Walter Family donation for multipurpose facility divides Ohio University Campus

Ohio University (and St. Charles Preparatory School -- Go Cards!) alumnus Robert D. Walter (From The Compass)

On Dec. 17, 2010 Ohio University announced that alumni Robert D. and Margaret Walter had made a $10 million dollar donation for renovations on the Convocation Center and the creation of a multipurpose facility.

Twenty-four hours later and nearly 1,000 miles away, Ohio football coach Frank Solich broke the news to his ecstatic team during a pregame speech before its 48-21 loss to Troy in the R+L Carrier New Orleans Bowl.

At his National Signing Day press conference on Feb. 2, 2011 the coach emphasized the role that donation – the idea of an indoor practice facility – had in recruiting that year’s class.

“I think Bob Walter and his donation towards an indoor facility was something we were able to use and assure players that that gift was presented,” Solich said. “That was, I’m sure, somewhat big in players’ minds.”

He talked about how important it was for college athletes – not just his, but all – to be able to train year-round, to have a place to practice in the face of the notoriously fickle Ohio weather. This multipurpose facility would give them the chance to “separate themselves” from other athletes.

Then his tone and his message changed.

“This is going to give not only the football team the ability to use it year-round,” Solich said. “It’s also going to serve a huge purpose for this university in terms of students and recreation and the community.”

Not just intercollegiate athletes, Solich said. Students and faculty, intramurals activities, even Athens community soccer teams could benefit from the Walter donation.

In the face of an estimated $19.7 million university budget gap for the next year, as a representative of an embattled athletic department with it’s own budget woes, Solich nimbly sidestepped the proverbial ‘gotcha’ moment.

As university officials are quick to point out, the multipurpose facility – currently little more than an idea with some substantial financial backing – is intended be used for a broad array of purposes, and serve even broader base across campus.

“Certainly it will be used for intercollegiate athletics, but it will also be used by the Marching 110. It will be used by the ROTC. It will be used by the physical therapy program, by the sports management program,” said Rebecca Watts, chief of staff and special assistant to OU President Roderick McDavis. “The sky’s the limit.”

But still others believe that the multipurpose facility should hardly be a priority for a university exploring employee furloughs and freefalling in academic prestige.

“We’re about ready to drop out of the main line schools academically because of budget cuts and other reasons,” OU professor of economics Richard Vedder said, “For us to be going full steam ahead on this is the height of irresponsibility.

“It’s a frill. It’s one that a lot of (Mid-American Conference) schools have. It’s one that a lot of schools have. But it’s still another example of the athletics arms race in action.”

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Ohio University professor David Ridpath’s time at Marshall shaped his outlook on NCAA athletics

OU professor and former Marshall compliance officer David Ridpath (From ESPN)

When the Center for College Affordability and Productivity released a study in January suggesting that Ohio University students neither realized the financial drain nor appreciated the contribution of varsity athletics, it further ignited a debate around campus and throughout the nation.

Many considered the findings a swipe at the university’s athletic department – already under fire for continuing to overspend on its budget to the tune of nearly $1.2 million annually for the last five years.

Some pegged the study’s authors, Matthew Denhart and OU professors Richard Vedder and David Ridpath as disgruntled academics, unaware true impact of intercollegiate athletics.

At least in Ridpath’s case, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

The assistant professor of sports administration spent over a decade working in college athletic departments. He has coached conference champions and worked with future Hall of Famers.

He has also experienced the dark side intercollegiate athletics, and knows better than most just how tainted the institution can become.

“I really kind of saw the true face of college athletics,” Ridpath said. “It was a big eye-opener, which has kind of led me on the path I’m on now. I want to save college athletics from itself.”

A ‘convenient scapegoat’

It was Friday July 2, 1999 when Ridpath, then the assistant athletic director of compliance and student services at Marshall University, got the call.

Michelle Duncan, an academic advisor, informed him that a professor and volunteer football strength coach, Bruce McAllister, had approached her asking what grades a number of football players in his class would need in order to be eligible.

“The first time (McAllister) stopped me in the hallway and asked me in passing and I thought he was joking,” Duncan said. “It wasn’t until he asked me the second time that I realized he was serious and that’s when I contacted Dave Ridpath.”

Duncan also informed Ridpath that earlier that spring, McAllister had provided football players in one of his classes with a copy of a test ahead of time.

“[Ridpath was] probably shocked more than anything. As you can imagine a compliance officer probably hears about all kinds of details and events,” Duncan said. “But when he heard about this one, it immediately raised a red flag.”

This was the first Ridpath had ever gotten word of the issues, but he knew he had a serious problem on his hands.

Despite changing NCAA regulations, Solich lands top recruiting class

Ohio recruiting coordinator Brian Haines, left, and head coach Frank Solich at the Feb. 2 Singing Day press conference. (Courtesy of The Post -- Staff Photographer Alex Goodlett)

At his press conference on National Signing Day, Ohio football coach Frank Solich proudly announced that this year’s recruiting class could be the best he has had in his seven-year stint in Athens. His first point of emphasis for the 24-man class wasn’t the speed, skill or size of the athletes, though.

“We’ve got a lot of excellent players,” Solich said, “a lot of guys with really high character.”

As more and more NCAA rules violations are being brought to light at high-profile athletic programs, Solich and his staff are trying to ensure their team’s compliance by bringing in players with skill and character. But, even the process of recruiting itself is riddled with rules and regulations. The school’s compliance staff must meticulously monitor and any and all forms of contact with a prospective student-athlete.

The NCAA has a stringent calendar that all Division I football programs must adhere to when recruiting prospects. There are limits set on personal contact, visits to a prospect’s “educational institution” and chances to evaluate prospects during competition.

Even if a coach is approached by a prospect’s parent at the mall, he can do no more than exchange pleasantries, lest the program forfeit one of its 42 face to face contact opportunities – and that’s only if it’s during the “contact period.’

Any contact outside of that seemingly arbitrary two-month window from late November through late January — specific dates vary from year to year determined by a formula in the NCAA Bylaws – and a program could likely find itself slapped with a sanction.

“It’s tough. You’ve got to stay on top of it,” Ohio tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Brian Haines said. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing and what’s right.”

But, Haines said there was a simple solution to effectively navigate the NCAA’s constantly changing rules and regulations, and ensure all his actions are on the level.

“Put our compliance department in your favorites in your phone,” he said. “We’re always communicating back-and-fourth and they do a good job of helping us out.

Haines shouldered much of the responsibility in determining whether a recruit’s athletic abilities merited a scholarship from Ohio University.

Tricia Turley, associate athletic director for Compliance and Student Services, on the other hand, made sure the recruits and the recruiters were held up to NCAA standards.

“We handle what paperwork needs to be completed by the prospect and when,” Turley said in an email correspondence. “We also provide academic assessments based on the NCAA Qualifier standards for the coaches and help facilitate the admissions process.

“We also answer various questions about communication with the prospects.”

Transfer goaltender fills big skates

It’s no short order replacing a legend and for Ohio hockey, Paul Marshall is as close as it comes. The former goaltender who graduated last spring owns virtually all Bobcats’ records in net — wins, shutouts, saves, goals against average. The list goes on.

There was an air of uncertainty surrounding the hockey program after Marshall’s departure. Head coach Dan Morris had recruited a pair of back-stoppers in Bryan Danczak and Fedor Dushkin, but said he questioned whether either was ready for the grueling American Collegiate Hockey Association schedule.

Meanwhile in Huntsville, Ala. Blake MacNicol had a decision to make. The Milan, Ohio-native and University of Alabama – Huntsville netminder  had missed virtually his entire senior-year season after breaking his hand, and his team was in the midst of changes.

The Chargers — the only NCAA Division I hockey team below the Mason-Dixon line — had enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in school history, which included  a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. But with head coach Danton Cole resigning to take up a position with USA hockey, and a pair strong incoming goaltenders, his future with the program was no longer assured.

“I would’ve had to petition (to play) another year,” MacNicol said. “If that didn’t work out I would’ve been stuck there without hockey.”

MacNicol didn’t want to risk the latter so he decided a change in scenery was in order

The MacNicol family has a history at Ohio University. His father Alex played on the OU hockey team in the late 60s and early 70s, back when it was a NCAA varsity program. It’s where he met his wife Sharon and where they had sent Blake’s older brother Sean.

MacNicol’s father has remained close to the hockey program since his playing days, and once the decision was made to leave UAH, he was on the phone with Morris.

“(MacNicol) wanted to transfer here and we didn’t have any goalies left,” Morris said.”It’s worked out for both parties. We’re happy that Blake’s here and I think he’s happy he’s here.

“We wanted some senior leadership — somebody who’d been through it — to help the young goalies out and give them some confidence before we put them in the war zone.”

The transition was far from seamless, however. The Bobcats opened up the ACHA season 1-2-1 and although the team as a whole struggled, it was clear that MacNicol was not up to par.

“He played 37 minutes last year before his injury and you could tell right away (this season that) he hadn’t played much,” Morris said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re just not out their playing — getting pucks to you — it’s going to take awhile.”

But after the disappointing start, Ohio has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation. The ‘Cats carried an 11-game winning streak into their winter break and have been unbeaten in regulation since Oct. 22, and MacNicol has been at the heart of it all.

“It was a big adjustment because I hadn’t played many games in a year and a half or two years once I got injured,” MacNicol said. “It always helps once guys get to know each other better and you get to know the freshman better. You start clicking as a team and that was a big thing.”

Despite the impressive turnaround, which has seen the Bobcats rise to No. 4 in the nation in the latest ACHA rankings, MacNicol said that he and the team have yet to reach their peak potential.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We’re not where we need to be at,” he said. “It was nice to get those wins, but once you’re playing some tougher competition, that’s when we’ll see.”

MacNicol said he knows he is filling some pretty big skates, but he doesn’t dwell on that. He has more important things in mind.

“As long as we win, that’s all that matters,” he said. “Winning a national championship — that’s our goal.”

Marshall may have all the records, but if MacNicol can bring a championship to Athens — something Marshall never could — he’ll be a legend in his own right.

(This story was originally published in The Post)

Time to stop trying to strip the “C” from Nash

With less than a minute left in regulation, trailing 2-1 to the Dallas Stars — a sixth straight loss seemingly guaranteed despite two extra skaters — Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash received a pass from Anton Stralman at the right faceoff dot. A chorus of screams came from the Nationwide faithful: “SHOOT THE $%#& PUCK!”

But Nash waited.

He waited as RJ Umberger backed himself into Stars defender Nicklas Grossman in front of the crease. He waited as Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen crept to the glove side and went down in the butterfly. Then he did what he gets paid the big bucks for.

The Captain could have shot that puck through Swiss Cheese. It may have been easier than tucking it in low, stick-side through a crowd of at least three players to tie the game up with 46.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

“It was a great screen. I was just waiting for their defenseman to get out of the way,” Nash said. “I knew the goalie was cheating to his glove side — and I had that shot — but there were so many people in front and [I was] trying not to let it hit anyone.”

Rick Nash celebrates with Anton Stralman after scoring a game-tying power-play goal with 46.1 seconds remaining in the third period. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

The Blue Jackets would go on to win the game in a shootout, with Nash and Kyle Wilson both scoring identical top shelf wristers to snap a five-game skid. Columbus goaltender Mathieu Garon came up huge at the other end, fighting the urge to come out and attack opposing shooters as they nonchalantly skated it in.

Nash was asked after the game whether he had given Wilson a tip to go high stick-side on Lehtonen.

“That was all on him. I guess he just went to school. He’s a good learner,” he joked. “He saw how to do it and it was pretty much the exact same play.”

There has been a small movement — call it a campaign even — developing among Columbus Blue Jackets fans. They don’t think Nash has the leadership qualities to be a great captain. He’s too soft-spoken, not driven to win. He doesn’t have that fire like Mark Messier or the ability to make his teammates better like Steve Yzerman.

Nash’s apparently poor leadership has been the scapegoat for Columbus’ poor performances over the past two-plus seasons. When the Blue Jackets were mired in a 3-11-7 death march over November and December of last season, it was because of a lack of leadership in the locker room. Even during this past five-game losing streak, Nash became the problem because he had not torn into his teammates with a Hollywood-style gut check speech.

But with Nash, it has never been about what he says or does in the locker room. Nash didn’t have to call out anyone to get the power play to finally convert something, let alone tie the game up. He didn’t have to skate over to Wilson before the shootout to tell him where to shoot. It’s what he does on the ice, and Monday night, his performance spoke volumes.

Nash attempted to will the team to victory in the five-minute overtime period. He used his hulking frame to protect the puck for as long he could, trying to find the open man or break free from a mob of Dallas defenders just inside their own blue line, before being hauled down to the ice. Referee Stephane Auger swallowed his whistle, an egregious non-call even in overtime. Not a peep came from No. 61.

I can think of another young captain just a few hours to the east of Columbus who would have done some serious chirping for that missed call, not that Auger would have missed it in that case. Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel said was surprised Nash didn’t get the call in overtime.

“I don’t know what happened but Rick’s not one of those guys who complains,” Arniel said. “It’s not a war you want to get into.”

Nash acknowledged he was probably deserving of a call, but spent little time dwelling on it. It was all about the power play getting it done — not his goal — and more importantly, getting back in the win column.

“The biggest thing was the power play coming through for us. It’s been our Achilles a lot this season and the players had to own up to it.” Nash said. “It’s just a matter of the players coming through. It’s huge to get that win.”

He may never guarantee a Stanley Cup victory. He may not blow up at his teammates and inspire a turnaround with words. He may not give you anything more than hockey cliches when he speaks to the media, because that’s not the sort of leader he is.

The Blue Jackets have the savvy veterans in Ethan Moreau, Chris Clark and Umberger to hold players accountable in the locker room. Nash does it with his stick.

(Originally published at InsideHockey.com)

CBJ Draft Preview

On Friday, the Columbus Blue Jackets will participate in the franchise’s 11thNHL Entry Draft. Of those 11 first round picks, 10 have been in the top eight selections, with 2009 first rounder John Moore (21st overall) being the exception. Yet, for the most part the Blue Jackets have received a relatively disappointing return on a plethora of “blue chip” prospects. The CBJ’s first round futility has been well documented.

This year, the Blue Jackets are sitting relatively comfortablly at no. 4 overall. I say “relatively” because although they will have their pick of three to four second tier prospects behind the perceived top two, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, the pressure is building on general manager Scott Howson.

Over the past week, Howson saw two of his club’s Central Division rivals, St. Louis and Nashville, make moves that have radically reshaped their rosters. St. Louis traded a pair prospects, Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, to acquire the rights to Montreal’s playoff savant, Jaroslav Halak, and sure up their goaltending situation.

Nashville on the other hand, cleared house sending the rights of pending UFA Dan Hamhius to Philadelphia to reacquire young defender Ryan Parent. Just a few hours later, the Preds reunited their captain, Jason Arnott, with his old club, when they shipped him to New Jersey for right wing prospect Matt Halischuck and a second round pick.

While St. Louis’ move automatically makes them tougher competition in the Central Division – many, including myself, picked them to make the playoffs last season – it would be unwise to assume Nashville is waving the white flag on the 2010-2011 season. Nashville GM David Poile rarely makes poor personnel decisions and head coach Barry Trotz gets more out of his players than anyone in the league. I wouldn’t be surprised to if Nashville makes a couple of moves, if not draft day than July 1.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what does that have to do with the Blue Jackets?

Well, the consensus seems to be that the Blue Jackets, for better or for worse, have adopted a win-now mentality. With a win-now mentality and a division that boasts the last three Western Conference representatives in the Stanley Cup Finals – two of the last three winners at that – along with an improved St. Louis team, a GM might get a bit flustered. Maybe he starts to feel the pressure to make a reactionary move? A little bit of an itchy trigger-finger?

Fortunately for Columbus, Howson’s veins check in at around absolute zero. The only reactionary moves he will be making are in reactions to two of the franchise’s perennial needs: a no. 1 center and defenseman.

That no. 1 center is not likely to come through the draft. Seguin is sure to go in the top two and the drop off at the pivot is substantial enough that the CBJ would be unlikely to use the fourth overall selection on one, unless it’s part of a deal to acquire a proven one.

But a no. 1 defenseman you say? Well there are three potential blue line cornerstones available in this year’s draft, and at fourth overall, the Blue Jackets will have a choice of at least two of them. Those defenseman are Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley.

Cam Fowler

Cam Fowler

Fowler spent the past season playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. The Farmington Hills, MI native put up some incredible offensive numbers to the tune of 8-47-55 over 55 games. He played a pivotal role on both the USA team that won the 2010 World Junior Championship, and the Spitfires, who took home their second consecutive Memorial Cup this past season. Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J McGuire described Fowler as the “prototypical offensive defenseman,” drawing comparisons to the likes of Brian Leech, Phil Housley and Tomas Kaberle.

“He’s your power play quarterback for years to come. He sees the ice – has the ability to control the tempo of the game from the blue line,” McGuire said. “His outstanding puck-handling and puck possession game sets him apart from almost every other defenseman eligible in this years draft.”

While Fowler has plenty of offensive upside, the knock on him is that he needs to bulk up to handle NHL forwards. No surprises there, as the 6-2 190 pound blue liner plays with little physical edge. And while I don’t want to take anything away from Fowler’s accomplishments, he certainly benefited from playing with veritable OHL All-Star team. Along with Hall, Fowler also benefited from playing with likes of Ryan Ellis, Zack Kassian and Greg Nemisz. And those are just the ones who were already selected in the first round over the past two seasons. It was Windsor’s Cup to lose, with or without Fowler.

Erik Gudbranson

Erik Gudbranson

If Fowler brings the flash, than Gubranson certainly brings the thunder. No player in this draft has seen his stock rise as much in the past few months as the hulking 6-4 195 pound defender from the Kingston Frontenacs. Gudbranson admittedly loves “playing with an edge” and “throwing big hits.” Despite playing an abbreviated season thanks to a knee injury and a bout with mono, Gudbranson managed 2-21-23 in 41 games. He’s surprisingly mobile for a defenseman, especially one of his stature. He also owns a right-handed cannon from the blue line that the CBJ would covet.

“Gudbranson to me is a guaranteed long-term NHLer. In my opinion, Gudbranson is another Chris Pronger-type,” McGuire said. “He is some kind of tough. Chris Pronger is mean and will hit you; Gudbranson will hit you and fight you.”

Gudbranson’s most underrated quality, and one that also draws Pronger comparisons, is his leadership. The native of Orleans, ON was an alternate captain on Kingston last season and spent time with the “C” as a 16-year-old OHL rookie. In addition he captained the Canadian U-17 and U-18 teams. Gubranson may have the highest ceiling of a defenseman in this year’s draft, but he’s likely the least NHL-ready of the big three, He would benefit from another year in juniors as well as time in AHL.

Brandon Gormley

Brandon Gormley

Gormley may be the most intriguing defensive prospect for the Blue Jackets. He doesn’t fill up the stat sheet with points galore. He doesn’t knock opposing players through the glass. What the 6-2 190 Moncton Wildcats defensman does is play the game with the poise of a 10-year NHL veteran. Gormley does not make bad decisions, with or without the puck. He can play the point on the power play – he teamed up with Columbus prospect David Savard on the Moncton PP blue line – and he can kill penalties. He makes crisp breakout passes and herds the puck while it’s on opponents’ sticks. His positioning is top-notch. Gormley’s game has been compared to the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber.

“Gormley might be the best puck-controlling defenseman in the entire draft this year,” McGuire said.

NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Bordeleau echoes McGuire.

“Gormley has got the whole package. He’s got a good shot from the point, an accurate shot, low and can be deflected.”

Gormley helped lead Wildcats to the Memorial Cup round robin, despite the fact that the team was missing one of its top scorers Kirill Kabanov – this draft’s enigmatic Russian winger. He took home the Mike Bossy award as the QJMHL’s top professional prospect. The Murray River, PEI native has a very impressive pedigree. Prior to becoming the first overall pick in the “Q” entry draft, Gormley played at Notre Dame College in Saskatchewan, a program that has churned out it’s fair share of NHL stars. Gormley looks to be next in line.

Frankly, the Blue Jackets cannot go wrong with any of the three. The consensus among the league seems to be that Florida will select Gudbranson with the third overall pick. While most see the Blue Jackets selecting Fowler in that case, I would argue for Gormley. While Fowler’s game is certainly conducive to the “new” NHL, it’s also similar to Moore’s, although there’s no denying Fowler is the better prospect. Gormley may not have the flash or the thunder, but he may be the best fit for a Blue Jackets team that desperately lacks stability on the back end.

Soccer, Explained Away

From time to time, the “staff” here at Bart Takes on Sports Cliches will come upon other fledgling sports writers doing their part to fight the good fight against ESPN. For instance, I highly recommend you check out former The Post assistant sports editor Rob Mixer’s blog, which never shies away from taking shot or two at the sports “news” giant. But, I digress.

Seeing as it is the first meaningful day of the 2010 World Cup (at least here in the good ‘ole USA), I thought it appropriate to take an in-depth look at the beautiful game. Alas, famed sports writer Cal Biffney beat me to it. So without further ado, “Soccer, Explained Away.”

Soccer, Explained Away

Soccer, the game the Europeans call “football” and the Americans call “tedious”, is gearing up for its quadrennial cluster- flock which they oh-so pretentiously call the World Cup.

While we Americans brace ourselves for a month-long diversion from Real Sports and face the threat of having portions of actual televised games inflicted on us if we let our guard down — a brief primer on this sport — like competition is perhaps in order.

Soccer is a game in which 11 players on a side kick a spherical object down a 110 meter rectangular field toward a defended goal. It is believed to have been invented by the Scots in the Eighteenth century. However, with the demise of their short-lived Highlands Boulder League in 1803, many hoped the game would be lost to civilization. Eventually, as with all things Scottish, the game was stolen by the British and refined over the centuries to its current level of abject boredom.

While the goals themselves are large enough to park two garbage trucks bumper to bumper, even the most elite teams are utterly incapable of scoring more than two goals in any 90 minute game. On those rare occasions when three goals are scored in a game, Parliament goes into special session and Euro Disney opens its turnstiles to all. While four goal games are virtually unheard of — during the last recorded instance, a 4- 0 trouncing of Liverpool FC by Real Madrid in 2004 — it is well documented that the silly looking guy on the back of the 50 pound note actually shed stigmata tears.

While Soccer’s irredeemable vapidity sets it apart, it does share one sports attribute with a full- blooded American sport: NASCAR racing. These two pastimes, to the exclusion of all other respectable sports, have sold out their image and their outerwear to soulless corporations: Chelsea to Samsung, Arsenal to Emirates Air, Real Madrid to bwim.com… the shameful list goes on.   Even the once proud Manchester United Club —formerly the inspiration to kit and kin throughout The British Empire— now bears the satanic mark of “AIG”. Nothing bespeaks soccer greatness like, you know, single-handedly causing the collapse of the world’s economy for a goddamn generation!

Like many other elements of the game, soccer’s penalty scheme is particularly egregious. Yellow card cautions are liberally dispensed when one player brushes the shoestrings of another, causing him to forthwith dive onto the turf and spend five minutes writhing in faux agony. The red card, on the other hand, is handed out when one player actually does trip another, who forthwith dives onto the turf and spends ten minutes writhing in faux agony… until shuffled off the pitch on a gurney to the solemn strains of Greig’s Funeral March.

But of all the penalties in all the sports in all the world, nothing compares to “offsides” in soccer. As far as can be ascertained, “offsides” is the penalty that is called when a goal is scored at a critical point in the game, which threatens to make the game marginally interesting or competitive. To avoid such a catastrophic outcome, soccer officials have been painstakingly trained to call this penalty judiciously– irrespective of the positions of actual players on the field– and to wave off any pesky goals that might have the unwelcome effect of invigorating the crowd.

Deprived of any opportunity for a goal or a change of momentum in the game, the soccer fan (live or tuning in on TV) returns to his slumber.  Those who brought knitting projects to the game return to their craft. Those who did not, well, they drink excessive amounts of beer and sing …sort of… a raunchy, post- apocalyptic collection of bawdy tunes generally categorized as “football songs.” These “songs” are worthy of anthropological study—so that future cultures can enact rigorous laws to prohibit their public rendering.

But perhaps nowhere is soccer’s’ futility more succinctly expressed than in its roster of so-called “football heroes.” Not since the Mussolini Regime have such a collection of self-important, over- compensated and outright annoying individuals occupied such a lofty perch on the European stage.

David Beckham serves as a prime example. With all the loyalty and fidelity of a Somali Pirate, Beckham consistently abandons flag and country to mindlessly follow the banner of greed across international boundaries. After a stint at Manchester United in the (so-called) Premier League, Beckham tinkled on the Union Jack and signed with Real Madrid in 2003. Dissatisfied with the huge sums of money offered up by the Spaniards, Beckham bid them “buenos dias” for the sun and surf of Southern California to sign with the L.A. Galaxy.  Thus far during his L.A. stint, he has led the Galaxy to previously unattained heights of mediocrity. Not content with even this level of brazenness, Beckham then sold out LA to play midfield for Italian giant AC Milan, which, dear reader, brings the Mussolini analogy to full circle.

Other examples of unworthy soccer heroes are abundant: Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo , Roberto Carlos… the list goes mercilessly on.  Unlike their American counterparts— Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and Bret Favre, for example—who labor hard in relative obscurity for love of the game alone, these footballers are unworthy icons of corporate greed. They are a bane to our youth and should be banned from our shores until they have publicly renounced their vile sport and earnestly asked forgiveness.

So as this year’s World Cup winds laboriously on, we Americans can actually take pride in the fact that we do not excel at this lackluster, overrated sport. For us, defeat in soccer is Victory!

But in the event that any of my numerous readers actually find themselves inexplicably drawn to watch the Cup, to you I say:” USA!” “USA!” “USA!”