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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Paying college players, changing education standards and

Monday, August 12, 2013 | 3:23 p.m. CDT

Pay college players? Not so fast

Somewhere along the line, the student and the athlete began to part ways in some major college athletics programs.

Now the heads of some of the biggest football conferences are, in essence, admitting that.

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive wants schools to be able to pay their players a stipend to cover the "true" costs of college. But many smaller schools, which likely couldn't afford it, outvote the big guys in NCAA proceedings. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said, "The idea that there is an even playing field in terms of resources is a fanciful and quaint notion."

While no conference commissioner has openly pushed to secede from the NCAA, some do seem to want more control over their destiny.

What's needed right now is a good academic linebacker to tackle the pay-for-play idea before it gets any further down the field.

Even in this era of multimillion-dollar coaches, luxury sky boxes and the rest, the "college" needs to stay in college sports.

Paying amateur athletes a salary — er, a "stipend" — and turning them into semiprofessionals is the wrong play call for many reasons:

  • Football players, and other athletes, already get an education, room and board. It's not chicken feed.

Check the University of Nebraska-Lincoln price list: Tuition, fees, room and board: $17,592 a year for a resident; $30,920 for nonresidents. At the University of Iowa, those costs total $17,481 for residents; $36,351 for out-of-staters.

And don't forget: A bachelor's degree is worth $1 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school diploma. That's a real reward.

  • That's not all schools spend on athletes.

USA Today, based on an analysis of federal and school data, last month reported that "public universities competing in NCAA Division I sports spend as much as six times more per athlete than they spend to educate students."

Athletes get extra benefits worth real money if they had to pay for them themselves.

Oklahoma just opened a lavish $75 million dorm where its athletes will enjoy amenities that OU says include "a game room, a media lounge, common areas, study rooms, a 75-seat theater." Major college athletes have training facilities that rival the best private workout clubs. Luxurious lounge-locker rooms are a far cry from the steel lockers and cold concrete floors of old. There are trainers, doctors, nutritionists and tutors to offer care and advice that the average chemistry student can only envy. Not to mention clothes, shoes and other gear.

  • Paying players is an arms race without end.

Right now, the suggested range of stipends being discussed is $2,000 to $6,000. Think that would last long? What if Alabama decided that players needed $8,000? Would Southern Cal up that to $9,000? Would Texas say $10,000? Would it ever stop? Many schools would be priced out immediately. More would be unable to keep up over the years.

  • Paying football players raises another question: Who else?

Could stipends be limited to the football team? Doubtful. Men's and women's basketball players, the volleyball team, all varsity athletes face the pressures to train, practice, travel and compete at the top level. Don't they count? What about the marching band and spirit squads? They spend hours practicing, too.

  • If you pay a stipend, does that make student-athletes university employees? Are they covered by wage laws? Should they get retirement benefits? How about overtime for those who hit the weights or go running before breakfast?

All that said, big-time college sports generate a lot of money — the TV deal for the coming football playoff alone reportedly runs about $500 million a year. There are ways to invest more in student-athletes without paying them salaries.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, while he does favor a stipend, has offered some sensible ideas for putting more emphasis on academics:

  • Funding lifetime scholarships that would allow athletes to return to school after their playing days are over if they do not graduate.
  • Finding realistic ways to balance the demands of training, practice and games with adequate time for hitting the books.
  • Providing what Delany called a "year of readiness" for at-risk student-athletes, giving them a year in college to better prepare while preserving their four years of athletic eligibility and a scholarship.

A showdown is coming. Will the NCAA and its member schools put the emphasis on college or on sports?

Paying stipends would further tilt the balance toward sports. That's the wrong direction. Once that line is crossed, there will be no going back.

As the NCAA's own TV commercial says, "There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports."

Keep them students — not employees.

This originally published Aug. 12 in the Omaha World-Herald.

Study sheds more light on sleep, cravings

If that doughnut was especially delicious this morning, you can always blame last night's thunderstorm.

That's because a recent UC Berkeley study has confirmed earlier studies that found a link between a craving for unhealthy foods and sleep deprivation.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the brains of 23 healthy young adults after a good night's sleep, and again after a sleepless night, researchers told the subjects they could have their choice after the MRI.

Meanwhile, the device measured their brain activity while they were shown images of healthy foods such as apples, strawberries and carrots, as well as foods like pizza and doughnuts.

The tests showed that not only did sleepy subjects crave "comfort foods," but the part of their brain that governs complex decision-making was impaired while the pleasure-seeking part of the brain was activated.

"The results shed light on how the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, leading to the selection of more unhealthy foods and, ultimately, higher rates of obesity," said lead author Stephanie Greer in a release.

Most of us didn't need a study from a university to be convinced that it's important to get a good night's sleep, but headed into the school year, it's a good reminder to parents how important it is for youngsters to shut off the screen and hit the sack early, as well as enjoy a good breakfast before heading off to class.

This was originally published Aug. 7 in the McCook, Neb., Daily Gazette.

Common Core changes education

Big changes are coming to education in Ohio and other states wise enough to refocus on updated goals for what children should learn in today's world.

It's called Common Core, a set of standards for math and language arts for what students should know at every grade level. Ohio and more than 40 other states have joined the effort, including the development of new testing for the 2014-15 school year. ...

The only somewhat credible concern, to us, involves how the future tests will drive changes in local school curriculum, much like we've seen in Ohio in recent years where schools clearly aligned lessons to "teach to the test." However, the concern assumes the standards are bad to begin with, something that's not been proved. ...

One point often lost in education conversations is how our world's global technology economy forces schools to prepare children much differently than ever before.

Kids can't just graduate high school and find good-paying careers where they can support families. The education of tomorrow can't look anything like what you, or even your own children, experienced.

There's nothing wrong with our states working together to identify the educational outcomes experts identify as being critical for our next generation of workers.

In the end, it's up to students to take advantage of their opportunities.

This originally published Aug. 11 in The (Newark) Advocate

President wants to reform mortgage lending

It has been years since bad lending and bad mortgages conspired with Wall Street stupidity to crash the American financial system. But amazingly, no fix of the mortgage financing system has been forthcoming or even proposed.

Now President Obama is taking on the mortgage-finance morass. ...

Obama wants gradually to shut down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government lending programs. He says taxpayers should never again be left "holding the bag" for their costs. More fundamentally, he says most mortgage lending should come from private lenders. That's an old-school GOP position.

The president also wants the federal government to insure private loans and regulate home loans. These are classically Democratic positions.

Competing versions of reform legislation are before Congress. One would simply abolish Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The other would do what the president wants to do — dismantle them and replace them with regulations that include both carrots and sticks. ...

Reform should get government out of home loans, not retain it as the man behind the curtain. The feds should regulate, but not try to control outcomes. ...

President Obama is right to try to move lending back to a marketplace that has rules, but is essentially private.

 This originally published Aug. 12 in The (Toled0) Blade.

 

Patriot Act, surveillance erode Americans' rights

Outrage seems to be lacking from the American public these days, despite a recent explosion of evidence that our Constitutional rights are being undermined.

Former CIA and National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden recently put his life on the line in the interest of open government, revealing information he had sworn to keep secret, because of feeling a moral obligation to tell the American public what's going on. Whether one believes he's a criminal threat to national security or a hero of public access, one thing is for sure: Snowden's revelations have shone a bright light on the depth and breadth of government surveillance on average American citizens, which has clearly gotten way out of hand.

The Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights clearly states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The founders of this country took care to protect us against such treatment after seeing the tyranny of an unfettered government, and yet somehow too many Americans simply seem OK with the obvious violation of this right, which has now been going on for years.

Perhaps it's because technology has made it so easy and so seemingly unobtrusive. We don't have soldiers forcing their way into our homes to go through our things; rather, we have search engines tracking our every query and phone companies willing to hand over the records of our every call. And that's everyone, mind you, not just those suspected of criminal activity. It's your emails, credit card purchases, downloads, medical records, bank records — it's all there and technology improvements are only making it easier to store and keep on hand forever — for the day when the government decides they need to look into you, without a warrant or announced cause.

The Patriot Act, passed in the heat of the moment only a month after the devastating terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, definitely needs to be revised and weakened. The provisions of this act were a knee-jerk reaction to do everything we possibly could to avoid another terrorist attack, but it went too far, and it's taken the majority of the public all this time to realize just how far this act has eroded our rights as American citizens.

Among its provisions, the act allows indefinite detentions of immigrants; gives law enforcement officers access to additional personal records as well as permission to search a residence or business without consent or knowledge of the owner; and gives the FBI free reign to search telephone, email and financial records without a court order.

Federal courts have ruled several parts of the Patriot Act unconstitutional, and yet Congress voted in 2011 to extend some parts of it for four more years. And in late July, Congress agreed to continue NSA collections of our data, rather than address the very real constitutional and privacy concerns of American citizens. The entire process of analysts being allowed to search through these massive mounds of "metadata" on us is top secret, so it's hard to say exactly what they're doing with it. There's even a long-standing, secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to oversee prosecution of those suspected of doing foreign intelligence within the U.S., which has been found to be watching U.S. citizens, too.

With no public oversight, how can we rest assured that those with access to our information are not abusing their power? Bias and conflict of interest have reared their heads at the IRS, which has been shown to be stonewalling the tax-exempt status applications of groups whose names suggest that their beliefs run counter to those of the Obama administration. What's to say it can't happen at the FBI or NSA level, too?

Put simply, it's illegal and unconstitutional for the government to be doing surveillance and gathering data on any citizen without reasonable cause or warrants. And it needs to end.

Such serious violations of the U.S. Constitution cannot be allowed by the citizenry and raises very serious concerns about the Obama administration and the president's respect for our rights.

Our national security is of high importance, yes, but at what price? This situation brings to mind the oft-cited Benjamin Franklin quote from 1755: "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

In this age of terrorism and technology, that holds true more so now even than it did during Revolutionary times.

It's time for us as American citizens to stand up and fight for those rights that our founders knew were the basis of a free society, and maybe that starts with educating people on just how important they are.

This originally published Aug. 8 in The Journal Tribune of Biddeford (Maine).

U.S. must boost efforts toward stability in Yemen

The simmering war against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has finally boiled over. Over the past two weeks, the Obama administration has conducted at least five drone strikes against suspected terrorist targets in Yemen. They come on the heels of an intercepted phone call between AQAP's leader and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the longtime number-two to Osama bin Laden, that sparked the closure of dozens of U.S. embassies across the Middle East.

In the midst of a crisis, it's easy to focus on a short-term security threat and forget the long-term strategy. Thus, it's worth remembering that political tensions in Yemen, not a phone call from Zawahiri, are behind AQAP's resurgence. Drone strikes are a necessary tool in an emergency, but over the long term, the key to American security will be a strong, stable government in Yemen. The Obama administration should be mindful of the need to bolster that government, not undermine it.

For most of the last decade, AQAP was a tiny guerrilla force hiding in the mountains, incapable of posing an existential threat to Yemen's government.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled for decades with an iron fist, worried more about Shiite rebels in the north and ragtag secessionists in the south, where many feel like they are treated like second-class citizens. By 2006, Saleh had brought AQAP under control enough that the U.S. military began to scale back its assistance. But in recent years, the group has experienced a resurgence. Some say Saleh engineered it, in order to justify continued U.S. military aid. Others say neighboring Saudi Arabia's crackdown on terrorists drove them into Yemen.

Whatever the case, the group's big break came in 2011, after Arab Spring protesters rallied for Saleh's departure. Saleh pulled his troops back to the capital to prioritize his own personal protection. The departing soldiers left a vacuum. AQAP, which once focused on attacks on the West, developed a new goal: creating an Islamic state inside Yemen. Last year, AQAP took over an entire province.

Yemen's military has since retaken that province, but turmoil in the government has left the military divided and weak. Saleh eventually agreed to step down in a negotiated diplomatic deal that has so far helped Yemen avoid a protracted civil war. His successor, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is doing an admirable job trying to address the country's myriad problems. But the challenge of reforming Yemen's security forces, a bastion of patronage for the former regime, remains formidable. Saleh's son commanded the Republican Guard. His half brother headed the Air Force. His nephew was chief of staff to the central security forces. Fixing Yemen's military in the heat of this battle with AQAP is like repairing an airplane in midflight.

Hadi needs time and space for his delicate project to succeed. The United States should support him in ways that endear him to his public, not in ways that inflame passions against him, as a long campaign of drone strikes inevitably would. The U.S. military response to AQAP should be forceful enough to address the current threat, but restrained enough to avoid endangering a fragile ally at this critical moment.

This originally published Aug. 9 in The Boston Globe.

Baseball legacies remain, despite scandals

Baseball keeps on.

It is a perfect machine, adjusting itself to every perturbation. In the blessed, warm days of August, when children remain free of school and adults find reasons to look beyond the ordinary routines of work, baseball is a dependable presence, as it has been for more than a century.

The persistence of baseball through time is evident as a new doping scandal erupts, touching one of the pre-eminent players of the day, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. Rodriguez and 13 other players have been linked to a clinic in Florida that dealt in banned substances. Most of the players received suspensions of 50 days; Rodriguez, who is accused of trying to cover up wrongdoing, was suspended for 211 games, though he is appealing the allegations and is in the Yankees lineup.

Through all of the cheating, lying, pretending and posturing, baseball carries on. Rodriguez has hit 647 home runs in his career, and as a New York Times story pointed out, if he is able to stick around, he is in a good position to match or pass the 660 home runs hit by Willie Mays. And yet Rodriguez, like Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and other dopers, will always remain a footnote to the true story of baseball.

Rodriguez is the highest-paid player in the game, and combined with the narcissism that seems to define his life, his earnings and his cheating have made him widely reviled. Whether he passes Willie Mays or not, his place in the Hall of Fame would seem doubtful.

Consigning cheaters to the realm of the asterisk is one of the methods of self-preservation that keeps baseball in play. The early days of the game were rocked by the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Since then the game has undergone numerous changes. The dead ball era gave way to the era of Babe Ruth. The game survived World War II, when many players were away in the services. It began to emerge from its racist past in 1947 when Jackie Robinson arrived. It evolved after the advent of free agency and big money. It has expanded and split into divisions. It has developed gloves and other equipment that has changed the way the game is played. It has created the designated hitter for the American League. It has added tiers of playoffs. It continues to foist on fans one of its most pointless and annoying innovations: interleague play.

Through it all, the dimensions of baseball seem immutable. Ninety feet between bases. Sixty feet, 6 inches between mound and plate. All of the drama and athletic prowess demonstrated on the diamond occurs within this sublime, unchanging framework. It is still hard to hit a ball, hard to pitch a ball, hard to make it to first, hard to make a putout at first. Only the best succeed reliably. The numbers tell the story.

And yet it is a complex story. Mays may well have exceeded the 714 total home runs hit by Ruth if he had played somewhere other than Candlestick Park (Mays thinks so). Leaving aside the steroid-assisted record hit by Bonds (782 home runs), that would have put Mays in the company of Hank Aaron (total of 755) as the leading sluggers in history.

Baseball fans of a certain age think of the era of Mays and Aaron as a golden age (probably because it coincided with their youth). Older fans think back to the era of Williams and DiMaggio.

Rodriguez and Bonds do not constitute a golden age. Rather, they are fool's gold that will be discarded by history. In the meantime, an ever-shifting roster of players continues to people the ballparks of America, some rising up to enjoy a few creditable years, others establishing themselves in the firmament of true stars. Day by day games are played. Children pay attention, as do old-timers, watching the years pass, the records fall, the glory appear and then vanish, as always.

This originally published Aug. 9 in The Rutland (Vt.) Herald.


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