David and Goliath and Burnley


This is great journalism by Joe Posnanski, about Burnley, a small-town Premier League team with great history. Read it even if you know nothing about soccer.

Originally posted on NBC SportsWorld:

BURNLEY, England – Start with the stands. Burnley, the smallest town ever to have its own Premier League team, plays in quaint old grounds near the center of town called Turf Moor. There’s a lot of history at Turf Moor – it’s the third-oldest stadium in all of England – but then there’s a lot of history in Burnley. People here will tell you that the game of soccer, as we know it, was invented somewhere around Burnley. Heck, it might have been invented in the town of Burnley itself. Nobody knows for sure.

At Turf Moor, like at many other historic places, the stands are named for people. The East Stand, for instance, is named for Jimmy McIlroy, the greatest player in Burnley history. They called him Jimmy Mac and the Burnley Brain … he was a slick passer and effective goal scorer and the heart of a…

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The Fight Doc in a Lifeguard Chair — State of the Art Football Concussion-Management

A Simple Suggested Paradigm for Football Game Concussion Management: The Fight Doc in a Lifeguard Chair With Unobstructed View and Authority

Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto illustrates the potent power of a simple common-sense change: insisting that physicians and other health care providers always use simple checklists, to insure that all necessary tasks are completed, almost always causes the number of medical errors to plunge.

I wrote two weeks ago that the Shane Morris events showed that Michigan (and other schools) needed to place a medical staffer up in the press box, armed with several TV monitors, to watch the field below for any on-field event which might raise some suspicion that some head or concussion injury may have occurred. The press release later issued by Michigan pronounced that Michigan would commit to having just such a press box medical monitor at every home game.

I am proposing another simple step to allow better assessment of potential football concussion injuries. I was led to this thinking because I found this interview of Michigan sideline neurologist Dr. Jeff Kutcher, reported last Thursday in the Detroit News, so disquieting.

What stuck in my craw was Kutcher’s admission that his position as the Michigan football team’s “sideline neurologist” gives him the “worst seat in the house.” The implications of this startling admission suggest that Kutcher partially misunderstands his function there on the sidelines, and also probably fails to perceive the rapidly evolving, and ever-increasing tension between two conflicting forces there on those same sidelines.

Concussions, Kutcher and others will tell you, are what clinicians call “occult” injuries, which means that the physician or trainer has difficulty making a diagnosis as a result of garden-variety physical, neurologic or opthamologic exams. The injury remains, in many respects, “unrevealed.” Forty years ago, concussions and other brain injuries were almost completely unrevealed, because the medical and diagnostic tools were so primitive; as a result, coaches, players and even doctors could more easily believe that no injury occurred after impact to the head — “out of sight, out of mind.” And forty years ago, the “smashmouth” football ethic predominated, with an emphasis on “playing through it,” and “shaking off” the after-effects of “getting your bell rung.” Play when you’re hurt, and you’re a hero. All those old cliches grow out of the old Dick Butkus, Bobby Layne, never-say-die concept of “toughness.”

But the science has rapidly improved, and new empirical data, including sophisticated new imaging techniques, have confirmed the presence of changes to the brain as the result of impacts on the field. The risk of injury is now much more obvious, though much remains undefined.

But the game is still managed by men who apply that that old Dick Butkus ethic. Michigan’s head coach Brady Hoke, for example — an extraordinarily decent man — still endorses smashmouth, never-come-out-of-the-game football. As a result, he made a fool of himself at the Minnesota game post-game presser when he blithely insisted that — contrary to all the current science — if Morris had felt he needed to come out of the game, he would’ve taken himself out. Michigan’s chaotic response to that Morris concussion, in fact, suggested an athletic department still governed by the old laissez-faire approach to concussion management.

But calling that old-school concussion-management approach “laissez-faire” overlooks a more profound factor causing it to linger on the sidelines: almost every coach believes that that “toughness,” and “smashmouth” and “play through the pain” is what wins games. And AD’s believe in it because winning generates gross income.

Smashmouth Clashes With New Science: The big battle on every football field now is between the new medical science (and resulting new prudent medical risk management) against the old, outdated smashmouth never-come-out ethic. And Dr. Kutcher, there on the sidelines, operates at the very juncture where those two forces meet.

But by passively accepting that his seat is “the worst in the house,” Kutcher backs away from that important juncture where smashmouth meets new science. He’s literally and figuratively buried in the pack, and overwhelmed by it. And his passivity in accepting “the worst seat in the house” (ie, with no line of sight to the game) reflects that he might not thoroughly understand that his important role is to perform a “check and balance” function not unlike the role of the three branches of the federal government. Kutcher must be an opposing force, insisting that the science and medicine prevail over the relentless drive to win (and make money) which often overwhelms college sports.

Based upon his passive acceptance of his “no-line-of-sight” position on the sidelines (and his apparent failure to previously adopt the Northwestern concussion management model, which several years ago added a medical monitor in the press box), it would appear that Kutcher might liken himself to the paramedic who stands at the finish line at the high school cross-country meet, available to administer smelling salts or perhaps oxygen to the several overcome runners who typically collapse, without significant subsequent health risk.

Sideline Medical Man as Fight Doc: Kutcher, instead, needs to perform his “check and balance” function, in opposition to the strong forces in favor of winning and making money, by performing more like the “Fight Doc” at a prizefight, who is authorized to stop the fight, and remove the athlete from the performing stage, no matter what any coach or fan believes ought to happen. But in order to do that, he needs to watch every play. For example, had Kutcher actually seen the Morris hit, he should have had the authority to directly intercede, and require that Morris immediately come out of the game — without consulting with anyone.

Definition of Duty Needs Focus on Possibility of Concussion: Some of Kutcher’s confusion may derive from the policies adopted by the NCAA, which suggest that removal from competition is required for those players “who are experiencing signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a sport-related concussion.” The language is too vague; the intent unclear. It should more directly state that the obligation to remove the player arises when he shows signs of a “possible concussion.” The semantic difference is important, since my suggested language emphasizes the need for immediate evaluation of both injury and possibility of injury. And, as regards Kutcher’s check and balance function, Kutcher should have explicit final authority to operate as the Supreme Court, with the complete and final power to intercede and unilaterally remove a player from competition.

The Fight Doc in the Lifeguard Chair: All of which leads to my proposal: the sideline neurologist needs to sit in a Lifeguard chair — the same kind of wooden structure which put beach lifeguards up high, for the best possible line of sight. The sideline medical professional, whether trainer or neurologist, needs to sit up there with unobstructed view. (Unless he is occupied with performing a neurologic exam.) The chair is hardly expensive (Michigan can borrow one from its tennis team, which has umpires perched in the same kind of elevated seat.) Yes, the elevated “high chair” might block some views behind the neurologist, but where player safety is involved, that is a clearly secondary concern.

Fight Doc With the Best Seat in the House: Some might contend that the “aerial-view” second monitor located in the press box eliminates the need for Kutcher to sit in that chair. I don’t agree: the examining medical man does a better exam if he sees the original mode of injury. But, even assuming no new Lifeguard chair is required, because a press-box monitor exists, the proposal has nonetheless has great utility across every high school and small college football field, because it is a cheap, effective — and highly symbolic measure to improve concussion (and other injury) monitoring. If there is only one medical staffer or trainer on the field, that person should have the best seat in the house, where he can see the mode of injury, and intercede with authority to evaluate any “possible” concussion.

Michigan just hired a new highly respected physician, Mark Schlissel, as its president. He is ideally situated to grab and address what has become a significant public health issue: what is the state of the art concussion management protocol at any level – high school, college and pro. The Ray Rice video thrust Roger Goodell and Ray Rice to the forefront of our culture’s evolving struggle with domestic violence. The Shane Morris video thrust Michigan to the forefront of the conflict between the new science and the old smashmouth ethic. Dr. Schlissel, as president of one the world’s great universities, has a bully pulpit on a Lifeguard seat of his own, with the explicit authority to intervene to change things. Football needs a Fight Doc in a Lifeguard Chair, with the best in the house, with unobstructed view and authority.

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Michigan’s Brandon & MSU’s Hollis Proposal to NCAA: Let Us Fill Empty Seats on TV with “Photoshopped” Students

Michgan AD David Brandon and his Michigan State counterpart, Mark Hollis, held a joint press conference today to announce that they’ve joined forces to submit what they called a “creative, new” proposal for legislation to be included in the Power 5 governance structure by January 1:  to allow student crowd images on TV to be “photoshopped-in.”

Both AD’s have been plagued by the failure on the part of students at both schools to attend and remain in attendance at football games.

MSU AD Mark Hollis

MSU AD Mark Hollis

Hollis tweeted at 6:05 p.m. last Saturday about his dissatisfaction with MSU students’ failure to remain in attendance for all four quarters of MSU’s 27-22 victory over Nebraska Saturday night:

“I spoke with many students & they share my disappointment and embarrassment of the support coming from the southeast corner on Saturday.”

Michigan AD David Brandon

Michigan AD David Brandon

Brandon’s problem has been to get the Michigan students to even show up at all. Student attendance has decreased from an average of 21,000 to around 13,000 per game, and many of those who do attend also depart early. It appears as though some, if not much of the decrease resulted from the athletic department’s unilateral decision to change from the long-standing system which had located freshman in the end zone, and seniors on over toward the 50 (which allowed friends to sit together), to a first–come, first-serve system. And prices were jacked from $35 to $45 per game. Both Michigan and MSU, along with Ohio State, have seen gradual decreases in student attendance since 2009.

Apparently anticipating the announcement of their joint proposal, Hollis also tweeted on Saturday night:

“We will work together to build a student section that enhances our teams ability to win championships. From kickoff to the end of the game,” and that, “ we are prepared to make the changes that will fill Spartan Stadium with Spartan fans that want to be there.” 

To solve the problem, Hollis explained, he and Brandon decided to seek formal Power 5 legislation which would allow any member to work with TV broadcasters to “Photoshop-in” pre-existing video images of student crowds, to replace the empty seats in the stands caused by students’ absence — and to dub-in corresponding crowd noise.”

I’m not sure,” Hollis mused, “that we really need any students, with this creative solution available.”

“We won’t miss a beat,” Brandon countered. “I really don’t think the TV fan at home will notice the difference, in terms of the “wow” factor that we pride ourselves on,” he added. “And it’s even gonna help the “driveway-to-driveway” experience of our non-student fans at the stadium, because we’ll also show the Photoshopped students in the Photoshopped crowd up on the big video board there at the stadium. It’s really,” he said, “gonna be seamless.”

“Also,” Brandon summarized cryptically, “students really do need to understand that attending college football games is a privilege, not a right.” Hollis solemnly nodded his agreement, adding, “Our student section, really, would be great — if it weren’t for our damned students.”

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Big 12 Bowlsby’s $25,000 Fine of ISU AD Jamie Pollard Jumps the Gun

The $25,000 fine imposed by commissioner Bob Bowlsby upon Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard for suggesting at a post-game press conference that his team was ‘jobbed’ by the referees in Saturday’s 37-20 loss to Oklahoma State at first appears appropriate.  But, in light of the startling breadth of Pollard’s clearly unique charge of conference-wide corruption, it is premature.

I’ll admit that Pollard’s post-game claim that ISU had been “jobbed” by the referees made him look the kind of fellow who endlessly fiddles the dial of the funky old floor-model RCA tube radio late at night, confident he’ll pick up from the airwaves the same alien voices he’ll swear to you he’s picked up many times before.

But I’ll argue that Pollard’s charges were not just serious. They were unique, as compared to the occasional but somewhat common post-game coach outbursts about officiating, usually focused upon one or two allegedly bad calls in the game just completed. As one example, head Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller claimed in an April 2013 post-game press conference, after having been called for a technical foul, that a head referee had instructed his underlings to, in effect, “get” Miller. Miller was fined by the PAC-12, and the referee admitted he’d made inappropriate comments to the referees about Miller to his referees, but insisted they had been “in jest.” The head referee, however, resigned four days later. And, frankly, the ref’s excuse that he was “just kidding” didn’t pass muster: some other refs in the meeting flatly denied that his comments were in any way light-hearted.

Pollard’s claim is much more damning. He claims, apparently, that there has been an 18-month series of decisions, actions and events which were triggered, he cryptically suggests, by a meeting in which Pollard and head coach Rhoads took a position which no other conference member in attendance supported. Pollard claims, then, an ongoing long pattern of unfair behavior by conference referees toward ISU, suggesting that the unfair treatment was both intentional, but also somehow directed toward visiting some retribution — 18 months later — upon ISU. If the evidence later suggests that Pollard’s claim has validity, then the Big 12 and its referees would need to institute wholesale changes.

Bowlsby owes the conference and fans at least some summary investigation. Bowlsby should have announced (and still can) that he has demanded of Pollard (and Rhoads) a complete written accounting of all facts associated with any wrongdoing which they claim occurred, in order that Bowlsby (or someone appointed by Bowlsby) can undertake a thorough investigation which would either support or contradict Pollard’s hard-hitting claim. Bowlsby needs to be able to tell the public that, based upon a good-faith investigation of Pollard’s claim, he has concluded either that there is no basis for it, or that some facts suggest that Pollard’s conspiracy charge was accurate. Until Bowlsby can give the public that kind of assurance, the fine on Pollard is premature.


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Notre Dame ‘Academic 5″ Case Shows Why Player Accused of Academic Violation Should Revoke FERPA Waiver

It’s been almost two months since  Notre Dame first disclosed that a group of players were suspected of academic impropriety, and that Honor Code investigations and proceedings were ongoing. Schools typically are quite tight-lipped about many topics, including player injuries, so that Notre Dame’s chattiness about charges which were entirely unproven was puzzling.

Notre Dame appears to have done its homework now, since the school just announced yesterday that the results of the investigations would not be released by the school to the public. The players involved should have, once notified that suspensions was going to happen, immediately informed the school that the FERPA waiver which they executed as a part of the “Student-Athlete Statement” which they sign each year was revoked — which would make clear to the school that it had no authority to release any information about the charges.

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How ISU AD Jamie Pollard and Edward Snowden Are Alike: Civil Disobedience and Whistleblowing the Whistleblowers

Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard, in state of obvious high dudgeon, today commandeered the post-game press conference podium, usually first given to the head coach, to deliver his judgment:

“Iowa State takes great pride in how we conduct our business.”

I had assumed that this was a sport. But, go on.

“Those of you who know me personally know that I work really hard to make sure my staff and I adhere to that.”

I’d seen Michigan’s AD Dave Brandon, during his post-concussion-gate media interview blitz two days ago, complain that the criticism he has received has been “hurtful to [my] family,” so my patience for AD’s with million-dollar annual salaries complaining or bragging about having to work hard, or about public criticism, was waning.

“We [Iowa State] have been on the short end of several controversial calls . . .  And  it’s hard to sit idle . . .   Coach Rhoads and I, a year and a half ago raised an issue . . . and since that time, we’ve been on the short end of the stick.”

My metabolic rate here ticked upward quickly, as I comprehended exactly what Pollard is claiming here. It’s not, apparently, just that Iowa State was “jobbed,” today, while losing to Oklahoma State 37-20, but that because of a vote 18 months ago, there has been, since that time, a concerted plan executed, by those in power at the Big 12, including but not limited to referees, to “job” Iowa State at every opportunity.  Pollard is claiming a conspiracy, and that its result has been continual, planned prejudice against Iowa State. Rather strong stuff.

AD Pollard understands that “the Big 12 does not allow comments upon officiating.”  He knows the rules.

But, like Edward Snowden, he has to stand up for pure principle, even if that puts him in direct conflict with the law of the Big 12. Not all laws can or should be obeyed, after all, and sometimes, well, the just and honorable person has to take a stand and disobey the rule he believes is unjust. This is AD Pollard, by his own principled stand, endorsing civil disobedience and whistleblowing.

But there’s a difference here, between the civilly-disobedient act taken by Iowa State AD Pollard here on October 6, and the civil disobedience registered by Edward Snowden, and it’s reflected in Pollard’s somewhat rambling statement, which explicitly states that the “jobbing” of Iowa State over the last 18 months, “ends careers for football coaches, athletic directors, and presidents.” That is Pollard’s primary concern. His job.  A job which pays him about a million dollars per year. Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, in contrast, had nothing to do with protecting his own job.

But let’s here recognize what we will call the Pollard Rule at Iowa State, for application and use by all of Iowa State’s student-athletes: if there is some decision by a coach that you don’t like, call him out. Don’t go along with unfair rule making or application. If you believe the coach has, for example, for the past 18 months, been biased against you in not giving you playing time, go to the press. Do not go gentle into the good night of silly rules.  Speak out, do what you wish, there will be no consequences.

It’s a good thing that Iowa State players — and Iowa State’s AD Pollard — are not subject to  a dictatorial regime like Charlie Strong’s at Texas where, if you are not ‘with the program‘, you’re gone. No questions asked. If you buck the rules which apply to everyone, then you need to be dismissed.

But Pollard’s principled stand here today tells us that Strong’s strict rules would never apply to anyone at Iowa State —  so take heart, all Iowa State players. Speak out. Think for yourself.

And Pollard’s behavior, about 18 months ago, on an unrelated event, gives us insight into how dedicated Pollard is to ignoring customary norms of behavior, and blowing the whistle on the whistle-blowing referees because they so often “job” him. In February 2013, Pollard was thrown out of a high school basketball game after disagreeing with a referee’s call in a game where his son was playing as a high school sophomore.

Exactly what Edward Snowden, or Mahatma Ghandi, or Henry David Thoreau would’ve done. Civil disobedience, to protect a million-dollar per year job, or a son’s high school basketball team.





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Why Does Notre Dame “Academic 5″ Allow School to Say Anything About Academic Charges?

The five Notre Dame football players (DeVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, Ishaq Williams, Eiler Hardy, and KeiVarae Russell) who have apparently just had “hearings” conducted by Notre Dame to determine the validity of charges of alleged academic impropriety have been now suspended for seven weeks. (With the exception of Hardy, whose suspension began on August 30.)  Assuming they are not guilty of the infractions, the significant national publicity has unnecessarily damaged their status and reputations.

The school should release no information to the press about any such charges. To insure that no such information is released, the player should revoke the FERPA “waiver” which they sign each year when they sign the “Student-Athlete Statement,” which permits the school to release information about the student’s academic records.  More players should consider this step: once the school announces a suspension, revoke the FERPA waiver, and the school must remain silent.

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Brandon Bids Brady Bye-Bye

Having been AWOL on player-safety issues, and having taken almost no position on any issue of significance in college sports reform, Michigan AD Brandon set some wheels in motion at 1 a.m. this morning to institute some effective concussion-management protocols, including the Press Box Safety Monitor which I proposed in my post yesterday.

But the process which led to Brandon’s press release is jaw-dropping evidence of Brandon’s recurring careerist obsession with attempting to make himself look good at the expense of others — in this case, Brady Hoke (the very football coach Brandon hired.) Continue reading

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To Michigan’s Brandon and Pres. Dr. Schlissel: Will Morris Hit Be Included in $30 Million Concussion Study Run by Michigan?

Michigan AD Brandon’s Un-Serious Approach to Concussion-Management (and College Athletics Reform)

The NCAA Constitution claims its core value is protection of the “welfare of the student-athlete.” If that’s true, then Michigan’s handling of Shane Morris’ chin-lifting whomp the other day raises questions about the role of head coach Brady Hoke, Michigan’s sideline concussion management protocol, AD David Brandon, new Michigan President Dr. Mark Schissel, the NCAA’s new $30 million concussion-study initiative (in concert with the U.S. Army, and actually headed-up by Michigan’s own medical school), and the NCAA’s own policy for handling concussions.

1) Has Brady Hoke taken concussion management seriously? No. Here is Hoke’s ignorant post-game comment: “Shane wanted to be the quarterback; if he didn’t want to be, he would’ve come to the sidelines.” Hoke’s view is badly outdated, and no medical expert now would dare contend that the possibly concussed player should be the “last decider” as to whether he is removed from the field.

But I’ll bet my Chuck Taylors that anyone will tell you Hoke is a palpably decent person. There’s no intent there, really.  Continue reading

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Gene Marsh’s Big Ten Panegyric: Objective?

Read this piece by Attorney Gene Marsh, entitled “Despite Athletic Excesses, the Academic Mission Prevails,”  about his purportedly objective assessment of the Big Ten. This is a low-point for the Chronicle of Higher Education, for whom I have great respect — particularly the fine work of Brad Wolverton.

Marsh’s piece is pure PR -marshmallow fluff. It’s certainly not reporting. So it must fall in the opinion category.

At first glance, it appears as though Marsh went to some flea market of college sports commercial sales with a Geiger Counter set to tick when it discovered any possible hint of real academic or scholarly endeavor — and that Marsh was thrilled when the device ticked once.

Upon second reading, the thought crosses your mind that the genesis for this piece had two roots: 1) Marsh’s dinner with old buddy Big Ten Comish Delany at some white tablecloth New York Yacht Club site; and 2) Marsh having been paid a $500,000 fee for representing Big Ten member OSU in an NCAA infractions case, and then another half a million dollars by Michigan for his work representing them in a COI case. My facts here are, I will admit, imprecise, but roughly correct, and the hour is late.

More to the point, is it unfair to suggest that the Chronicle editors have a duty founded in old journalism ethics to require that Marsh list, at the top (or bottom) of this panegyric to the Big Ten, all of the Big Ten clients he has represented, and how much they have paid him? Without that information, the public is deceived, since the author appears before the unsuspecting reader as though he has no bias whatsoever.  I’m a big fan of the Chronicle. But this is a real low point.

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