See­ing change, Huma presses ahead in bat­tle against NCAA

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Ramogi Huma once thought re­form­ing the NCAA would be easy. The decade-old mem­ory makes him laugh.

“I was def­i­nitely delu­sional,” the pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Col­le­giate Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion says.

As foun­da­tional change to the rot­ted struc­ture of col­lege ath­let­ics has be­come a mat­ter of when, not if, the group Huma founded to ad­vo­cate for col­lege ath­letes re­mains in the mid­dle of the ef­fort.

Huma’s phone rings con­stantly. There are no slow days.

Not af­ter the group helped co­or­di­nate the All Play­ers United move­ment that started in Septem­ber, when foot­ball play­ers wrote #APU on train­ing tape worn dur­ing games to draw na­tional at­ten­tion to a sys­tem stacked against the on-field prod­uct. That sys­tem, re­ally, is de­stroy­ing it­self. Last week, for ex­am­ple, two Univer­sity of Oregon bas­ket­ball play­ers were each sus­pended nine games and or­dered to do­nate $1,800 to char­ity by the NCAA af­ter sell­ing school-is­sued shoes. That ran afoul of NCAA Rule 16.11.2.1 on ex­tra ben­e­fits that, in this twisted world of bu­reau­cratic dou­bletalk, makes sell­ing some­thing that’s been given a griev­ous of­fense.

Not be­cause do­ing so harms col­lege ath­let­ics, but be­cause an ex­tra ben­e­fit is what­ever the NCAA wants it to be in a busi­ness where “cor­po­rate cham­pi­ons” are sa­cred and am­a­teurism’s ev­er­shift­ing def­i­ni­tion is the gospel.

“This high­lights the ex­tent to which the NCAA gets into the lives of th­ese play­ers,” Huma says. “Play­ers, just like other Amer­i­cans, should have the right to ben­e­fit off their value.”

The is­sue of ex­tra ben­e­fits pushed him down the path of re­form. When Huma played line­backer at UCLA, the NCAA sus­pended team­mate Don­nie Ed­wards in 1995 for re­ceiv­ing those neb­u­lous ex­tra ben­e­fits. The ben­e­fit? Money to pur­chase gro­ceries. Back then, Huma ex­pected to con­vince the NCAA to see the er­ror of its ways and — poof! — change would fol­low. He didn’t think it would be much of a fight, not know­ing that logic and ba­sic fair­ness would hold so lit­tle sway with the col­le­giate es­tab­lish­ment. “I was pretty naive,” he says. But Huma sees the years of ef­fort, from the courts to pub­lic per­cep­tion, snow­balling into un­avoid­able change.

In Septem­ber, Elec­tronic Arts and the Col­le­giate Li­cens­ing Cor­po­ra­tion agreed to pay cur­rent and for­mer ath­letes $40 mil­lion to set­tle a law­suit over use of their like­nesses in video games.

Ear­lier this month, the NCAA and plain­tiffs in a law­suit ac­cus­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion of not do­ing enough to pro­tect ath­letes from con­cus­sions started me­di­a­tion. At least three other law­suits are

Bos­ton in the ALCS last month.

The choice? Brad Aus­mus, a for­mer big-league catcher who ended his 18-year play­ing ca­reer only in 2010. Aus­mus served three years as a spe­cial as­sis­tant with the San Diego Padres af­ter re­tir­ing. That’s the ex­tent of his re­sume. But even teams like the Tigers, who are primed to com­pete for ti­tles year-in and year-out, have de­cided that’s enough to suc­ceed in the mod­ern game. There are plenty of ex­am­ples prov­ing that di­rec­tion makes sense.

St. Louis Car­di­nals man­ager Mike Ma­theny had a re­sume sim­i­lar to Aus­mus’ when he took over for the leg­endary Tony LaRussa fol­low­ing that club’s 2011 World Se­ries ti­tle. And yet, de­spite never hav­ing man­aged at any level or even coached in the ma­jors, Ma­theny, 43, pi­loted St. Louis to 185 wins over the past two sea­sons and this year’s Na­tional League pen­nant.

“To a cer­tain ex­tent, you re­ally don’t need that ex­pe­ri­ence at all,” said Will Clark, a six-time All-Star first base­man and now a spe­cial as­sis­tant for the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants. “The rea­son is you’re sur­round­ing your­self with a bench coach and a hit­ting in­struc­tor and guys who’ve prob­a­bly been around base­ball just as much as you have, if not longer.

“The big thing is — and Ma­theny is a per­fect ex­am­ple — man­ag­ing your play­ers, know­ing what they need to suc­ceed.”

It is ex­actly the sce­nario the Nats have in mind with Wil­liams. He is only 47, young enough to be con­sid­ered a con­tem­po­rary for some of his older play­ers. (Wash­ing­ton out­fielder Jayson Werth broke into the big leagues in 2002.) Wash­ing­ton is count­ing on Wil­liams’ non-man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence to come through. But his coach­ing staff re­mains rea­son­ably in­tact with four holdovers out of six. Third base coach Trent Jewett left Mon­day to take the bench coach po­si­tion in Seat­tle un­der its new man­ager, Lloyd McClen­don, and bullpen coach Jim Lett was not re­tained.

“You have to be a quick learner be­cause there’s go­ing to be new stuff as a man­ager,” said Craig Coun­sell, a 16-year big lea­guer who is now a spe­cial as­sis­tant with the Mil­wau­kee Brewers. “As long as you learn fast from your de­ci­sions, it’s doable. Ex­pe­ri­ence helps. But 15 or 20 years in the big leagues is a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence, too. You’ll al­ready see a lot of things that a man­ager will see.” This isn’t ex­actly a new trend. New York Yan­kees man­ager Joe Gi­rardi has been in his po­si­tion since 2008. Like Wil­liams, he, too, re­tired in 2003 and be­came a broad­caster. But Gi­rardi was on a fast track. By 2005, he was Joe Torre’s bench coach with the Yan­kees and in 2006 was plucked by the then-Florida Mar­lins to be their man­ager at age 41. He im­me­di­ately won NL Man­ager of the Year, but was fired any­way af­ter con­flicts with own­er­ship. By 2008, Gi­rardi was back in New York as the Yan­kees’ man­ager.

But the move to­ward younger, less-ex­pe­ri­enced man­agers has ac­cel­er­ated. Since the end of the 2011 sea­son, there have been 14 new man­agers hired. Half had ex­tremely lim­ited or no pre­vi­ous man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing in the mi­nors. Wil­liams had a short stint as Ari­zona’s Dou­ble-A man­ager in 2007 on an emer­gency ba­sis when Brett But­ler suf­fered a stroke.

Wil­liams, for­mer Nats third base coach Bo Porter (Houston) and Bryan Price (Cincin­nati), him­self hired last month, were all coaches at the big-league level. Price was a pitch­ing coach for 13 years be­fore tak­ing over for Dusty Baker.

Robin Ven­tura (Chicago White Sox), like Aus­mus and Ma­theny, was a spe­cial as­sis­tant, though only for four months be­fore his hire af­ter the 2011 sea­son. That move was still less shock­ing than Walt Weiss, who was coach­ing high school base­ball when he was hired by the Colorado Rock­ies last off­sea­son. Weiss had played for the team and spent six years in the front of­fice be­fore leav­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Four of those 14 man­agers hired since 2011 — McClen­don, John Far­rell (Bos­ton), Terry Fran­cona (Cleve­land) and John Gib­bons (Toronto) — are vet­er­ans with pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence. Three — Ryne Sand­berg (Philadel­phia), Mike Red­mond (Mi­ami) and Rick Ren­te­ria (Chicago Cubs), hired just last week — had man­aged in the mi­nors.

“Things aren’t nec­es­sar­ily the same as they were. Teams are will­ing to give on ex­pe­ri­ence if they be­lieve in the per­son they’re hir­ing,” said Luis Gon­za­lez, a five­time All-Star out­fielder and now a spe­cial as­sis­tant with the Di­a­mond­backs. “That’s prob­a­bly al­lowed a lot more guys a chance sooner than they would have had be­fore. That’s not al­ways a bad thing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Knowl­edge of the game and a fa­mil­iar­ity with what to­day’s play­ers need have helped Mike Ma­theny lead the Car­di­nals to two straight NL Cen­tral ti­tles and an ap­pear­ance in this year’s World Se­ries de­spite hav­ing no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence as a big-league man­ager.

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