Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Death of College Sports

College sports have changed dramatically in the last few weeks, but not because of anything that's happening on the field or court.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolted from the Big East Conference and have decided to join the ACC. The Big 12 Conference is slowly disintegrating. Long-time rivalries, such as Texas vs. Texas A&M, may go poof before the fans have a chance to dust off their parking lot grills.

The reason? Money, of course. Specifically money generated from television. A few large conferences have signed highly lucrative TV contracts to broadcast college football. Other conferences have established or are looking to establish TV networks of their own, taking queues from professional teams-- such as the Yankees-- that have turned TV into a profitable side-enterprise to the gloves and dirt on the diamond. Universities want their own pay dirt from these deals and are looking to change their conference allegiances, as necessary.

Don't get me wrong. College sports have long been professional pursuits, and individual teams have been violating the spirit of college's amateur status for years. The demise of former Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel hit deep in the core of even the most optimistic football fan. Everyone, it seems, cheats to get ahead, and then hides behind apologies and nuances when the moves are uncovered. To quote UCONN basketball coach Jim Calhoun, "We may have broken rules...but we don't cheat."

The doublethink behind the obfuscation of responsibility demonstrated by college teams--these are, after all, teams of students who are allegedly learning about life from their coaches--means bad things for the actual spirit of the college game. Then again, I am being very naive. College sports got sick long ago. The latest moves are just symptoms that the disease has metastasized.

Consider the thousands of athletes that that are playing college sports for the right reason-- for a chance at a college degree and the scholarship that helps pay for it. These gymnasts, wrestlers, softball players and participants in numerous other sports-- they occupy a place the New York Times labels as "non revenue" teams. Given the expected changes in conference alignments, these true student athletes now will be forced to travel long distances to participate. Baylor, which is in Texas, might join the Big East, which includes the University of Connecticut.

I have done the flight from New England to Texas. I can't imagine being a college athlete having to take that flight, play in a contest (let's say men's tennis), then fly back home in time to study for a midterm exam. Geographic boundaries have no place in the new era of college sports, the students themselves be damned.

The original purpose of the college scholarship, to recognize the dedicated student-athlete who might need a little financial help to get a degree...well that all seems so juvenile now. You either generate revenue in college athletics, or you don't really matter.

In this mindset, enter the laughable state of athletics at my Alma Mater, Boston University. Alumni joke that the BU football team has not lost a game in over a decade. Football was eliminated in 1997. And while we are derided by other college grads for our own athletic pursuits, I now think BU students are clearly better off. BU cannot be distracted by the hullabaloo happening elsewhere.

Ironically enough, it is at BU-- a school with no football program-- that some of the most groundbreaking research regarding football concussions is taking place. BU's research was cited in league-union negotiations during the recent NFL lockout; the university is helping to make football a safer sport. BU's decision to terminate its own football program has inevitably made its own campus safer for academics, free from the harm of professional college football.

The seismic symptoms within the college athletic apparatus are happening fast, and the governing bodies seemed powerless to get in the way. College sports are not regulated. Which means greed and American capitalism can run their course. As Gordon Gekko famously put it, "Greed is good."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Impressed With Suzanne Lee

Suzanne Lee is an impressive candidate. The school teacher is running to be the next Boston city councilor for district one, an area that includes Chinatown, the South End and South Boston. I have met Lee a few times. She stopped by the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee earlier this month.

Lee's resume in education makes her ideal to be a city councilor. The quality of Boston's schools is a huge issue for the future of the city. Better schools mean more college graduates (like me) will choose to stay here, versus moving to the suburbs. More confidence in schooling means stronger neighborhoods. It's hard to argue with Lee's views regarding education, since she's been in the classroom for so long. She experienced the very first day of busing in this city.

If I could vote for Lee this coming Tuesday, in the Boston preliminary municipal election, I would. She is challenging the incumbent and one other candidate; the top two vote-getters Tuesday move on to the final election in early November. However, the district city council seat Lee is aiming for does not represent me.

Moreover, on a sliver of Boston is voting on Tuesday. There are less than nine at-large city council candidates, which means all the candidates will pass on to the final election (scheduled for early November). So only precincts with more than two candidates in their respective district city council races need a preliminary. Suzanne Lee is a candidate in one of those races.

If you live in district one where Lee is campaigning, I urge you to cast your vote in her favor Tuesday. These elections have a very, very small turnout. Your vote will matter.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who Decides What's "In"?

Last month I met up with a couple friends over at Whiskey Priest, which is near the new convention center on the South Boston waterfront. We got there about 4 or so on a Saturday afternoon, and we left about 10. The place was a zoo, with a line a few blocks down the street as we walked to our car. I remember just a summer ago that Whiskey Priest was never crowded.

Somebody decided the place is now "in." I mean, the place hasn't changed its menu. The inside looks the same. The roofdeck is the same. Yet this year, the place is packed, whereas last year the place was empty. It certainly helps that a few other restaurants have been added down the street, such as Remy's and a fancy steak restaurant, but how should that affect the popularity of Whiskey Priest. And who gets to decide that the area is worth going to?

I have lived in Boston long enough to have seen a few "in-and-out" cycles. A place is suddenly in, and everyone wants to go. And just as quickly it's out and only the dorks are inside. It happened with Jury's, which is in a hotel that used to be the Boston Police Headquarters. When Jurys opened, you couldn't get inside unless you arrived at 1 p.m. or new the bouncer. The place has an attractive outside space, a rarity in Boston. Yet today, the bar is empty most of the time. In fact, I think they had to change the name; it's not even called Jurys anymore

Or take Post 390, which I have never been to, because I was always worried it would be too crowded if I showed up. Well, I guess everyone who used to go to Post 390 now goes to Whiskey Priest, 'cause Post 390 is dead as a doornail.

Being that I work in marketing, I understand that there are fads, and that our peers have the most powerful influence on us. And there obviously are forces in play in Boston that involve both fads and peer-to-peer marketing. A few people "check out" a new bar and that has a parabolic momentum impact. Suddenly hoards are eager to find the new bar.

My work doesn't involve promoting restaurants or clubs, but there are pretty neat Internet services out there that are trying to gauge people's influence on others. As Malcolm Gladwell has written, there are people who connect, and there are people who have a profound impact on other opinions. And you need both to "cross the chasm" and create market momentum. As Boston's casual bar scene would indicate, the actual differences among the products don't matter. Beer is beer, and the inside of one bar pretty much is similar to the inside of another. But get the right people to go, and presto, you're "in."

As for me, I am now interested in checking out Post 390, because it will be easy to get in, and as I remember it, people say the place is pretty cool. And, oh yes, I am dork.

Current bars that I think are in: Remy's on the Waterfront; Liberty Hotel; Red Lantern; and for the college kids: Tavern in the Square (TitS)
Bars that are suddenly out: Post 390

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Casino Miss-Out Watch

Debate is soon to begin again within the Mass. state legislature to allow casinos in Massachusetts. My views on casinos are clear. I don't like them.

More immediately, however, I am going to start watching the opportunities that we miss out on here in Mass. because of the casino debate. I noted one example the last time debate ensued on Beacon Hill.

There are much more fruitful discussions we could be having right now about how to stimulate job growth. Unfortunately, all those conversations will be put on hold... hopefully not for long.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

How to Tell You are a Morning Person

I have long thought that morning people get screwed. We wake up earlier than everyone else and tend to matters while others are still slumbering. Then we are required to stay out late with everyone else.

Last night, a couple friends and I discussed how to tell if one is a morning person. We outlined the obvious-- when someone wake's up. But that might be an artificial statistic, in many ways, since the time we get up is dictated on many mornings by work obligations.

I suggested a more subjective metric-- the time of the day when you are most productive. For me, it's between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. So yes, I am clearly a morning person.

This Saturday morning, I can say one is definitely a morning person if he/she is stuck watching "From Justin to Kelly," a movie musical starring Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini of "American Idol" fame. You know someone ain't a great actress if she's given the same name on screen that she has in real life. And yes, I am watching said movie right now.

Morning people, unite!