Why the Twin Cities Media Isn’t Running Leslie Frazier Out of Town on a Rail

WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND, and right now, Leslie Frazier is getting his. It’s why the media is not running him out of town like Major Molineaux: The Vikings coach has never been anything less than a gentleman.

This, of course, can be interpreted as the dreaded “media bias,” but it’s really what’s more commonly known as courtesy. When people treat you well, you tend to give them the benefit of the doubt for as long as you can. So when the knives come out in earnest – it started slowly this morning in the inescapable wake of Sunday’s 44-31 loss to the Packers – they will be wielded with no malice.

It seems inevitable that Frazier will lose his job at season’s end. The Vikings are 1-6 with nine games remaining and few prospects. They have three equally inadequate quarterbacks with equal claim to the starting job; a slow, undermanned defense; and a great tailback whose life was turned upside down a few weeks ago more than he seems to understand. They will be lucky to win another game.

A great deal of this fact falls on Frazier’s shoulders; even more is traceable to bad personnel moves made above his pay grade. No matter, if it were a martinet like Brad Childress driving this ship, or the often abrasive Glen Mason, or know-it-all Kurt Rambis, the media’s focus would be on the head coach.

I very briefly helped cover the Vikings when Frazier was the defensive coordinator, the year they lost to the Saints in the NFC title game. That’s when he interviewed for a couple of head coaching jobs elsewhere. Afterward, it became apparent his interview in Seattle had been a token minority interview before the Seahawks hired Pete Carroll. I got him alone in the next day or so and asked Frazier if he felt that was the case. He said he wanted some time to think before he answered that question.

So that summer in Mankato, the first thing I did was track down the defensive coordinator and remind him of what he told me. He may have been hoping he’d never see me again, because I wasn’t around the team much and he didn’t know me. But he answered the question, and it was clear he answered it not because he wanted to but because he remembered and kept his word. He probably knew he’d take some heat for it, and he did, but he acknowledged that in retrospect, it seemed an unnamed team (Seattle) wasn’t straightforward with him.

Sportswriters deal with a lot of assholes. A lot of them. So when you come across someone who isn’t, especially in football, your first inclination is not to push them in front of a moving train. When the Leslie Frazier job watch kicks into high gear next month, and it will, very few will enjoy it.

That’s not media bias; it’s human nature.

End Times: Big-Time College Athletics

A recent St. Paul Pioneer Press story on new Vikings punter Jeff Locke raised, again, the contention that NCAA student-athletes should be receiving a stipend for their services. In short, they should be paid; we assume for playing sports and not for going to school.

This argument is at a crossroads; it needs to be either moved forward in earnest or die. I suggest those advocating for more money – like Locke, who contributed to a fairly serious assessment of a scholarship athlete’s fair market value – genuinely address the end game, which would be the death of big-time college athletics as we know them.

The NCAA understands this, which is why it keeps walking the razor’s edge between amateurism and professionalism, answering the hard questions with a toothy grimace and a slap on the back. Say what you will about the NCAA, as duplicitous an organization as ever installed a water cooler, but they are protecting a very American way of life.

What Locke, who seems to be a smart enough fellow, and others like him fail to see is complex. For starters, big-time college athletes – and make no mistake, these are the lads for whom they bleed – are, in fact, paid. A 20-minute Internet search reveals the general salary scale. Using only the information provided by the University of Minnesota on 2012-13 tuition, we find that average in-state tuition is $13,526 without room and board. For out-of-state students – say the kids from Ohio and Texas that football coaches like so much – it’s $18,776.

So let’s just say that over four years, a full-scholarship player at the U receives between $54,104 and $75,104. This does not calculate room and board, training table, free Nike clothes or student services they receive, such as health care and academic counseling. So let’s round it to a conservative $80 grand over four years. That money might not be buying a student-athlete pizzas or tattoos, but it’s a lot of money they’re receiving for what they can bring to Minnesota.

Somewhere in America, this instant, there are parents fretting over how to send their kids to college, and who would probably walk through fire for such a tuition package. Which brings us to another issue the pro-stipend crowd doesn’t understand: No one feels sorry for you.

Yes, your image is used in video games, and the school sells jerseys with your number, lucrative business for the NCAA and your school. Whether you’re truly exploited is debatable. Regardless, you’re getting $80,000 (probably more, really; average state tuition in the U.S. was $22,261 in the 2012-13 academic year) to go to college. Full scholarship athletes are given the biggest head-start one can get in this country: a free college education. Some guys had to land on Omaha beach for that privilege. If you have a busy autumn, well, most college students do. Many, if not most, are working at Erbert & Gerbert to make ends meet. Think they’d trade with you? Me, too.

Locke sites a study called “The Price of Poverty in Big-Time Athletics,” for which he was a contributor while at UCLA. It raises some interesting but irrelevant facts, the most conspicuous of which is that, the study found, most scholarship athletes live below the poverty line. This is a non-argument; how many college students have money? Without using a calculator, I’d say 90 percent of all students are living in something at least akin to official poverty. But they’re in school, and most are working to support themselves and will leave with massive debt. You aren’t, and won’t.

As for fair-market value, be careful. Is that for putting on the uniform or performing? For showing up, or having your number used on a video game? Here, again, is an argument denying its own end game. In the real market, you’re not paid for showing up – and certainly not for collecting a scholarship – you’re paid for results. If one were to break down fair market share team-by-team, guys like, say, the punter would find their stipend smaller than the backup Sam linebacker.

Plus, try sneaking stipends for football and basketball players through the Title IX filter, then ask yourself this question: Who was worth more to the U last year, Marqueis Gray or Amanda Kessel?

College football and basketball players are not professional athletes; 90 percent of them simply aren’t good enough. Anyone watching the NBA playoffs can sort that out in 2 minutes. And here is the crux of the issue; it is the one block in the Jenga tower that is the NCAA that absolutely cannot be touched because one, that canard of amateurism cannot be brooked and two, NCAA programs, at any level, cannot afford to give their athletes any more money.

College athletics are on a collision course with bankruptcy. A trenchant USA Today article from May 10 reveals that of the 120 Division I-A football programs in the U.S., only 22 were self-sufficient and 16 turned a profit – and even some of those still received a subsidy from their school’s general fund, probably in the form of student fees. The median loss for the other 98 programs was an astonishing $11.3 million.

College athletics are closer to severely reining back expenses, from coach’s salaries to scholarships, than paying athletes. The dirtiest little secret in college football is that tightening scholarships from limitless to 85 didn’t reduce the competitive quality, or – as the most strident opponents warned – kill the sport. College football, in fact, has flourished as never before. Would reducing them to 75, or 65, send it over the brink? Probably not.

So think this through, fellas. It might be smarter just to keep your mouth shut.

The Percy Harvin Story: Or How Do You Please a Sullen Mope?

I never spent a ton of time with the Vikings when I writing, but I covered a fair amount of the team’s 2009 run to the NFC title game, and that was long enough to be lied to by Percy Harvin.

Back then Harvin had a decent reputation among reporters; I don’t know if that’s changed much. I know that when colleague Brian Murphy drove out to his place in Florida recently that Harvin, though declining to talk — and probably in shock to see Murph walking up the street — was polite.

But back in 2009 I was in the Vikings locker room looking for preview stuff when I spied Harvin, who was having a terrific rookie season, alone at his locker. I approached him and asked for a minute and he told me he had something to do real quick in another room but he’d be right back. Great, I said.

He never came back. Forgot. Was busy. The next day, though, I was back at Winter Park and still hoping to get some feedback from Percy Harvin. Fortunately he was at his locker again, so I headed back but was quickly intercepted by a (nice enough) Vikings PR guy who asked me what I wanted.

To talk to Percy for a minute or two, I said. Nothing major. Harvin was physically with us for this conversation but listening like the omniscient narrator. The PR guy told me Percy had something to do in another room but would be back shortly.

I looked at the PR guy, then at Percy, and said, “That’s exactly what he told me yesterday and he never came back.”

I turned back to Harvin, who was looking at me with a contempt generally reserved for horse thieves and bigamists. It was a mix of unmitigated anger and shock that someone would step beyond such a Rubicon. 

A lot of professional athletes don’t like sportswriters; maybe most, even. I once had a player tell me one of his teammates didn’t like me because he didn’t know me, to which I replied, “How you treat people you don’t know says a lot about you.” To me, that little episode said a lot about Percy Harvin.

I never got to talk to young Percy that day. I do remember him, however, fumbling away a scoring chance at the end of the first half of an overtime loss in the NFC title game in New Orleans. I also remember him not playing a lot because of headaches, or hurt feelings, or agent interference. Whatever the case, I could never figure out just what Percy was so perpetually miffed about.

I’m not sure the Vikings could, either. Here’s a kid getting paid millions of dollars to play football ($2.77 in 2013) who pouted like a sullen teenager. How do you please someone like that? Wisely, the Vikings decided it’s impossible.