Hither Thither And Yon…

Previously, I told you about the surprisingly bad season that Leicester City was having in the English Premier League.  After surprising everyone and winning the league title last year, Leicester City has been flirting with relegation – finishing in the bottom three of the league – this year.   A league champion has only once been relegated in the following season and that was back in the late 1930s before it was called the Premier League.

The EPL season is two-thirds over; here are the teams at or near the bottom that will need to worry about relegation:

  • Bournemouth   26 points
  • Swansea City   24 points
  • Middlesbrough  22 points
  • Leicester City    21 points
  • Hull City   20 points
  • Crystal Palace  19 points
  • Sunderland   19 points

Over the weekend, Leicester City lost a game to Swansea City by a score of 2-0; for the moment, Swansea’s 3-point lead over Leicester is a result of that victory.  Even more ominous is the fact that Leicester has been shut out in its last 5 EPL games.  Leicester’s coach is Claudio Ranieri and here is what he had to say after the loss to Swansea:

“We have two problems; we concede goals and don’t score.  We have to stick together and find a solution. It’s not possible to continue this way.”

Let me break that down for you:

“We have two problems; we concede goals and don’t score.”  That statement is an acceptable thesis for the degree of Master of the Obvious.  The confluence of those “two problems” is THE definition of lack of success.

“We have to stick together and find a solution.”  You do not really have much of a choice but to stick together – – unless they fire you as a coach in which case the team will go on without you.

“It’s not possible to continue this way.”  Oh, but it is possible and if the team does that the result will be that you will be looking for work elsewhere.

Tonight, the UConn women’s basketball team will seek its 100th consecutive win.  I know it is “fashionable” to point out here that the level of competition in NCAA women’s basketball is very thin and that this accomplishment needs to have an asterisk to put it in perspective.  I think that is horse hockey.  The Harlem Globetrotters’ winning streaks and winning percentages need an asterisk simply because no one should take those as serious games.  The Globetrotters’ opponents are “part of the show” and are there to help put the act over with the audience.  That is NOT the case with teams that take the court against the UConn women.

There is one very real problem with the dominance shown by the UConn women that I had not recognized until Bob Molinaro pointed it out in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“Tough job:  How do sportswriters who cover UConn ever write a decent game story?  What was the game’s turning point?  When the teams got off the bus?”

I want to pose a hypothetical question here.  Recall the latest dust-up between Knicks’ owner James Dolan and former Knicks’ player Charles Oakley and the announcement that Oakley has been banned for life from Madison Square Garden – – also owned by Dolan.  Now, just suppose that another NBA team – – say the Brooklyn Nets – – hired Oakley as an “Assistant Coach for Intimidation”.  On March 16, the Nets are scheduled to visit Madison Square Garden to play the Knicks.  If Oakley were an Assistant Coach for the Nets, could Dolan actually ban him from entering the arena and sitting on the bench with the team that is employing him?

Someone would have to wake Adam Silver from his long winter’s nap to deal with that situation.  If I owned an NBA team and wanted to needle James Dolan, I would be looking to see the next time my team had to go to the Garden so that I could set this up.

Speaking of things that the NBA Commish and the Front Office would prefer not to address, let me talk about tanking for a minute.  The NBA acknowledged the existence of teams tanking to get the top draft picks when it instituted the draft lottery in the first place.  When teams continued to play lethargically despite the existence of the lottery, the NBA moved to discourage that by adjusting the number of ping-pong balls allotted to each team in the hopper.  There is no way that the NBA can represent that tanking has not occurred in their league or that it continues to occur.  Fans in Philly need only hear the words “Trust the process…” to understand what happened with the Sixers for 3 or 4 seasons.

So, why is it that the NBA is worried about sports gambling possibly undermining the “integrity of the games” when it is clear to any rational observer that there are teams seeking to lose certain games on purpose in order to protect draft picks or to acquire more ping pong balls in the hopper for the draft this year.  Moreover, it is going to happen again next year too.  Just asking…

Finally, here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Several L.A. County businesses stepped forward to help bail out the struggling Lennox Little League, including a $1,200 donation from the Jet Strip club.

“What, you’ve never seen a baseball field with brass foul poles before?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



4 thoughts on “Hither Thither And Yon…”

  1. But don’t get me wrong, I love false choices. Is it possible that the intractable tanking problem you describe gives the NBA plenty to worry about? Might that make them even more reluctant to face a future where there are questions, too, about athletes consorting with gamblers? Remember this is the league that had a corrupt official who claimed there were others of his ilk.

    1. Gil:

      The NBA should worry about tanking and about fixed games. The problem is that they have no ability to detect fixed games on their own; they need to rely on info from others – – like maybe the sportsbooks who are taking the legal bets. The other problem is that the league has to see the tanked games – – given that us ordinary observes can see them pretty clearly. And yet, they do nothing about it – – probably because they can’t. Now, if there were only betting on games that one team might choose to tank and someone noticed a strange betting pattern underway …

  2. Leicester City was the exception that proved the rule of the dominant EPL teams (Chelsea, Man City/United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are the usual suspects) that are well funded enough to poach talent from elsewhere. I haven’t looked into Leicester’s losses to the transfer market and/or player signings to the big boys, but the season before last they were somewhere in this predicament. Order was summarily restored. Injuries and distractions were minimal for Leicester as well last year, not so this year. It depends on how well the Foxes respond to the next 3 challenges (Liverpool, Hull [in the relegation spot 1 point behind], at Arsenal). Two of these are “usual suspects”, but Arsenal in particular is finding ways to lose games they should win.

    The truth is that the ladies’ game doesn’t have the deepest talent well to populate the Division 1 universe, but I should question whether the UConn talent is so far above everyone else to claim that no one will beat them. That would require only 12 good players in the country, all at UConn. It’s not going to happen, because there are good players all over and systems that would be geared to slow or stop them. The 100-win plateau is more a testament to the coaching and team discipline than talent alone. Even good teams have off nights and trap games. When will they lose again? I don’t know, probably not until the NCAA tournament, but from my observation the Huskies seem to be particularly focused then.

    I wonder how long it will take Pecksniff Bluehair to complain about the moral turpitude in accepting money from the Jet Strip, harrumphing into their 15 minutes of fame.

    1. rugger9:

      Geno Auriemma gets top talent at UConn and then he really does “coach ’em up” to the point that they are 25-points better than much of their nominal competition and 10-point better than most of the other supposed “top-teams”. He gets the most out of his premium resources…

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