Monday, August 19, 2013

Sign, Johnny, Sign

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 9:33 AM

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Lucky for you, I’m bursting with opinions this week. Here we go:

• Let college athletes sell their autographs. Academic integrity has to be retained if football and basketball teams are to continue to represent institutions of higher learning. (How exactly we define “academic integrity” is another debate, for another column.) But an athlete accepting payment for signing his (or her) name is in no way compromising a university’s mission. Nor is it taking advantage of other student-athletes. This is an elementary economics lesson: value (of a cheeseburger, a car, or an autograph) is determined by the demand of a free market. If someone will fork over $100 for Johnny Manziel to sign his name, Johnny Football should be allowed to pocket that cash. (The autograph will almost certainly be sold for triple that amount. Hop on eBay and scan the Manziel-signed items going for more than $1,000.)

Two important details on this business opportunity for college athletes. First, it should be open to every athlete. If a backup tailback for the Memphis Tigers wants to make an autograph appearance at Wolfchase Galleria, he should be allowed to do so. How much can he charge? How many fans will get in line? Up to the free market, folks.

And secondly, when a student-athlete signs for pay, the college he represents should get a percentage (I’d argue 15 percent would be fair). If Johnny Manziel performed his heroics for Sewanee or Rhodes College, he wouldn’t be able to charge what he can as The Man at Texas A & M. Yes, the name on the front of the jersey still counts for something in measuring star power . . . and the value of an autograph.

• Oscar Taveras’s ankle injury baffles. The St. Louis Cardinals announced last Thursday that their prize prospect will have surgery to repair a high ankle sprain, a procedure that will end the outfielder’s 2013 season. Obviously more than your average twist, this injury happened as Taveras roamed centerfield at AutoZone Park on May 12th. He returned to action on June 8th, only to be sidelined again for good two weeks later. Minor-league baseball’s third-ranked prospect was limited to 46 games for Memphis this season (only 20 of them at Third and Union).

I’m no orthopedist, though I’ve sprained my ankles a number of times and dealt with recovery times of varying duration. Here’s where I’m confused about Taveras’s trauma: If surgery is required to correct the malady, why was the decision to cut not made for three months? Once swelling and inflammation is reduced (typically no more than a week after the initial injury), wouldn’t modern technology reveal the severity? Again, I’m no doctor, and I haven’t had access to Taveras’s trainers. But it seems like three months of a baseball player’s development was sacrificed for false hope.

• Tiger will never catch the Golden Bear. For five full years now, Tiger Woods has been four major victories shy of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18. Still just 37, the most famous golfer on the planet will surely win another major championship, maybe two. But he’s not going to win four more.

Woods will fall short of his ultimate career goal not because another Hall of Famer (Phil Mickelson) or rising star (Rory McIlroy) stockpiles trophies that would otherwise be his. Woods will fall short because Jason Dufner is out there. And Adam Scott. And Justin Rose. And Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson . . . and on and on. Since Woods won his last major (the 2008 U.S. Open), no fewer than 15 golfers have won their first major title. A sport that used to be exclusive to the elite is now the Game of Everyman. A generation of young golfers who learned the game with Woods dominating weekend telecasts is now competing against the legend on the PGA Tour. (The first crack in the wall of the golf establishment came at the hands of Arnold Palmer’s “army” in the 1950s. The movie Caddyshack — released in 1980 — and Woods himself applied the TNT.) With every year that goes by minus a Tiger major, we’re learning it’s hard to be The Man in a sport for every man.

• No new hardware for the Cardinals’ trophy case. Not that long ago (June?), three Cardinals could have made a case for the National League’s three major individual awards. What a difference a lengthy slump makes. Contributing to that slump, of course, was catcher Yadier Molina’s two-week stay on the disabled list, dropping him down the list of MVP candidates (now headed by Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, if you ask me). Shelby Miller has won but two of his last six starts and has fallen behind a pair of Dodgers — phenom Yasiel Puig and pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu — in the Rookie of the Year race. And speaking of races, let’s consider the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw a pair of star thoroughbreds from 40 years ago. In handicapping this year’s Cy Young winner, Kershaw (he of the 1.80 ERA) is Secretariat to Wainwright’s Sham.

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