$562,916 for a college golf coach and other crazy things

Is job pay a true reflection of societal values?

Here are some figures to consider:

The salary scale for full professors in the University of California system ranges from $100,600 to $183,700. An instructor’s pay starts at under $60,000.

The chancellor of UCLA, Gene Block, received $441,721 in gross pay in calendar year 2015, according to UC salary data. Block holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stanford University and a master’s and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Oregon. He is also the inventor of a number of devices and holds a patent for a non-contact respiratory monitor for the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome.

The UCLA men’s basketball coach, Steve Alford, accumulated gross pay of $2,744,493 in 2015. The compensation report shows $300,000 in regular pay and $2,444,493 in “other pay,” which includes performance-based incentive compensation.  The team’s record in the 2015-2016 season was a lackluster 15 winds and 17 losses. This past season, the Bruins were 31-5 and lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 round.

I started reflecting on such things after my nephew Jim called my attention to a Cleveland Plain Dealer-cleveland.com series on the cost of college athletics. A recent installment carried the headline “51 Ohio college head coaching jobs that pay $200,000 to $6.6 million.”

It was eye-opening to see that Urban Meyer, Ohio State’s football coach, received $6,641,260 in salary, benefits and bonuses during the 2015-16 school year.  The Buckeyes were 11-2 last season and lost to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

While Alford and Meyer can claim their teams generate a lot of revenue for the universities, a number of high-paid coaches in the Plain Dealer series probably can’t make that case. Therese Hession, women’s golf coach at Ohio State, picked up $230,183 in overall pay last year. Herb Page, men’s golf coach at Kent State, got $562,916. The men’s basketball coach at Akron University, Keith Dambrot, was paid $932,071. The team went 26-9, playing such powerhouses as UC Santa Barbara, Toledo and Lipscomb.

By contrast, pay for coaches at UC Davis, a university better known for its academics than its athletics, seems modest by Ohio standards. The men’s basketball coach, Jim Les, had gross pay of $303,263 in 2015. The team’s record in 2015-2016 was 11 wins and 19 losses. The Aggies were 23-13 this season and won their initial game in the NCAA Tournament before getting blasted by powerhouse Kansas.

The women’s basketball coach, Jennifer Gross, had overall pay of $130,025 in 2015.  The team’s record was 19-13 in the 2015-2016 season and 25-8 this year.

Barbara Jahn, head of the women’s swimming program, had gross pay of $139,589 in 2015. She also teaches aquatics courses in the exercise biology program. Erin Thorpe, women’s softball coach, received overall pay of $105,283.

Meanwhile, big-time college stars who help generate millions of dollars for their schools make do with their scholarships and cheers of the crowd.

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Politeness at the Home Depot checkout line

polite gesturePolite gestures were directed toward me the other day, and I don’t know what to make of them. I doubt that I invited them, given my tendency to avoid eye contact with strangers.

But there I was in the garden section of Home Depot, standing in a checkout line with my two six-packs of pansies. Ten feet away was a second checkout line. In my New Yorker frame of reference, these were two separate lines. I had made that determination a minute earlier. It didn’t seem right to straddle the divide and wait to see what developed. I could imagine an impatient customer growling: “Hey buddy, make up your mind already!”

Each line had one person waiting for service. Taking my cue from police departments and the Department of Homeland Security, I profiled my fellow human beings to assess their potential for trouble. I went through my stockpile of stereotypes and prejudices and decided to follow a thin, middle-aged woman at the left-side checkout rather than a heavyset, grandmotherly lady on the right side. The thin woman looked like a no-nonsense business type rushing to get an errand done; grandma struck me as the sort that might strike up a conversation with the clerk.

Unfortunately, grandma had more than enough time to chat because the thin lady couldn’t get her chip-based credit card to work despite multiple insertions and exclamations of despair. I put on my stoic face and tried to appear like a philosophical senior-citizen accustomed to life’s ups and downs.

As grandma departed with her shopping cart, a stocky, fiftyish white male who had gotten in line behind her nodded his head to indicate I could cross the great divide and go ahead of him. I declined his polite offer because – well, fair’s fair. He had picked the right line and I was a loser. That’s life.

The woman ahead of me continued to flail away with her credit card. I shifted my weight from foot to foot and stared into the parking lot. A minute or two passed. The good Samaritan across the way paid for his plants and headed for the parking lot.

Incredibly, the next customer, another white male in his 50s, also looked at me and extended his hand toward the empty counter in front of him. I shrugged off the offer while trying to look appreciative. Why was I being singled out for what seemed like special consideration? Did I look like a feeble old man who needed special consideration? Did the six-packs of pansies say something about me?

As I finally made my way toward my parked car, I wondered whether I had been inducted into a fraternity of aging white males who had weekdays free to shop at manly Home Depot. I was, after all, wearing a baseball cap and flannel shirt. Had I been the subject of someone else’s profiling and assumptions?

Then I had a more uplifting thought. Perhaps these polite gestures reflected a reaction against the general nastiness of our social climate, a silent vote for kindness and good will.

It’s nice to think so.

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Random thoughts of a conflicted sports fan

The Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento is a fine place to watch a basketball game. I went there Friday evening to watch the McClatchy girls’ team play for the Division 1 state title. Given the small crowd, the steep upper deck was closed off, and a $10 senior-citizen ticket put me in a prime viewing area. I enjoyed the intensity of the players and the excitement of the crowd. The game was tight until Windward, from west Los Angeles,  went on a run in the final six minutes to take the title. Still, it was a pleasure to see McClatchy at the championship level.

I can’t say I had a world-class, $255 million experience (the starting cost to Sacramento taxpayers to build the arena), although the $10 hot dog and $5 bottled water gave me a taste of the pretentious  ambience that envelops the venue. The thing is, I was perfectly content watching high school playoffs at Sleep Train Arena, the former home of the Sacramento Kings. Heck, I was excited watching McClatchy play in its small school gym just a few blocks from my home.

Who needs a sparkling arena loaded with high-tech equipment, an 84-foot-long scoreboard and farm-to-fork organic produce to watch a ballgame? What kind of value system is at work here and what’s it say about the city of Sacramento, where homeless people die on the grounds of nearby City Hall?

Grumble, grumble.

The NCAA Tournament has provided some terrific basketball games, but I find it hard to keep the unsavory stuff in the background. All through the Kansas-Oregon game in the Elite Eight round on Saturday, I kept thinking about the criminal investigations involving a number of Kansas players.

There was an alleged rape at the team’s on-campus dorm; a player was suspended in December after he was arrested on a charge of domestic battery; another player has been accused of vandalizing the car of a female student. Kansas coach Bill Self circled the wagons and downplayed the multiple problems. Oregon’s 74-60 victory over Kansas seemed to have some karmic significance.

Sunday’s game pitting North Carolina against Kentucky, a classic thriller with an astounding final minute, involved two universities doing their best to compromise the idea of college education.

North Carolina, the 75-73 victor, has been mired in an embarrassing six-year! investigation into academic fraud involving basketball and football players. Instead of being ashamed of a phony-class scheme, the university has the effrontery to claim the NCAA is blowing the case out of proportion.

Kentucky coach John Calipari, bless his heart, is quite willing to defend his one-and-done recruiting approach as a benefit to players caught between competing interests of the NBA and big-time college programs. Los Angeles Times writer Mike Hiltzik aptly says universities that tolerate such a system are “prostituting their academic standards.”

Meanwhile, let the Final Four drumroll begin.

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From the dentist’s drill to parking-lot woes

mustangdamageWhen you leave a dentist’s office, things should start to pick up. Such was not the case this week.

Monday morning, I drove over to a trendy section of east Sacramento, parked my 2014 Mustang in the dentist’s half-filled lot and prepared myself mentally to get two fillings and a crown replacement. I thought I had been taking reasonably good care of my not-so-good teeth, but my teeth genes are questionable. My father periodically told the story of giving up on his teeth in his 30s and having them all extracted in one day. He spent a year gumming his food before he was ready for dentures.

My hour in the dental chair went smoothly enough. The dentist and his assistant were competent and caring. Neither asked me complicated questions when I couldn’t possibly answer. I was free to meditate on the lack of good dental-insurance plans in American society. Indeed, our free-choice system means I can choose between little or no coverage. I pay out-of-pocket, as I do for vision care. Monday’s bill came to $1,500. Factor such things into your retirement planning, folks.

Anyway, I left the dentist’s office hopeful my teeth would hold up for a couple of years. I walked over to my Mustang — and suddenly felt confused. The driver’s-side mirror looked odd. In fact, there was no mirror – just the frame hanging at an odd angle. The door had a dent and a scrape. I found the mirror and broken plastic on the ground.

Not again, I thought with a touch of despair. Three months ago, my lightly driven Mustang lost its innocence when a pickup driver sideswiped it in midtown Sacramento. He stuck around to exchange unpleasantries. I filed a claim with my insurance company, which paid more than $3,000 for repairs. I had to fork over $500 to cover my deductible.

This week, the offending party fled the scene – or maybe just shrugged and disappeared into a rat hole. I didn’t waste too much time indulging in revenge fantasies. Too many creeps have been given license to do and say lousy things these days. I choose not to be riled up every waking moment.

I drove home carefully, avoiding sudden lane changes. I called my insurance company. The representative was pleasant. I knew the routine and felt none of the anxiety I had the first time around. Within 90 minutes, I had delivered my car to the body shop and gotten a rental.

I sighed about the prospect of paying another $500 deductible and hoped my policy rate wouldn’t jump when renewal time arrived. Even though I was the victim in both mishaps, the insurer might assume I had bad karma. Long ago, a cold-hearted company canceled my homeowners insurance after burglars hit my house twice in a year.

Meanwhile, I feel an irrational resentment toward my Mustang. This cool car was supposed to bring me fun times, not headaches.  I drove an aging Toyota Camry for years without suffering the dings and dents of outrageous fortune. My Irish side has long warned me against putting on the dog. Maybe a humble car is in my future.

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Those who take clutch shots, and those who don’t

basketballPrinceton’s Devin Cannady could have been the hero last week, but he missed a three-pointer in the closing seconds of an upset bid against Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He had a relatively open shot; the ball clanged off the rim.

“It was a good look,” Cannady told reporters. “It’s a shot I’ve taken before. But the ball didn’t fall like I wanted it to.”

And what now for the Princeton sophomore?

Will that missed shot haunt him for the rest of his life? Will he use failure as fuel for success? Will he shrug it off with a win-some, lose-some mentality?

The impact of buzzer-beating shots on players’ lives was explored in a half-page article in the New Yok Times Sunday.  Even a clutch shot in childhood can have long-lasting impact.

Arkansas guard Daryl Macon was 14, a freshman at Parkview High School in Little Rock, when he hit a 3-pointer to send a game into triple overtime. He was not a starter, and he did not even play in that third overtime. But he said he leaned on that moment throughout his high school career.

“I was just 5-foot-5 as a freshman,” Macon said. “I had my doubts whether I was going to be a player or not. I made that shot and I remember thinking: Maybe I have something. Maybe I have what it takes.”

Although the focus falls on the crunch-time shooter, I also wonder about players who decide not to take the big shot. In the Princeton game, Cannady’s teammate Amir Bell, a junior, seemed to have an opportunity for a pull-up jumper from 15 feet despite close guarding. He might have made the shot or gotten fouled. Instead, he chose to pass off to Cannady for a long-distance shot. Was it pure basketball reflex on Bell’s part or fear of taking the big shot?

In the NCAA championship final last year, Villanova senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono dished off to teammate Kris Jenkins in the final seconds. Jenkins made an electrifying three-pointer to win the game. If Jenkins had missed, Arcidiacono’s decision might have looked questionable. He was the senior, he had the opportunity, and yet he passed on it.

Even the great Michael Jordan might have been second-guessed for passing off to Steve Kerr in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals. Jordan was Mr. Clutch for the Chicago Bulls and had already made two game-winners in the series against Utah. Fortunately, Kerr made the buzzer-beater, giving the championship to the Bulls.

I had only one buzzer-beating moment in all of my grade-school and high-school playing days. I can still see the small fifth-floor gym at P.S. 33 in Queens Village. I was an eighth-grader on the Our Lady of Lourdes team, and we were playing St. Mary’s for the CYO league championship. We were down by two points and called a timeout in the frantic final seconds. The coach said there was a split second left on the clock.

“Just get the ball and heave it,” he told me. “You don’t have time for a real shot.”

I did exactly that from about 25 feet out. The ball hit the backboard and went into the basket, tying the game. ( No three-pointers back then.)  We won easily in overtime.

I felt no emotion at all. I just stared at the ball hanging in the net. It was a lucky heave I couldn’t duplicate in a hundred later throws at the playground. It wasn’t my skill and practice paying off under pressure. Still, the shot gave me confidence that good things would happen if I stuck with the game of basketball.



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