First-time managers take over contenders
Experience is not what it used to be.
When the Washington Nationals tabbed Matt Williams as their new manager earlier this month, the club joined a growing trend among Major League Baseball teams: hiring someone with extremely limited or no managerial experience at any level to run a team.
Williams retired in 2003 after a spectacular 17year playing career, served as a broadcaster and then returned to the field in 2010 as a coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. That was enough for Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who was with Arizona’s front office when Williams was still a player.
“There are different routes to the manager’s chair,” Rizzo said. “I think each situation is unique.”
But Williams’ ascension is becoming all too common even for contending clubs.
The Detroit Tigers, three-time defending AL Central champions and back in the American League Championship Series this past season, needed to replace longtime manager Jim Leyland, who retired after his team was eliminated by
challenging the NCAA’s hands-off approach to the injuries, too.
Grambling State University football players, unhappy with the firing of coach Doug Williams, substandard facilities and poor travel arrangements boycotted practice, then a game.
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken issued a ruling in Ed O’Bannon’s long-running lawsuit against the NCAA that allows current and former athletes to challenge the prohibition on compensation for athletes.
This is how change is coming, not from another well-paid committee meeting at a Ritz-Carlton, but through hard-fought court cases and legislation and athletes reminding their schools that there are no games without them.
“College sports,” Huma says, “are on the tipping point.”
The NCAA’s magnetic attraction to head-scratching decisions has helped. It wades neck-deep into issues divorced from common sense, while sidestepping real change on issues from scholarships covering the full cost of attendance to deceasing the number of contact days allowed each week for football practices from the current five.
Instead, the NCAA tackles urgent problems like the BYU runner ruled ineligible because he competed in an informal race four years ago. The run involved costumes. Summon the NCAA’s enforcement team.
Or the Colgate basketball player ruled ineligible for participating in a casual church league.
Or the Middle Tennessee State walkon football player ruled ineligible for playing in a military recreation league while in the Marines.
These are the sacred ideals the NCAA fights to protect.
The ever-growing number of contradictory rulings, meandering investigations and blustery pronouncements by men and women enriching themselves off the multibillion dollar industry’s fixed-wage product have only injected life into Huma’s efforts. In recent months, attention to the problems, in his mind, resembled an avalanche.
“When we started in 2001, there weren’t many people who understood that college athletes really deserved a closer look,” Huma says. “I feel like the environment is night and day. It’s really hard to find someone who defends the status quo.”
Well, outside of many folks at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. But the hypocrisy is corroding the system they’re trying to preserve.
Huma’s delusion is gone. Reform isn’t easy. Reform will take time. But reform will happen.
“Each issue,” he says, “goes further and further.”
Until one day, the whole rickety construction crashes down.