Thursday, February 22, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 397 - Feb. 22

Feb. 22, 12:10 p.m.

"The Iowa Bets Song"

The Iowa City Press-Citizen has a Monday morning op ed feature called "Poetic License." It also seems to have an editorial policy of not only tolerating, but welcoming, points of view contrary to its editorial positions -- up to and including some pretty rough comments.

Anyhow, knowing that I disagreed with its pro-gambling positions, I was asked to provide something that would be a parody of "The Iowa Fight Song" lyrics and would present my concerns about the ties between the UI's major sports programs and the gambling industry.

I did so, and provide the lyrics to "The Iowa Bets Song" below -- following which is an update on what's happened recently with regard to this controversy. But first, to remind you of the syllabic rhythm I had to match, give a sing to the "Iowa Fight Song":

"The Iowa Fight Song"
The word is fight, fight, fight for Iowa
Let every loyal Iowan sing
The word is fight, fight, fight for Iowa
Until the walls and rafters ring. (Go Hawks!)

Come on and cheer, cheer, cheer for Iowa
We're gonna cheer until we hear the final gun
The word is fight, fight, fight for Iowa
Until the game is won.
From "Lyrics on Demand." (Frankly, we always sang "We're going to fight, fight, fight for Iowa" rather than "The word is fight, fight, fight for Iowa," but every source I could find for the lyrics uses the latter.)

I wanted to include in my lyrics something about college athletic programs as big, big business; catering to the corporate and wealthy with the elitism that separates students (forbidden to consume alcohol in Kinnick) and the high rollers in their skyboxes (who can drink as much as they want); coaches being paid "a living wage" roughly 100 times the income of the average Iowan; and the duplicity in the effort to refer to these nationally-recruited athletes as "student" athletes participating in an activity in which their primary emphasis, and that of their coaches, is on the quality of their education.

It wasn't easy to get all of that into 8 lines. But here's what I came up with: lyrics that bounce along with the syllables of "The Iowa Fight Song." Try singing it; you'll see it works. Here is "The Iowa Bets Song" as it appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen Monday, February 19, 2007:

Poetic License

The Iowa Bets Song

by Nicholas Johnson
We'll take your cash or check or credit card
Let every loyal Iowan pay
You want a skybox serving alcohol?
Business is open every day (Buy now!)

We advertise casinos and lotteries
So coaches' living wages can be great
It's all for athletes' education
Until they graduate
Poetic License is a weekly feature in which the Press-Citizen asks local residents to comment poetically on current events.

". . . if you can't take a joke"

Before anyone starts organizing lynching parties, I should explain that this is intended in good fun. I have nothing against football and basketball. In high school I played on every competitive team we had; sufficiently so that I was offered a football scholarship at a major university. I've played many other sports since, and make a modest effort to stay in physical shape. I have followed the Hawkeyes since I sold peanuts and soft drinks in Kinnick as a kid over a half-century ago. I agonized over our basketball team's loss to Michigan State, and was pleased to see the comeback with Purdue last night. I've advocated for more physical fitness programs and intramural sports in K-12.

But, as I've written elsewhere, including this blog, I think we'd be better off with the European model of "community" (rather than college and university) teams. I think the big business aspects of intercollegiate sports are distorting what used to be good college fun. And I think it is inconsistent with the mission of a university, and a university's athletic program, to be promoting the organized gambling industry -- a concern shared by the NCAA. That's all. So I wrote the little ditty.

UI "Can't Win, Can't Break Even, and Won't Get Out of the Game"

Meanwhile, a lot has happened, but nothing has changed. The Athletic Director, Barta, has made abundently clear that he intends to continue the athletic program's promotion of gambling in Iowa -- so long as it inures to the financial benefit of the Athletic Department. (The Register's Tom Witosky quoted Barta in a February 9 story, linked below, "Barta said he thinks the lottery should be permitted to promote its products at Iowa athletic events and to use the school colors and logos.") Not surprisingly, Interim President Fethke has fallen right into formation behind the AD, saying "Mega-dittos, Barta." (The DI's Ashton Shurson quotes Fethke from her February 21 interview, linked below, as saying, "Let's first say we've had a long association with the lottery, and it is a state agency. We have benefited by lottery funding at the University of Iowa.") In short, "If you'll benefit us financially, we don't care what business you are in, how inconsistent its values are with those of an institution of higher education, the principles of the NCAA, or how much harm it does to the people of Iowa." I noticed the other evening that the basketball coach's TV show is also sponsored by the Iowa Lottery.

All have managed to divert attention from this bottom line by bemoaning the specific Iowa Lottery commercial that came under criticism (though neither saw anything wrong with it before it caught some flack in the media).

If anyone want examples of more internal inconsistencies, consider this one. Apparently the UI and its athletic programs do have a policy of not accepting advertising for cigarettes and alcohol. Just what is the rationale behind this distinction? (a) All are products/services that can be legally sold. (b) All are, or can be (at least for significant numbers of people), addictive. (c) All have an adverse impact on those who are not consumers as well as those who are. (d) All contribute to the State Treasury (taxes or other payments) that thereby directly or indirectly benefit education. (e) None is something the use of which should be encouraged (which is, after all, the purpose of advertising) among college-age men and women because of its positive impact on life, health and education. (f) All are products/services thoought to be of sufficient harm to young people that their purchase by those underage is considered a crime.

Needless to say, I'm not advocating we further enrich the University and its athletic program with the revenues from tobacco and alcohol advertising. I'm simply advocating we address the rationale (if any) that supports our treating gambling industry revenues differently from the revenues potentially available from the tobacco and liquor industries.

"Iowa: A Place to Gamble"

But for the Press-Citizen's invitation I would have dropped this issue by now. I am aware that anyone with my concerns stands virtually alone on these issues. That doesn't mean there's no point in raising them; it does mean there's no point in pursuing them.

(One exception, quoted in Ashton Shurson's February 21 DI story, linked below: "Betsy Altmaier, the UI's Big Ten and NCAA representative, described the NCAA's standards . . . on the partnership between the university and the Iowa Lottery. 'I am utterly opposed to this tie,' she said. 'Iowa has a tie that under the NCAA standards is ill-advised at best.'" Needless to say, her concerns are not even acknowledged, let alone rationally responded to, by Barta or Fethke.)

The reality is that Iowans' attitudes about gambling have shifted almost 180 degrees during the last 50 years or so. Face it: The people of Iowa, their State, county and city governments, their schools and state universities, and those universities' athletic programs are now so firmly addicted to gambling that no "1-800-BETS-OFF" can save them.

And, this being a democracy, so long as the people of this state, and their elected representatives, believe that we can gamble our way to economic prosperity, I must accept the political reality that we're going to continue down that path at ever-increasing speed -- including today's news that legislation is pending that would remove the last vestiges of the requirement that a "gambling boat" have, if not a lake or a river, at least a water bag somewhere under the ground floor..

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

These blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

Nicholas Johnson, "The Iowa Bets Song," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 19, 2007 -- with links to . . .
Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 383 - Feb. 8," February 8, 2007 (essay about Iowa Lottery commercial, with link to You Tube version -- now no longer available on You Tube)

Nicholas Johnson, "UI Football Promoting Gambling?" September 16, 2006

Nicholas Johnson, "Gambling on the Hawkeyes; Wanna Bet? NCAA to Legalize, Organize, Profitize Intercollegiate Sports Betting?" in "UI President Search Held Hostage Day 66 - Jan. 21," January 21, 2007

Nicholas Johnson, "The analytically bizarre editorial about athletics and gambling," in UI Held Hostage Day 381 - Feb. 6," February 6, 2007

"The Iowa Fight Song" (lyrics)

"Iowa Lottery Commercial Song" (lyrics)

Tom Witosky, "Iowa Lottery Ends All Use of 'Iowa Fight Song,'" Des Moines Register, February 12, 2007

Tom Witosky, "Lottery Spot Ran Without a Review by AD Barta," Des Moines Register, February 9, 2007
Ashton Shurson, NCAA rep criticizes fight song-lottery tie," The Daily Iowan, February 21, 2007 -- with links to . . .
Ashton Shurson, Fethke on Attrition, Fight Song," The Daily Iowan, February 21, 2007

Ronald Kinum, Letter: Criticism Right in Lottery," The Daily Iowan, February 22, 2007

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