Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category

Instant Replay Making Game Better, But Far from Perfect

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Other than referees, it seemed like everyone – coaches, fans, commentators, players (well, maybe not offensive linemen) – were clamoring for instant replay to be used “to get the call right.” That’s the price of progress. When the games were only broadcast on radio, no one ever knew if a call was blown. Not until television instituted replays on its telecasts, and incorrect calls were obvious, was there a swelling of support to “take another look at it.”

So it was that instant replay to confirm or correct calls finally became law and, to the delight of the officials, they were shown the number of times they made the correct call was overwhelming. Even the missed calls made them look  more “human” than inept because, except for the blindly loyal fans (every call against their team is wrong – even when supported by video evidence) and the losing gambler, the rational person understands how difficult a job officiating is. In addition the “indisputable video evidence” has worked, for the most part, and has shown how minute a difference there is between a right and wrong call. I mean, when a number of cameras zoom in, from all angles, in slow motion, and it’s still uncertain whether the ruling on the field was right or should be overturned, . . . wow!

If a poll was taken as to whether people believe instant replay has been good or bad for the game, my guess is “good” wins hands down. The greatest objection would be that instant replay slows the game too much, a complaint the NFL is trying to fix by having one central replay station (in New York) to make proper determinations in games throughout the country.

Last night’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, however, illustrated that instant replay needs to be expanded. First, as the Colts were driving for a score, QB Andrew Luck threw a pass to T.Y. Hilton. Luck threw the ball where he knew Hilton would be. But Hilton wasn’t there and the pass got intercepted. Why wasn’t he there? Because he was illegally being held. Unfortunately for the referee, the replay showed the offense clear as day, i.e. “indisputable video evidence”.

The reason the play wasn’t reviewed is, that play isn’t one that is reviewable. So the game continued with the Eagles taking over. On an ensuing running play, the Colts were flagged for a horse collar tackle that, when replayed, was a perfectly legal tackle for a loss. The purpose of instant replay is to make certain the proper call is made, i.e. if there is an infraction, enforce it; if no infraction, play on. What exists now is better than what was but not as good as it could be – and how the league, players, coaches, officials and fans want it.

It’s not perfection but as the legendary Vince Lombardi said to his Packer teams:

“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Is Levenson the Last, or Just Latest, NBA Owner to Fall?

Monday, September 8th, 2014

When Donald Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, it was due to his being exposed as a racist (a fact most of the nation knew decades ago). Now, the Atlanta Hawks’ managing partner for the past decade, Bruce Levenson, has voluntarily submitted to the NBA an email he wrote in 2012.

In the correspondence Levenson opined, “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base” (the Hawks’ fan base is 70% black). Levenson said he felt “Southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.” In addition, he wanted “some white cheerleaders, . . . music familiar to a 40-year-old white guy” (the concerts after games were either hip hop or gospel) and that he thought “the kiss cam is too black.” Also, there (were) few fathers and sons at the games.

Could the move have been made because of Sterling’s threat to expose other owners as businessmen like himself bigots? Or was it done because Levenson had already been made aware Sterling’s undercover agents knew of it? It’s another example of the cultural and racial divide that exists in the NBA between its white owners (MJ excluded) and its players, the majority of whom, independent of the fact many of them are wealthy, are black. The mega wealth the top players is light years from that of the owners, as are their cultures (Cuban and Prokorov excluded).

The main difference between Sterling’s quotes to . . . what’s-her-name and Levenson’s email is that what Sterling said was flat out racist, while what Levenson said was marketing strategy to increase ticket sales.

And flat out racist.

Bruce Levenson is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis (one of the top academic institutions in the country) and the American University School of Law (one of the best law schools). Yet, undoubtedly, the lesson he’ll remember most is the one he learned yesterday. Or the day of Donald Sterling’s threat. If his comments to reporters yesterday are sincere, he understands the mistakes he’s made:

“If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself too.”


I Didn’t Lose Faith in Federer, Just Had to Leave

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Several of the past few blogs have dealt with the U.S. Open. Prior to my multiple back surgeries, I used to play tennis, hacking around on and off for years. When I got to the University of Tennessee as an assistant basketball coach in 1980, I became more serious because short time later, Mike DePalmer, Sr was named the head tennis coach. At one time, Mike and Nick Bolletieri started a tennis academy. The first year, there were six kids, all of whom lived in Mike’s house, a far cry from the IMG grounds that houses the students in Bradenton, FL today. Mike and I became fast friends and, up to 4-5 days a week, we’d play tennis at 7:00 am.

When I asked him to give me lessons, I remembering him tell me, “Jack, I’m on the court all day, basically, giving lessons of one kind or another. Let’s just play. I promise you’ll be getting lessons.” And he was right. When we started, Mike would hold his racket in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He would hit the ball deep to the corner, I’d run it down and return it to him. Then, he’d hit it to the opposite corner, and I’d run that down and return it to him. On and on until I’d miss or, not so often, he did.

One day a thought crossed my mind. “Why the hell am I constantly hitting the ball right back to him!” Displaying my ability as a student, I started returning his shots to the corners, rather than directly at him. The next day we played, I noticed the coffee cup was gone. “What, not thirsty this morning?”

“I told you that you’d learn,” he said, smiling. We continued to play the entire seven years I was at UT. Since I was a coach, I’d pick Mike’s brain as far as strategy and motivation went, figuring there had to be similarities in our sports, even though his was an individual sport while mine dealt with a team (side note: he also had been a highly successful junior college basketball coach). He would explain nuances of tennis to me. I’ve never watched tennis matches the same way again. Years later, Mike was inducted into the National Tennis Hall of Fame.

Which brings me to today’s blog topic. My wife, Jane, and I have been watching the U.S. Open the past few days. One of our favorite players is Roger Federer (not only because we’ve had numerous people tell us our younger son, Alex, looks like him – although those comments don’t bother us in the least).

Yesterday, we were watching his match against Gael Monfils. Prior to the match, one of Federer’s former coaches (as well as one of Pete Sampras’), Paul Annacone, who happened to be Mike’s #1 singles player for his early Vols’ teams and, not so coincidentally, one of the original six students at the DePalmer-Bolletieri Tennis Camp, had this to say about Monfils, “He is the best raw athlete in tennis, maybe ever.” If the moniker, “Human Highlight Film” wasn’t already taken by Dominique Wilkins, it would be apropos for Monfils.

Thus, it wasn’t surprising to see him take the first set from Federer. What was amazing was to see him take the second set – and with greater ease than the first. Wouldn’t you know it, we had a surprise birthday party to go to (happy birthday to loyal reader, and more loyal friend, Shawn Carey) just as the second set ended. Hearing the bleak commentary from the best tennis commentators, the brothers McEnroe, made it feel like were leaving a funeral early.

Late in the party, Jane turns to me and says, “You won’t believe this,” then shows me her SportsCenter update (which our Federer look alike installed on her phone but not mine – people tell me it’s easy but, as of yet, I haven’t found the time or interest). Sure enough, Roger did it again – won a match after losing the first two sets. For the ninth time. The mental and physical toughness might not be unmatched, but there can’t be more than a handful of athletes who are better at staring down adversity.

While it might be stretching the meaning of exactly what the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said, there’s little doubt he would have admired the effort displayed by one of the all-time greatest tennis players, Roger Federer:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Skill and Mental Toughness on Display Early at U.S. Open

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Absolutely exhausted after watching the U.S. Open match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Early on, the tennis bordered on perfect, in that it took a “perfect” shot to win a point. What set it apart from most tennis matches was that while both players possess quite formidable serves, it’s their return of serve that made it must watch TV.

It began as a match for the ages. As far as records and head-to-head competition, Djokovich owns the advantage over Murray (as he does against every tennis player in the world not named Nadal or Federer) but last night’s match was a true heavyweight fight. It was almost as if the players were standing in tennis’ version of toe-to-toe, throwing haymakers at each other, with rallies upwards of 20, until someone would finally scream a blistering, unreachable winner. One of the players (more often Djokovich but Murray as well) would, seemingly, be in control of the set until, all of a sudden, some devastating, loosely played point in which one of them looked like he’d lost focus, would bring the other up from the dead.

Possibly against another competitor, on another night, “taps” would have been heard, but not with these two. The viewer would see a summoning of focus and intestinal fortitude – along with scorching passing shots -and fortunes would be reversed. There were major shifts in momentum, each player (more so Djokovich) feeling a sense of “letting one slip away.”

Near the end of the third set, commentator John McEnroe (who is to tennis what Gary Danielson is to college football, i.e. unparalleled) made the comment that Murray looked “spent”  and questioned whether he could go five sets if need be. Murray, then, began to look as though he might be more injured than spent, grimacing and gingerly walking between points, no upset in sight.

With the clock about to strike midnight, fans were cheering for the guy who was down a set to tie the match – so they could see more tennis (the night before they many stayed until 2:30 am to watch). Only in New York (and maybe Las Vegas) do fans ignore time for sporting events. Although he did play some extremely good points down the stretch, the young Brit couldn’t seem to muster enough of them to overtake his nemesis, eventually falling 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. Had his opponent been someone other than Djokovich would Murray been able to summon the effort to pull out a victory?

Always blunt, McEnroe, who made reference to Murray’s difficulty playing the Serb, summed up the final couple games with the following, thought-provoking (for Murray’s camp) comment:

“The question is ‘How is this affecting him? How much of it is in his head?’ ”

Isn’t What’s Happening to Mo’Ne Davis a Form of Child Abuse?

Friday, August 29th, 2014

At the risk of dating myself, the first time I heard the name, Mo’ne Davis, the old O’Jays song, For the Love of Money, went through my head. I’d hear, “Money, money, money ,money . . . money” over and over. Do you think that’s why her parents picked the name? Mo’ne? Mo-ney? Parents never know how their children are going to turn out when they name them. Hope, maybe, but never know.

The fact that Mo’ne Davis has (so far) grown into such a successful hard throwing righthander at the age of 13 is remarkable; that she’s done so in an era that her baseball team, with her on the mound, has played on national television is more than a coincidence but astonishing nonetheless. Think about it: there were things in this century that happened before she was born!

There are reports of Mo’ne Davis autographed baseballs being sold on eBay for prices ranging from $249.95 to $333.93. One such ball was auctioned off and fetched $510. While that may not qualify as child abuse, it certainly crosses the line of exploitation.

In this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated, there’s an article (under the heading of “Sport Science”) which talks about the young, female pitching sensation from South Philly asking the question, not “can she ever become a dominant high school pitcher?” Nor is the question raised, “can she pitch effectively in college?” In the leading sports publication in the country (over 3,000,000 in paid circulation), they pose the question, “Could the first girl to pitch a shutout in the LLWS become the first woman to pitch in the majors?” IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES!

With as many stat nerds as there are in the world (it seems as though the number will soon surpass SI‘s circulation), why hasn’t – no didn’t (meaning before the article was published) – one of those numbers freaks research how many of those other pitchers (boys) who threw shutouts in the LLWS ever pitched in the bigs? Forget the genetics, longer forearms with more forceful whip (or is it WHIP?), “natural steroid cycle” of puberty – exactly what percentage of the boys, i.e. how miniscule is the number, make it? The article matter-of-factly states there are plenty of boys who throw a 70 mph and never get near the minors or majors? The question is, “Why does the magazine feel the necessity to even mention something so absurd? We have yet to hear of Mo’ne’s parents reaction to putting such an unrealistic expectation on their daughter. Wonder how Alexandra Fenwick, the piece’s author, would feel if the girl in question were her daughter?

Heck, young Mo’ne doesn’t even want to be a major league pitcher. Or a professional anything. Yet. Everyone who’s followed her story knows Mo’ne’s “short term” goal – to be UConn’s point guard. That in itself is quite a formidable task. First of all, she’s picking, probably, the most popular position in basketball – on the distaff side. Secondly, she’s selected the sport’s most powerful team, arguably, the most dominant in any sport, men or women.

Don’t begin to think that mine was the only head that thought of the parallel between Mo’ne and mo-ney. One of the verses in the O’Jays’ classic carries the message that Mo’ne’s parents need to keep close in their minds is (she, although growing up faster than a child that age ought to, probably is still too naive now):

“For the love of money people will lie, Lord, they will cheat. For the love of money, people don’t care who they hurt or beat.”

What to Do When You’ve Run Out of Questions – and It’s Your Turn to Ask

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

At yesterday’s Los Angeles Clippers’ enthusiastic fan fest/rally, there was an accompanying press conference with President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach Doc Rivers and new owner (how much of a relief is it to hear that term in relations to the Clips’ organization?), Steve Ballmer. Everything under the sun was asked of the new boss at both venues – and then some.

Most people, if they put their minds to it, could guess the queries posed to “Steve” – as he informed the Clipper faithful they should call him. The obvious questions like, “Are you planning on moving the team?” (an emphatic “No” came from the head honcho – he did explain he lived in Seattle and a friend of his, a “Bill Gates,” asked him to work for him – and that had worked out OK, so he didn’t regret living in Seattle), and “Where do you plan on sitting?” (“Court side” was that answer  – although, when you shell out $2 BILLION, the answer could have been, “Anywhere I want!” and no one would have raised a concern).

One question I thought I didn’t hear correctly was asked by a member of the media. “Do you plan on changing the name?” Why in the hell would anyone want to change the name? There might have been a time when the Clippers should have changed their name, but certainly not after their three most successful seasons in team history (60.6, 68.3, 69.5 wining percentages, respectively). The reason it was brought up was because there was a feeling that the Clippers would be associated with their previous owner. After watching yesterday’s love fest at Staples – where his name wasn’t uttered even once – it’s a whole new generation for the Clippers. Now is the time to capitalize on the team name, not change it. Besides, why would the team change its name. Because they’re no longer in San Diego, where the Clipper name originated?

It’s not like boats are never seen in the Los Angeles area. It’s definitely more appropriate than calling the team in Utah the Jazz. Or calling a team that got its nickname from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (the line that’s on the bottom of Minnesota license plates) the Lakers. Changing names and logos are done at considerable expense, too. When will the Charlotte Hornets, Bobcats, Hornets recoup all that money from their change(s)? Maybe that’s a little different situation but how happy are the folks in New Orleans they can now root for the Pelicans?

With all the positive vibes flowing throughout the Staples Center, why would someone bring up such a foolish question? What should have been considered was a line I learned from my late mentor, the brilliant John Savage:

“Before you open your mouth to speak, make sure what you have to say is an improvement on the silence.”

A Classic Example of a “Hog that Got Slaughtered”

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

The following is a blog from May of 2008. After reading it (re-reading for the most loyal of readers), you might just be able to see why coaches weren’t so enthused with their governing organization. The fact the NCAA would lose so much of its clout is something that, 40 years ago, would have been deemed unfathomable. Those of us in the business always thought college athletics (especially football and men’s basketball) were extremely popular but I can’t think of anyone who predicted how much money would be generated. The NCAA must not have believed the old adage: “Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.” 

The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) is an absolute necessity. There must be a governing body for intercollegiate athletics. That being said, it can be viewed, not as a necessary evil, but as necessary and evil. My interaction with this colossal organization dates back to 1972 when I took the job of graduate assistant basketball coach at the University of Vermont. Back then, many folks closely associated with the NCAA saw it as pure evil.

There are so many personal stories, even for someone so far on the outside, that my comments will probably be spread over at least a couple blogs. “Back in the day,” as the current terminology goes, the NCAA was, if not the most arrogant organization in the country, certainly one that was annually in the finals for the award. They’d win every case against them (caused by many of their unfair and archaic rules) with the same absurd logic, “The NCAA is a voluntary organization. You choose to become a member and may leave it at any time,” as if there was a major university in the country that was about to hold a press conference and say, “We have an announcement to make; as of today, our institution is applying for membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).”

It was a monopoly in the truest of sense of the word. Through the years, and with a change in leadership, i.e. when “The Great and Powerful” Walter Byers finally retired, it became, if not “a kinder and gentler NCAA” that some people (mainly those at the NCAA) would like the giant to be thought of, but as a group that makes rules and rulings with more compassion and, in some cases, on an individual basis.

However, the worst idea (aka public relations gimmick) someone thought up is that of “graduation rates and APR” (Academic Progress Rate). This is intended to come off as, “Although we have bright, caring and talented student-athletes in nearly all our sports, certain sports, (namely, those that produce all of our revenue), have not emphasized the ’student’ half of the term we use for their participants. This is very disturbing to us (although not nearly as disturbing as if CBS had not signed off on the $6 billion – with a ‘b‘ – contract for the rights to men’s basketball) and we plan to take immediate steps to … get our fans to think we really care that such a small percentage of the individuals representing these sports actually leave school with a degree (which everyone would like to think is the reason these young, unbelievably gifted, physical specimens enroll in college for in the first place).”

The major problem is the paradigm itself. Certainly, a college degree is the ultimate goal of a college student (unless another opportunity to improve the student’s station in life becomes a possibility, e.g. leaving school early (maybe even after only one year) because he can earns millions doing what he always dreamed of doing or someone like Bill Gates who dropped out of college but still managed to carve out a good living for himself and his loved ones – even if his loved ones number in the billions – with a “b”). The cross-section of colleges throughout the nation have very different, and sometimes diametrically opposed missions. A one-size-fits-all policy is simply unjust.

Examples are Stanford, Duke and the Ivies whose mission is to educate the “classes,” as opposed to, among others, state universities whose mission is to educate the “masses.” The former do their weeding out process on the front end whereas a school like one of my former coaching stops, the University of Toledo, has the admirable policy (or did when I was there from 1987-91) of admitting any child, as long as that student had graduated from an accredited high school in the state of Ohio. There is a need and a place for both types of institutions of higher learning, as well as all those in between. To say their APR’s should be calculated the same way is to say wrestling shouldn’t have different weight divisions for its competitors. Too bad if you weigh 106, your next opponent weighs 350, and if you lose, you’re out (probably cold).

Many people feel athletes should graduate at a higher rate. After all, they contend, they’re on scholarship (the ones mainly being discussed in this blog anyway) and have no monetary problems. Plus, they get all that academic assistance, including the advantage of preferential registration, individual and group tutors, access to computer labs, etc. while the “average” students may have to work part-time jobs to make ends meet and eat and study when they can squeeze it in. This is all true, but consider that the athlete is also “working” for that scholarship and the amount and intensity of the time and work they exert in most cases far exceeds any part-time job in the community. Then, there’s additional pressure (which, granted, the athletes can turn in their favor) that student-athletes are forced to handle, such as being placed in gut-wrenching situations, dealing with the media and having to adjust to inconvenient travel schedules.

Title IX is based on the female population at the school. It would be absurd, for example, to require West Point to spend equal amounts of dollars on its male and female athletes. Instead, the law states the number of scholarship athletes has to be within five percent of the student body (it may have changed to three percent, I’ve admittedly been away from the college scene for several years). So, if a school has a student-body enrollment of 55% women, it has to have a minimum of fifty percent of its athletes be female.

That is how graduation rates should be calculated for all universities. The particular sport should be within (use an arbitrary number, say) five percent of the graduation rate of that university. To reward Stanford for graduating 85% of its athletes in a sport when the overall graduation rate on the Farm might be 95% (numbers are arbitrary and not based on research, just used to make a point) is simply, if not morally, wrong – just as its wrong to penalize a school that graduates 67% of its athletes when the school’s overall graduation rates for its student body is 55%. In a fair and just society, the rewards and penalties would be reversed.

But do you really think that, with the presidents who make up the NCAA’s governing board, that something as reasonable as that will ever happen?

The biggest problem with the NCAA was arrogance, mainly derived from power. As Lord Acton said:


“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Forgetfulness Meets New Age Incompetence

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Since January, 2013, I was issued a disabled person parking placard, due mainly to, as loyal readers of this blog can testify, the multitude of operations (now into double figures) I’ve had. Since 1987 I’ve experienced operations on cervical and lumbar disks (not so uncommon), on a thoracic disk (quite uncommon and the one that’s caused me a zillion other problems), on numerous other body parts, and have had foreign objects implanted to manage pain (one that never worked, one that makes the pain tolerable – most of the time). I admit I feel somewhat guilty when I pull into a handicapped parking space when there are many people much worse off than I am but I also admit, prior to obtaining the placard, going to restaurants, not being able to find a parking spot close to the door and driving off to find another restaurant.

As a commissioner at Michael Jordan’s basketball camp, my duties were to run one of the leagues. We would line up at the dorms for early morning, after lunch and after dinner roll calls. When the eight coaches would let me know all their team members were accounted for, I’d send them off to whatever location was designated for our league that session. For the past couple years I would then get into my car and drive to the appointed courts. Note: for the other ten or so of my years at the camp, I would walk to the sites, as the other commissioners do.

When I would arrive, I’d park in the closest handicapped spot to the courts (more times than not, the spot was still quite a ways away from where I needed to be), take out the blue placard and hang it on my rear view mirror. This ordeal would take place three times/day. Following one set of games during the second session (of two) of camp, I returned to my car and found a ticket on the windshield. Sure enough, I had forgotten to take the placard out from the glove compartment and hang it on my mirror (it blocks too much of my vision to leave it on there permanently). The fine, as it should be, is quite costly ($311).

To appeal the ticket (which, naturally, I planned to do), I followed the directions on the back of it. It gave me a website and, for “further information regarding citation appeals,” there was a phone number and the hours of operation (M-F, 8a-5p). As a card carrying member of AARP (and the segment of that population who enjoys face-to-face encounters, especially when dealing with such issues), I knew I could deal with this problem by simply calling. Possibly even going to the office. I checked my watch. It was 5:05 pm. On Friday. Camp ended on Sunday.

Damn. After I got back home, I called first thing Monday morning. I was greeted with “You’ve reached the UCSB . . . If you’d like to appeal, go to our website . . . Appeals are not handled over the phone. Appeals are only handled in writing on our website.” Welcome to the 21st century. Hey, I figured this is the way “people” now deal with “other people” and it was high time I realized that. I went online, made my (lengthy) appeal “in writing,” and shortly thereafter, received the following email:

Please provide proof of ADA placard from DMV including registration information.  You can scan the information and email it to This must  be completed in order to adjudicate the citation issued. You have till 8/15/2014  to complete this request.   Thank You 

I located the registration information provided from DMV and clicked on the email address. My wife had to scan that information (did I mention I’m not too proficient in anything tech?) in order for me to proceed. When I attached the scan, I hit “Send.”

It seemed like ten seconds had elapsed when I heard the sound that informed me I had a new email. I checked it out. It was in my “Spam” box, from “Mail Delivery System”. The subject was “Undelivered Mail Returned to Sender” and there were a few paragraphs before ending with:

----- The delivery status notification errors -----   <>: host[] said: 550     5.1.1 <>: Recipient address rejected: User unknown     in relay recipient table (in reply to RCPT TO command)

For someone with as little knowledge and confidence as I have in my computer skills, news like this is akin to alarms going off on a cruise ship and hearing “Fire on board! Man the life boats!” I’m completely frozen, not knowing what to do. Guess what I did? Of course! I re-sent it, hoping for a different outcome. You know, the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Not surprisingly, once again, I received the “Mail Delivery System” notification. I reverted to the phone, not really expecting (or even hoping) someone would answer (even though I was calling during business hours). I left a long message, explaining, as I did in my initial correspondence, that I simply forgot to place my placard, yada, yada, yada. The frustration in my voice must have been come across. No, no one called me back. But I was sent another email, informing me the email address in their previous email was mistaken. There was an “s” missing in the address.

Yup, the university had put an incorrect email address in a form email. Apparently, they didn’t want appeals and, until me, must not have received any. Talk about an effective method of collecting fines! Maybe I’m foolish for posting this before my case is heard but I’m taking that chance.

To some, it might be OK, but it only proves the old adage:

“There’s no progress without change but not all change is progress.”

Parents Say the Darndest Things

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

It’s that time of year again. For me (and hundreds of others), the first ten days of August can only mean one thing: Michael Jordan Flight School, i.e. MJ’s basketball camp (back-to-back sessions held on the campus of UCSB). This blog will return on August 13 (after some out of town business a couple days following camp). No doubt, there will be some humorous stories about the kids and their parents – like the following anecdote which I posted after returning from camp in 2007.

Another true story from the Michael Jordan Flight School, a basketball camp held each year at the University of California, Santa Barbara from August 1-10.

As a commissioner of one of the eight leagues, one of my duties is to make myself available to parents of campers (or simply fans who want to observe) to answer questions they might have, e.g. where is my child playing, what time is Michael speaking today, what time is dinner being served, etc.

I’ve been a commissioner for the past five years and I can say I’ve yet to be asked a question I couldn’t answer, or at least put the questioner in touch with the right people. Until a couple weeks ago. Or so I thought.

A parent told me his son was playing on Magic Johnson court #3 and wondered if I could direct him to it. There are 16 courts used at once when games are being played. Six of them are in the Events Center, otherwise known as the Thunderdome. Two are in the Recreation Center, another two are in Robertson Gymnasium, another two are in a building known as the MAC while the remaining four are outdoor courts designated as the Michael Jordan courts 1,2,3 and 4.

When I mentioned this to the camper’s father, he told me his son had called and was certain the youngster said he’d be playing on Magic Johnson Court 3. I asked if he knew the name of his son’s team or that of his coach (two items the coaches explain to the members of their team on the first day as being vitally important to know). He knew neither but was certain of the game’s location. I emphasized there was no such court. Could he try and remember the exact conversation with his son as he’d never have been given that information.

The father had a look of deep concentration, then said to me he specifically recalled his son saying he’d be playing on the MJ #3 outdoor court. I didn’t say a word, just let this information sink in and when it inevitably did, he looked at me sheepishly and said, “You probably can tell I’m a big Lakers fan.”

There’s no better quote for this occasion than Elbert Hubbard’s:

“Everyone is a damn fool for five minutes a day. Wisdom consists of not exceeding that.”

Coaching Salaries Should Never Be Market Driven

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

The following is the first entry on my new computer. A combination of my age and my lack of interest in anything technological severely hinder what I can do on a computer. I’m from a generation which values verbal and written communication more than something from a computer. Since my skills are speaking and writing, I have a tough time doing anything but. Until technology floats my boat like speaking and writing do, blogging will have to be what bridges the generation gap for me. 

What I find odd, especially in this economy, are the salaries paid to employees that are based on “market value.” As an example, let’s look at college basketball coaches. John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino and other highly successful coaches are paid quite handsomely (that’s one way to put it). All have something in common – success at the highest levels. In addition, it’s been proven that each of those coaches accounts for more than what he’s paid. Because these guys are raking in big money for their respective universities, directors of athletics, presidents and their boards feel compelled to “put together as attractive a package” as they can to bring to their university a coach who will achieve the kind of success the highest paid coaches do. To me, it seems as though these “leaders” are putting the cart before the horse.

An AD I once knew who had a head basketball coaching position open confided in me that he intended to pay the new coach around $400,000. That was double what the previous coach (who had retired) had made. “What?!?” was my incredulous reply. “Why?” He told me coaching salaries were “market driven.”

“Look, the guys you’re talking to are assistants who, at the most, are making $125,000″ (the list had already been pared to four). “Offer them $175,000.” I tried to reason, “That’s a $50,000 raise, the opportunity to be a head coach, what nearly every assistant wants, and your job is one of the best in the conference. Ask people on the street what they’d do for a $50,000 raise.”

“Oh, if we offered that, we’d never get any of these guys,” was his retort.

So what? Not one of them has ever called a time out yet!” It was around that time I realized why athletics administration had never appealed to me. It was time to drop a bombshell on him. “If you did your homework, really got out there and thoroughly investigated – by leaning on friends and associates you trust, not taking the easy way out by paying some head hunting firm $50-60,000 – and told them you were offering $175,000, I’d be willing to guarantee you that you’d wind up with just as good a coach as you would for $400,000.

“As far as spending the money you want, you load his contract with incentives – winning, naturally, but also for paid attendance, graduation rates, conference championships and whatever else is important to the university. That is what’s fair. Pay for performance, not market value. He won’t work any less hard; in fact, he’ll probably work harder because he needs to prove himself. If you think a bigger school is going to come along and snatch him up when he wins, chances are that if the school is big enough, you won’t be able to come close to their price anyway.”

Never did I think my advice would be taken seriously (it wasn’t) but, for the life of me – maybe because of my math background – I can’t understand why college leaders are blind to an obvious statistic. At the end of the season, when conference records are posted, there will be exactly as many wins as losses. In other words, some coach’s team will finish last, another next-to-last, etc. Yet, all of them are being paid at market rate. Why? Who the hell set up such an absurd salary structure?

Pay for performance. That’s how the country began. If you were good, you made it; if you weren’t, you didn’t. Now, once your coach produces, then pay him. Of course, at the time of your search, if there’s someone out there you really want, e.g. like Louisville did with Pitino, hey, do what needs to be done. By the way, Rick had previously called times out and he had done well with that aspect of the game, as well as all others. But, for the school that posts a job and waits for applications, more legwork should be done, less salary and more incentives offered.

I recall a marketing director at one of my stops, whenever a marketing idea was proposed, the staff would hear the identical response. “That’s a good idea but it is labor intensive.” If you should ever be on the receiving end of such a reply, remember this:

“Labor intensive is just another term for . . . WORK.”