Hofstra Men’s Basketball: There is Hope on the Horizon

November 30, 2014

December 1, 2014
One of my articles last December was entitled: “Hofstra Men’s Basketball: Is There Hope on the Horizon?” Well, December has arrived and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for Hofstra Men’s Basketball. And this year, the title is “There is Hope on the Horizon.”

Gone is Hofstra’s lifetime superstar Charles Jenkins. Gone are Mike Moore and shot blocker Greg Washington. What’s left? Let’s find out about the present squad.

First, and perhaps foremost, is the 2nd year coach, Joe Mihalich who I ranked in my upcoming book, “Basketball Coaching 101” as the 2nd best coach in the county. (However, my colleagues claim that the statement is based on the fact that Mihalich is the only coach who talks to me.) And who is Joe Mihalich? Credit is due to Hofstra’s outstanding Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway who somehow managed to convince Mihalich to leave Niagara University and resettle at Hofstra. Hofstra now has a Men’s Basketball roster comprised of student-athletes who under Mihalich’s direction, have been as equally focused on their schoolwork as on Mihalich’s playbook, and managing to stay out of trouble. So in a very real sense, Hathaway will deserve credit if and when there is a turnaround in the basketball program.

Second, are the players. There are, relatively speaking, massive changes here. The returnees include Dion Nesmith (who was shockingly granted an additional year of eligibility), Jamail Robinson – who I predict will be a big surprise this year, and Moussa Kone – who may have difficulty getting playing time at center. The new additions are the wild card. Included here are transfers Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley–transfers from Niagara, SMU transfer Brian Bernardi, redshirt freshman guard Eliel Gonzalez, Rokas Gustys from Oak Hill Academy, transfer Malik Nichols, and freshman center Andre Walker. This is truly a quality group.

The third factor is the Conference itself, the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association). The quality of both the conference and players have been decreased with power teams transferring out of the Conference and player graduation. It boils down to this: Hofstra is loaded and has a reasonable chance to win the tournament championship and (yes!) move on to the NCAA Tournament.

There is a fourth factor. I believe that the route to basketball championships is through the backcourt. Hofstra definitely will have the best backcourt in the CAA with Jaran’ya Green and Dion Nesmith. These two could probably start for many teams in the country. If the “bigs” can hold their own, my NCAA prediction will very likely become a reality. And don’t forget my sleeper Jamail Robinson.

But there’s more on the fourth factor. As noted, it is the backcourt that usually determines the level of success of a team. But most importantly is the defensive capability of the backcourt. How important is defense? Here is a case and point. Stevie Mejia served as the point (or I) guard for the 2012-13 Hofstra team. Colleagues in press row commented on several occasions that Stevie wasn’t playing at his full potential. What they were referring to was his scoring. Yet, during the season, Stevie stopped the star guards Scott Machado and Michael Alvarado of Iona and Manhattan College, respectively, Cold!, and each were projected first round and second round picks, respectively. I am sure there have been better defensive guards, but he is the best little guard I have ever seen. Furthermore, Hofstra lost three games during the 2013-14 season because of an inability to stop the star guard of the opposing team.

The reality is that defense doesn’t get the credit it deserves in the roll it can play in determining the outcome of a game. The reader should never forget that defense is 50% of the game. DEFENSE IS AS IMPORTANT AS OFFENSE. You can never lose a game if your five starters have the capabilities of shutting down their opponents. However, you can lose a game even if your five starters have the capability of scoring at will.

So, what’s the bottom line? There is indeed hope on the horizon this season despite the 10 wins record last year. The sun will not be setting on the horizon…it will be rising as the strangers on the squad get better acquainted and the freshmen centers mature. I believe that this is going to be an exciting year that may (and hopefully) extend deep into March. Only time will tell whether the hope is real or whether it is just another adjustment year.

Finally, folks do yourselves a favor and consider attending one of the games. Attending Hofstra games still remains the best sports buy in the New York Metropolitan area; it’s even cheaper than going to the movies. There is ample free parking, easy access in and out of the Sports Complex, the concession stands are not a rip-off ($3.25 for a dog, $1.50 for a soda, etc.), and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Did I mention that its $5 for seniors and children, and the whole exciting atmosphere is conducive to family attendance? I suggest sharing it with someone you care about. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Note: The above article was written in early November. The team’s record at the time of posting this article (November 28) was 3-2.

Lou Theodore

NEXT POSTINGS: (tentative)

JANUARY 1: On Football Boxes
FEBRUARY 1: On Great Eats
MARCH 1: On the Sats
APRIL 1: On Paying Student Athletes III
MAY 1: On School Taxes

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On Paying Student-Athletes II

November 3, 2014

November 1, 2014
The author penned an “As I See It” article titled “On Student-Athletes” near the turn of the century. This was followed by the author’s “As I See It” article nearly 10 years ago titled “On Paying Student-Athletes”. This article is a follow-up to these two papers.

As noted earlier, it is important for the reader to understand that college sports is no longer a sport in the traditional Hellenic sense. It is, pure and simple, a big business that is in the business of providing entertainment in order to make money. Sports is no longer a term that applies at the professional level and most major collegiate programs. Sports has become big business and capitulated to excesses with the corruption that often accompanies uncontrolled capitalism. Bottom line: it has been converted to entertainment. A small group of individuals provide the entertainment and, contrary to American democratic principles and capitalism, are essentially deprived of fair compensation. Most of these entertainers get little to nothing in terms of monetary salaries. A handful are later provided significant financial rewards; it is almost strictly a matter if the entertainers make the pros. In basketball, first round draft choices are guaranteed a millions dollars a year for three years. Second round draft choices get nothing unless they make the team.

Some simplistic individuals continue to view sports and/or athletic events in the classic tradition of the Olympics. It was 500 BC when a handful of Spartan warriors routed the invading Persians at the Plains of Marathon, located approximately 25 miles from Athens. Immediately following the victory, the Olympics were born. The Olympics continued to flourish as a “pure” sport until politics, and more recently, money was introduced into the mix.

Make no mistake about it, the sole purpose of colleges and universities in the old days was to provide quality education. In recent years, these institutions of higher learning have moved into the business of making money. I speak from firsthand personal experience.

And what do we have today? Professional sports are run by the owners, commissioners, and networks in a manner that provides the best in entertainment in order to maximize its profits. Even the officiating is geared toward this end. (Fortunately, the athletes at the professional level have become rich, being appropriately compensated).

Here is what James Michener (my favorite author) had to say in 1990:

“It is still reprehensible for colleges to glean huge profits from their football and basketball teams, while giving their student players no share. I believe that, before the next century, colleges will pay their athletes, and I recommend a system in which a high school graduate who is awarded a scholarship will be allowed 10 years in which to use it. This will enable him to move into the pros while still young and useful, yet obtain his college degree when he is waived out of the league.”

I would go significantly beyond Michener’s position. These athletes, most of whom are anything but students, should be paid. They need representation, just like professional athletes, if they are to receive their fair share. Otherwise, their coaches and individuals like Myles Brand of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will continue to deny them endorsements, gate receipts, TV contracts, etc., on the grounds that such “remuneration will corrupt sports and the amateur ideal.”

One can only wonder if student-athletes (SAs) give thought to what they have given to society. One can only wonder if the NCAA has ever given thought to the SAs role in society. The author believes the suits at the NCAA rarely give thought to the aspirations and the future of the Unsuccessful SAs who would more appropriately be referred to as USAs.

Even after high school, the main problem with many of the SAs is that no one has taught them how to be a star in college. There is television, radio, crowds, press conferences, interviews, etc. Some of these activities are often embarrassing. The main problem with the successful SAs (in this case that means reaching the pros) is that no one, once again, has taught them how to be a star. But what about those SAs who are unsuccessful, i.e., USAs. Once the (senior) season is over, the artificial stage of their college life has ended, and the USAs glamorous world is gone. Kaput! An irreversible happening that will never return.

What happens then? The USA returns to the real world…his home, his city, and in some cases, his country. He is effectively alone within a day. Some do return to their institution and keep in touch with their teammates, and occasionally their coaches, but the contact is inevitably limited. The ending comes quickly as earlier social and professional contacts decrease at an exponential rate.

The former intimacy with both players and coaches dissolves as the USA retreats into another world and is once again simply part of the masses. No longer is everything taken care of by other people; the servants who prepare his meals, outfit him, and provide travel arrangements are now history. And even worse, no one has forewarned him, and no one has taught him to adjust to a new lifestyle.

On March 25th (Greek Independence Day) 2014, a regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Northwestern University football players are entitled to unionize. Even though authorities appear to be in agreement that this decision will almost certainly be upheld by the national (full) NLRB, lines have been drawn and the NCAA is certain to litigate the decision. This decision could significantly impact the whole spectrum of labor law – including minimum wage, health benefits, social security provisions, unemployment insurance, etc. If upheld, as expected, this decision will (not could) bring the long awaited and justified demise of part – if not all – of the NCAA. I believe that the NCAA will be so crippled by changes that the NCAA, as it is known today, will either disappear or take on a completely different role in college athletics in the future.

There is so much money involved that the sport of college basketball and football will survive. The above court decision will no doubt lead to salaries plus benefits for the athletes, many of whom will no longer be viewed as students. In effect, the term student-athlete will disappear from the dictionary. How, where, and why revenues will be distributed to college athletes – many of whom will be categorized as employees – will be determined by business decisions in the relatively near future.

A colleague and former adversary (on the basketball court) Neal Gillen, a Washington, D.C. based attorney, offered the following “solution” to the SA problem for my soon-to-be-published book titled “Basketball Coaching 101”:

“The issue must be addressed on three separate fronts:
A. An enforceable contract between the school and the student-athlete
B. Changing NCAA eligibility rules
C. Professional leagues agreeing not to sign collegiate players until they or their class have graduated
I have also included provisions for player travel expenses and a monthly stipend to be determined. I did not include a provision for a student athlete to participate in the proceeds of the sale of jerseys, T-shirts, or other memorabilia, but were I to do so, any such payment would not be forthcoming until the athlete or his or her class has graduated. There could be antitrust issues, but should the changes I propose be made and upheld, the game would change once more for the better.

A. Contract between Student Athlete and Educational Institution
The student athlete agrees that in consideration for he or she receiving from the academic institution a four year scholarship that includes tuition, books, tutoring, room, meal, laundry, cleaning, and reasonable travel expenses to and from home at the beginning and ending of each semester, in addition to a monthly stipend during his or her athletic and academic eligibility, said stipend to be determined pursuant to a national agreement between this and other academic institutions and the NCAA, that said student will strictly adhere to the rules and regulations of this academic institution and its athletic department, endeavor to maintain good study habits, participate in all scheduled classes unless otherwise excused because of ill health or playing commitment, will make up any such classes missed, complete all research papers assigned submitting only original research conducted by him or herself, will comport him or herself in a proper moral manner at all times and will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking, using narcotics, gambling or providing information about the team’s or a player’s status to known gamblers. Said athlete also agrees that he or she is contractually bound to this agreement, and a breach thereof will require that liquidated damages be paid to the education institution should the player fail to complete the 4-year commitment. Said damages to be determined by arbitration conducted pursuant to the rules of the American Arbitration Association.

B. NCAA Athlete Participation Standards
Effective on a certain date, student athletes in all NCAA Divisions shall be ineligible to participate in varsity sports until their sophomore year, provided they have achieved a minimum 2.5 cumulative average and have successfully completed course work in 32 credit hours. (Author’s comment: This Provision could go a long way toward reducing or eliminating the NCAA academic abuses)

C. United States Professional Athletic Leagues and/or Associations
Players shall not be eligible to contract signatories obligating them to play the professional sport overseen by the governing league and/or association to which a team is a member of and is governed by until his or her college class has graduated unless prior to that date the player in question has earned the necessary credit hours to graduate.”

It all boils down to this: As a former professor, I was paid for chemical engineering education services that were provided to an institution that made money because of the services provided. A SA is not paid for services that are provided to an institution that makes money because of the services the SA provides. Why was I paid and the SA not paid? Isn’t this country a democracy that operates with an economic system based on capitalism? The NCAA apparently does not believe that James Madison’s Constitution applies equally to all – only to some of us.

Folks, Hamlet was right. Something is rotten, terribly rotten.

Perhaps Alex Karras, Detroit Lions defensive end said it best about his scholastic days: “I never graduated from Iowa. I was there for only two terms – Truman’s and Eisenhower’s.”

Lou Theodore

NEXT POSTINGS: (tentative)

DECEMBER 1: On Hofstra Men’s Basketball: 2014-15 Season
JANUARY 1: On Football Boxes
FEBRUARY 1: On Great Eats