The Tournament Names Rant…

For the rest of the world, today is St. Patrick’s Day. Here in Curmudgeon Central it is the Tuesday before the men’s basketball tournament begins and that can mean just one thing:

    It is time for the annual “Names Rant” for players in the tournament.

As you watch tournament games, you will be certain to see the NCAA flogging the idea that their student-athletes are going to be professionals in something other than sports. Well, just in case some of those folks paid attention to the omen of their name, here is what they should be majoring in:

    Ron Baker (Wichita State) – Culinary Arts
    Romelo Banks (N. Florida) – Finance
    Evan Bradds (Belmont) – Carpentry
    Farad Cobb (Cincy) – Electrical Engineering
    Elgin Cook (Oregon) – Culinary Arts
    Quinn Cook (Duke) – Culinary Arts
    Tekele Cotton (Wichita State) – Fashion Design
    Dallas Ennema (Albany) – Nursing
    Jarred Guest – VCU) – Hotel Management
    Igor Hadziomerovic (Boise St.) – Medical Technology
    Stefan Moody (Ole Miss) – Psychology
    Deron Powers (Hampton) – Electrical Engineering
    RaShawn Stores (Manhattan) – Marketing

A few other players might find themselves drawn by fate into fields that do not necessarily demand a college degree – although the experience of college surely benefits everyone exposed to same.

    Anton Beard (Arkansas) could become a barber
    Anthony Barber (NC State) could go into business with him
    Kris Dunn (Providence) could become a bill collector
    James Farr (Xavier) could become a travel agent
    Tony Parker (UCLA) could become a valet parker
    London Parrantes (UVa) could become an airline pilot
    Sir’Dominc Pointer (St. John’s) could become a dog breeder
    MJ Rhett (Ole Miss) could become a butler
    Lee Skinner (Wofford) could go to work in an abbatoir
    Thomas Walkup (Stephen F. Austin) could become a bellman
    Dez Wells (Maryland) could work in an oilfield.

As the college basketball season unfolded, I happened to run across a name that I noted just for this “Names Rant” because I would have to include it should his team make it to the tournament. Alas, Ohio University did not make it so I can only refer to the name but cannot put him on my Tournament All-Name Team:

    Wadly Mompremier

Not to worry, there will still be an All-Name Team and here it is … or maybe I should call this the tournament team that will give copy editors around the country nightmares:

    Martavious Newby G Ole Miss
    Shivaughn Wiggins G Coastal Carolina
    Chinanu Onuaku C Louisville
    Zena Edosomwan F Harvard
    Sir’Dominic Pointer F St. John’s

    First off the bench on the All-Name/Copy Editors’ Nightmare Team would be:

      Scoochie Smith G Dayton
      Mamadou Ndiaye C UC Irvine
      Dallas Ennema F Albany

Speaking of great tournament names, I wonder whatever happened to Orsten Artis and Fennis Dembo…?

As usual, there are mirror image names in the tournament – players where you can reverse the first and last names and not be sure which order is correct. Consider:

    Lawrence Alexander G N. Dakota St.
    Remy Barry F N. Mexico St.
    Drew Brandon G E. Washington
    Dallas Cameron G Stephen F. Austin
    Jerian Grant G Notre Dame
    Tyler Harvey G E. Washington
    Parker Kelly G E. Washington (Did E Wash recruit these guys on purpose?)
    William Lee F UAB
    Dakota Mathias G Purdue
    Dyshawn Pierre F Dayton
    Jacob Parker F Stephen F. Austin
    Tony Parker F UCLA
    Aqeel Quinn G San Diego State
    Brandon Taylor G Utah
    Chris Thomas F Texas Southern

You could assemble a tournament team and call it the All-Presidential Team Here are your potential roster candidates:

    Darius Carter – Wichita State
    Quincy Ford – Northeastern
    Xavier Ford – Buffalo
    Jerian Grant – Notre Dame
    Aaron Harrison – Kentucky
    Andrew Harrison – Kentucky
    D’Angelo Harrison – St. John’s
    Nigel Hayes – Wisconsin
    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Arizona
    Justin Jackson – UNC
    Parker Jackson-Cartwright – Arizona
    Brice Johnson – UNC
    Reginald Johnson – Hampton
    Robert Johnson – Indiana
    Stanley Johnson – Arizona
    Tyler Harvey – E. Washington
    Kennedy Meeks – UNC
    Brandon Taylor – Utah

There are some players’ names that make you stop and think along the lines of “Don’t I know you form somewhere else?” or possibly “I thought you did XX and not play basketball.” Consider:

    Gary Clark (Cincy) – – I thought you played football…
    Vince Edwards (Purdue) – – You don’t look like Dr. Ben Casey…
    James Farr (Xavier) – – You don’t look like Corporal Klinger…
    Charles Mann (Georgia) – – I thought you played football too…
    Johnathan Motley (Baylor) – – I wonder if he has a “crue”…
    Jervon Presley (Hampton) – – Is your uncle, Elvis, really dead?
    Quentin Snider (Louisville) – – Aren’t you the guy coaching the Utah Jazz?
    Travis Souza (UC Irvine) – – Shouldn’t you be marching somewhere?
    Ralston Turner (NC State) – – Do you have a brother named Ralston Purina?
    Justice Winslow (Duke) – – Did you ever catch up with Burt Reynolds?

Enough with the silly players’ names stuff? I think so… I want to give you a couple of things to think about as you figure out your brackets for this year. Without going through the monotony and uselessness of picking every game, let me give you three things to consider as you fill out the brackets:

    1. Two coaches I do not trust in tournament play are Mark Few and John Thompson III. I am not saying they are bad coaches; what I am saying is that their teams have not shown well in the tournament over the past few years. Both coaches have teams with a bad habit of losing to teams seeded well below them in March.

      [Aside: Living in the DC area I have gotten to see Georgetown and Maryland play more than a couple of times this year. How both of them wound up as #4 seeds in their brackets is a mystery to me. Georgetown is not nearly as good a team as Maryland.]

    2. On the flip side, I have faith in two coaches to have their teams ready to play well in early rounds of the tournament just about all the time. Those coaches are:

      Shaka Smart
      Roy Williams

    3. One of the teams that wins a play-in game can win another game or two – remember VCU and LaSalle in those circumstances. If you can pick the team out of those that will have a Cinderella performance for a while, you can amass a lot of points in your bracket pool.

Speaking about teams in the play-in games, the Selection Committee really screwed the pooch when it put Dayton in one of those games on Dayton’s home court. That is simply wrong. If the Committee felt that Dayton HAD to be in the tournament, they should have put them in one of the #16 seeds where they did not have to be in a play-in game held in Dayton. In the big picture it does not matter because Dayton is not going to win it all. However, the placement of Dayton in the bracket where it is represents a humongous brain-cramp for the Selection Committee.

Here are some first round games I am looking forward to:

    N. Iowa/Wyoming: I saw N. Iowa play twice this year and their senior center, Seth Tuttle, is a good all-around college basketball player. This could be a close and low-scoring game that goes down to the final minutes.

    Wichita St./Indiana: I am still not sure why Indiana is in the tournament at all since it lost 13 games this year.

    VCU/Ohio State: It will be interesting to see how Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell handles the full-time frenetic defense of VCU.

    SMU/UCLA: UCLA is another team that is in the tournament with 13 losses on their record; I would like to see what the Committee saw in them. Oh, and Larry Brown is the coach at SMU and if they win their first round game it will be interesting to see if he leaves for another job before the second round game.

Have any of you even bothered to look at the NIT brackets – or are you like me in that you consider the NIT really as the National Intramural Tournament these days? Here is a link to the 32 teams involved in the NIT this year and the opening round pairings. If you can see a compelling match-up there, you are better than I am. The next time you hear anyone suggest that the NCAA tournament needs to be expanded to 96 teams, consider that this is the roster of teams that would be added this year. Take a look and tell me there is a good reason to put any of them in the “Field of 64”.

Finally, here is an interesting view on the process by which we arrive at the teams in the brackets each year from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot. It is hard to argue with it:

“Much ado: So be it if this brands me a curmudgeon – though that’s been pretty well established by now, I suppose – but most conference basketball tournaments leave me cold. I can’t be the only one who thinks this way, though, judging from the rows upon rows of empty seats in the background of so many games. By and large, conference tournaments are intramural squeaking. The concept is played out, and the sport needs to come up with something better to promote the product.”

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

Bracket Pools

Well, the seedings for the men’s basketball tournament are announced and while many others will be wailing about which team was snubbed by the Selection Committee, I prefer to ignore that silliness. With the brackets now set in stone, we are free to ponder bracket selections… Do not fear; I am not about to bore you with my picks and my bracket-busting-mortal-lock-upset games in Rounds 1 & 2. If I really had “mortal locks” there, the last thing I would do would be to announce it to the world before I got my butt to Las Vegas to lay heavy bread on the “sure-fire winner”.

Rather, I prefer to discuss the substance of a report I ran across at sportsbusinessnews.com. According to this report, 40 million people will fill out brackets this year and the estimate is that people will wager about $9B on the tournament games and the bracket pools. That seems like an awfully high wagering handle to me given that the vast majority of the bettors have to be in the US; I cannot believe that men’s college basketball is a big deal in many places outside the US. Here is a bit of perspective:

    There are about 300 million people in the US.

    To generate a betting handle of $9B, that means that every man, woman and child would need to bet $30 on the tournament. When you consider that about 12% of those 300 million people are under the age of 10, you can see that some folks somewhere have to be laying huge numbers of coins on games.

The other number in the report that stands out to me is that the study estimate is that $7B of the $9B total will be wagered illegally. If accurate, that means the offshore sportsbooks and your friendly neighborhood bookie will be heavily exposed over the next 3 weeks and could stand to make a tidy profit or sustain a gargantuan loss on the games.

Here is a link to the report if you want to see more of the details of their survey…

In another report on that same website, one of FIFA’s vice-presidents said that a World Cup tournament cannot be staged in Russia given the amount of racism that exists in Russia today. At first, my reaction was pretty much along the lines of “So what?” Then I realized that FIFA has already awarded the 2018 World Cup tournament to Russia. Cue Oliver Hardy …

“Well, here’s another nice kettle of fish you’ve pickled me in.”

Evidently, racist chants and catcalls are standard features at games in Russia and about a year ago there was an incident where a banana was thrown on the field at a player who participates for a Russian team but who also plays for the Congolese national team. The idea for FIFA was that there would be “sensitivity training” and various other “educational initiatives” that would have some influence over the racist behaviors/chants. Would that it were so simple and straightforward.

I am not trying to say that implementing some diversity awareness initiatives and cultural sensitivity initiatives will do damage in these circumstances. What I do mean to say is that if this FIFA vice-president really believes that in about 3 years’ time, he and his educational initiatives can reduce extant racism in Russia to a negligible level, he is incurably naïve.

As MLB continues to work on speeding up the pace of play in its games, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times put much of that activity into perspective:

“MMA champ Ronda Rousey needed just 14 seconds to win on Saturday night.
“As for her next bout, it’ll be between pitches at a Yankees-Red Sox game.”

Speaking of baseball and “new initiatives”, consider these two new culinary offerings available to minor-league baseball fans:

    The Appleton Wisconsin Timber-Rattlers are the Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers in the Midwest League. This year, the team will allow their fans to purchase either – or both? – of these artery embolism producing burgers.

    The grilled cheese bacon cheeseburger is a bacon cheeseburger sitting between two grilled cheese sandwiches.

    The Big Mother Funnel Burger is a bacon cheeseburger sitting between a pair of funnel cake “buns”.

    The Wilmington (DE) Blue Rocks are the Class A affiliate of the KC Royals in the Carolina League. If you go to one of their games this year, you will have the opportunity to purchase a Krispy Kreme hot dog. Yes, that would be a hot dog between Krispy Kreme donuts as the hot dog roll with bacon and raspberry jelly just in case the glaze on the donuts does not satisfy your sugar Jones. The Blue Rocks have not named this concoction yet. Here is a suggestion:

      Diabetic Delight

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

“ ‘The Lazarus Effect,’ just out in theaters, centers around:

    a) Medical students discovering how to bring the dead back to life.
    b) The 10-45 Knicks somehow rallying to win this year’s NBA title.

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

Sports Economics

I want to start today with two items that relate to economics and soccer and both items are focused on Brazil. The World Cup tournament was held in Brazil in 2014; there were 64 matches played in 12 cities around the country. All of the matches took place in newly constructed or significantly renovated stadiums.

I mention that because the mantra chanted by folks who seek to build new stadiums or to host big things like the Olympics contains the idea of long-term economic benefits that derive from the stadium or the event. I have never thought that was the case and Brazil offers another datum that contradicts the mantra.

    A year after the World Cup and a year since all of the government funded stadium construction and renovation was completed, the Brazilian economy is not growing very fast. In fact, times are tough in Brazil. There was a short-term economic bump last year – not sufficient to cover all of the preparatory costs for the World Cup by any means but still a bump – but a year later the economy is “problematic”.

    One of the newly constructed stadiums was in Brasilia – the capital of Brazil – and it cost a reported $530M. Estadio Mane Garrincha seats 72,000 folks but there is one problem with the stadium. There is no major team in Brasilia to play there; the local teams in the area draw crowds in the 10,000 neighborhood. So, the reports are that the stadium is being used as a bus maintenance facility. That is a lot of money to spend on a bus maintenance facility…

In another part of Brazil, a team has taken uniform sponsorships to a new level. Tune into any major soccer match on TV and you will quickly recognize that corporate sponsorships with sponsors’ logos on the jerseys is commonplace. Rio Claro Futebol Clube is a team that plays in the Serie A1 in Brazil and its home site is near Sao Paolo. Rio Claro has taken “jersey sponsorship” to a new level; Rio Claro has a “butt sponsor”.

Currently, on the rear end of players’ uniforms are the words:

“Porta dos Fundos”

That is the title of a Brazilian YouTube channel that specializes in satire. So, why would those sponsors want their names on the players’ butts? “Porta dos Fundos” translates into English as “The Back Door”.

If this becomes a trend, it could have unsettling circumstances in the future. Consider if the folks at Burger King decided to sponsor a team with a message on the front of the players’ pants. Somehow the phrase “Home of the Whopper” would be unseemly in that locale…

In a recent column in the SF Chronicle, Scott Ostler compiled a list of things that need to be removed from sporting events. Everyone knows there are things involved in games that diminish one’s enjoyment of said games; getting rid of them would be addition by subtraction. Here is a link to the entire column; I recommend that you read it all.

To give you a flavor of Professor Ostler’s thinking as to things that should be eliminated from sporting events, here are two of his suggestions:

    “Turnstile searches will stop any fan trying to smuggle into the stadium a large ‘D’ and a little picket fence.”

    “Athletes — golfers, wide receivers, baseball hitters, bowlers, etc. — will be allowed to wear any kind of gloves they want, but none during actual competition.”

Wednesday, in Spring Training baseball, Alex Rodriguez hit his first home run of the spring. Someone in the Yankees’ organization was “Tweeting the game” giving followers highlights of the game between the Yankees and the Red Sox and somehow that person managed to overlook/ignore/miss A-Rod’s home run. Bizarre…

Look, I get it that the Yankees’ fondest wish is for A-Rod to prove that he is physically unable to play such that he has to retire injured and the Yankees can get compensation from insurance to pay him the $61M coming to him for the balance of his ridiculous contract. I also get it that there is a reservoir of ill-will left over from last year’s more-than-contentious arbitration hearing that led to A-Rod’s season-long suspension for PEDs. Nevertheless, A-Rod is in camp and – given his age and his rehab status – is playing pretty well. So far he is 5-11 (one HR and one double) with 2 walks. That makes it seem awfully petty of the Yankees to seem to shun him in their “Twitter account”.

Alex Rodriguez is not a loveable guy by almost any yardstick you might propose. However, the Yankees’ behavior as an organization is beginning to make him seem like the “less-odious participant” in the ongoing snit-fest. And, if I were in A-Rod’s shoes, I would take each of these little slights and use them to steel my resolve to make the Yankees live up to every semi-colon in that stupid contract they signed. If I had any inclination to re-do the deal in any way, this kind of nonsense would eliminate it.

Finally, a month ago, Marshawn Lynch reportedly was contemplating retirement; that was before signing a new deal with the Seahawks. Back then, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this to say about Lynch’s possible retirement:

“Parting thought: Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch reportedly is considering retiring. The media declined comment.”

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

Chip Kelly – NFL Man Of Mystery

Before anyone asks… No, I have exactly no idea what Chip Kelly is doing to and with the Eagles’ roster now that he has final authority with regard to player decisions. Eagles’ fans have to hope that he has a firm and feasible plan in mind to maintain a winning record for the team in future years because from the outside it surely looks as if he has jettisoned some talented players without having players already under contract to replace them.

I was surprised last year when the Eagles released DeSean Jackson but thought there were other receivers on the team that could “fill in the blanks”. However, I do not see anyone who can replace LeSean McCoy on the roster – Darren Sproles cannot survive 16 games as the feature back for an NFL team at this point in his career – and with Jeremy Maclin on the free agent market, I have no idea where the deep passing threat will be next year.

Philadelphia sports fans have “GMs” for their 3 major teams who are mysterious:

    Chip Kelly – not the GM but the guy who makes personnel decisions – is wheeling and dealing and ridding the team of many of its best players.

    Sam Hinkie – the Sixers’ GM – trades players for draft picks as if draft picks were worth the weight of the draftee in platinum. The Sixers’ roster is non-competitive despite the furious dealing activity in the front office.

    Reuben Amaro Jr. – Phillies’ GM – has a sclerotic team with a few assets that may have trade value but he seems constitutionally unable to pull the trigger on a deal.

If you could blend all three of these guys and then pour out the new biological mixture, Philly fans might have three “normal” GMs…

The Syracuse basketball program is much more of a mess than I thought it was when the first allegations of eligibility manipulation surfaced. My first reaction was that a player or two might have taken a few “sham courses’ to keep their averages up and that would be no big deal in the grand scheme of the interface between college academics and college athletics. It surely seems as if I underestimated the depth and breadth of the problems there.

Specifically, Jim Boeheim has been cited for his lack of any oversight or constructive action to assure academic compliance with NCAA rules and he has been suspended for 9 ACC conference games next year. In addition, there will be scholarship reductions for the next few years. Now, there are columns written on either side of the questions:

    Should Jim Boeheim resign or not?

    Will Jim Boeheim resign or not?

I do not read minds and so I have no idea if Jim Boeheim is even considering resigning. What I am fairly confident will not happen is that Syracuse is not going to fire him until or unless the university administration is severely pressured to do so by wealthy alums who threaten to withhold annual giving funds. Whether you like Jim Boeheim or not, he is an institution at Syracuse having been there as a player for 4 years in the 60s and as a coach since 1969. That represents 50 years of association with Syracuse; the university will need to use diplomacy should it think that it needs to part ways with this alum.

More interesting than the mental gyrations some are going through with regard to Jim Boeheim’s future is another aspect of this whole mess. The investigation seems to have uncovered improprieties that go back an entire decade and that leads me to ask a simple question:

    How come the super-sleuths in the NCAA “Compliance Division” never had a sniff of anything even slightly off-track for all of that time?

Yet again, the NCAA “investigators” knew nothing of a member school violating its sacred rules until such time as someone spoke up about what was going on. The folks who enforce the rules for the NCAA demonstrated one more time a level of incompetence that would get any coach or Athletic Director fired in a heartbeat.

Now, because the “Compliance Folks” are demonstrated bozos, let me pose another question:

    When Jim Boeheim is suspended for those 9 ACC games next year, who in the NCAA investigative department is going to assure that he does not get paid for those games anyway?

    A suspension is a form of punishment. Missing 9 games and getting paid for doing so is a vacation. “Punishment” and “Vacation” are not synonyms.

    I am not saying he will be paid for those 9 games – but I am saying that I doubt the NCAA has any real way to monitor/track that situation.

Finally, let me close again today with a cogent observation from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Preposterous palaver: As we wade into March Madness, the blather from ESPN’s talking heads would be a little more credible if every sideline drill sergeant wasn’t portrayed as an incredible motivator, committed educator, wonderful family man and someone who is only looking out for the welfare of his players. Not a dubious character in the bunch, in other words. College coaching: only geniuses and saints need apply.”

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

A Shorter Shot Clock For Men’s NCAA Basketball?

I am back from a week in the Phoenix area where I got to experience warm weather and some Spring Training baseball with an old friend from grad school days and his lovely wife. The view outside Curmudgeon Central reveals the remnants of an early March snowstorm here in the DC area reminding me that it is not yet baseball season and that March Madness is the next big thing. As I caught up on the Sports Sections of the Washington Post that I missed while I was gone, I ran across a large first page article suggesting that the 35-second shot clock might be too long for men’s college basketball and that perhaps a 30-second shot clock was the way to go.

Before I respond to that suggestion directly, I must reveal that I was not one of the folks who was outraged by Dean Smith’s “invention” of the four-corners offense. Yes, it kept scores low and yes, it took the pace of the game down to a glacial level. Nevertheless, all that an opponent needed to do was to play effective defense and steal the ball a couple of times to counteract the four-corners offense. If the opponent was incapable of doing that, I saw no compelling reason for the rules committee to come to its rescue. I do not expect you to agree with me there…

The rescue attempt put a 45-second shot clock into the rule book and then it was shortened to 35 seconds. Once again, I see no reason to make it any shorter. I know that some folks are unhappy with the diminished scoring in college basketball over the past couple of years but I think there is a far more fundamental reason for the low scores than the 35-second shot clock. That reason is:

    Precious few college basketball players can hit a mid-range jump shot with any regularity these days.

I believe there are two causes for that inability:

    First, players practice and attempt 3-point shots instead of 15-foot jump shots from the time they are about 12 years old and can launch a basketball all the way from the 3-point line to the basket.

    Second, when players are inside the arc, many of them either drive to the basket seeking a dunk or are the recipients of alley-oop passes for dunks.

If one seeks to “increase scoring” by going to the rule book and making changes – other than the trivial way of making field goals worth 5 points each and foul shots worth 3 points – I believe the most effective thing to do would be to devalue dunking the basketball. No, it should not be outlawed as it was for more than a decade. However, if a dunk were only worth 1 point instead of 2 points, there would be a real incentive for players to learn to get open and hit a jump shot. Should that need reinforcing, add to the rule book that any player who hangs on the rim for any reason receives a technical foul and you will have discouraged the alley-oop play sufficiently.

Changing the shot clock may or may not increase scoring but it will change the game. The women use a 30-second shot clock in their college games and in the WNBA. Please do not try to convince me that the shorter shot clock makes those games more exciting than a men’s college basketball game. That is simply not the case.

The NBA uses a 24-second shot clock and it does provide for more shooting and more scoring than the college game. The NBA also has far greater “talent density” than any men’s collegiate team and that increased “talent density” allows for a couple of other things to tend towards higher scores:

    There are more “good shooters” on NBA teams than on college teams. Many of the guys at the end of the bench on an NBA team were the best players on their collegiate squads.

    Pro players learn by example that – as entertainers – they get the “big bucks” by putting up scoring stats and not defensive stats. That motivates NBA players to work on their shooting skills and leaves defensive developments lagging.

I would prefer that they leave the 35-second shot clock alone and leave men’s college basketball as a game that is distinct from the NBA or women’s basketball or high school basketball. If a game winds up 53-51 and neither team ever led by more than 6-points throughout the game, I think that game is plenty exciting and interesting to watch. Just because the final score is 83-81 does not make a game exponentially more interesting to watch.

MLS and the MLS players’ union signed a 5-year CBA just before the scheduled start of the MLS season meaning the league can enter its 20th season on time and without a Sword of Damocles hanging over its head. An expansion team in Orlando has strong community support and a crowd of almost 60,000 folks showed up for the first home game. Games this year will be shown on FOX Sports and on ESPN; the MLS TV rights fees have more than tripled in the last year over previous TV revenues.

There is another interesting “business development” related to MLS. The Columbus Crew play in a soccer-only stadium and that stadium now has a corporate naming sponsor. While that may not be “news”, the interesting thing is that the sponsor is Mapfre – a Spanish insurance company. Some folks in Spain assess that naming rights in the US for a soccer team is a good investment of resources.

I have a friend who works on the “business side” for an MLS team. All during the winter when labor negotiations were stalled, he kept saying that a strike was in no one’s interest and that there would be an agreement. He also said that neither side had any motivation to reveal its final negotiating position until the eleventh-hour of the negotiations. He said back in January that the final deal would likely happen 48 hours before the season started. Well, it happened about 72 hours before the season was scheduled to start. I think that is close enough.

Finally, here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding another change needed in college basketball to make the game more interesting to watch. I can agree with Professor Molinaro completely on this one:

“Just shoot me: During overtime of the VT-Duke game, officials interrupted play for about a minute to check a video monitor before bumping up time on the game clock from 15.4 to 15.8 seconds. Another abuse of technology, if you ask me.”

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

Olbermann Back From Suspension

I purposely budgeted my time yesterday to be in front of the TV at 5:00PM EST to watch Keith Olbermann’s return to the air after his 4-day suspension from ESPN. I was curious to see how he would “handle” the cause for his suspension and – truth be told – there was a part of me that wondered if watching the first day back might be the same as watching a self-immolation. As everyone here knows by now, I am not a fan of Keith Olbermann’s politics and more specifically I am not a fan of his views on Penn State University which caused the suspension, but I do believe that he is an enormously talented TV host/persona and I enjoy watching his program.

Some have assessed his apology and his discussion of the events leading to his suspension as “contrite” while others called it all “bizarre”. Here is a link to one assessment that has the apologia embedded within the article so you can view it for yourself. For me the apology came off as sincere.

I mention all of this because I want to make a larger point about Keith Olbermann and his current tenure with ESPN. Olbermann has been a controversial TV presence for at least a decade now; before that he and Dan Patrick were commonly regarded as TV trailblazers in sports. People watch Olbermann for a variety of personal reasons, but one of those reasons is that he does/says outrageous things. When ESPN re-hired him, they knew what he did on TV and they hired him to do more of that.

It is precisely for that reason that I believe that those folks who called for Olbermann to be fired for what he Tweeted last week – or that he should be boiled in oil before being fired – are way off base. If an organization (ESPN) hires a hit man (Keith Olbermann in the most figurative sense here), then the hiring organization cannot be offended or shocked or moved to righteous indignation when he does something outrageous.

I have used these kinds of analogies before but they bear repeating here:

    If you hire Howard Stern to give the commencement address at your college, you cannot then be offended or outraged when he makes a gratuitous reference to his penis in his remarks. It is what he does; you had to know it when you invited him to come; you should have expected it.

    If you hire Rev Jesse Jackson to come and give a speech to your professional society meeting, you cannot then be offended or outraged when he throws in a bunch of irrelevant rhyming sequences in his speech. It is what he does; you had to know it when you invited him to come; you should have expected it.

    If you hire Don Rickles to headline a show, you cannot then be surprised and shocked when he insults people in the audience. It is what he does …

Keith Olbermann provides edgy commentary with regard to sports programming and he has always in the past gone over the boundary line of good taste once in a while. Hiring him and giving him a regular program comes with that foreknowledge and putting him on the air says that some of the blowback is acceptable. What Olbermann tweeted last week was completely inappropriate and blockheaded but it does not come close to being a “firing offense” in my mind.

Some folks have tried to turn this situation into a “discussion” with a political backdrop – and of course, the politics behind all of this is conspiratorial. Forgetting completely the political differences between Keith Olbermann and Rush Limbaugh, there is very little similarity in the events that led Limbaugh to be fired from his “football commentary job” and Olbermann being allowed to continue in his “sports commentary job”. The fundamental difference is demonstrated competence in the sports commentary field for a LONG time prior to the incendiary incident. Olbermann has it; Limbaugh did not.

Here is some level of solace for those folks who love Rush Limbaugh and fervently want to see Keith Olbermann separated from his seat in front of an ESPN camera as Limbaugh was:

    History says that one of these days, Keith Olbermann will get so far out on a limb that even his prodigious talent will not be sufficient to assure that he has a soft landing on the rocks below. History says he will eventually crash and burn.

    With a little patience, the Limbaugh crowd will have a happy day sometime in the future…

I am one of those folks who happens to enjoy watching college basketball more than I enjoy watching regular-season NBA basketball. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot does not agree with me and we have had – over the years – more than a few e-mail exchanges explaining our differing points of view on this subject. He has not convinced me of his rectitude and I am confident that I have not changed his mind even a little bit. However, I would like to offer into evidence a report from Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. In a column that focuses on NBA matters, Dempsey leads the column with this:

“A fourth-quarter huddle late in the Nuggets’ 104-82 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday broke with this phrase: ‘1-2-3 … six weeks!’

“As in six weeks to go until the end of the season. That’s 24 games, 46 days and 1,152 minutes away.

“Tax day, April 15, is getaway day: the last day of the Nuggets’ season. Rest assured, there are players who are already counting.”

Here is a link to the column to give you assurance that I am not cherry-picking this commentary.

There are about 350 colleges that play Division 1 basketball. I doubt there is a team that is winless out there because if there were, I would have read articles about their uber-futility this year and I have not. Nonetheless, there have to be a half-dozen schools who have only won 1 or 2 games since the season started back around Thanksgiving. However, I doubt that those teams – with zero chance of making it to a post-season tournament of any type – would be breaking the huddle with anything akin to “1,2,3 … next week”.

Finally, since I pointed out a point of disagreement between Bob Molinaro and me, let me offer up an issue on which we agree completely:

“A bad joke: Among the finalists for this year’s Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame class is a celebrated active college coach who has had two Final Four trips vacated by the NCAA as a result of his players later being ruled ineligible. This is an unparalleled dubious achievement that not even the rascally Jerry Tarkanian (HOF, Class of ’13) was able to match. John Calipari says he’s humbled by his nomination. He should be. But the people responsible for it should be embarrassed.”

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

RIP Ernie Banks & Minnie Minoso

Minnie Minoso died over the weekend. Very recently, Ernie Banks also passed away. It has not been a good couple of weeks for long-term baseball fans in Chicago either on the North Side or the South Side.

Rest in Peace Minnie Minoso and Ernie Banks.

The Tampa Bay Times is now the “exclusive print media sponsor” for the University of South Florida. Here is a link to the press release making that announcement. I have no idea what the scope of this exclusive sponsorship might be, but the paper is still going to be covering USF sports and USF “happenings”. Am I the only one who thinks that this sponsorship is nothing more than an ongoing conflict of interest? The paper is going to cover and report on the activities of its “sponsored client” and “image partner” so that the public can be fully informed on all of the issues. Yeah, right… Imagine if a local or state politician were involved in a similar conflict of interest situation and the Tampa Bay Times was on the story. Do you think the paper might choose to take a highly principled position with regard to such conflicts?

FIFA seems to be on the verge of suddenly recognizing that their decision to put the 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar might not have been the brightest move in the history of sports. The World Cup has always been contested in the summer when the major leagues in Europe are in their “off-season”. Unfortunately, the temperatures in Qatar in the summer often hover around 110 degrees Fahrenheit and have been known to cross the 120-degree line too. Those are unsafe conditions for players and officials and most folks might consider those conditions to be “less than comfy” for spectators.

Back when the bidding process was underway, there was talk of Qatar building evaporative cooling systems to keep the temperatures more manageable. That sounds great until one does some engineering calculations; then that idea sounds like sending a manned space flight to the sun and keeping the astronauts cool by having the ship rendezvous with the sun at night.

Reports are that FIFA will move the World Cup games to November or December in 2022 when – climatologically speaking – the weather is cooler in Qatar. If they announce such a decision, it should annoy several large constituencies involved with FIFA:

    The European Leagues will not like it at all since November/December is in the midst of their seasons. Moreover, in England, the FA Cup tournament begins in November meaning that English teams already have two simultaneous competitions ongoing.

    MLS here in the US should not like this schedule switch at all – even though it falls in the MLS “off-season”. MLS is in a different situation than the European Leagues; MLS benefits significantly from the “bump” that it gets quadrennially from the World Cup. If the tournament is in November/December, MLS will get a much smaller “bump” because it is not playing at that time of the year and whatever “bump” it might have gotten would be diminished because November/December is the middle of the NFL season. Futbol is huge worldwide but here in the US, the NFL rules.

    FOX will not like the decision for the reason that November/December is in the NFL season. FOX has the TV rights to the 2022 World Cup; it obviously would love to put the games on the air in June/July and not face the problem of:

      Going up against the NFL on TV

      Juggling schedules around because FOX is also an NFL broadcaster.

There was a report yesterday that may give credence to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of FOX for such a decision. Reports said that FOX had been given the TV rights for the 2026 World Cup without any open bidding process. Since FIFA is not known for their propensity to leave money on the table, my sixth sense here says that this is FIFA’s way to keep FOX from being less than fully cooperative and committed to the 2022 World Cup.

Stay tuned; this saga has more acts to follow…

Oh, one more thing about fans sitting in 110-degree weather to watch World Cup Games… As in several countries in that part of the world, alcohol is not openly sold or widely available. That means fans in that heat will not have a cold brewski at the ready. Somehow, I cannot see coffee and hot chocolate for sale as a way to compensate.

One other very minor soccer note today… Jason Cummings is young player on Scotland’s Under-19 national team. He also plays for a team in one of the Scottish leagues. Jason Cummings is now banned from a McDonald’s in Edinburgh due to an incident there where reports say he was involved in “pelting the staff with muffins”. For the record, he denies the report and I am surely in no position to speak to its veracity.

I will note however that what he may have needed at the first stage of the alleged incident was a FIFA referee at the next table to call him for using his hands. That might have prevented the situation from escalating and would allow Cummings continued access to this particular set of Golden Arches.

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

“Legendary college basketball coach, the one and only Jerry Tarkanian has died. He was mostly healthy and lived to be 84. I’m waiting for a surgeon general recommendation that we all eat towels.”

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

RIP Earl Lloyd

Earl Lloyd passed away yesterday at 86 years old. Lloyd was the first Black player in the NBA back in the 50s. I remember seeing him play for the Syracuse Nationals – now the Sixers – back in the early-50s on a small black-and-white television set.

Rest in peace, Earl Lloyd…

I got an e-mail this morning from #1 son saying:

“Saw this headline on CNN.com today:

    “Hoyer calls McCarthy a ‘coward’

“I had to think – what the Hell could have happened that Brian Hoyer would call Mike McCarthy a coward in the middle of free agent singing when Hoyer needs a job and the Packers need a back-up QB. This MUST be juicy!

“But alas, it was two conveniently-named Congressmen arguing over an appropriation bill.

Sometimes sports and politics intersect in strange ways…

Brandon Bostick is the former Green Bay Packer who flubbed the onside kick in the NFC Championship Game allowing the Seahawks to recover and go on to tie the game in the final seconds and then win the game in overtime. It was not Bostick’s “finest hour” by any stretch of the imagination. However, a report on CBSSports.com yesterday said that Bostick got more than a few death threats in the days after the game and that goes way over the line.

At the bottom line, folks, these are games. In the NFL playoffs, there has to be one winner and one loser in every game. And simply because IT IS A GAME, the entire notion of a “death threat” aimed at someone on the losing team is out of line. Obviously and fortunately, none of the threats turned into actions but anyone who thinks that “death” is an appropriate consequence for some error in a sporting event needs to seek help. Anyone who acts on that thought and actually sends a death threat should be required to undergo counseling.

The Miami Heat are struggling to hold onto a playoff slot in the NBA Eastern Conference. As of this morning, they are 7th in the East but there are 5 teams behind them within 2.5 games. Compounding their predicament is the fact that Chris Bosh – arguably their best player – is out for the season with blood clots on his lung. That is a potentially fatal condition and clearly the correct choice for him is to sit out and make sure his is recovered before he plays again. So, the Heat need a big man as a replacement and the trade deadline is past and – truth be told – there are never any good big men in the D-League because if they were any good they would be on an NBA team.

So, the Heat signed Michael Beasley to a 10-day contract. Beasley is big and he has talent; the Heat once took him as the #2 pick in the draft. So, how was he available?

    This is Beasley’s third stint with the Heat. He spent two years in Miami followed by 2 years in Minnesota followed by 2 years in Phoenix followed by a year in Miami and a season in the China Basketball Association.

    The euphemism applied to Beasley is that he “lacked maturity” in his previous career stops. In fact, he has had a handful of marijuana-related incidents and a few other run-ins with the police since coming out of college. And he is still only 26 years old.

There is no question that Beasley can play and score on the basketball court. This year he scored 59 points in the Chinese Basketball All-Star Game. The fact that he was available for a 10-day contract tells you that the Heat are taking a chance on his “maturity level” here. As I understand the current CBA, a team can only sign a player to 2 10-day contracts in a season. If the team wants the player for even a day after that second 10-day contract has expired, they have to sign him for at least the remainder of the season. Twenty days from now, the calendar will be in mid-March and the Heat will have about 15 games remaining on their schedule in the final month of the regular season.

Absent something really bad, the Heat are pretty much committed to Michael Beasley for the rest of this season. You will get an indication of the degree to which he has “matured” in the off-season when the Heat make a decision as to his presence on their roster next year…

Michele Roberts is the Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association having succeeded Billy Hunter in that job. She has demonstrated her rhetorical prowess already denouncing the concept of a salary cap as “un-American” and saying that there is no such thing as a salary cap in her DNA. She has also correctly – and unoriginally – observed that people pay to see the players and not the owners making the owners “expendable”. The current CBA has a few years to go, so I just consider that she is using this time to gather her momentum for the upcoming negotiations that will surely be contentious.

However, I think she recently took her prep work a bit too far and she may want to “evolve her position” a bit. Michele Roberts said that allowing the media access to locker rooms and practices is:

“…an incredible invasion of privacy.”

Literally, she is correct. In the real world, the media is the means by which the players – her employer – generate and maintain the attention of the fans to the point where the fans shell out money for tickets and take the time to watch NBA games on TV. In the real world, she is going to need some of the media to “push her message” when the negotiations start. I am not sure that the idea of limiting media access to teams has ever been a critical issue and I doubt that it will be one in the next round of NBA labor negotiations. Unless of course, Michele Roberts wants to make it so…

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald that is sort of basketball related and definitely speaks to media coverage of basketball players:

“There was a WNBA trade: Epiphany Prince for Cappie Pondexter. You know how they keep records for everything? This was first sports trade in history involving two players named Epiphany and Cappie.”

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

NFLPA Elections Upcoming…

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, the NFLPA’s Board of Player Representatives will meet with the union’s Executive Committee for the purpose of electing an Executive Director. DeMaurice Smith is the incumbent in that position and has been there for a six-year term. The 32 player reps – one from each team – will elect the new Ex.Dir. and the requirement is that one candidate must get 17 votes. The last time the players elected an Ex.Dir., there were 4 candidates; this time there are 5. It is possible there may need to be multiple ballots.

Not surprisingly, DeMaurice Smith is one of the candidates. The other 4 – along with what seems to be their main selling point to the players as a candidate are:

    James Acho: He carries the endorsement of the NFL Alumni Association which may or may not be a good thing given that the previous players and the current players do not agree on all sorts of issues. From what I have read, Acho seems to favor an 18-game schedule with 4 exhibition games too and expanded healthcare coverage for all players into their retirement.

    Sean Gilbert: The former defensive lineman wants to sue the NFL in a collusion case and thereby render the current CBA null and void. He wants an increased minimum salary and eligibility for free agency after only 3 years in the league. He too favors an 18-game schedule but with a reduction to 2 exhibition games.

    Andrew Smith: He is an attorney who has served as a legal advisor to an NFL team for several years. He believes that the league has “cooked the books” and is not reporting all of its revenues thereby artificially lowering the salary cap from where it ought to be and he believes that the team training staffs ought to be part of the NFLPA. He too is open to consideration of an 18-game schedule.

    John Stufflebeem: He was a punter for the Lions many years ago and also served in the US Navy rising to the rank of Vice Admiral. His candidacy here emphasizes his ability to negotiate to get things done and in so doing to advance the cause of the players in the NFLPA.

I find it interesting that 3 of the 5 candidates here are open to the idea of an 18-game schedule. I think it is also interesting to note that two candidates (Sean Gilbert and Andrew Smith) believe that the current CBA works to the disadvantage of the players and they would seek to change it in fundamental ways. Six years ago, DeMaurice Smith won this job as a dark horse candidate; might that happen again?

In another NFL-player-related occurrence, I read that Michael Sam will participate in Dancing With The Stars this year. I am sure that exactly no one will be surprised to learn that I will not watch even a moment of that programming. Nonetheless, I find it interesting that Michael Sam would choose to do this. I would presume that Sam continues to want to make an NFL roster. Last season he made it through the Rams’ training camp until the final cut and then spent much of the season on the Cowboys’ practice squad. While that is not the same thing as “making a team”, it would indicate that it is not out of the question that he might make a team this year.

And that is why Dancing With The Stars seems odd to me. I understand that there is a degree of athleticism involved in dancing but it does not seem to me that working on one’s samba skills is as likely to earn one an NFL roster spot as working on one’s pass rushing skills. Obviously, I am missing something here; I’ll just stay tuned to see how it all plays out.

MLB announced some changes for this year with the intention of speeding up games. Last year, games averaged over 3 hours and many dragged on for close to 4 hours. This year, batters have to keep one foot in the batters’ box and while there is not going to be a pitch clock in MLB, there will be one in the minor leagues. There will be efforts to speed up games by having players ready to start play as soon as the commercials are over between innings and relief pitchers will be “on a clock” to get into the game and get back to action. None of these ideas is offensive to me; each will help to speed up baseball games so long as these changes are enforced on the field. However, I have another suggestion:

    One of the things that happens more than once in a while in late innings is the relief pitcher who comes in to face one batter and one batter only. If that happens in the middle of an inning that means there will have to be two pitching changes in that one half-inning. A pitching change could take as much as 5 minutes – although many are effected in less time than that.

    One way to shorten the game would be to change the rule and require any pitcher who enters a game to face a minimum of 2 batters – or even 3 if you wish. (Oh, and by the way, any intentional walk issued by a pitcher does not count as a “batter faced”.)

This rule change should obviate at least a few of the late-inning pitching changes in games and every one of them that is avoided shortens the games.

Finally, here is a gem from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times:

“Comedian Argus Hamilton, on the latest Alex Rodriguez apology for lying about his PED use: ‘If Alex Rodriguez’s word were any more worthless, his portrait would be displayed on Greek government bonds.’ ”

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

Olbermann Suspended…

It has not been a good month to be a larger-than-life TV personality. Brian Williams misremembered some stuff; Jon Stewart announced his departure from The Daily Show; Bill O’Reilly is in the midst of allegation-exchanging with a host of others; Keith Olbermann is serving a week-long suspension. Obviously, here, I want to focus on Olbermann.

Politics aside, I am a big fan of Keith Olbermann and his endeavors in the arena of sports journalism/commentary. I have been a fan of his in that dimension for more than 20 years now. Notwithstanding my fandom, I have documented here the fact that he has been less than a model employee/person at many of his previous stops in his career. Here is a link to a topical rant I wrote back in 2012 when he and Current TV parted company. One of the things I said then that explains why I enjoy him as a sports commentator was:

“Keith Olbermann is a natural as a TV host and or as an anchor. He makes you think and he makes you laugh. Sometimes he also makes you angry. As a host or an anchor, that is precisely what every one of them ought to be able to do.”

Today, he has made me angry because his suspension came after he got into a nonsensical Twitter-war with some folks at Penn State University. The backdrop to this is that Olbermann still holds Penn State as an institution responsible for Jerry Sandusky’s heinous behaviors. I share his horror at what Sandusky has done; I do not believe that the university is evil to its core because of what Sandusky did. And the problem seems to be that Olbermann cannot distinguish between good things done by Penn State and his belief that the university was – to borrow an old phrase – an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Sandusky matter.

The Twitter-war actually erupted after Penn State students staged a fund raiser for pediatric cancer research and they raised more than $10M. Even that was not enough for Olbermann to simply ignore the emotional upwelling he must have felt at the onset of the Twitter-war. Now he serves a week-long suspension from his ESPN program – one I watch about twice a week – and some folks are suggesting that ESPN part company with him once again.

I seriously hope that ESPN does not do that. I also fervently wish that somehow someone can insert a 10-second delay line between Keith Olbermann’s brain and his tongue – or in this case his “Twitter fingers”. The delay line would give him time to reflect on the potential – and in this case the logical – consequences of a verbal eruption.

Yesterday, reports flew about regarding tickets for the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacqaio fight in Las Vegas on 2 May. The event will be held in the MGM Grand Arena which seats 16,800 folks for a boxing match. The cheap seats – up in the nosebleed sections – will start at $1000. It should not take a great deal of math skills to realize that if EVERY ticket sold for $1K, that the live gate for the fight would be $16.8M. However, pricing increases as the seats get better and the face value of ringside seats is going to be $5K. The live gate for the fight should come in at something in the neighborhood of $40M. Meanwhile, watching the fight on pay-per-view is going to set you back $100.

The irony here is that this fight is the one people REALLY wanted to see about 5 years ago when both fighters were at the peak of their careers. For whatever reasons, that fight never happened and despite the expectations of more than $200M in revenue for this fight, the same contest 5 years ago would likely have been bigger. Whatever… Now, before anyone asks, let me say clearly that I will not be one of the folks in the MGM Grand Arena to see the fight.

Some NFL teams wear “throwback uniforms” once in a while. The absolute worst of those are the “bumblebee stripes” worn by the Steelers once a year; the next worst are the blue jerseys with the numbers in a circle worn by the Packers once a year. I am completely convinced that this practice has exactly nothing to do with “honoring the history of the team and the league”; I think this just provides the team with another variety of jersey to sell. This is not about “honoring the past”; this is about a revenue stream.

I mention this because it seems that the Packers are going to abandon the blue jerseys with the numbers in a circle for next year. As far as I am concerned, that is good news. Here is the additional news I want to hear from the Packers’ brass:

    Moreover, the team will not be wearing any other form of alternative uniform for any of its games in the future. Our colors are green/gold/white; our helmet symbol is iconic. That is who we are now and to the future.

My guess is that there will be some kind of alternate uniform trotted out to replace the blue jerseys with the numbers in a circle sometime next year.

MLB.com had a story yesterday that Royals’ slugger Mike Moustakas is going to bunt this season when teams put on a defensive shift. May I say that every player who faces a shift that puts only one defender to the third-base side of second base should be bunting down the third base line on a regular basis. More than a century ago, William Henry Keeler – known more widely as “Wee Willie” Keeler – had this advice for hitters:

Keep your eye clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t.

Keeler’s accomplishments confer credibility on his advice. In a 19-year career, he hit .341 and had one season north of .400. Batters in 2015 should take note…

Finally, here is a suggestion from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald I can second:

“Ray Rice apologized to Baltimore fans. Alex Rodriguez apologized to the Yankees. Hey athletes, how about you spare us the wrongdoing and save an apology?”

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