1) Roland Beech, of the great NBA website, 82games.com, tries to zero in on why there’s such a strong home court advantage in the NBA. The data suggest that officiating bias is not one of the reasons for the home team advantage. Plenty of charts and tables to chew on.
2) Robert Lipsyte, on ESPN.com’s page 2, has a fascinating article about high school football, based on his novel Raiders’ Night, on the same subject. Lipsyte quotes Michael Miletic, one of the key consultants for Lipsyte’s book:
“We're seeing an escalation of what is pure and simple child exploitation…Coaches and school administrators are doing it for personal – sometimes financial – gain and parents are doing it for emotional gain. In some cases it becomes child abuse….
"It's very seductive when adults promise a kid fame, power, glory. But what they are really doing is derailing and skewing his development, taking away his chance of having healthy relationships, moral values, of a grounded control of his own life."
"….They see what's going on. How can they trust authority figures? What's interesting is in the past 10 years or so, the moral authority of coaches has eroded and parents are taking over, using the coaches as vehicles for their kids' advancement, threatening their jobs if they don't win. The parents are putting pressure on the coaches as well as the kids. No wonder there's steroids and abusive behavior."
Lipsyte provides fresh perspective here by arguing that all of our cultural laments about “kids today” assume that bad behavior merely takes place in a vacuum. But, the context here is that there is more and more money and influence at stake in high school sports.
Lipsyte notes that:
“All this is happening right now because high school sports is the next gusher in the jock entertainment complex. The ground is already rumbling. It took H.G. Bissinger's classic, "Friday Night Lights," 14 years to make it from the page to the big screen, but now it's a network TV show as well. Its time has come. Hoover High of Birmingham, Ala., arguably the best prep team in the country, has its ownMTV show, "Two-A-Days." Last year, an ESPN reality show, "Bound for Glory," featured the football team of Montour High in McKees Rocks, Pa., trying to return to its state championship days with Dick Butkus as coach, Reebok uniforms and a new $40,000 scoreboard.
Meanwhile, ESPN and Fox Sports will be televising 21 high school football and basketball games nationally. Nationally. Sports Illustrated has joined USA Today in publishing high school rankings (they already proliferate online) and stories of high school and college scouts at Pee Wee games are no longer strange but true.”
This reminds me, incidentally, of a note in Rick Reilly’s column in the latest Sports Illustrated. In it, he calls out various “Lard brained ferret[s]” for ruining sports (and the world more generally). Among those he attacks: Dan Hinkle, commissioner of a youth football league in Fairfax, Va. Hinkle’s 12-year old son, Scott, is in the league, and his coach decided one game to switch him from offense to defense. The result: the elder Hinkle fired his son’s coach. Why? According to a pre-season email from Hinkle to the coach, James Owens: “Scott does not sit out on defense, ever…He goes in, and stays in. That includes all practices, scrimmages and games. This entire league exists so he can play defense…”
<>3) Also, from Page Two, Tim Keown, on the incredible
contracts being doled out to baseball players this week. </>
Keown puts the money issue in proper perspective:
“Most of the money stuff in sports shouldn't bother anyone. There's nothing worse than hearing some doddering old crank rail on about how much money some pissant utility infielder makes when Ted Williams couldn't crack a hundred grand. It's tiresome, and it's pointless and it's not your money anyway.”
But, Keown is fairly dazzled by who’s getting big contracts. And, I share his amazement at the perhaps the silliest contract of all – Juan Pierre’s:
“Chew on that for a minute, because it might be the most amazing one: $9 million a year for a singles-hitting leadoff man with a good glove, a poor arm and sporadic knowledge ofthe strike zone. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said Pierre is a guy "with great qualities as a human being." Sounds like Gandhi, and he couldn't drive the ball into the gaps, either.
If Pierre loses a step and a half at some point over the next five years, he'll become a late-model Omar Moreno. In more modern terms, the Dodgers will be paying $9 million for an outfield version of Neifi Perez, only without the glitzy power numbers.”
Keown also recognizes the larger meaning of all these big contracts:
“So the next time you hear your team's management complain about the public's refusal to grant tax money for a new stadium, remember this week. The next time your owner complains about his finances and preaches prudence and budget restraint, think about this week.
Oh, I know what you're thinking – the teams spending the most money are the teams in the biggest markets with the biggest revenues. Don't be fooled, though. If there's $45 million out there for Juan Pierre – and God bless him for getting it – and $51.1 million for the right to pay Matsuzaka even more money, they're all making money. Some more than others, but there's more than enough for all of them.”