31 March 2011


MARCH MADNE$$. Each year during the month of March, the NCAA national collegiate basketall championship tournament is televised across the U.S. -- second only to football's Super Bowl in viewership and revenue generated. A Frontline segment, Money and March Madness (view here) did some investigative reporting, and revealed a sordid tale of greed and injustice. The Washington Post summarizes nicely --

"Generations of college athletes have generated revenue for their schools, for the NCAA, and for television networks, while pocketing only a chance at a four-year education .... The NCAA clings to the romantic image of students wearing letterman jackets and smiles without acknowledging that the entire landscape has changed. In the past three decades especially, college sports has become big business and its profit margins remain remarkable because it features an unpaid labor force .... The NCAA is in the midst of a $10.8 billion TV contract. Most head coaches pull in seven-figure salaries .... And the NCAA executives are resting their heads on pillows of cash every night .... Essentially, everyone is getting paid handsomely except the ones doing the heavy lifting. And therein lies the crux of the NCAA's position. The student-athletes are compensated with an education, the value of which pales in comparison with the dollars they bring to their universities."

There's more to the story. At the start of each school year, college athletes are required to sign an NCAA agreement which stipulates that the athletes will not accept payment of any kind for their athletic performance, for rebroadcasts of games in which they participate, even for the use of their images in video games. This, because the students are regarded as "amateurs", thus forbidden from recompense.

Further, each athletic scholarship is valid for one year only, as opposed to the standard four-year academic scholarship. Should the student athlete fail in any way to come through for the team, he or she faces the prospect of no scholarship the following year. The alleged reward for all that pressure and hard work is the possibility of signing with a professional ball team upon (or even before) graduation. But there are only so many openings each year among professional teams, so the percentage of college players who make the cut is small.

The icing on the cake is that most schools do not impose academic standards upon their players. The Frontline segment reveals that of the teams participating in this year's March Madness, most include players with failing grades. Am I missing something, or isn't the purpose of a university education precisely that -- education? Small wonder that anywhere between 20 and 60 percent of college athletes fail to graduate.

Returning to the Washington Post -- "The NCAA is a non-profit organization and enjoys tax-exempt status. It could hand its hat in good conscience on the notion of amateurism 50 years ago, when the cost of an education might have matched the revenue generated by its student athletes. But it's now in the business of signing billion-dollar contracts and paying everyone except the stars of the show, a point Frontline raises and [the NCAA] willingly ignores."

The whole thing stinks. I'm not suggesting that college players necessarily should start pulling in stellar salaries -- that would only play into the already lopsidedly-outlandish recompense awarded to professional players. I am suggesting that athletic scholarships should be good for all four years of school, and that the NCAA as a non-profit organization should undergo a Congressional investigation for fraud and abuse of its tax-exempt status. Further, coaches and NCAA officials should not be making more money than any tenured university professor. There are too many truckloads of cash floating around, with no oversight. I highly recommend that you view the Frontline segment at the link above.

NUCLEAR D. "D" as in disarmament. There may be many among you who remember the name Valerie Plame. In 2003 a news reporter outed Ms. Plame as a CIA agent.

The incident is portrayed in a 2010 film called Fair Game. The movie is "an action-thriller based on the autobiography of real-life CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame Wilson, whose career was destroyed and marriage strained to its limits when her covert identity was exposed by a politically motivated press leak --

"As a covert officer in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division, Valerie's work involved identifying the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the United States declared war. Her husband, diplomat ambassador Joe Wilson was hired by the CIA for a fact-finding mission as part of the investigation. When the Bush Administration ignored his findings and used them to support the call to war, Joe contradicted the White House in the New York Times, igniting a firestorm of controversy."

Valerie Plame has not gone away. In an introduction to the DVD release of the film, she appears with an appeal for all viewers to become involved in pushing our government to follow through with the START treaty, and become informed on the broad issue of nuclear disarmament. You can start by checking out the website Take Part. The threat of global nuclear annihilation is a terror my generation grew up with. There is no rational reason for either the U.S. or Russia to continue to stockpile enough nuclear weapons to destroy all life on earth many times over.

MILEPOST. This blog was initiated in February 2008. Records of visitation began in March 2009. Naturally, at first the numbers were miniscule. During the past year, however, the number of readers has increased exponentially (see first graph below, showing the past thirteen months' readership -- click to enlarge). I attribute the increase in part to word of mouth, in part to readers' finding the blog through web search engines such as Google, and in part to my posting each day's entry on my Facebook news feed, starting a few months ago. In all, I've written 897 daily entries, including this one.

As of this writing, I've had 40,005 visitors from 173 nations since records commenced. In March of 2010, I had slightly over 500 visitors the entire month. A year later, I had just shy of that number (499) in a single day -- on 24 March 2011. March was also the first month in which the number of visitors topped 12,000.

Within the geometric increase over time, there is a clear pattern of more visitors during the week, and fewer on weekends (see second graph below, showing the past thirty days' readership).

I want to take this moment to thank every reader who has graced this page with your interest and attention, whether or not you agree with my sometimes-outspoken opinions. Please return, and please continue to spread the word. I encourage all readers to become public followers, by signing on at the "Followers" widget in the right-side column. Peace.

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