Lions around the dorm

Salaries and scandals and Superman, oh my! This week in Around the Dorm, we debate Ryan Howard’s salary increase, Kelvin Sampson’s scandalous recruiting policies and the legitimacy of Dwight Howard’s super dunk. Staff writer Brandon Lee, senior editor Lauren Kohout and arts & entertainment editor James Queally are the contestants, and last week’s winner, staff writer Duncan Slobodzian, is the ref.

1) Ryan Howard won his arbitration hearing this week, tying the highest salary awarded a player in such a hearing. He’ll earn $10 million in 2008. Is he worth the raise?

BL: You bet he’s worth the raise. Howard earned $900,000 last year and $355,000 during his MVP season in 2006. He’s finally getting his due this season. Last year, Howard hit 47 homers with 136 RBIs and was not even making $1 million. If you consider that pitchers with sub-five ERA’s get about $7 million a year, Howard is definitely worth $10 million. He also won’t become a free agent until 2011 when he’ll be 32 years old, so the Phillies won’t have to commit to him long term if he begins to fade away as he gets older.

LK: OK, hold on, let me get this just right: Hell yes! He was overdue for a raise. Even Ryan Madson made more than him last year. This is a man who won Rookie of the Year and MVP back-to-back, plus a Home Run Derby Championship. This will only be his fourth year in the league so he’s got plenty left in him, and I think he hasn’t come close to his peak yet. The Phils’ home-run and RBI leader brings in more fans and merchandise sales to that stadium than almost anyone. With the $10 million, he still won’t be making as much as Pat Burrell did last year, and Howard did better than Burrell in just about every category. Perhaps the Phils could have settled for something like $7 million and used that extra $3 million to improve their rotation, but they have the money to do that anyway because Pat Gillick has been nickel-and-diming everything. Howard definitely deserves it.

JQ: Howard just can’t catch a break can he? Two years ago he’s the underappreciated vagabond of MLB, scraping together only $900,000 per year, and now he’s being criticized for making too much after this arbitration hearing. While Howard is definitely worth more than the paltry sum he was paid in years past, I feel $10 million is simply too much for a prolific slugger. Let’s face it: While there are plenty of guys who can hit the long ball in the majors, Howard gets more press for it because he put up with the Phillies’ slave-wage crap for way longer than he should have. He isn’t setting anyone’s heart on fire at first base, and Rollins will continue to be the team’s offensive catalyst and leader for the foreseeable future. Howard needed a raise, don’t get me wrong, but his salary didn’t need to go to eight figures.

DS: I have to give 3 points to Lauren because she took into account Howard’s value beyond his remarkable on-field numbers. I like Queally’s argument for 2 points, but Howard’s mere presence in the lineup affects strategy and makes him more valuable than a one-dimensional “slugger.” 1 point for Brandon – you made a similar argument to Lauren’s but didn’t back it up as well.

2) Kelvin Sampson’s recruiting policies violated NCAA regulations, but the team was overachieving even in the face of scandal. The problems provoked Indiana University to part ways with the embattled coach by reaching a $750,000 settlement with Sampson. Do you agree with the way Indiana officials handled the situation?

BL: Boom! This situation blew up in Indiana’s face. Not only do they pay Sampson $750,000 to resign when they’re only obligated to pay his salary until the end of the month, they are having players skip practice. Six players in total have skipped practice, including star forward D.J. White and two other starters. This should not be a surprise to Indiana because Sampson has had a track record of cheating before. Indiana officials scrambled to make the public deadline they set for handling the situation and kept changing the time of the press conference. They made this situation open to the public too early and ESPN used its freedom of information rights to break this story to the nation.

LK: I think they handled it in the best way possible. Rather than dragging it on and wasting everyone’s time and money, they decided the best way was to end things quickly with Sampson. The settlement kept things from getting any worse. In these kinds of situations, the worst thing that could happen is Indiana and Sampson going back and forth for years with appeals, lawsuits and probably even some picketing. It’s still a terrible situation for Sampson, but I think he did the right thing by settling and getting out of there quickly while he still has some dignity left rather than fighting over things everyone knows he did.

JQ: This is why college sports infuriate me. Phone calls? There is a novel-length ethics code relating to phone calls? Recruitment is a dog-eat-dog business and it always has been. Sampson should not be in hot water over dialing digits faster than his associates. With Roger Clemens, Michael Vick, Chris Benoit and Tim Donaghy, there’s been enough scandal in athletics this year. In Indiana, you have a team that’s a tournament lock – headed by a solid coach with the potential to be a great – that’s gone on a tear since the NCAA’s pussy-footing management decided to screw with its head coach. What does Indiana’s brass do? It caves under the pressure of NCAA’s ridiculous rules and encourages him to resign. Thank you college basketball, because you have now demoted Indiana from a sixth seed with the potential to do some damage to the big dogs to a disappointing first-round exit. Oh, and Sampson will probably never work again.

DS: Queally, 3 points to you sir. I love the passion and I understand where you’re coming from – the punishment really doesn’t fit the crime, and the players deserve better. Brandon gets 2 for highlighting everything that went wrong including the all-important players’ mutiny. Lauren, I agree that Sampson preserved whatever bit of dignity he has left, but it seems like it was only the “best” solution to avoid a public relations crisis – 1 point.

3) Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard took the 2008 dunk contest by winning 77 percent of the fan vote. In the consensus dunk of the night, Howard donned a Superman cape and (literally) threw in a lob from his teammate. Replays showed he didn’t actually touch the rim. The move was impressive, no doubt, but did it deserve a perfect score of 50?

BL: Howard made it look like a dunk and without replays, it looked like a dunk. Showmanship and response from the crowd are also a huge part of getting points in the dunk contest, and Howard annihilated those two categories. Even though Howard looked even bigger than the cartoon Superman, you could tell that the crowd fell in love with him once he donned the cape. We’re always looking for a superhero to lift our spirits, and Howard did just that.

LK: The only thing that fuels the Slam Dunk Contest these days is creativity because new dunks are hard to come by. Instead of begging for ideas on YouTube, Howard dressed like Superman and “flew.” This is creativity. It might not be the most difficult dunk ever, but it was definitely one of the more entertaining just for the added props. Just because he didn’t hit the rim doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a perfect score. It’s not like it was a layup or a jumper. He still threw it down. Is it really going to mean anything if he got a 49 instead of a 50? He got the perfect score because the judges knew he won the contest with that dunk and they were just ensuring it.

JQ: Rules matter in the dunk contest? When did that happen? I’m sure everyone remembers when tiny Nate Robinson robbed Andre Iguodala because he dunked over Spud Webb and earned a score of 50. The judging of the dunk contest is all about sentimentality. It’s whose dunk is the most imaginative and memorable. If it happens to go in, well that’s cool. All-Star Weekend is a free-spirited weekend when the NBA’s best get to be kids again. Did it deserve a score of 50? No, he never grabbed the rim. But does it really matter? Personally, when I’m watching the dunk contest 20 years from now with my kids (who will also be foolishly devoted Knicks fans) I’m going to tell them a story of Orlando’s big man dunking dressed as the Man of Steel, and not care whether or not he scored a 50.

DS: All three answers were similar and touch on the most important point: the dunk contest is about showmanship more than anything else, even whether the player officially “dunked.” As a fellow foolishly devoted Knicks fan, I gotta give James the 3 here. The dunk’s score is really almost arbitrary and the image of Howard flying through the air is what will stick with fans. Lauren, a close second – I’m surprised you didn’t reference the Iguodala robbery of a couple years ago. Brandon – 1 point. Once again, I just needed another sentence or two to be sold on your argument.

With a final score of 8-6-4, Queally’s head gets a little bit bigger.