Contra Costa Times: Cal's athletic director must reverse embarrassing football team graduation rates
Last week's report that Cal ranks last in the nation graduating football players shines an embarrassing light on an academic free-fall that was ignored for years.
For all the claims that the team was putting players' schooling first, data shows that its academic scores have been in decline since 2006, two years after Athletic Director Sandy Barbour was hired.
She must have known. She certainly should have known. Yet, it wasn't until 2012 that Barbour finally fired Coach Jeff Tedford. It wasn't until the team was consistently losing. Data suggest that she overlooked drooping academics as long as Cal came out on top on game day.
That might be fine for a school with a culture that places sports, especially football, above all else. But it's not acceptable for the nation's leading public university, which has produced 22 Nobel Prize laureates.
Sports can provide an important sense of community pride for any university. But it must be tied to respect for the school's academic heritage. It's untenable for UC Berkeley to rank last graduating players among 72 teams in the major college football conferences. Not near the bottom. Dead last.
If we have to choose between winning on the field and succeeding in the classroom, we'll choose the latter in a heartbeat. However, that's a false choice, as Stanford has shown by producing strong football teams with players who also complete their studies.
Indeed, data show that during the past decade Cal's best teams have also won in the classroom. As their records on the field declined, so did their academic and graduation numbers.
Unfortunately, Barbour has been a reactive leader rather than a proactive one. And her responses have often been years late. We saw that in 2010 when her poor financial planning temporarily endangered men's baseball, men's gymnastics, women's gymnastics, women's lacrosse and men's rugby.
We saw that with her price-is-no-object approach to the $474 million seismic retrofit and training center at Memorial Stadium, the most expensive facility upgrade in college sports history.
Barbour and other Cal officials ignored warnings about the risky financing scheme, and misled the public and regents about lagging seat sales, on which the repayment hinges.
Barbour has consistently failed to lead with financial acumen and a priority on education. She says the football team's next round of academic numbers will show marked improvement. If they don't, she should start looking for another job.
Merced Sun Star: Payment to pepper sprayer is another black eye for workers' comp system
Something is wrong when the police officer who pepper-sprayed UC Davis students collects more in workers' compensation for a wounded "psyche" than his victims did in the courts.
Yet, that's the situation.
Former Lt. John Pike will receive $33,350, while the 21 students who sued over the November 2011 incident received $30,000 each.
Pike, who was fired in July 2012, says that after a video of the incident went viral and his name became public, he became the target of about 27,000 texts and emails, some of them vicious.
But what about the physical and mental anguish of the students who had a painful chemical sprayed in their faces? Didn't Pike bring the scorn upon himself by completely overreacting to a peaceful protest? And wasn't most of the stress after he was suspended?
The university says it had no choice in the matter once the state Workers' Compensation Appeals Board ruled.
Under California law, psychiatric injury and job-related mental stress can be cause for compensation, including permanent disability benefits. The amount depends on the level of disability, which is determined by the medical diagnosis and what the injured worker and other witnesses say, according to the state Department of Industrial Relations, which runs workers' compensation.
Workers' compensation has a troubled history in California. The complicated, costly system came to symbolize what was wrong with state government.
Injured workers received some of the nation's lowest benefits and employers paid skyrocketing premiums, while lawyers, doctors and others worked the system to rake in the cash.
Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to fix the problems as governor in 2004 with measures to rein in doctor shopping and other abuses. The Legislature took another crack at reform last year with a bill designed to reduce costs for businesses while increasing benefits for permanently disabled workers by limiting lawsuits and making the system more efficient. Recent changes in the law tightened eligibility and raised the level of proof needed in psychological-stress cases.
The payment to Pike, however, again sprays disrepute on California's workers' comp system.
The Sacramento Bee: With new owners and renewed focus on fans, can Kings bring back the glory days?
An exciting new era starts Wednesday night for the Sacramento Kings. But will it bring back the glory days?
The region's only major-league franchise has new owners committed to its future in Sacramento. After the penny-pinching, mercurial Maloofs, that alone is generating goodwill and season-ticket sales.
It's welcome that principal owner Vivek Ranadive and team president Chris Granger are putting a priority on improving the fan experience. When fans file into Sleep Train Arena for the season opener against Denver, they will notice upgrades to the fading 25-year-old facility. The leaky roof is patched, there are new VIP lounges and there are 90 more Wi-Fi nodes. New concession stands will feature local food and beer.
Big, enthusiastic crowds are important not only for the team's success and the city's psyche. They are also crucial to the financial viability of the proposed new city-owned arena downtown — and whether the project, which includes a public subsidy of at least $258 million, is a good deal for taxpayers.
If attendance projections don't pan out, a 5 percent ticket surcharge and arena parking almost certainly would not generate $4.3 million a year — nearly half of what the city requires to backfill its general fund for parking revenue diverted to finance the arena's construction. While the city is promised at least $1 million a year from arena operations, additional profit-sharing would be out of the question. The arena deal is based on 1.4 million attendees, or an average of 9,302, at 152 events, including 44 Kings games. That total is significantly higher than during the recession, though lower than before the downturn.
Already, the Kings are talking about reducing the seating capacity from 18,500 to no more than 17,500 as part of a first-of-its-kind design for the arena, scheduled to open in 2016. That would make it more important to fill available seats.
In the near term, the team is counting on a 5 percent ticket fee at Sleep Train to speed repayment of the $62 million it still owes the city on a 1997 loan. Plus, happier fans could build support for the proposed arena in case opponents of the public subsidy get a measure on the ballot next year.
This city has proven beyond any doubt that it is a strong NBA market, but fans are starving for a winner.
During the eight straight playoff appearances from 1999 to 2006, and even in some down years, fans flocked to Kings games, with 19 seasons of complete sellouts out of 28 in Sacramento.
Last season, however, the hapless Kings ranked dead last in home attendance among the 30 NBA teams, averaging a paltry 13,749. The five prior seasons, the team was in the bottom four. The last time the Kings had a winning record and made the playoffs, in 2005-06, they were in the middle of the pack, selling out every game with an average of 17,317 fans.
With a new coach and general manager, the Kings are still rebuilding and seeking the right mix of players. It would really help the franchise and the city if this team is at least competitive and entertaining. Making an unexpected run at a playoff spot this season would work wonders.
The Bakersfield Californian: Courts must flag those not gun-eligible
It's not the entire answer to the problem of gun violence in America. It's not even the single most important answer. But it's a part of the elusive solution — and we're not doing a very good job of putting it into practice, even though we have some of the tools.
In California, individuals with certain mental health problems can be barred from owning or possessing guns. That hasn't happened nearly often enough, according to a Bureau of State Audits report that finds 34 of the state's superior courts failed to file firearm prohibition reports to the justice department's mental health unit from 2010 through 2012. The main reason? They didn't know they had to.
Laws on this subject might have been easy to miss in years past, but no longer. This year several bills toughening such rules have been enacted, including one just this month. Assembly Bill 1131 increases the length of time a person is banned from possessing firearms after making a threat against a licensed psychotherapist. Once six months, now it's five years.
Of the county superior courts surveyed (Kern was not among them) only Riverside and Contra Costa counties were aware of the relevant laws — and even they had incomplete or no record of how many such determinations they reported. As best the bureau could discern, 2,300 cases that should have been flagged during 2010-2012 were not reported.
In view of the fact that many perpetrators of mass shootings have had documented mental health issues, it is logical that governments should restrict those who have been diagnosed. Laws are in place to authorize such restrictions; California courts just need to act on them. Tighter scrutiny won't make a reportable dent in the frequency of these gun tragedies, because we can't tabulate what never had the opportunity to occur.
But we've got to do what makes sense.
Imperial Valley Press: Red Ribbon Week began as tribute to local hero
Red Ribbon Week has become a huge event all over the country. Children, parents, educators and others wear red ribbons as symbols of their pledges to lead drug-free lives. Anti-drug and anti-alcohol programs are scheduled at schools, and parents are encouraged to talk to their children about never abusing drugs and alcohol.
It is a wonderful thing for our young people and our nation as a whole, and it all started here in the Imperial Valley in response to a tragic event.
Calexico native Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, was kidnapped, tortured and killed by drug dealers in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1985 while investigating the drug cartels there. Shortly thereafter, family, friends and others started wearing red ribbons in Camarena's honor. The first Red Ribbon Week was staged in 1985 in Calexico, and Red Ribbon Week simply mushroomed from there, spreading throughout the nation.
Now schools around the country spend a week in October of each year actively discouraging children from ever getting involved with drugs and encouraging parents to get involved in anti-drug activities and discussions with their children. Students wear red during Red Ribbon Week and don "drug-free" bracelets to reinforce the commitment to stay drug- and alcohol-free throughout their lives.
Many educators try to make Red Ribbon Week activities both informative and fun. That was evidenced on Monday at Myron D. Witter Elementary School in Brawley by a performance from canine "officers" employed by the California Highway Patrol and U.S. Border Patrol. The working dogs showed how they uniquely battle the scourge of drugs, much to the delight of the assembled children.
That is just one example of how Red Ribbon Week's holistic approach to prevent substance abuse among young people seems to work better than many such endeavors. Frankly, Red Ribbon Week has made this country a better place.
And it all started because of the ultimate sacrifice in the war on drugs paid by one selfless Imperial Valley law enforcement officer.
Long Beach Press-Telegram: Oxy and USC failing to protect female students from sexual assault
Inexcusably lax attitudes at USC and Occidental College toward an epidemic of sexual assaults on the campuses are bad enough.
But given the intense scrutiny these two excellent and otherwise dissimilar Los Angeles schools have been under, you would think that administrators would be extra-vigilant about the legally required reporting of such crimes.
Nope. Despite outrage by students, faculty and the public, Oxy and USC officials admit the opposite is the case. USC failed to report to the Department of Education 13 sexual assaults in 2010 and 2011, bringing the university's total to 39 assaults for those years. While Occidental is much smaller — 2,100 students to USC's 38,000 — its failure to report 24 assaults during the same period brings its total to 36, very nearly as many sex crimes at its leafy Eagle Rock enclave as on and near the giant campus downtown.
What a disastrous atmosphere for women students, and what a failure by those who are supposed to protect them.
Beyond that, like most things in life, it gets complicated. What we are dealing with here is not the kind of scenario most people think of concerning sex crimes: stranger rape, an assailant lurking in the bushes. In almost all cases, the sexual assaults involve campus or campus-area parties among acquaintances. In almost all of them, alcohol is involved.
But to thereby excuse the crimes as inevitable, or no one's fault, or to say that during young people's college years it was ever thus, would be akin to excusing other crimes that once were acceptable by some — lynching, say — in the slightly more enlightened world we live in today.
Rape is rape. No means no. Sexual assault of an inebriated person unable to make rational decisions is against the law, not to mention any moral person's sense of decency.
And the fact is, according to a leader in the fight for campus safety at Occidental, politics professor Caroline Heldman, small, residential colleges such as Oxy are magnets for the young men who commit most of the "date rape" or "party rape" crimes in question. "Three to 4 percent of college men are perpetrating over 90 percent of sexual assaults," Heldman said in an interview with the editorial board.
"They rape an average of four times" in their college years. It's precisely because of the seemingly safe atmosphere of residential colleges, where most students live on or near campus and where academic life extends to social life, that the predators are drawn to them, Heldman said. Consequently, such "colleges have an additional obligation because of this" to both promote a safe atmosphere and, when assaults happen, fully report them so that other women are warned, Heldman said.
So what's been the administration's attitude toward the danger of sexual assault at Occidental? "We've been working on it for six years, and we've been getting a lot of little-girling and glad-handing," Heldman said.
Today's college presidents, with a primary focus on fundraising, are clearly afraid of being known as a safe haven for rapists. Campus activists at USC and Oxy say that's why they both under-report assaults and are trying to narrow the geographic area from which they report. At USC, instead of reporting assaults to counselors, students now must take them to campus safety officials for federal reporting.
This epidemic won't be cured by defensiveness and worry about alumni relations. College officials must more fully ensure student safety and stop protecting campus rapists.