Thursday, August 28, 2008

Abort, Retry, Fail?

Given that there's talk of legal action and boycotts in response to the LPGA's new policy making command of conversational English a condition of membership, the tour's options are increasingly limited. It's down to Abort, Retry, Fail?

Hit "A" to abort the operation: Don't expect a commissioner known for sticking to her guns to back down. The push for international players to learn more English will continue. But the fact that the policy was floated before being fully formulated suggests that the LPGA brass is open to revising it and to tweaking its implementation.

Hit "R" to try reading the data again: What the LPGA ought to do is discuss the policy with all its players (yes, with translators), analyze the data they're getting, along with new data from media and golfosphere responses, and decide on what needs to be changed. Here's a preliminary list:

1) Universalize the rule. If you really want to make the argument stick that communication skills are a crucial component of a golfer's overall professional development and drive home the point that the LPGA is a global tour, then require every player to demonstrate minimal conversational competence in 2 languages. And make sure that the standards players will be held to in English are the same as those for Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.

2) Clarify the quiz. Let all the players know what the oral exams for demonstrating that minimal competence will consist of and how they will be evaluated. Give them opportunities to take practice tests.

3) Suspend the suspension. Most everyone agrees suspending a player's membership on the first failure is much too harsh a penalty. Anyone who fails a test should be required to hire a tutor during the next season and take mandatory classes in the off-season (either through an LPGA program or an accredited college or university). Allow each player 2 fails before membership is suspended.

Hit "F" to attempt to proceed without the necessary data: Go ahead and don't hit "R." Just don't be surprised if you get taken to court, lose players to the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET, lose sponsorships from international, multinational, and transnational corporations, and lose fans from all over the world (including the U.S.).

Better to listen to the wiki gods: "The only option that offered any hope of a solution was Retry."

[Update 1 (11:12 pm): Bivens is reportedly on vacation, so she has plenty of time to digest Golfweek's coverage: Baldry, Rothman, Martin, Ferguson.]

[Update 2 (8/29/08, 5:33 am): Daniel Wexler asks the Commissioner, "Why risk the monopoly?" Good question.]

[Update 3 (12:16 pm): has codified this into a pro/con debate format, but what gets lost in the shuffle is whether it's good business or not, on the one hand, and whether there's a moral justification or not, on the other.]

[Update 4 (12:38 pm): Perhaps the Commissioner should wonder whether she needs any enemies, what with friends like these.]

[Update 5 (12:41 pm): Not much insight or analysis from the Sports Law Blog, either.]

[Update 6 (12:48 pm): Eric Baković at Language Log is barely better. But Ted Lieu is a little funny--for a politician.]

[Update 7 (12:52 pm): Bill Imada at Advertising Age calls for the "A" option. Come on, academic bloggers! Can't you be as coherent as a PR analyst?]

[Update 8 (12:58 pm): Lisa Mickey pens another thoughtful and well-reasoned essay from her Futures Tour office. Required reading for anyone who thinks "A" is the right button to hit--the best case I've yet seen for "F".]

[Update 9 (9/1/08, 3:48 am): I was remiss in not linking to this Jason Wulterkens piece earlier.]

[Update 10 (9/4/08, 2:40 am): Here's some free advice I emailed Lisa Mickey. What do you all think of it?

Bottom line: it's the suspension that worries me. Na Yeon Choi's only rookie blog was translated, I just noticed. So there's a possibility the LPGA's 2008 ROY could get suspended at the end of the 2009 season. That would be a fine mess for the LPGA and for Choi. I hope someone's already made that clear to Choi and the Commissioner. Will there be extra efforts on behalf of those on the "watch list" before the exam? Will they even know they're "on the clock," so to speak? How soon?

A suspension after 2 years seems too soon and too harsh to me.

Many fewer international players are going to find themselves in the top 20 in their first 2 years on tour than will be struggling to stay in the the top 80 or 100. For those in the latter group, fines should be enough of an added incentive to keep them working on their English after their second season. I find it hard to believe that the future of the LPGA really depends on someone who may not even stay on tour for more than a handful of years anyway. Why not craft the policy, instead, to create extra incentives for the few individuals in each rookie class who can get a win in their first 2-4 years on the LPGA--most likely 5-10 people per rookie class, if history is any guide--to get their English up to speed?

Let's take the Classes of 2006 and 2007 as an example. We already know Eun-Hee Ji is on the clock. But what about Jee Young Lee, Ai Miyazato, In-Kyung Kim, Song-Hee Kim, Sun Young Yoo, Kyeong Bae, H.J. Choi, Jin Joo Hong, and Na On Min? It's all very murky for them now. (I assume the other international players are fine.) That's at most 10 players in 2 rookie classes who might need work.

If the policy were formulated in the following way, the expectations and timetable would be a lot clearer for all LPGA members, but particularly for those with the potential to become the face of the tour:

You go on the clock after your 3rd top 10 or your 1st win, whichever comes 1st. You then have, say, 30 events to get your English to a certain very minimal standard or face fines, 60 events to get it to a more adequate standard or face probation, and 90 events to get it to where it ought to be or face suspension.

With clear criteria and clear benchmarks, the players could craft their own timetables for learning English and adjust their playing schedules in light of their actual progress.

I also think there are lessons to be learned from the Patti Rizzo story.]


Anonymous said...

How about "Hit B" to give the finger to the media that insists on telling only the controversial side of the story ? Why not ask the media to do its due diligence to get the story complete and correct before stirring the pot like this ?

Do you KNOW that there haven't been efforts to encourage players to improve their language skills ? It's not a new problem - just a new solution.

The players aren't up in arms - let them figure things out. We are not a part of the tour - neither is the media.

The Constructivist said...

No, I'm pretty well informed of the efforts the LPGA has made to encourage English language acquisition among its international players. I'm all in favor of encouragement. Where did I give the impression I wasn't. I'd like to fix the bad prose.

The first media report was practically an LPGA press release and you know it. Don't blame the media and fans for putting their 2 cents in.

Sure, the players are fully capable of figuring out the issues themselves. But they're also capable of sifting through the arguments out there. They might not be up in arms now, but neither you nor I know what's being said or texted or emailed among the players right now. I hope they get organized and keep the decision-making within tour. I'd hate to see this result in the courts deciding the issue or sponsors voting with their feet.

spyder said...

I see basic English reading comprehension of alleged American English speakers is reaching a new low.

Perhaps we need a NBA comparison. In the final game between the USA and Argentina there were 24 players, 18 of whom played in the NBA. Several of these 18 rarely, if ever speak to the media (nor for their sponsors). All the NBA asks is that they dress nicer, or be fined if they appear in attire too casual for the viewing audience. The rule is stupid (so much for the principles of cognitive liberty) but the players really don't care because the fines are trivial for them. The NBA doesn't care what they sound like (have you ever heard Vladi Divac speak).

Just for the record, there are 68 NBA players from countries other than the USA. Most of these players (Europeans for examples) speak multiple languages quite fluently, but English is not usually one of them (very few of the US players speak anything other than English). TC's suggestion under R (reasonable) incorporates such diversity and multiculturalism.

The Constructivist said...

Basically, CG is calling for the F button (or "Ignore" in the old error message). Won't work.

Anonymous said...

How did I qualify for the F button ? I never said to ignore the situation and skip gathering information ?? I stand by my "B" (for bird) button to get the media to do a better job at their jobs.

The first story I saw on this was Beth Ann Baldry's weak piece in Golf Week - and I seriously doubt that the LPGA office was happy with that piece of slant. I would never call that a "press release". Not to mention that it was held almost a week. According to the LPGA offices, the meeting with the Korean players was held last Wednesday. Baldry's piece didn't come out until Tuesday of this week.

And no - you can't compare the LPGA with the NBA. The NBA is flush with cash - the players couldn't care less about dealing with the public. The LPGA doesn't have that luxury. When is the last time you saw an NBA franchise go out of business ? If a team wants to move - there are cities lined up to bid on the team. The LPGA is losing tournaments every year. Of course, the NBA has other concerns - like keeping their players out of jail and out of paternity court.

The Constructivist said...

Show me the slant in Baldry's piece, CG. All I saw was quote after quote from Korean winners saying how great the policy was, with plenty of supporting commentary from LPGA brass and U.S. Open champion Hilary Lunke.

Check the NY Times of August 27th--interesting story about how Wade from the NBA among others was courting Chinese marketers at the Olympics. Apparently some NBA players see an opportunity to roll in even more money.

If the LPGA is so concerned about making the guys who pay over $5K per pro-am round happy, why not just hire the Swedish bikini team and a crack team of geishas and stand-up comics to handle the duties for those dudes who'd rather enjoy something other than superlative golf?

spyder said...

When is the last time you saw an NBA franchise go out of business

Well, i live in the Northwest, we lost two and will probably lose the third. Not so flush, and worthy of a comparison. And if this really is about capitalism and its ongoing generation of more of itself, then i can only hope it all collapses.