Fixing Up Society’s Toy Department: Two Modest Proposals

Is it a one-way journey, or will the train some day return to the station? Is this one of those times when I must hope for the wisdom to know the difference between things that can and cannot be changed?

No, I’m not thinking of weighty matters, like the way so much of the world seems to be sliding into chaos and towards perdition. I’m not musing on the sorry state of American politics, not pondering how the country has allowed itself to get into the mess it’s in.

That’s for another time, and for another forum. I’m thinking about fun and games, about the Toy Department of society. I’m thinking about college sports and Olympic sports. I see some things about them that I don’t particularly like, and that I wish I could fix. They probably can’t be fixed, and that’s too bad. But I don’t have to like them, and I were king I’d try something different.

Make College Sports an Educational, College Experience First: Get the Players from High Schools, not from Semi-Pro Leagues

Let’s take college sports first. Hockey season is ended, and the annual exodus of still-eligible players is well underway.  Last year, a total of 31 players left school early to play at some level of professional hockey. It will likely be similar in 2016.

Good luck to them all.  I hope they do well, although I think most of them are making a mistake. They’re not all Jack Eichel or Chris Kreider.

I know that this is reality. But for many of these exceptionally talented young adults, reality will bite.

It’s the same in the other big-money sports. In college football, some 125 underclassmen have declared their intentions to be drafted by the National Football League. And don’t even talk to me about college basketball and the “one-and-done” Wildcats of Kentucky. Players who are good enough, or who have been persuaded that they’re good enough, leave their schools, teams, and fans behind.

College scholarship athletes enter school with a five-year time span in which they may play four years of varsity sports. If they have a serious injury, they may get a “medical red-shirt” ruling and have an additional year.

Freshmen are eligible to play immediately. In football, very few “true freshmen” actually do play. Instead, they work out and bulk up for a year while learning “the system.”

At the end of their senior year, they might get to come back for a fifth year if they’re good enough. That’s if the coach wants or needs them, and if they’re not so good that the NFL doesn’t lure them away. And nowadays, a fifth-year player can also go to a different school and play a single season if he has only played three years at his first school.

Five years to play four is too long.  Make it four years to play three.

I suggest that if a scholarship player leaves after his first or second year of varsity participation, the school owes him nothing. If he goes pro after his third year of varsity participation, great. The school must allow him to come back and finish his degree.

If he’s not good enough to play professionally or get a pro tryout, but he’s had three years of college sport, that’s enough.  He’s there for an education – right? So give some other student-athlete a chance to show what he can do on the field of play.

Freshman eligibility for varsity play returned in the 1970s. We’re not going to go back to the days of freshman teams and jayvee teams. So let’s live with it. But let’s adapt to it in this way.

And while we’re at it – an even more importantly — let’s go back to bringing in college-age kids to play in college. We can do that. The four-years-to-play-three eligibility clock should start 12 months after a player’s high school graduation. Allow for one year of post-graduate preparation only.

In hockey, especially, we’re bringing in players who have played one to three years of junior hockey after high school. The best ones are almost fully baked as college freshmen. They’ve gone through a cycle of development and maturation that they should go through in college. They won’t need four years of college competition to get ready for the next level.  So most of them leave early.

Sure, with what I propose the college coaches would have to do more teaching.  They’d have to evaluate and make scholarship decisions more on potential than on accomplishment. So what? That’s their job.  There would be more busts, but more pleasant surprises too. “Walk-ons” and late bloomers would stand a better chance of making a team. And overall, more young people would have a chance to earn a college education with their athletic talent.

hc-ncaa-hockey-championship-quinnipiac-vs-north-dakota-20160409

North Dakota defeated Quinnipiac 5-1 in Tampa to win the NCAA Championship (Hartford Courant photo)

That was a helluva game, that NCAA hockey final, wasn’t it?  It’ll only be a couple of years until a lot of those who played in it can join AARP.

Champion North Dakota is a “young” team with 11 freshmen. Four of those freshmen are either 21 or 22.  Quinnipiac has fifteen players older than 21; four players who are 23; three who are 24; and one who is 25. In contrast, Boston College, Quinnipiac’s NCAA semifinal opponent, had just four players older than 21.

Dakota-Quinnipiac is rather like Cornell-Denver in the days of Ned Harkness and Murray Armstrong.  Ned’s 1970 tri-captain Dick Bertrand was 28 when he graduated. But at least they didn’t allow him to play in the NCAA tournament that year.

Yes, that was a great game in Tampa. The two best teams got to the mountain top, and the best one won. The teams played by the rules. However, the rules of eligibility need a rewrite. Maybe they’re too far along, too embedded and encrusted, to be changed.  But they should.

College hockey is the best of all sports, as far as I’m concerned. But I’d rather watch teams that develop and blossom, rather than plug-and-play.

Change the Olympic Business Model: No More Hosting by Cities. Make the Whole Country the Host.

This one is easier. The recent Boston flirtation with the Summer Olympics is all you need for an example of why a “host city” is no longer the right venue for the Olympic Games.

I am fond of the Olympics, despite their obvious faults and hypocrisies. I usually look forward to them. But I was glad that the Boston bid didn’t succeed. The games are too big and too expensive for a single city.  Nor is there any need to bring all the teams and athletes together, in one place, for the duration of the competition.

Why the International Olympic Committee hasn’t gotten that message, I just can’t understand. They should negotiate with entire countries, rather than with individual cities, to host the games. Bring everybody in for opening and closing ceremonies so as to preserve the pageantry. But hold each of the events in an existing facility, anywhere in the host country, that is best suited for said events.

Nobody does marathons better than the BAA. Hold the Olympic Marathon here. Yachting and rowing? Here too, in Marblehead and on the Charles.  Swimming? Harvard would be a good place, but so would many others around the country.

Gymnastics can go just about anywhere. So can track and field. And somewhere in America, there’s got to be a velodrome for cycling.

Give individual cities and states a chance to bid on a limited number of events, or on just one. They can do a good job at “their thing” when the spotlight is on them, and they won’t go broke. And wherever the athletes are, the TV cameras will be there too.

College sports for college-age kids.  Countries, not cities, for the Olympic Games. That’s all I have to say about that.

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