Category: Sports

Presty’s Positively System-Free March Madness picks!

Go ahead and laugh at my 2016 CBSSports.com/Infiniti Bracket Challenge March Madness bracket:

2016 March Madness bracket

In the past I have tried to figure out a system for March Madness. One year I spent valuable time figuring out Net Efficiency — efficiency on offense and defense. That system worked as well as throwing darts on a dartboard, putting two bowls of food (each representing a team) for your dog to choose, etc. For one thing, the most offensively efficient team is St. Mary’s of California, which is not in the tournament. The second most offensively efficient team is Indiana, but Indiana is coached by Tom Crean, and you should never pick a Tom Crean-coached team.

The only thing that comes to mind out of this bracket is that my Final Four picks accidentally fit the Blue Rule — that is, picking blue teams, because the biggest historic NCAA powers — Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, etc. — wear blue. I also routinely refuse to pick Big Ten teams to go far, and indeed I have picked three Atlantic Coast Conference teams to go to the Final Four, because the ACC is to basketball what the Southeastern Conference is to football.

Frankly, it’s a boring field, with three number one seeds going to the Final Four. Since I’ve been busy with sports of my own, I have not really followed NCAA basketball that much except for Wisconsin …

Yes, that is my UW Band trumpet I’m playing.

… and apparently I have them going to the Sweet 16, largely because of my feeling that when you have a non-traditional power with a high seed, that is a ripe situation for an upset. But it’s only a feeling.

 

The WIAA and open meetings and records

The Post~Crescent committed a flagrant act of journalism last week:

The business of high school sports tournaments has never been bigger in Wisconsin, generating $7.6 million last year from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, sponsorships and other sources.

The paychecks of top Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association executives have followed suit, according to nonprofit tax records reviewed by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

The WIAA reported paying its top six executives $1.1 million last year, a 72 percent boost from 2001 tax filings that outpaced hikes in other workers’ compensation.

Executive director Dave Anderson received a $162,000 salary in addition to $78,000 in benefits, including retirement contributions. His predecessor’s salary in 2001 was about $37,000 less and his benefits cost $47,000 less.

The WIAA receives most of its funding from operating the state’s annual postseason athletic tournaments. …

Until this year, hundreds of public and private school districts have also directly funded the association through membership fees and dues. School district funding last year totaled $424,000, according to the WIAA’s tax filings.

USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin took a closer look at the WIAA’s spending in light of a proposal moving through the Capitol that would require the association to comply with government transparency laws. Some legislators say the WIAA is so strongly tied to public schools that it deserves equal scrutiny.

Tax filings, open to public review under federal laws, already provide some insight into the association’s operations and how paychecks at the top have climbed even through years in which public school officials complained of state funding shortages.

About 13 cents of every dollar raised by the WIAA ultimately flows into the pockets of its top six executives: Anderson, four lower-ranking directors and an association spokesman. Each received a six-figure salary and more than $57,000 in benefits last year.

Anderson, in response to our review, said salaries are approved by a member-elected board of school officials and reflect industry rates. He said directors now work 10 more hours per week than in 2001 and noted rising consumer prices as a factor in pay changes.

Anderson disputed the fairness of comparing total compensation reported in tax filings, saying federal laws today require nonprofits to account for benefits differently than 15 years ago. By the WIAA’s calculations, the reported cost of Anderson’s benefits last year would’ve been about $28,000 lower under 2001 reporting laws.

Still, Anderson and three WIAA board members interviewed by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin didn’t challenge our core finding that executive pay has grown alongside the association’s expenses as a whole. The combined salaries of the top six executives alone have climbed by about 40 percent since 2001 and one person’s salary has nearly doubled.

Anderson isn’t a public employee. But as the WIAA’s executive director, he now earns more than just about every administrator at a WIAA-member public school as well as the state’s superintendent and governor.

Recent calls for greater transparency at the WIAA trace back to December when a Hilbert basketball player was suspended for 4½ games because she used an expletive on Twitter to criticize the association for banning crowd chants such as “air ball” and “scoreboard.” …

The fallout prompted John Nygren, a Marinette Republican in the state Assembly, to resurrect a proposal requiring the WIAA to comply with state public records and open meetings laws. The proposal was previously introduced by a Democratic legislator in 2009 but failed to gain traction.

Nygren has argued the WIAA is a quasi-government entity and that more transparency after the suspension would’ve saved the state from international ridicule. The WIAA is opposing the proposal with the aid of four lobbyists, arguing it would set a dangerous precedent for any nonprofit that works with tax-funded agencies.

“This is a fast-tracked punitive bill that is a slippery slope eroding the privacy protections of other private entities,” Anderson wrote in a Feb. 10 memo to Assembly legislators. “Schools pay no membership dues or fees. The WIAA receives no public tax dollars from the state.”

Only recently has the WIAA cut direct ties to tax dollars, though. Member school districts, the vast majority of which are taxpayer-funded, have contributed more than $6 million to the association since 2001, according to its tax filings.

The WIAA voted in April last year to cease membership dues for two years, citing an interest in distancing the association from taxpayer funds and easing financial pressure on school athletic budgets. The association plans to vote again next year whether to continue the break, Anderson said.

Nygren’s proposal passed the state Assembly last month. It next heads to the Senate and possibly Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, where is faces an uncertain fate. Asked about the proposal last month, neither Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald nor Walker endorsed the bill and only offered that it would be considered.

A recent veto by Walker also suggests he might oppose the proposal. Explaining a veto last summer related to student eligibility for public school sports, Walker said, “I do not believe state statutes should stipulate the participation and membership requirements of a private athletic association.”

That position may be foretelling in this case because Nygren’s proposal would effectively thrust state transparency laws on the WIAA via new limits on school district participation. The proposal says no district may join an athletic association unless that association elects to comply with state laws.

While the WIAA is lobbying against Nygren’s proposal, several association leaders told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin that they don’t entirely oppose following state transparency laws because the association is already so open with its business.

“We got absolutely nothing to hide,” said Mike Beighley, the superintendent public schools in Whitehall and a current WIAA board member. “We already put everything else out.”

Association leaders pointed to allowing news reporters at Board of Control meetings where financial reports and other internal business are discussed, and their publishing of meeting minutes online like a government agency.

Simple requests for information are also routinely honored in spirit with the state’s Public Records Law, they said. Indeed, they answered most of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s questions and released internal figures to back up some statements.

“What would be different? I don’t see that as a big deal,” said Dean Sanders, the superintendent of public schools in Lake Mills and a longtime voice on the WIAA’s Board of Control.

Of course WIAA leaders have their concerns. Aside from disagreeing with the principal of extending state law to a nonprofit, Sanders said he worries that athletes would be more reluctant to speak candidly during meetings or in messages that could be released publicly.

No longer would the WIAA have discretion to allow visitors at board meetings or to release certain information. These activities would be required with the added risk of lawsuits and hefty legal bills over failures to comply.

Beighley said he worried that open meeting laws could slow the WIAA’s response in unusual situations, such as an athlete who needs an emergency waiver of association rules, or invite frivolous requests that increase costs.

“Is it going to change our operation? No,” Beighley said. “Is it scary to me? Yeah.”

Sanders and Beighley, both past presidents of the WIAA’s Board of Control, are familiar with government transparency laws in their work as superintendents. They are reimbursed for meals and mileage by the WIAA but do not receive a paycheck.

The Board of Control includes nine public and two private school officials. Sanders and Beighley said board members vary in clocking hours for the WIAA. Some use taxpayer-funded school district time for WIAA meetings and personal time for tournaments.

“I’m on school time and expected to make up whatever I do on Sunday when I’m home,” Sanders said. “My (school) board knows that I put in enough time.” …

Sanders and Beighley scoffed at comparing WIAA paychecks to compensation at member school districts, saying the Board of Control instead looks at other high school athletic associations. The head of Minnesota’s association, for example, earned $61,000 more than Anderson in 2013, the most recent year for which comparable tax figures were available.

“We’ve always tried to be right in the middle. I also don’t think Wisconsin athletics should be right in the rear,” Sanders said. “By being in the middle, we’re saying we respect what you do, we respect what you’ve done.”

Beighley also said the WIAA hasn’t increased revenue merely to boost executive pay, noting that tournament costs, legal bills, insurance, printing and other expenses have risen over the years as well.

“I don’t think we’ve set out to make more money to pay people more money,” he said.

The WIAA has been able to provide larger paychecks to its executives over the past 15 years in part due to hikes in ticket prices, referee licensing fees and broadcasting partnerships.

In just the past decade, association figures show revenue from operating the state’s high school tournaments has grown from about $5.9 million to $7.2 million annually while royalties have increased eight-fold to $476,000.

In some cases, those royalties have come from media organizations seeking to cover high school postseason competition. The WIAA in 2009 sued The Post-Crescent and the Wisconsin Newspapers Association over the broadcasting rights of state tournament contests held in public schools. A federal appeals court sided with the WIAA, rejecting the argument that the games were public events. The Post-Crescent is part of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

The WIAA operates more than 3,000 competitions annually, with more than $2 million flowing back to host schools through payments that vary by sport. For example, hosting a basketball tournament pays $60 per game compared to $80 per game for football.

Sanders said growing revenue was critical to eliminating membership fees and dues last year. The Board of Control wanted to make the decision permanent, he said, but that can only happen under a vote of all member school districts.

“It’s been a goal of (Anderson’s) ever since he took over as executive director,” Sanders said.

The most interesting comment on the story came from …

… I was on the WIAA advisory committee for hockey back in the olden days. When we want to enhance the WIAA State HS Hockey tournament and use The Minnesota State High School League’s State Hockey Tournamenr as a comparison, the WIAA’s response from Tom Shafranski was quote. “We don’t compare ourselves to Minnesota when structuring our state tournaments.”

The WIAA had no problem comparing themselves to Minnesota’s High School League executives when it benefited their pocket books.

The WIAA’s claim of not using taxpayer resources is false, irrespective of whether or not the WIAA charges membership fees for state high schools. Where are the vast, vast majority of those 3,000 high school sports events (including all 20 boys basketball sectional finals Saturday) played? In high schools, funded by those school districts’ taxpayers. Who pays coaches? School districts, which means local property taxpayers and state taxpayers (through state aid). Who pays the teachers and other staff who man the games? Same answer.

If school districts and other governments are required to abide by state open meetings and open records laws (and they absolutely should be), then the WIAA, which also uses taxpayer dollars, absolutely should be bound to those same open government laws. The state Senate has until Tuesday to vote on Nygren’s bill. The Senate should approve Nygren’s bill, and Walker should sign it.

March Madnesses

Tonight, I get to have another professional thrill by announcing the WIAA girls basketball state tournament, for the second consecutive season, on this outstanding radio station.

I will be announcing Mineral Point, one year after I announced the Pointer boys at boys state in Madison. This is the first state trip for the Pointer girls in school history, and their radio announcer hopes their state experience ends like mine did.

The only downside of announcing girls state is that it’s at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, which is a great facility at an inconvenient end of the state, as I have discussed here before.

The Resch Center works better for girls state in contrast to Madison arenas because it is (1) nicer than the UW Fieldhouse, (2) smaller than the Kohl Center, and (3) not several miles from the UW campus as the Dane County Coliseum — oops, Alliant Energy Center — is. A high school girls game at the Kohl Center is analogous to a state football title game at Camp Randall Stadium, which usually is one-eighth filled. (Which is still better than the last days of Don Mor(t)on.)

The Resch Center is the home of UW–Green Bay’s men’s basketball team, whose announcer made news one day before the Phoenix clinched, the, uh (its? their?) first NCAA berth in 20 years. The Green Bay Press–Gazette reports:

UW-Green Bay men’s basketball radio announcer Matt Menzl briefly was off the air during the game during Monday’s Horizon League semifinal victory over Valparaiso after referee Pat Adams kicked him off press row for what Menzl described as a misunderstanding.

Full audio | Hear Menzl’s ejection here

Menzl said Adams thought he was waving him off after a call went against the Phoenix. Adams thought overwise.

“I talk with my hands,” Menzl said. “I was trying to describe that we had two guys fighting for the ball, and he took it as I waved him off, like saying that’s a horrible call.

“At first he gave me a warning. Then two seconds later said, ‘I want this guy removed and I won’t start the game until he gets removed.’”

Menzl had to hand over his headset to an Oakland play-by-play announcer and went into the tunnel, where he explained the situation to UWGB athletic director Mary Ellen Gillespie and Horizon League spokesman Bill Potter.

Potter told Menzl to go back and that they’d deal with it.

“I maybe missed actual game action, a couple minutes,” Menzl said.

This is what it looked like on TV:

And this is what it sounded like on the air back to Green Bay:

Nation of Blue adds:

Audio has surfaced of referee Pat Adams ejecting the Green Bay radio guy and it makes Adams look even worse than we originally though.

The radio guy appears to be calling the game and suddenly Adams can be heard screaming, “who is this guy?”

After a commercial break, the Green Bay guy is replaced by another radio guy who is filling in.

Given where I will sit for tonight’s game, two-thirds of the way up in the stands, this is not going to happen tonight. However, where I usually sit to announce UW–Platteville games, more often than not courtside, it theoretically could happen, though I would hope I would be professional enough to not get myself tossed or assessed a technical foul. You’d hope the officials would be professional enough to not have rabbit ears, too, but apparently that’s too much to ask in Adams’ case.

Menzl deserves credit for being professional enough to not pop off on the air about Adams’ bullylike behavior. (Adams apparently is a legend in college basketball, and not for good reasons.) There have been announcers over the years who have not been so self-controlled over official calls. That includes legendary Wisconsin announcer Jim Irwin, who would heckle NBA officials on the air during games.

Menzl is not the first radio announcer to be asked to leave a game. Apparently in 2003 during an NCAA tournament game between Cincinnati and Gonzaga at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, this happened:

For a recap of Thursday’s action, we turn to Bearcats play-by-play radio announcer Dan Hoard, who described the key moments of second-half action on WLW-AM 700.

“Coach Huggins has just been ejected, and he’s about to be joined by my partner!”

It was nuts, all right.

With Gonzaga up 47-40, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins went gonzo on referee Mike Kitts after Bearcats forward Jason Maxiell was called for traveling in the back court when Huggins clearly thought his player was fouled.

Huggins screamed in protest and received a technical for leaving the coaching box. A few seconds later, Huggins was hit with a second technical for refusing to leave the floor. He was escorted away at the 16:17 mark, jawing to police officers as he was led up the corridor.

This is the same Huggins who, last Sept. 28, suffered a near-fatal heart attack in Pittsburgh, a traumatic experience that apparently has not tempered his on-court passion nor his hair-trigger temper.

Meanwhile, courtside, Bearcats color commentator Chuck Machock did not wish to confine his feelings only to his listening audience. When Kitts got within earshot, Machock blistered the referee with a foul-mouth tirade.

Officials of other sports sometimes butt heads with announcers as well:

This also reminds me of my favorite college basketball technical foul, well earned by former Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs:

 

 

The intersection of football and politics

UWBadgers.com promotes the season-opening Badger football game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay against LSU:

The 2016 college football season opener pitting Wisconsin vs. LSU could be played anywhere on the planet and it would be a marquee event.

Powerhouse schools from the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences rarely make time for one another outside of bowl games, so when they do the national spotlight is going to be intense regardless of where the meeting takes place.

This is one of those moments when the venue makes the contest ultra-special.

UW will play the Tigers in Green Bay on Sept. 3 in the Lambeau Field College Classic, marking the first time a major college game will be played at the legendary 59-year-old NFL shrine.

“Tradition-rich Lambeau,” Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez said. “You mention that name and people’s eyes light up.”

Though it will be played in the state and 150 miles from Madison, it is classified as a neutral-site game. The format is similar to 2014 when UW opened the season playing the Tigers at NRG Stadium in Houston.

A sellout crowd of 71,599 saw LSU rally for a 28-24 victory over the Badgers two years ago, but it’s expected that tickets to the rematch will be much harder to come by at 80,735-seat Lambeau Field.

According to a dispersal plan drawn up by Packers officials, Wisconsin will get 40,000 tickets, LSU 20,000 and the NFL club will control the rest, which consists mostly of premium seating (suite and club seat). Ticket prices range from $91 to $118. Student tickets will cost $48. …

This marks the third straight season the Badgers will open with a neutral-site game against an opponent from the SEC. In addition to the loss to LSU in ’14, they dropped a 35-17 decision to eventual national champion Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, last September.

All three games were negotiated separately, according to Alvarez, who added there are multiple benefits to playing them at neutral sites.

“I think it sends a message that we want to schedule stronger,” he said. “Our league has made a commitment that we’re going to improve our non-conference games.

“I think it’s healthy. I think it’s good for our players and staff to really focus in the offseason. I think that it’s fun for our fans — especially this one because you’re playing in-state.”

Alvarez said there have been preliminary talks with the Packers about playing future neutral-site games at Lambeau Field. UW currently has an opening for its 2018 season opener.

“It’s easier to get a neutral-site game,” Alvarez said. “Some schools don’t want to play a home-and-home. They’d rather do a one-year deal than home-and-home.”

Alvarez said multiple Power Five schools have expressed an interest in having a home-and-home series with the Badgers and he’ll continue to pursue such an arrangement.

Neutral-site opportunities provide flexibility at a time when the Big Ten is moving from an eight-game schedule to a nine-outing format. UW bases its annual budget on staging seven home games at Camp Randall Stadium, but there will be years when there will only be four league games at home instead of five, and that revenue void needs to be filled.

Demand for Wisconsin-LSU tickets figures to rival the moment in 2011 when Nebraska made its highly-anticipated Big Ten debut at Camp Randall.

Fans of the Cornhuskers began arriving in Madison four days before the game. There were so many of them that they rented out Union South for a viewing party and UW officials obliged the throng by setting up a theater area outside the stadium for those who couldn’t get tickets.

If there’s similar interest from LSU fans, accommodations could possibly be made at the Resch Center across the street from Lambeau. That decision would involve Green Bay president Mark Murphy and his staff.

“We’ll have to see how tickets go and what the demand is,” Alvarez said. “If it makes sense, that’s something we’d look into.

“The Packers have been great. Murph and his whole crew have been easy to work with. They’ve always been very cooperative with us and I look forward to working with them.”

The Badgers have played football games elsewhere in the state going back to 1889 — Beloit, Marinette and Milwaukee — but never in Green Bay.

The Wisconsin men’s hockey team played an outdoor game at Lambeau Field in 2006, but that’s it.

There is, however, a potential major problem with the opponent. The New Orleans Times-Picayune and States-Item reports:

Gov. John Bel Edwards laid out an absolute worst case scenario Thursday night (Feb. 11) for Louisiana if state lawmakers refuse to go along with the package of tax increases he has proposed.

In a rare statewide televised address, Edwards told viewers that the state would be forced to take extreme action — such as throwing people with off of kidney dialysis and shutting down hospice services — if new taxes didn’t go into place over the next few months.

“The health care services that are in jeopardy literally mean the difference between life and death,” Edwards said during a live address carried on several television stations.

The governor didn’t stop at health care services, but also detailed catastrophic cuts to higher education. He said new revenue was needed to prevent universities from running out of money before the semester ends. LSU, the state’s wealthiest higher education institution, would only be able to pay its bills through April 30, unless some tax increases went into place.

The governor went so far as to say that LSU football was also in jeopardy, due to a threatened suspension of spring classes that would put college athletes’ eligibility in danger next year. He said the state would no longer be able to afford one of its most popular programs with middle class residents — the TOPS college scholarship — without tax hikes.

“Student athletes across the state would be ineligible to play next semester,” Edwards said. “I don’t say this to scare you. But I am going to be honest with you.”

The governor’s staff announced Thursday that the state’s current year budget deficit has reached $940 million — a price tag larger than the annual spending on LSU’s Baton Rouge campus and all of New Orleans public higher education institutions combined. The state must find a way to close the gaping budget gap by June 30, when it shuts the books on the fiscal year.

Once it resolves that budget crisis, Louisiana will be facing an immediate $2 billion shortfall in the next fiscal cycle, which starts July 1. Edwards is proposing cuts — but also large tax hikes — to deal with the financial crises both this year and next year.

Note that Edwards mentions LSU classes, not LSU football spending. An SI.com comment claims …

LSU football grosses about  $74.3 million, with about $25.8 million in expenses, netting about $48.5 million profit.  He’s using scare tactics to push his tax increase.

Well, of course Edwards is using scare tactics to push his tax increase. Louisiana is to the South what Illinois is to the Midwest in terms of corruption and bad government.

However, LSU football is bigger in Louisiana than any UW sport is in Wisconsin, and that’s in a state that has more than one Division I football team. If Edwards’ threat is carried out, Edwards runs the risk of duplicating the fate of Huey Long.

 

The WIAA vs. taxpayers, Open Meetings edition

Proving that politics makes strange bedfellows, former superintendent of public instruction Herbert Grover writes something nice about a proposal by a Republican, Rep. John Nygren (R–Marinette):

No elected official has any authority over the decisions of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association in spite of the fact that the organization dictates a substantial portion of the program offered by our public schools. The Department of Public Instruction has a nonvoting liaison to the WIAA board.

WIAA has absolute control of sports activities in our public elementary and secondary educational institutions. The — impossible — alternative of a local school board would be to drop sports activities if they disagreed with the WIAA.

The WIAA budget comes from membership fees and money generated by tournament activity performed in public facilities plus some advertising revenue captured largely during the tournaments. There is no elected public oversight of the money raised or how it is spent. …

For all practical purposes WIAA is a private organization that dictates activities of public schools. WIAA should be required to submit to the Wisconsin open meeting law. The public is entitled to know the salaries and fringe benefits of all WIAA employees. The public should know if all the board members, including WIAA employees, are members of the state retirement system, and if not what other retirement program is provided. …

The public should know how many meetings are held, where they are held and what expenses are picked up for board members by the WIAA, including entertainment expenses. The public should know what types of agreements WIAA board members have with local school boards when absent from the school district for WIAA activities. …

I find Rep. John Nygren’s voting record on children, public education, taxes, the environment and whole list of issues repugnant.

But! On this issue he is correct. It’s our money, our schools, and our open government.

Grover, by the way, is a former state Assemblyman. A Democrat, of course.

I would be curious about how Grover feels about my modest proposal to eliminate the WIAA and have his former department regulate high school athletics, since athletics is part of education.

The end is near

WisSports.net’s Travis Wilson writes about the onset of February Fever and March Madness:

“Rage against the dying of the light.”

That line from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas has stuck with me for many years, and I’ve found it applicable for numerous situations. To me, it exemplifies fighting with all you have against a looming end. And, it is my best advice to the thousands of basketball players who will embark upon the final legs of their high school careers in the coming weeks.

For many teams, their fates were decided long ago, through offseason work (or lack thereof), dedication to the program, genetics and even what town a family chose to move to. There is little hope for a team sitting at 4-18 to advance more than perhaps one game in the playoffs. While a team near .500 may get to sectionals occasionally, the vast majority will not come close.

But, for many other boys and girls hoops squads, their postseason success is not only still in the balance, but in their hands to a large extent. One of my favorite quotes during my time coaching was, “The difference between winning and losing is often just a little extra effort.” Focusing just a little more during practice, pushing through when you feel a bit winded, hustling just a bit harder to get back on defense on even one trip down the court. It all adds up and can make the difference.

Because let me tell you one thing: if you truly are a competitor, once it is over, you will spend the rest of your life trying to replicate it.

Perhaps you’ll be one of the 3.4 percent of high school participants that go on to play in Division I, II or III (along with a few more that play NAIA or JUCO), which will fill that gap considerably.

Perhaps you’ll look to stay involved in the game by officiating, or coaching or pushing your children to participate. Maybe you’ll become a lowly prep sports reporter.

(Or announcer, though it’s hard to replicate a career that consisted of zero games.)

Perhaps you’ll try to recapture that feeling, however fleeting, by playing intramurals, rec league, men’s league or pick-up ball. But none can truly replicate the high-school basketball experience. Running out for warmups to a rocking pep band and raucous big-game environment, the bus rides, the summer tournaments, the anticipation, the team meals, the coaches … the friendships.

Being a part of a team with someone, especially a small-roster sport like basketball, creates a bond that can be found few other places in life. There’s a good chance you’ve grown up playing with these people for years, maybe since third or fourth grade. You might not even like all of them, but that bond of brotherhood/sisterhood is still there.

Sadly, there are those that have likely checked out already, who are looking forward to the end. I honestly feel sorry for the ones who feel that way. Then again, even the toughest competitors are only high schoolers, and the power of the moment can be difficult to grasp. It often takes the finality of it being over to truly grasp how much something meant, and how rare it is to feel that way.

High-school sports are not and should not be the pinnacle of your life, but they are something unique that you cannot replicate.

So as you lace ’em up in the coming weeks, do all that you can to delay the unfortunate truth: your high school basketball career will end.

“Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Overtime Steve, next period

Last month I wrote about the number of overtime games I’ve seen and, more recently, announced.

Since then I’ve added two more free basketball games to the list, UW–Platteville’s 66–62 OT win at Stout and the Pioneers’ 78–75 OT win at Whitewater.

The former was the Pioneers’ first WIAC win after an 0–3 start. The latter was Platteville’s fourth consecutive win after said 0–3 start. That streak ended the Warhawks’ nine-game winning streak over the Pioneers, which, for those who care, puts Platteville up 105–102 over Whitewater.

Announcing college basketball is fun, even though doing it correctly requires work. Heading into the second half of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference men’s basketball season, two teams are at 5–2, three teams are at 4–3, and two teams are at 3–4. It is hard to get closer than that.

 

 

The WIAA’s airballs

Regular readers know that I am not a fan of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association for numerous reasons.

The WIAA’s latest ham-handed attempt to curb the enthusiasm of fans of high school sports, which has gotten worldwide ridicule, has gotten others to notice the WIAA’s other flaws

For instance, state Rep. John Nygren (R–Marinette):

The WIAA has taken it upon themselves to change the experiences students face by disallowing such “offensive” language as ‘Air Ball,’ ‘Scoreboard,’ and even chanting ‘USA-USA.’ It is clear, beyond all doubt, that left unchecked, an authority like the WIAA will continue to test the boundaries to see how far they can go. The WIAA has taken it far enough to encourage the punishment of students who speak out against the WIAA.

Because of this, I will be re-introducing a bill originally authored by former Democrat Representative Tony Staskunas which will make the WIAA subject to the open records and meetings laws. When decisions are made with taxpayer money, the public deserves to have a say, or at least a look into the decision room. Policies like these, which suggest a mere suppression of speech, deserve more oversight and scrutiny, and I aim to ensure that in the future.

It is, of course, ironic that Nygren comes from the party whose leadership tried to gut the state Open Meetings and Open Records laws until the news media made them stop on, of all days, Independence Day. Regardless of that, Staskunas was and Nygren is absolutely correct.

There is some potential precedent even under existing law. The superintendents of Six Rivers Conference schools recently were ruled to have violated the Open Meetings Law in their secret vote to dissolve the Benton–Shullsburg girls basketball cooperative team. The judge ruled that the athletic conference constitutes a government body because it serves a government function.

Whether that precedent would extend to the WIAA, which claims to be “a voluntary membership of public and non-public schools” that “receives no funding from taxpayer dollars,” would be solved by Nygren’s bill’s becoming law. As it is, the WIAA’s claim is somewhere between disingenuous and blatantly false, given that taxpayers fund all activities the WIAA governs, including but not limited to (1) buildings where regular-season and postseason games take place; (2) the salaries of athletic coaches; (3) travel to and from WIAA-sponsored events; (4) athletic equipment; and, until the WIAA started waiving them, (5) WIAA membership fees.

Kevin Binversie thinks the WIAA has been going out of bounds from its mission well before this:

Life must have been so much simpler for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) just over a week ago. Back when all they had to worry about where charges of unbalanced conferences and how’d they would run the next series of state tournaments. A time when their biggest problems were charges they were manipulating playoff brackets and playing Madison against Green Bay over which city hosts the state basketball tournaments. …

While on the field criticism of the WIAA has and will remain common throughout the state; most of that was for things regarding on the field action. What the entire April Gehl / chant ban incident has done is show the state not only how over reactive and out of touch the WIAA is. But also, where its political leanings lie; clearly on the center-left.

Learned conservatives often debate the merits of something called “O’Sullivan’s Law” and how quickly it takes hold. Named after British writer and former National Review editor-in-chief John O’Sullivan, the axiom states that for any organization or enterprise not expressly conservative; regardless of size, will eventually become more and more liberal as time goes by.

The WIAA is a prime example of “O’Sullivan’s Law” in action. The organization’s original purpose was to organize the games and tournaments between Wisconsin’s high schools. Now, it’s acting as the state’s “Bully Police” and doing all it can to ensure no one’s self-esteem is hurt.

But this isn’t the first time the WIAA has ventured into politics, or has used its capacity as “State Games Master” to advance liberal causes. The organization’s leadership has hardly hid its antipathy of high schools using Native American mascots and was believed to be heavily involved in the law which tried to ban them during the Doyle Administration.

When that law was repealed in 2013, lawmakers included a measure forbidding the WIAA from barring membership to any school with a Native American mascot. This prompted Wisconsin State Journal columnist Chris Rickert to ponder in early 2014 if the next step was for the WIAA to do what its collegiate big brother, the NCAA, has done and bar any school with a Native American mascot from post-season play.

But it wouldn’t appear to keep the WIAA from doing what the National Collegiate Athletic Association did in 2005, when it banned colleges with Indian mascots from taking them or related imagery to NCAA tournaments and prohibited such colleges from hosting tournament games — unless they got the OK from their namesake tribes to retain their mascots or nicknames.

The results of the NCAA’s move were substantial and, in some cases, swift. Of the 18 schools whose mascots the NCAA deemed “hostile or abusive,” 13 have made changes to comply with NCAA rules and five have gotten the OK from tribes to maintain their mascots.

Now, no one currently thinks the WIAA is going to go to that extreme against schools with Native American mascots. But then again, no one thought 2005 revisions the organization established for sportsmanship would lead to this round of idiocy.

Perhaps the time has come for WIAA leadership to stick to what it does best and run sporting events, not act as an agent of liberal social engineering. Of course, that would have to imply they learned their lesson this time.

All the chanting in the world might not be able to accomplish that.

Unsportsmanship

There were simultaneous signs of the high school sports apocalypse on opposite sides in the past week.

The Post~Crescent in Appleton reported first:

The tumultuous world of social media has hit home for Hilbert High School athlete April Gehl.

The three-sport star and one of the top scorers for the Wolves’ girls’ basketball team was informed by Hilbert athletic director Stan Diedrich on Wednesday that she would be suspended for five games during the current winter season due to a tweet that Gehl posted on Twitter early Monday morning concerning the WIAA.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Gehl said. “I was like, ‘Really? For tweeting my opinion?’ I thought it was ridiculous.”

Gehl’s tweet, which contained profanity directed toward the WIAA, was her off-the-cuff response to a WIAA email that took students to task for an increasing number of student-section chants at sporting events that mock the opposing team or school.

The email, from director of communication Todd Clark, concerns “sportsmanship” and what the WIAA feels is an increase in the “amount of chants by student sections directed at opponents and/or opponents’ supporters that are clearly intended to disrespect.”

Included in the WIAA email were examples such as “You can’t do that,” “Fundamentals,” “Air ball,” “There’s a net there,” “Sieve,” “We can’t hear you,” the “scoreboard” cheer and “season’s over” during tournament play.

That email was sent to member schools in December. It was forwarded by Hilbert school officials earlier this week to the school’s students and was also in their daily announcements on Monday, according to April Gehl.

Jill Gehl, April’s mother, said the WIAA sent Diedrich a snapshot of Gehl’s tweet with limited direction other than to “please take care of it.”

Diedrich was reached Friday morning about the suspension, but was unable to give specifics.

“I can tell you that the WIAA contacted me with information,” Diedrich said. “Once given the information, we dealt with the matter in accordance with board policy.”

Clark said in an email Friday to Post-Crescent Media that April Gehl’s tweet was brought to the attention of the WIAA. The school was then informed.

“To be clear, there was no language in our correspondence with the school that stated to ‘take care of this,'” Clark said. “That determination is for the member school to address. But these issues, like other sportsmanship issues brought to our attention, are shared with our members for their awareness.”

According to Jill Gehl, that school policy includes a section on inappropriate language, which her daughter was ultimately punished for.

If Gehl was punished for inappropriate language, the WIAA got punished for inappropriate overreaction, worldwide, also as reported by The Post~Crescent:

Attention the story has received includes:

• Daily Mail (U.K.): High school basketball player suspended over tweet

• Forbes: Wisconsin incident highlights need for adults to stop overreacting

• The Big Lead: Female HS basketball player suspended five games for tweet

• WTMJ in Milwaukee is featuring the story on the Jeff Wagner show as well as the nighttime sports show: WIAA bans chants; student-athlete tells them to ‘eat (expletive)’

How are the fans themselves reacting? The Dubuque Telegraph Herald’s Steve Ortman writes:

Student sections across the state responded on Tuesday night, as a group of students at Ashwaubenon High School attended a game dressed in black with duct tape over their mouths that read ‘WIAA.’ The student sections at the boys game between Platteville and Darlington High Schools remained silent throughout the contest.

“The intention of the message was misconstrued and morphed into something far beyond what it was and what it was intended for,” WIAA Executive Director David Anderson told The Associated Press on Wednesday. He also said he stands by the guidelines.

While I do feel the national exposure on this is blowing the matter a bit out of proportion and that the WIAA had the best of intentions, the whole idea of regulating what crowds can and can’t chant at a game is silly and simply absurd. These kids pay the money to come to the games and should be allowed to chant whatever they want (within reason, of course). And chanting such classics as “Air ball!” isn’t really hurting anyone’s feelings. In fact, after all these years, it’s to be expected at games.

The WIAA needs to ask itself what the point of coming to their games is exactly if you’re not allowed to have any fun while cheering on your friends and classmates?

The reaction included a letter from state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R–Brookfield):

I am disappointed by the recent actions taken by the WIAA targeting decades’ old fan chants and comments.  I’ve been there.  I was the 6’7” awkwardly skinny high school basketball player that came off the bench for the final 20 seconds of play after my team was already down by 20 points.  On more than one occasion, I would take my shot for my first points of the season (although the season was already halfway done) only to miss the rim and backboard.  There it was, the humiliating “air ball” chant.  Hearing that quickly makes a 6’7” teenager feel like he would rather be 3’7” and quietly find an exit but today I look back with greater clarity on those moments. …

After putting in a significant amount of work, I ended up being just good enough to play at the local community college followed by playing D3 basketball at Lakeland College in Sheboygan.  I had three different head basketball coaches during my college career and the high school “air ball” chant was relatively easy to deal with compared to what my coaches yelled at me when I failed to properly box out.  Several years later I joined the Army and met my first drill sergeants – all of a sudden my previous coaches and opposing fans seemed reserved in comparison.

I can continue but here is my point.  Having our young people in the sporting arena makes them stronger – an arena that builds character includes jeers and cheers.  High school athletes are our future leaders.  There is education in learning how to deal with the opponent’s fans, embarrassment and losing.

Even Aaron Rodgers chimed in, reports ESPN:

Apparently, if Aaron Rodgers were the ringleader of the student sections of Bayport, Ashwaubenon or De Pere high schools, he’d be in for a trip to the principal’s office.

After reading about the uproar the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association created recently by reminding schools of the chants it deems derogatory toward opponents — including “air ball!” “score-board!” and “fun-da-men-tals!” — the Green Bay Packers quarterback confessed Wednesday that he’d have been in trouble had such rules been enforced back in Chico, California, at Pleasant Valley High School basketball games.

“I led the chants when I wasn’t playing, and we said a lot worse stuff than that,” Rodgers said, shaking his head. Although he played basketball throughout his childhood, Rodgers gave it up to concentrate on football later in his high school career.

“I think we’re, as a society, dying a little bit each day if we’re not only dumbing down our masses but we’re also limiting the things that we can say. ‘Air ball’ and ‘scoreboard,’ from a chant standpoint, in 2001 when I was in the stands watching my high school basketball team, that’s like the ground floor of stuff we would say.

“Think about the fans at other stadiums we play at or at Lambeau Field. I don’t think that [high school competition] warrants censorship. What are we telling our kids, that freedom of speech doesn’t exist? And any type of negative comment, you’re going to get somebody in trouble for? I just don’t agree with that.

“I don’t agree with any type of racist or homophobic language, any of that type of stuff from the crowd to the people on the field. But ‘scoreboard’ and ‘air ball’ and ‘fundamentals,’ which is a great chant?”

The WIAA got some support from WSAU radio’s Chris Conley …

As a practical matter, there’s very little that can be done. Should a team be penalized because their fans are taunting? Should the game be stopped or suspended? Should students be disciplined for cheers that administrators deem inappropriate? Will be we playing in front of empty bleachers? And there may be some people within the WIAA who want to go down that road. That’s overreach. Playing in front of a crowd is also part of the experience for high school athletes. And I don’t know of a good way to separate the positive experience of having athletes playing in front of a crowd and the possibility that some cheering might be negative. It is not easy to create a great game-day experience without negativity. Sports creates an emotion response in those who watch. If people didn’t care that their team wins, they wouldn’t go. There’s nothing wrong with the spontaneous cheering, or booing, that comes after a controversial call or a close play. Just like with the athletes themselves, a spontaneous show of emotion is expected. But taunting cheers are different. It’s an area where people need to do the right thing… just because. It’s probably a fool’s errand.

But picture this: His team is trailing by one point in the state finals. The senior captain takes the final shot that will lead to a championship or a defeat. It’s the moment that every athlete has dreamed about. But as he’s shooting the ball slips out of his hands. The buzzer sounds. And it’s over. All of the work and practice and self-sacrifice has ended. He feels horrible and has that empty ache in the pit of his stomach; it’s the moment of defeat. A flood of emotion comes over the young man — he’s 18 — and he begins to cry as he walks off the court for the last time.

Are you going to be the person who starts the “air – ball” chant? Are you going to yell “season over!” at him? Is his final memory of high school athletics going to be the “scoreboard!” cheer? That’s not the environment I expect high school athletes to compete in. And fans who cheer that way should reflect on what they’re doing. And I’m on the side of the WIAA — the group that says that’s not right.

… though based on past experience I think the taunting Conley suggests could happen isn’t likely, because if your team just won state, you’re focused on that and not your opponent. (Also, a chant coming from the Kohl Center or the Resch Center is harder to hear than someone 15 feet away from you in a high school gym.) In fact, the taunts that concern the WIAA, I suspect, disappear after the game, unless something that happens during the game is controversial.

You can read an excellent WIAA takedown here, and from the Wisconsin State Journal’s Art Kabelkowsky:

The WIAA has published the guidelines in some form since 1997 (last revised in 2005) and sends out reminders at the start of each athletic season. Which is to say that fans, parents and even some administrators and coaches have been pretty much ignoring them for more than a decade.

Now, thanks to an epic bungling of the optics of the Gehl situation (and, in part, to the common-sense indefensibility of the policy in the first place), the WIAA has allowed this cracked hornet’s nest to bust wide open.

And the story lives on.

WIAA executive director Dave Anderson tried to quell the maelstrom Tuesday evening, sending an email to athletic directors with a “sincere apology” for a Dec. 22 email from communications director Todd Clark that reminded schools and students of the sportsmanship guidelines. By now, though, the horse already is out of the barn.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas drew kudos for simply repeating variations of the same obvious joke a half-dozen times on Twitter, such as this proposed replacement for the “Air ball” chant: “We note your attempt did not reach the rim, but only to alert the clock operator that a reset is unnecessary.”

(Of course, that chant ignores the fact that high school basketball does not use a shot clock. As such, it violates one of the WIAA’s mandated fundamentals of sportsmanship: “Know the rules of the game.”)

In the wake of this attention, noted former Wisconsin prep athletes have tweeted their support for letting fans be fans.

Even the particularly nasty comments and actions stuck with some of these athletes — some even have photos of the signs — and they all seemed to agree that, in hindsight, the negative comments helped to spark their competitiveness, thicken their skin and even make them laugh.

And there’s the problem. Skin-thickening isn’t a goal of high school athletics, or of anything else in today’s society — in which people seem to have assumed the inalienable right to never, ever see or hear anything that might be judged to be offensive or negative in any way. …

So here’s what the WIAA should have told student sections: “Have fun. Behave. Don’t be idiots. Police each other. Don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t want to see on the TV news. Learn to be responsible for your actions.”

Instead, they’ve gone and tried to mandate rules against the very things that make being a sports fan fun. To insulate kids from something that they just plain will not be insulated from in real life. Do that and you’ll be lambasted by national media. And you’ll deserve it.

Anderson’s email:

Please let me begin by offering a sincere apology for any distress or dissatisfaction which may have come your way as a result of a sportsmanship email from Todd Clark dated December 22, 2015. The intentions of that email have become much scrutinized and misunderstood.

From our perspective, the email was simply a reminder in advance of the many holiday tournaments held every year across the membership. Nothing more, nothing less, than what has been shared across the membership via the Sportsmanship Manual since 2005.

To be clear, there has been no new directives, no new rules, no new mandates, no new enforcement expectations associated with the email.

We know that the challenges of keeping interscholastic athletics a fun, safe and educational experience for our athletes, students and fans are never ending. We see and respect the everyday efforts of individual members and conferences in striving to create the positive environment you are proud of — and we appreciate those efforts. Carry On! Please keep up the great work, just as you have been doing.

The Post~Crescent’s Ricardo Arguello adds:

Does it warrant a stern talking to from the Hilbert officials? Sure. Should Hilbert have requested Gehl take down the tweet and apologize? That’s seems fair.

And judging by the statewide, national and international attention, there are many folks around the world who agree.But a five-game suspension? That’s clearly going overboard, especially when other infractions such as underage drinking or fighting would possibly produce the same length of suspension. There seems to be an imbalance on transgressions. Perhaps athletic codes from high schools need to be a bit more clearly defined. Whatever the answer, five games, or 25 percent of the basketball season, is far too much.

It was the WIAA that informed Hilbert of Gehl’s tweet. That may or may not have led to the quick action by the Hilbert officials. But the WIAA sticking its nose in this kind of business is another column for another time.

At the very least, this story should trigger discussions about how adults approach discipline and how we inform student-athletes about the dangers of social media. A level-headed and honest approach is needed. Student-athletes, in my extensive experience in dealing with them the past 20 years or so, respond much better to blunt but fair handling than overbearing smothering.

In Gehl’s case, her punishment is so over the top that it borders on absurd. Believe me, her peers in the state and beyond will pick up on this perceived mishandling, and that could make the respect demanded by school officials a bit more difficult to keep intact.

Not to mention support of public schools by taxpayers. School districts don’t make much money from admission fees for games, but the WIAA does. If fans stop going to games because they don’t want to deal with the school Fun Police, particularly in this world of almost infinite entertainment options, they’re not likely to alter their work schedule to go to postseason games in far-off communities (Madison, Green Bay, etc.) either. There are people in some communities whose support for their schools, other than paying school district property taxes, extends only to high school sports. Unless some common sense prevails, watch what happens to future school district revenue-cap or building-project referenda.

Whether this is political correctness gone amuck, or an overreaction to bullying, shielding students from unkind expressions is not really education. Life is not easy, and some delicate little flowers are likely to have a rude awakening once they arrive in the real world.

The opposite side is reported by the Ripon Commonwealth Press:

At least one key member has left the Ripon High School boys’ basketball team amid concerns of “inaccurate statistics” that have been reported by the team, leading to an investigation by Ripon Area School District officials.

While the district did not identify who is alleged to have created those statistics, head coach Dean Vander Plas offered an apology at a team parents meeting Wednesday night.

While the district did not identify who is alleged to have created those statistics, head coach Dean Vander Plas offered an apology at a team parents meeting [Jan. 6].

“I can’t get into much more than that other than saying, when you are in a [coaching] position, you should be able to carry out your process so that things are done well, and when you don’t, you must acknowledge it,” Vander Plas said Friday afternoon.

What exactly has happened that led to this situation, though, remains unclear.

Though a prepared statement explained the issue came to light Dec. 31, athletic director Bill Kinziger hedged when asked to elaborate on how it became known.

“I’ve got to be careful how I say it,” he said, noting simply, “It was brought to our attention.”

He intimated that it was someone in the know about the team who brought it forward.

“It wasn’t just somebody off the street,” Kinziger said, adding, “I can’t give you the identity.”

What is known is that it involved inaccurate statistics being reported, and that the district now has reassigned the recording of statistics to its athletic department, and is disciplining at least one staff member.

This is about the chase for college athletic scholarships, which should not be the primary purpose of participation in high school athletics. This is not really about high school athletics except for what some think it should lead to, college athletics, even though the percentage of high school athletes who continue in college is very small. You’d have to ask the parents involved (some of whom are former college athletes) if they’re trying to relive their childhoods through their kids.

It takes a sports editor to point out that academic scholarships are much more readily available than athletic scholarships are.