Hilton Head Island Reflections and Observations

Our family recently wrapped-up that American summertime ritual of the week-long gathering at a coastal sandbar by the ocean. For my clan, the location of choice for some time has been Hilton Head Island, specifically on the southern end in the Sea Pines community.

In the interests of fair disclosure: I am not a golfer, I spend my days in places like these trying to avoid direct sun, and I will tire of a pool or beach within half an hour. So, in many respects, the week of summer seaside fun is not the place for me. But if the kids are happy, everyone is together, and the food is good, I am all in.

Plus, as a bonus, a week at Hilton Head offers enjoyable and entertaining pursuits for me; they are just unconventional to most beach vacationers. I enjoy observing, contemplating what I see, and then expressing my thoughts through writing. The summer of 2021 and Hilton Head combined to offer up a bevy of observations.

Observation #1: Humans Taming Nature Brings Good Tidings

The first thing that always strikes me about the island is how unforgiving and unusable the place would be without human ingenuity unleashing technology to tame the environment. The place in its natural state is a humid, hot, swampy, stormy, insect-infested ecosystem that makes quick work of the weak, structures, and order. But you walk Hilton Head’s streets and ride its trails, and all you see is beauty: in the manicured lawns, impressive homes, sculpted trees, and carefully designed water features.

The irony that strikes the observer is that those who are drawn to Hilton Head Island view the natural beauty of the place as the primary attraction. Yet a simple and superficial examination betrays a carefully created and cultivated environment that retained the best that nature had to offer (local horticulture), removed the problematic aspects of nature (standing, putrid water), and insulated from the uncontrollable aspects (weather).

Looking around the island, you see the human condition rising above what nature dealt and creating something superior. That makes people happy, and me smile.

Observation #2: Without Carbon, No One Would Be Here
Hilton Head Island’s existence, and that of all tropical locales, depends on carbon. It’s a simple truth: no carbon, no Hilton Head Island.

Why? Well, first off, one could not travel from whatever northern or midwestern city serves as home. And consider the fact that just about everything consumed on the island must be grown, processed, and manufactured somewhere else. All of that requires carbon-based energy, including what it takes to transport the goods to the island.

The electricity that powers the air conditioners 24 hours a day in the summer is largely carbon-based and natural gas-fired. You would not want a wind- or solar-based power grid running climate control in the Carolina Low Country. It would mean stifling indoor temperatures, to the point where you’d be better off staying home up north.

If there is a zero-carbon world awaiting us, the last place you’d want to own real estate or spend a summer week is at a place like Hilton Head. I suspect many northeasterners who vacation down south are oblivious to such realities. Let’s hope they don’t awaken to the reality the hard way, via nonsensical policies.

Observation #3: How to Differentiate Between the 10%, the 1%, and the 0.1%

A place like Sea Pines on Hilton Head provides a quick and easy way to instantly differentiate between the 10% well to do, the 1% rich, and 0.1% ultra-wealthy. Just look at the real estate and who is there. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • If someone is renting a house in Sea Pines during peak summer season, chances are they are doing well and fall within the upper 10% of the economic crust. Weekly rates on the southern end of the island can run as high as $14,000 per week, depending on the size of the home and its proximity to the ocean. Demand is high; if you want to secure your house for your week, you better commit early (in many instances you need to commit the prior year).
  • Now, if someone owns the home in Sea Pines and rents it out during peak season, you are likely dealing with someone in the upper 1% of the wealth spectrum. Basically, the top 1% is the landlord for the top 10% weekly tenants in places like Hilton Head. Surprisingly, many homeowners in this group don’t seem to care much about the physical condition of the home; for some the home is nothing more than a revenue generator that can be enjoyed for free in offseason.
  • Then there is the 0.1% at the tippy-top of the money ladder who own the impressive estate down that is unoccupied most of summer. These are the super wealthy that don’t rent their residences out because, well, they don’t need to. Undoubtedly, the estate here is one of a number they own. So instead of heading down here in summer when its peak season, hot, and busy, they come down in the offseason to escape New York, Boston, or some other large northern city winter.

Observation #4: The Weekly Collision of Doers and Slackers

Hilton Head is typical of many seaside resort communities by offering a stark contrast when it comes to the those on the island any weekday in the summer. There are two distinct groups: those who are on vacation and do nothing but engage in various forms of relaxation and those who are intensely working to maintain, serve, or build the economic ecosystem that is the resort.

It’s always been weird for me when vacationing at these types of locales. Families on bikes, eating out, laying on the beach, and sleeping late. Versus dedicated workers building houses, maintaining lawns, running restaurants, and working 50+ hours per week. One group riding bikes and driving SUVs. The other driving pickups and vans. Both groups going about their day as if the other group is invisible.

I like the vibe of economic activity; doers showing up every day and getting it done. Earning income, providing for their families, and building a life. The local economy in the Low Country is the free market working to create value across the economic spectrum. The free exchanging of value between those who desire leisure and those who provide it. At least for the week, until the vacationers return to their jobs; creating, enabling, and serving to create value.

Observation #5: How the Drive Down and Back Covers the Spectrum of Government

The drive from Pennsylvania to South Carolina offers the opportunity to see how different states approach the role of government and the taxpayer. Toll roads serve as a great illustration.

In Pennsylvania, once a toll road is created, it lives on in eternity. And the cost of the toll continues to go up. It doesn’t matter if the initial justification was to pay for a discrete infrastructure project and now the project is paid off. It doesn’t matter if the tolls are egregious. It doesn’t matter if the road is poorly maintained. The tolls in Pennsylvania live on year after year, dollar after dollar, and mile after mile.

This is not cheap. A round trip on the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg (spanning about 2/3 of the state’s length) will run you just under $100. Drivers were hit with yet another rate increase in 2021. And the PA Turnpike had the dubious distinction of being rated the most expensive toll road in the world. One may wonder where all that toll money ends up.

The bureaucrat’s justification for the driver extortion is to fund statewide road maintenance, yet the Keystone State’s road system remains in overall poor condition year after year. Instead, the answer, of course, is to primarily feed the bureaucracy of government and its affiliates like the public unions. In Pennsylvania, government only grows, which means tolls only rise while the condition of the roads degrade. And the number of roads that will require toll payment within the Keystone State is increasing.

North Carolina’s abuse of taxpayers and drivers is not as bad as Pennsylvania, but it is getting there. The major highways into and out of Charlotte are now split between toll express lanes and normal lanes. That means traffic congestion is self-inflicted by government on those drivers not willing to be extorted; the toll lanes are wide open and the normal lanes are clogged in traffic jams most hours of the day. Government creates the congestion to grow its revenue base, drivers pay the price directly (through the toll or longer commute times) and the economy pays the price indirectly through lost productivity.

South Carolina is a different story. The Palmetto State has a law that states once a toll road pays off its project financing, the toll booths must come down and the road becomes free and open access. That’s exactly what happened recently on Hilton Head with the Cross Island Parkway: once its final bond payment was paid, access became free and the toll booths will come down.

The drive to and from this year’s vacation illustrates the difference between government serving the people and the people serving government. The former makes you feel relevant while the latter makes you feel used.

Observation #6: Doesn’t Look Like Climate Change is a Top Concern

Up and down the island, you see a building boom. The few remaining vacant lots being staked out for massive, new homes. Older homes are being bought, torn down, and replaced with new houses having three times as much square footage as the predecessors. The closer to the water, the better.

Island real estate values seem to go only in one direction: up. The Fed’s free money policy inflates and pumps real estate values to bubble levels. Buy it, build it, remodel it, rent it, flip it. Repeat over and over (at least until the music stops).

The building boom and dizzying real estate property price increases tell you that no one believes the island is about to be submerged under rising ocean levels. Yes, hurricanes will inevitably hit the island periodically. But building codes and a few rational design features on the homes will make them quite resilient to withstand all but the most severe of storms.

The community of Hilton Head, along with so many other coastal destinations, figured out that increasing atmospheric CO2 levels made its tourism economy possible. Whatever challenges climate may serve up should be manageable over time. Permanent evacuation of the island and resettling to higher ground is not going to be necessary anytime soon. Perhaps the UN’s IPCC bureaucrats should take note.


Human ingenuity, technological innovation, and the free market economy make places like Hilton Head Island possible. These wonderous drivers make the useless and inhospitable valuable and inviting. The more we do to protect these quality of life catalysts, the better chance our kids and grandchildren will enjoy their fruits for decades to come.

The Unsung Icon of Western Pennsylvania Football Royalty

Western Pennsylvania is steeped in football tradition. The cradle of quarterback legends Joe Namath, George Blanda, John Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly. Beyond marquee QBs, the region I call home could fill Canton with its own dedicated wing of current and future members: Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, Mike Ditka, Russ Grimm, Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic, Aaron Donald, Jack Ham, Sean Lee, Joe Schmidt, and Ty Law to name a few. We’ve enjoyed a pro team with six Lombardi’s and two collegiate teams with multiple national titles.
The stacked legacy and legendary names of western Pennsylvania football make it easy to gloss over one of the most impactful native sons of the sport. In the region’s coaching tree, there sits a giant who enjoys both icon status among the football elite and unsung status across the general fan base. No offense to Cowher and Ditka, but the most accomplished football coach from western PA is a position coach who became the godfather of offensive lineman. He’s the greatest name in the region’s football history that you probably never heard of: Joe Moore.

Coach Moore’s Story

Coach Moore is an exemplar of western Pennsylvania. He was raised during the Depression in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood and married a Rankin girl. He started coaching high school football in upstate New York, moved on to Towanda and Erie in Pennsylvania, and then became the head coach at Upper Saint Clair (USC) high school in suburban
Pittsburgh in the early 1970s.

Coach Moore built a successful program at USC and set the stage there for his successor, Jim Render, who became the winningest football coach in Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) history. Moore’s defensive captain during his first year at USC was a kid by the name of Kirk Ferentz, who went on to great things at Iowa, becoming its winningest coach and today stands as the longest tenured head coach at a single FBS program.

Moore’s legendary collegiate coaching career started at the University of Pittsburgh in 1977, where as part of Jackie Sherrill’s staff he led an epic nine-year run of unprecedented talent development of offensive linemen. The names he nurtured to greatness at Pitt are a generational who’s-who of the O-line: Bill Fralic, Mark May, Russ Grimm, Emil Boures, and Jimbo Covert.

After Pitt, Coach Moore spent two years coaching the offensive line at Temple, and then in 1988 began a nine-year run at Notre Dame. Over those nine years for the Irish he sent all but two of his starting linemen to the NFL. One of the most articulate and passionate ambassadors to the Coach Moore legacy through the years has been Notre Dame two-time All-American Aaron Taylor. Coach Moore’s coaching tree bloomed from his tenure with the Irish: Andy Heck was a player for Moore at Notre Dame who went on to a lengthy NFL career as a player and won a Super Bowl as the O-line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Joe Moore was a direct, to-the-point man. He was an intimidator, but in a good way. There were zero airs and graces about him; he simply oozed western PA. He had the perfect personality and style for instilling greatness and realizing raw potential with rough, unpolished talent. His style was optimally suited to develop boys into men.

One of his most famous sayings captured his philosophy of linemen with, “there is no greater feeling in life than moving a man from Point A to Point B, against his will.” He loved teaching the fundamentals and was a master at manipulating players mentally to motivate and prepare them for competition.

As he would often say, those around him would love him at times, hate him at times, but kill for him all the time. His linemen through the years may have had Jackie Sherrill or Lou Holtz as their head coach, but they all played for Joe Moore.

The Joe Moore Legacy

Sadly, we lost Joe Moore much too early in 2003. Although the man may be gone, his memory lives larger than ever. His memory is evident both publicly and privately.

Coach Moore’s public memory is embodied in the Joe Moore Award (JMA). The JMA is awarded annually to the best collegiate football offensive line unit. The award is presented by the Joe Moore Foundation for Teamwork and recognizes the toughest, most physical offensive line in the country. The JMA is the only major college football award to honor a unit or group, not an individual.

Another visible aspect of Moore’s legacy is the Joe Moore O-Line Camp, held every summer in suburban Pittsburgh. The camp provides high school players the chance to be instructed in the craft by an impressive list of former Joe Moore players, headed by NFL Hall of Famer Russ Grimm. The star-studded coaches who regularly attend the camp are testament to the lasting impact their coach had on them decades ago in college.

However, Coach Moore’s most important legacy is one that escapes public notice: his family. The Moore’s raised three boys in suburban Pittsburgh, and today the extended family has grown to include the coach’s grandchildren. I know the extended family well; they are close friends. I can tell you the best part of the Joe Moore legacy is that his grandchildren are the type of individuals you would want to live next door to, befriend, or have your young kids emulate.

In his chosen profession, Joe Moore achieved greatness. In the endeavor of his family, Joe Moore exceeded greatness. I hope we are all as fortunate.
Learn More About Moore
View a video tribute to Joe Moore here.
Read about the Joe Moore Award here.
Follow the Joe Moore O-Line Camp on Twitter: @JM_OLine_Camp.

What Does the Presidential Medal of Freedom Truly Value?

With a new administration in Washington, much is changing. One thing that will not change is the forthcoming numerous photos and video clips of individuals having a medal draped around their neck by President Biden.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony has been consistently embraced by our Chief Executive. Whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, presidents love the photo op of awarding the medal and recipients enjoy the attention upon receiving it. It is one of few constants in a constantly changing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded by the president, “for especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The defining criteria are sufficiently vague to allow sitting presidents to award the medal to basically whoever they desire, and from just about any walk of life.

In many ways, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is the ultimate lifetime achievement award for individuals lucky enough to elicit favor of the White House. It’s obviously a big deal for the recipient, and prior recipients (excluding a few in hindsight) were deserving.

But it also serves as an indicator of what and who the elite political class value most. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to the same walks of life, careers, and sectors that government is designed to fund, nurture, and grow. What the government awards correlates to what the government thinks is most important in society.

Which got me thinking. What do the award data tell us about what our elite leadership thinks is most important and less important in society?

The Analysis and the Data

The successive terms of Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump provide nearly thirty years of data. Over these four presidential administrations, over 300 Presidential Medals of Freedom were awarded. That’s a decent sized data set to perform a quick analysis.

To assess the data, recipients were classified into eight categories, using general career/sector descriptions. The eight are:

  • Charities, foundations, and advocacy
  • Politics, government, and civil service
  • Arts, entertainment, and media
  • Sports
  • Academia
  • Labor
  • Business
  • Science, technology, and engineering (STEM)

For some recipients, assigning one of the eight categories was a judgement call. For example, 2018 medal recipient Alan Page enjoyed accomplishments of note in both government and sports. For individuals straddling more than one of the eight categories, they were assigned to the category they were most known for. Thus, Alan Page is included in the sports category.

When you mine the data set of these medal recipients, what conclusions stand out?

Conclusion #1: Presidents Enjoy Awarding Medals

Not a shocker. We know politicians love attention and awarding medals is a great opportunity to be seen in a positive light. Thus, it comes as no surprise presidents hand out these medals like candy. Clinton, Bush, and Obama all hit the one hundred medal mark during their tenures, with Obama being the most prolific awarder, clocking in at a rate of nearly 15 medals per year in office.

Interestingly, Trump had the lowest medal award rate per year in office, at six. That’s half of his three predecessor’s average rate of 12 per year in office. Was it because Trump didn’t place as much importance on the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was more selective in his criteria when choosing awardees, or had a smaller pool of candidates due to the Resist Movement? Hard to say, but Trump stands as an outlier on medal frequency versus his predecessors.

Conclusion #2: Government Picks the Most Winners From…Government

Perhaps a shocker to some, but it should not come as a surprise if you’ve been paying attention to how government tends to operate in an insulated ecosystem separate from the citizenry it is supposed to serve. For all four presidents save Trump, the biggest grouping of awardees is from the combined categories of “charities, foundations, and advocacy” and “politics, government, and civil service.”

For Clinton’s class this grouping comprised over 75% of the total, while for Bush’s class it tallied nearly two-thirds of the total awardees. The representation tailed off a bit under Obama and Trump, coming in at 43% and 29%, respectively. Across all four presidents cumulatively, half of the 300+ awardees hailed from government, politics, or advocacy closely tied to both.

Although I am sure these 150 awardees are deserving of the award (maybe a few exceptions), it shows that government has its greatest affinity for itself.

Conclusion #3: Hollywood, Media, and Sports Are Medal Magnets

Presidents are increasingly drawn to the entertainment complex when doling out Presidential Medals of Freedom, like moths to a flame. Trump loved the jocks: he awarded nearly 60% of his medals to individuals in sports. Obama loved the arts: he tied almost a third of his medals to the necks of singers, writers, and actors.

Bush was slightly less weighted to sports and entertainment than Obama and Trump, but still awarded 38% of his medals to this combined group. Surprisingly, Clinton was the least impressed with athletes and cultural celebrities, having awarded a relatively paltry 5% to the group.

Clinton aside, the data show our leaders place enormous weight on those who provide entertainment to society. If you can consistently sink three-pointers or stream a hit song, the trend indicates you may be in line for a Presidential Medal of Freedom someday.

Conclusion #4: What Matters Most is Recognized Least

The United States is a capitalistic society based on a foundation of free enterprise and individual rights. Americans have a 200+ year legacy of technological innovation that continually raises quality of life for all.

This is a country of “doers” who disrupt the status quo and create wealth. Someone should remind Washington, D.C. of this.

Nearly thirty years of four presidents handing out Presidential Medals of Freedom shows that our political elite care little for business and STEM. The share of awardees hailing from business and technical fields is consistently embarrassing.

Bush (at 15% of awardees) and Obama (at 14%) were slightly less embarrassing than Clinton (at 8% of awardees) and Trump (at 4%), but all four are saying the same thing: those who achieve and create value are not placed on the same pedestal as those who entertain or live in and around government.

A Stark Contrast Between Two Rivals

Almost thirty years of data from the Presidential Medal of Freedom paints a clear picture. Our leaders favor the image (sports and entertainment) and the familiar (government and advocacy groups closely tied to it) over the substance of those who create value in business and technical fields.

We have the Presidential Medal of Freedom. China has its Thousand Talents Program.

The Biden administration is mulling over who the next celebrity or athlete will be to join the ranks of prior awardees Barbara Streisand, Robert Redford, Robert DeNiro, and Tiger Woods. Meanwhile the Chinese are figuring out which advanced technology it needs to procure from us through its program funding and rewards.

Which country is playing the long game and which is fixated on shiny distractions?

We are running out of time to adjust course as to what matters in American society.

A good start is to improve the optics of the Presidential Medal of Freedom—shifting its weighting of awardees to those who create, enable, and serve the vital pillars of free enterprise, technological advancement, value creation, and geopolitical competitive advantage.

The more medals we tie around those types of necks, the better off the world will be.

Who’s Big Tech’s Daddy? Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Carnegie

Over the past 150 years, starting with post-Civil War Reconstruction, America has delivered to the world the largest improvement in quality of life in history. Capitalism, free enterprise, and individual rights were the ideological columns that allowed the edifice of the human condition to rise.

As you sit in your climate controlled home, streaming movies, using Door Dash for dinner, and waiting for your vaccine of choice, you might ascribe all this technological innovation and progress to the behemoths of big tech: Apple, Google, Amazon, and so on. Certainly, these modern-day FAANG titans sit at the fore of the idea economy.

Yet our modern economy of services and ideas consists of tiered levels, with the prior tier serving as a necessary and supporting base to the next tier. No internet, no digital streaming. No electricity, no internet. No carbon, no electricity. And so on, back to the most fundamental building blocks of an economy.

Americans have lost sight of this fundamental economic truth, blinded by the mesmerizing clicks and taps of apps. Add to the mix fabricated mistruths about the demise of the “old economy” spewed by the elite and the Left in academia, government, and monied foundations, and many of us today are transitioned from uninformed to misinformed when it comes to drivers of the economy and our lives.

A historical refresher is in order.

Our modern economy is built upon five successive pillars, each one rests atop predecessor pillars and supports subsequent pillars. Lose one pillar and you lose the pillars above it. Let’s meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses.

Pillar #1: Don’t Call Them Robber Barons

Everything we enjoy in our modern life traces its roots back to, and continues to depend on, the founding fathers of our economy. Most of them rose to prominence in the period of American history after the Civil War and before World War I; a time where industry rebuilt and then drove America to global prominence.

The three faces that sit on this pillar’s Mount Rushmore are Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie. Vanderbilt built, integrated, and consolidated the transportation network, specifically rail, that allowed a nation to grow and its industry to thrive. Rockefeller took the fragmented and disorganized industries of oil and refineries and brought order that spurred the innovation of new products, including gasoline. Carnegie was the visionary who saw the need for a new product to build our cities and structures: steel.

Innovating from their home bases of New York, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, these three men along with others fused a backbone of the American economy that we depend upon to this day. They were far from perfect, as incidents like the Homestead Strike painfully illustrated. But they were great, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Most importantly, they set the stage for Pillar #2 of our modern economy.

Pillar #2: Finance Powers Innovation

As railroads, steel mills, and refineries grew into industrial titans, finance evolved into a powerful catalyst to accelerate progress and spur more innovation.

J.P. Morgan revolutionized finance as an instrument to optimize commerce, and he was not afraid to get in between Rockefeller and Carnegie where he saw opportunity to create value (for example, Morgan bought out Carnegie and created U.S. Steel). Morgan showed how the purse could be a force to be reckoned with, even for the world’s most powerful industrialists.

J.P. Morgan also funded new innovators and innovations, playing Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse against each other as they demonstrated and commercialized electricity generation. Edison brought us light, he and his competitor Westinghouse established electricity generation at scale, and Morgan provided the capital to enable all of it (Morgan eventually took control of Edison’s company and recast it as General Electric).

But if no rail, oil, or steel, then no modern finance and electricity. Once these two pillars were in place, it set the stage for the next pillar that would fundamentally reshape the world.

Pillar #3: The Societal Impact of the Modern Assembly Line

Thankfully, at about the time politicians and bureaucrats were working to take down the Standard Oils of the world, a new breed of creators appeared on the scene to keep progress moving. Henry Ford took the recipe ingredients of steel, gasoline, finance, and electricity to revolutionize manufacturing with the modern assembly line.

Ford’s assembly line made automobiles affordable. His manufacturing innovations also established an eight-hour workday and a living wage for workers, who would then have both the time and money to purchase and enjoy cars. That drove up the demand for cars, making Ford more profitable. Policy makers have been trying to replicate this virtuous circle ever since.

Others took note of what Ford was doing in autos and looked to copy it for other products. Hershey figured it out for candy while others applied it across a spectrum of industries. The worker and consumer both benefitted, with increasingly worker and consumer being one in the same. In many ways, the American middle class was the most impactful innovation of this pillar.

All of Ford’s necessary ingredients came from predecessor pillars. Without them, there would be no assembly line, all the consumer benefits that derived from it, or a middle class. Nor would there be the benefits of the next pillar that Ford and his peers made possible.

Pillar #4: Rise of the Service Economy

The prior three pillars of the economy provided the feedstocks to efficiently manufacture consumer goods. Workers increasingly were able to enjoy and afford these products, driving up demand. And technology expanded the gameboard of what and when things could be enjoyed.

All of this birthed what we know today as the service sector of the economy. Mechanics were in demand to repair cars. Beauticians were wanted to assist with application of makeup and hair care products. Entertainment became a massive industry as movie theaters and television became ubiquitous.

Before you knew it, the service economy was as big, or perhaps bigger than, the manufacturing sector of the economy. But without a strong manufacturing base, there would be no service economy. If you don’t build it, you won’t service it. If you lose the large number of high paying jobs in manufacturing, people won’t be able to afford services. Obvious to most, but frustratingly foreign to many politicians and policy makers today.

Everything was now in place for the fifth and final pillar.

Pillar #5: The Idea Economy

The prior four pillars set the stage for increased specialization, innovation, and widespread technology diffusion. Suddenly everyone had computers, cell phones, and internet access. Entrepreneurship blossomed and the largest corporations in history were created by thinkers tinkering in garages.

Big tech and the idea economy are awesome innovators and innovations. Yes, at times their power needs to be checked when impeding individual rights such as free speech. And these entities must be constantly reminded that their initial and ongoing success hinge on the underlying pillars they rest upon. But like Rockefeller and Carnegie before them, we are much better off with today’s tech titans than without them.

What’s Next?

Donald Rumsfeld famously referenced “known knowns” (things we know that we know) and “known unknowns” (we know there are some things we do not know). Our 150-year American economic journey of prosperity has definitively proven Rumsfeld’s two axioms true.

Our “known knowns” are that if you sabotage any of the underlying economic pillars, you will unleash the widespread collateral damage of ruining the subsequent pillars. That’s true even when the aspiring destroyers are trumpeting the need to do so under the banner of the public good or saving the planet.

The “known unknowns” are the future pillars to be created and brought to society. We don’t know what they are or when they will appear. But we do know the frequency and timeliness of them will hinge on our ability to protect the current pillars and nurture the ideological columns that made them possible: capitalism, free enterprise, and individual rights.

Post that in your app and stream it.

Major College Athletics: Financial and Moral Failings

Major college sports enjoy an image of enlightened morality coupled with financial prowess.

Tune in to any major NCAA televised event and you are bombarded with constant messaging of social and political progressivism. Individual schools and programs publicly embrace a spectrum of causes, from the liberal to the outright leftist.

The television advertisers during commercial breaks are a who’s who of the largest, most powerful corporations in the world. March Madness and the FBS rake in billions of dollars annually, from broadcasting revenues to merchandising. Schools join major power conferences not for geographic convenience or to preserve historic rivalries, but instead to secure lucrative payments for the programs.

Yet these false images mask unpleasant realities. Major college sports are financially broken and mired in immorality. The unsustainable truth manifests in four failings.

Failing #1: Major College Athletic Programs Bleed Cash

The accounting does not lie. Less than 10% of Division I NCAA athletic programs make money, defined as sports revenues covering sports expenses. Meaning 90% of Division I athletic programs lose money.

There is a misconception that Division I football and men’s basketball programs rake in big bucks, which are then used to cover or subsidize the other sports at a school. Although football and men’s basketball bring in the most revenue at Division I schools, only 20% of all Division I men’s basketball programs brought in more revenue than the basketball program spent, according to the Wall Street Journal. Football did a bit better, but only 28% of Division I programs brought in more revenue than what they spent.

If one adds up all Divisions I-III programs across the NCAA, total revenues were $10.6 billion while expenses were $18.9 billion, creating a massive deficit. Less than 10% of Division I programs cover their expenses with their revenues. These deficits get plugged by direct and indirect subsidy via government revenue (taxpayer dollars), excessively high tuition, and the hidden costs of college these days in the form of student activity fees and the like.

If you never watch a college game, you pay for college sports via taxes. If you are a student that doesn’t have an athletic bone in your body, you pay for major college sports programs through escalating tuition. Government and academia created a system where all are forced to subsidize these money losing endeavors, whether we desire to or not.

Failing #2: Higher Education Puts Your Dollars in the Fluff Instead of the Substance

College athletics spend massive amounts of money on a host of program line items, but the single largest expenditure line item is coaches’ salaries at $3.7 billion (student-athlete compensation won’t appear on the list, another hypocrisy of academia). That’s not by accident.

Many people are shocked to learn that in 39 of the 50 states the highest-paid state employee is either a university football coach or basketball coach. In most of these 39 states the difference between what the college coach is paid and what the governor is paid exceeds a factor of ten.

Public university football and basketball coaches in these 39 states have compensation levels that grossly exceed the pay packages for the heads of the state medical, law enforcement, and educational organizations. Taxpayers in these 39 states are forced to pay excessive amounts of money for someone who can design a 3–4 defense or who can talk a seventeen-year-old into committing to the state school basketball program instead of those dollars being invested in efforts to provide improved cancer care, to keep the streets safe, or to improve math and reading proficiency in the public school systems.

Failing #3: Moral Hypocrisy Abounds in College Athletics

The NCAA, individual universities, and college sports programs all tout commitments to a host of progressive issues. These commitments are trumpeted everywhere you read, watch, or listen.

Until you compare the actions of universities behind the scenes to the public rhetoric. Major college sports programs display shocking hypocrisy when there is an opportunity to procure money. If major funding for a new facility is in play, universities drop all pretense of moral authority and will chase the almighty dollar.

One could choose from a gaggle of examples to illustrate how major college sports programs drop their high-and-mighty platitudes to grovel for funds. The owner of hundreds of fast-food restaurants that peddle unhealthy food and don’t pay living wages to employees leads the funding to revamp UCLA’s historic Pauley Pavilion. The CEO of a lingerie clothing brand that promotes unrealistic images of women to impressionable young girls has Ohio State’s football complex named after him. And a CEO notorious for his eagerness to slash jobs is one of Florida State’s biggest football boosters.

But the biggest example of hypocrisy is found at the University of Oregon, where the founder of Nike and track team alumnus Phil Knight is paying for a $270 million renovation to its track facility. This is nothing new for Knight or Oregon, as he has gifted over $1 billion to the school over time. He is free to donate his money where he sees fit.

What is hypocritical, however, is Oregon’s willingness to take Knight’s money. Oregon is one of the most liberal/leftist campuses in the nation. Equality, inclusiveness, and climate change activism are pillars of core beliefs on the Eugene campus. So, one would think Oregon would be picky and only accept money from donors epitomizing those pillars.

Not the case when it comes to Knight and Nike. Nike has been criticized for decades for its questionable manufacturing practices and whether they embrace child labor, low pay, and worker abuse. The Nike supply chain of overseas contractors is murky and there is concern oppressed Uighurs in China may be forced laborers in its supply chain. Many of Nike’s shoes and apparel are constructed of evil carbon-based materials.

Behind its politically correct ad campaigns, Nike is as brazenly capitalistic as one can imagine. But when a glistening new track facility, equipped with a barbershop, museum, and murals is in play, the Ducks sweep their morals under the bleachers. Rest assured this will not preclude the university from lecturing the rest of society on how to behave.

Failing #4: College Athletics Abuse the Concept of Human Capital

Funny how academic institutions that created the concept of, and preach to business the importance of, human capital will unabashedly exploit student athletes.

The exploitation of the student athlete is evident across three fronts.

The first is the most obvious: star athletes at major programs bring in millions of dollars of revenue for the school, yet the athletes are paid nothing close to a fair or living wage. Worse, most of these athletes will never make it to the pros and many of them will suffer injuries that can last a lifetime, from the physical to the cognitive. Major college sports are designed as human meatgrinders.

The second front of athlete exploitation is colleges, in concert with pro sports, using anti-competitive collusion to deny athletes opportunities to ply their trade in the free market. How ridiculous is it that in 2021 it is nearly impossible for a gifted athlete to exit high school and enter the NFL draft? Or that we are still duped into lamenting the ‘one and done’ mentality of the college basketball elite when it should be ‘none and done.’ Higher education and the big business of pro sports have imposed a system of indentured servitude on the most gifted of athletes.

The final front of human capital exploitation is misleading athletes and their families with the fiction that they will graduate with a free education in a skill that sets them for life. That is far from the rule today. Instead, the big-time programs know many of their student athletes will never graduate with a degree. Many who do graduate will be armed with a useless piece of parchment stating a major that has little demand in the real world (I suppose the student athlete shares the same fate as many students in this facet of academia’s failing).

A Moral Imperative for Change

Major college sports need an overhaul. Tear down these programs built upon failed business models, fiscal deficits, moral hypocrisy, and human capital exploitation. Build in their places sustainable models that meet the following four criteria:

  • Division I athletic programs only spend what they generate in revenues and donations. Taxpayers and students should not be forced to subsidize sports through excessive taxes and tuition levels.
  • Division I programs should pay star athletes fair compensation for what the athletes bring in as revenue. Dispense with the tired and bogus argument of, “well, the player gets paid with a free education.” That degree, if the athlete actually graduates, may end up not being worth the paper it is written on.
  • If a college sports coach at a public university is paid more than the governor of the school’s state, the president of the university, or the dean of its medical school, society should question if that school is acting in a way that is consistent with its charter as a public institution of higher learning. The university should be required to submit formal justification for the coach’s compensation package, much like a public company must submit a proxy to its owners to defend its executive pay packages.
  • Donations are only accepted if the donor and his/her business clearly comply with the mission statements and core values listed on university websites, speeches, and brochures. If they don’t comply, the school should either decline the donation or relax/modify its mission statement and core values so that a conflict no longer exists.

Until these reasonable, transparent, and rational reforms are adopted, academia, its leadership, and student body should refrain from activism and public discourse. The unwillingness to hold oneself accountable to the standards you lecture society to adopt is blatant hypocrisy that destroys credibility.

If academia wants to talk the talk, we should demand they walk the walk.