Friday, August 14, 2009

Pay the kids some more.

[Here's part one, for those playing at home.]

How about this for comparison. I had a full music scholarship when I went to Alabama. Almost nothing I did while I was there did anything to bring money to the university (almost all the concerts were free - the exception was the Christmas show). At Oklahoma I had a graduate teaching assistantship that paid so little, I gave a substantial amount of it back to the school for the excess tuition fees. The classes I taught did some little bit to help the school financially. I - like most grad students - was woefully underpaid for it, though and had to supplement with student loans.

This is normal, but I had little financial impact on either of my universities. College football players have a huge impact, both on their school's bottom line and ability to attract more students. Just talk to all the players on mediocre teams in the mid-major conferences that go on the road to play big teams, only rarely scoring an upset, but always getting a huge payday for their schools. Players that play for elite programs like USC, OU, 'Bama, Notre Dame, and even down-but-not-out Michigan are some of the hands that feed their universities big money. (If they get injured, there's a bigger price.) I'm not saying players are the sole bread-winners - universities obviously have other (and bigger) sources of funding - but with as much money as there is in the college game, can't the players see some of that? They probably get book scholarships and dorm rooms and food paid for as well, but I'd argue for something more explicit.

The NCAA should sanction nominal stipends. This might act as a deterrent against the kind of shenanigans that cost Rhett Bomar a place on the OU football squad (both for the boosters and the players themselves). There are all kinds of ways for boosters to get money to kids. Maybe a stipend program would help curtail the practice. Right now the perception is that college players are paid with an education, books and room and board, but if colleges can say, "hey, we also pay them for what they do on the field that explicitly brings us money," then there's less a perception that the kids are being used. It's also a bit of an insurance policy against getting hurt. I'm thinking of Tyrone Prothro, a 'Bama receiver with "NFL" written all over him - until he broke his leg in the line of duty. A stipend wouldn't cover the loss of an NFL career but it at least acknowledges that there are physical and career risks for guys. Some would say that that's just the way it goes, but I would say the difference between "in the NFL" and "not in the NFL" is huge.

Look, I know that this whole pay-the-players concept is fraught with big problems. For one, the NCAA would never do it, nor would any system chancellor or university president. It really ruins the amateur standing that the NCAA polices so vigorously. But the financial inequities are there, they're obvious, and they need to be addressed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pay the kids.

Those of you that know me know that I am a huge college football fan. Given my background, it was almost impossible for me not to be. My dad went to Michigan and my older brother went to Ohio State, so I grew up caught in the middle of one of college football's most heated rivalries. For the record, I always sided with my brother. Dad always had - and still has - Mom in his corner. That experience as a kid was only compounded when I attended both Alabama and Oklahoma, both hugely storied pigskin programs. Needless to say, last year was amazing for my teams as they kept winning and winning - and heart-wrenching when they were both beaten by the much-hated Gators of Gainesville, Florida. (Full disclosure: I attended UF for two semesters. Nice school - excellent, really - but I could never root for the team after attending 'Bama.)

I look forward to fall football more and more each year. Just ask my wife. She's a pretty big fan herself, but even she seems bemused this year by my wild-eyed hyperventilation. Being unemployed has given me some extra time to whip myself into a frenzy - but also to ruminate on some issues in the game. I'm going to spend some time exploring some of the more interesting ones. Starting now.

College football is big business. Say what you will about how the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), ahem, "determines" college football's national champion, but there is no disputing that the controversial system has amped up the water-cooler factor of a sport already drenched in trash talk and rivalries. Huge TV deals, conferences with their own networks, obscene bowl game payouts, campus athletic facilities that far outstrip classrooms and labs - the sport is flush with cash. Everybody around the sport is benefiting. Even the student-athletes that play the game. Scholarship money abounds and kids that might not otherwise get a college education are getting one.

But I still think that there is an inequity in the sport. Though I know that there are problems with the concept - the first being "it'll never happen" - it's time to pay the kids for their play. Why, though? I just mentioned that many of them get a first-rate education when they might not get one. So why pay them more?

It's all about fairness. As the money in and around the game has increased exponentially, the kids are still rewarded with only a college education. You say, "that seems fair to me", but it's not. It's like the minimum wage went 50 years without being raised. Schools are seeing more and more profit from football - left-tackle-sized profits, in fact. But to get these profits they are riding the hard work of students. Yes, they sink all the money back into the school, scholarships and the athletic department, too. But that's woefully indirect. And not fair. There's no sport without the players.

Tune in for tomorrow's exciting conclusion: Fair is Fair, Unless You're a College Football Player!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The lip rushes in where the air fears to tread.

Wow. For my first trick with the new blog, I will post once, get really busy and then wait more than a week to post the second one. My bad.

This week I'm stuck at home under the practice mute. The lovely place that I found to practice is closed up because the proprietors are off to Tahoe for some much needed recharging before school cranks up. I don't blame them, but a whole week of the mute is going to drive me crazy. I order this mute (Tiger). It gets rave reviews, and I truly hope that it lives up to its billing.

I'm happy to report that I'm having more success than I have in awhile in getting back into shape. My mind is just in a better place than even in college. My former college horn teacher would - no doubt - be very happy to hear that. He might not believe me though - I was a true basket case in college!

The airstream is coming back and the chops are staying supple. I had a rough time of it one day last week - sore jaw - but the next day was fine with some careful midrange exercises. The moral of that story: Even if you can play above the staff, when you're as out of shape a I am... don't. At least not until the jaw is strong enough. If it hurts, don't do it. Thus sayeth all doctors and brass players.

Another long-standing issue with my horn playing that I'm making progress on: initial attacks. I was never able to consistently get the air into the horn at the same time the embouchure activates, so I'd end up sounding the note late and/or using too much lip muscle. I'd tire out too fast as well (which is what happened during my otherwise lovely performance of the Brahms Trio on my senior recital). I've realized that a lot of that comes from fear of missing the note. What is there to fear there, really? I'm just practicing and no one can hear except me - especially under the mute.

All this made me remember an aphorism I came up with in college that never really worked then: "Never send the lip to do the air's job." Now I'm heeding that. I'm trying to get the air to hit just before the embouchure activates so that the air does more of the power lifting. Now if I can just get the air to move fast enough on a consistent basis...

Now I've done two horn posts and not "many other things." Next time: College Football!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This... and many other things.


I'm playing the horn again and I wanted to document my efforts at getting back into shape... and many other things as well.

Tonight the Braves lost, the watermelon is juicy, it's hot in the Valley, more astronauts than ever before are orbiting Earth, and I played the horn for about an hour.

This is significant because up until last week, I hadn't played regularly or with this kind of focus since December 2003. But I'm ready now and it is good.

Last week, I looked around the internet for information on getting back into playing a brass instrument after an insanely long layoff. There was very little. So I'm going to chronicle my exploits as I attempt to get back in playing shape.

My apartment has thin walls so I'm using a practice mute most of the time. But I recently found a place to play out loud - and they have a dog, so that rules.

Today, I'm back with the practice mute, but making progress. I'm rocking the Elementary Rubank Method book and working on changing how I use my air. It's been so long since I've regularly read music that I'm re-learning that for the better too.

Today, I iced my lip after I finished. I'll be doing that again. The lip was tight and thick, but the ice knocked it back to suppleness. I'm hoping to keep that going and the progress on track.

More later.