Seeing change, Huma presses ahead in battle against NCAA
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 22.214.171.124 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.”
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.