Saturday, March 29, 2014

On the NLRB's Ruling that Players Can Unionize and How College Sports Will Evolve

We could be reaching an inflection point.

A point of maximum change.

A point where the Hessians reveal their true colors, as do the true educators.

A point where some schools will have to determine whether they join the dark side and fight the Jedi Knights.

Okay, here's what I'm getting at, but bear with me as I construct the argument:

1.  In certain ways, student athletes are better treated than they were, say, before social media arose, anyone can videotape anything, and coaches were vulgar with language and sometimes abusive with their physicality.  That, of course, is a good thing.

2.  Student-athletes also get built-in perks that the average student does not get -- beautiful dorms in certain places for players on certain teams, tutors, top-class workout facilities, trainers, food.

3.  Student-athletes on scholarship have one-year renewable scholarships.  Which means that coaches can run players off and not renew their scholarships.  That happens, although usually quietly, with the late Rick Majerus getting bad publicity for doing this when he was at Utah.  Many others did this as well, and sometimes for good reasons -- the kid was too immature, too injured, required too much attention, wasn't a good enough citizen, or, in many cases, wasn't a good enough player and by jettisoning him, the coach wouldn't be risking blowing up a key relationship with a "feeder," i.e., an AAU coach.  This aspect of a scholarship would give any scholarship athlete cause for pause.

4.  Student-athletes on scholarship have a one-way commitment.  The school can tie them up, but if a coach leaves, they cannot transfer to an equivalent school and be eligible right away (except under very unusual circumstances, such as to get much closer to an ill parent).  That means that the student-athlete faces uncertainty when a new coach comes in -- and unless he or she travels and sits out a year -- he or she is stuck wondering whether they'll be a part of the new coach's plans or be shunted aside because he/she doesn't fit the new coach's style or simply because he/she isn't the new coach's recruit.  This aspect of the student-athlete-school relationship has irked student-athletes and their parents for decades.

5.  Student-athletes don't always have the freedom on campus to pursue the academics they want to, and some simply get passed through by taking joke courses, getting credit for their sport (yes, some schools get away with that), having tutors every step of the way and in unscrupulous situations, tutors and others do their work for them.  This means that if a student-athlete survives the ''renewability' issue, there's no guarantee that he'll get a degree in something meaningful where he's built some skills that will translate to a job and career after he uses up his eligibility (and that's a key word, as opposed to "after he graduates," because many in the revenue sports do not graduate).

6.  There's also the issue of stipends, money, selling merchandise with player's numbers on it and selling rights to video games for college teams, how colleges sell luxury boxes, tickets and all of that and how they generally make money off the revenue sports, particularly football.  But a closer analysis realizes that Pareto's theory works in college football too.  If you were to read the book that Armen Keteyan just co-wrote about college football, only 20% of the BCS teams make any money off football (thereby shattering the myth that football pays for everything else).  Those who make the money can make a lot of it, but most do not.  I haven't seen the statistics for college basketball, but suffice it to say that all 330+ D1 men's b-ball teams sell tickets to their basketball games, I'd submit that most of them do not turn a profit off basketball.  It would be interesting to see the statistics.

And that compels the question about how to compensation DI athletes in revenue-generating sports.  There are articulate arguments on both sides, and if you were to listen to "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio, you can occasionally hear Jay Bilas argue for compensation for some student-athletes and Mike Golic argue against it.  Bilas' basic premise is that they should share in the profits; Golic's argument is that they get a scholarship and an education for free, and that's worth a lot.  Both are graduate of schools with excellent academic reputations.

7.  If you have to "pay" players pursuant to their union agreements for revenue-generating college sports, how does Title IX affect all that.  Most women's sports aren't revenue generating, but Title IX is a law that requires equal deployment of monies for men and women in college.  Again, this dynamic would add expense and contribute to a Darwinism that will create "super" schools and cause also-rans and wannabes to at trite.

8.  The NLRB's decision, along with rumblings that certain of the BCS schools might break away from the NCAA and form their own leagues, are why I think that major college athletics are at an inflection point.  And I think that these are some things we can  expect in the future:

a.  certain conferences will break off from the NCAA, form their own conferences, and figure out ways to offer scholarships and compensation.  These are schools that politically probably hate the NLRB's decision and will support fighting it to the end of time, but they are also the schools that have figure out ways to turn profits and will want to turn more of them.  You can guess who they are, and they also will risk compromising the mission of their universities by doing so, because priorities will become an issue.  Are the students the priority, or winning championships?  And the questions will get particularly tricky for public universities and compel elected officials to make decisions that will tell their electorates whether they care about all kids or just the glory for some and for the university's logo.  Some will bankrupt their athletic programs in the process because the competition will crush them.  Why should they be different from any other business?  Most SEC schools will win, but the wannabes will get crushed underfoot.

b.  certain conferences will remain in the NCAA, fight the ruling too, because all they can afford are scholarships.  It's hard to predict what happens to them.

c.  certain schools will get out of the business of intercollegiate athletics, or at least revenue-generating ones, altogether.  They won't be able to afford union negotiations for students, and they also won't want the dynamic of having two classes of kids on campus (above all other delineations that occur on a college campus), those who get scholarships and payments and those who do not (despite the eloquent arguments of Jay Bilas that sports are the only place on campus where students cannot get paid; talented kids in other areas can -- but he doesn't seem to have a counter for the contention that mostly if they do, it's not their university who is paying them, it's the marketplace).

d.  some schools will have to decide what their true mission is and where they want to spend their money.  Will they want to continue to fund inter-collegiate athletics, or will they dedicate that money to a totally new concept, as follows:

     (i) totally transforming their athletic departments to have an internal focus;
     (ii) creating vigorous intramural programs that fire up the whole campus, have "house" competitions, get lots of kids involved, get them into better shape (and what a good message that would say about national fitness and addressing related diseases, such as diabetes; and
     (iii) using all of the money dedicated for athletic scholarships to merit scholarships, which would change the focus of the university, re-define its mission and then let "minor" sports leagues pop up for kids who think that they want to go pro early but do not want to go to class or get an education.  Those leagues would have zero to do with universities and colleges.  And, this type of focus would remove any ambiguity a college might have about what it's true mission is.

I think that I've come full circle.  Given the pressures on economies, how expensive college is, the sometimes difficult arguments to justify huge expenditures on intercollegiate athletics, the NLRB decision and the quest for some schools for more revenue despite evidence that they can do a bad job educating the kids who draw the revenue, we could see a huge transformation in intercollegiate athletics.  The rich "haves" will go all out to create a special "athletic" class of kids on campus, who get scholarships and money, while the wannabe haves will hurt their institutions trying and failing, while the evolvers who walk away will do so by focusing internally on their schools, spending leftover money on merit scholarships, and have an "intramural" system that enhances school spirt and creates an even greater sense of community.  There are probably "in-between" possibilities, too, but we will see change.

We always do.

How Bad Must the Milwaukee Bucks Be?

The Philadelphia 76ers have lost 26 games in a row, and they still do not have the worst record in the NBA.

The Bucks do.

No truth to the rumor that both teams will be relegated to the NCAA Division III tournament next year.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some Math Principles for NCAA Basketball Fans to Think About

I've watched the NCAA tournament for longer than I'd care to admit, and I want to share some principles with you that I at least find interesting.  My hope is that, if you read this, you are a math guy or know some math guys who want to do the research to prove or disprove what I suggest.  If they disprove it, then perhaps they'll uncover trends of their own that they can share with us.  So, without further adieu, and in no particular order, here are my thoughts:

1.  Coaches of elite teams hate the rounds leading to the Sweet 16.  They do so because everyone gets up to play the chalk, and everyone has one game in them to beat a chalk team.  It doesn't usually happen, but the fact that it can with some frequency has every elite coach worrying that some smaller engine that definitely can will upend it, particularly in the first (okay, they call it second now) round.  There is, admittedly, less room for surprise in the next round, but there also is less time to prepare.  Witness, for example, Dayton's upset of Syracuse in the Round of 32.  True, Dayton upset Ohio State two days before, but it's probably also true that Syracuse didn't have enough time to prepare for a team on a mission.  While the same could be said for Dayton, it's typically the "overdog" that plays tight in that situation, not the underdog.

2.  With TV timeouts every four minutes, challengers need to cut the game into four-minute increments.  Stay close after four and eight, keep it close within the half, summon a run at some point.  While strength, flexibility and conditioning come into play, the timeouts also do.  They can kill an elite team's fast-breaking momentum and give an underdog a much-needed rest without compelling that team's coach to burn timeouts.

3.  Mostly any team in the tournament can stay with another team for 30 minutes.  Then, in the next two to five minutes, fascinating things can happen.  Single data points do not make a trend, but I recall having attended the early rounds in Philadelphia a couple of years back.  Albany, the 16th seed, led #1 (in the country) UConn by 12 with ten minutes to go.  The whole arena was buzzing, all but family, friends and sorted alums of UConn were in Albany's camp.  I remarked to my friend that either UConn was going to demonstrate its ability or perhaps they just weren't able, on that night, to summon that extra gear.  I joked that they would go on a 30-3 run or something and win it; the actual run was 28-5 and they did just that.  Instead of letting Rocky knock them out of the ring, they resorted to their sticking, moving, jabbing and occasional right crosses to systematically dismantle Albany.

That said, it seems to me that there is interesting psychology that goes on at that inflection point.  It happened last night in a different way, after Harvard trailed Michigan State by 16 and rallied to tie.  Michigan State was looking into its own abyss, and answered with a physicality and sense of purpose that the Crimson could not meet.  Harvard stayed in the Spartans' grille, but the Spartans shook them off and determined that they were going to win.

But at that inflection point is when interesting things happen.  Does the favorite kick into a higher gear, ramping its energy on defense, running faster and with more body work on offense, as if to say, get out of the way, the ball is ours, and we're going to take control of this game?  Or, is the favorite ambivalent, does the favorite start to doubt its ability, do a few players on the underdog step up, and does the underdog sense a lack of confidence and fear of failure in the favorite, feed upon it and push themselves to victory?  All sorts of things happen, and it would be interesting to see a study of upsets and close calls with the top four seeds in the first two rounds to see what happens at certain inflection points -- does the favorite step it up, or does the favorite just not have it?

My experience has been that after 32 or 35 minutes, the chalk seems to summon the extra gear and separate themselves from the challengers.  Call it talent, call it killer instinct, call it the benefit of having played against tougher opponents in louder, more packed arena, chalk it up to a deep-seated psychology within both teams that tells one they are supposed to win and the other that after having given it a good try, well, they're cooked, I don't know and cannot begin to tell you.  But the observation is that something does happen that determines the game.  It could be the play of a few individuals, or of the entire unit on the floor.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Difficulty Being Duke

Of all teams perhaps in all NCAA sports, the one that everyone wants to beat seemingly is Duke's men's basketball team.  Now, I know that Dookies love to beat Carolina, Notre Dame likes to beat USC in football, the Auburn-Alabama football rivalry is a great one, but it seems that many programs and many non-Duke folks love it when Duke's men's basketball team loves.  And, the funny thing of it is, I cannot totally figure out why.  I can posit some reasons below, which I will do, but there are many reasons to like Duke:

1.  It is an excellent school.
2.  It graduates its athletes.
3.  It has a great men's basketball tradition
4.  Coach K is one of the best coaches of all time
5.  Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the all-time college basketball venues.
6.  Their fans are very creative.

There also are many reasons to root against Duke:

1.  The school seemingly is the overdog, has everything going for it, is supposed to win. Americans like underdogs, and Duke is the total opposite of an underdog.
2.  Duke supporters will be perhaps the first to tell you how great the school, the program and all things Duke are.  Someone once said it ain't bragging if it's true, but others will counter that at times the boasting lacks an appropriate measure of humility.
3.  Coach K isn't the most likable of the all-time coaches.  John Wooden was sage, Dean Smith was wise and humanistic, and, well, Coach K seems too corporate for a country that thrives because of business but sometimes doesn't think it's cool to be as buttoned-down as Coach K is.
4.  Their fans take their humor to a level that sometimes others miss it and that sometimes others could argue is either cruel or condescending.    Usually, it's pretty clever.
5.  Or, you're just a "Carolina" person, in the same way you cannot root for both Harvard and Yale, Ohio State and Michigan, etc.  And, if you're a "Carolina" person, you just cannot root for Duke.

But seriously, I hear more people say "I'm happy Duke lost" even if that loss busted a good portion of their bracket.  And, my guess is because those non-Dookies either didn't have a Duke experience, feel condescended too, get tired of the huzzahs for Duke or feel inferior.  Because I doubt that most fans had heard of Mercer before yesterday let alone rooted for them or picked them in their brackets.

Which means, for Duke, that every time they go out there, their opponents want to beat them more than they want to beat any other opponent.  There are bumper stickers in California that read, "My favorite team is Stanford and any team that is playing USC."  My guess is that there could be bumper stickers on Tobacco Road that say "My favorite team is Wake Forest and any team that is playing Duke."  That's a supposition; I'm not sure that I am right.  But it does make it hard for Duke -- every time they go out there, it's a championship game for someone else.  Beat Duke, and, well, your fans will be talking about it forever.  Beat Duke in the tournament, and CBS will be re-playing the opponent's celebration on it's pre-game reels for decades.

Make no mistake -- Duke is an outstanding school, has a great program and has a great coach.  When you get into that rarified air, though, there are people who will measure themselves against you and come at you constantly.  And, you'll have your detractors.  For some way, for Duke men's basketball team, it's a perfect storm.   And that means that they have to play just that much better as the mountain gets steeper.  They usually do, too.

But not yesterday.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jersey Sponsorship in the NBA

Well, they have them in international soccer.  And the consequences can be amusing.  The Philadelphia Union's jerseys say "Bimbo" on the front, named after the multinational baking company and not a local gentleman's club.  And, no, no one has a jersey that shouts "Chico's Bail Bonds" the way the backs of the jerseys did in "Bad News Bears."  I did think that it was tragicomic about five years ago when AIG was the jersey sponsor for Manchester United.  After all, AIG almost went broke, and the U.S. government had to help bail it out.  But I'm sure that the owners of ManU did not entertain the thought of putting "USA" on the front of the jersey.

Apparently, David Stern opposed the idea, but Adam Silver approves it.  And I also heard this morning that the sponsor's logo will not have the prominence on an NBA jersey that it does on, say, the jersey of Chelsea or Arsenal.  That said, I am not sure that "Fly Emirates" will fly on a Knicks' jersey or a Lakers' jersey the way it does for Arsenal, PSG, Real Madrid and AC Milan.  In England, you get gaming companies and the occasional corporate sponsor -- it does puzzle me why HP sponsors perennial runner-up Tottenham as opposed to a team that qualifies for the Champions League.  Still, the sponsorships have worked for NASCAR for years, so it will be interesting to see what the NBA does.

My guess is that a certain TV show would sponsor the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Biggest Loser" would be pretty amusing to see on a hometown jersey.

The possibilities are beguiling.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is There Still Time for Steve Mills to Get the Princeton Athletic Director's Job?

He has a great CV.

Played on teams for the Hall of Fame Coach Pete Carril.

Was a very good guard and second-team all-Ivy player as a senior, when Princeton beat Penn in a playoff to win the Ivy title.

Worked for the NBA for years.  Worked as an investment advisor.  Is in his second stint as the Knicks' GM.  (Okay so working for the Dolans might not be the best judgment call, but an NBA senior position is an NBA senior position, and the odds are more likely than not that the average NBA owner is somewhat of an egomaniac or lunatic.

Princeton AD Gary Walters is retiring.  Princeton's athletic teams have won more titles during the years of Walters' tenure than probably the next three Ivies combined.


a) is a great guy.
b) has a great pedigree.
c) has "operating" experience.
d) is a good Princeton alum.

He'd be a very good fit.

Hopefully, he's made his way into the pool.  A recent NY Daily News article reported that Phil Jackson, the patron saint of all things right with pro basketball and now the head of Knicks' basketball operations, doesn't want to work with Mills.  That's Phil's loss.

At any rate, Steve Mills would be a very good athletic director at Princeton.  Hopefully, he's interested.

And Princeton should be interested in him.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The MLB and NBA Should Hire Some of the NFL's Smart Guys

There is "virtual parity" in the NFL.  It's not just that on "any given Sunday" anything can happen.  It's also that the teams aren't that far apart in talent, and, more importantly, it's not all that difficult for a team to rebound from an awful season and contend within a few years.

In the NBA, a team can be mired in mediocrity forever.  True, they might not scout as well as other teams, might not bring in players from Europe, and might not draft great.  But, that said, it seems awfully difficult for teams to get from irrelevant to relevant quickly.  As troubling is that so many teams get eliminated so early that season ticket holders have little ability sell surplus tickets on StubHub without taking a financial bath.  And pity the poor fan base that has to watch, as Charles Barkley recent put it, "D League players at NBA prices."  Especially, too, when it's within the rules to jettison contracts, acquire expiring contracts and field lesser players to as to set yourself up well for the draft.  While Mike Greenberg might be casting aspersions on GM Sam Hinkie and the 76ers, the 76ers are doing absolutely the right thing within the construct that is the NBA -- fielding a lesser team and getting way under the salary cap so that they can transform the team in a hurry.  It's just that it's painful to watch and against everything you teach in sports -- that you do everything to win.  Well, all of the 76ers players are playing hard, it's just that they all don't belong on the same team and some don't belong in the NBA.

Without going into painful analysis on Major League Baseball, some seasons are better than others, but it took 20 years for the Pirates to return to their winning ways, and other teams get mired in losing slumps that can span at least one generation of fans.  Again, that makes it seem that the rest of the leagues seem to exist for the happiness of  the front-runners' fans.  After all, the front-runners have to play someone.  But what's in it for the average fan of a doormat?  People will watch a losing team in a cow pasture, and they won't go to a palace to watch an awful one.  So, despite promotions, dancing girls, food and merchandise vouchers, does it all matter when the hometown team cannot contend?  Or does it matter because the games have become entertainment and have moved away from the goal of being a competitive sport.  Could you imagine dressing up the Bill Russell Celtics with dancing girls?  #6, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Jo-Jo White, Sam Jones and the entire group would have told them profanely to get off their floor.

We know that all leagues study numbers and predict outcomes in ways that would make the math department at MIT proud.  So why aren't they studying ways to maximize the competitiveness of their teams year in and year out?  And then why wouldn't they reform their recruitment and selection philosophy to enable teams to compete every year?   Sure, Americans like violent sports and sports that are easy to bet on, which might in some part explain the NFL's popularity.  And it may be the case that there are fewer variables to outcomes the fewer games a team plays in its regular-season schedule.  But American fans also like competitive situations, which is what the NFL offers and the other leagues don't, regardless of how many teams make the post-season.

At any rate, it hasn't been fun watching the 76ers and it will not be fun watching the Phillies, even if the wounds for both teams have been self-inflicted.  It's just that for years fans of certain teams might suffer, and it's probably time for all leagues to figure out the best ways for as many teams to compete as well as possible.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hats off to Penn's Women's Basketball Team -- Ivy Champs.

The reason I'm sending the kudos is that despite being a diehard Princeton fan, the Penn women revealed a lot of character this year.  A friend, a Penn alum, touted their potential before the early-season game at the Palestra, when four-time defending champion Princeton romped by 31.  So much, I thought, for Penn's being any good.

Well, fast forward throughout the season, and both teams went into Tuesday night's contest tied for the Ivy lead.  Oh, I figured, given the early-season romp, the Tigers would romp at home because, well, they were the four-time defending champions and at home.

Penn won by 16.

On the road.

For the title.

Well played.

No, very well played.

Title, and NCAA berth, well earned.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Jeff Van Gundy on College Basketball Players and Paul Hewitt's Response

Good stuff over the past couple of days on ESPN Radio on the Mike & Mike show, particularly from Paul Hewitt, the men's basketball coach at George Mason.

It started yesterday when Mikes Greenberg and Golic were reacting to Mark Cuban's comments about the "one and done" rule (which is the NBA's rule, not the NCAA's) and the NBA's developmental league.  That led former Knicks' coach and current TV commentator Jeff Van Gundy to comment that the college basketball system is broken, that there's no need to require basketball players to take an academic curriculum and that college should offer trade schools because some of the players, perhaps many of them, aren't ready for an academic curriculum or aren't qualified for it.  This from a guy who transferred from Yale to a DIII state school because he wasn't good enough to play varsity in New Haven but was in DIII.

Mike Golic vehemently disagreed with Van Gundy, calling his entire idea ridiculous.  College is college, and only nine players last year applied for the NBA draft after a year's eligibility.  Eight were drafted.  Golic then argued that it would be ridiculous for schools to alter their mission to accommodate nine players, a tiny percentage of those who play college basketball at any level.  Besides which, Golic countered, colleges have academic missions, period.  Basketball shouldn't change those missions (news flash for Golic, though:  some schools do give academic credit for playing sports, particularly football -- yikes!).

Then enter Coach Hewitt, who has known Van Gundy for thirty years, thinks of him as a mentor and friend (it could be that Hewitt played for Van Gundy at St. John Fisher; later, Hewitt interviewed for a job with the Knicks, only to lose out on an assistant's job to Tom Thibodeaux).  And I think Van Gundy's a decent guy, too, so it goes to show you that even decent guys can have bad ideas.  Hewitt played a tape of Van Gundy's talk on the subject to his players, who were offended.  Offended because there is a stereotype that scholarship DI basketball players take joke majors, have to be dragged to class, aren't smart enough to take meaningful subjects and all of that.  Hewitt coached Chris Bosh and Thad Young, excellent students at Georgia Tech, and then has a player on his roster now in his master's program.  Sure, Hewitt offered, the players are kids and not all kids have the same attitude toward their studies, but many do have good ones, especially once they realize that they won't play ball for money.  He used the tape to talk to his players and invited Van Gundy to visit with the team.

Paul Hewitt showed that he's more than "just a coach," he's a teacher and a mentor of young men.  Out of one of his mentor's worst ideas came something good.  We shouldn't think that just because players focus a lot on their sports that they aren't capable of good things in the class room.  It may be that their prowess at their sport helps gain them admission, and it may be that the academic standards for some players for admission are lower than that of the students who do not gain admission for their athletic prowess, but that does not mean that they aren't serious about their academics or should not be.

The difference between the D-League and college is that while the D-League might be able to focus more on basketball, the D-League teams can be located in remote locations and play before less pressured and much smaller crowds.  It's probably the case -- given D-League salaries -- that the kids are better off in more controlled college environments, will get better trainers, better medical attention and better food.  Put simply, they'll be in a more supportive environment.  For the NBA to be serious about the D-League as an alternative to college, they'll have to play the players more, ensure a supportive environment, good medical care and good food.  Right now, the bet here is that players live in tight quarters, don't get great medical attention and too frequently eat fast food.

As Hewitt pointed out, it is the NBA that mandates that players either spend a year in college or the D-League before heading to the NBA.  That doesn't have to happen.  I don't think that it should.  No one prevents major soccer teams worldwide from signing fourteen year-olds (and younger) to their development squads, tennis players for skipping college or baseball players from signing with agents in high school in order to play Major League Baseball off their colleges in order to get a great signing bonus.  The NBA's paternalism was questionable enough, but now proposing the D-League as an alternative without more money or better conditions is somewhat laughable.  The NBA has plenty of money and helps its owners make a lot of it -- if it wants a serious D-League, it can make it so.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Stupid School Banter

My wife had lunch with a friend yesterday.  This friend lives in one of the most affluent school districts in our area, and has three boys between the ages of eight and fourteen.  It's an area that's supposed to be erudite, and, one would hope, full of residents and influences that can help advance the species.  And, while the usual irritations can go on -- kids being disrespectful to others and pulling the type of stuff that young boys can pull -- one thing that seems pervasive is snobbery over what the kids wear.

For example, if you don't wear the right sneakers, you can get ridiculed, presumably because what you're wearing is either an imitation or is too inexpensive.  Additionally, if you're wearing a team jersey, if it's not "authentic" the kids in the youngest son's class will persist in yelling "fake" at you.

Say what?

I am not one to say that my less-heeled school district is "better" than this more affluent one.  That would be wrong on many fronts.  That said, where my middle-school goes to school, outside some banter about sneakers (in which my son does not partake), there is no similar ostracism because one wears an imitation Carmelo Anthony jersey or the Mitchell & Ness official replica.  (With all of the instant media access today, I think that if one were to wear a player's jersey, he'll really have to narrow his fandom to what the player does on the court, because we know at times way too much of what people do off it).  But the real point is why should all this matter?  Not everyone can afford what everyone else can afford.  One does not know the circumstances, good intentions or love that went into purchasing whatever a young boy is wearing.  The kid who persists in yelling "fake" can live in a nouveau riche household that spends large bucks on everything but that is devoid of caring and good values.  The kid who has to take the taunts could live in a single-parent household where a parent works two jobs and had to shop carefully to get a good price for the jersey of the player his son truly admires.  I would submit to you that if the lines could be drawn this way, it's easy to figure out who is the "fake" and what precisely is "fake."

It's the values, stupid.

Our society has advanced in many ways over the past decades, and hopefully is becoming more of one where we judge people on the content of their character and not their color or their (parents') checkbook.  And, I'm sure, kids can be kids, and since there aren't all that many ways to distinguish themselves, sometimes they do so by what parents can give them and the power of their own personal associations that enable them to make fun of the less fortunate, the less privileged, the less indulged or the weaker.  I hope that these kids -- and their parents -- feel really good about perpetrating the display of such values.  My guess is that some do not know that this behavior is going on and would be horrified, while other parents, through their conduct and commentary, support it.

It's 2014 already.  Who really gives a crap whether your Nick Foles, Eli Manning, LeBron James or Kevin Durrant jersey is "authentic?"

Because it's much more important that our kids be.  And generous, and understanding, and making sure that they can see beyond what a kid is wearing to determine what's inside them.  Because if they care to take the time to do so, they'll find that the richness of life goes far beyond the purchasing power that people display.