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Overpaid ... underworked?

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2003

Maybe it's because I'm so staggered by corporate lunacies of overcompensating CEOs as if they were historic creators like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, or functioned with the more modern and innovative business backbone of a Sam Walton or Bill Gates.

This rant is about pro sports commissioners. Pete Rozelle was worth a fortune to the NFL, as supreme architect of mega growth from the '60s through '80s, molding a league that is unquestionably the hottest, most profitable and most sensibly designed. Pete's payoff was handsome but far, far less than the $8.7-million a year being raked by successor Paul Tagliabue.

Caretaker, or lottery winner?

Somebody tell me why Tags needs to be paid more than a couple mil. He's a boring lawyer living a fantasy, bathed in many more perks than, say, Brett Favre. Treated like a monarch at NFL headquarters in New York and at any of pro football's fancy stadiums.

Tagliabue benefits from private jets, limos, presidential suites and optimum dining. Oh, sure, there has been a zoom in NFL dollars in his 13 seasons as commissioner, but aren't there a hundred thousand managers who could've handled being boss of what became a can't-miss entity?

Bud Selig, who gets more boos than kudos as baseball commissioner, has reached the $5-million annual compensation plateau, according to a Washington Post survey. Explanation needed.

David Stern has run the NBA since 1984, making plenty of Rozelle-like headway, but does his $8-million compensation merit no fewer public brickbats than what is hurled at high-priced athletes like Shaq O'Neal or Tracy McGrady?

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is at $3.2-million, his reward for jumping annual revenues by 350 percent to $2-billion. But all the CEO windfalls are more reason to not buy into loud criticisms when bullish college football programs pay impact coaches like Bobby Bowden, Steve Spurrier or Bob Stoops more than $2-million. With them, value is easily documented.

Tim Finchem of the PGA Tour makes $3.1-million; somewhat justified if you dig into golf's stunning retirement program and other seldom-publicized financial benefits for golfers, many of whom are grossing seven figures, even eight, in prize money and endorsements.

Deane Beman, predecessor of Finchem, triggered a massive 1974-94 jump in tournament payoffs but Finchem has been at the wheel for an astonishing quadrupling of Tour purses in just eight years, to more than $225-million.

In general, I think pro sports have peaked. Ticket prices are frequently beyond ridiculous. TV ads grossly overpriced. So many new arenas. So many communities on the expensive hook. So many team payrolls unjustified by revenues. When the nasty bites come, and they will, do the commissioners take their share of the hits? By then, they'll all be so rich it won't matter.

Then again, maybe I'm shortchanging the commissioners, due to being so out of touch with big gravy; as I note that Judge Judy signed a new TV deal for $25-million a year.

* * *

HAPPY NEW CHEER: New Orleans is a city famous for the blues, but the Saints, including a receiver named Joe Horn, set new lows for funeral marches by blowing the NFL playoffs with a deadly December run against out-of-tune Vikings, Bengals and Panthers. . . . Nobody ever says, "It's only a game" when their team is winning, says comedy coach George Carlin. . . . Please, somebody tell junior announcers at ESPN it's okay to say "gained 128 yards" rather than "he ran for a buck-twenty-eight." . . . Aflac should know, among the Oregon Ducks there's a football playerd named Mallard. . . . Next time you're talking about the NFL's dumbest deals, don't forget the Ravens sending Priest Holmes, now the game's best runner, to the Chiefs for rights to quarterback Elvis Grbac, who was quick to leave the building. . . . He was a wonderful player, a Hall of Fame lock, but Deion Sanders is an NFL has-been who is lucky his former coach, Marty Schottenheimer, recently blocked a comeback with the Raiders that would've exposed No. 21's fading speed and shredded skills that were so evident in a 2001 cameo with the Redskins. . . . Has any boxer or hockey player been the smashed-face equal of basketball's Bill Walton with 10 teeth knocked out and a nose broken 13 times? . . . Air Force's remarkably successful football coach, Fisher DeBerry, warns that "if you stay pessimistic long enough, one day you will be right."

Whatever happened to Georghe Muresan?

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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