Not About Football! Really!!

Recently my oldest son, Trevor, and I had a discussion about the current NFL players’ negotiations.  My son expressed his frustration with the current demands of the players and stated his opinion that they were not worth it.  Normally I would agree with him, but I have to admit I have had a change of heart.  Before those of you who are anti-sports and anti-athletes stop reading, please hear me out.  Even Trevor was shocked by my comment because he knows that although I love sports, I have not placed a great emphasis on them in our home and usually have expressed disgust at the high salaries of professional athletes.  Therefore, I had some explaining to do.

I explained that professional football generates a certain amount of revenue during any particular season.  That income is divided amongst various groups; players, owners, television networks, coaches, trainers, referees, etc.  What percentage each of these groups receive of the total revenue, I do not know.  But, as I told my son, if the players feel that they deserve a greater percentage, they can rally together and with their collective bargaining powers, the league and owners may decide to meet at least some of their demands.  If that happens, then obviously the players are worth it.  The owners now have a few options on their table.  First, they can take a cut in their profits–unlikely.  Secondly, they can try to generate more revenue.  This can be done in a few different ways.  One very likely option is that ticket prices will increase.  They could also negotiate higher contracts with television networks.  The networks, of course, in turn would try to pass this extra cost on to advertisers.  The advertisers may or may not be willing to pay higher prices for those time slots.  If they choose to pay the higher price, then again, we have proof that the players are worth any increase they have received.  Actually, this is just simple economics.

Now, if there comes a time when fans are unwilling or unable to pay the exorbitant ticket prices that seem to plague all professional sports, or, if advertisers refuse to pay the increased cost of advertising slots, then there would be a need for further negotiations. Under such circumstances it would have to be decided which group is willing to take a cut in the percentage of generated revenue? The question then must be asked, if athletes do not deserve the multi-million dollar contracts they now enjoy, who does deserve the income generated by professional sports?  But, why does someone who can throw a ball through a hoop or a long pass for a touchdown deserve so much money?  The answer is simple; because society says they are worth it.  Society is willing to pay outrageous ticket costs; they are willing to buy official NFL, NBA, or MLB merchandise; and they are willing to buy a product because a super-athlete endorses it.  It is not the football players’ fault, nor the other professional athletes.  It is our fault.  We tell these men that they are worth millions of dollars because they give something so important to our society as football, basketball, baseball, or any other professional sport.

Let me be clear that I am not against sports whether professional or otherwise.  My family and I, in particular, love March Madness.  I could write an entire post on whose pocket the revenue from college sports end up in—obviously not the athletes’ if they are playing by the rules.  In my opinion the NCAA and the BCS are just another form of organized crime.  However, I do know that competing in and watching sports can be great entertainment.  What bothers me is not so much that people value these athletes so highly (well that may bother me a little); it is that they do not value, at least as equally, more important contributions to society.

As many of you know, I have been studying mathematical sciences and physics at UNLV.  During my years at UNLV I have had the opportunity to associate with some very outstanding mathematicians and physicists.  One in particular, Dr. Michael Pravica, received his Bachelor of Science Degree from Cal-Tech and his PhD from Harvard University in High Pressure Physics.  I am sure most of you would agree that this would be no small fete.  In addition to teaching various physics classes at UNLV, he is also involved in important research as well as consultation for The Department of Energy and the Army.  You can see a more detailed description of his work on his website  Do not feel bad if you don’t understand all the terminology on his website.  That alone might convince you of his impressive resume.  He also has a few videos on You-Tube which can be found by searching his name on that site.

Dr. Pravica is also an activist for quality education especially in the sciences.  He often makes his voice heard through writing OpEds and letters to the editor of papers throughout the country.  He offers his voice on other subjects as well and is not afraid to take on his critics, which is what this post is really about.  He recently wrote a letter to the editor about the educational crisis we are currently facing in the state of Nevada and the dangers of cutting funds toward higher education.  Well, he had a couple of critics who just couldn’t help but get into the conversation.  One in particular, Chuck Muth, a conservative activist with the Nevada Business Coalition, has made Dr. Pravica his personal vendetta.  On March 7, Mr. Muth again took on Dr. Pravica in an on-line publication “Muth’s Truths”, entitled UNLV Prof. has BS in Hyperbole.  Among other areas of criticism, Mr. Muth criticized Dr. Pravica’s “generous” salary of $122,895 annually.  Now I am not arguing that such a salary would be greatly welcomed by many, but what I am stating is that for someone who has gone through as much education as Dr. Pravica at great sacrifice and debt, has done valuable research for our country, and has inspired future generations, is not being over compensated.  In fact, I believe he and his colleagues are being under compensated.  Mr. Muth, who seems to be proud of the fact that he has only a high-school education, obviously does not know what it takes to get a PhD in any subject little lone one as rigorous as physics.  He also failed to mention that the Physics Department at UNLV is self funded and also puts money into UNLV’s coffers because of their ongoing extensive research.  In addition, Dr. Pravica’s salary also includes compensation for consultation work and per diem reimbursement for travel and expenses which does not come from UNLV.

I am not claiming that all research done by scientists is valid and necessary, but I do know that all of the technology that we each enjoy started with discoveries through research in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology labs.  I know others contribute, as well, by using the knowledge gained to develop useful and marketable items, but let us not forget those who gained much education at such a high cost both fiscally and with great personal sacrifice through higher education.  Is our higher education system perfect?  No!  We all know that we need to take another look at how education is administered in our country, but to mock Dr. Pravica’s salary to me is laughable.  If only he could also throw a football for a winning touchdown then he might be worth something to our society.  Well, I would love to continue my rant on this subject and I would also like to watch the two Final Four games, but instead I will go back to working on a take home math test consisting of only one problem that has now taken me approximately four hours of work.  I would imagine I have at least another hour, but I said that at the two hour mark.  Maybe I should go outside and practice throwing a football instead.

Remember that 2 Plus 2 Doesn’t Always Equal 4                                                                     [And please take time to read my original post to understand Why the Title of this Blog? (Feb. 17, 2011)]