Pre-Season NFL Picks 2016 – The Post Mortem

 

Back in September 2016, I tried to predict the exact records for all 32 NFL teams and made a list of NFL coaches on the hot seat.  It has become traditional in these parts for me to resurrect those prognostications to see how good they were – – not the usual outcome – – or how far off they were – – far more common.  Why did this become a tradition?  Probably because I know no shame.

Lest anyone think that I am shading these grades – subjective as they are from the outset – here is a link to my original predictions.

Let me start with the “Coaches on a Hot Seat”.  I put 8 of the 32 coaches in that category for 2016.  Four of the eight are now out of a job and three of the ones who were fired were let go in mid-season.  Here was the list:

 

Gus Bradley (Jags):  I did not think he would be fired because I thought the Jags were going to be good last year (more on that blunder later).  Well, they weren’t.  Here is what I said back then:

“… if … the Jags regress to something like a 3-13 record, he will be toast.”

Let the record show that the Jags were exactly 3-13 and that Bradley did not finish the season at the helm of the team.

 

Jim Caldwell (Lions):  In 2015, the Lions finished 6-2 in the second half of the season setting up the team as a “momentum pick” for 2016.  I said that Caldwell needed to maintain that momentum – and the Lions did that.  They were a playoff team until they lost their last 3 games in a row.  This year, it was the 9-4 record after 13 games that kept Jim Caldwell in his job.

 

Jeff Fisher (Rams):  The Rams struggled in 2016 and got virtually nothing from overall #1 pick, Jared Goff, after they paid a handsome price to get his draft rights.  Fisher lasted 13 games and then was shown the door.

 

Jason Garrett (Cowboys):  I put him on the list in the event that the Cowboys really tanked in 2016.  That did not come close to happening as the team went 13-3; so, Jason Garrett properly continues as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

 

Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  I said then that I thought Lewis “needs a playoff win this year” to keep his job.  He did not get into the playoffs – let alone win a game there – but he is still the coach in Cincy.  He has another year to go on his contract and reports say that he and the team are “working on a contract extension”.  If he does get an extension, he will likely be with the Bengals for a while because owner, Mike Brown, really does not like to pay people not to coach his team.

 

Mike McCoy (Chargers):  I said then that the team had to do better than 4-12 with the 3rd overall pick in the draft as they had after the 2015 season.  Well, they sorta did that; the record was 5-11 and they have the 7th overall pick in the draft.  McCoy made it through the final game of the year but was let go right after that.

 

Mike Mularkey (Titans):  This situation is the obverse of the one involving Gus Bradley and the Jags.  I thought the Titans would stink and that Mularkey would be gonzo.  Instead, the Titans were a very pleasant surprise for their fans so Mularkey is still in charge.

 

Rex Ryan (Bills):  Here is what I said back then:

“… he might be out of a job come January if the team falls below .500.”

What happened was that the Bills were 7-8 with a game left to play and Bills’ ownership pulled the plug on Ryan between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

 

I did not see the Niners firing Chip Kelly after such a short tenure but the team was awful and they did.  I hope that ownership in SF will show a lot more patience with Kelly’s replacement because the Niners’ 2-14 record in 2016 was due in the most part to a talent-deficient roster and not to incompetent coaching.

So, 50% of my coaches on the hot seat lost their jobs and 37.5% of them lost their jobs before the end of the 2016 season.  I will award a grade of “B” to that set of prognostications.

In the AFC East:

  • I had the Pats winning the division with an 11-5 record; I said they would win the division comfortably with that record and indeed, they would still have won the division at 11-5.  However, I underestimated the Pats in 2016; they played to a 14-2 record.
  • I had the Jets in second place at 8-8.  I did say then that if the football gods penalized Ryan Fitzpatrick strongly as payment for his way-better-than-career-stats year in 2015, that the Jets would be in “real trouble”.  The football gods did just that and the Jets finished last in the AFC East at 5-11.
  • I said the Bills would finish at 6-10; they finished at 7-9.  I did say that at the end of the year Rex Ryan would be collecting the rest of his contract money without having to freeze his butt off in Buffalo.  I got that right.
  • I had the Dolphins at 10-6.  They finished 2016 at 10-6.  In 2015, I said the Dolphins would finish with a 10-6 record and they finished at 6-10.  The Dolphins and I are clearly out of phase with one another…
  • I thought the teams in the AFC East would win a total of 31 games; they won 36 games.

The overall grade for the AFC East is “C –”.

In the AFC North:

  • I had the Steelers as the division winners with a record of 11-5 and that they would ride the strength of their offense to that record.  The Steelers were indeed 11-5 and their offense was the dominant unit.
  • I thought the Bengals would win 10 games and be a wild-card team in the playoffs.  The Bengals went 6-9-1.
  • I had the Ravens at 8-8 and out of the playoffs.  Indeed, the Ravens were 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
  • I thought the Browns would be 3-13 and would not have the overall #1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.  The Browns were 1-15 and they do indeed have the overall #1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
  • I thought the teams in the AFC North would win a total of 32 games; they won only 26 games.

The overall grade for the AFC North is “B”.  I was tempted to call it “B+” given that I got two of the teams’ records spot on.  However, the fact that I missed the total wins for the division by 6 games removed the “+” from my consideration.

In the AFC South:

  • I had the Jags winning 10 games and winning the division thereby saving Gus Bradley’s job.  Instead of a 10-6 record, the Jags finished 2016 at 3-13 (dead last in the division by 5 games) and Gus Bradley is now the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers.  I definitely coughed up a hairball on that prediction.
  • I had the Colts finishing second in the division at 9-7.  The Colts were 8-8 finishing third behind the Texans and the Titans.
  • I thought the Texans would finish third with an 8-8 record.  The Texans finished 9-7 and won the division.
  • I had the Titans finishing dead last here at 2-14 with coach Mike Mularkey out looking for work.  The Titans finished 9-7 only losing the division to the Texans on a tiebreaker.
  • I thought the teams in the AFC Central would win a total of 29 games; they won exactly 29 games.

The overall grade for the AFC Central is “F”.  If schools gave grades down the alphabet, this grade might have been a “Q”.  Even the fact that the “total wins prediction” was exact, that does not mitigate the abject failure of these predictions.

In the AFC West:

  • I had the Raiders winning 11 games and winning the division.  The Raiders were 12-4 and finished second in the division to the Chiefs on a tiebreaker; the Raiders did make the playoffs as a wild-card team.
  • I had the Chiefs in second place in this division with a 10-6 record and as a wild-card team in the playoffs.  The Chiefs finished atop the division at 12-4.
  • I thought the Broncos would finish at 8-8 and miss the playoffs.  The Broncos were 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
  • I thought the Chargers would finish 7-9 last year.  I said they would miss the playoffs, be hunting for a new coach come January and that they would lose their stadium referendum held in November.  The Chargers finished last in the division at 5-11 and all of the other prognostications came true.
  • I thought the teams in the AFC West would win a total of 36 games; they won 38 games.

The overall grade for the AFC West is “A “.   If I could make predictions of this quality for every division year over year, I would get paid by one of the sports websites to make those pre-season picks.  Please note that none of them are contacting me to buy my “words of wisdom” …

In the NFC East:

  • I had the Skins at the division winners at 9-7.  The Skins finished at 8-7-1 which is pretty close – – except they finished third in the division and missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
  • I had the Cowboys finishing second in the division at 7-9.  The Cowboys won the division at 13-3 and had the best record in the NFC.
  • I had the Giants finishing third at 7-9.  Actually, the Giants wound up 11-5 in second place in the division and in the playoffs as a wild-card team.
  • I had the Eagles in last place with a record of 5-11.  The Eagles overachieved and finished 7-9.
  • I thought the teams in the NFC East would win a total of 28 games; they won 39 games.

The overall grade for the NFC East is “F”.  Other than coming very close to the Skins’ final record everything else here sucked wind.

In the NFC North:

  • I thought the Packers would win the division with a 12-4 record.  They did win the division but only at 10-6.
  • I thought the Vikes would finish second in the division at 10-6.  That prediction came after Teddy Bridgewater’s injury but before Adrian Peterson’s injury.  The Vikes were 8-8 for the season finishing third in the division.  Given Peterson’s absence for 90% of the year, I think this prediction was actually pretty close.
  • I had the Lions finishing third with a 5-11 record.  I thought the absence of Calvin Johnson would be a big loss for the team.  The Lions were 9-7 last year and made the playoffs as a wild-card team.
  • I thought the Bears would be 5-11 at season’s end.  The Bears were only 3-13.
  • I thought the teams in the NFC North would win a total of 32 games; they won 30 games.

The overall grade for the NFC North is “B”.  I realize I was off by a lot on the Lions here but coming as close as I did on the Vikes despite injuries to their QB and their stud RB sort of makes up for some of that.  Coming as close to the win total for the division as I did also gooses the grade up just a tad.

In the NFC South:

  • I had the Panthers “winning the division by a mile” at 13-3.  You may commence snickering now; OK, that is enough.  The Panthers succumbed to “Super Bowl Hangover” in a major way and had a record of 6-10 for the season.  That put them in last place in the division.
  • I thought the Bucs would be 7-9; they were 9-7
  • I thought the Saints would be 7-9; they were exactly 7-9.
  • I thought the Falcons would be 7-9; they were 11-5 and went to the Super Bowl.
  • I thought the teams in the NFC South would win a total of 34 games; they won 33 games.

The overall grade for the NFC South is “C – “.  Obviously, I had the Panthers dead wrong and hugely underestimated the Falcons.  However, I did have the Saints, Bucs and the total wins for the division pretty close.

In the NFC West:

  • I liked the Seahawks to win the division at 11-5 on the basis of a tiebreaker. Indeed, the Seahawks won the division and their record was 10-5-1.  Oh, by the way, I did say before the season started that OL would be an issue for the team – – and it was.
  • I thought the Cardinals would finish second in the division with a record of 11-5 and lose out on tiebreaker.  Indeed, the Cards did finish second but that was because they had a record of only 7-8-1.
  • I had the Rams finishing third at 6-10 and said they would be looking for a new coach in January.  The Rams did finish third at 4-12 and they searched for and found a new coach in January.
  • I thought the Niners would finish last in the division at 6-10 and that the turmoil in the coaching staff/GM office and owners’ suite would continue.  The Niners indeed finished last at 2-14; they have a new coach and a new GM but they still have the same owner and President of football operations because, you cannot fire an owner.
  • I thought the teams in the NFC West would win a total of 34 games; they won only 23 games.

The overall grade for the NFC West is “B”.  I had the order of finish correct; and other than missing the Cards; final record by 3.5 games, much of the rest of my crystal ball gazing was on target.  The total wins for the division was off by a lot however…

So, I have handed out 9 “grades” here – 8 for the individual divisions in the NFL and one for the coaches on a hot seat.  Here is how they break down:

  • A = 1
  • B = 4
  • C –  =  2
  • F = 2

My Grade Point Average for the 2016 works out to be 2.11.  That may not sound like much, but it is an improvement over the 2015 when the GPA was only 1.98.  Major progress can result from a series of small steps…

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

 

The Egregious Eight …

Earlier this week, I said that I hoped that President Trump would break with recent tradition and avoid picking March Madness brackets.  I figured that the best way to accomplish that end would be for ESPN to “forget to ask him” to do so.  I was wrong.  Evidently, ESPN has asked but President Trump has turned down the offer.  I guess I should just file this under:

 

“All’s Well That Ends Well”

 

Earlier this week, I was having lunch with a former colleague who has been reading these rants even before they hit the Internet.  His sports irritant of the moment was the fallout “discussion” after the Super Bowl considering if Tom Brady is or is not the G.O.A.T. – greatest of all time – as a QB or even as an NFL player.  I agreed that those discussions had run their course and people had taken sides and any further discussion was superfluous.  He then said that he found it ironic that the acronym for greatest of all time – GOAT – had a double meaning since the player responsible for losing a game or a championship is often referred to as “the goat”.  He pointed out that “GOAT” and “the goat” are almost antonyms.  Then he told me what I should do; this is a paraphrase:

  • Find a phone booth and put on your super-hero curmudgeon costume and figure out which “goat” was the “GOAT of goats” – the greatest goat of all time.

I was afraid the list would be too long to put in a rant, but as I pondered this “challenge” it seemed to boil down to only a few people/happenstances.  I will put them here in alphabetical order to let you decide which of these is the most egregious.  Or perhaps you can add to the list …

  1. Bill Buckner:  Even if you were born after the misplayed ground ball in the World Series that cost the Red Sox the 1986 World Series, you have to know about that event.  I suspect that a lot of fans in Boston will not need to read any further into this list.
  2. Scott Norwood:  His missed field goal as time expired cost the Buffalo Bills a win in the Super Bowl.  Mitigating his claim to this ignominious title is the fact that the kick was from 47 yards; it was not a chip shot.
  3. John Starks:  In the 1994 NBA Finals, Starks had a disastrously bad game in Game 7 of the series.  He was 2 for 18 for the game and 0 for 10 in the fourth quarter of the game.  The Knicks lost to the Rockets by 6 points that night.
  4. Willie Shoemaker:  In the 1957 Kentucky Derby, Shoemaker was riding Gallant Man comfortably to a victory when he misjudged the finish line and stood up in the stirrups with about a sixteenth of a mile to go.  Gallant Man finished second in that race to Iron Liege by a nose.

There is a category of “goats” that would have multiple entries here so I would prefer to lump them into one.  There are pitchers who gave up home runs that ended the World Series to the disadvantage of their team.

  1. Ralph Branca:  He gave up the “Shot Heard Round the World” to Bobby Thomson in 1951 putting the NY Giants into the World Series at the expense of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
  2. Ralph Terry:  He served up the pitch that Bill Mazeroski hit out of the park in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 to give the Pirates the World Series at the expense of the Yankees.
  3. Mitch Williams:  He gave up a walk-off home run to Joe Carter in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series giving the Blue Jays the World Series over the Phillies.

There is one other entry for this list but the identity of the potential “GOAT of goats” remains a mystery.  I shall identify him here as:

  1. Joe Flabeetz:  He is the guy who called the pass play for the Seattle Seahawks at the 1-yardline with about 30 seconds to play – and with several timeouts in his pocket and Marshawn Lynch in the game – and saw it intercepted by Malcom Butler giving the Patriots the title instead of the Seahawks.  From a coaching standpoint, that is the worst brain-cramp ever.

There you have my “Egregious Eight” as the candidates for “GOAT of goats”.  If any of the FIFA World Cup final games has ever been decided by an “own goal”, then the person responsible for that should be on this list.  However, I do not know if that ever happened.  I do recall the US Men’s Team winning a World Cup game when a Colombian opponent scored an “own goal”.  However, that game was nowhere near the finals of the tournament so I did not bother to go and find the details of that happening.  The reason this event sticks in my mind is that the Colombian player who scored the “own goal” was murdered in Colombia as some sort of retribution for the “own goal” that led to Colombia’s elimination from the World Cup Tournament.

The actions of the folks on my list of the “Egregious Eight” fortunately have not incited any fan to attempt violence against any of the individuals.  I like sports and I take the games seriously – – but not that seriously.

Finally, here are comments from two columnists on the same topic:

“Defensive-end prospect Donovan Winter was unable to sign his letter of intent with Michigan State on Wednesday, the Orlando Sentinel reported, because he’d been jailed on burglary charges.

“Probably not the kind of ‘recruiting steal’ that Spartans coaches had in mind.” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

And…

“A Michigan State defensive end prospect missed signing day because he was in jail on burglary charges. Any statements about him leading the team in takeaways the next four years are inappropriate.” [Brad Dickson, Omaha World-Herald]

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

 

 

Three NBA Items Today …

Pardon me while I tell you a story of my youth as a way to introduce today’s first item.  As a kid, what I wanted to do in life was to be a baseball play-by-play announcer.  By the time I became a teenager, my career aspirations expanded to the point that I would be happy doing play-by-play for football and/or basketball too.  When I went to college, I immediately joined the school radio station to work on the sports staff; I had a mentor there who taught me what he knew about broadcasting and we were paired as a team.  I got my debut in the middle of basketball season in my freshman year doing “color analysis” while my mentor did play-by-play.

My father was one of the nicest and most positive people on the planet.  He could hear the broadcast because even though this was a college radio station, we also had an FM station that could be heard well beyond campus limits.  My father made it a point to tune in to hear me.  After the game, I asked him what he thought; here is what he told me:

“Just be sure to keep your grades up.”

That is not what I wanted to hear; and so, I went back to the station to pull the reel-to-reel tape the station kept from the broadcast.  I sat down with headphones and listened and came to this conclusion:

  • I was beyond awful.  It was painful for me to listen to myself.

With that as background, I suspect that you will understand that I have no expertise or talent in this area.  Nevertheless, I must say that the ESPN telecast of the Cavs/Pacers game last night with Dick Vitale and Bill Walton on the mic was equally beyond awful and painful to hear.  There was a play-by-play guy there too but he was about as useful as a pedal-powered wheel chair.

Obviously, I do not know who in the ESPN hierarchy emanated the brain-fart that led to this telecast pairing.  Whoever was responsible should be made to sit and watch/listen to that televised game on a circular tape for about 12 consecutive hours.  Longer than that, it would fall into the category of cruel and unusual punishment.

Taking a step down the ladder from an NBA game, there was an announcement earlier this week that the NBA D-League will get a new name because they sold the naming rights for the whole league.  Starting next year, the D-League will become the G-League – or in its full form the NBA Gatorade League.  There will be a new league logo and it will be prominently displayed on uniforms and on the game balls; and obviously, there will be Gatorade products available to and used by the players before, during and after the games.

As part of the background information that accompanied the announcement of the Gatorade/NBA deal, it turns out that 40% of NBA players on rosters now spent some time in the D-League.  Had you asked me to guess that percentage prior to the release of that stat, I probably would have guessed 15-20%.  Interesting…

Here is what a Gatorade spokesperson had to say about this new partnership:

“We have more than 50 years of experience working with athletes and using those insights to help improve athletic performance through innovative sports fuel and equipment.  This expansion of our NBA partnership is a great opportunity to not only work with the elite athletes of the NBA G-League, but also continue to lead the evolution of basketball performance.”

I am certainly unsure about anyone or anything being able to “lead the evolution” of anything but let me say this.  If indeed Gatorade can improve performance and lead evolution, maybe they can become an ESPN partner and lead the evolution of basketball announcing away from wherever Dick Vitale and Bill Walton seemingly took it last night.

Presumably, this next NBA “story” has been put out of its misery.  With the intercession of Commissioner Adam Silver and Michael Jordan, it appears that James Dolan and Charles Oakley have re-established a relationship that is sufficient to remove Oakley’s lifetime ban from Madison Square Garden.  I suspect that it would still not be a good idea to sit these two folks next to each other at a dinner party, but they are now in a status where they can co-exist in the same building at the same time.  The words of Chairman Mao Zedong seem appropriate here:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”

Or as Bernie Lincicome once said:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins by going through a metal detector at the airport.”

The presence of Michael Jordan in this reconciliation endeavor makes me shake my head.  Jordan has no historical ties to the Knicks and he is the owner of a rival franchise.  From that perspective, he is no different from any other owner in the league – from Mark Cuban to Steve Ballmer to Dan Gilbert.  Michael Jordan also appeared in this soap opera in an earlier scene.  There were reports that Knicks’ GM Phil Jackson tried to call Jordan at the time that Oakley had been “escorted out” of Madison Square Garden and was arrested by the gendarmes.  Unless the good folks at NSA have recorded the telephone call that had Jordan participate in the meeting with Silver/Dolan/Oakley and then they release the recorded call, I am never going to be sure how or why Michael Jordan got roped into this hot mess.  But that will not stop me from offering a conjecture:

  • Oakley and Jordan were in the NBA contemporaneously and competed against each other.  Both men were – and probably still are – fierce competitors.  It would be logical to me that they developed a healthy respect for one another as competitors and as men.
  • If that is the case – or even close to the case – then perhaps Michael Jordan’s contribution here was to help Oakley channel his competitive emotions.
  • That’s the best conclusion I can draw…

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

“Indiana Pacer Myles Turner admitted he committed to Texas over Kansas based on a dream he had. Remember that the next time you think the job of college recruiter is easy.”

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

 

 

A Most Disturbing Report …

There was a story on the front page of today’s Washington Post that involves a seamy side of the sports world.  It deals with the sexual abuse of young female athletes by coaches/trainers as they aim toward participation in the Olympics.  That is a horrible circumstance by any measure but it is made even worse by the fact that when such allegations are brought to the attention of the USOC, the USOC takes a slide.  This article is excellent reporting and journalism; it relies on fact as provided by documents used in court proceedings; it interviews people involved in the matter(s); it provides history and context.  In fairness, I must tell you that it is a lengthy piece; nonetheless, I commend it to your reading.

Let me give you just a couple of teasers about the article:

  1. A USOC official claims that the USOC has no athletes under its umbrella and that the athletes are covered by/belong to the various governing sport bodies.  When asked what TEAM USA meant if it was not about USOC’s Olympic Team, he said that TEAM USA was merely “branding”.
  2. Annual revenue for the USOC is $230M.  Sounds like a lot of money for folks who sit around and worry about “branding” …

Also in today’s Washington Post – this time buried in the middle of Sports Digest – is an item about the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers.  Recall that the Chargers will play their games this year in a small stadium built as a soccer venue with seating in the range of 30,000 but with expansion potential for 35,000.  The Chargers announced that tickets for their games at this stadium – the StubHub Center – will be more than just “pricey”.  Some data from the report:

  • Top shelf season tix for the LA Chargers will cost $150 per game more than top shelf season tix for the LA Rams.
  • Season tix (a 10-game commitment to include 2 exhibition games) for midfield seats behind the Chargers’ bench will cost $375 per game.

If these numbers make you wonder how this pricing strategy is supposed to endear the Chargers to new fans in the LA area, here is what the report has to say:

“The Chargers are counting on the limited supply of seats at StubHub – along with what’s expected to be a better team than the Rams – to move their product at higher prices.”

So much for the marketing strategy of developing a customer base by offering low introductory prices…

As MLB teams and players head to Florida or Arizona to begin Spring Training, you can anticipate the onslaught of formulaic reporting and giddy optimism emanating from those locales.  However, despite that annual happenstance, there has already been a Spring Training report that immediately made me think of Monty Python.  And now for something completely different…

“Kansas City Royals left-hander Brian Flynn is expected to be sidelined for eight weeks after falling through a barn roof at his Oklahoma residence.

“The Royals said Tuesday that Flynn broke a rib and had three minor vertebrae fractures.”

I do not wish Brian Flynn any ill and I hope he has a full recovery from his fall, but I do have to note that this is one of the reports out of Spring Training that does not fit the mold for such stories.

Often, there is a media focus on the efforts and the deals and the shenanigans involved in building a new stadium or arena somewhere in the country.  However, there seems to be little if any focus on what that city/county/state ought to do or needs to do with the old/outdated stadium or arena that is being replaced.  Today, we can take a glimpse into that world thanks to a report in the Kansas City Business Journal.

Kemper Arena is the old/outdated venue and it sits on 10-acres of real estate in KC.  According to this report, a committee of the KC City Council is ready to deal with the final piece of a deal that will transfer the arena to an LLC for the price of $1.  The new owners will then “transform it into Mosaic Arena, a two-level youth and amateur sports facility.”  Why such largesse?  Well, this transfer or sale or whatever you want to call it will relieve the city of the need to spend $1.2M per year to maintain and operate Kemper Arena.  Check out the link to this report if you are interested in other financial details.

Back in the late 70s, I went to Kemper Arena to see a KC Kings game.  [The team has since moved to Sacramento.]  I recall Kemper Arena as a very modern venue for that time and that the seating was compact so that you did not feel as if you were in an airplane hangar.  Obviously, its time has come and gone.  Sic transit gloria mundi

Finally, consider this commentary from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Yes, pucks and fists often mix — but in octogenarian shuffleboard?

“Herbert Hayden, 81, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge for punching a fellow competitor at the Pinellas Park (Fla.) Senior Center and whacking him with a shuffleboard cue.

“Hayden was ordered to pay about $1,000 in fines, fees and restitution. And just for good measure, the judge tacked on five minutes for fighting, two minutes for roughing and another two for high-sticking.”

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

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day …

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.  If the good folks at NPR.com are correct, we should take a moment today to celebrate and appreciate how folks in the US deal with this holiday in the 21st century.  According to NPR.com, Valentine’s Day probably originated in Roman times as the Feast of Lupercalia.  Here is what went down as the Romans did their celebrating:

“From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.”

Now before you think that is the end of the egregiousness of the festivities consider that:

  1. The men were naked.
  2. The women lined up to take turns getting whipped.

You can find more details about the evolution of this holiday and its celebration here.  Even if you do not take the time to check out the link, I suspect that we can all agree that chocolates and roses are a more refined way to commemorate the 14th day of February than was practiced by the Romans…

Having mentioned the tradition of Valentine’s Day, allow me a moment here to break with tradition in these rants and make two statements that are sort of political in nature.

First, I have seen at least a dozen reports/commentaries in the last week about players on the New England Patriots who have announced that they will not go to the White House as part of the celebration of their victory in the Super Bowl.  In addition to the reports, there are “analyses” of what this might mean regarding those players’ continued affiliation with the team and speculation about how the Pats’ owner and coach feel about all of that.  Enough already…

The politics of the US in 2017 is so fractured that if Donald Duck were the President, some athlete somewhere would refuse to go visit him in the White House because that athlete was a Mickey Mouse fan.  I get it.  Everyone with an IQ equal to or higher than the speed limit on the Interstate highway system gets it.  I would like to make a plea for rationality here:

  1. If an athlete does not want to attend, he/she should feel free to do something else on that day.
  2. An athlete should not delude themselves into believing their absence is anything more than their personal choice.  Think about it; when was the last time you scrutinized one of the posed pictures where the President is holding up a jersey with his name on it to see which of the team members are present and which are not?
  3. I know there is pressure on reporters to fill space and to put content on websites, but these sorts of reports are thin gruel.

Second, while I am on my abnormal path and commenting about political matters that abut sports matters, let me anticipate an upcoming event.  For the last several years, ESPN asked President Obama to fill out a March Madness bracket and then televised the act of filling out the Presidential Bracket.  The first time they did that, it was sort of fun; the second time they did that, it was stale; after that, I could not help but wonder how it could be that the President did not have something better to do than to take the time to produce this taped event.  I understand that President Obama was a big college basketball fan and would probably have filled out a bracket for the “White House Staff Bracket Challenge” anyway.  But the televised “program” had lost its luster.

 

Memo to ESPN:  Please do not make any attempt to carry this “tradition” forward into the 45th Presidency.  It was a clever idea when you thought of it but it is now time to move on to something else.

 

Parallel Memo to President Trump:  If they call to ask you to fill out a bracket on TV, do not take the call.  You can get TV coverage almost any time you want it; you do not need this at all and the people do not need this at all.

 

In a column in the Miami Herald last weekend, Greg Cote reminded me that in addition to the “major sports” that attract the clear majority of media attention and fan enthusiasm, there are second tier and third tier sporting events that normally fall outside the scope of our attention.  Here are two of his short observations regarding such sports:

“BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Tour stop in Fort Lauderdale ends Sunday: The Fort Lauderdale Major, an FIVB World Tour pro event, wraps up Sunday with the women’s gold medal match. Which answers the question, ‘What? You mean beach volleyball is played more than once every four years at the Olympics?’”

And …

“GOLF: Allianz Championship wraps Sunday in Boca: Don’t call it the Senior Tour anymore, but the PGA Tour’s older division completes its event in Boca Raton today. Entering Sunday’s final round, Fred Couples started only one stroke behind four guys only their families have heard of.”

Finally, before I ponder the social dangers involved with trying to revive the traditions of the Feast of Lupercalia here in Northern Virginia this afternoon, let me close with a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A group of former cheerleaders has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the NFL and 26 teams, alleging that management actively conspired to underpay them and keep them from negotiating better salaries.

“The plaintiffs are reportedly seeking somewhere between two bits/four bits/six bits and 300 million dollars.”

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

 

 

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………

 

 

Sour Stuff Today …

Unless you are just returning to consciousness from a comatose state – – welcome back, by the way – – you must have heard/seen/read about the Charles Oakley incident at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday evening.  The whole thing was a mess and there appears to be no conclusive video evidence that would justify Oakley pushing and shoving security guards at the arena.  However, being that this happened in NYC and that it involves the Knicks and their owner, James Dolan, the simple and preferred way to deal with the situation was off the table from the outset.  There was a moment when – if all parties could just STFU – this mess could have receded into dim memory in about 2 hours.  But, no…

Oakley was arrested and charged with a bunch of stuff.  The Knicks’ PR staff issued a statement saying that the team hopes that Oakley “gets help soon”.  Players around the league and commentators in various cities have expressed contempt for the way the Knicks treated one of the franchise’s former star players.  All this could have been avoided but now it is out there and it will fester because one of the actors is James Dolan.

A former colleague at work was a graduate of West Point.  He would often say that every group or team of people benefited from having a “s[p]it magnet”.  That is a person who – whenever anything went wrong – attracted all the blame and accreted all the s[p]it that came as a result of the error.  My colleague used to say that the presence of this “magnet” allowed other team members to go about their business efficiently and effectively and that made the “magnet” a valuable member of the team.  When I asked him if he ever ran into those sorts of folks at West Point, he said that he had and he was glad to have them in his squad.

Among the NBA owners, James Dolan is a “s[p]it magnet”.  I doubt that he ever aspired to that status, but there he is…

Moving along to baseball – as pitchers and catchers are starting to pack up their gear to head to Spring Training – the Commish announced that baseball will propose a rule change to the MLBPA and will try out two other new rules in the low minor leagues.  The purpose here – nominally – is to increase the pace of play for games and/or to make the games more exciting.  Here they are:

  1. Intentional Walks:  No more four pitches to the catcher standing there with one arm out like a school crossing guard; the umpire simply waves the batter to first base.  Yes, this removes the possibility of a wild pitch that could dramatically change the game strategy.  No, that does not happen sufficiently frequently to matter.  By the way, I do not think intentional walks happen frequently enough that saving the 30 seconds that it takes to throw those four intentionally wide pitches matters very much.  Baseball purists may not like this but I don’t think this matters one way or the other.
  2. Raise the lower limit of the strike zone:  Instead of the lower limit being the “bottom of the knee” change it to the “top of the knee”.  The idea here is to make the pitcher put more pitches in the “hitting zone” with the intention of having more balls put in play making for more action/excitement.  I read a stat somewhere that 30% of the plate appearances last season resulted in a walk or a strikeout meaning 30% of the plate appearances did not put the ball in play.  If I were convinced that this was a problem that needed resolution, I would do it differently.   I would raise the upper limit of the strike zone and have the umpires call strikes on pitches as high as the armpits.  What that would do would be to get batters to swing at more pitches instead of waiting out the pitcher for every at bat.  But that is just me…
  3. Put a runner on second base to start each extra inning game:  The idea here is to make the extra innings more exciting and to avoid the “marathon games”.  MLB’s chief baseball officer, Joe Torre, said that it is not fun when a team has used up its pitching staff and has to bring in a utility infielder to pitch in “marathon games”.  Here is the problem and here is a hat-tip to the Washington Post for these data.  There just aren’t that many “marathon games”.  In 2016, 2,243 MLB games were played in 9 innings or less; 176 games were played in 10-14 innings; 8 games went 15-18 innings and 1 game took 19 innings to play.  Only 8% of the games went to extra innings and only 0.4% of the games could possibly be called “marathon games” (longer than 14 innings).  This is a solution desperately seeking a problem to resolve…

I would object to the new “extra inning rule experiment” on two grounds in addition to the fact that it would only come into effect a few times a year for most teams.  First, it gives an even bigger advantage to the home team – batting last – if the visitors do not score in the top half of an extra inning.  They would start with a man on second and can bunt him to third base and win with a sac fly.  That does not add loads of excitement to the game but it does provide an added home-team advantage.

My other objection is parallel to my dislike for the way the NHL and the FIFA World Cup games resolve ties.  The shoot-out is a different game than the one that led to the tie situation in the first place.  Reverse the process and you will see how dumb this is.  Imagine that the sport of hockey or soccer consisted of a whole bunch of penalty shots/penalty kicks and at the end of that competition, the score was tied.  How dumb would it be for the teams now to resort to playing hockey or soccer as we know it to resolve the tie?

The baseball game that produced the tie situation at the end of 9 innings did not involve starting each half-inning with a runner on second base.  So, why should the winner of that game come from this newly imposed game situation?  I will not go so far as calling this idea a “crime against humanity” but it is about as useful as the reinvention of the flat tire.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times about long baseball games:

“A report says that, 180 million years from now, the pull of the moon’s gravity will make days on Earth 25 hours long.

“And MLB games will be 6½ hours long.”

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

 

 

The NFL Off-Season Has Begun…

Evidently, all the precincts have reported in and we now know how much money FOX pulled in regarding advertising on Super Bowl Sunday.  Let us agree that it was more than a tidy sum as we look at some of the numbers:

  • For the entire day – pre-game, in-game and post-game – FOX revenue exceeded $435M.
  • There were 62 different sponsors and 89 different ads aired.
  • The overtime in the game allowed 4 additional ad slots to happen and that goosed the revenue total a bit.
  • Revenue from the in-game ads was $350M; revenue from the pre-game was $73M and revenue from the post-game was $14.6M.
  • The sponsor spending the most money during the game was T-Mobile at $30M with Alfa-Romeo spending the next most money at $20M.
  • For the pre-game, the biggest spenders were sponsors more traditionally associated with football telecasts.  Ford, Coca Cola, Lifelock, AFLAC and McDonalds were the big spenders there.

I mentioned in my commentary about the Super Bowl game that I thought the Falcons’ play calling in the second half – – and particularly in the final 5 minutes of the game – was tactically flawed.  That position has been taken by many others and there has been some direct criticism of Kyle Shanahan as he moves to take over the head coaching duties in SF.  Some have suggested that his poor tactical decision making against the Pats should be worrisome for Niners’ fans and the Niners’ brass.  I disagree for one fundamental reason:

  • For at least the next year – and probably for the next 3 years – Kyle Shanahan is not going to be faced with the challenge of holding onto a 25-point lead over a highly competent opponent.  By the time he has to deal with such an issue, he should have learned a lot about game management and play calling.  Niners’ fans and the Niners’ brass have far more imminent and for more important issues to worry about.

The NFL is now officially into its off-season but it will stay in the sports news spotlight with things like the Combine and the Draft and a bunch of concocted storylines related to player moves.  Here are two storylines that are sure to be overdone:

  1. Whither Tony Romo?  I suspect this storyline will be bludgeoned to death over the next couple of months.
  2. What price will the Pats demand for Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade?  This story has already started to be bludgeoned to death and I think the narrative developed to date misses the critical element of the story.  I think the critical element here is Bill Belichick’s level of comfort with Jacoby Brissett as Tom Brady’s backup QB next year and as Tom Brady’s heir-apparent in the long term.  If Belichick is not convinced that Brissett is suitable, then Garoppolo may not be going anywhere for any price.  If my hypothesis here is correct, then the answer to the question requires delving into the mind of Coach Belichick and I must say that I will be VERY skeptical of anyone who asserts that they have the ability to do that.

There are three storylines for this NFL offseason that I will be interested in following because I think there are multiple end-states that are possible and/or because they have not yet received a surfeit of attention:

  1. Whither the Oakland Raiders?  The reason this is interesting is because there are so many moving parts to the puzzle.  I think that those who have declared the “Las Vegas option” dead in the aftermath of Sheldon Adelson’s withdrawal and Goldman Sachs withdrawal have missed one important point.  The State of Nevada has put $750M of taxpayer money on the table to build a football stadium for an NFL team.  It is not like the NFL to abandon that sort of largesse.  I get a hint that there is another dimension here that has not yet gotten a lot of attention.  I get the idea that there are more than a couple of owners who would like to see the Raiders in the hands of “someone not named Davis”.  I wonder if there will be decisions made here with the intent of “putting the squeeze” on Mark Davis.
  2. Whither Adrian Peterson?  If he stays with the Vikes, his contract says they owe him $18M to play next year.  Over the last 3 seasons, Peterson has missed 28 of the 48 scheduled games; he will be a 32-year old RB at the start of next season who has carried the ball 2418 times in his career.  That is not exactly the sort of thing a team would want to see associated with an $18M annual salary.  Will there be a renegotiation of the contract in Minnesota or will he be released?
  3. Whither Jay Cutler?  It surely seems as if his time in Chicago is over – but what if the Bears cannot land themselves a real NFL QB?  In addition to Cutler, the Bears have 4 QBs on the roster – Matt Barkley, David Fales, Brian Hoyer and Connor Shaw.  Is there a “real NFL QB” on that list?  We shall see …

Finally, here is an observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“A Buffalo Bills linebacker reportedly had his paychecks garnished because he owed $4,045 to The Fish Guy for moving his aquarium. Well, those courses teaching pro athletes how to manage their money are certainly paying off.”

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

 

 

Meanderings On A Wednesday

Lots of folks claim – mostly correctly – that the college basketball season is not all that interesting and that the tournament in March is all that matters.  I must reluctantly agree with that assessment; and to some extent, I think the over-the-top success and appeal of March Madness has contributed to the diminution of the regular season in college basketball.  Meanwhile, not everyone shares my view that the regular season of the NBA is mostly useless and uninteresting although most folks will agree that the real focus of the regular season is in the final 15-20 games for each team.  Absent a game in November that produces a major injury to a star player on a potentially contending team, there is no gravitas associated with much of anything in the NBA prior to March 1.

The good folks in Las Vegas recently issued a new set of odds related to the NBA that makes my point.  Here are the odds – posted before the season started and revised odds posted this week – for who will win the NBA Championship in June courtesy of the Westgate LV Sportsbook.  Remember, there are 30 teams in the NBA playing 82 games each meaning there are more than 1200 regular season games.

  • Opening odds = 3-2  Current odds = 5-7  Golden State Warriors
  • Opening odds = 5-2  Current odds = 7-4  Cleveland Cavaliers

Currently, the next team on the board would be the San Antonio Spurs at 6-1 and they are the only teams out of the 30 teams in the NBA at odds below 20-1 as of this week.  [The Clippers are at 20-1; then come the Celtics, Raptors and Rockets at 25-1 and then we get into stratospheric odds very quickly.]

The NBA will start their playoffs with 16 teams.  Even the oddsmakers are suggesting that the first two rounds – at least – of those playoffs are nothing more than window dressing.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will have 7 new members in August 2017.  The loudest debate about the selection process centers around the exclusion of Terrell Owens for the second year in a row.  You can check his career stats here if you need to convince yourself that his on-field performance merits induction into the HoF.  And yet, he is still on the outside looking in…

Terrell Owens is today’s focal point for the ongoing debate regarding how much a Hall of Fame should be about accomplishments within the sport itself as opposed to how much it should be about “character” and “locker room presence” and all that sort of stuff.  This is the NFL version of the ongoing “debate” that MLB has regarding players who may or may not have used PEDs.  If you look at those career stats I linked to above, you will also note that T.O. played for 5 teams in his career and that he fundamentally wore out his welcome in at least with 3 of the 4 teams that let him walk.  Does that diminish what he did on Sundays?  If you say that it does, is it a sufficient diminution to keep him out of the hall of fame as compared to some other WRs there who were ”good guys”?  You make the call…

When he missed out on the vote, T. O. quickly turned to Twitter to vent – as is the current custom – and he said that the voting process is “flawed” and that he does not care if he is ever voted into the HoF.  Here are two predictions:

  1. T.O. will eventually be voted into the Hall of Fame when the voters believe that he has been sufficiently chastened from snubs in the prior balloting which inevitably lead to another round of public re-hashing of what a “bad teammate”/”locker room cancer” he was.
  2. When he is voted in, T.O. will not rail against a “flawed process” and – more importantly – he will not decline the invitation to be part of the Hall of Fame.

Here are two reasons to keep an eye on the Pro Football Hall of Fame balloting over the next couple of years.  These two players are soon to be eligible and both have prodigious on-field accomplishments and some “outside-the-lines flaws”:

  1. Ray Lewis
  2. Randy Moss

There are reports that the NFL is considering a punishment for the Seattle Seahawks because the team did not put Richard Sherman on its injury report for most of the year after Sherman admitted that he played most of the second half of the season with a knee injury.  I realize that the “Deflategate Discombobulation” established that the NFL Commish can hand down just about any punishment short of “off with his head” and that punishment will stand up with or without substantial backup evidence.  Nevertheless, a punishment in this case would be more than a miscarriage of justice.

Richard Sherman has a bad knee and he says he has had it for half a season but the Seahawks never put him on an injury report.  There are rules that say the team is supposed to do that.  However, Sherman never missed a practice because of the injury nor did he miss a game.  The only conclusion to draw here is that he may indeed have an injured knee, but it was not sufficiently injured to keep him out of practice of a game.  At that standard for reporting, would a wide receiver need to be on the injured list for a hangnail?

The irony here for me is that the league has this rule on the books only as a way to make it more difficult for gamblers – you know, those bad guys – to uncover such a tidbit and to use it to the advantage of the gamblers – you know, those bad guys.  That is the basis for the rule; and in this case, if Sherman had been on the injury reports – and then played virtually every defensive snap for the remainder of the season – the league could easily have been ridiculed because one of its teams was making a mockery of the injury reporting system.  Oh yeah, one other team in the league has been accused of doing just that too…

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the TV ratings for the NFL Pro Bowl:

“Numbers game: The TV ratings for Sunday’s Pro Bowl were down for yet another year – a demonstration of good taste by a segment of the American TV audience.”

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

 

 

 

 

Baylor Football And Niners’ Football

Surely, you have heard and read about the allegations of sexual assault and other lawless behaviors attributed to members of the Baylor football team and about how the coaching staff, athletic department and school administration did less than one should expect to curb those activities and to report them to the authorities.  In matters of this nature, I have been sensitized to wait until the process works itself out before diving headlong into the discussion; the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case remains embedded in my memory.  That is why I have not been commenting on this matter as it has been in and out of the news over the past year or so.

To be sure, this whole matter is not settled.  There are still lawsuits pending against the school by alleged victims and by members of the coaching staff and there are lawsuits for defamation of character that are out there and …  Trust me; this is not over by a long shot.  Nonetheless, as a result of the discovery process in one of the lawsuits, some text messages sent by former Baylor coach, Art Briles, have come to light.  While these messages do not confirm or deny any guilt by any of his players in terms of criminal activities or sexual assaults, the texts indicate to me that he knew that there were multiple issues of behaviors by his players that are socially and legally unacceptable.  Those text messages indicate he knew about them and that he was part of a process that intended to keep these behaviors from coming to the attention of the local police in order to keep players eligible to play football.

On the assumption that those text messages are real and have not been concocted to frame Art Briles, they are sufficiently odious to bring me to the following conclusion:

  • Art Briles should not be allowed to coach football – or any other sport – at an educational institution in the US again.

Given the information in those text messages and their timing, I think I am also ready to say that the folks who were in charge at Baylor University at the time – they have since been replaced – should also be barred from holding equivalent positions of authority at an educational institution in the US.  A quick Google search here will give you an overview of the sordid behaviors that these folks sought to cover up/minimize in order to keep a top-rated football team on the field.  Just to focus on one of the allegations here, one Baylor co-ed alleges that she was gang-raped by two football players and that she can identify 52 instances of sexual assault perpetrated by 31 different Baylor football players.  Those are allegations; none has been proven.  However, juxtaposed with the text messages involving other matters, the situation at Baylor was about as ugly as a barrel of hot cat vomit.

If you are too lazy to use Google, here is an espn.com overview of some of the lowlights here.  If you want to read a report on some of the behaviors of the coaching staff and at least one of the boosters for the Baylor football program, check out this report from SI.com.

What interests me here – in addition of course to resolving the outstanding criminal charges at the basis of all this – is the behavior of the good folks at the NCAA.  I would like to think that those folks have been quiet and careful regarding this matter because they learned a lesson; that may be the case – or it may also be the case that they are tone deaf.  Let me explain…

Remember back to the days of the “Sandusky Affair” at Penn State.  Long before the judicial processes finished, the NCAA swooped in and levied a whole bunch of sanctions against Penn State.  One merely violated the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a judge saw to it that the sanction was reversed; others took away scholarships and another performed the feckless task of vacating victories.  In that case, Penn State gained no material on-field advantage in football – which is the fundamental reason the NCAA and its rule book exist in the first place.  But the NCAA was out-front in terms of punishments…

In the Baylor case, this hot mess has been around for well over a year now and the NCAA is still pondering.  If what they are doing is waiting for all the evidence and all the charges to become known so they can make an informed decision in this matter, then bully for them.  I am typically not one to offer praise for the folks at the NCAA; but if that is what they are doing here, they are doing the right thing.  However, if they fail to come down on this institution and these adults who were in charge at least as hard as they tried to come down on Penn State and the folks there, then it is time for the villagers to bring their torches and pitch forks to NCAA Headquarters and to slay the monsters therein.

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post has called on the NCAA to invoke the “Death Penalty” on Baylor football.  I am not there – yet – simply because there are still events in the world of jurisprudence that are pending.  However, I will say this:

  • If the bulk of the allegations of sexual assaults and rapes and other sordid illegal behaviors are proven to have happened, then the “Death Penalty” for Baylor football should definitely be strongly considered.

Moving up one level of football competition and the coaching aspects therein, the Niners did announce that Kyle Shanahan will be their new coach and that he and John Lynch will be the football mavens to restore the Niners’ franchise to a status above “laughingstock”.  Congratulations to those two folks; they have a steep hill to climb.  Moreover, one of the handicaps they will have to carry up that hill is the Niners’ CEO, Jed York who is the son of the team’s principle owner, Denise DeBartolo York.  Jed York is a Niners’ fan who was given the keys to the car in 2008 and who enjoyed early success by hiring Jim Harbaugh to coach the team.  However, when Harbaugh and then GM, Trent Baalke, crossed swords, York could not restore order and then clearly picked the “wrong side” in the argument letting Harbaugh walk.

From that moment forward, nothing that Jed York has done has made football sense – including his coaching hires, his reliance on Baalke to do the drafting for the team, etc.  He has alienated the fanbase and – most importantly – he has shown that he is averse to any sort of public humiliation.  Press criticism and fan demonstrations do not make him a happy camper…

Ergo, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan not only have to do a lot of work to restore a football roster than is severely talent-deficient, they also have to do that in a way that allows some of the reflected glory to shine on Jed York plus they have to do it in a time-frame that will make the fans and the press see that progress is being made to the point that they do not continue to ridicule Jed York.  I have read that both Lynch and Shanahan have 6-year contracts; I think that they had better show some progress in the first two years and they had better be relevant in the NFC West in the third year or they will be sitting home and collecting on the final years of those deals.

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

“The Winter X Games have been going on. The question is, WHY!?”

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