Has 40 Years Changed the Sports Landscape?

In 1972, Title IX was passed into federal law, prohibiting sex discrimination in all aspects of education, including athletics. 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, but has much been done to bring equality to men’s and women’s athletics?

Since Title IX’s implementation in 1972, there has been a large increase in the number of women participating in athletics at both the high school and collegiate levels. A 2008 study found that since 1977, there are now 9,101 women’s intercollegiate sports teams—the highest number ever—with basketball, volleyball, soccer, cross country and softball being the most frequently offered women’s sports. There has also been an increase in the representation of female coaches, athletic directors and women employed in intercollegiate athletics. At the same time, however, many men’s sport programs have been dismantled despite strong participation in the sport, such as wrestling. While wrestling shows a high popularity amongst high schoolers, many intercollegiate wrestling programs have been dropped as a possible victim of Title IX’s three-prong test for compliance, in which schools must hold a proportionate amount of sport programs and facilities that accommodate the interests and abilities of both male and female participants. In response to this requirement, many schools have evened out the sport program numbers by dropping men’s teams, rather than adding more options for women. The most frequently dropped men’s programs are cross country, indoor track, golf, tennis, rowing, outdoor track, swimming and wrestling.

Further legislation of Title IX occurred in 2010 in an attempt to alleviate the problem of dismantling men’s programs. The US Commission on Civil Rights analyzed the three-prong test and procedures for implementing it to see if there was an unnecessary reduction of men’s programs taking place. The commission decided to allow the use of surveys to measure sports interest of both sexes, and not just the interest of the underrepresented sex (usually females) in hopes of retaining men’s programs.

Men’s sports continue to dominate the college and professional ranks, however, regarding coaching positions and salaries, facilities, scholarships, media coverage, sideline reporters and anchors, and writers. During the 2010 NCAA basketball tournaments, men’s tournament viewers outnumbered women’s tournament viewers by a ratio of 3.7 to 1. That’s roughly four men’s tournament viewers for every viewer of the women’s tournament. Media coverage of the women’s tournament was even more dismal, with ESPN SportsCenter airing only 1 minute and 12 seconds of women’s basketball highlights, compared to 1 hour and 37 minutes of men’s basketball highlights over the course of two weeks. Attendance is considerably low at women’s basketball games, and media outlets take this into consideration when determining which stories may interest their readers, but despite low in-person attendance, the 12 tournament games ESPN broadcasted in 2010 attracted a respectable 1.6 million viewers. The media silence surrounding women’s sports needs to change. Title IX has shown the world that women can flex their muscles in their own playing fields, but has it created equality in sports? While Title IX strives to bridge the gap between gender in sport and education, it seems that there is still work to be done.

For more information on Title IX legislation, FiT’s Summer 2012 publication Law in Sport, 4th Edition by Annie Clement and John Grady will feature an updated chapter on the 14th Amendment and Title IX. Also, current FiT author Richard Lapchick’s 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes who Opened Doors for Future Generations highlights the accomplishments of female athletes who created more opportunities for future athletes in women’s sports programs.

Interview: Fundraising for Sport and Athletics

Whether the economy is booming or battling a recession, athletic program administrators and coaches face a formidable challenge when planning events, activities, and programs that will generate the most revenue for their organizations.

In his latest text, Fundraising for Sport and Athletics, Richard Leonard presents both the theoretical foundation and practical guidance that administrators and coaches need in order to effectively plan and execute a variety of fundraisers. Fitness Information Technology (FiT) contacted him for his perspective regarding the challenges athletic programs face and the possible fundraising solutions at their disposal.

Q: Do you think that grassroots fundraising efforts could benefit some athletic programs like golf, rowing, volleyball, etc. that don’t receive the same media coverage or ticket sales revenue as the bigger sports?

Leonard: Absolutely—that was the underlying inspiration for Fundraising for Sport and Athletics. My belief is that a majority of athletic programs need additional resources to be able to fulfill their obligation to their participants. The obligation is to provide a complete and rewarding athletic experience to all program stakeholders. Are there other variables besides funding that go into providing a complete and rewarding experience? Most definitely. Nonetheless, proper program funding is a core component.

Q: What are some tips you would give to coaches of sport programs like the ones mentioned above?

Leonard: The first and most important tip I would impart to coaches who are considering fundraising is to not ‘jump blindly’ into the process. Through research they should (1) develop a plan which creates goals and focus, (2) structure the fundraising program based on those objectives, (3) find and develop people who are committed to fundraising and the athletic program, (4) lead those people toward those goals, and (5) monitor and make adjustments to the fundraising program to keep it centered on its tangible objectives.

Q: What are some current financial obstacles faced by athletic programs at different levels (little league, high school, collegiate, etc.)? Are these problems unique to each level, or do they tend to be similar in most cases?

Leonard: Let me answer the second question first. A lack of funding is a lack of funding, no matter at what level or sport one is operating. The degree to which funding is needed will differ, but the premise stays the same.

Most financial obstacles are universal to all athletic programs and are well publicized. The current economic condition, which has led to less contributions and assistance, and overall lower budgets, is the overriding factor. Therefore, efficiency in fundraising to increase operational resources must be emphasized.

Q: Can these problems be solved by more/better fundraising efforts? If so, what types of fundraising should be the focus of these programs?

Leonard: I would not necessarily say more but definitely better fundraising efforts. Fundraising programs should always take into account the limitations of the athletic program’s capabilities and resources. In other words, a danger would be to ‘spread the program too thin’ with a multitude of fundraising endeavors. Most (if not all) would fail due to the lack of concentration and support.

As for what type of fundraising should these athletic programs focus on, as simplistic as this answer sounds, athletic programs should focus on the activities, events, and programs that give them the best chance to reach their fundraising program’s financial goals. Once again, this is done through planning and research—matching up the athletic program’s fundraising capabilities with what the targeted supporters want is a salient key.

Q: In  your opinion, should sport programs stick to the more ‘tried-and-true’ methods of fundraising, or experiment with new, varied methods?

Leonard: If the ‘tried and true’ fundraising methods produce favorable outcomes, then reinventing them could be risky—something to consider if an athletic program’s funds are limited and the revenue produced from these methods is a critical source of income.

Conversely, a new fundraising method (whether an activity, event, or entire program) could generate a new level of excitement and interest in an athletic program. Their introduction to potential supporters would have to follow a basic marketing concept known as A.I.D.A.—Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. The fundraisers would have to catch a potential supporter’s attention, spark their interest, develop a desire to participate, and finally have their action (contribution/participation/support/donation).

John Wooden’s Legacy

“You haven’t taught until they have learned.” With this simple phrase and his dedication to constant improvement, John Wooden sparked a revolution in coaching strategies. From a coach in Ohio who turned his basketball team around with Wooden’s personal advice, to coaches in Uganda who devoted themselves to his principles without ever having met him, the six-time NCAA Coach of the Year has had a fundamental impact on the way coaches instruct their players.

Wooden, a firm believer that anyone who is “through learning, is through,” constantly worked to improve his own coaching methods and never hesitated to constructively correct a player’s technique. He kept his critiques concise and specific, always careful never to coddle nor be too harsh in his feedback. He periodically identified areas in his coaching that could be improved, researched the issues during the off-season, and implemented new methods until the players progressed. These and other strategies aided him in his efforts to continually become a better teacher and coach.

According to this article by AthleticManagement.com, Henry “Hank” Bias, a head boys’ basketball coach in Kettering, Ohio, used Wooden’s techniques to improve his team’s record of 3-17 to a record of 17-6 in only three years. He worked constantly during those years to better his own teaching methods, with encouragement from Wooden himself and Swen Nater, one of Wooden’s former players at UCLA. After realizing that his coaching had been disorganized and impeded by lengthy lectures in the middle of practices, Bias adopted Wooden’s philosophy of strict practice time frames, as well as planning each practice session’s objectives more concretely. Both during and after practices, Bias took notes on the drills that needed work; he would then review his notes and develop improvements based on what he had observed. Like Wooden, he kept his critiques short and no longer interrupted drills to give feedback. During the five years immediately following his switch to Wooden’s methods, the team’s record was the best since the 1920s.

Over 7,000 miles away in Uganda, coaches utilize Wooden’s philosophies in the same ways. One coach, Ayeet Timothy Odeke, followed Wooden’s teaching methods for six years before even reading one of his books. When he finally got the chance to visit UCLA, where Wooden won ten national championships, he described the experience as “surreal.” He and three other Ugandan coaches toured the campus and watched a video of Wooden teaching a sports psychology class. “The values and things he says are universal,” Odeke said. In Uganda, courts and basketball shoes are sometimes unavailable, and many youths in some villages are homeless or drug addicts. Odeke and the other coaches strive to engage children in sports to keep them out of trouble, using Wooden’s principles to help them achieve personal success.

According to Wooden, “Profound responsibilities come with teaching and coaching. You can do so much good–or harm. It’s why I believe that next to parenting, teaching and coaching are the two most important professions in the world.” By adapting and utilizing Wooden’s core philosophies, teachers and coaches alike can improve their student-athletes’ performance both in the classroom and on the court.

Risky Business

The magnitude of athletes obtaining serious sports injuries in the NFL has been a topic of discussion for some time.

Concussions represent an unfortunate result of helmet-to-helmet hits that are all too common in professional football. In 2005, clinical and neuropathological studies performed by independent scientists found that NFL concussions cause cognitive problems such as depression and early-onset dementia. In response to these findings and media pressure, the NFL addressed the long-term effects of player concussions.

A league-wide Concussion Summit was held in June 2007, where the NFL heard testimony about the dangers of concussions and subsequently devised a concussion pamphlet to all players. The pamphlet stated, however, that “there is no magic number for how many concussions are too many.” Despite studies in 2008 that found that deceased NFL players showed signs of brain trauma from receiving numerous concussions throughout their NFL career, the NFL did not change their concussion policies.

It was not until 2010 that the NFL issued a warning to all players that concussions and conditions resulting from repeated brain injury can change their lives forever. While this was the first time the NFL admitted that concussions can lead to life-long injuries, more research has been done to learn about the long term effects of concussions.

Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, who was recently a distinguished lecturer for West Virginia University’s College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, presented “The Science & Technology of Sport Concussion: Translating Data Collection into Concussion Prevention and Management” to the community. Guskiewicz, a member of the NFL Concussion Committee, presented a five-step graduation process back to playing sports after an athlete sustains a concussion. This includes a rundown of visible physical symptoms by medical staff, a series of questions to check orientation, a concentration and balance test, and then finally returning to the playing field.

One study presented found that NCAA football players sustained an average of 950 head impacts per season. This data and more led to the NFL changing the player positions on kick offs, in hopes of reducing the amount of helmet-to-helmet tackles.

“We’ve reduced the magnitude of the collision so the physics has been altered and as a result, we’ve seen a 42% reduction in the number of concussions on kick offs this year,” Guskiewicz said.

Pat Summitt’s amazing legacy

Arguably the best coach in the history of women’s basketball retired Wednesday, and the game wouldn’t be anything close to what it is today without the contributions of Pat Summitt.

The all-time winningest coach (men or women) in collegiate basketball (1,098 wins) stepped down just months after she revealed she’s battling the early stages of dementia. And while the 59-year-old’s departure from the sidelines after 38 years will leave an unreplaceable void in the game and particularly in Knoxville, Tenn., the impact that she’s had on the game and her players will continue.

Summitt was one of the women honored in 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes Who Opened Doors for Future Generations, authored by Richard Lapchick and others. In order to gain a better understanding of the contributions Summitt has made to the women’s game as a player and a coach, reprinted below are portions of the chapter written by Jessica Bartter honoring Summitt in 100 Trailblazers.

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Most basketball coaches hope the “summit” of their careers could match just one mediocre season of Pat Summitt’s, but talent like hers is what separates good coaches from exceptional ones.

The responsibility of a coach extends far beyond the bench in Summitt’s mind. She embodies the title of a true life educator, caring about her athletes’ personal lives and demanding their dedication to academics while building a program at the University of Tennessee (UT) that resembles a family. And that family just so happens to consist of approximately [170] female basketball players because Summitt held the reins of UT’s program for [38] years, since she was a youthful 22-year-old new to the coaching realm.

Most of Summitt’s experience came from being on the court, not the bench. The dominant player started all four years of high school before continuing her dominance at the University of Tennessee- Martin playing basketball and volleyball. Summitt graduated in 1974 as the basketball squad’s all-time leading scorer with 1,045 points.

Nearby in Knoxville, heads were turning. Summitt received a letter from the physical education department’s chairperson, Dr. Helen B. Watson at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, offering the 21-year-old senior a graduate teaching assistantship and the assistant coaching position for the women’s basketball team. Eager to continue her education and have the ability to continue playing in order to train for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Summitt accepted UT’s offer.

Just two weeks after her acceptance, Summitt was shocked to learn the current head coach was taking a sabbatical and the university wanted Summitt to take full command. For someone who had never planned a practice—let alone ran drills—one can imagine the shock and horror young Summitt felt.

UT probably prepared itself for a few lull years after Summitt’s hire, anticipating the new coach may need some time to bring home a .500 season or even a conference championship. But the mountain was one Summitt was built to climb. In just her first year as a coach, UT brought home a 16-8 record and a trip to the finals of the state tournament. All the while, Summitt was working on her master’s degree, teaching physical education classes, and working on her own game. She successfully juggled all four tasks and she soon found herself on the 1975 U.S. Women’s World Championship team and the 1975 Pan American Games team. And just as she’d hoped, she traveled with the U.S. team to Montreal for the 1976 Olympic Games, where she co-captained the team that brought home the silver medal.

In just her third season at UT, Summitt saw her wins jump to over 20—a number they have never fallen below since. The Lady Vols went 28-5 while making it to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Final Four in 1976–77. The next nine seasons saw successful return trips to the national tournament, but that coveted national championship eluded Summitt until 1986–87. The Lady Vols went on to win seven more National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles since 1987, most recently in 2007–08, when they defended their 2006–07 title.

Her UT teams of 1996, 1997, and 1998 were the first ever women’s basketball squads to win back-to-back-to-back titles. Summitt [retires from the game] as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history—men’s or women’s—with a 1,098-207 record. In 2000, she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century. In honor of her accomplishments, UT officially nicknamed their basketball arena, “The Summitt.”

Despite the forceful persona that Summitt now exhibits, she was once shy and timid, which may shock some of her former team members. Though she’d always gone by Tricia or Trish, her hesitation in correcting Dr. Watson and other physical education department officials in her early UT days allowed them to re-nickname her Pat. Subsequently, the name Pat Summitt is the one that has gone down in the history books.

Young Trish was born in Henrietta, Tennessee, in 1952. Growing up, Summitt quickly learned the meaning of diligence firsthand from her strong disciplinarian father, her constant competition with three older brothers and younger sister, and the demands of living on a family farm. In Summitt’s family, hard work was not appreciated, it was expected. More so, laziness and excuses were not tolerated. When she was a child, Summitt’s routine included attending school and church, and performing her daily chores such as chopping tobacco, plowing the field, or baling hay. After finishing her chores, Summitt found refuge in playing basketball with her brothers in the hayloft.

Summitt’s strict father stressed the importance of education to her at a young age. She never missed a day of school from kindergarten through high school. This value stuck with her and is one she insisted upon her student-athletes, emphasizing the student. All of her players [were] required to sit in the first three rows of class, pay attention, complete all of their assignments on time, and show respect to everyone. Any player who [chose] not to go to class also made the decision not to play in the next game. The honor of being a Lady Vol comes at a price. A player must be dedicated to her team and academics, and be responsible for her actions at all times. Summitt’s tough demeanor paid dividends to the individual team members and the university; in [38] years, she graduated 100 percent of her players who exhausted their athletic eligibility.

In the community, Summitt is an active philanthropist and in 1997 was honored by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton at a White House luncheon for the “25 Most Influential Working Mothers” chosen by Working Mother magazine. She has acted as a spokesperson for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the American Heart Association, and [has been] active with the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program, the United Way, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and The Race for the Cure. Along the way, Summitt has accumulated many awards and recognitions for her contributions. In 1996, she was awarded “Distinguished Citizen of the Year” by the Boy Scouts of America and in 1998 she was named the “Woman of the Year” by both Glamour magazine and the City of Knoxville. Most notably, in 2000, Summitt became just the fourth women’s basketball coach to be elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

After [38] seasons at Tennessee, Summitt [has been] much more than a coach to her Lady Vols. She [was] a leader, master motivator, champion, educator, role model, and friend. Summitt [taught her players] to believe in themselves and reach their full potential as student-athletes at Tennessee and in life. Most important, though, she [led] by example.

Goudsouzian’s “King of the Court”: A Review

[Braham Dabscheck is an industrial relations scholar, sports writer and enthusiast, and author of Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game, published April 2011, by FiT. He has written extensively on many aspects of sport, and he continues with that tradition today by offering a review of King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution. Dabscheck is a man proper from Down Under, and out of respect for his Australian English, no edits have been made to his vernacular.]

Aram Goudsouzian, King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 2010, xxii + 423 pp.

In times past, most writing on sport highlighted what might be called its glory, the achievements of champion teams and stellar players. In more recent years there has developed a genre of writing which focuses on the inherent alienation of sport, of how it has a cruel effect on the life of its participants. After all, sport is work—work which occurs in one of the most (if not the most) highly competitive environments, where one’s every act, not only on the field and in training, but also off the field, is subject to unrelenting scrutiny and criticism. Sport is also seen as performing additional functions, or acting as a signifier for broader social norms for those caught up in its net. While fans may dream and hope of one day playing sport at the highest level, for players it may amount to nothing more than a living hell.

William Felton Russell is one of the most important figures in the history of basketball. He pioneered the development of basketball above the rim with his focus on defence, rebounding and the fast break. He was a champion player who won two National College Athletic Association championships with the University of San Francisco in a 55-game winning streak, a gold medal with the US basketball team at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and eleven National Basketball Association championships in thirteen seasons with the Boston Celtics (1957-1969); three of these as player coach. He had less successful coaching stints with the Seattle Supersonics (1973-1977) and Sacramento Kings (1987-1988).

Bill Russell was an African American whose exploits and success were seen as an icon for African Americans in the civil rights struggles during the second half of the twentieth century. Both his father and grandfather taught Bill Russell to stand up for his dignity and when pushed too far, to push back (p. 7). Much of Aram Goudsouuzian’s King of the Court is devoted to how the various teams that Russell played with at school, university and the Celtics were able to transcend the racial divide which afflicted America. Amongst other things, he had the distinction of being the first African American to manage a major sporting franchise. The Boston Celtics, especially with him at the helm, in the latter part of the 1960s (and let us not forget 1968, that terrible year when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated), were seen as an exemplar, or lighthouse, of what America could be.

Russell was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement. Unlike most other African American athletes who had been tutored by those who know such things to be humble and thankful for the ‘bounty’ sport provided (take the money and run), he attended marches and rallies, gave speeches, developed organizations and donated funds to further the progress of racial integration. Goudsouzian situates Russell in these developments of what Harry Edwards described as The Revolt of the Black Athlete (1970).

While Russell was a great player and one of basketball’s greatest competitors, his life was one of misery. He was always anxious and threw up before games. He barely slept more than a couple of hours a night. While with the Celtics he was able to develop team cohesion, he was highly competitive with teammates and opponents as to who was the best player. He needed to be the best to overcome deep-seated feelings of personal inadequacy. He was a great contrarian. He would not acknowledge the support of fans. He would not sign autographs. He was highly sensitive to perceived slights against his dignity and racial slurs and intolerance. Despite being a highly talented and much-lauded player, he was subjected to the intolerance of Jim Crow, denied access to hotels, restaurants and so on—something which acted like acid on his spirit. His private life was a mess, or more of a disaster. Married life did not provide him with happiness. He lived apart from his wife and children. He discovered the pleasures of the flesh; but that lost its sting. A second marriage ended. His coaching stints with Seattle and Sacramento were a failure. He could not get on with players, belittling their efforts. Russell was an enigma. His life was a quest to receive respect for himself as a man, but respect was something he rarely afforded to others.

Goudsouzian writes:

Russell had inconsistencies: he wanted love and emitted hate, he wanted peace, and proclaimed anger, he wanted respect and projected arrogance. But that was the point. He was a human being, not a symbol. His ideas sprung from different sources and his personality embodied different elements. He would not craft an image to garner goodwill (p. 157).

Russell was a complicated man living in difficult times (p. xx). Goudsouzian displays great skill in explaining how this complicated man lived through these difficult times. He takes readers through a journey which explains how basketball evolved from a ‘bush’ to a big league and how African Americans found their way into this city-dominated game. Information is provided on the growth of basketball, its relationship with broadcasting, the importance of rival leagues and the trajectory of industrial relations. Goudsouzian also examines the links between sport and the civil rights movement and the changing role of African Americans, as exemplified by Russell, in this transition. Goudsouzian writes with great insight about a supreme athlete who experienced so much alienation from an activity in which he excelled.

Two inspiring stories

In the past couple of weeks, a few individuals and organizations have demonstrated how sports can serve as an emotionally uplifting tool.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offered Eric LeGrand an NFL contract. Greg Schiano, the new coach of the Bucs, was previously the coach at Rutgers University, where LeGrand was a standout linebacker before being paralyzed in a 2010 game against Army.

While the free agent contract offered to LeGrand was ceremonial and didn’t include a monetary amount, no amount of money could have substituted for the joy LeGrand experienced when he received the contract offer from his former collegiate coach.

“I always wanted to go to the NFL,” LeGrand said. “It may not be the circumstances that I wanted, but I’m there. I had no idea, no idea, this was going to happen. Honestly, it’s amazing. It is. It really is.”

Baseball fans in Louisville were inspired by in late April by Stephanie Decker. She received national attention when the Indiana resident shielded her two children from their collapsing house during a tornado, saving them but losing her legs.

The University of Louisville invited Decker to throw out the first pitch in a game against the University of Kentucky.

“Nothing’s going to top this,” Decker told WLKY. “Really, this was a dream for my kids and myself.”

Just this week, Decker took her first steps exactly two months after she was injured by the tornado. She also took those steps 10 months earlier than doctors initially expected.

Athletes expressing frustration

Courtesy of Shaolin Worldwide/flickr

It’s not uncommon to see an athlete or coach display an outburst of anger or frustration during or immediately after a competition. But when an athlete injures himself during such a display of raw emotion, it creates headlines.

The Associated Press recently wrote an article about how athletes exhibit their anger in dealing with frustration or undesireable outcomes. The topic was brought to light by New York Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire, who broke his hand when punching out the glass of a fire extinguisher as his way of dealing with a difficult loss following the game.

The article quoted several sport psychologists who offered their thoughts on why athletes exhibit that type of behavior, and whether or not that behavior is really much different than the actions of the general public. One expert interviewed was Jack Watson, co-editor of the forthcoming book Ethical Issues in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology, who said athletes generally don’t deal well with losing.

“It actually affects their self-perception of who they are,” Watson was quoted as saying. “The anger is an expression of … extreme frustration, because the way they define themselves has been negatively influenced.”

While many people don’t resort to physical actions to express their anger or frustration, aggression has been ingrained in the heads of athletes of various sports, so it shouldn’t be shocking to see them act out in this way.

“Professional athletes have been trained their whole lives to be physical, to express themselves in physical ways,” said Watson, a professor of sport and exercise psychology at West Virginia University. “Being able to turn that switch off and being able to get back to what society expects of you, it’s probably difficult at times.”

Remembering the father of free agency

Courtesy of Flickr/Zane Hollingsworth

Those who study and follow the business side of sports are remembering the impact that Marvin Miller had on baseball and professional sports in general upon learning of his death earlier this week. Miller, the father of free agency in Major League Baseball, died on Nov. 27 at the age of 95.

As the president of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to 1982, Miller had a considerable hand in shaping the current landscape for players. His fight against baseball’s antitrust exemption has forever changed not only baseball, but other professional sports as well.

Labor relations expert Braham Dabsheck was among those who mourned the passing of Miller. Dabscheck recently published Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game. In his book, Dabsheck often references the importance Miller had in changing the rights of players, including the introduction of player free agency, a grievance procedure, and the sport’s first collective bargaining agreement.

“The Major League Baseball Players Association, under Miller’s leadership, transformed baseball industrial relations—virtually turned it on its head,” Dabsheck wrote in Reading Baseball (p. 13).

On the day of Miller’s death, Dabscheck, a senior fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne, provided a personal account of his memory of Miller.

“I corresponded with him on a number of occasions in the 1970s when I was embarking on my research into the operation of professional team sports,” Dabsheck said. “He was always helpful and encouraged me in my research. He was interested to learn that I was able to demonstrate how employment rules in Australian football, similar to those in baseball, were inconsistent with the attainment of sporting equality.

“It is clear that he was the most important figure in the history of baseball from the 1960s on. He not only transformed the economic lot of baseball players, but also those of other team sports. He has also been an inspiration for a number of leaders of Australian player associations.”

The Federal League’s Unsuccessful Challenge To Organized Baseball

[Braham Dabscheck is an industrial relations scholar, sports writer and enthusiast, and author of Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game, published April 2011, by FiT. He has written extensively on many aspects of sport, and he continues with that tradition today by offering a review of The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball: The Federal League Challenge and Its Legacy, as well as The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs: The History of an Outlaw Major League. Dabscheck is a man proper from Down Under, and out of respect for his Australian English, no edits have been made to his vernacular.]

Daniel R. Levitt, The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball: The Federal League Challenge And Its Legacy, Ivan R. Dee, Lanham (Maryland), 2012, hp. xvi + 314, pb, US $30.98.

Robert Peyton Wiggins, The Federal League Of Base Ball Clubs: The History Of An Outlaw Major League, 1914-1915, McFarland & Company, Jefferson (North Carolina) and London, 2011 (First Published 2009), pp. vi + 362, pb, US $40.00.

 

Economics focuses on the operation of markets and the competition that exists between those associated with the production and consumption of various goods and services. Focusing on the production side, economics predicts (tautologically as it were) that those entities which are the more efficient and resourceful will prevail over those that are less efficient and resourceful. Competition here has a hard edge, with the less efficient and able being destroyed and/or driven out of the market. The insights of economics are nowhere better illustrated than in the two volumes being reviewed here, which examine an unsuccessful attempt by a group of baseball entrepreneurs, under the umbrella of the Federal League, to take on Organized Baseball in 1914 and 1915. The incumbents were more resourceful in terms of cash, knowledge and strategic verve, in striking out the upstarts.

American baseball was the first professional sport to develop a formal league structure with a regular fixture between competing teams in the form of the National League in 1876. English football formed the Football League in 1888. It had earlier developed a knock out competition in the form of the FA Cup in 1871. Following its formation, the National League was challenged by a number of rival leagues: the American Association (1882-1883), the Union Association (1883-1884), the Players League (1890), a second round with the American Association (1891), and the American League (1900-1903). The National League either defeated or merged with the more financially secure clubs of the challengers. The American League, under the leadership of its president Ban Johnson, constituted the most serious challenge to the National League. In the end, the two leagues decided to merge and form the current two league structure, with the champions of both playing off in a World Series, which has continued to this very day. In turn, these two leagues entered into arrangements with minor leagues and formed a ‘structure’ that became known as Organized Baseball.

The period after the Civil War to World War I was one of extensive population growth, urbanization, and economic expansion in America. It resulted in an increase in a stream of rich men outside ‘established,’ well-heeled families, what might be called nouveau riche, who were looking for new opportunities to advance themselves onto a more public stage. Baseball was such a vehicle for these new men of substance. One of the strengths of Daniel Levitt’s The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball is how he situates the rise of this new breed of entrepreneurs as they searched for their place in the American sun.

In 1913, a group of entrepreneurs formed the Federal League, which operated in the Midwest as a minor league. It hardly attracted the attention of Organized Baseball. In the period from 1900 to 1918 there was constant fluidity in the number of minor leagues that started and finished a season. [1] After a reasonably successful season, Federal League owners decided that they would seek to take on Organized Baseball and operate as a third major league.

The Federal League faced two major problems in this quest. The first was to find and/or build ballparks that would be regarded as being of major league caliber. Stadium construction, at this juncture, was in the process of being transformed from wooden to iron and concrete structures. The Federal League experienced problems in finding locations convenient for potential spectators and were faced with high capital costs in building ballparks; returns on which would only accrue in the long term.

The second problem was attracting players of appropriate caliber to its ranks. The Federal League experienced major problems on this score. Only a small number of major league players, on the margins or at the end of their careers, found their way to the Federal League. Organized Baseball had deeper pockets and was more resourceful and calculated than the Federal League in battles over players. Organized Baseball combined the carrot and the stick in keeping its hold on players. It offered higher salaries and threatened blacklisting to players who were tempted to jump ship. It also relocated players to other clubs who were motivated to move to The Federal League because of ‘run ins’ or poor treatment from their managers or owners, often at higher rates of pay. In Ban Johnson, Organized Baseball had a master tactician who employed injunctions and court cases to dissuade players from joining the upstart league. Mounting such cases and pointing out to players the potentially negative consequences of an adverse decision served to persuade those who had signed with Federal League clubs to hold on for a while, before they moved on. This in turn served to take the wind out of the sails of the Federal League, which was seeking to develop some momentum in attracting quality players and establishing its major league credentials. Johnson was also assiduous in choosing which battles to fight and which to leave alone, and in maintaining discipline within and between the National and American Leagues. The Federal League lacked anyone with the experience and ‘smarts’ who could counter Johnson.

There were falls in the attendance, income and profits of clubs of Organized Baseball in 1914. Attendance picked up somewhat in 1915. Competition drove up player salaries. The Federal League struggled in 1914, with all clubs losing money in 1914. Things were worse in 1915, with a rain-interrupted season and lower attendances. Both sides, especially the Federal League, bled money.

After the 1915 season, both sides sued for peace. A deal was worked out whereby some of the Federal League owners could buy out or merge with teams from Organized Baseball, while others would be absorbed into higher-grade minor leagues. The deal did not include the Baltimore club. It challenged Organized Baseball and the agreement as being inconsistent with the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. In 1922, the United States Supreme Court found that baseball did not constitute trade or commerce under the meaning of the Sherman Act, [2] and gave baseball, in distinction from other sports, an exemption from antitrust actions.

Levitt sees this league war as ‘forging modern baseball.’ It did not, in two senses. First, the battle did not change baseball in any meaningful sense. All it did was confirm the status quo that had been established when the National and American Leagues had merged in 1903. Second, the modern game, as it has been played since the mid-1970s (which is almost four decades ago and is more recent than 1915!) is significantly different from the way it was in the aftermath of the Federal League war. Threats from rival leagues in the 1950s and 1960s induced Organized Baseball to move teams westward to take advantage of new markets (and later southward) and to expend the number of teams that competed. What was once a 16-team competition has expanded into one of 30 teams. Second, the Major League Baseball Players Association has combined legal strategies and industrial action to substantially change the employment rules of baseball. Players, who once they signed with a club were unable to negotiate with other clubs, reduced to ‘mere chattels,’ found a way to force Organized Baseball to agree to a system of free agency (after six years of service) with concomitant increases in their economic freedom and income. [3]

These two books approach the Federal League war from different perspectives. Levitt’s The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball focuses on the off-field battles that occurred between the various protagonists. He not only examines the machinations that occurred between Organized Baseball and the Federal League but also the tensions that occurred within the respective leagues. Wiggins’s The Federal League Of Base Ball Clubs is more concerned with what happened on the field of play in the Federal League. He provides an essentially descriptive account of the highs and lows of teams and players and biographical information concerning players, managers, owners and other relevant personnel. His material is not as well organized and written as that of Levitt and is of less interest. Nonetheless, these two books together provide a comprehensive account of a major league war that occurred in American baseball almost a century ago.