The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

June 1, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Today’s sports aren’t the way they once were

MORGANTOWN — For what should be a down time in sports in a college town such as this, we had something of a busy week.

The major news came with the revelation that the one-time villain Rich Rodriguez is getting a contract extension in Arizona that includes an interesting buyout clause should he opt to leave prematurely, the clause doubling its payout should he return to West Virginia University … or, as it was phrased in the first draft of the deal that still must be approved and signed, “the University of West Virginia.”

That news was followed closely by revelations out of the Big 12 that the league’s revenue for the past year was $221 million – or about one-ninth the value of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise – and WVU’s take out of that is almost $14 million.

Now you may be scratching your head why, in a 10-team league WVU’s take isn’t one-tenth, but that is easily explained as being the price you pay for being the new kid on the block. WVU and TCU, the two teams which joined the league a couple of years ago, just own only a 67-percent share compared to the eight other Big 12 schools.

Texas and Oklahoma, for example, get $23 million to WVU and TCU’s $14-million, which is blatantly unfair but what was agreed upon. In fact, it doesn’t even up next year, with WVU and TCU's take growing only to 85 percent of a full share before they finally can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their peers.

And third came news early Saturday morning that former WVU running back Shawne Alston’s class action suit – and others — against the NCAA’s licensing arm and game manufacturers that charged they had used his – and other college players’ - likenesses without permission – were settled for a healthy $40 million.

The suits, including the highly publicized one brought under the name of former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, remain active against the NCAA itself, which could also bring a windfall of cash. Right now the settlement could bring as much as $4,000 to as many as 100,000 current and former athletes who appeared in EA Sports basketball and football video games since 2003.

What is troubling about all this news is that, in reality, it belongs not on the sports pages of our newspapers and not on ESPN, but instead on the financial pages and Bloomberg television … and that is what has happened to sports in this modern era.

We have, in truth, completely lost our focus as fans as to what sports is supposed to be, our values are scrambled and to the point that the financial aspect of the games has overtaken the fanatical aspect of the game.

Once headlines were about pay dirt, not pay day.

Once a player’s coach or manager was more important to him than his agent.

Just recently there was a story written that one of those Internet sites that offer slide shows of starlets and funny pictures of cats had passed The Times in views.

The New York Times, that is.

Can that really be?

Of course it can because whereas our diversions once were found on the sports pages, the sports pages don’t offer the diversion they once did.

They report on salaries, lawsuits and contracts.

When I was growing up every kid in America knew Babe Ruth had hit 714 home runs in his career.

Now they worry they can’t tell you who the active lifetime home run hitter is in major league baseball.

It really is different. You see WVU is raking in more money than they ever dreamed they’d get through their conference affiliation, but did ticket or concession prices go down? Football and basketball coaches make $2 million to $6 million a year while college kids have to sue to get an extra $4,000 or so each from companies and the NCAA which are raking in millions using their images in games.

Everything is out of whack. Take Rodriguez’s contract, which calls for him to pay double if he leaves for WVU than he would in leaving for any other school. There are people seemingly up in arms about this, saying that is punitive damages and may not stand up in court.

Once again, it’s the lawyers and the agents running the show. Do you hear anyone complaining that a scholarship is a contract of one year’s duration, but that at the end of the year the kid isn’t free to transfer, that he must get a release and the school can limit where he can transfer.

That’s OK with a kid, but it’s punitive to have a form of that in Rodriguez’s contract.

We’ve lost all sight of who the games are for and what they are for, which is entertainment and recreation.

We keep score with bank balances and television ratings today, instead of on the field, and that’s why the fun is oozing out of our games, because the outcome is about income.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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