Listen: I’ve written about sports before. That was coming from a personal angle, obviously, but I feel like it needs revisiting because, a) it’s much deeper than I initially discussed, and b) some of you assholes are still asshol-ing.
First, please read this article. Basic summary is this: the now former GM of the Philadelphia 76’ers, Sam Hinkie, had a tactic he referred to as “the process” wherein he blatantly abused the NBA’s lottery system and had his team “tank”, e.g. they would lose purposely so that they could get a higher draft pick. The underlying idea was that by tanking for several years he could build up a combination of fresh talent from the draft and assets he could trade for established players. Tl;dr be a dogshit team for a few years then run the table once you’ve got a kickass team.
Except, it never worked out that way. The 76’ers were/are an abysmal team. Last year they went 10-72. Yes, in an 82 game season they won 10 fucking games. This was Hinkie’s LAST year, mind you: in 2013 when he took over, they were 19-63. The next year, 18-64. So they got progressively worse. The thing is, Hinkie kept repeating a mantra throughout his dumpster fire of a tenure: “trust in the process”. See, he ain’t no ordinary sports GM. He’s a business guy: graduated from University of Oklahoma and got his MBA at Stanford and was lauded as being an “analytics guy”, the obvious implication being that his “process” was so complex that something as simple as a win-loss record shouldn’t be a major marker for success.
Except that it is. Players, coaches, and, yes, even GM’s are expected to produce results and the main result that owners want is more asses in seats. You don’t get asses in seats unless your team wins. Ask yourself: would you pay good money, fight traffic, overpay on stadium food and beverages to watch a team openly shit all over the court? No, you wouldn’t. No one wants to watch that. But Hinkie kept assuring us that this process was a long game that would eventually pay off. The operative word here being “eventually”.
This is a problem. You can see from his resignation letter/madman rantings that he’s one of those TED-talking, Silicon Valley types. Now see, sports IS a business, so you gotta run it like one, I agree. Except he’s purportedly pushing “innovation” through losing and it doesn’t fucking work that way. You can’t put an inferior product out there year after year under the guise of “disruption” and expect fans to keep buying in. No human being wants to do that.
Why is this important to academics? Because these same shitbrained “innovators” are the ones currently in charge of universities across the country (if no the world). People who think that public education should be run like Microsoft. People who aren’t willing to just “think outside the box” but want to “burn the box entirely”. Yeah, real vapid, obtuse, TED talk bullshit that keeps pushing for heavily validated data. These are the same people who would, I don’t know, cut millions of dollars from a liberal arts department as part of an “initiative”, leading to less classes that serve a growing student population. The same people who would research and publish on poverty and public policy, yet enact cuts that exacerbate less than living wages for departments whose faculty and staff are primarily women and minorities.
In sports, this sort of thing gets reckoned with: GM’s, coaches and athletic directors get fired. Consider this: even the University of Texas, a public university with one of the largest football programs in the country, fired their AD because even the DONORS thought he was too sketchy. But people will support a criminally investigated biotech firm despite its questionable research practices because “disruption”. And universities administrators will continue to grow their own departments and push “innovations” like cutting the very thing you go to school for: classes.
I want you academics to think about that really hard the next time you make that clever “sportsball” joke. The next time you roll your eyes at that student athlete in your class. The next time you drink that free drink at a publisher’s party. The only difference between your university and the Indiana Pacers is that the Pacers are trying to win without shooting themselves in the foot.