I like sports reporter Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times. He was the paper's sports editor for 25 years, though now writes a twice-weekly column. He tends to be a sharp, thoughtful analyst and good writer. Yesterday, though, his column here came across like a Crotchety Old Man Rant. It doesn't matter his age -- he could be 25 years old -- but it reads like, "You whippersnappers don't know what it was like when I was your age and smart and noble, and walked 150 miles in each direction every day to buy a sack of tree bark for dinner." It made that much sense.
The topic of Dwyre's rant was the details of the contract that new UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford signed, comparing it to the contract of UCLA legend John Wooden. How outraged is Bill Dwyre? The caption under the top photo of Steve Alford ends by saying that the details-- " raise questions about the future of the university."
The very future of the entire freaking university! Oh, heaven's to Betsy!!
It's important to note up front that John Wooden signed his first contract in 1948. For those of you who prefer to leave your math to others, that's 65 years ago. In case you haven't been reading your newspapers, life has changed a bit since then. For starters, you may not have a newspaper.
Mr. Dwyre does at least make reference to the time difference -- which can be measured in eons. However, he brings it up two sentences from the very end, so many readers might have given up and not have gotten that far. He writes: "Is it unfair to compare Wooden-era principles with current-day coaching finances and our inflation-driven world of amped-up pressure and expectations? Not if viewed as lost perspective and misguided values."
The only lost perspective here is, unfortunately, the usually perceptive Bill Dwyre. This isn't about principles and inflation. This is about Life Is Different.
For instance, Dwyre notes that in the first year of John Wooden's contract, he was paid $6,000, and even in the last year, after an awe-inspiring 10 NCAA championships, he was paid just $40,500 -- while in Steve Alford's first year he will be paid $2.6 a year for seven years, or a total of $18.2 million. Gosh and golly, think of all that money difference.
No, think of something else. Something that's more to the point.
John Wooden retired in 1975. ESPN -- the heartbeat of sports today -- didn't even go on the air until 1979. But it's more pronounced than that. The first personal computer didn't exist until 1976. The freaking Internet wouldn't be invented for another 14 years!
The world was different. And not just different like "life changes," but different in ways that -- in this case -- impact the very world of sports that Bill Dwyre is attempting to compare. Sports changed from a business to a mega-international Big Business industrial complex that has embedded itself into the public's lives. The Curt Flood Act changed the entire landscape of sports, when came into being to protect major league baseball players against anti-trust violations -- it was passed by Congress in 1998, almost a quarter century after John Wooden retired.
The world was totally different.
One thing, for instance, that Bill Dwyre didn't mention is that the highest salary Babe Ruth ever received was $70,000. Alex Rodriguez of the same NY Yankees makes $29 million -- a year. When it was originally, signed, it was for $275 million total. Folks, that isn't because of principles and inflation. It's because life as we know it and the world of sports is totally, incontrovertibly, otherworldly different.
Far better for Bill Dwyre to have compared Steve Alford's contract to contracts of other college coaches today. Apples to apples. Or at least, try for apples to fruit. Far better for Bill Dwyre to have compared Steve Alford's contract to contracts of other college coaches today. Apples to apples. Or at least, try for apples to fruit. Rick Pitino makes almost $5 million a year as coach of Louisville…and he’s not even the highest paid coach – I don’t mean “not highest paid” in college basketball, I mean in the state. The University of Kentucky’s John Calipari makes $5.2 million a year. Double what Alford gets.
At the very, very least, Bill Dwyre could have compared Steve Alford's UCLA contract to...other current UCLA coaches, for goodness sake. Or his immediate predecessor. But he did none of that. He simply compared the iPhone to Tom Paine's Common Sense -- and complained about inflation and the principles of today's communication.
Normally, I would go through the article point-by-point to explain why I think each one is far off-base. But in this case, there are so many specifics in the article to pick out that I'd probably end up quoting the entire article. It's just sort of bizarre, for such an otherwise excellent journalist. Instead, I'll reference just one that's so wildly off-base to give you a sense of what I mean here.
Mr. Dwyre writes --
"Other Alford contract goodies include two BMWs (one to go to the grocery store and one for the post office?); a country club membership (bet it's not Whispering Sewers) and travel expenses for his wife to road games (that $2.6 million must not be for Southwest Airlines fares).
"Remember when the Dodgers signed Old Surly, Kevin Brown, for two-thirds of Ft. Knox and he still demanded a plane to fly his wife and family to games? The fans went crazy. How are you feeling in Westwood these days, folks?"
Well..yes, unfortunately for Bill Dwyre I do remember.
Fifteen years ago -- before inflation kicked up prices even higher than they are today -- Kevin Brown signed a contract for (are you ready?) $105 million!!! Steve Alford's today is for $18.2 million. And Alford's contract asks for "travel expense" for his wife -- Kevin Brown required that to fly his wife he have a PRIVATE PLANE!!!!!!
Mr. Dwyre wasn't trying to, but he makes Steve Alford sound like a saint in comparison.
And for what it's worth, I suspect that Steve Alford asked for two cars because he wanted one for his wife. What a concept. It seems excessive to me, but at least it's an understandable reason, not a snarky suggestion of "one for the post office."
This isn't just a bad comparison that Bill Dwyre made here between Steve Alford and Kevin Brown. This is a borderline loopy comparison. And the article is filled with things like that.
To be clear, I think that when one is paid $2.6 million, you shouldn't ask for travel expenses for your family. But I'll bet that's in the contracts of most big-time college coaches today. And the amount probably is not all that much, in relation to the full contract. (Besides, it's at least nice that he wants his wife with him.) And I also think that the contract seems overly big -- but -- I don't know how it compares to others today (because Mr. Dwyre didn't tell us), an important issue considering that UCLA has one of the premier basketball programs in the country, and wants to polish that legend that John Wooden so grandly created. And I will make an assumption that the UCLA basketball program today makes so much money that the school believes the contract is fully supportable, because they believe Steve Alford will grow that foundation even more.
In fact, going further, Bill Dwyre, a generally wonderful sports writer with an admirable career, didn't make bad comparisons, he wrote a very bad article. Given how many good ones he wrote, he's entitled to an off-day.
Bill Dwyre ends his article by writing --
"Did you want to take a shower after you read the story?
"Pass the soap."
Unfortunately, yes, I did. And unfortunately it's not for the reason Mr. Dwyre thought. He's so much better than this. In all truth, with not an ounce of sarcasm, I look forward to his next article. He's really that good. He just wasn't here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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