Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sports Round-Up (Delgado, Rutgers, etc.)

DelgadoAccording to the wires, New York Mets General Manager Omar Minaya has successfully engineered a deal that will bring handsome, strapping All Star infielder Carlos Delgado (photo at left) from the Florida Marlins to New York City's junior team, the Amazins. Delgado, a 33-year-old native of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico and an outspoken antiwar activist, has been one of the most consistent batters in the major leagues over the last decade. He began his career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, had his first full rookie season with the Blue Jays in 1996, drove in 100 or more runs every years from 1998 through 2003, and has whacked more than 30 home runs every year since 1997. Delgado moved to the Marlins in 2004 with the proviso that he wouldn't be traded, but owner Jeffrey Lourie predicated maintaining the team's high payroll on winning a new, publicly-financed stadium, which the voters of the Miami area have smartly decided is not in their best interest, so Lourie has begun a fire sale, and didn't hesitate to shed Delgado and his hefty salary.

Yet Minaya actually bade for Delgado last season, losing him when the 12-year Toronto player chose the Marlins because he didn't like Minaya's overzealous appeal to his Latin heritage. Nevertheless, as the lone Latino GM in the league, the Dominican-born Minaya has initiated a Latino-focused renovation of the Mets, bringing in future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martínez, who was the team's most consistent starter (with his 15-8 win-loss record, 2.82 ERA and 208 strikeouts), and Houston's breakout outfielder Carlos Beltrán, who was a bit of a letdown. The Mets were actually in the division and wild-card races until an August slowdown, but with Delgado's bat in the lineup, they should be able to generate more runs, which was one of their major weaknesses. Delgado also provoked some outcry in 2004 when he refused to take the field for the 7th-inning performances of "God Bless America," fielding hearty boos in 9/11-attacked New York. But the brouhaha about Delgado's courageous anti-war and pro-Vieques stand has died down, and he encountered far less hostility this past season. With anti-Iraq War sentiment becoming more widespread across the US, he ought to have almost no problems on this account this upcoming season.

It'll be especially interesting to see if Minaya decides to go after Manny Ramírez (at left, with his son, Manny Jr.) one of the best hitters in either league but also a frequently decried malcontent who's seeking a trade from the Boston Red Sox, whom he helped lead to the 2004 World Series championship. Ramírez has repeatedly asked for trades in the past, and has been dogged by allegations of not playing hard or being too distracted at times. He is claiming that playing in the Red Sox's media fishbowl prevents him from having enough privacy, but he wouldn't improve on this in New York, where he grew up (and starred at George Washington High School, in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood). Ramírez would do better to pick an out-of-the-way team with playoff potential and a very understanding manager, like the Cardinals or this year's World Champions, the Chicago White Sox. Both teams could use his bat, and both teams' nutty managers would be able to deal with Manny's intermittent dramas.


Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is the United States' 7th oldest university, with a long and distinguished history that dates back to 1766. Yet Rutgers, which was one of the early football pioneers along with fellow New Jersey school Princeton, has long been one of the NCAA Division I-A Big East's football also-rans (despite the obviously fit players pictured at right). Even though several of that league's powerhouse teams, like Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, left a year ago, Rutgers still has had a losing record over the last decade against remaining Big East opponents such as West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. In fact, Rutgers posted a 37-game losing streak from 1991-1995, and has lost blowouts to Division I-AA teams. ESPN Page 2 fans ranked this five-year stretch of defeatists as the worst college football team of all time (and this includes some other doozies). Yet after defeating the University of Cincinnati today 44-5, they achieved a winning 6-4 record (which includes defeats of Syracuse and Pittsburgh), and are set to make their first return to a bowl game since 1978. Since the 6th-ranked University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated Stanford University's Cardinal today, they will gain a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bid. Had they lost, through an arrangement with the Big East, they'd get one of that league's non-BCS bowl bids. Rutgers will thus be invited to participate in the Insight Bowl, against Arizona State, which was, oddly enough, its opponent in 1978. Rutgers

Rutgers didn't lose too badly against top league rivals West Virginia and South Florida, but suffered a blowout against Louisville (56-5). I'm not sure, however, that this portends ill for a matchup against Arizona State, since that team has had a poor season overall. Arizona State has managed, outside of a smashbang win over 7-4 (5-3 in Big 12) Northwestern, to win the rest of its games only against league opponents or independents with losing records (Temple, Washington, Washington State, and Oregon State). If the Rutgers Scarlet Knights play their best football (or even as well as they did against Connecticut and Cincinnati), they might bring back their first college bowl victory to the Garden State in decades, and make the ghosts of Paul Robeson and other former football stars proud.


Speaking of college football, the NCAA is dithering over what to do about University High School, a blatant high school diploma mill based in Florida. According to today's New York Times report by Pete Thamel and Duff Wilson, entitled "Poor Grades Aside, Athletes Get into College on a $399 Diploma," for that cut-rate price, high school players with failing marks can take correspondence courses in the last few weeks of their senior years--okay, that already sounds problematic--and circumvent not only the state of Florida's graduation test requirements, but also the NCAA's SAT minimum standards. The newspaper noted some 14 players who'd accumulated high enough grade point averages using University High School's programs to sign letters of intent to such major Division I-A universities (and their football teams) such as Tennessee, Auburn, Florida State, South Florida, and Temple. Oh, and Rutgers (cf. above). So what's wrong with this alternative route? The article notes that University High School's first owner was convicted of and served time for university diploma-mill mail fraud, while its second, current owner was arrested on a marijuana possession charge and still faces a bench warrant. Okay, so people make mistakes. But, the article goes on to note, University High School "has no classes and no educational accreditation." But that's not all:

University High School consists of two small rooms on the third floor of an office building wedged between a Starbucks and an animal hospital on Route 1 in south Miami. Inside are three desks, three employees and two framed posters from art museums on the wall.

Promotional brochures say diplomas can be earned in four to six weeks, with open-book exams, no classes and no timed tests. A diploma costs $399, no matter how many courses.

In paperwork filed with the state of Florida, the school says it has six teachers. None of the school's graduates interviewed, however, mentioned dealing with anyone besides Kinney, the current owner, and none said they had received any personal instruction.

John M. McLeod, a Miami-Dade Community College educator, is identified as the University High principal on a letter welcoming new students. McLeod said he met Simmons in the 1970's, but that he had no connection to University High. He said his signature had been copied.

"I've never seen this letter," he said. "I know nothing about University High School."

Simmons said he did not know why McLeod's signature was on the letter.

Former students said in interviews that courses consisted of picking up work packets from University High and completing them at home. Grades they received on the packets counted the same on their transcripts as a yearlong high school course.

"If it was history, they had the story with the questions right next to it," Simpson said. "They were one-page stories. It wasn't really hard."

University High says its textbooks are the Essential Series from Research and Education Association of Piscataway, N.J., but their publisher describes them as study guides.

"You wouldn't describe them as textbooks," Carl M. Fuchs, president of Research and Education, said. "You would say they're more supplemental, but they can be used on their own. A textbook is certainly going to have a lot more text, a lot more information."

Simpson_NYTIMESYet University High School isn't completely to blame for its sham role in serving as a feeder to Division I-A and I-AA teams, since the NCAA has allowed students to use correspondence courses since 2000, which has basically opened up the option of students turning to innumerable quasi-educational outfits to qualify for collegiate- level play. In addition, the state of Florida doesn't require "private" school graduates to take the state's graduation tests, thus giving University High School and others like it a major out. At any rate, NCAA head Miles Brand has said that he plans to lead a commission which will look into institutions like University High School and determine what's really going on with them. He should do so, and swiftly. But even the sternest responses won't do much good for Temple undergraduate Philip Simpson (at right, Ryan Donnell for the New York Times), whose failing grades kept him off the gridiron at 0-11 Temple this year. Though he passed University High School's coursework after failing his final attempt at passing Florida's graduation test, he struggled in college, and has said that "The basic skills I'm supposed to have from way back then...none of them are there." My basic question remains: isn't there a better, more effective way to educate young people like this, to ensure all young people get a decent enough education so that they don't have to turn to the likes of University High School?

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