Baltimore Orioles: When sports ceases and business takes over

Today is obviously a federal holiday (for New Year’s Day since it fell on a Sunday), which means that the Baltimore Orioles probably aren’t going to do much today. In fact, I’m not going to do much either – aside from watch bowl games. Which is a nice tie-in with what I’m about to say.

It’s always dangerous when I bring money and so forth into this column. But I’m going to do it. I’m the first one to tell you that sports is a business. That usually comes up when fans cry foul over contract negotiations, and even when I go into rants about unwritten codes of baseball. I’ll always throw that in when that topic comes up because I do believe that people should conduct themselves with a certain amount of decorum in the workplace (and the ballpark is their workplace). But can the who it’s a business angle be taken too far?

There are several collegiate athletes in this year’s slate of college football bowl games who are opting to sit their school’s game out. Now in some cases, the players had nagging injuries. If someone’s hurt, I totally understand not playing. However if it’s the player’s decision, that gives it a different angle.

The point here is that some of these players decided to do this so as to avoid an injury in a non-national championship bowl game that would potentially hurt their draft status. And yes, that’s a business decision. One I’m sure that’s applauded by financial advisors and agents. However does it not work contrary to the very business that the athletes are trying to join?

The idea of course is that if the player gets hurt (and I always think back to Miami’s Willis McGahee) he could cost himself a lot of money and potentially a career in the NFL. And yes, that may well be a legitimate concern, especially if you’re playing in a game such as the Idaho Potato Bowl or something like that. (I’m not knocking that game, just using it as an example of  non-national title game bowl that isn’t going to garner much interest.) But is that fair to teammates, coaches, and fans?

And the answer to that is obviously no. Furthermore look at it this way; while you as a collegiate athlete don’t draw a salary (and it should remain that way), in a sense you do get paid because you’re getting a free education along with room and board. And yes, the university is probably making money off of you as an athlete – that’s part of the deal. So are you not in a way going against the grain of the business you’re in at the moment by not playing?

That’s a tough one to prove because we now have this conversation about whether college athletes should be paid. I obviously don’t think they should, but that’s another story. With that said, I’d be wary of drafting even a superstar who pulled a stunt like that. It tells me something about their character when they claim they’re sitting out for a reason like that. Now granted I’m pretty old school; I’m sure there are a million “new-age GM’s” out there who would gladly draft a college superstar if he fell to them because of what I would deem a conflict of character, and then if the guy ended up being a superstar in the NFL I’d be charged with not being willing to take a chance on a guy. But that’s just how I roll.

To equate this to baseball, let’s say that several members of the Orioles didn’t want to play in the wild card game in Toronto last October because they felt the game wasn’t important enough. Now granted that’s not an apples-to-apples comparison because that’s a winner-take-all game as opposed to one out of however many college bowl games which admittedly are somewhat meaningless. But you get my point; what would fans say if someone like a Trumbo didn’t want to risk injury because it’s such a long shot to make it to the fall classic and I have to ensure my future?

Again, that’s why I say this is a character issue. It’s easy enough to in a way applaud a player for looking to the future when he’s in college, but there’s not a fan out there who wouldn’t be all over a professional athlete for doing the same thing. And justifialy so.

This is what happens when we totally let the business side of it take over. You now have 21 and 22-year old kids making business decisions before they’re even in the business – an agent’s dream, I might add once again. There has to be a balance between both sides. All I know is that it’s incredibly poor form to sit out of any game simply because you don’t want to get hurt and risk an injury. While you may be doing yourself a favor in a business sense, it’s not about that. It’s about the team. And if you aren’t a team player, you shouldn’t be playing the game and thus be “in the business” to begin with.


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