Changing Times

The Women’s Basketball Final Four is set and the much-anticipated rematch between Iowa – -with Caitlin Clark – – and reigning champion LSU – – with Angel Reese – – did not disappoint.  Clark scored 41 points and handed out 12 assists; Reese scored 17 points and pulled down 20 rebounds in their Elite Eight showdown.  That was the fun aspect of that game.

The darker side involved LSU’s women’s coach, Kim Mulkey.  In the days leading up to the game, Mulkey declared that she knew that she was about to be the subject of a “hit piece” in the Washington Post; a reporter there had been working on a negative article about her for two years and that she had hired a lawyer and threatened to sue the author and the Post for defamation.

The article – – written by Kent Babb – – was published.  It had some less-than-flattering things to say about Coach Mulkey, but they were sourced in the article and/or were retellings of things that had been written about her in the past.  Here is a link to the article if you want to read it for yourself.

I believe that defamation suits are decided by juries; if that is the case, let me say that based on my reading of Babb’s article, Coach Mulkey would have a difficult time convincing me that she was defamed by his words.  Perhaps, her threatened lawsuit caused editor(s) at the Post to remove some parts of the article that might have been closer on the spectrum towards defamation; that is possible.  However, if they were removed and not published, I don’t see how they can also be defamatory.  Should this case go to trial, I think I have just disqualified myself as a juror which does not upset me even slightly.  I thought my reading of the Post article would be the end of this story.

But wait, there’s more …

Earlier in the tournament, LSU played – – and defeated – – UCLA.  A writer for the LA Times understandably took the side of the local California team and referred to the LSU women as “dirty debutantes” which is alliterative and confusing at the same time.  Coach Mulkey did not call this defamatory; she said it was sexist which I guess is true in that all her players are females and only females can be debutantes.  It is the word “dirty” that does not fit here.  Here is what Coach Mulkey had to say about the Times piece:

“You can criticize coaches all you want.  That’s our business.  You can come at us and say you are the worst coach in America.  I hate you; I hate everything about you.  We expect that; it comes with the territory.  But the one thing I’m not going to let you do, I’m not going to let you attack young people and there were some things in this commentary that you should be offended by as women.”

The tone of her comments immediately recalled Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy and his famous rant about 15 years ago.  A writer covering the team wrote something critical of a demoted QB for the Cowboys and Gundy exploded at a press event telling the reporters to lay off the kids and to come after him because he was 40 years old and “I’m a man!”

Both Coach Gundy and Coach Mulkey are reading from a pivotal chapter in the “Coaches’ Almanac” where coaches take the blame in lieu of dumping it all on players’ ineffectiveness.  Hence, all the references by losing coaches to having been “outcoached” by victorious opponents and few if any references to botches by players.  When Coach Gundy went on his rant – – back in 2007 – – times were different.  The façade of college sports was that the games were contested by “student-athletes”; such is no longer the case.  Many college athletes – – to include some women who are participating in the basketball tournament – – are in receipt of NIL money.

When they accept that money, they are putting their name and likeness out in the public for exploitation; it is a transaction and not a “family matter”.  So, the protestation by Coach Mulkey and by any other college football or basketball coach along the lines of “Come at me and leave the kids out of it,” is noble and even quaint in these times when a star player might be earning six or seven figures playing a collegiate sport.  If the name, image and likeness of a player is worth that kind of money, then that player is ipso facto an adult public figure.

Switching gears – but staying on the subject of lots of money – the NFL announced that it will stage two regular season games on Christmas Day this year.  In case you are wondering why that is worth mentioning here, Christmas Day in 2024 is a Wednesday; few if any folks associate the NFL with Wednesday.  Here are my thoughts on how and why this is going to happen:

  • Last year, Christmas Day was on a Monday and the NFL simply “expanded Monday Night Football”.  In 2022, Christmas Day was on a Sunday, and no one was surprised to have some NFL football on TV on a Sunday.
  • Last year, the “Christmas Games” drew huge audiences; the average number of viewers for the games was 28.7 million folks.
  • The NBA staged 5 games last Christmas Day and the total audience for all five games was only about 30 million people; the NFL average audience was about the same size as the total NBA audience for 5 games.
  • So, if you are an NFL exec looking to increase revenues, why wouldn’t you play games on Christmas Day this year and in the future?

Obviously, this will require some scheduling legerdemain.  Having said that, I am confident that the NFL scheduling mavens have already figured out how to make this work. We will get all the details in May when the NFL releases its 2024 regular season schedule.  And according to reports, the NFL is going to put the broadcasting rights for these two games up for auction involving traditional networks, cable networks and streaming platforms.  One report said that bidding would start at $50M per game.  Let the good times roll …

Finally, let me close here with this comment from actor Jack Palance:

“The only two things you can truly depend upon are gravity and greed.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “Changing Times”

  1. You make an excellent point. Now that college athletes reap small fortunes for playing sports, they forfeit their immunity to criticism. It comes with being a professional.
    I heard a podcaster make another good point in reference to Kim Mulkey. He said that any criticism of her is sign of the recent increase in the popularity of women’s college basketball. He said she should embrace the new attention, not bristle at it.

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