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Thursday, September 9, 2010
Coleman Collins on pro basketball and college football

By Coleman Collins

In addition to being a key big man for the Bundesliga's Ulm team, Coleman Collins has long been among TrueHoop's most thoughtful contributors. After a summer of travel, he's back in Germany preparing for the season, and he checks in with thoughts of travel, writing, international professional hoops and college football:

I did a lot of traveling this summer. I visited Sweden for Midsummer, visited my favorite Peace Corps volunteer and quasi-brother in the Philippines, spent a month in Spain -- Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian. I had a wonderful dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world. There are a lot of stories and experiences I'll eventually share, starting with this:

I'm at a bar in Barcelona, watching the World Cup. It's a small Irish pub around the corner from our apartment, a spacious spot in El Born that my friend Vita so graciously offered Matt and I while she was away traveling the month of June (thanks Vita!) The U.S. is playing Slovenia. There are about four or five Americans milling about, making idle chatter.

One of them approaches me. "Hey," he says, "aren't you the Unfiltered Sake guy?"

"Why, yes," I say, flattered.

"Coleman Collins, right?"

"One and the same."

"I really like that blog you have, man, but you never update it."

"I know, I know, I've been busy traveling, working out ..."

"And TrueHoop, too, man, you don't write for TrueHoop anymore? I loved those!"

Well well well now, I thought to myself. You have really done it now. Now you have a public. A readership, however small. It's been confirmed, on a different continent no less. You gots to do better. And I assured him that I would, and here we are again. I am going to make an effort to go from writing once every few months to once every few weeks, or maybe something more frequent than that. Starting today.

Two quick sports-related things:

1. I'm back with the same team from last year in Germany, and I feel very fortunate to be here. Though we had a bit of a down season last year, we've got a revamped roster and some good momentum coming into this next year. Currently, two of our players are playing for the German national team in the World Championships. When we get them back we'll be well on our way. I spent the first part of last year playing out of position at the 5, but we've brought in a little more size and I'll be able to play the 4, my natural position. I'm excited about that.

I'm also excited that I'm in a familiar environment. A lot of times playing overseas, you're sort of wedged in where people think you should fit, given a week or so to pan out in the style that the coach/GM/megalomaniac rich businessman/heir thinks is appropriate. I'm glad I've got a great coaching staff in my corner, that understands where I'm effective and how I play best.

A good example of this is my former college teammate Jamon Gordon. He just signed with one of the top teams in the world -- Olympiakos. He deserves it, too, but it hasn't been easy -- he's played in a lot of bad situations in various countries over the past few years, until last year he found a great team in Greece and dominated, earning his way to the best team in the league. Congratulations to him, and best of luck. Outside of making the league, that's one of the best gigs you can get.

We're all fortunate to be playing this year. I often call my job recession-proof, but it's not true. The recession affects all of us. NBA teams have cut payrolls and carried fewer players (as opposed to filling the IR with healthy bodies) forcing a glut downwards. Top European teams (often bankrolled by psuedo-interested dilettantes that spent lavishly, operating at absurd losses, in times of plenty) have slashed salaries out of necessity. The specter of a possible lockout in 2011-2012 has scared a lot of guys off of the D-League, adding even more players to the European pool. The various minor leagues in the States have folded due to economic pressures. Second and third leagues in Europe are consolidating, or folding. The country with the most notorious reputation for not honoring contracts (Greece, outside of the top four or five teams) is going through one of the most painful recessions in the developed world.

A player with a contract and a check that comes on time in this market is a lucky man.

2. College football season is here! College football is my favorite sport to watch. I grew up in Atlanta and have always followed SEC football. I became a Virginia Tech football fan in college. We started the season with a loss to Boise State, I couldn't watch it because of the late start time. But I definitely root for the Hokies.

The problems start when I have to explain college football to my European friends.

"So, the players don't get paid."

"No, well, they go to school for free."

"But school is what, a few thousand dollars?"

"No, college is very expensive in the States. Like $30,000 or more."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Do the coaches get paid?"

"Yes."

"How much?"

"Millions, sometimes."

"Do people pay to go to the games?"

"Yeah."

"How much is a ticket?"

"40 dollars, maybe. Could be more."

"And the players don't get paid?"

This can go on and on and on, and I find myself defending a ridiculous system. The B.C.S. is the worst. How do you defend what is basically an illegal (should-be illegal) price-fixing, oligopolistic cartel?

"There's no tournament?"

"No, they vote on the teams and then they put the votes into a big computer and then the computer says who can play in the championship game."

"That's how they decide who's the best?"

(weakly) "Well ... yeah."

Never mind the fact that the BCS is controlled by the teams from the power conferences, and that the polls are voted on by coaches from same. Never mind that the teams that make the BCS games split up a huge pot, bringing millions to those same power conferences, making them more powerful.

A top player can get suspended for having a meeting (a meeting!) with Deion Sanders and be ruled ineligible for the season. And all of this ridiculous sound and fury about supposed meetings with agents in Florida, and the NCAA "cracking-down," "investigating," "sanctioning," etc. Million-dollar investigations into whether players attended a party that was thrown by an agent. All of this effort to "protect" players from this ominous boogeyman -- the evil, underhanded agent.

This is not to say that all of them are pure in their intent, but one thing has always be true -- the agent can't get paid until after you, the player, do. College football coaches get paid their money whether their players graduate or not. They get paid when the star running back blows out his knee and gets replaced by the hotshot freshman. Even after they get fired, they will still get everything promised to them by their contract. People forget that college scholarships are only good for one year, renewable. A coach can simply decide not to renew it, to "encourage a transfer." Of course, football players have to sit out a year if they do, unless they move down to 1-AA (or whatever they call it now). But a coach can switch schools with impunity.

Those are a lot of loosely-related complaints, and there's much more where that came from. Suffice it to say that everything about college football makes me very uncomfortable, except for the games, which I will be watching exclusively on an illegal streaming website this fall as my own private way of sticking it to the man.

All that aside, I am very, very excited about college football starting. It's a great product.