22 February 2009

The problem with mandatory press conferences...

Yesterday, at a post-game press conference, University of Connecticut men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun was asked about the propriety of his annual salary. Essentially, "given the economic situation, should you be making as much as you do?"

He quickly, as is his wont, got angry.

He's right, of course, basketball makes a quite a bit of money for UConn both directly (the box office, the t-shirt and sweat shirt sales) and indirectly (the remarkable number of students who enroll because UConn teams have been NCAA champions, etc). Indeed, one could easily make the case that UConn basketball (men's and women's) IS professional sports in the state of Connecticut.

To be blunt, I've NEVER understood choosing a school based largely on their sports teams. If I'm not going to be playing basketball for them, why, when I'm selecting a school, would I care how good they are? I fear, as always, I'm in the minority here.

For example, in my first year in the doctoral program at The Catholic University of America in the mid-1990s (er, I meant mid-1980s...godd catch, Stuart!!!!), I taught freshman composition. On the first day, I went around the room and asked my students why they had chosen CUA? Over half said "Because I couldn't get into Villanova," who of course had recently won the NCAA Men's basketball title!

I attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, which had dropped its football program back in the 60s, before they became a credible national basketball presence. When I was enrolled, we'd have trouble beating Thomas More College from northern Kentucky! Sports simply never played a part in any decision about a school.

But I digress.

These post-game press conferences, I understand, are mandatory.


Rarely do the coaches really want to talk about anything significant, so why make 'em? They've won or lost. They played well or didn't. The coach got thrown out of the game or he didn't. (Remember: this whole thing started with Jim Calhoun.) Are there ever ANY insights at which the esteemed press couldn't arrive on its own?

I doubt it.

And let's not stop at college sports press conferences. The professional ranks have their own mandatory press gatherings. In the case of the esteemed/reviled Bill Belichick, for example, I understand that he doesn't even have to tell the truth in these exchanges ---- top secret strategy and all that.

Once again, that's fine (since none of this really matters to anyone but ESPN), but let's not force him to meet the press to "answer" questions, if, in fact, he doesn't have to.

Coaches have better things to do, I hope.

The press has better things to do, I hope.

And, most importantly, no one has EVER asked me, as I leave my classroom after an early American lit class:

"So, teach, were you pleased by how your class handled the spoon passage in Canto Three of The Hasty Pudding?"

"Do you think they'll be up for Greenfield Hill on Wednesday?"

"How does this class match up with the great Eng 340 classes of the late 1990s?"

If they ever do, then I'll reassess.

Of course, if I can answer in front of a Dunkin Donuts banner, how sweet it would be!!!!"

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