A Surprising NFL Trade…

I must admit that I was surprised to see yesterday that the Pats traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the Niners leaving them with Tom Brady as the only QB on their roster and/or practice squad.  I understand that the team does things their own way – the Patriot way – and all that stuff, but one QB is very much against the grain even when that QB is not 40 years old.  I do not doubt Tom Brady and his continued ability to play the position but there is this little thing involved in the NFL called “injury”.  Current thinking is that the Pats will sign Brian Hoyer whom the Niners released because Hoyer was previously the backup in New England and therefore “knows the system”.  For the record, he was the backup there from 2009 through 2011 so the Pats must assume he has a really good memory for “the system” since he has been with 5 different teams and in 5 different systems since 2011.

  • [Aside: Here is a bar bet you could probably win if you could set it up.  In 2014 – his last year in Cleveland – Brian Hoyer led the NFL in Yards per completion with 13.7.  I would never have guessed that.]

The Niners gave up a second-round pick next year to acquire Garoppolo which is a fair price; the rumors last year that the Pats were asking for a high first round pick plus other picks or players were exaggerations or fantasies depending which side of the trade you were on.  TV talking heads were quick last night to declare the winner and the loser in this trade which is absurd until you know what the Pats do with the acquired draft pick next year.  However, I think that this trade has a ripple effect that goes beyond the simple exchange of these two assets.

  1. Kirk Cousins:  It was never an axiom that he was going to the Niners at the end of this year when the cost to the Skins of keeping him on a year-to-year basis became ridiculous; nonetheless, even the speculation about such a landing spot for him gave him leverage.  One bit of the leverage is now gone.  Cousins will still attract plenty of suitors in free agency but there is one less call that his agent will be taking.
  2. Browns/Jets/Giants/Cardinals:  These are 4 teams that need QBs in next year’s draft and all of them could have picks in the Top 10.  The Niners would also have been in the QB market in the draft and would definitely have been in the Top 10.  Now there is “less traffic” for those 4 teams.

There is another question that this trade poses and the answer depends on which end of the telescope you want to look through.  Here is the question; what does this trade say about the quality of the QBs in the upcoming draft?  After all, everyone has been saying that this might be a great class of QBs with lots of depth in the field.

  1. The QB Class is not all it is cracked up to be:  Well, if you want to believe that, you have the Niners to point to as your “evidence”.  Did John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan make this trade because they have concluded that the QBs in the 2018 Draft Class are over-hyped and under-talented?  I don’t read minds, but if you want to think that, you are free to do so for the next several years until we see how the QBs in this class turn out.
  2. The QB Class is even deeper than anyone thought:  Well, if you want to believe that, you have Bill Belichick – the sinister hooded genius – to point to as your “evidence”.  Did the Pats make this trade because Belichick & Co. have already identified a QB they are confident they can get in the second round who is good enough to be the primary backup and heir apparent in New England?  Once again, I don’t read minds but if you want to think that, you are free to do so until we see what the Pats do in the draft next year.

I mentioned 4 teams above that need QB help badly who look to be on the way to high first round picks.  There is another team that is in desperate need of a QB in a different category.  The Denver Broncos have a defense that could carry the team to the playoffs and maybe deep into the playoffs; that defense is that good.  Their problem now is that their starting QB, Trevor Siemian, is self-immolating.  The fact that Siemian was not benched at halftime of last night’s game tells me that the Broncos are in deep yogurt; Siemian’s performance last night requires adjectives such as “abysmal”, “awful”, “appalling”, “atrocious” – – and I am not down to the letter “b” in the alphabet to get to words such as “bad” or “beastly”.

The Broncos have two QBs on the roster.  One is Brock Osweiler; I think there are enough returns in to declare that he is not a long-term answer to a QB problem in the NFL.  The other is Paxton Lynch who has been injured but who – also – has been unable to beat out Trevor Siemian in the Exhibition Season for two years in a row.  Compounding the problem for the Broncos here is the schedule maker.  With a record of 3-4, the schedule gets tough for the next month; this will be a severe test for that defense:

  • At Philly:  The Eagles’ defense is playing very well – particularly on run defense.  That sets up a situation where the Broncos’ QB will need to be an important cog in the offense.
  • Vs. New England:  Tom Brady has never played well in Denver and the Pats’ defense is not the team strength.  Nonetheless, the Denver QB cannot be a turnover machine against the pats.
  • Vs. Cincy:  If the Bengals’ defense shows up and plays to its ability – and avoids its own self-immolation tendencies – this will be a very low-scoring game.
  • At Oakland:  If the Bengals navigate successfully through those first three games, they then have this division game on the road that will be very important regarding playoff tie-breakers.

Finally, here is a timely NFL commentary from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Texans’ Bob McNair, discussing protesting players with his fellow owners, said, ‘We can’t have the inmates running the prison.’

“There went O.J.’s hopes of making his NFL comeback in Houston.”

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

 

 

A World Series Night To Remember

Until about 8:00PM EDT on Sunday, this was a typical autumn weekend in sports.  There were some surprising results in college football games on Saturday; the NBA and NHL regular seasons slogged on; a coach was fired, and a manager was hired; the NFL had a couple of exciting games but no real show-stoppers; and then … Game 5 of the World Series began.  Let me say this before the results are in:

  • I expect the TV ratings for SNF to be down this week because anyone who flipped over to see the World Series during commercial breaks in the Steelers/Lions game had to be severely tempted to stay with the baseball game on this night.

What a great baseball game that was!  I can understand people being unhappy with the outcome of the game if they are Dodgers’ fans or if they had a financial stake on the game that was a loser.  Having said that, I would suspect that even those folks would have to admit that this was an entertaining and exciting contest.  I was “fortunate” to be home from school with a cold on the day Don Larsen threw the perfect World Series game; so, I really cannot say that last night was the “best World Series game I ever saw”.  I also saw Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off and Joe Carter’s walk-off and Kirk Gibson’s too; I remember Carleton Fisk’s home run in the series against the Reds; I remember Willie Mays’ catch in centerfield; I saw the miracle that followed Bill Buckner’s error; I remember Madison Bumgarner’s relief heroics on short rest for the Giants and I surely remember last year’s Game 7 that gave the Cubs their first World Series title in more than a century.  I walked you down that World Series Memory Lane to give perspective to this statement:

  • Last night’s Game 5 between the Astros and the Dodgers’ was as exciting a game as any of those memorable moments from the last 60+ years.

It was only about 18 months ago when Leicester City stunned folks who follow European soccer and won the English Premier League.  As recently as 2009, Leicester City had not been part of either of the top two tranches of English football competition, but they won it all in 2016 only a year after returning to the top-level of the sport.  One might think that the team continued to bask in the after-glow of that accomplishment.  That is not the case…

Claudio Ranieri was the club manager for the “miracle season”.  However, in February of the ensuing season, Ranieri was sacked and replaced by Craig Shakespeare.  Leicester City finished 12th in the EPL in May 2017; the team played more effectively under Shakespeare and rallied to end up comfortably above the relegation line.  Earlier this month Craig Shakespeare was fired as team manager with the season only 25% of the way to the end and was replaced by Claude Puel.  Leicester City stands in 11th place as of this morning; I wonder if   that miracle championship in 2015/16 imbued the team owners with unrealistic expectations for the near future…

Every once in a while, I have a moment of insight and to explain my latest one to you, I need to set the stage.  In the area where I live, there is an active youth football league that organizes teams to play all the way from ankle biters through early teenage years.  It is well-organized, and it gets lots of kids involved.  When I need to drive to the supermarket for groceries, I pass by one of the practice fields for some of these kids and I happened by a week or so ago and got to watch two teams practicing.  There was a minor fender-bender on the road and so traffic was backed up for about 5-10 minutes as the police did what they needed to do.  To kill a moment or two, I pulled over and got out of my car to watch the kids practicing.  I would guess that one team had kids about 12-13 years old who weighed 150 lbs; the other team was clearly younger; for the purposes of illustration only, call them 10-12 years old and 120 lbs.

Each team was scrimmaging simultaneously and here is what I noticed.  Both teams were using a shotgun offense and a spread formation.  I only watched for about 10 minutes so I have no idea about the total offensive system for either team; but in the time I watched, they both used 4 WRs and a tight end most of the time and 3 WRs, a tight end and a running back on all the other formations.

I have said before that the spread formations used in many college systems these days does not fully prepare QBs to play in the NFL.  For that position, the colleges are not serving well as a minor-league system for the NFL.  [To be fair, that is not the purpose of college football.]  Many other observers have suggested that the offensive line positions are similarly under-prepared to play NFL football because offensive linemen in college to not spend time learning a variety of blocking techniques; they focus mainly on pass blocking in a system where the ball comes out quickly.

I went digging through back columns by Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot because I remembered that he had an observation along this line:

“Short stuff: Whatever the reason – a dearth of reliable quarterbacks, sieve-like offensive lines – the NFL has become a dink-and-dunk passing league. Not a lot of fun to watch.”

My moment of insight was that the spread system has worked its way all the way down to youth football.  These kids are being taught football fundamentals tailored to that style of play from the earliest age groups.  [Well, maybe not the earliest.  I did not see any ankle-biters practicing using spread formations.]  Proficiency in almost all athletic endeavors involves practice and repetition to develop “muscle memory” and a sense of comfort/confidence in what one is attempting to do.  The spread offense ought to be very effective in high school and college where the defenses always have athletic limitations; the same goes for youth football prior to high school.  Ergo, coaches use that system to be successful in their games and that is what kids practice and develop “muscle-memory” for.  And perhaps, that is why some QBs and O-linemen arrive at the NFL as physical specimens who need loads of technique development before they can be “coached up” for a game.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha world-Herald:

“A Buffalo Bills fan threw beer at a player. The fan was immediately wrestled to the ground and rushed to a hockey game where he was seated in the first row.”

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

 

 

Football Friday…

It is Football Friday here in Curmudgeon Central; and because I am a creature of habit, I shall begin today with college football commentary.

The Linfield College Wildcats assured themselves a winning season in football for the 62nd consecutive year with a 12-6 victory over George Fox University last week.  Both Linfield and George Fox had been scoring machines up until this game.  Linfield dominated time of possession and led 12-0 on four field goals until the final play of the game which was a George Fox touchdown.  This victory was the 20th consecutive conference win for Linfield; their last loss was on November 1, 2014 to Willamette.  Go Wildcats!

The way the College Football Playoff is structured now, there are four teams that get into the playoffs and there are 5 so-called Power Conferences.  It does not take much mathematical mastery to recognize that one conference – at least – will be on the outside looking in every year.  I wonder if that conference will be the PAC-12 this year.  Consider these projected decisions by the Selection Committee:

  • Alabama or Georgia – whichever is the SEC Champion – is guaranteed one of the four slots.  If these two go to the SEC Championship game undefeated and the winner comes out with an overtime win, they both might get in.  For now, count that as one slot filled…
  • The Big 10 Championship will be decided in a game between Wisconsin and either Penn St., Ohio St. or Michigan St.  If Wisconsin wins the conference, it will likely be 13-0 at that point; that will put them in the playoffs despite a lackluster schedule.  If Ohio State wins the conference, it will have one loss and a tough enough schedule to get in.  If either Penn St or Michigan St win the conference, they would probably be undefeated and be guaranteed an invitation.  Therefore, the Big 10 will get a team in the CFP but probably not two.
  • The ACC standings as of now offer too many possibilities for a champion to project.  Miami and NC State are undefeated in the conference but there are 4 teams with only one conference loss.  If Clemson prevails, they will probably get into the CFP as the defending champion.  Otherwise …?
  • TCU looks like the class of the Big 12 at this point and undefeated to this point of the season.  However, there are four teams in the conference – Iowa St. Oklahoma, Oklahoma St. and West Virginia – with only one loss in conference.  If TCU runs the table, I think they are definitely in.  If not … ?
  • Notre Dame is a wild card here.  For football, Notre Dame has no conference; Tony Kornheiser has called Notre Dame the “University of Football in North America”.  As of this morning, Notre Dame has one loss; that was by one-point to Georgia (see above).  If they run the table and beat NC State and Miami and Stanford in the process, there is a real possibility the Selection Committee will put Notre Dame in the CFP.

Just looking at the possibilities above, the CFP could be “over-subscribed” and I have not yet come to the PAC-12 where the situation is this:

  • USC leads the PAC-12 South but it already has 2 losses and one of them was by 5 TDs to Notre Dame.  That game is a stinker and with 2 losses, USC’s credentials are not all that strong.
  • Stanford also has 2 losses already and last night they beat a bad Oregon St. team by 1-point scoring a TD in the final minute to do so.  Two losses plus one of the ugliest wins ever is not much of a calling card.
  • Washington and Washington St. each have only one loss but they will play each other later this year in the Apple Cup game.  The loser of that game is probably out of luck so let’s look at both teams.
  • I think Washington St. would be the stronger PAC-12 nominee of the two if they wind up with 1 loss because their out of conference schedule is stronger than Washington’s.  I did not say it is a “strong out of conference schedule”; I said it was better than Washington’s.  Washington St. will have played and beaten Montana St., Boise St. and Nevada while Washington would have played and beaten Rutgers, Montana and Fresno St.  The Selection Committee professes to weigh heavily the “strength of schedule” in its rankings.  Both Washington and Washington St. would arrive at the final rankings with a loss on their record; a not-so-tough conference schedule and a meek out of conference schedule.  Not promising …
  • Arizona and Arizona St. both have only one loss in the conference and one of them might wind up winning the conference championship game.  The problem for the PAC-12 here is that Arizona St. has 3 losses so far and Arizona has 2 losses – to Houston and Utah.  I cannot see either team making the CFP even as the PAC-12 Champion.

The final CFP rankings will not be out until 3 December.  Far too many things can happen between now and then to do anything but label all of the above as a guess, but that is part of the fun of following college football.

I mentioned above that Stanford had an ugly win over .Oregon St. last night.  Stanford won the game with 214 yards of total offense; Oregon St. outgained them on the field with 236 yards of total offense.  There were 4 turnovers in the game and 14 penalties; it was hard to watch.

Last weekend, Arkansas lost to Auburn 52-20.  Auburn is a good team, but Arkansas’ self-image in football is not that they are a patsy.  The Razorbacks are 2-5 this year and 0-4 in the SEC; the 4 SEC losses were by a total of 96 points.  Bret Bielema has been at Arkansas for four and a half seasons; so, this is “his team” with “his recruits”, and as of this morning, his overall record at Arkansas is 27-31 and his SEC record is 10-26.  I was wondering if he was on as hot a seat as that record might suggest and I ran across two reports that said his buyout clause is either $12M or $15M depending on the report.  Obviously, I do not have access to the contract itself, but if that clause is in there, let me say this unequivocally:

  • Bret Bielema’s agent served his client VERY well…

The normal order of college football in Florida is upset so far this year.  Florida St. has a losing record and will struggle to be bowl-eligible.  The best way to describe the season for Florida so far is “Meh!”  However, look at other Florida teams:

  • Miami is undefeated at 6-0 and leads the ACC Coastal Division.  They have beaten Florida St. this year.
  • UCF is undefeated at 6-0 and could well be 10-0 when they host USF on November 24.
  • USF is undefeated at 7-0 and could well be 10-0 when they play USF on November 24.
  • Florida International is 4-2 and appears to be a cinch to achieve bowl eligibility this year.
  • Florida Atlantic is 4-3 and should make bowl eligibility this year too.  FAU has Lane Kiffin as its coach for the immediate term but no one there ought to think of Kiffin as a fixture with the Owls.  This is a “penance assignment” for him – a “stepping stone” if you prefer – until a better offer comes along.  When that happens, he is off like a prom dress…

Looking at games this week, the biggest game of them all – and probably the biggest game of the season to date – is Penn St. at Ohio St.  This is a revenge game for Ohio St. for last year’s loss in State College; and with all due respect to Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio, Paul Chryst, Kirk Ferentz and Pat Fitzgerald, this game matches the two best coaches in the Big 10.  Ohio St. is a 7-point favorite at home.  I think this will be a defensive game and in defensive games I prefer to take points than give points.

TCU is for real this year.  They are undefeated and they are only allowing 15 points per game while scoring 41 points per game.  This week TCU is at Iowa St and the Cyclones have beaten Oklahoma two weeks ago and held Texas Tech’s offense to 13 points in Lubbock last week.  TCU is a 6.5-point favorite on the road and I think they will prevail here.

Last spring when DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL Draft, Notre Dame coach, Brian Kelly, said that Kizer needed to stay in school.  Most everyone figured that Kelly was taking a position of self-interest with that statement, but having seen Kizer in the NFL, Kelly was probably right.  However, things seem to have worked out just fine in South Bend because Kizer’s absence opened the door for Brandon Wimbush to be the Notre Dame QB.  Wimbush appears to me to be as good as Kizer was last year and Wimbush is certainly more entertaining to watch.  This week Notre Dame hosts NC State and the Irish are a 7-point favorite this morning.  NC State is 6-1 for the season and this is an important game for them; it should be a good game.

Oklahoma St. visits West Virginia this week.  As noted above, both teams have only one loss in conference; so, this is a big game for both.  The Cowboys are 7.5-point favorites on the road.  I think both teams will score often; the Mountaineers are tough at home; I think that line is fat.

Georgia/Florida is the rivalry game of the week.  Despite the success of the Gators in recent matchups, Georgia is a 14-point favorite here on a neutral field in Jax.

Another big rivalry game this week is Kansas St. at Kansas.  Kansas St. is a 24-point favorite on the road here.  The situation before us regarding this game is simple.  Kansas St. is an “average team”; Kansas is just plain “bad”.

Tennessee visits Kentucky this week.  This is a “border war” game and Kentucky is a 4-point favorite.  When I saw that Kentucky was favored, I thought this was the line for a basketball game instead of a football game.

Oklahoma hosts Texas Tech this week and the Sooners are a 20-point favorite.  What has happened to the Oklahoma defense?  Earlier this year, they held Ohio St. to 16 points in a major upset in Columbus OH.  However, in Big 12 conference games, the Sooners are 3-1 but they have given up an average of 34.5 points per game and only one of those four opponents has a winning record this morning.  Texas Tech is not a great team by any stretch of the imagination but they can score points in bunches.  The Total Line for the game is 75 points.  Were I in Las Vegas for the weekend, I would probably parlay “Tech plus the points” with the game to go OVER.

Virginia started the season by winning 5 of its first 6 games and then hosted BC last week.  In an ugly performance at home, Virginia lost that game by 31 points.  This week, Virginia goes on the road to take on a mediocre-at-best Pitt squad and the oddmakers have installed Pitt as a 3-point favorite.  Verry interesting…

As noted above, Miami is undefeated this year at 6-0.  This week Miami visits UNC; the Tar Heels are 1-7 and they are playing exactly the way you would expect a team with that record to play.  Question:

  • Is this a trap game for Miami?

Next up for Miami are two home games against VA Tech and then Notre Dame.  Miami is a 20-point favorite over UNC.

Baylor is one of two winless teams so far this year; they are 0-7.  However, only 2 of those 7 losses have been by double digits.  This week, Baylor hosts Texas and the Texas QB, Sam Ehlinger, is questionable having suffered a concussion last week.  Baylor is a 9-point underdog and is +280 on the Money Line.  Is this Baylor’s first win of the season?

Wisconsin plays Illinois this week.  All I can say is that this will be more difficult than a BYE Week for Wisconsin – – but not much.  The Badgers like to run the football and the Illinois defense is nothing to crow about.

In the Big 10 East standings this week, there are two teams tied for fourth place.  Those teams would be:

  • Michigan – – and – – Rutgers.

You probably could have gotten good odds on that prop bet back in August.  Well, that tie will be broken this weekend because Rutgers visits Michigan in Ann Arbor.  I suspect that Jim Harbaugh’s head will explode if he looks at the newspaper tomorrow morning and sees his Wolverines a notch below Rutgers in the Big 10 standings.  The oddsmakers say that will not happen; Michigan is a 23-point favorite in the game and is minus-2000 on the Money Line.

Moving on to the NFL, the Thursday Night Football game was about as exciting as watching a blinking yellow light at an intersection.  The Ravens beat the Dolphins 40-0.  If anyone thought that Matt Moore’s 4th quarter heroics against the Jets last weekend should generate a QB controversy in Miami, they need to look at the tape of this game.  This game shows clearly why Matt Moore is now and has been for the last 10 seasons.  Last night he was just awful but he remains a solid backup QB if the duration of using him as a starter is only a few weeks.  Anything more than that will not end well.

There are six teams on a BYE Week this week:

  1. Cardinals:  Last week was an unmitigated disaster; Carson Palmer broke his arm and newly acquired RB/offensive savior, Adrian Peterson, carried the ball 11 times for 21 yards.  Bruce Arians says that Drew Stanton is the starting QB going forward; I suspect that when drew Stanton is the starting QB, the direction involved is going backward.
  2. Giants:  They have to be the biggest negative surprise of the season to date, right?
  3. Jags:  Win one; lose one; win one …  That has been the Jags season to date.  Now they get a week off after a win.
  4. Rams:  They might be the biggest positive surprise of the season to date – – or would that be the Jets?
  5. Packers:  Good time for a week off so that they can “coach up” Brett Hundley…
  6. Titans:  Last week, these guys needed OT to beat the Browns and never scored a TD in those 60+ minutes.  If there is such a thing as a moral victory, then that was an immoral victory.  Fans should start a petition to Roger Goodell demanding that if the titans are involved in any tie-breaker situations at the end of the year, that win over the browns should only count as half-a-win.

This week will see the fourth and final “London game” for the season and it will be played at Twickenham Stadium on the River Thames just west of London.  So far this year, the three previous games in London have been blowouts; the smallest margin of victory has been 20 points.  If the NFL is seeking to grow a fanbase there, perhaps putting more competitive games on the schedule would be a step in the right direction.  The game this Sunday does not seem to fit into that category.

In jolly old England this week, the Vikes will take on the Browns.  If that is not sufficiently nauseating, this game will feature a QB pairing of Case Keenum versus DeShone Kizer.  Be still my heart …  Let me review that Browns’ QB meanderings for the last couple of weeks:

  • A couple of weeks ago, Kizer was benched in favor of Kevin Hogan.  That did not work out well …
  • Last week, Kizer was benched at halftime in favor of Cody Kessler.  That too did not work out well …
  • Now, Kizer is designated as the starter once again…

Here’s a thought.  Maybe the Browns can throw opponents off guard by not announcing their starting QB until game time.  After warmups, the three of them can do a round-robin of Rock/Scissors/Paper in the locker room to determine who will start and who will be the one to go into the game to relieve the starter after the starter stinks the joint out.  How bad can that be?

The Bears visit the Saints this week and the Saints are 9-point favorites.  The Saints have won 4 games in a row and the Bears have won 2 in a row.  Are those streaks mirages or are they real?  I suspect the Bears’ win streak is a mirage; I am skeptical about the Saints as a winning team going forward but skeptics are allowed to change their minds.  The Saints’ defense is playing lots better this year than in the recent past and the Saint’s offense is much more balanced between running and passing than in recent years too.

The Jets host the Falcons this week.  Both teams lost last week; the Jets blew a 14-point lead in the second half to the Dolphins; the Falcons were dominated by the Pats from start to finish.  Both teams are big surprises this year.  Some folks thought the Jets would lose every game; the Jets are 3-4 as of today.  The Falcons were in the Super Bowl last year with a dominating offense; this year, the Falcons are averaging 12.6 points per game less than they scored in 2016.  That is a shocking drop-off – – particularly since the same personnel are on the field on offense this year as last; that speaks to coaching/play calling.  Here is the nub for this game:

  • The Jets’ defense is allowing 357.9 yards per game.  If the Falcons cannot move the ball and score in this game, they have some real soul-searching to do and they have already had their BYE Week.

The Panthers visit the Bucs this weekend and the Bucs are 2-point favorites.  Both teams have disappointed their fans this year.  Cam Newton looks nothing like someone who was the NFL MVP a year and a half ago; Jameis Winston has not taken a step forward in his development despite putting up gaudy stats.  Here is why this game might be interesting:

  • The Bucs have the #1 offense in the NFC averaging 392.8 yards per game.
  • The Panthers have the #1 defense in the NFC allowing 261.9 yards per game.
  • The Bucs have the worst defense in the NFC allowing 408.5 yards per game.
  • The Panthers’ offense is mediocre.

The Eagles host the Niners and the Eagles are 12.5-point favorites this morning.  That line opened at 10 points and has risen pretty steadily as the week progressed.  The Eagles are coming off a short week; the Niners have a long trip to the game and an early time slot.  In addition to being 0-7 this year, the Niners are 2-21 since the start of the 2016 season; the problem for the Niners is clear; they have a talent deficit with regard to most of the rest of the league.  Here is the question for this game:

  • Is this a trap game for the Eagles?  Next up for the Eagles is a visit by the Broncos and then a BYE Week…

The Raiders visit the Bills this weekend in another game where a West Coast team travels a good distance to the game venue and looks at an early kickoff.  The Bills are a 2.5-point favorite here.  This is one of the best games of the weekend simply because it means a lot to both teams in terms of playoff aspirations.  Is it safe to assume that the Amari Cooper we got used to seeing last year is now back on the Raiders’ roster?  Last week he caught 210 yards worth of passes more than doubling his output for the season to date.  Oh, by the way, Raiders’ TE, Jared Cook ain’t bad either.  The Raiders’ challenge here will be stopping the Bills running game and LeSean McCoy.  The Bills only average 181 yards per game passing so the Raiders need to make the Bills throw the ball if they want to win here.

The Colts visit the Bengals this week and the Bengals are 10.5-point favorites.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  The Colts stink; the Bengals just don’t stink as much.  Just for perspective, if I were in a hospital bed and could not reach the TV remote and this was what was on the TV in my room, I would probably watch it rather than going to sleep in the middle of the afternoon.  Other than that…

The Pats host the Chargers this week and both teams are riding 3-game winning streaks.  The Total Line for this game is 48 points; it opened at 49 points; I think that is way too low.  The Pats are 7-point favorites this morning; that line opened at 5 points and jumped to this level very quickly.

The Texans visit the Seahawks this week and the Seahawks are 5.5-point favorites.  This is another of the good games on the card for the weekend.  Texans’ rookie QB, Deshaun Watson face a top-shelf NFL defense here.  The Texans got OT, Duane Brown, back on the active roster this week when Brown ended his holdout seeking a renegotiated contract; the question now is whether he is in “football shape”.  Seahawks’ QB, Russell Wilson had a “breakout game” last week throwing for 334 yards and 3 TDs.  The question here is simple; is that a bad omen for the rest of the NFC teams or was that simply a performance against the woebegone Giants?

The Skins host the Cowboys in a rivalry game that was listed as “Pick ‘em” to start the week but now has the Cowboys as 2-point favorites.  The Cowboys have the slightly better offense statistically; the Skins have the slightly better defense statistically.  Forget that; this is a rivalry games and the stats don’t mean much.  Here is what I think is the key to the game:

  1. The Skins’ defense has had more than a little trouble covering tight ends over the middle this year.  The Skins’ safeties are “big hitters” but they do not excel in coverage; the Skins’ linebackers do not cover well either.
  2. Jason Witten is coming to town.
  3. Uh-oh …

The Lions host the Steelers in the Sunday Nite Game and the Steelers are 3-point favorites.  Let’s go through the issues and the contradictions involved here.  The Lions are much better at home than on the road; the Steelers are also much better at home than on the road; this game is in Detroit.  The Steelers have more talent on offense and the Steelers have the #2 rated defense in the NFL trailing on the Broncos by 0.2 yards per game.  Matthew Stafford “struggles in prime time”; this game is on Sunday nite.  The Steelers often play with no passion against non-conference opponents; the Lions are ‘in the other conference”.

The Broncos visit the Chiefs in the Monday nite game and the Broncos find themselves as 7-point underdogs.  The Chiefs sit atop the AFC West despite losing their last 2 games; they do not want to lose a third game in a row especially to another division foe.  Last week the Chiefs gave up 500+ yards to the Raiders and they surrendered a 9-point lead at the start of the 4th quarter.  Meanwhile, teams seem to have decided that the way to deal with the Broncos is to load up to stop the run and to force Trevor Siemian to beat them with his arm.  It seems to be working because after an offensive explosion yielding all of 21 points in Week 1, the Broncos have not scored more than 17 points in any game.  Two weeks ago, the Broncos lost to the Giants 23-10 and last week they were shut out by the Chargers 21-0.  The Total Line for this game is 43 points; it might take a defensive score somewhere during the game to take this game over that number.

Finally, since I mentioned the long trips for the Raiders and the Niners to games this week, consider this comment on team travel from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“I’ll sympathize with the amount of miles a team has to fly in a season as soon as they start flying commercial and sitting in coach, where the meal is a bag of stuff vacuumed off the floor in first class, the coffee is ‘Prison Reject,’ and you always get a middle seat between two sumo wrestlers, in uniform.”

Ain’t that the truth …

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

 

 

RIP “Fats” Domino

Antoine “Fats” Domino died yesterday at the age of 89.  He was one of my favorite musical performers when I was a kid.  Some brief thoughts:

  • Arriving at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter says:  I Hear You Knockin’
  • My reaction to news of his death:  Ain’t That A Shame
  • Where to bury him:  On Blueberry Hill

Rest in peace, “Fats” Domino …

People complain about “pace of play” in baseball.  Sometimes, MLB games drag on for seeming eternity; so, I get the complaints and often agree with them.  Not last night…  Game 2 of the World Series was more than 4 hours long and none of it was bothersome.

For a short time, it appeared as if this would be labeled the “Groundhog Day Game”.  Game 1 provided a 3-1 score where the winning margin was a two-run homer by the second guy in the Dodgers’ batting order in the bottom of the sixth inning.  That happened again in Game 2; and given the effectiveness of the Dodgers’ bullpen, it appeared as if the only way it would not come to pass would be if the Dodgers added to their score.  Instead, the Astros rallied to tie the game in the ninth inning; the Astros took a 2-run lead in the 10th; the Dodgers tied the game in the bottom of the 10th; the Astros took another 2-run lead in the 11th inning; and the Dodgers could only muster a single run in the bottom of the 11th.  Final score was 7-6; the Series is tied at 1 game apiece; the teams get a day off to travel to Houston and watching Game 2 was four-plus hours well spent.

I have said that many managers tend to over-manage in the playoffs and I really think that Dave Roberts did that last night.  Dodgers’ starter, Rich Hill, threw four solid innings striking out 7 batters and allowing only 1 run; I cannot find his pitch count in the box score, but I recall glancing at the screen graphic in the fourth inning and it was in the mid-50s; for some reason, Roberts pulled him and went to the bullpen to start the fifth inning.  I cannot find any report that Hill was injured or that he needed treatment of any sort; so, I chalk that up to over-managing.

Now that he has retired from network play-by-play activities, Brent Mussberger hosts a radio program from Las Vegas that focuses on sports betting/gambling.  He is an outspoken supporter of changing the Federal law that prohibits sports betting in all but a handful of states and delegating the authority to decide on legalization to the various states.  Obviously, he and I agree on that issue almost completely.  I read a report of an interview with Mussberger that had an interesting tidbit in it.  According to him, the sportsbooks in Las Vegas took in a larger handle on college football games than they did on the NFL games last weekend.

As I read that, my first reaction was to shrug my shoulders.  After all, on a typical weekend, there are about 60 college games on the card calling for action and there are never more than 16 NFL games; last weekend, there were only 14 NFL games.  However, again according to Mussberger, this is the first weekend that has happened.

That ought to make one stop and think; wagering on football games has been a major industry in Las Vegas since the “invention” of the point spread.  Wikipedia says that a math teacher named Charles McNeil was the person who “invented” the point spread in the 1940s.  I was not sentient then; so, I cannot confirm or deny that assertion.  My point is that football wagering is not something that started as recently as the 15 minutes of fame bestowed on Linda Tripp.  [Google is your friend …]

This datum is surely not conclusive of any hypothesis but it makes me wonder about the NFL.  The Grand Canyon was formed by erosion, pebble-by-pebble; grain of sand-by-grain of sand over eons.  Erosion is almost impossible to observe in real time; it can only be seen by comparison over long periods of time.  And I wonder if this datum is one slightly visible moment of erosion of the NFL’s dominance.  Consider:

  • NFL live attendance is down in most cities.  Even “good” teams/”successful” teams play games in front of empty seats.  That was rarely the case 10 years ago.  I can offer up a half-dozen reasons why this is the case in 2017 and I will acknowledge that this datum is inconclusive about almost anything.
  • NFL TV ratings are stagnant at best and down in most comparisons.  For the immediate term, this is a bigger problem for the five networks that carry NFL games.  Four of those networks – FOX, CBS, NBC and ESPN – have contracts that pay the NFL a fixed sum to air the games.  If ratings drop, they do not get the same fees from advertisers and their bottom lines suffer.  However, over the long term, declining ratings can lead to declining TV rights’ fees and that would be a big deal for the NFL.
  • People threaten boycotts related to the NFL.  Some want to boycott the games because they are put off by the “anthem protests”; others want to boycott games because of the league’s “insufficient” sensitivity to domestic violence issues; others want to boycott games because … [fill in the blanks here].  Boycotts rarely work but if people successfully boycott even one sponsor of NFL games and drive sales figures down significantly – and keep them down for a while – that would be a game-changer.

Now add to all those individually insignificant happenings a “downturn” in the gambling handle for NFL games.  That datum might indicate two things and neither is very good for the NFL:

  1. It could mean that people are losing interest in the NFL overall.  The league would never admit it, but a significant portion of the league’s growth and popularity is due to the fact that people bet on the games – – thanks to Charles McNeil and his point spreads.
  2. It could mean an acceleration in the deterioration of TV ratings because for many people who live on the West Coast, the major reason to tune in to see a game between the Dolphins and the Jags is because they have “a little something riding on the game”.

I am NOT suggesting that the NFL is in trouble or that it is doomed.  I am saying that the NFL is going through a rough patch in 2017 with regard to growing the league toward its stated objective of $25B in revenue in 2025.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“I watched some of the North American Wife Carrying Championships.  That way when curling comes to Omaha next month it won’t seem quite so silly.”

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

 

 

An Unnecessary Apology

It should not come as even a small surprise to anyone who has read these rants for a while to hear that I am not someone dedicated to politically correct speech or thought.  I try not to go out of my way to say or do offensive things; but I recognize that everyone must encounter “minor offenses” on a regular basis in life; and so, I don’t think that is such a big deal.  In fact, I believe that the First Amendment guarantees that one will hear or read something offensive on a regular basis if the standard for “taking offense” is set very low.

I mention this because Al Michaels felt the need to issue an apology recently based on a remark he made about the NY Giants.  What he said was that the Giants were …

“… coming off a week worse than Harvey Weinstein.”

I’m sorry; I don’t see why that comment required an apology.  Harvey Weinstein had indeed had a bad week; he was identified as a serial sexual harasser/abuser/predator; that is a bad week for anyone.  Moreover, he stands accused of some pretty heinous behaviors/actions and – for the life of me – I have no idea why that would insulate him from scorn.

  • Memo For: Al Michaels:  Kudos.  That was an apt metaphor.  No apology was needed.

While tangentially on the subject of TV sports commentators, ESPN has hired Katie Nolan after her departure from FOX Sports1.  This personnel decision has drawn a lot of media attention and I simply do not get it.  The tone of most of the commentary here is that FOX Sports1 made a huge error and ESPN scored a huge coup here.  For me, this personnel shift registers about “Meh!” on the Importance Spectrum.  Here is my bottom line:

  • I do not dislike Katie Nolan in any way; at the same time, I would not tune in to any program because I knew that she was hosting it or was a guest on it.
  • I saw her with Scott Van Pelt on the late-night SportsCenter show he hosts; my take-away was “Meh!”

Josh Gordon is seeking reinstatement in the NFL after his umpty-jillionth substance abuse suspension.  Frankly, I don’t care one way or the other if the NFL reinstates him or if the Browns choose to keep him on their roster if he is reinstated.  What was interesting is that Gordon claimed that when he was in college – at Baylor in the Art Briles Era there – one of the coaches “tutored him” on how to beat the drug testing he was going to have to submit to after his first substance abuse incident.

Obviously, that allegation has not been proven and the “tutoring coach” has not been identified; however, if true, this is yet another indelible stain on the Baylor football program under Art Briles.  Coaches love to portray themselves as teachers/mentors who do more than draw up game plans and design plays.  The image they like to paint for themselves is that they are in loco parentis – they are stand-in parents who mold young men into adults who are positive contributors to society.  Somehow, that image does not square with teaching substance abusers how to beat drug tests down the line…  Here is a link to the CBSSports.com report on this matter.

In one of his recent Sideline Chatter columns in the Seattle Times, Dwight Perry posed an interesting rhetorical question:

“Does reporting WWE rasslin’ results qualify as fake news?”

It seemed to me that expounding on the answer to that question might be a great mid-term question in a course on Ethics in Journalism.  And that got me to thinking about some other rhetorical questions for which I do not have great answers.  Consider:

  1. Q: If all scoring plays in the NFL are automatically reviewed, why don’t they also review potential scoring plays where the ruling on the field is not a score?  [Answer: I have no idea why they do not, but they should.]
  2. Q:  When will the Golden State Warriors play their first playoff game?  [Answer:  The regular season ends on Wednesday, April 11; the Warriors first playoff game will be in the most advantageous TV time-slot between April 12 and April 15.]
  3. Q:  Whatever happened to Joba Chamberlain?  [Answer:  I don’t know.  What I do know is that the NYC media had him on track to become a pitcher somewhere between Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan until he wasn’t on that track any longer and they dropped coverage of him like a hot rock.]

None of my rhetorical questions would be worthy of posing to a course on Ethics in Journalism – or any other course for that matter.  But there is a question that I would like to pose here for your consideration.  Consider this your ‘homework assignment”:

  • Q:  Given the recruiting scandal that is under investigation by the FBI at the moment, would you be surprised to learn that the “rating services” – the ones who declare that this kid is a 5-star recruit and that kid over there is only a 4-star recruit – receive “inducements” that might influence/inflate the ratings for specific prospects?
  • If this situation were to obtain, would it bother you?
  • Why or why not?

500 words or less…

Finally, here is another item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“It seems only fitting that the Red Sox handed corpulent third baseman Pablo Sandoval a $90 million contract, then had to eat nearly half of it.”

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

 

 

The Weekend Football Roundup …

It is a day late but here are brief comments on the football happenings from last weekend.  As usual, I want to start with college football.

  • Penn St. 41 Michigan 13:  I thought the Lions would have trouble covering a 10-point spread; so much for that.  Saquon Barkley accounted for 263 yards in the game and Michigan was shut out in the second half.
  • Rutgers 14 Purdue 12:  Surprise!  Rutgers is on a two-game win streak…
  • Louisville 31 Florida St. 28:  This loss puts Florida St. at 2-4 meaning the Seminoles will have to go 4-1 in remaining games to be bowl-eligible.
  • Iowa St. 31 Texas Tech 13:  This win puts Iowa St. at 5-2 which is about as surprising as seeing Florida St. at 2-4.  The Cyclones have beaten Oklahoma on the road and held Texas Tech to 13 points in Lubbock.  Strange doings…
  • Notre Dame 49 USC 14:  The Irish are 6-1 and the loss was by 1 point to Georgia.  The remaining schedule for Notre Dame is not a cupcake with games against NC State, Miami and Stanford on tap.
  • Army 31 Temple 28 (OT):  It is not yet Halloween and Army is bowl-eligible as a result of this victory.
  • Fresno St. 27 San Diego St. 3:  This loss for the Aztecs means every team in the Mountain West has 2 losses and probably means the Mountain West will not be the “other conference” to get a New Year’s Day bowl bid.  The other interesting thing here is that Fresno St. was 1-11 last year and now leads its division of the Mountain West.
  • TCU 43 Kansas 0:  It is not surprising to see that TCU smoked Kansas or even that Kansas was shut out.  The surprise here is in the stats; total offense for Kansas for the game was 2 yards.  That is not a typo; passing yardage was 27 and rushing yardage was minus-25 yards.
  • UMass 55 Georgia Southern 20:  UMass “improved” its record here to 1-6.  The score at halftime was 48-17 so it looks as if both offenses forgot to return to the field for the second half.

The victory for UMass allows them to join a bunch of other teams with a single victory for the season.  Several teams sport 1-7 records at this point including Bowling Green, BYU, Nevada, San Jose St. and UNC-Charlotte.  If I have counted correctly, there are only two winless teams left with 0-7 records; they are Baylor and UTEP.

Moving up to the next rung on the ladder, here is a run-down of NFL action from the weekend:

  • Titans 12 Browns 9 (OT):  What is worse?  Needing OT to beat the Browns or being outgained by the Browns?  The Titans looked awful even though they won.  The Browns are a hot mess – – plain and simple.
  • Rams 33 Cards 0:  Adding injury to insult, Carson Palmer broke his arm and will be out a minimum of 8 weeks. The Cards are toast!  Stand by for at least a dozen commentaries about why the Cards ought to sign Colin Kaepernick immediately.  Even if they do, their season is over.
  • Jags 27 Colts 0:  The Colts should put Andrew Luck on IR immediately lest someone involved with decision making for the team be tempted to put him on the field any time this year.  He needs to heal his shoulder completely; this team is down and out for the season.  The Jags dominated both sides of the ball gaining more than 500 yards on offense while the defense pitched a shutout.
  • Chargers 21 Broncos 0:  Shutouts are rare in the NFL and this is the third one for this weekend.  The Broncos’ defense played well enough to win allowing only 242 yards for the game.  But the offense was a no-show once again Trevor Simian was sacked 5 times.  Chargers have won 3 straight now.
  • Bears 17 Panthers 3:  Mitchell Trubisky was the winning QB here; he completed 5 passes all day and the Bears had all of 5 first downs.  Shades of Texas football under Darrell Royal?  The margin of victory here was a scoop-and-score of 76 yards and a Pick Six both by the same defender – – Eddie Jackson.  Total offense for the Bears was 153 yards.  The Panthers managed to be less productive than that.
  • Vikes 24 Ravens 16: A late TD by the Ravens makes this look closer than it really was.  The Ravens were held to 220 yards total offense.  The Vikes are looking good in the NFC North right now.
  • Saints 26 Packers 17:  The Brett Hundley Era did not begin well.  He was 12-25 for 87 yards in the game and that sort of stat line will not feed the bulldog.  Meanwhile, the Saints are in the lead in the NFC South and have won 4 in a row.
  • Dolphins 31 Jets 28:  Jay Cutler left this game with a chest injury and Matt Moore came in to finish the game.  The Jets led 28-14 when Cutler exited so maybe – just maybe – there is an emerging QB controversy in Miami?  A last-minute INT by Jets’ QB, Josh McCown set up the Dolphins’ winning field goal.
  • Bills 30 Bucs 27:  The Bills ran the ball for 179 yards and collected 3 turnovers in the game.  Nonetheless, they needed a fumble recovery with less than 3 minutes to play to set up the winning field goal here.
  • Pats 23 Falcons 7:  The Pats dominated this game on both sides of the ball.  For the first time this year, the Pats did not allow 300+ yards passing, and the Pats gained 162 yards rushing.  The Falcons have a strange schedule this year.  They play their first division game on Nov 3 and then they play 5 NFC South games after Thanksgiving.
  • Steelers 29 Bengals 14:  Cincy kept it close for a while, but the Steelers were clearly the better team here.  The Bengals total offense in second half was 19 yards.
  • Cowboys 40 Niners 10:  The Cowboys had 501 yards of offense here.  The Niners decided to start rookie QB CJ Beathard over Brian Hoyer.  The result was the same, however; the Niners remain winless.
  • Seahawks 24 Giants 7:  The Giants only gained 177 yards on offense for the entire game.  Nevertheless, the game was close at the end of the 3rd quarter with the Seahawks leading only 10-7.  How did that happen?
  • Eagles 34 Skins 24:  Carson Wentz was the star of the show here; he led 4 TD drives of 80+ yards in this game.  The Eagles’ defense continues to generate significant pass rush using only the four down linemen.

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist Norman Chad regarding the new football locker room at Texas featuring 126 flat screen TVs:

“It’s essentially Buffalo Wild Wings, without the liquor license.”

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

 

 

Let The World Series Begin

I know that Monday is typically the time to review the football happenings from last weekend, but I’ll kick that can down the road this week because there are a couple of things I want to get to first.  At the start of the MLB playoffs, I picked the Indians and the Dodgers to be in the World Series.  The Yankees derailed that prediction by eliminating the Indians and then the Astros secured the American League slot in the Series.  In the NL, the Dodgers cruised to victory.

One of the readers of these rants is a former colleague who has seen them from a time when they were not on the Internet; they were merely an e-mail feature.  He is a rabid Dodgers’ fan and when I mentioned that my pick to win the Series was the Indians, he called that selection wishy-washy and demanded specificity.  My reply was:

  • Indians in 6 games.  Final score in Game 6 is 5-2.

That met his “specificity” request and so I’ll stick by that prediction here but change the Indians to the Astros.  So, there it is …

Recall that I wrote recently about the Commission on College Basketball convened by the NCAA.  Here is some of what NCAA President, Mark Emmert, had to say about the core mission of this Commission:

“I believe we can – and we must – find a way to protect the integrity of college sports by addressing both sides of the coin:  fairness and opportunity for college athletes coupled with enforcement capability to hold accountable those who undermine the standards of our community.”

Given how easily UNC “skated” on the charges of academic fraud – simply by pointing out that any student at UNC had the same opportunity to take these sham courses for meaningless high grades – there is now NOTHING to prevent each and every other school involved with NCAA football and/or basketball to do the same thing.  They can do this to keep completely ineducable “student-athletes” eligible and can devalue the diplomas of other students who merely attended the school that offered such sham courses.  What the NCAA must do is to come up with a deterrent.

The problem is that the deterrent needs to be on the economic axis because the motivation(s) to cheat on NCAA rules is that schools who cheat and become successful command more money for their athletic programs and teams.  It seems to me that leaves the NCAA with only a couple of avenues:

  • Carve out the authority to levy fines on schools that mimic UNC’s sham course formula and those fines need to be able to get into the 8-figure range if need be.
  • Start handing out suspensions to schools meaning they cannot participate in any conference games or playoff tournaments for periods of time.  That sanction will cost the school money AND it will also cost the conferences money and that might goose the self-enforcement activities just a bit.

The Commission has been “chartered” but will not meet until some time in November.  The Final Four dates for this season are set for March 31 – April 2, 2018.  I wish I could get a bet down on the proposition that whatever the Commission comes up with in terms of analysis, findings and recommendations will not be revealed until after April 2, 2018.  I do not expect the Commission report to have any blockbusters in it; nonetheless, there is no way this is going to be part of any public discussion until after the basketball season is over.

The other college basketball scandal – the so-called “bribing” of players to choose which school they will attend – is evidently an ongoing concern involving the FBI and the DoJ.  I still do not understand how and why this is a Federal criminal violation but I certainly see how it is a wrecking ball to the foundation pieces of the NCAA’s slavish devotion to amateurism in college sports.  I am now beginning to “have an issue” with some of the coverage given to the Federal probe.

After decrying the evil of the “underground recruiting economy” and focusing on the firing of Rick Pitino and the AD at Louisville, some of the national basketball commentators have moved on to the business of “tut-tutting” about how this Federal probe has brought to light what “lots of people knew about” for a long time.  When I read that sort of thing, my reaction is simple:

  • If you were one of those “lots of people”, how come you did not expose this long ago?
  • If you weren’t one of those “lots of people” and you were “covering” this beat, how did you miss it?

I am not the least bit surprised that recruiting scandals have gone on in college sports for decades but I am not going to try to insinuate that I had any inkling of how it worked and that money was being funneled from shoe companies to high school prospects and their families.  And I resent commentators making that sort of insinuation without also pointing out simultaneously that they missed the boat on revealing this practice earlier on.

That sort of “tut-tutting” is exactly what we saw from the baseball writers back around the turn of the century when the “steroid business” and BALCO came to light.  Lots of them said that substance abuse was and open secret in locker rooms and that “everyone knew that stuff was going on”.  Yet, none of them wrote about it until one guy asked about a bottle of stuff in plain view in Mark McGuire’s locker and José Canseco admitted that he was a PED user and so were others.  You can’t be an “expert” and “ignorant” at the same time…

The revelation of this Federal investigation comes at a most convenient time for the NCAA.  They dragged their feet on the UNC matter for years and years until they had cover to make their decision public.  This criminal probe provides that cover since it diverts attention from some existential issues for the NCAA

  • The “amateurism ideal” for college athletics demands the creation of the concept of the “student-athlete”.  He gets a scholarship – and a shot at a free college education – in exchange for his athletic endeavors; it is a barter exchange.
  • However, if the university does not provide him with the opportunity to get that free college education by steering him to courses that teach him nothing of value, then his “student-hood” is as much of a sham as the courses are.
  • So, if the NCAA actually cares even a little bit about the “student” part of “student athlete”, they must not ignore academic frauds such as the one at UNC.  Or, they can just admit that the whole idea of the “student-athlete” is nonsense.  Academic fraud destroys the concept of “education” which is precisely what a “student” is in the process of acquiring.

Finally, with the Dodgers in the World Series, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times about a former dodgers’ player:

“Ex-San Cristobal mayor Raul Mondesi — the 1994 NL Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers — has been sentenced to eight years in a Dominican prison and fined $1.25 million for corruption and mishandling of public funds.

“That’s what you call a costly caught-stealing.”

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

 

 

The Upcoming Football Weekend

Since it is Friday, it is time to look ahead to the football action on tap for the weekend and – per tradition – I will start with college football.  Memphis overcame a 17-0 deficit last night to beat Houston 42-38.  The surprise here is that the game was so close; just last week, Houston lost to Tulsa and gave up 45 points in the process.  Let’s just agree that Tulsa is not exactly a “powerhouse” …

Occidental College plays Division III football – or they did until the middle of last week.  Occidental canceled the rest of their season after having to forfeit its last two games for lack of healthy players.  The team only had one healthy defensive lineman and only 35 players fit to be on the field.  The team was 0-3 in the games that it did play and was outscored in those three losses by a cumulative score of 170-19.  The school did not kill off the football program; the idea is to rebuild the team and play again next year in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Whilst on the subject of Division III football, Linfield College is on track for another winning season with a 4-1 record (3-0 in conference) and a home game against George Fox University.  That game should be interesting; George Fox is 5-1 (3-0 in conference) and comes off a 58-12 win over Willamette College.

Let me take a moment to focus on some of the bad teams in college football this year:

  • UTEP is the only team with 7 losses so far this year – and they are winless to boot.  Oh, they already switched coaches and are playing for an interim coach…
  • San José St. is the only team at 1-7.  The win was over a Division 1-AA school and the cumulative score for the games against Division 1-A teams is 265-75.
  • Baylor is 0-5 and Kansas is 1-6.  The lower rungs on the Big 12 ladder are weak.
  • UMass is 0-6 and has had two BYE weeks to prepare for this week’s game against Georgia Southern (0-5).  It’s a Bagel Bowl Game.  Yippee …!
  • Teams that are often above average who are stinking out the joint this year include UNC (1-6), Pitt (2-5), Mizzou (1-5), BYU (1-6) and Oregon St. (1-6).

In games this weekend:

  • Tennessee visits Alabama and Bama is a 35-point favorite.  If Alabama covers – remember the Vols lost at home to Georgia 41-0 3 weeks ago – Butch Jones might need to rent a car to get home.
  • LSU at Ole Miss is the most interesting SEC game this week.  Ole Miss scored 56 points last week against Vandy; the LSU defense has been excellent at times and incredibly porous at other times.
  • Louisville travels to Florida St.  Both teams are having disappointing seasons.  The Louisville defense is awful; the Florida St. offense is struggling to say the least.
  • Michigan visits Penn St. and Penn St. is favored by 10 points.  That line seems fat to me…
  • Syracuse goes to Miami coming off an upset of then #2-ranked Clemson.  Miami is a 17-point favorite this morning.  Obviously, the oddsmaker thinks last week’s performance by Syracuse was a fluke.
  • USC at Notre Dame is clearly the best rivalry game of the week.
  • Colorado goes to Washington St. where the Cougars will be looking to atone for laying a giant egg last week against Cal.  Colorado’s defense has given up 75 points in the last two games.

Moving up to the NFL, the weekend began with a wacky game last night; the Raiders beat the Chiefs 31-30.  Here is a thumbnail sketch of the final 3 minutes of the wildest finish of the season:

  1. Raiders force a punt and take over at their own 15 trailing 30-24.
  2. On 4th-and-11, Derek Carr completed a pass for 13 yards to the Chiefs’ 29.
  3. On 3rd-and-10, Carr threw what was ruled a TD pass – – but replay showed the receiver was down inside the 1-yardline.
  4. Now the fun begins with 8 seconds to play.  An apparent TD pass was nullified by offensive pass interference.
  5. With 3 seconds on the clock from the Chiefs’ 10, Carr’s pass was incomplete – – but there was defensive holding on the play
  6. In an untimed down from the 5, there was another incomplete pass – – but there was defensive holding on the play.
  7. In another untimed down from about the 2, Carr hit Michael Crabtree in the end zone for the winning TD.  Needless to say, there was plenty of contact by both the receiver and the defender on that play.

Anticipating a full weekend of games all of which produce that sort of cardiac conclusion is fantasy.  Nonetheless, there could be some interesting games:

  • Bills/Bucs:  The Bucs are banged up – including Jameis Winston.  Perhaps we get to see more of Ryan Fitzpatrick who put 27 points on the scoreboard in the 4th quarter of last week’s game.
  • Ravens/Vikes:  It is a “purple-on-purple” game.  Expect a low-scoring defensive game here.
  • Cards/Rams (in London):  If the Cards win, they will be tied with the Rams in the NFC West.  Rams’ defense will have to stop Adrian Peterson and make the Cards a 1-dimensional offense.
  • Jets/Dolphins:  This is actually an important game in the AFC East.  Who had that back around Labor Day?
  • Saints/Packers:  Brett Hundley is the next man up for the Packers for the foreseeable future.  All of a sudden, the Saints discovered defense…  However, remember this is an outdoor game for the Saints – – a dome dominant team.
  • Broncos/Chargers:  The Chargers are on a 2-game win streak.  The Broncos dropped a turd in the punchbowl against the Giants last week.
  • Cowboys/Niners:  Cowboys come off a BYE Week and draw a winless opponent.  However, the spread is only 6 points.  Hmmm…
  • Bengals/Steelers:  Channeling Keith Jackson here, these two teams plain don’t like each other.
  • Titans/Browns:  Titans are on the road; Titans had a short week; Titans’ QB is banged up and immobile.  Given all that the Titans are 6-point favorites in the game.  That tells you what you need to know about the Browns.
  • Panthers/Bears:  Mitchell Trubisky has not seen a pass rush like the one he will see here.
  • Seahawks/Giants:  The Seahawks are not a good road team and this game is a transcontinental road trip.  Are the Giants coming back to life or was last Monday an aberration?
  • Falcons/Patriots (Sun Nite):  The Falcons can’t blow another halftime lead – – can they?
  • Skins/Eagles (Mon Nite):  MNF gets another top-shelf game.  Even though it is early in the season, an Eagles’ win here would give them a huge lead over the Skins in the NFC East.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Last Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the [University of Nebraska] homecoming king proposed to the homecoming queen and she said yes. If the bride throws the bouquet accurately, one-third of Husker fans favor starting her at quarterback.”

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

 

 

Basketball – Pro And College …

The NBA regular season is 48 hours old; it will continue for the next 6 months; only then, will most of the games on the schedule matter as much as a little bit.  However, in the first 48 hours, there have been some significant happenings.  Unfortunately, all of them have to do with injury.

  • One of the big moves of the off-season was Gordon Hayward leaving the Utah Jazz to sign with the Boston Celtics.  Just minutes into the first game of the season, Hayward broke his leg and dislocated his ankle; he has undergone surgery and the prognosis is that he is done for the season.
  • Another big move was Chris Paul leaving the LA Clippers to join the Houston Rockets.  There was plenty of speculation about how Paul and James Harden might operate together and in their first game it left the question begging.  In crunch time, Paul was on the bench with a sore knee.
  • Oh, in that same Rockets’ game their opponent was the reigning champion Golden State Warriors who lost the game and learned that Draymond Green would need an MRI on his knee.

The injury to Hayward is clearly the most significant happening here.  The Celtics added Hayward to a roster that won more games than anyone else in the Eastern Conference last year.  Later, the Celtics traded to acquire Kyrie Irving giving up Isaiah Thomas and other assets.  Irving is an upgrade over Thomas but Thomas was an All-Star last year so the upgrade is not mind-blowing.  It was the pairing of Irving with a solid player such as Hayward on top of the already talented roster that had Celtics’ fans anticipating the season.

Oh, did I mention that Isaiah Thomas is also injured and is not expected to be available for action until mid-season?  So much for the idea that basketball is a non-contact sport…

Earlier this week, I shared my thoughts on the NCAA’s decision not to sanction UNC for the academic fraud that happened there for a period of about 20 years.  I am not going to go into that again today but I mention it only to assure that you recall that decision in light of another decision the NCAA made recently.  I know that 2017 still has a tad over 10 weeks to go until it becomes history, but I will go out on a limb and call these two proximal decision by the NCAA:

  • The Exacta of Uselessness for 2017.

Stand by for the heavy lifting here…  Amid the FBI investigations into “bribery and fraud” associated with the recruiting processes in college basketball and the revelation of blatant violations of NCAA rules and regulations by coaches, players and shoe company representatives, the NCAA has taken action.  By Jove, the organization recognizes the need to do something impactful here so that it can regain control of its rules and regulations.  And so, the NCAA …

  • … announced that it was forming a Commission on College Basketball; and in that announcement, it declared that in light of this criminal investigation, the time had come for “decisive action”.

I have no idea what the NCAA will identify as “decisive action” but I will say this:

  • If you believe that the NCAA will put into effect “effective action” to prevent recruiting improprieties based on recommendations from the Commission on College Basketball, then you probably also believe The Nutcracker is what happens when you go off the high dive.

The Chairperson for the Commission on College Basketball is former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.  Members of the Commission will be drawn from the education community, business leaders, folks involved with collegiate sports and government in addition to former student-athletes.  So, the window dressing is in place; the credentials and the experiences of the Commission members are unassailable; all that remains is for those folks to ask what I call “The Perry Mason Question”.  Let me explain:

  • In every Perry Mason episode, the mystery is unbelievably complex and opaque until about 55 minutes into the hour-long episode.  At that point, Perry Mason asks a single question of one witness and – Poof! – everything becomes clear; the way forward is obvious to all; there is never a problem again.

In real life, “The Perry Mason Question” rarely exists; and when it does, there is no guarantee that anyone will discover its existence and ask it.  But the NCAA is out to take “decisive action” and so it is interesting to see what the charge to the Commission might be.  According to NCAA President, Mark Emmert, there are 3 areas that the Commission will study:

  1. Relationships between and among the NCAA, member schools and coaches with “outside entities” to include apparel companies, AAU basketball programs and agents/advisers associated with student-athletes.
  2. The relationship between the NCAA and the NBA with specific focus on the effect of the “one-and-done” feature of college basketball.
  3. How to promote transparency and accountability at the NCAA and its schools.

The first two areas outlined above have been studied, investigated and reported upon for decades.  The second area specifically already has an obvious answer.  The “one-and-done” situation is caused exclusively by the NBA’s existing CBA; that document created and maintained the environment that spawned “one-and-done”.  Until and unless that feature of the CBA is modified, there will be “one-and-done”.

Rather than focus on the first two areas, let me jump down to the third one on that list and point out – ever so politely – that the NCAA has been around since the time when Theodore Roosevelt was President; in fact, President Roosevelt is credited with founding the NCAA.  Here we are about 110 years after its formation and the NCAA finds it necessary to have a Commission make recommendations on how to promote transparency and accountability for itself and its member schools.  This will not qualify as a “Perry Mason Question” but let me ask it anyway:

  • Why does an organization made up of adults who profess to be honorable individuals need to promote transparency and accountability?

Let me answer that question:

  • There is no transparency and accountability simply because the adults involved here are not honorable folks and find the concepts of transparency and accountability to be antithetical to their personal agendas.

Not to prejudge the work of Secretary Rice and her Commission colleagues, but I doubt that they will arrive at my answer above.

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News likened the ambience of college athletics to a different form of fiction/entertainment than I did here:

“A University of Alabama rules administrator has resigned following a federal investigation of college athletics.

“The hook is that he previously was assistant director of enforcement at the NCAA. Hmmm. Good guy goes to the dark side.

“Isn’t this the storyline of every superhero movie ever?”

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

 

 

Colin Kaepernick’s Grievance

I am striding out onto thin ice today; I want to talk about Colin Kaepernick’s grievance filed under the CBA against the NFL for collusion; as I have mentioned here many times, I am not an attorney; this topic is anywhere but “in my wheelhouse”.  Kaepernick has filed this grievance alleging that the reason he remains unemployed as a quarterback in pro football is his peaceful protest at the start of NFL games last season.  Here are statements from his representatives:

“If the NFL (as well as all professional sports leagues) is to remain a meritocracy, then principled and peaceful political protest – which the owners themselves made great theater imitating weeks ago – should not be punished and athletes should not be denied employment.

“Such a precedent threatens all patriotic Americans and harkens back to our darkest days at a nation.  Protecting all athletes from such collusive conduct is what compelled Mr. Kaepernick to file his grievance.

“Colin Kaepernick’s goal has always been, and remains, to simply be treated fairly by the league he performed at the highest level for, and to return to the football playing field.”

In a Ken Burns documentary, that statement would be read in a solemn voice with The Battle Hymn of the Republic played on a harmonica as soft background music.  I would like to make two observations about those statements:

  1. Peaceful political protest should not be punished for hundreds of reasons – probably the least of which is to maintain the “meritocracy status” of the NFL.
  2. I am totally unclear on what the statement refers to as our “darkest days as a nation” since what we are talking about here is a grievance about employment.  In my opinion, our “darkest days” were the times of the Civil War in the 1860s and for the life of me, I have no idea how this grievance relates to that or how this peaceful protest relates to the anything-but-peaceful political protests of that time.

From what I have read, to prove collusion one needs concrete evidence.  When the MLB owners were found guilty of collusion there were written exchanges found in the discovery process that laid open what they had done.  It seems to me that the existence – or the non-existence – of such memos/e-mails/text messages/whatevers is the key to this case.  And I think that is an important point.

In a legal process like this, it is important to focus on what the plaintiff can prove as opposed to what the plaintiff can allege and build a circumstantial case around.  Do I believe that Colin Kaepernick’s “national anthem behavior” last year is the reason he is unemployed now?  Yes, I do.  Do I believe that the NFL owners as a group – with or without participation from the NFL Front Office – ever sat down and mutually agreed that none of them would allow Colin Kaepernick to play in the NFL ever again?  Someone will have to provide me with some evidence there.

And to prove collusion, that is the evidence the Kaepernick legal team will have to present.  It is not important to consider what “everyone knows” or “everyone thinks” in a matter such as this.  Recall the OJ Simpson trial in the 90s; loads of people “knew” that he murdered two people but the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence to convict him.  In the legal world, OJ Simpson did not commit those two murders; that is the fact of that matter.

The statements made so far are PR statements and nothing more.  Most of the analysis provided by talking heads on TV and columnists are commentaries on the merits of filing such a grievance.  Let me suggest that everyone take a deep breath here and wait to see evidence of collusion and not arm-waving assertions of how it must be the case.  A grievance should not be decided based on a well-scripted conspiracy theory.  If that were to happen, it would be a dark day for us as a nation.

Changing direction here, I want to play a little game with you.  Consider these data on 5 NFL head coaches all of whom plied their trade in the modern era.  No one here is George Halas or Curly Lambeau or Paul Brown.

  • Coach A:  17 years as a Head Coach.  Record was 143-112-0.  Winning percentage = .561.  He is the Hall of Fame.
  • Coach B:  19 years as a Head Coach.  Record was 172-130-1.  Winning percentage = .569.  He is the Hall of Fame.
  • Coach C:  10 years as a Head Coach.  Record was 92-59-1.  Winning percentage = .609.  He is the Hall of Fame.
  • Coach D:  16 years as a Head Coach.  Record was 154-94-0.  Winning percentage = .621.  He is the Hall of Fame.
  • Coach E:  19 years as a Head Coach.  Record was 178-115-1.  Winning percentage = .607.  He is NOT the Hall of Fame.

Presented that way, you might think that “Coach E” should have no trouble with the Hall of Fame Selection Committee – – unless you think that the four coaches on this list above him are really not worthy of such an honor themselves.  So, let me reveal the names here:

  • Coach A is Marv Levy.  I have no problem with him being in the Hall of Fame.
  • Coach B is Bill Parcells.  I have no problem with him being in the Hall of Fame.
  • Coach C is Bill Walsh.  I have no problem with him being in the Hal of Fame.
  • Coach D is Joe Gibbs.  I have no problem with him being in the Hall of Fame – but I do wish that he had never come back for a second stint with the Skins which sullied his record and reputation instead of enhancing it.

There are going to be lots of NFL fans who will be unhappy to know that Coach E is Andy Reid – a man who took over two downtrodden teams and produced 19 productive years and counting.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for Andy Reid to attract Hall of Fame consideration once he retires.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The state granted Miami’s Magic City Casino permission to replace its dog races with jai-alai matches. ‘Damn!’ said one of the greyhounds. ‘And just when I was finally gaining on that [email protected]#$ing rabbit!’ “

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