Caught in the college basketball net

Another college hoops season has begun, bringing joy to millions of fans (myself included).

But there’s a seamy underbelly to sport, and the kids that play are merely pawns in a high stakes game that reaps billions for the NCAA. Yes, they get a scholarship, but that’s chump change compared to the money in play. Check out this New York Times article from a few months ago to read about one kid’s sad saga.

Brian Bowen Jr.  (Photo: Gregory Payan/Associated Press) 

A few excerpts below highlight the hypocrisy… bold emphasis is mine:

Playing in a gilded arena — the KFC Yum! Center — with luxury boxes and bars in the concourses that serve bourbon and other hard liquors, Louisville basketball has generated more than $45 million in annual revenue in recent seasons.

According to the government’s case, $100,000 is what it took to lure Bowen to Louisville and its Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino. Only $19,500 was actually paid to anyone — an amount equal to one-quarter of 1 percent of Pitino’s annual salary, $7.8 million.

Brian Bowen Jr. is not a defendant; he appears to have been a bystander.

After Louisville said he would not be allowed to play there, he transferred to the University of South Carolina — only to be told later by the N.C.A.A. that he could not play there, either. In that organization’s view, he seems to be irredeemably tainted. At 19 years old, he was a hoops pariah.

In court documents, prosecutors quoted the N.C.A.A. rule book extensively, and in doing so, called attention to stated principles that sounded antiquated, if not outright absurd. “Among the N.C.A.A.’s core principles for the conduct of intercollegiate athletics is a directive that ‘student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport,’” the criminal complaint says, and that “‘student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.’”

It was a curious claim, given that the N.C.A.A. — the Indianapolis-based nonprofit that governs college sports — is not just an enormous commercial enterprise but arguably an exploitive one. In the fiscal year that ended in 2017, the organization surpassed $1 billion in revenue for the first time. A majority of its income, $761 million, came from television rights to the season-ending basketball tournament popularly known as March Madness, an annual payment that increased to $869 million in 2018. The contract with CBS and Turner Sports stretches to 2032 and has an overall value of almost $19.6 billion.

That money, though, is just a fraction of what college athletes generate in football and men’s basketball. (The major college football programs essentially seceded from the N.C.A.A. when they formed the highly lucrative Bowl Championship Series in 1998, but their players still compete under the N.C.A.A.’s amateurism rubric.) Their labor is responsible for revenue that flows directly to their universities from a range of sources, including ticket sales, donations from wealthy boosters, in‑stadium advertising, conference broadcast rights and so-called shoe deals in which Nike, Adidas and Under Armour pay for the right to outfit teams — thereby turning ostensibly amateur athletes into human billboards.

Until the kids that are the “product” peddled by the NCAA get a bigger slice of the pie, they are playing a losing game.

 

 

 

Corny jokes and cornfields

Roy Clark is a-grinnin’ in heaven.

Seems like nearly everyone had a love/hate relationship with Hee Haw, the cornpone version of Laugh-In. As a New Jersey native transplanted to Arkansas in the summer of ’72, I could certainly understand both parts of the equation (i.e. “ha-ha, what rubes!” and “ha-ha, that’s my life!”). It was super-hick instead of super-chic, yet somehow it worked, and lasted a quarter of a century.

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Roy’s instrumental mastery (his “a-pickin'”) was often overshadowed by the part he played on Hee Haw (“a-grinnin'”). But the man had major skills. And because Hee Haw only taped for three-week stretches twice a year, he could still tour. Good work if you can get it. Plus, the show gave a lot of country artists their first national exposure, something Roy was proud of:

With all of its twists and turns, the program gave me an incredible education in the business of show business—the importance of ratings, questionable executive decisions, syndication, money, problematic artistic decisions, demographics, image, coincidence and luck. But first and foremost, I am most proud of how Hee Haw did its part to help pave the way for country music to burst from its regional roots to remarkable worldwide popularity.  (Source: this Huffington Post article written by Roy in 2015)

Tony Orlando, Johnny Cash and Roy Clark – quite a trio.

The show itself, and Roy and Buck, served as both punching bag and punchline for many critics over the years. But as usual, Roy got it… and got the last laugh.

You know, like my dad told me, listening to different types of music and the way that people live, he said, don’t put it down until your heart hears it.

Now, you’ll hear it with your ears, but don’t write off, say I don’t like that. Listen. Listen for a while. There’ll be something in there that will appeal to you. And it – it’s made me, you know, a successful life that I wouldn’t change one note. (Source: Roy Clark’s NPR interview with Scott Simon in 2016 – full audio is below)

 

 

My life is a comic strip

Now that our oldest son is a college freshman, this Pearls Before Swine strip from Sunday perfectly sums up our relationship:

And since we’re already talking about slang, how about some Beach Slang:

 

Monday morning musings

If you aren’t signed up to receive the Gaping Void blog posts via email, you should do so posthaste. You’ll get a nice visual doodle with some words of wisdom in your inbox nearly every day. Little stuff that can make a big difference. Speaking of which, here’s a great Gaping Void post from this summer:

As you get older, it’s not the stuff on your highlight reel that makes you happy, but the normal stuff you do every day.

That first cup of tea in the morning. The walk after dinner with your spouse. Lunch in the office canteen with Bob from Engineering. That new yoga class.

Sure, the photos from your vacation in Paris, or the time you got a standing ovation at the conference may stand out, but those are only temporary highs.

So if you need to start improving my your life, instead of coming up with grand schemes, you might start paying more attention the little stuff.

Not to mention, trying to focus your ambition on the stuff that really matters: Being useful. Being loved. Staying healthy.

It may not sound too exciting, but over time it works far better than trying to live out a rock and roll fantasy to nowhere.

Just an observation.

May all your favorite bands stay together

The first time I saw the band Dawes was in 2006. They were called Simon Dawes back then, touring behind their debut album, and they played a tiny club in a rundown part of the city, opening up for Band of Horses, with about 50 people in the audience.

The next time I saw Dawes (they dropped the Simon due to personnel changes*) was in the summer of 2012. They were supposed to play the Taft Theater in downtown Cincinnati, but ticket sales were so poor that they moved the gig to the downstairs “ballroom” – which is basically like an oversized version of your high school friend’s basement rec room. The audience tally was roughly 200.

A year later, in June of 2013, I saw Dawes at the Southgate House Revival, which holds 600, and they probably drew 500.

Last night, Dawes played the 2,500-seat Taft Theater… for real this time, they didn’t move the show to the basement ballroom. The gig was part of their “An Evening with Dawes” tour, so there was no opening act, and they played two long (and killer) sets with a brief intermission. It wasn’t sold out, but it was pretty darn close, with nearly 2,000 fans singing along to their songs (which typically sound better in concert than on the albums).

There are artists who truly are an “overnight success,” but more often than not, there are long years of hard work involved, playing tiny clubs, cramming into a Ford Econoline to get to the next sparsely attended gig, sleeping on friend’s couches or at motels that have a number in their name (Motel 6 or Super 8… the choice is yours). Giving it your all, night after night, even when you’re sick or tired. Building up a fan base one show at a time.

I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be
I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together

If you put in the work, when your time comes, success will be that much sweeter.

Now it seems like the unravelling
Has started too soon
Now I’m sleeping in hallways
And I’m drinking perfume
And I’m speaking to mirrors
And I’m howling at moons
While the worse and the
Worse that it gets

Oh you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it’s staring right back

When my time comes
Oh oh oh oh
When my time comes
Oh oh oh oh

 

*Guitarist/songwriter Blake Mills, who left the band in 2006, is now an acclaimed producer… and he produced Dawes’ 2016 album.

Remember, remember, the 9th of November

Yes, I know Guy Fawkes Day is November 5th, commemorating the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. There’s even a nursery rhyme about it:

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King!

But November 9th, 1968 is the day that blew our family to smithereens. It’s the day my mom passed away. It’s been half a century… and nearly all of my lifetime. I was 3 years old. My siblings were 6, 5 and 2.

My mom was 33. My dad was 37. He was never the same. Nothing was ever the same.  

I’d like to light a match and blow up leukemia. Instead I’ll light a candle and pray for a cure.

Well, I’ve cried me a river, I’ve cried me a lake
I’ve cried till the past nearly drowned me
Tears for sad consequences
Tears for mistakes
But never these tears that surround me

Alone in this place with a lifetime to trace
And a heartbeat that tells me it’s so
I’ve got these tears from a long time ago
These are tears from a long time ago
And I need to cry 30 years or so
These are tears from a long time ago
These are tears from a long time ago
I’ve got these tears from a long time ago

Knocking out sticker shock

Yesterday The Man was trying to beat me up and keep me down, but I bobbed and weaved and counterpunched my way to a couple of wins.

First to feel my frugal fists of fury was Big Pharma. My son needs acne medication, and if we got it through my employer’s health care plan, with my prescription “discount” card, the price tag was a whopping $532… for a single month’s supply. No mas! Thankfully the dermatology office did some digging (at my behest) and found a speciality pharmacy in town that’ll get us the generic equivalent… hand delivered to our home within a day… for $90. TKO!

That was just the undercard, though. The main event was Dubbatrubba vs. Car Dealer. The “check engine” dashboard warning light was on in our 2003 Honda Odyssey, which our oldest son has been using since he got his license a couple of years ago. We dropped it off at the dealership Monday night, and Tuesday morning they sent the diagnosis: it needs a new transmission. Here’s their estimate: 

Looks like Dubbatrubba (and his ancient minivan) are down for the count. But wait, he’s getting up off the canvas and… he’s reminding the dealer that they have a “lifetime warranty” on the drivetrain (including the transmission) if you get all your routine maintenance done at the dealership – and he has 15 years’ worth of invoices to prove he’s eligible. What a counterpunch! The dealer is stunned, staggered, reeling… the ref calls a standing eight-count. And now the dealer is throwing in the towel… they’re gonna rebuild the transmission for free!

I’m surprised that my punch-drunk brain actually remembered that “lifetime warranty” spiel from the salesperson lo those many years ago.

Yes, I realize the car is ancient and this is merely a slight reprieve. Heck, we may not even hang onto the minivan. Our teenage son has been a sport about driving it, but now he wants something a bit sportier/newer/better on gas (since he’s paying for gas now and he has a job delivering pizza). However, it only has 150,000 miles on it, which is low for a Honda, and every extra mile we get out of it is money in the bank. Besides, it’s sweet revenge for all those times we’ve had to pay “dealer prep” on a car.

Score one for the little guy!

And now, the Song of the Day, Joy Division doing “Transmission”…

 

 

 

 

Rock the vote

Today’s the day to rock the vote… even if you do a write-in vote for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

– David Foster Wallace

Let’s all band together

A week and a half ago, I’d never heard of the bands Wilderado and Sure, Sure. Now I love ’em. All it took was one concert. That’s what I love about seeing up and coming bands in tiny clubs – the joy of discovery and the intimacy of the room can be musical alchemy.

Hat tip to my friend Jeff – he’s the one who put Wilderado on my radar. He knows my musical tastes and figured I would like them, and mentioned their upcoming show. I’d never heard of them at that point, much less heard their music. But thanks to the Interwebs, I was able to listen to quite a few of their songs, and Jeff was correct – they are right in my musical wheelhouse, a bit like Band of Horses mixed with Houndmouth. They absolutely killed it on stage, in front of about 50 people, and seemed genuinely appreciative of the folks who came to the show.

Sure, Sure was the headliner, and they were a bit more like Vampire Weekend spending the weekend at the Talking Heads house. (They even did a Talking Heads cover.) Much like Wilderado, they were fantastic in a live setting.

There’s an apochryphal quote attributed to Hunter S. Thompson:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

He never said or wrote that (he wrote something similar about the TV industry) but the quote is often repeated because the shoe fits. A year from now, both Wilderado and Sure, Sure could be no more, chewed up and spit out by the industry machinery. But we’ll always have that Tuesday night in Covington, Kentucky.

 

(Hat tip to the club’s sound man too. I’ve been to many, many concerts in tiny rooms over the past three decades, and a muddy or overly loud mix is a real buzzkill. This concert’s sound was pristine.)