The Fix Is In?

When I was in college I had a roommate who loved to bet on sports. He would bet on everything from professional sports to WAC basketball games without ever seeing the teams play. Every day during baseball season that year, I would get up and check the paper for the betting lines for that day. I would give him three games I was confident in. He would make the call and place his bets.

It wasn’t small money either. No $50 bets. Mostly $500-$1,000 bets. How does $2,500 on the second half of a Gonzaga and St. Mary’s game sound?

There really isn’t anything that compares to the rush you get when betting on games. It wasn’t my money that was on the line, but I still got every bit of enjoyment knowing that there was something on the line that my friend did.

Betting on sports is fun. Plain and simple.

Brian Tuohy from TheFixIsIn.Net estimates that anywhere from $80-$340 billion is gambled on sports each year. Only $3 billion is done in Las Vegas. That’s a lot of money floating around and the FBI and the leagues are aware of it.

This lends itself to the question, do the respective leagues fix their own games? Brian Tuohy seems to believe so.

“I think the leagues have the means and the motives,” said Tuohy. Tuohy has spent years researching the belief that major sporting leagues manipulate their own games in order to boost viewers interest in the sport. More people watching equals more money.

The last time a professional game was found to be fixed was in 1954 by Jack Molinas. Molinas was a professional basketball player for the Fort Wayne Pistons and played in only 29 games before being banned for activities related to game-fixing. There was also the famous “Black Sox” scandal in 1919 in which Chicago White Sox players threw the world series.

In 1964, the FBI passed the sports bribery act to help monitor and eliminate game fixing by players. Much of it was done in order to monitor organized crime’s influence in the professional sports world. Since the act was put into place in 1964, no one has ever been arrested. They must be doing their job, right?

“The media doesn’t care. Bookies don’t care. The leagues aren’t looking for it. And the FBI quit,” said Tuohy.

The FBI really doesn’t look for it anymore because informants are hard to find according to Tuohy.

Do I believe that leagues have the ability and motives to fix their own games? Sure.

Do I believe that they do? Probably.

Do I care? No.

Professional sports are entertainment, not World War III settled by the outcome of a game played at Soldier Field on a Sunday afternoon. Separating emotion from sport is a thing that many people in society struggle to do. People tend to place great significance on the performance of their favorite team.

Most sports fans would be outraged to find that a league may take special measures to ensure the outcome of a specific event.

I don’t.

I understand that sports are entertainment. I compare them to movies. Movies are an entertainment that consumers pay to see, just as in sports. There’s a story with a hero and a villain fighting for the outcome they desire. Just as in sports. There’s a finality in the story. Just as in sports. There are plenty of movies I pay to see and walk a way less than thrilled with the movie. Just as in sports.

Movie writers are trying to write the best story possible. They are trying to give the viewer the best possible experience they can have. Isn’t that what every league aims to do? To give the best possible experience to their collective audiences as a whole.

Professional sports are a business. If there wasn’t any parody, would anyone be that interested in what was going on? Leagues understand that they are in the business of making money. If that means that they compromise the purity of competition to ensure that business thrives, then they are probably doing what any good business owner would do. Ensure that there is a maintained interest in the product over a sustained period of time.

I’m not advocating for the fixing of games, but I would understand if it were done. Money is in the driver seat in many aspects of life and professional sports is no different. So is the fix in? Probably.

 

 

 

 

“He Turned a Stinky Sandwich Into An Ice Cream Cone”

It’s hard to find anyone who has become more successful talking about something that they were mediocre at as Trent Dilfer. If you haven’t seen Dilfer analyzing and often criticizing NFL quarterbacks then you must have avoided ESPN programming for the last two years. Dilfer’s rise to national notoriety has largely come on his ability to critique quarterback play for ESPN on shows such as NFL Live, Sportscenter, and Monday Night Football. It hasn’t stopped for Dilfer there though. He currently runs the famous “Elite 11” high school quarterback camp started by Bob Johnson. He’s even created his own quarterback rating system called Total QBR. “The Total Quarterback Rating is a statistical measure that incorporates the contexts and details of those throws and what they mean for wins. It’s built from the team level down to the quarterback, where we understand first what each play means to the team, then give credit to the quarterback for what happened on that play based on what he contributed.” Since 2008, has there been a bigger rising star?

At first glance, Dilfer had an accomplished career as a quarterback. He was the starting quarterback for two-and-a-half years at Fresno State. He led the nation his junior season in pass efficiency and won the Sammy Baugh Trophy for the top collegiate passer. He held the NCAA record for most pass attempts with out an interception (271) for 15 years. After declaring early for the draft, he was selected sixth overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994. He spent 13 years in the league before retiring in 2007 with a Pro Bowl selection in 1997 and a Super Bowl winning quarterback in 2000. Dilfer is able to take his seat at the elusive Super Bowl winning quarterback table. He has more Super Bowls then Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Fran Tarkenton, and Dan Marino combined. Not bad for a quarterback who threw more interceptions than touchdowns in his career.

When looking more closely at Dilfer’s career, you see statistics that don’t match credentials. In Dilfer’s Pro Bowl year, he threw for 2,555 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  The 21 touchdowns were a career high. His Super Bowl winning season with the Baltimore Ravens began with him on the bench. Tony Banks led the Ravens to a 5-1 start before the team hit a mid-season swoon. Difler would start the final 8 games in which the Ravens went 7-1. Dilfer finished the year with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His Super Bowl performance, 12 completions for 153 yards and a touchdown. This is why most people don’t know who started for at quarterback for the Ravens that year. I don’t know when the term “game manager” was born, but that game may have been it.

Difler’s final career numbers: 1,759-3,172, 113 TDs/ 129 INTs, and 20,518 yards. His final quarterback rating: 70.2. David Carr’s current career quarterback rating: 74.9. Complete mediocrity.

The ability to be a successful commentator seems to have little, if any, correlation to how good you actually were. For every Steve Young and Dan Mariano working in the media, there are dozens of the Jesse Palmers filing your TV screens. The saturation and fans need for “in-depth” analysis has created a platform for former players to build a second career. As long as you sniffed the NFL and don’t sound like Rocky Balboa when in-front of a camera, there’s probably a job for you.  Whether this is a reflection of the audience’s standards or of the employer, I’m not sure anyone knows.But the next time you hear Trent Dilfer criticizing Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler or Tony Romo for a poor game, just remember this number: 70.2.

“He turned a stinky sandwich into an ice cream cone” has become the catch phrase of Trent Difler. I’m not quite sure any person has had a catch phrase that relates so well to themselves.

 

 

Title IX 40 Years Later

When I was younger, like most boys, I played little league baseball. I was on a team with two of my best friends for about four years. Every year, the league had an all-star game, and every year the team sent three players. For the four years I played with my friends, the three of us went every time. At that age, you don’t have to be the best baseball player on your team, you just have to be more athletic than everyone else. I couldn’t hit my way out of a wet paper bag for years, but I was faster than everyone else. So, I was an all-star. My other friend was similar to me; just one of the more athletic players on the team. The final friend was actually the best player on the team. The best hitter, fielder, and pitcher. Her name was Kristin Radcliffe. Kristin is one of the best athletes I’ve ever met. She played little league baseball, travel basketball, and street hockey with the boys. Kristin went on to play soccer at Indiana University on a scholarship before retiring due to injury.  Before 1972, the Kristin Radcliffes of the world would have been hard to find. However, in 1972 President Nixon signed Title IX into law.

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

No where in the requirements of the law does Title IX reference athletics, but one could argue that Title IX has had more of an impact on athletics than any other instance where the law is applicable. Title IX has drastically improved the quantity and quality of women’s athletics.

Before Title IX was implemented, only 300,00o girls participated in high school athletics, while 3.6 million boys participated. Today, the number of male and females participating in high school sports is nearly identical. This is a direct result of Title IX and the opportunities it has created for women.

The exposure of women in sports has also drastically improved as well. For a long time, tennis was the one of the only sports where female athletes were able to gain notoriety. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were the most famous female athletes of the day. Today, with the addition of vastly greater sports coverage, female athletes are well known in many sports. Hope Solo and Alex Morgan in women’s soccer. Candice Parker and Brittney Griner in women’s basketball. Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam in golf. Danica Patrick in NASCAR. Jennie Finch in Softball. The list goes on and on.

While Title IX has played a large role in equaling the playing field for women, it has not been without conflict or limitations. While Title IX has created many opportunities for young women, it has lead to cuts in male sports. Collegiate sports such as wrestling have been hit hard with the lack of funding created by Title IX. The three-prong test used for compliance with Title IX is often cited as the reason for these cuts. According to a 2008 study done by Women in Sport, “Wrestling historically was the most frequently dropped sport, but other men’s sports later overtook the lead, such that according to the NCAA, the most-dropped men’s sports between 1987 and 2002 were as follows: Cross country (183), indoor track (180), golf (178), tennis (171), rowing (132), outdoor track (126), swimming (125) and wrestling (121).”

Title IX has also struggled to provide equal opportunity for women working in sports. Coaches are predominately still males in females sports. Women have also struggled to be seen anywhere other than sidelines when regarding media coverage of sports. For every Dorris Burke, there are dozens of Jen Browns and Erin Andrews.

“Women have never been expected to do play-by-play until this generation,” says Allison Moran. Moran has been covering sports for over 20 years. She is a dedicated sports reporter, but many times is the only women among the throng male reporters.

Women have also fought the stereotype of “just a pretty face” for the explanation of their credentials when covering sports. Do a Google search for “women sports reporters”. The search brings up multiple lists of “hottest sports reporters”. In a world dominated by men, women are still fighting for their place.

While Title IX has been a blessing for women in athletics, it has not solved every problem. The ground gained by women in the last 40 years is indisputable, but it seems as though there is still a long way to go.

Over Commercialization of Sports

ImageThe NFL is a $9 billion a year industry. The MLB is a $7 bililion a year industry. The NBA is a $4 billion a year industry. Outside of ticket, merchandise, concession sales and TV contracts,  where does the money come from?

You don’t have to look very far to find the answer. Turn on sporting event and scan the arena.  If you don’t see anything yet, just wait for a commercial. The over commercialization of sports is everywhere. The LCD banners in NFL stadiums change ads constantly. The backdrop in MLB will tell you how great Panda Express is in San Francisco. Even the top of the backboard in the NBA will give you something.

An average NFL fan will spend 3 hours and 15 minutes watching a game. There are four, 15 minute quarters. Conservatively, you can add 30 minutes for regular stoppage time during the game. That equates to an hour and half of actual game action. The viewer is taking in an hour and 45 minutes of commercials; viewing more of them than actual game.

The NBA is likely to add advertisements to their jerseys starting in the 2013-2014 season. The NBA estimates that this will add $100 million to their revenue sharing program. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Eric Smallwood of Front Row Marketing Services estimates that a 2.5 inch patch will cost between $4 million and $4.5 million for an annual contract. Larger markets could charge as high as $7 million.

The leagues aren’t the only ones capitalizing on the commercialization of sports. Payton Manning has been a long-time spokesman for DirecTV, Sony, and now Buick. Robert Griffin III was appearing in commercials for Subway, Addidas, and Gatorade before ever taking a snap in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers indorses State Farm Insurance. Yes, an insurance company.

Not a conventional sports fan? How about NASCAR. A primary sponsor for NASCAR will spend between $10-$20 million to have their logo on the hood of one car. Can’t afford that? Well you can always buy a section of the rear quarter panel for $500,000-$2 million. A NASCAR car is a $30 million moving billboard that consumers get to see once a week.

If you don’t own a Visa credit card, you didn’t watch any of the 2012 London Olympics.

“I think of it as over exploited,” says David Tokar. Tokar, 26, works in financial services and has a background as an athlete.” At the end of the day it’s a business and no business can be around unless they profit.”

Call it over commercialization or over exploited. Call it whatever you want to call it. It seems as though everything is for sale in professional sports as long as you can pay for it.