Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday's Musings on Sports - When Up is Down, Down is Up

As regular readers of this blog are aware, the Monday post was usually devoted to sports with highlights and analysis of the Max Kellerman show which formerly aired on 1050 ESPN Radio. Although Max resigned from 1050 more than a year ago (he has recently resurfaced on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles), I have tried to continue the tradition of linking sports to Torah which I believe was an undercurrent of the Max Kellerman show.

Last week a story broke about the NCAAs which demonstrates the utterly absurd and arbitrary nature of the NCAA player eligibility rules. The story involved efforts by collegiate athletics to change the permitted post practice snack given to college athletes. As boosters and unscrupulous administration members in college sports have ruined sports for everyone, there are specific rules as to what can be provided to players after a practice is over. As was reported in the media, players can be given bagels but without spread or toppings. The NCAA is now considering revising the rule to allow for cream cheese or other spreads to be provided with the bagels (just don't call the shmeers). In an industry where colleges make millions of dollars on their athletic programs and the athletes only receive scholarships to attend the school without any monetary payment, it seems to me that at the very least the team could provide its players with a decent post practice snack. However, this is the very same NCAA which fined coaches for having their players over for dinner or g-d forbid taking a player out to eat to connect with the player.

On the other end of the responsibility scale for the NCAAs is the topic of whether the student athletes really need to be students. Under the current rules, players can leave for professional sports such as basketball after one year in school. If the player is really good, he knows that he will be leaving after the first year and he obviously does not concentrate on school. The NCAA post season tournaments only add to the distraction from academics since the conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament require the athlete to miss weeks, if not months of classes while the team travels the country.

The twin stories made me think about a mashal from the Ben Ish Chai which I heard on a Rabbi Mansour shiur (available for download at The mashal involved an employer who told his employee that children were coming and he was afraid that they would try to climb onto the roof. The employer asked his employee to disassemble the ladder so that the children would not be able to climb to the roof. The employee climbed on to the second rung of the ladder and then removed the first rung. He then climbed to the third rung before removing the second rung. Eventually, the employee reached the roof and was unable to get down. The employee screamed for help and the employer helped him down. When the two men reached the ground the employer told the employee - its important when you disassemble ladders that you start from the top and work your way to the bottom.

Months later, the employer again was expecting children to visit his home and was worried that the children might climb down into the well. The employer asked the employee to disassemble the ladder which led to the bottom of the well. This time the employee started at the top and rung by rung, disassembled the ladder until he reached the bottom. Of course at this point he was stuck at the bottom of the well and again needed rescue. When the employer came to save him, the employee protested - but I started at the top. The employer responded - you need to be aware of where you are -sometimes you must start at the bottom and work your way up.

Unfortunately, the NCAA administration too often suffers from a lack of perspective as to what is important. Instead of focusing their attention on whether the athletes have received an "improper benefit" of cream cheese or even (heaven forbid) lox with their bagels, the NCAA administration should be trying to find ways to guarantee that the student athletes have a fighting chance to get a quality college education. After all, only a select few college athletes will make it to the professional leagues.

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