Ben Cohen

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Leveling The Playing Field

Deep in record books documenting J.J. Redick’s scoring averages and the 1938 Iron Dukes’ box scores rests a conspicuous absence of fact. Duke has never employed a black head coach in any sport. For all of its record-breaking achievements, the athletics department with perhaps the foremost national reputation has a stark lack of diversity at the top of its programs.

Duke is far from an exception. But in the ongoing quest to find its 21st head football coach, Duke can buck the trend.

Director of Athletics Joe Alleva-who leads the committee to find Ted Roof’s replacement-has the opportunity to hire a minority candidate to lead a team comprised of 42 percent black athletes in a sport that was more than 50-percent black in 2007 in Division I-A.

College football is an outlier in the sporting world, which features increasingly diverse coaching ranks. In 2007, there were six black head coaches in Division I-A college football, roughly five percent of the country’s total. In the sport’s history, only 22 head coaches have been black.

Almost all sources agree that Duke should hire the most qualified candidate, regardless of skin color. But the question remains: how critically will race factor into that decision?

(1st place, Associated College Press’ 2008 Diversity Story of the Year; Winner, Duke University’s Melcher Family Award For Excellence in Journalism)

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Athletics Feels Economic Impact

The athletic department’s first strategic plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in May, proposed an approximately $325 million development campaign to compensate for rising costs of recruiting, maintenance of facilities, growth of coaching staffs and spikes in financial aid. The first step was to “design, test and develop” the fundraising plan that would tentatively appropriate $75 million for the Iron Dukes, $100 million for capital projects and $150 million for endowing scholarships.

The plan was more of a statement of best practices than a rigid model, and more analysis was already expected this year. Director of Athletics Kevin White was hired after its approval, and exact plans in “Unrivaled Ambition” were expected to change and evolve further, rather than be implemented this year.

Still, the Department of Athletics would have been in prime shape to accept donations given the positive publicity of Mike Krzyzewski’s leading Team USA to an Olympic gold medal and David Cutcliffe’s transformation of the football program.

But before the athletic department could see the financial results, Wall Street fell into disarray.

After sharp changes in the economy, $325 million seems a loftier goal than it did in May.

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Showcases Help Locals Get Exposure

Craig Anderson, sporting a royal blue T-shirt instead of Passaic Valley’s green and gold, threw his 20th pitch of the day, a tight curveball for strike three, and jogged off the mound.

After four batters and four outs in one inning, his day was done.

The plethora of scouts behind home plate – most wearing the homogenous uniform of team polo shirt, hat, and wrap-around sunglasses – looked away from the radar guns and closed their notebooks. Some scooped up their Poland Spring bottles with tobacco residue sitting at the bottom and walked away from Bainton Field on the campus of Rutgers University.

After two nine-inning games, their day was only half done.

SelectFest, the premiere baseball showcase in New Jersey, had hit its midway point after Anderson’s strikeout. Both skills day at Jack Cust Baseball Academy in Flemington and the first two contests on game day had proceeded smoothly, but, more importantly, six more games awaited the scouts on this balmy weekend in late June.

The hectic pace of the showcase scene is nothing new for coaches. Some had traveled to Fishkill, N.Y., two weeks earlier for a Perfect Game showcase, some would take in Joe Wladyka’s annual showcase at St. Joseph in Metuchen two weeks later, and some would fly to Marietta, Ga., one week later for a mammoth World Wood Bat Association tournament with 148 teams.

Baseball recruiting has become a non-stop summertime entity, much like the more-followed football combines and basketball circuits. Showcases like SelectFest, which attracted 150 players and more than 150 college coaches and professional scouts, are the crown jewels of the scene.

“The purpose is to get exposure, to become a blip on the radar screen,” said Wladyka, whose first showcase in 1985 pales in comparison to local and national events today. “In the last 20 years, maybe even less than that, showcases have taken over as the means of recruiting, the means of becoming identified, the means of being seen, for better players on a national scale. You go to one of these showcases, and you’re getting coaches from literally all over the country.”

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Duke Offers Its Own Story

By the end of the 2007 season, the negative media attention had finally become too much for Mike Krzyzewski. His Blue Devils were just removed from a loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when he gathered his staff to talk about strategies to move forward, and basketball wasn’t the sole focus of Krzyzewski’s attention.

Duke’s loss to Virginia Commonwealth had been more than a mere March Madness upset. Because it involved Duke-and because it was a Duke loss to an unknown mid-major on the country’s biggest stage-the mainstream media and blogosphere pounced. Message board posters and bloggers celebrated Duke’s demise with vitriol, and there were even rumors of reporters cheering in the press room, the industry’s ultimate taboo.

So Krzyzewski and his team decided to use the Internet, the force that furthered Duke hatred, to control its own message better.

The program already had a magazine, Blue Planet, that served as a promotional product for recruits. Krzyzewski advocated turning to the Web-a suggestion that eventually resulted in the creation of DukeBluePlanet.com, the program’s standalone Web site that features compilations of top plays, video blog posts from players and behind-the-scenes access afforded only to members of the program.

“It’s not so much controlling your voice. It’s having a voice,” Krzyzewski told The Chronicle. “I’m 61 years old. I don’t even understand all the voices out there…. But the fact is, they’re all out there. We needed something to tell our story correctly, because there was so much misinformation.”

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Gmail, Je T’aime

My parents used to scoff at the amount of time I spent staring at a screen and pecking at a keyboard. They still do. “Look, he’s on a date with his girlfriend!” Dad says when he feels especially witty or justified enough to equate my time online to a lack of a significant other.

Well, Pop, you’ll be glad to know that I’m in the healthiest relationship of my life. My crush is fast and easy to use. She has plenty of capacity for storage, even for my most prodigious needs. She responds to orders, acquiesces to my every demand and never loses anything. She’s a web-hosted, Ajax-based, beta version of a free e-mail service.

She goes by Gmail. Her last name may soon be Cohen.

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Committee Helps Guide Future Pros

A college player thinking of declaring for the NBA Draft has a number of people offering guidance: family, friends, coaches, informal advisers, agents and even fellow students. Duke’s future pros, though, also have the luxury of consulting with the Student-Athlete Counseling Committee, which prepares them for postgraduate athletic careers and advises them in finding legal representation.

Every player’s process for entering a career in professional sports is different. But most, if not all, have asked for advice from the president-appointed committee, which currently consists of Paul Haagen, a law professor and the committee’s chair, and Chris Kennedy, deputy athletic director.

“I think it’s been pretty unusual for someone not to talk to at least one of us,” Kennedy said. “I really don’t remember anyone who hasn’t had some kind of contact.”

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Duke Acts On NCAA Facebook Bylaw

Jimmy Mueller, a sophomore at the University of Akron, grew up watching Duke Basketball on television and became a diehard Blue Devil fan. He wants John Wall, the top-ranked point guard in the Class of 2009, to commit to his favorite program, so he created a Facebook group called “John Wall, come to DUKE!!”

But Mueller didn’t know that his Facebook group, which has more than 100 people, technically violated NCAA rules.

Until, that is, a Facebook message popped into his inbox Monday from Duke’s Director of Compliance, Todd Mesibov. Mesibov asked him to “cease and desist all efforts to recruit John Wall or any other prospective student-athlete to Duke” and to “update or take down the Facebook page so as to ensure compliance with NCAA regulations.”

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