First-time man­agers take over con­tenders

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - BY BRIAN MCNALLY

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.

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