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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: April 2005

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Hudy's Hardcovers: "Beer and Circus" reveals truth about DI campuses

"Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education"
By Murray Sperber
Henry Holt and Company
322 pages
Named to Sports Illustrated's Top 100 Sports Books of All-Time, Indiana University professor Murray Sperber writes in his 2000 publication 'Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education' the information that will strike fear into every future undergraduate at the Division I level as well as their families.Writing from both experience at a big-time U (Indiana University) and compiling extensive research via questionnaires to undergraduates across the nation, Sperber takes the reader behind the veiled curtain.
The author utilizes his own research as well as citing from publications such as the Princeton Review, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report regarding collegiate ratings, including the infamous 'Best Party School' and other rankings.
Sperber's title 'Beer and Circus' takes liberties with the term 'bread and circus' used by the poet Jevenal to describe the political strategy of corrupt Roman emperors of keeping the masses happy and distracting them from policy failures by providing them with cheap daily bread and gladiator contests and other games of sport. It was the beginning of the modern-day 'smoke and mirrors.'
Sperber opens the reader's eyes as to how larger universities profit from the unsuspecting public and the undergraduate student population. The universities force them into huge introductory classes, taught by teaching assistants while the 'profs' are hidden away to unlock secrets in research to provide monetary prestige for the university.
It is the undergraduate masses who follow this pattern in colleges and universities throughout the nation, filling out scanable multiple choice answer sheets, never seeing their professor and recognized solely by a Social Security number.
The reason for the ignorance of the entry-level students, according to Sperber, is simply economics.
In a typical undergraduate class of 300 students taking a three-credit course at $250 per credit hour, the class generates $225,000. If a full-time professor teaches the class at $15,000 per class, the profit is a tidy $210,000. Now reverse the situation and provide as few as 20 undergraduates with the full attention of the same professor, getting a much improved experience from this single class. The result is the university loses money when room expenses and maintenance are included. Also, the professor would be spending time with students versus focusing on research for the university.While the undergraduates may be portrayed as fooled masses, it is the unwitting, often inebriated underclassmen that flock to the weekend parties of the fall and weekday contests during the winter of the Division I football and basketball games to cheer on their school.
Collegiate drinking is a consistent topic throughout Sperber's work.
He credits the movie 'Animal House' with the standard to which the undergraduate experience is measured. The more raucous the party, the more damage afterward, the higher on the attendance scale for that university.
While the academics may scoff at binge drinking and wild parties, and decry the debauchery at various Greek houses on campus, they have never taken the steps to eliminate the problem. The closest that has occurred is a few alcohol-free dorms or floors, and the rest of the problems have moved to off-campus drinking spots and housing.
The author also delves into the hypocrisy within the athletic programs at Division I universities and how the sports provide a gateway to undergraduate admission.
How many college publications show the cheering crowds at the Division I level screaming for their fellow 'student-athletes' while failing to disclose the number of students in the average introductory level courses and the student/teacher ratio?Sperber is no friend to the governing body, the NCAA.
The author writes that it was the members, coaches and athletic directors who changed how athletic scholarships were awarded in 1973. Formally, athletic scholarships were four-year guaranteed awards changed to one-year, renewable grants decided every July by the coaching staff. Instead of being guaranteed an education despite performance and injury, the 'student-athlete' is now under constant pressure to perform and obey or lose his 'free ride.'
When the NCAA was pressured by Washington politicians to decrease the pressure on 'student-athletes' the 4 and 20 rule was passed. It mandated that 'student-athletes' were limited to four hours per day and 20 hours per week of participation. The rule then left a wide-open loophole in that the 4 and 20 rule was based on 'mandatory time' required by the coaches, but that 'voluntary' activities were not considered a part of 4 and 20. 'Informal' practice sessions, weight training and conditioning were exempt from the rule, keeping the hearts of the athletes training throughout the week with their minds to wait for the opportunity to learn.
Not forgotten by the author is the millions of dollars spent on Division I athletics. This includes the millions of dollars mandated by the NCAA to maintain Division I status by smaller conference schools and how colleges and universities willingly absorb the cost to lure even more undergraduates to their institutions. Sperber reveals that most Division I athletic programs lose money each year and the millions from Bowl Championship Series and March Madness still aren't enough to pay the annual bills.
According to the author, the University of Wisconsin received $1.8 million for its appearance in the 1999 Rose Bowl, but managed to spend $2.1 million at the event.The accounting is another example of 'Beer and Circus' at the Division I level as it is revealed that 832 people, including more than 100 university officials and spouses, made the trip to Pasadena.
The author not only provides what is wrong with Big-time U, but unlike others, provides solutions to the problem. While possibly unattainable, the author still takes a stand against the huge collegiate machines.
Sperber's work is filled with numerous sources of data and can at times seem dry, but the writer moves through the facts quickly, keeping the reader interested.'Beer and Circus' is the book that Division I colleges and universities don't want undergraduates and parents to know exists.
As college literature flows into your future college student's mailbox, examine the full color photos of fun with a grain of salt and only with a copy of 'Beer and Circus' at your side.

A Tribute to Ron Tellefsen

Clifton Park baseball lost a friend
As printed in the Community News
March 18, 2005

Early last week I received word that Ron Tellefsen, President and CEO of Babe Ruth Baseball, Inc. had passed away, defeated by non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
It was Tellefsen who not only was the face of Babe Ruth Baseball, Inc. but a father figure because of his kind demeanor and his cooperation in bringing three past and one future Babe Ruth World Series to Clifton Park.
Prior to 1996, Clifton Park may have been just another town near Saratoga Springs to Tellefsen and the Babe Ruth Headquarters staff.
That changed through numerous visits to the Southern Saratoga town and the Clifton Common, Tellefsen said in his last visit in June that "We like to consider Clifton Park as one of our friends in Babe Ruth Baseball and feel that we have a good partnership with the people here."
Despite his position, every hand he shook during visits he put the recipient at ease, always insisting that everyone call him 'Ron'.
It was always difficult for me to refer to him by his first name, simply because of the respect that I held for him.
I had the privilege of meeting with Tellefsen several times during the first two World Series' at Clifton Common. First while covering the local Clifton Park host team's progress and in 2004 as coordinator of media coverage for the entire week.
One of my biggest thrills came last June when Tellefsen and executive vice-president Rosemary Schoellkopf returned to Clifton Park for the formal signing of the 2006 World Series contract.
The signing only took 10 minutes and the rest of the meeting was spent listening to Tellefsen discuss baseball. The subjects ranged from steroids, to corked bats, to roster size at the Babe Ruth League level. He welcome differing opinions into the discussion.
When the meeting broke up and the group prepared to travel out to dinner. The group walked slowly up to the Clifton Common parking lot along the pathway between two baseball fields, one the future home of the 2006 World Series and next to it, the smaller, Cal Ripken Baseball field where a game was about to begin shortly. Tellefsen stopped to talk to the group of 10-year-olds practicing.His questions ranged from age, team, position as well as favorite team and finished with him wishing the best of luck in their game that afternoon.
He never once let on that he was the standard bearer for the sport for the past 48-years. To them he was just a kind man enjoying a few moments with the future of America's Pastime. As he turned to continue to the awaiting cars, I remember not only the smile on his face, but clearly a sparkle in his eye, the same that all parents feel when their children shine.
That is my fondest memory of this white haired, genuine gentleman of baseball.
At dinner, again with an audience, Tellefsen regaled the group with stories of baseball. The most intriguing were his experiences with greats in the game. There were stories of Babe Ruth (as relayed from his daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens), Cal Ripken, Sr. and Jr. as well as a discussion regarding hitting that he had with Larry Walker. His stories were entertaining, insightful and included several side-splitting tales.
When we separated that evening, the group was once again empowered by Tellefsen simply through his kind words that we could deliver another astounding World Series event.We all assumed it would not be long until we would meet once again for a delightful time.
That, unfortunately, will not come to be.
Tellefsen was more than the face of Babe Ruth Baseball, Inc. to me and the people of Clifton Park Baseball. He was a scholar of the sport and a great friend to Clifton Park.
Baseball will never be the same without Ron.