THE COUCH SLOUCH

Fair pay to play act for college athletes might be the right thing, but at what cost?

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In the rush to celebrate California Gov. Gavin Newsom signing the Fair Pay to Play Act into law – allowing college athletes in the state to finally get compensated for endorsements and the like, starting in 2023 – most pundits are failing to realize this is not as wonderful as it seems.

Everybody is treating this broadside against the hypocritical, dictatorial NCAA as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

(To be honest, I never understood why sliced bread was considered that big of a breakthrough. What's so hard about buying a loaf of bread and then slicing it at home? Heck, the knife was a big deal, and, frankly, the spork – half spoon, half fork – was ingenius.)*

(* It's amazing how often I get off track, among the many reasons I am not ever taken seriously for Pulitzer, Peabody or Nobel award consideration.)

Sure, it's always a good day when the big, bad NCAA is leveled. What do we know about the NCAA? It acts as if it's the fourth branch of government, accountable to no one except its accountants, and it has really, really nice offices in Indianapolis near Interstate 70.

The NCAA, naturally, strongly opposed this new law; it was also opposed to indoor plumbing and freeway exits.

The NCAA position on this California development – college athletes will be able to endorse products, host sports camps, sign memorabilia or autographs for money, attach their names to video games, et al – is best reflected by the response of the Pac-12 conference: "This legislation will lead to the professionalization of college sports."

Oh, please. Everything about Division 1 football and men's basketball is professional, with the sole exception that its labor force is unpaid and Dick Vitale never stops shouting.

Indeed, I would sum up the NCAA's modus operandi as the following:

The rich get richer and everyone else eats ramen.

Technically, the Fair Pay to Play Act is progress. In the old days, a school might sell a prospect on the quality of its football program, the quality of its education, the quality of the region, etc. Now, a school might woo a prospect with all of that plus the possibility of, say, a local Chevy dealer who is willing to pay a lot for a business relationship with the starting quarterback.

Yes, this is the free market at work. But it's not as free-and-simple as that.

California often is a punch line and often is a pacesetter. In this case, it's both.

Is it possible to take a step in the right direction and the wrong direction at the same time?

(Note: I ask myself that every time I walk down the matrimonial aisle.)

We are casting an erroneous wide net in seeking to solve our college athletics problem.

By the way – and I promise this is the last tangential interruption – why are Newsom and the California state legislature even treading in these waters? I can think of 400, maybe 405 more pressing issues at the moment in the sometimes not-so-Golden State in which I live.

So, why wouldn't colleges align themselves with companies and local retailers who can assure large payments for the best athletes? Why wouldn't third parties – boosters – engage in licit and illicit behavior to pave the yellow brick road for the home team? Wouldn't some high schools start down this path to bring in better athletic talent?

A student-athlete certainly should have the right to assess his or her best deal financially, but I again return to a basic premise:

Why are institutions of higher education trafficking in these areas?

As always, I lean on former University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins for wisdom: "A student can win twelve letters at a university without learning to write one."

Besides the fact that we are creating another level of potential impropriety and corruption, where exactly in the mission statement for most universities is the part about running sporting events for profit?

This entire unholy business stands as a complete incongruity to a university's raison d'être. What, you don't comprehend raison d'être? That's because you went to a school that prioritized basketball over books and you've spent every autumn Saturday since 1993 watching "College GameDay."

Let me wrap it up this week with my favorite antiquated, oldie-but-goodie sentiment:

Build more libraries, not stadiums.

Ask The Slouch

Q. When somebody tells somebody else "you can't hold my jockstrap," what does that mean? (Nathan Margolis; Albany, N.Y.)

A. I guess you've never tried to hold somebody else's jockstrap.

Q. New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis wears a "Man of God" headband. What would your headband read? (Brian Coffman; Gaithersburg, Md.)

A. "Best by 12-17-96."

Q. I do not understand the crux of this NBA-China dustup. Do you? (Scott Ayres; Houston)

A. I don't either, but I love the word "crux."

Q. Is Dan Snyder the Peter Angelos of the NFL or is Peter Angelos the Dan Snyder of MLB? (Mary Lafsky; Great Falls, Va.)

A. Pay the lady, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!



Ask The Slouch

Q. When somebody tells somebody else "you can't hold my jockstrap," what does that mean? (Nathan Margolis; Albany, N.Y.)

A. I guess you've never tried to hold somebody else's jockstrap.

Q. New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis wears a "Man of God" headband. What would your headband read? (Brian Coffman; Gaithersburg, Md.)

A. "Best by 12-17-96."

Q. I do not understand the crux of this NBA-China dustup. Do you? (Scott Ayres; Houston)

A. I don't either, but I love the word "crux."

Q. Is Dan Snyder the Peter Angelos of the NFL or is Peter Angelos the Dan Snyder of MLB? (Mary Lafsky; Great Falls, Va.)

A. Pay the lady, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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