ESPN: Did They Start a Trend? Or Simply Hop on Board?

Oklahoma State Sophomore Point Guard Marcus Smart kicks a chair at the OSU bench in a conference game against West Virginia on Jan. 25, 2014. (via Phog.net)

Oklahoma State Sophomore Point Guard Marcus Smart kicks a chair at the OSU bench in a conference game against West Virginia on Jan. 25, 2014. (via Phog.net)

On April 2nd the annual McDonald’s High School All-American Game was on ESPN, showcasing next year’s prospective “One-and-done’s” in College Basketball.  These are kids who haven’t even graduated from High School yet, and one still has not decided where he is going to go to college.

None of these kids that played last night are going to pay a dime for college.  And in most cases, they will only be in college for one year before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is calling their names out in June 2015 when they are drafted.

On National Signing Day every February, ESPN does a massive Signing Day special on their flagship program SportsCenter as well as live coverage all day long on ESPNU.

Once they get into college, you can safely guess that they treat all of these star athletes just as they did Marcus Smart through this past College Basketball season.  When they play well, they continue to overhype how good they really are.  If they don’t play well, then ESPN traditional treats it as if it’s the end of that player’s career and they no longer will get drafted.

Seriously? (Click here for ESPN’s coverage of Smart’s chair incident)

Nevermind the fact that these are 18-22 year-old kids that are still growing up.  ESPN blows collegiate athletics way out of proportion.

I believe that ESPN started this whole trend, and we all hopped on board with them because they are “the Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

The TV Effect

New York Knicks Forward Carmelo Anthony argues with Joey Crawford while he was still playing in Denver. (via Sports Illustrated)

New York Knicks Forward Carmelo Anthony argues with Joey Crawford while he was still playing in Denver. (via Sports Illustrated)

Many young athletes watch some of their favorite players on television.  When I was just starting my playing career in basketball, I would watch Manu Ginobili almost every night during the Spurs’ games that actually got televised.  It took a few times of my coach yelling at me for me to understand that I wasn’t a guard and probably shouldn’t try Manu’s moves.

However, this problem is worse with the new generation of beginning basketball players.  When you look at the egos in the NBA today like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, they don’t leave good impressions.  These are the three NBA players who argue the most with officials, and for the most part these three players get away with it. (Click herefor a study of the effects of televised sports on youth)

Many skilled youth who watch these games see that these skilled players are arguing and pleading with officials, and try to do the same thing and are surprised when the official slaps them with a technical foul that they very well deserve.

While watching television can do a lot of positives for an athlete, it can also give them an ego so big that no scouts would be likely to look at them because of their attitude.

Hungry? Try the new “Money Diet”

Robinson Cano at a press conference after signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. (Photo via NY Post)

Robinson Cano at a press conference after signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. (Photo via NY Post)

Professional athletes, especially Major League Baseball players typically sign huge, multi-million dollar contracts to play for their respective teams.  For instance, this past off-season Robinson Cano left the New York Yankees, who are notorious for having several players who fit this category, for the Seattle Mariners.  Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with Seattle. (Click here for an article on Robinson Cano with the Seattle Mariners)

Even by baseball standards (given that baseball is easily the highest-paying professional sport in the United States, this is a huge contract for Cano, and a huge gamble by the Mariners at the same time.  Cano has been in the majors for several years already and has even missed games due to an injury.

When I was still in high school, we held a surprise party for one of my friend’s birthdays at his house.  His dad hunts with the gentlemen that began coaching Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Peterson Middle School in Kerrville, Texas in the 7th grade.  When Manziel moved up to Tivy High School in 9th grade, so did this coach.

My friend’s dad told me after Manziel’s first 7th-grade game, the coach told him to remember the name Johnny Manziel because he would be special.  In high school, being from the San Antonio area, I got to witness how special first hand when he scored 7 touchdowns against SA Madison his sophomore year on a Thursday night game early in the season.

Back to the birthday party, we started talking about Texas A&M’s seemingly miraculous season under new coach Kevin Sumlin and my friend’s dad said, “Manziel is done after next year.  Dad’s extremely money hungry.”  Now, two months before the NFL Draft, Manziel has an agent and should be a top-10 pick.

Maziel is not the only one. Money hunger is extremely evident in sports, at all levels.

The “Twittersphere” of Sports

Sports "experts" tend to have anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of Twitter followers. (Photo courtesy of Jay Bilas on Twitter)

Sports “experts” tend to have anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of Twitter followers. (Photo courtesy of Jay Bilas on Twitter)

Social media in sports is absolutely huge now.  Almost all of the heralded “experts” from the major networks like ESPN, Fox Sports or CBS Sports have all kinds of followers and constantly tweet about a vast array of topics.

For instance, over the course of this past Saturday, March 1st, ESPN College Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas was tweeting between his time on College Gameday and performing his duties during the Kansas-Oklahoma State game at Gallagher-Iba Arena, about a lot of events happening throughout the day, including the stand-off between Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and one of the referees. (For Jay Bilas’ Twitter account, click here)

Sometimes, the tweets from these “experts” are even quoted in articles written in any medium from online news articles to blogs and sometimes, other tweets.  Twitter is used by some people to break news.  For instance, during the Summer 2013 when New England Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder, the Patriots announced that they had released Hernandez over Twitter.  Sometimes recruits announce their commitment to a school over Twitter.  In other instances, blogs use tweets to convey an opinion they may have. (For an example of this, click here)

Regarless of the use, there is no denying that sports now have a certain “twittersphere” about it.

The Draft and its “Prestige”

South Carolina DE, Jadeveon Clowney during the 2014 Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.  The Gamecocks beat Wisconsin 34-24. (Photo via CBS Sports)

South Carolina DE, Jadeveon Clowney during the 2014 Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. The Gamecocks beat Wisconsin 34-24. (Photo via CBS Sports)

“Jadeveon Clowney could potentially be the top overall draft pick in 2014,” said everyone in America.

“Andrew Wiggins could potentially be the top overall draft pick in 2014,” they all continued before the season even started.

Too often now, may people start drooling over “draft prospects” when they are just coming into the major college ranks or even when they are still in high school.

Look at Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina’s “star” Defensive End who became popular after his brutal hit on Michigan Running Back Vincent Smith during the 2013 Outback Bowl.  At the beginning of the 2013 season, ESPN’s draft “experts” both had Jadeveon Clowney at the top of their draft boards and said many teams were drooling over Clowney. (Watch Clowney’s brutal hit here)

I can honestly say that Clowney, to me, was overhyped.  In their season opener against North Carolina, UNC just ran plays the other way.  Lo and behold, no Clowney affect.

“It’s not his fault other teams run plays to the other side”

Correct, it isn’t.  However, if Clowney was truly top pick material, wouldn’t he be versatile enough to, I don’t know, switch sides?  There’s not a truly significant difference.  Plus his own coach, Steve Spurrier, said his work ethic is “okay.” (For that story from CBS Sports, click here)

Enough about Clowney, what about others?

Kansas Guard Andrew Wiggins, a freshman, said prior to the season that this would likely be his only season playing college basketball.  In 2013, Nerlens Noel left Kentucky after his freshman year, even though he tore his ACL early in SEC play in a game at Florida.

Is the draft really as prestigious as we all want it to be?  Or are we simply ruining the young, promising careers of what we assume to be world-class athletes, like Jadeveon Clowney?

The AAU Circuit

Here is a team picture of the San Antonio Legends AAU Basketball Team.  This was taken prior to one of their games at the 2013 AAU National Championships in Memphis, Tenn. (Photo via SA Legends Sports Academy)

Here is a team picture of the San Antonio Legends AAU Basketball Team. This was taken prior to one of their games at the 2013 AAU National Championships in Memphis, Tenn. (Photo via SA Legends Sports Academy)

For several years, many have looked at the Amateur Athletic Union as a great way for athletes to compete at an elite level and get noticed by major college coaches, especially in basketball.  I for one, am guilty of this train of thought because I have seen the positive effects that playing on the AAU circuit has had for my brother’s abilities as a basketball player and overall athlete.

However, over the years the AAU circuit has provided a lot of controversy as well.  In the 1970s there was a scandal dealing with the living standards of AAU athletes, leading President Jimmy Carter to sign the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 which established the United States Olympic Committee.  This act made the USOC in charge of all international sports competitions, removing the AAU from that post.

More recently, a former AAU basketball coach of the nationally prominent Houston Select team committed suicide in 2011.  David Salinas was involved in various controversies due to his job as an investment manager.  What’s the problem right?  Most of his clients were college basketball coaches, and he lost millions. (Click here to read about Salinas)

The idea behind the AAU is truly a novel one; allow amateur athletes the chance to become as elite of an athlete as possible and expose them to major collegiate coaches for scholarship opportunities.  However, there are several issues with the organization.  These issues will likely never go away.

That being said I pose the question, “Are AAU athletes truly amateur athletes nowadays?”

Fans and Ejections

A shot of Jeff Orr (man on the left) and Oklahoma State Guard Marcus Smart during Saturday's altercation in Lubbock.  Texas Tech won the game 65-61. (photo via KJRH-TV)

A shot of Jeff Orr (man on the left) and Oklahoma State Guard Marcus Smart during Saturday’s altercation in Lubbock. Texas Tech won the game 65-61. (photo via KJRH-TV)

Lately, a trend in sports seems to be to criticize referees for anything and everything.  Sometimes while watching a game either on television or in person, or even when playing I will hear someone say, “That ref doesn’t like us.”

I’m sorry, what?

The odds are that the officials do not have any sort of personal relation or affiliation with any school or person in their respective conference at any level of play, be it high school or college.  For instance, the son of legendary coach formerly at the University of North Carolina, Dean Smith, is a Division 1 referee.  However, he is not allowed to officiate in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The fact of the matter is that these officials go through countless hours of rules and mechanics training.  They know what can and cannot be done, and have their primary assignments while on the field or court.  As an example, the lead in 3-person mechanics for basketball has primary on contact below the shoulders, the trail has above the shoulders and the center has first dibs on the back side of the play.

To demonstrate another way fans can be ejected, we just need to rewind to last night, February 8th.  I was in Lubbock, Texas for the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech Men’s Basketball game in which OSU Guard Marcus Smart shoved TTU fan Jeff Orr in an altercation with only a few seconds remaining.  The long-term effects of this incident are yet to be seen, but Orr will not be attending any of the remaining Red Raider Basketball games and Smart has been suspended for the next 3 games at Texas, home against Oklahoma and at Baylor.  Smart will return against Texas Tech at home on Feb. 22. (Click here for Texas Tech University’s statement regarding the altercation)

If this trend of overly-rowdy fans doesn’t stop, it could get out of control.