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COLUMN: Christmas lesson found in a box

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By John Herndon

If only I had taken pictures of the boxes on Christmas morning.

They carried the latest toys, from the simple to the must-haves. More importantly, they carried the lessons that we so often forget.

I should have learned that when my oldest daughter, for the first Christmas she really knew anything about, wanted a Snoopy house and a Snoopy baby carriage. Those things challenged Santa’s limited mechanical skills, but she liked them.

And she loved the boxes that presents came in.

All it took was a bit of imagination and a box could be a house, a car or for that matter, just about anything going through a 2-year-old’s mind.

For years, it never changed.

I spent countless hours looking for the right gifts at the right prices. The kids were up before dawn to see what was under the tree, then looked forward to the family’s gift exchange.

The wrapping paper would come quickly, the box opened with haste and even a “Wow!” or “Thank Youuuuuu!” for the latest trinket that was likely to grow old by New Year’s Day.

But every Christmas, somewhere along the line, the hot toys would always give way to the pieces of cardboard that most of us would see as just something else to put in a garbage can or the wood stove.

There is a lesson in those Christmas cardboard boxes for the sports world. The cardboard is strong. It’s sturdy. And to an imaginative kid, it is as cool as the bells and whistles inside.

And how I wish we could revert to the boxes in sports.

Not literally, thank you. I don’t know if you have ever tried to shoot one of those things through a hoop 10 feet above ground, but it is not the easiest task in the world. But you know what I mean.

We have allowed sports to be run by the bells and whistles, the glitz and the glamour. It means big bucks, for ESPN, for just about anyone involved, except, of course, the kids that play the college games.

Just look around. At the University of Kentucky, employee John Calipari is making about $4 million a year, or a buck for each of his tweets. His boss, Mitch Barnhart makes about $475 grand a year and his boss, Lee Todd, took in $354 thousand last year, but declined a large performance bonus.

Not that we should begrudge Calipari. He’s the best thing to hit UK basketball since Rupp Arena and he’s being paid by the marketplace.

Still, think about it. The basketball coach at Kentucky makes 10 times what the university president does, a story that would repeat at nearly every major college in America.

But isn’t there something wrong with that picture?

At Louisville, they were paying Steve Kragthorpe better than $1.4 million annually to coach, and now are paying him better than two mil to not coach.

In Cincinnati, the Reds struggle to find pitching and a leadoff hitter because they are either a) too cheap, b) stuck in a small market or c) a combination of the two.

And at ESPN, the schedule gurus that run college sports have it down to the point of getting you the best matchups, the ones you must have, regardless of when they are played. The worldwide leader cares about, ahem, student-athletes? That gets more laughs than Clark Griswold.

We have more, but are we really better off?

Christmas, you see, is about a King that was born in a barn. He lived the most humble life one could live.

And there is a modern lesson that goes with that ancient story.

My kids and those cardboard boxes taught me quite a bit, but I wasn’t smart enough to see it at the time.

Neither is the world of sports.

Follow John Herndon at Twitter.com/ANewsJPHerndon.