative peace of a world that did not question the U.S.'s resolve to stand up for democracy and against tyranny in all forms, so long as certain criteria are met. We paid it forward in World War II and other battles, but our copiousness of respect appears to be running on empty.
What is, then, the correct answer? The current establishment's stance is easy enough to figure out. Cut the military, take no action in Syria, and threaten to not attend a G8 shin dig if Russia doesn't stop expanding their empire. Until the next election cycle we are not going to answer the 911 calls of the world anymore. In my opinion, this is one of the stupidest things we could allow to happen. The unfortunate thing about the Ukraine take over is that it is too late. Ukraine is not in the EU, they are not a member of NATO, we have no direct ties that would allow us to take a any tangible stance to stop Russia from doing exactly what it is that they are doing. Foreign policy is a chess match and Putin just placed us in check. Chalk this one up to failing to see this coming, despite the warnings of Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney during the last 2 presidential election cycles. This was nothing more then a brazen lack of foresight, and a weak foreign policy stance from our President.

America's roll for the next generation may be decided in the next few weeks. Our next move needs to be one that is proactive that places Russia back on the defensive. Establish new and public trade partnerships with former block countries that are practicing democracy and promote more policies that allow countries like Georgia, Belarus, and Romania to become independently wealthy and more appealing to EU or NATO membership. Then, we need to start promoting non-American-centric alliances, such as the African Union. Despite it's flaws, that union provides the avenue for regions to be more self policing and will, over time, alleviate the burden that we currently bear too much of. But, the most important policy change that we can implement that would prevent such an emboldened move from occurring again? Stop punting on enforcement of items that we have already stated our stance on. Case and point, Syria. He stated clearly that the use of chemical weapons was not to be tolerated, he stated clearly that we have proof that Syria was in fact using chemical weapons. Our response to date? Nothing, we allow ourselves to be stone walled and played for fools. No doubt to the chagrin of allies like Japan, South Korea, and Israel, who are largely dependent on us to deter action from countries like China, North Korea, or Iran. 

That is my conclusion, the end game needs to be a world that relies much less on us to take direct action, but we are making wrong move after wrong move to achieve anything even close to such a world. We can neither make one single sweeping move to suddenly become spectators in the world and abdicate our duties that we have already signed onto, nor can we continue in perpetuity the ever increasing cost of becoming a formidable fighting force for not only ourselves but scores of other countries.

Is it a thin line to follow? Yes. It will require some scale ups and scale downs periods of our military forces by region over time, a couple decades to get to a point where we have a powerful central force located within our borders and several quick response teams designed to work in conjuncture with a pacific alliance groups and European alliance groups. At this time, however, we have established that we are dangerously far off that line to the side of spectator, it is time to swing back to the side of being the worlds police until we can get the international structure needed to allow the proper winding down of our duties as a nation who has taken on too many responsibilities in the world.