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Buy low, sell high/Mark Jalkanen

January 11, 2011
By Mark Jalkanen - DMG Web Columnist

There were two decisions made last week that made us question the cranial credentials of two of the major power players of the 2011 offseason. Quarterback Andrew Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh were coming off of a stellar 12-1 season at Stanford that had caused their value to rise like the stock of Microsoft did during the end of the previous century (it went from an adjusted price of 10 cents per share in March 1986 to over $58.00 in December 1999 meaning an investment of $1,000 became a lump in the area of $580,000) and both were poised to cash in and move on to the greenest of green pastures.

The time to sell had clearly arrived, as both men had reached the pinnacle of their current positions, and then one didn't, and the other sort of did.

Luck chose to hold his investment and return to Stanford for another season (he has two years of eligibility remaining).

Much like the investor who held Microsoft for the last decade (January 2001-January 2011) and has seen no capital appreciation in the stock position, the chances of Luck seeing any increase in value is virtually nil. There is virtually nowhere for him to go but down. In fact, Luck could experience a decline similar to that of the investor who purchased Mister Softee at $58.00 in December 1999 and is still holding patiently as it sits, nearly motionless, near $30 per share more than a decade later.

Harbaugh sold his investment but chose to reinvest his windfall poorly. He is the guy who presciently sold his Microsoft in late 1999 and chose to plow the proceeds into Intel in January 2000 at $50 per share and is currently ruing the day as his shares languish around $20.

Andrew Luck is eschewing being the first overall pick in the NFL draft so he can go back to Stanford because he is "committed to earning my degree in architectural design" by 2012.

While we are strong advocates of higher education (although the deft hand of government has caused tuition to rise at a more rapid rate than the soaring cost of health care that dominates the headlines), and we thoroughly enjoyed the six years spent getting our four-year degree, Luck has reached the summit and, while the bubble may remain inflated for another year, there is a chance that it will burst.

There is the obvious threat of a significant injury and the fact that 60 percent of his offensive line will not return doesn't lessen the likelihood of that possibility.

With the continuously changing landscape in college football, there is always the potential of a down season due to player turnover, elevated competition in the conference, or other factors of a dream season not being replicated. None of the aforementioned would do anything but harm his overall future value.

He will be one year older, which doesn't sound like much until one realizes that a career in the NFL, even for those who have longevity, doesn't usually last much more than a teen number of years.

Returning for one more year of keg parties and coeds may seem like a wise decision because you can't replicate the college experience later in life (other than living vicariously through your children or regularly watching Animal House and/or Old School) but the fact remains that the decision is dubious at best.

There will be those who hail the example of Sam Bradford (or Peyton Manning etc.) who chose to return to Oklahoma for his final season, got injured, yet still managed to secure the top place in the NFL selection of talent. Those same people need look no farther than fellow Pac-10 returnee Jake Locker who saw his probable draft position (and income) plummet due an unexpected poor season.

Then there is the fact that Bradford finagled a six-year $78 million contract from the Rams in spite of the injury and questions about his shoulder (a rather important piece of anatomy for a quarterback). Hooray for Bradford but Luck should have considered another looming uncertainty.

The NFL is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement (contract between owners and players) and one of the main platforms of the new deal is likely to be a rookie wage scale which could dramatically alter his earning power in 2012. The rookie cap could be in place for the upcoming draft but the far greater likelihood is that it is implemented for spring 2012 or just about the same time Luck will be tossing the mortar board with his inebriated classmates. If the structure of rookie pay is close to resembling any of the proposals that have been leaked, then he could stand to lose (based on the Bradford deal) somewhere in the area of $60 million dollars over the duration of his initial contract.

Do they teach math and economics to architects at Stanford?

The reason most people pay exorbitant sums of money for more education is so that they will get paid in the future because they upgraded their brains and skill sets. It is like renovating a bathroom just before selling a home. It is an investment that one expects to pay off in the future, however, in this case Luck's future has arrived and he is still sitting on the pot.

One other factor to consider is that even without a generous football free-ride Luck would still be able to afford the cost of tuition (many times over) so he could eventually go back to school and finish his degree. The career of an architect tends to have more duration than the career of an NFL player (Brett Favre exempted) and even with a number of concussions it would be likely that his gray matter would be functioning well-enough to sit through a semester or two of lectures and not doze too often. You can attend school in a body cast, you can't line up on Sunday.

Others are applauding and lauding this young man for being "well-grounded", for valuing an education over "greed" (he could donate his all of his money to charity), and for showing his "maturity" by being able to avoid the siren song of direct deposit in favor of the thumping bass coming from his neighbor's dorm room. He may truly have many of the humanistic qualities that society views as desirous but he also has the chance to do what so many dream of and so few ever do.

By staying in Palo Alto he is holding his investment too long and the risks of that decision far outweigh the rewards.

The case of Jim Harbaugh also raised a few eyebrows in the region that lost five bowl games on New Year's Day. The speculation was rampant that Jim could be coming to Ann Arbor since he is the quintessential "Michigan man" (overused term of the week) and would be the perfect antidote for the Rich Wreck experiment.

It won't be happening as the city by the bay wins the day with a five-year $25 million deal that encouraged Harbaugh to take the 101 north to join the Niners.

In our view, at this time, the best place for Jim was Michigan. He would have been hailed as a victor simply for not being Rich Rodriguez. The honeymoon would have lasted for at least two years and he would only have had to stop the regular embarrassments from happening (on and off of the field), demonstrated a better taste in music, and perhaps won a game or two. Expectations have been lowered to the point where he would have been viewed as success simply by not being a total failure.

The money would have/could have been similar, considering that UM paid West Virginia $5 million to procure the services of Rich and then went on to give the coach another $12 million or so over three years, including a tidy payment just to leave the building in a timely fashion (seems like more than $5 million per season to us).

Success would have been the likely eventuality in Ann Arbor, while the same outcome is not as likely in San Francisco. A perusal of the previous two-plus decades (minus the most recent three years) in Michigan indicates a great run of success. The lowest number of wins by any team since Bo Schembechler retired (after the 1989 season), and before Rich Waste arrived, was seven in 2005 by Lloyd Carr. Otherwise the program was consistently contending. SF hasn't had a winning record since 2002.

During the period from 1969 until Rich, the Wolverines had only three head coaches (Bo, Lloyd, and Gary Moeller) while just over the past seven years, the Niners have fired three (Mike Singletary, Mike Nolan, and Dennis Erickson). That fact alone doesn't indicate a model of consistent contention.

Another fact that should have been considered is that recruiting at Michigan would have been far easier than recruiting at Stanford and much easier than drafting for the Niners. In fact, if Harbaugh had come to town, he may have had the feeling he was awash in first-round draft choices as talented players flocked to Ann Arbor. As it stands now he has one (seventh overall).

Failure in the NFL at an organization that has been failing is more likely than failure at the winningest school in the history of college football. Failure in the NFL will not lead to a prime job anywhere while a decade of success at UM may lead directly to some of the most plum jobs in the country (think Pittsburgh after Bill Cowher retired or Indy after Tony Dungy left).

The NFL has job openings every year, Michigan does not. There will always be positions for quality coaches with the dregs of the league but the prime jobs require more than a year of stellar service and usually go to coaches from "football" schools (Jimmie Johnson from Miami, Steve Spurrier from Florida, etc.).

Both of these men reached the top of their game with one another and they won't have that luxury next year. Harbaugh won't have a quarterback (perhaps a rookie chosen with pick seven) and Luck won't have one of the premier coaches in the game calling the shots. This fact won't do either one of them any good.

While it is certainly possible that Luck could get lucky and avoid the ignominy of being the player who left $60 million dollars on the table, the odds don't favor such an outcome.

Harbaugh could be the next Bill Walsh but we wouldn't wager a bathroom renovation on that eventuality.

Luck could still be the top choice in the draft in 2012 and make copious amounts of money during an extended Hall of Fame career.

Harbaugh could find the next Joe Montana.

Or both could come to regret that week in January when they each declined to use the simple wisdom of Ben Franklin's decision-making method. If they had simply drawn a line down the middle of a piece of paper (if they still use paper at Stanford), and listed the pros and cons of any action, they both may have come to the conclusion that, while there are no "cons" currently residing on Alcatraz, there are plenty of cons for each of them in the Bay Area and perhaps the best choice would have been a change of geography (do they teach geography to architects?).

It was Franklin who said, "If your head is wax, don't walk in the sun," so we would advise the two men to avoid a plunging Icarus-like fate by investing in some extreme SPF lotion, staying in the shade (perhaps under a palo alto), always wearing a hat and/or helmet, and if (when) the plummet to earth begins, to avoid using the tried, and untrue, line about not regretting your decisions because, when the cons come home to roost, we'll all know the truth.

PLAYOFF PICKS

Our regular season North record of predictions was a pathetic 21-23-1 while our non-North picks also fell south of .500 at 12-13. We'll try to do better next year (or we might not do it at all).

With two North teams still alive, we see the conference championship being round three of Packers versus Bears in Chicago next week.

Packers plus two at Falcons ---- Round two of this match will also take place in the dome. With three rookies (Andrew Quarless, Brian Bulaga, and James Starks) starting on offense, the Packers have been inconsistent (four penalties by Bulaga last week, 123 yards by Starks this week) but have been able to put enough points on the board to reward the defense for their stellar play. That should continue this week as a date in the conference championship game is on the horizon (and we don't mean deep water).

Seahawks plus ten at Bears ---- Round two of this match goes to the Bears (Seattle won in Chicago earlier this season). The Bears should win the game, and host the Packers, but we don't see them covering as only four of their 11 wins this season were by more than ten points.

Jets plus 8.5 at Patriots ---- Round three (they split the regular season games) goes to New England, but much like the Bears we don't see the Pats covering a rather large number.

Steelers minus 3 versus Ravens ---- Round three (they split the regular season games) should go to the home team. We reckon that this game will be decided by a field goal so a push is the outcome for gamblers and the conference championship in Foxborough is the outcome for Pitt.

PEEVE OF THE WEEK

The concept of "cost" as it relates to government.

During the last-minute holiday debate over extending the current tax rates, there were many instances of politicians referring to the "cost" of such legislation.

We (written in simplified form so even a faux leader can understand) consider a "cost" as the price paid to acquire something. It is usually an outlay of money but can also manifest itself in the form of time/labor etc. and even barter (part of the burgeoning black market economy that our controllers can't control and therefore despise).

If we swing by a local business each morning, after dropping the five-year-old off for kindergarten, and spend $5 on a grande frothy caffeinated beverage the cost is $5 because we voluntarily remove that amount from our pocket in exchange for our a.m. gratification.

Our actual cost is $25 per week, around $100 per month, or $1200 per year, for the pleasure of draining a biodegradable cup filled with water filtered through ground beans with a dollop of dairy (make ours Whipped Lightning) on the top. Cost is a very simple concept that apparently gets much more complicated once you move to D.C.

If we were offered a job stocking shelves at a local retailer during the shopping season and decided to forego that particular pleasure what would our cost be?

If we lived in the world of obfuscation and nonsensical rhetoric that is government it would be the amount of money that we didn't make due to our continued unemployment. In the world of sanity, logic, and common sense, where we (usually) reside, the actual cost to us was zero. No money left our pocket. Sure, there was potential income that did not enter the pocket, however, unlike our ventures into beverage-land, we still have the same amount in said pocket and, therefore, our personal balance sheet remains unchanged.

Looked at another way, if we choose not to sell all of our prized personal possessions (especially the treasures packed in the bins that have been stacked in our basement for years and never touched) out of our garage, it costs us nothing. If we use the secret government math the act of keeping our junk, and foregoing a potential $500 windfall, would mean that we were incurring a "cost" of $500 just to keep our stuff.

Finally, does anyone ever say that because they didn't get a raise that it "cost" them (fill in blank $___)?

Nobody outside of our mis-leaders considers potential income not received to be a cost. They even have the audacity to take it one step further.

When they consider a continuation of the current tax structure to be a cost that has to be "paid" for ("how can we pay for the tax cuts" or "keeping the current rate will cause the deficit to rise") they are tacitly saying that all of your money is their money and what they allow you to keep is a cost to them. Their math starts with government having 100 percent of all money and then figuring out a way to "pay" for the pittance that they allow you to keep. A cost to them is really a cost to you and when they have to pay for something the money comes out of your pocket (which again makes it a cost to you).

In fact, things are so foul in Washington (and not just with the Redskins) that billions of dollars worth of earmarks (and we don't mean the type left on Evander Holyfield's person by Mike Tyson) are often justified by saying that they are less than 1 percent of total spending (we unofficially determined that while earmarks do indeed account for less than one percent of the budget behemoth they are related to nearly 90 percent of the corruption). Their justification could, aye should, be looked at from the completely opposite vantage point. If the dolts in D.C. can't even cut such a miniscule amount from their outlay how are they going to make the meaningful cuts that will lead to a balanced budget?

The answer is that they won't because it will mean diminished power (in the form of pseudo-legal graft).

If a family living in the domain of personal responsibility falls on hard times, and is unable to make their monthly nut (bills for the necessities of life), the low hanging fruit (easy choices) is usually the first to go. In other words, the daily $5 shot of caffeine is replaced by a tin of Maxwell House automatically dripping from Mister Coffee. When accountability matters, tough choices are made, which is why the family succeeds and why our government continues to fail. They need to be held accountable and we could start by asking each of the 536 a very simple question: How long can expenditures continue to exceed revenues before the day of reckoning arrives?

Finally, we would like to note that we recently spilled a piping hot beverage of brown gold in our lap while navigating the snowy streets of our fine city. In government-speak the cost to us wasn't simply the $5 for the right to uniquely warm our nether regions, or the personal anguish and embarrassment that is inherent to those who parade around in public with wet pants, the actual governmental cost was the tidy sum we could have netted had we moved our hot wet pants into the land of litigation. By not winning a lawsuit we "cost" our family a sum of money.

The bottom line, and since we're talking economics we are literally discussing the bottom line, is that the government considers revenue not earned (forget for a moment that the government doesn't really "earn" anything, we'll leave the confiscation debate for another Peeve) to be a cost to government when in reality the true "costs" are always borne by you, the citizen. Sort of makes you feel warm all over (not just in the pelvic region) when you realize that when government doesn't take your money they consider it a cost. The reality is that the muddling misleaders consider the money, all money, our money, to be theirs, when it isn't.

At least not until they confiscate it (and squander it).

Make ours a double espresso with a substantial hint of Ireland awash in the glass.

INDISCRIMINATE MUSINGS

We're certain that there is a large contingent of folks in the region of 11 who wish that they had chosen to remember New Year's Eve and had instead allowed the profuse pouring to occur on January 1 because there wasn't much to celebrate or remember on that day.

It should be remembered that the Big Ten was an underdog in seven of the eight bowl games and did manage to post a disrespectful 3-5 record. Not really a silver lining but perhaps a hint of copper or brass.

Another point that deserves mention is that six of the teams in the conference had to play the opposition in a state that represents their conference and three of those games were in the home states of the nemesis.

Ohio State and Arkansas played in Louisiana, Michigan played Mississippi State in Florida, and Michigan State played Alabama in Florida, so three Big Ten teams played SEC teams smack dab in the heart of SEC country.

Three teams had to play in their opponents' home state as Baylor hosted Illinois in Texas, Northwestern went to Dallas to play Texas Tech, and Penn State played Florida in Tampa.

Only Iowa (versus Missouri in Arizona) and Wisconsin (against TCU in Pasadena) were in truly neutral territory.

This has always been the case in the Rose Bowl (especially when facing UCLA and to a lesser degree USC) and we know that there will never be a bowl game at Lambeau or Soldier Field (though it would be fun) but the facts are the facts and you can make of it what you will.

That being said, the performance of the conference made the strongest case yet for changing the "Legends" and "Leaders" monikers being assigned to the 2012 divisions.

The SEC was favored in 70 percent (7 out of 10) of their bowl games and managed a 4-5 record (going into the Auburn title game) which should keep their tail feathers from flaring too much.

Tim, the newlywed bartender, while lamenting the performance of the conference of 11, noted that they couldn't even get the process of firing a coach done correctly.

When we heard of the non-fire, pre-fire, and then actual fire, we extinguished the talk of ineptitude by focusing on the black helicopters swirling in our braincase. Perhaps Michigan AD Dave Brandon shrewdly decided to allow Rich Rod to hang at half mast for an additional day, a day which happened to feature the rival Buckeyes playing in, and winning, the Sugar Bowl, so he could unleash the pressers the morning after the Ohio State victory thus creating a vacuum of Michigan media coverage that gave short shrift to the OSU win while focusing all eyes on the Maize and Blue. Just sayin'.

Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who we hoped the Pack would acquire earlier this year, marched 67 yards through the Saints sieve and iced the game for the Seahawks as Seattle fans became the only home contingent to exit their stadium with smiles during the first weekend of NFL playoff games (KC, Indy, and Philly all lost at home).

Detroit ended the season with four wins, including two on the road, and improved their win total from two to six wins while further distancing themselves from Matt Millen.

Another sign of the obvious improvement and competiveness in Detroit was that the overall season point differential dropped from an appalling minus 232 to a measly minus seven (+225 improvement).

For comparison, the Bears went from minus 48 to plus 48 (+96), the Pack moved slightly down from plus 164 to plus 148 (-16), and the Vikings dropped precipitously (and directly opposite of the Lions) from plus 158 to minus 67 (- 225, and they don't have a quarterback for next season).

Another stat to note is that the Packers haven't trailed by more than seven points in any game this year and never trailed the Eagles which meant that, unlike the folks in Kansas City on Sunday, the fans of Green never had to leave the stadium, or turn off their televisions, during the third quarter in a fit of disgust.

We met Tom, the anonymous, in recent weeks and have had more than a few spirited conversations regarding many of the subjects covered in this column. We're better for the effort and certainly appreciate anyone willing to toss out an example regarding the "success" of government "solving" problems and any other political, sport, economic, cultural etc. opinion in an honest debate. Cheers to Tom and shame on the 536 anointed folks for being unable to do the same.

Brett Favre meekly rode off into the sunset and possibly into a courtroom.

Presumably he was riding a tractor and wearing Wranglers.

No word as to whether he was texting.

No word as to whether he had spilled coffee on his jeans which could also explain the courtroom possibility.

Another way to look at cost is via a commonly used, by families, economic concept called "opportunity cost". For example, while the actual cost of our a.m. gratification via frothy caffeinated beverage may be $5 the opportunity cost could be the lack of p.m. gratification in the form of a frosty malt beverage.

Another common opportunity cost happens when deciding whether to matriculate in the realm of higher education. The opportunity cost of attending is the money you could have earned if you had spent those six years working instead of getting that four-year degree (with the assumed goal of making more than enough money over the remaining productive years to offset the actual cost of attending and the dollars not earned).

When government decides that the mandated and primary functions are no longer priorities, and the unconstitutional follies (retirement, health care, etc.) move to the top of the list, then the streets of cities don't get plowed. Expect more, not less, of these types of events as resources are diverted away from the "real" domain of government and into the redistrubutive version.

If government takes more of your money, there will be many opportunities missed (perhaps the next Microsoft won't be added to your retirement account).

The Mayan apocalyptic year of 2012 is just around the corner and folks in Arkansas recently witnessed hundreds of birds falling from the sky and thousands of dead fish floating in rivers.

The citizens reacted calmly to those events.

And then a Buckeye team that had never defeated an SEC team in a bowl game killed a pig and "whoo pig sooie" nation started buying gold and stocking canned goods.

From the "we wish we'd thought of that" department, we send credit to someone (one of the Danettes) on the Dan Patrick show who noted that Andrew Luck sounds a lot like Jame Gumb.

Huh? Who?

The Ted Levine character in Silence of the Lambs also known as Buffalo Bill.

"It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again."

Anyway, the next time you see/hear an Andrew Luck interview, recall the movie.

Reports surfaced that the Dolphins made Jim Harbaugh an offer and then gave Tony Sparano (don't call me Soprano) a two-year contract extension. The fact that the (dis) organization offers the job to someone, before the job is open, and then extends the guy they wanted to axe, provides enough evidence to us that Jim made the right decision when he chose to purposely pass on the porpoises.

Congratulations to Julie, the wife and boss of my life, because for the third time in four years UW-Whitewater is the Division III football champion. Perhaps Michigan should look at Warhawk head man Lance Leipold as the successor to Rich.

Some of you may think that the previous item made the column as a way of scoring much-needed points with the boss; however, she is generally unaware, and doesn't care, about sports. The reason the Division III school makes the space is that they navigate a, gasp, playoff, and even with that precarious road to nirvana the same two schools, Whitewater and Mount Union, have now met for six straight seasons in the championship game. That defines dynasty and rivalry and makes the D-III tilt an annual must-see affair.

Perhaps UM should look to Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, who has a .927 winning percentage which translates into an astounding 303-22-3 record over his career at the school.

It looks like the UM search will begin and end with Les Miles. Not a bad choice but Les is less than ideal.

Hugh Hefner is engaged to Crystal Harris and the 5-year-old is openly chiding the man for taking a potential future partner off of the market.

For those who are unaware, Hef is 84, Crystal is 24, and the five-year-old is 5.

Do the math.

If you have a comment, you can send it to mjalkanen@live.com or keep it to yourself.

Gotta go, it's time to feed the cats.

 
 

 

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