His football team is undefeated at 5-0 and making noise in the college football Championship Subdivision; he has not one but two films out, one of which is making a great deal of noise in the college space itself; and his former team is heading for the postseason again. Could life be any better for Bobby Valentine these days?
“It’s an exciting time for me with these new challenges, and I am very happy for the players and the front office people and the fans in Boston, it was a great experience for me,” the now Athletic Director at Sacred Heart (Conn.) University said this week while in New York to help promote two new film projects with partner Andrew Muscato, Branca’s Pitch, released on iTunes this week, and the much anticipated Schooled: The Price Of College Sports, which will debut on EPIXHD on October 16.
Never one to shirk a challenge—or refrain from voicing his opinion—the passionate former MLB manager and TV/radio commentator got into some hot water in recent weeks about some comments, since retracted, about the Yankees involvement in New York post 9/11. However outside of that flare-up, the Connecticut native seems to be enjoying life as a Division I athletic director and now filmmaker, as his third and fourth projects as executive producer come to fruition.
The film about the life of longtime Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca is a worthwhile tale that Valentine has great personal connections to, since Branca is his father-in-law and his story of life after the famous Bobby Thomson home run he gave up is one that sports fans rarely hear.
But the story that is on the minds of many these days—sports, business, even politics—is the question of compensation and fair and equitable treatment of all college athletes as the stakes, and the income rises for high level athletic programs. That topic has gotten considerable space as the Ed O’Bannon-led lawsuit of the use of college athlete images nears an end, and some high profile players started wearing initials on their uniforms (#APU for All Players United) as a symbol of solidarity on the field for the issues at hand.
Schooled addresses many of those issues, Valentine said this week, by looking at the experiences of a host of former NCAA athletes, including NFLPA head Domonique Foxworth, former UCLA players Jeff Locke and Johnathan Franklin (now playing for the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, respectively), and Houston Texans star Arian Foster among others. The result, Valentine said, is a broken system that needs to be fixed—interesting words coming from a man leading a mid-major athletic program these days.
“This is not a question really of pay for play for college athletes, that is a much larger picture to tackle at some point, it is a question of the rights of an individual to have a seat at the table,” Valentine said. “The college athlete deserves to be represented and heard in this system, and right now that doesn’t happen. It’s time for the NCAA, which is over 50 years old, to come into the 21st century and address the issues that college athletes have today, which are different from what they have been in the past.”
One of the issues that Foster brought to light last week was the fact that he, as a student-athlete at the University of Tennessee, received monies during his senior year because he did not have enough money to eat. Those type of issues, Valentine said, are what need to be addressed and the only way is to have the athletes themselves involved in the conversation.
“While people may say this is about how big-time athletes get paid, it is more about the equitable treatment of all college athletes where revenue is being brought in, so it’s bigger than football and basketball,” he added. “Unless everyone has a say the system can’t be fixed, and we will continue to have these issues.”
It is issues like these that Valentine the filmmaker hopes to keep bringing to the table. His other projects have been around baseball, from The Dominican Republic to Japan, but the future will hold more films around sports and social issues like Schooled is doing, with a network like EPIX that has an interest in stirring debate.
“We want to take the discussions on topics like this and bring them from the water cooler to the dinner table, and that's what I think we have done with this film, people will enjoy the debate when it debuts,” he continued.
As far as the debate over his time in Beantown, Valentine continues to take the high road, and sends nothing but positive things north from his current home base in Connecticut.
“They are a great organization and the players and front office this year got things on track and their record speaks for itself,” he said. “I am very excited for those guys at the playoffs start and was lucky to be a part of the Red Sox organization for the time I was there. No regrets for me.”
What the status quo may regret however, is Valentine, always known for displaying his passion and diving in on whatever task he is involved with, being involved in high profile media projects on major issues like college athlete compensation.
Schooled, which has a long list of media personalities involved, from Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch to ESPN’s Jay Bilas to Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg and the New York Times’ Joe Nocera, is going to be a boat rocker, and that suits its executive producer just fine.
Jerry Milani is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.