Tom Jicha

Tom Jicha grew up in New York City and worked with John Pricci at the short-lived revival of the New York Daily Mirror. Tom moved to Miami in 1972 for a position in the sports department at the now defunct Miami News.

Tom became the TV critic in 1980 and moved to the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1988. All the while he has kept his hand in sports, including horse racing. He has covered two Super Bowls, a World Series and the Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park.

He's been the Sun Sentinel’s horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

NY Times idea of a racing czar is a bad pipedream

The New York Times is up to its usual tricks, dumping on racing. Two days after the Preakness, The Times ran a piece suggesting that what racing needs is a strong, central leader. It's a warm, fuzzy idea until it is put under the microscope of how this has worked in other sports. Baseball and football have potent commissioners, yet have drug issues as scandalous as those in racing. Worse, neither of these commissioners demonstrate any regard for the people who make their sports go, the fans.

MIAMI, May 24, 2013--It didn’t take the New York Times long to resume its jihad against racing. Two days after Orb failed to win the Preakness, William C. Rhoden launched another broadside.

I don’t monitor Rhoden’s work. does keep a close eye on him and The Times, which has dredged up every piece of negative news it could uncover about racing, even if it had to travel to off-the-beaten-track bullrings in the Southwest to find it. The headline on Equidaily’s summary of the piece is telling: “NY Times’ # 2 racing gadfly Rhoden takes his annual shot at racing.”

Among other things, Rhoden opines, “The racing industry is trudging toward an uncertain future.” As opposed to what? The newspaper industry?

Given the thrust of the piece, it’s not surprising it would appear in The Times, a champion of large, centralized government. Rhoden writes, “The industry must appoint a single leadership figure to standardize rules and regulations covering every facet of the industry.”

From where would this messiah come? The Wizard of Oz and Merlin, who could magically wave a wand and make things happen, aren’t available.

Practically speaking, it would have to be someone from racetrack management. More significantly, he would have to be paid by racetracks directly or by gouging fans with another bite in the takeout. The latter would almost certainly require legislative approval from every racing jurisdiction. Good luck with that. Thank goodness.

In either case, this czar would be beholden to track owners.

Let’s take a look at how this approach has worked in other sports. The most frequently mentioned problem by racing’s detractors is performance enhancing drugs. Baseball has had an omnipotent commissioner for a century. The specter of Bud Selig's authority didn’t deter Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and a multitude of other steroid-fueled players from making a mockery of the sport-- just like some thoroughbred trainers are doing.

Selig looked the other way because he felt the barrage of drug assisted offense was good for the game; i.e., the owners.

The NFL has the most powerful commissioner in sports. Yet it looked the other way for years at steroid and amphetamine abuse. Same reason: Fans love those big hits by players with super-human physiques.

How many times did you hear commentators casually remark, “He got his bell rung.” Only recently has it been conceded that this translates to the likelihood of a concussion, which leads to premature dementia and death.

The lifespan of an NFL player is something like 12 years less than the average American. The NFL and its strong commissioner didn’t bother to deal with this reality until it was confronted by what could turn into a gazillion dollar lawsuit from former players.

What about concern for fans?

Selig has presided over the most fan-unfriendly developments in the history of baseball. You can buy tickets to take the family to a Sunday afternoon game only to be told it has been moved to Sunday night for TV. Instead of getting home for dinner, the final pitch will be thrown around midnight. This makes the ETA for arriving home before the start of a new school and work week an hour with a small number.

All that matters is, thanks to Selig, it’s ever onward and upward for the TV revenue owners cut up.

Football is only slightly better. Consider the ramifications of the celebrated Snow Bowl, the playoff game between Oakland and New England played in a blizzard on Jan. 19, 2002.

The calendar dictates that playoff games fall in the dead of winter. So the NFL can’t be blamed for what happened that Saturday night. But what has happened since is unconscionable.

Until then, the NFL did its best to schedule late season prime-time games in warmer weather cities or those with domed stadiums. Once the Snow Bowl racked up record TV ratings, this philosophy was spun 180 degrees.

Now the league goes out of its way to schedule December and January prime-time games in places like Green Bay, Chicago and New England, in the hope it can re-create the Snow Bowl ratings magic. So what if this puts the fans in the stands in danger of frostbite, pneumonia or a heart attack trying to shovel out their car after the final gun, then driving home in treacherous conditions.

The NFL doesn’t even respect its most important games enough to stage them under the most advantageous competitive conditions possible. The first round of the playoffs last season had a couple of wild card games on Saturday. One was in Houston, the other in Green Bay. The NFL designated the latter for prime time, all the better for the possibility of another winter wonderland. The higher the ratings, the more the NFL can demand when its TV contract comes up for renewal.

Two weeks later, the two conference championships were played the same day. One was in Atlanta with its domed stadium. That was made the early game. The other was after dark outdoors in New England.

This coming February, the Super Bowl will be played outdoors at the Meadowlands. The conditions could be so brutal, the league has made contingency plans to move to an alternate date in case the Metropolitan area is shut down by a major storm.

With enhanced security, fans will be asked to be in their seats as much as three hours before kickoff. Throw in the extended halftime show and they could be sitting in arctic conditions for as much as seven hours.

Is this being done to give fans in the nation’s largest market a chance to see sports biggest event? Of course not. The average person has no shot at a ticket. It’s a gift to the owners of the Jets and Giants for building a new billion dollar stadium. Those owners will be sitting in heated skyboxes, blissfully liberated from the pain and suffering of the freezing masses in the stands.

You can thank a powerful commissioner for that.

The Breeders Cup, one of the best things to happen to racing, tried to take a leadership position in cleaning up the drugs mess by issuing a phased-in edict that Lasix would not be permitted in the championship races.

This effort or the Breeders’ Cup will die after this year because horsemen’s organizations have indicated they will not grant simulcast rights if the ban on Lasix isn’t lifted.

A strong central figure to restore racing to prominence is a warm fuzzy thought but one that works only in the minds of those in the Ivory Tower of The New York Times.

Written by Tom Jicha

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