Anyone else receive an e-mail from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week announcing that the players have walked away from mediation and are suing the NFL? Goodell's mass e-mail sent for the purpose of "image" or "damage control" probably hit the cyberspace airwaves just seconds before or after the proliferation of televised, Internet, radio and cable broadcasts. It's one of the first rules taught on the topic of crisis communication in sport - be quick with a response, be truthful and try to maintain transparency.
But there have been plenty more interesting sport stories worthy of mentioning this month beyond what the media has referred to as the "NFL Armageddon." Of course, Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel's actions to hide information that his players were selling team gear and memorabilia to the owner of a tattoo parlor (under investigation for drug trafficking) are huge headlines. Some say the Tressel story is stealing the thunder and upstaging his school's overall No. 1 ranking and first seed spot at the Big Dance this month.
Opinions have surfaced everywhere questioning whether Tressel's character (duly noted by university President Gordon Gee and Athletic Director Gene Smith) has influenced special treatment in a case where the cover-up is bigger than the crime, but the punishment suggests otherwise.
What would the sanctions be for another Division I coach who deliberately failed to report knowledge of major rule infractions to their compliance office or athletic director? Why have other coaches been hit with greater sanctions for lesser offenses? It is amazing America's preoccupation and insatiable appetite for football allows coverage of Tressel's story to garner just as much - if not more - attention than March Madness, Charlie Sheen's $100 million lawsuit, or the recent natural and nuclear catastrophe hitting Japan last week. America does love a juicy sports story.
A related juicy tidbit to the Tressel incident is the story behind the lawyer who sent the infamous text messages alerting Ohio State's coach of his player's questionable activities. Seems the personality
behind the e-mail is a former Buckeye linebacker-turned-lawyer who had his license suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court after leading an assistant prosecutor to believe he was having sex with a judge. The Columbus Dispatch revealed the judge admitted to the sexual encounter, but only after she was also taken off the case. The fumbling lawyer, Christopher Cicero, had been previously cited for causing a mistrial after he allegedly hit his own client in the courtroom.
March is a month where headlines typically focus on basketball, not football and courtrooms. It was one short year ago CBS and Turner Broadcasting signed a $10.8 billion 14-year contract with the NCAA which expanded the national basketball championship tournament to 68 teams.
The 41 percent increase in rights fees over the previous deal ($6 billion over 11 years) has helped secure the financial stability of the NCAA for at least another decade. Too bad the collective bargaining agreement for the NFL can't last that long.
It is exciting to have Dayton host the newly tabbed "First Four" matchups. The question beckons, will there be another Cinderella story like the tiny Butler Bulldogs who succumbed to a heartbreaking one-point loss to Duke in the tournament championship game last year?
Brigham Young University (30-4) isn't expected to be the spoiler in 2011, especially since Brandon Davies, one of the star players, was kicked off the team for admittedly having pre-marital sex with his girlfriend. The act was a violation of the school's morality code which also forbids drinking coffee and tea. So BYU, the alma mater of Chicago QB Jim McMahon and a former top-five team in the NCAA, may have a tougher time getting past Florida and Pittsburgh in the Southeast Region bracket this year.
Believers in underdogs, however, can still root for Princeton as their favorite Ivy League contender when they face Kentucky this week. Too bad, Harvard. Better luck in the science lab.
One day the NCAA Tournament might be played in Oregon's new $227 million "Matthew Knight Basketball Arena" named after the son of Nike co-founder Phil Knight who died in a scuba accident.
The arena just unveiled a crazy original floor design (imagine that), and in the locker rooms each player has a remote control to transform their mirror into a personal television. Two practice courts have 60-inch video screens, and there's a nifty lounge area for Phil Knight and any other million-dollar-plus donor.
Basketball on the high school scene has had interesting stories this month as well. Crazy enough, head coach Amber Branson from a Division II Texas high school won a regional semifinal game at 4 p.m. on a recent Friday afternoon, gave birth at 10 p.m. the same evening only to return to the sidelines to coach in the championship game the following afternoon.
Yes, mom and new baby girl are doing well. Yes, the team advanced and actually won state. But NO, the coach didn't do any favors for advocates of work-life balance in the athletic industry. Perhaps a woman's ability to give birth and coach within 24-hours is a testament to superior physical capabilities after a natural birth, but the waters are muddied when coaching becomes more important than the first 24 hours with your newborn.
While birth is a blessing, an unexpected death is a tragedy. Unfortunately, that was felt by several basketball teams including Middle Tennessee State in the Sunbelt Conference. MTSU senior Tina Stewart was stabbed to death by her roommate. Tragedy also hit an AAU team in Texas and high schools in Fennville, Mich., and in Gainesville, Fla. In Florida, it was a track and field athlete who collapsed during drills and died several days later. In Texas and Michigan, a 16-year old basketball player collapsed on the court and died in the hospital hours later. The team in western Michigan advanced to the state championship game this week, thanks in part to the heroics of their fallen teammate who just happened to nail the game-winning basket in overtime of the season finale, just minutes before his collapse.
There will be much more to report next month to wrap up the basketball scene and catch up with the NFL labor disputes. In the NFL, fingers are being pointed to the owners who started the mess by choosing to exercise their right to "opt out" of the since-expired collective bargaining agreement and who have refused to deliver 10 years of audited financial records. The players, on the other hand, are the ones who walked away from mediation, voted to decertify the union and pursued litigation by crying anti-trust.
The primary argument stems over the approximate $9 billion in revenues the NFL earns each year from all types of revenue streams. The former CBA allowed owners to take $1 billion off the top to cover expenses and divide the remaining $8 billion on roughly a 60 percent-player and 40 percent-owner split. Here is a case where the MLB arbitration system would provide a quick remedy. If it were only that simple.
Stay tuned in April for more inspiring and amazing sport stories from our small community in northwest Ohio to around the globe.
Bonnie Tiell is Tiffin University's faculty representative to the NCAA.