It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Now that CBS has proven that March Madness can be a year-round affliction by agreeing to pay $6 billion for the rights to the NCAA basketball tournaments, what does that mean for the average college athlete on the floor?

Not much, according to sports business guru Andrew Zimbalist, whose Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports was recently published by Princeton University Press. “It’s a princely sum of money that will not have a tremendous impact on the schools. It doesn’t even start kicking in until 2003, and when it starts kicking in it’s only about $350 million a year. So at the end of the day, schools four years from now are going to start getting an additional three or four hundred thousand dollars a year, but by that time, the costs of running the show are going to go up a lot.”

Already, legendarily legendary coach Dean Smith and other reformers have called for college athletes to share in the boodle (Smith recommends a $250-per-month stipend), with the NCAA predictably responding that administrative costs will eat up any windfall. “I think that players are already on the verge of kicking and screaming about that, and any provocation could aggravate that situation,” says Zimbalist. “I’m not sure that it’s going to amount to a heck of a lot, but there might be some more disgruntlement” among athletes thanks to the new TV deal.

As for fans, Zimbalist worries that CBS’s stated intention not to farm out any coverage to other networks could knock some games off the air, as happened with baseball’s ill-fated Baseball Network deal a few years back: “It’s not clear how it’s going to work itself out,” Zimbalist says. “But it might not be a very good outcome for fans.” Order your satellite dishes early and often.

Sign of the ‘Times’

A mere 18 months ago, an apoplectic Bob Herbert wrote that the Yankees’ decision to leave the Bronx was a done deal and mourned the loss to the city. And though George Steinbrenner’s Stadium-Deal Dance continues with no end in sight, the normally reliable Timesman reversed fields and wrote a gushing tribute to the Boss in his Monday column. Herbert recited Steinbrenner’s oft-repeated anecdotes about the success of his Yanks being a metaphor for all of New York, and how the Boss saved the Bombers from ruin by cutting the fresh-flower budget back in the early ’70s. But he failed to mention the hundreds of millions that the city is almost certain to hand over to Steinbrenner for his new money-generating home field.

Did Herbert press the Yankee owner on his campaign-finance crimes on behalf of Richard Nixon or George’s promise to stay in the Stadium were he to draw over 3 million fans? No. The columnist even let Steinbrenner get away without answering whether he would keep the Yanks in the Bronx. Assurances from the Boss’s handlers were enough to secure the love letter.

It’s impossible to imagine Herbert writing such a column about Bill Gates, a Rockefeller, or Donald Trump, yet Steinbrenner’s business practices aspire to the same outcome: monopolistic domination and fawning media devotion. The Yankees are so good that baseball’s top executives are whispering about shrinking the number of teams in the league (which has never happened in Major League history). Even baseball’s house organ, The Sporting News, headlined their World Series coverage, “Yankee Dynasty Is Alarming.”

Herbert’s appeasement of the bully in the Bronx may augur more dismal revisionism next fall. After yet another Yankee victory parade, perhaps Herbert will pen a heartwarming story about the mayor’s childhood visits to Yankee Stadium on the eve of election day.


*Synergy? Cross-marketing? Weird campaign strategy? Or all of the above?: Potential Reform Party presidential candidate Lowell Weicker, former governor of Connecticut, joined the World Wrestling Federation’s Board of Directors on Monday. . . . *eBay auction of the week: The Kansas City Royals—”Major League team with 25-man roster, located in beautiful Kansas City, Missouri. Carlos Beltran just voted AL rookie of the year. Comes with magnificent stadium, acres of parking and private owners suite! Payroll one of the lowest in the league, reduced recently of underachieving closer Jeff Montgomery. Stadium also voted best hotdogs in town. Must see to appreciate. Post your best offer today—this one will go fast! Property can be viewed at One Royal Way, Kansas City, Mo.” Bidding topped out at $10 million before the auction was pulled last Friday. No word on whether Cablevision’s Jim Dolan put in a bid. . . . *Jockbeat’s far-flung correspondents recently filed the following reports: Huntington Hills took the Southern Alberta Curling Association championship earlier this week, Team Shooter won the Central Connecticut Pee Wee Marble tournament on Saturday, and D.C. United won its third Major League Soccer title in four years.

contributors: Neil deMause, Dean Chadwin, Howard Z. Unger,
Ramona DebS

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman