By Tony Hooker
Politics and sports
For most of us, these words go together like a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich….with arsenic sauce.
Unfortunately, they’ve been inextricably linked for seemingly forever. In the 1890’s, politicians and faculty members at Harvard worked to ban the newly created game of Football, based on it’s violent and injurious nature. The fact that there were reports of over 25 men killed on the field of play in 1894 certainly lent credence to their intervention.
Public dismay became so loud that after the discovery of a $100,000 slush fund at Yale, controlled by Walter Camp, widely regarded as the father of football as we know it today, that no less an authority than President Theodore Roosevelt called campus leaders from Yale, Harvard and Princeton to the White House, where they agreed that if collegiate athletics were to survive, an oversight committee would need to be formed, thus creating perhaps the most vilified organization in the history of organized sports, the NCAA. I could write a book about the political machinations of this cartel, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that when they investigated The University of Illinois in 1990, they were led by a president who had previously served as basketball coach at the University of Iowa, Dick Schultz. The coach who had made the allegations that led to the investigation? The snake, Bruce Pearl, who was an assistant coach at…you guessed it, the University of Iowa. The lead NCAA investigator? Rich Hilliard, who had been a college friend at Boston College with…The Snake, although I’m hesitant to use this name for him for fear of offending those slithery creatures from the order Squamata. Suffice it to say that despite a lack of real hard evidence, my alma mater was punished. Don Yeager wrote an excellent book called Undue Process: The NCAA’s Injustice for All, about the whole sordid affair.
In today’s world, the issue of NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) is exploding across the USA as NCAA athletes are about to be compensated for their brand, above board, for the first time. It’s long been noted that athletes, especially in football and basketball, were responsible for generating revenues for their schools that far outdistanced the compensation they received for their education, room and board. How much revenue? How about 18.9 billion dollars in 2019, per ncaa.org. Of course, the pandemic severely restricted these earnings in 2020, but recently the SEC conference, home to football giant Alabama and widely regarded as the most competitive athletic conference in college, recently announced that they were going to offer every member institution a one-time payout of $23 million dollars, based on future tv revenues. That’s $322 Meelyun dollarz, (spoken in Dr. Evil from Austin Powers movies voice) based on revenues they’ve not yet earned. The cupboard, though diminished, is far from bare for the big boy schools of the power five. To my way of thinking, the idea of athletes being fairly compensated has been a long time coming. It will be messy, even ugly at times as it plays out, but somehow, I believe the market, like it always does, will come to balance out. Will the big three of Alabama, Clemson and “the” Ohio State University, along with tier 1A programs like Penn State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame, continue to gain the services of most of the blue-chip football recruits, or will more “dudes” find opportunities to be big fish in smaller ponds more lucrative? Only time will tell.
Cheely is the real deal
Speaking of politics and sports, former Villa Grove softball stud Reagan Cheely was named to the first team National Fastpitch Coach’s Association NJCAA division II All-American squad this week, which is quite the feat, one that hasn’t been matched by anyone from Douglas County in my memory. What makes this political? The fact that because of archaic conference rules (written or unwritten) about the number of all-conference selections each school can put forth, Cheely was named second team all Midwest Athletic Conference and wasn’t selected for Region 24 recognition. To be fair, she played her best ball in the postseason and was named to the NJCAA Div II all-tournament team, which probably played a factor in her All-America selection.
Co-Op no more
It was recently announced that the coop between VGHS and Heritage has been dissolved, effective immediately. The bottom line is that the teams that were put together never experienced postseason success, other than the first two years in football. Girls’ and boys’ basketball had some success, with both reaching regional finals at some point. The Boys squad even put together back to back twenty-win seasons, but in recent years there was little participation in sports based in Villa Grove from Heritage students. My only real lament is for the few Heritage boys who wish to play football. I hope that all efforts are exhausted to find them a venue.
Politics and sports are linked forever, sometimes for good, like when Title IX legislation forced institutions to give equal due to female athletes or like now, when athletes are on the verge of getting a larger piece of the pie that they are 90% responsible for. Sometimes for bad, when a decidedly outdated organization like the NCAA makes the rules. Even though it’s been obvious for a couple decades now, the Big Ten made it crystal clear that it’s all about the Benjamins when they allowed Ohio State to play in the post season despite not having the requisite number of regular season games played. Why? Because of the College Football Playoff, which generates millions in tv revenues, not to mention exposure for the conference, which leads, ostensibly, to more students. Like it or not, it’s the world we live in.