Deflategate Is A Conspiracy Theory

I have a new computer but still none of my old documents and information. I would guess there is a 10% chance that I will ever see any of that old info. So, here I go, starting from scratch.

You cannot possibly be any more tired of hearing about “Deflategate” than I am. Since I do not know what happened, I am not going to pretend that I do. What I would like to say here is that there are lessons for all of us when we are faced with stories of this kind and I would like to use the current “debate” to illustrate.

Here is one sure way to tell if a story is really about a conspiracy theory and not just the events that triggered the story. In a conspiracy theory, the absence of evidence about some aspect of the story becomes proof of the conspiracy itself. Because Tom Brady did not say some specific thing at his news conference or because the NFL has not made the referee and other officials publicly available becomes part of the “proof” of a conspiracy. Not exactly Aristotelian-level logic there.

    When someone says – as a talking head on ESPN or as a caller to a sports radio show – that such-and-such MUST have happened, there is an immediate follow-up question that has to happen. The question is:

      OK, if you are CERTAIN that such-and-such happened, then how did the perpetrators effect it?

    The answer to that question has to be just as certain as the first assertion plus there has to be good objective evidence for how it all came about. Certainty is a very robust stance and when someone claims to KNOW what HAD TO HAPPEN, that person had also be ready to provide some specifics when facing follow-up questions.

ESPN New York reports that the Yankees are

“devising legal arguments so Alex Rodriguez won’t be able to collect any of the bonuses he is owed per the $30 million ‘milestone home run’ marketing agreement he signed in 2007”.

As I understand the contract, A-Rod can collect $6M each time he gets to a milestone along the way to the all-time home run record. The nearest of those milestones comes if he hits 6 more and ties Willie Mays for #4 on the all-time list. You can read the entire report here. Frankly, I think this makes it look as if the Yankees are sinking to A-Rod’s level. He and they signed a contract; neither side coerced the other to agree to the terms.

The new Commissioner of Baseball said that he is open to ideas for rules changes that would prevent teams from using “extreme defensive shifts”. I am not trying to nit-pick here, but this is not enough of a big deal that it qualifies as something the new Commish should jump to as soon as he takes office. I have no idea when “extreme defensive shifts” started in baseball, but I recall seeing teams use what was called the “Ted Williams Shift” back in the 1950s. Perhaps that was the origin of shifting; perhaps it goes back a lot further than that; I will leave that to baseball historians. I guess one could argue that by limiting defensive shifts the amount of scoring would increase in baseball. The problem with that simplistic view is that if nothing else materially changes, increased scoring will necessarily have to increase the length of games and the games are already long enough thank you very much.

Personally, I think the best way to defeat an “extreme shift” is for left-handed hitters to learn to lay down a solid bunt that will end up in the vicinity of where a third baseman would normally play. It would not take a jillion of those events to convince managers to put players in more “normal defensive positions”. I do not want to jump all over the new Commish and draw any wide-ranging negative conclusions about him from this one early statement. So, I will chalk this one up to him trying to do something to keep MLB in the sports conversation while the majority of the focus in the US is on the impending Super Bowl game.

One other thing about MLB is interesting at this moment. The folks who are in charge of MLB have named a new Chairman of the MLB Finance Committee. Normally, that would be no big deal but in this case the new Chairman is Fred Wilpon – the owner of the NY Mets. Recall that Wilpon was a “major investor” with Bernie Madoff and basically lost his shirt in that Ponzi scheme. I recall reading one estimate that he might have been into the investment club to the tune of $300M. Assume that number is the right order of magnitude and then realize that this guy is now in charge of the MLB Finance Committee… What could possibly go wrong?

One last baseball item… The Nats’ acquisition of Max Scherzer took a starting rotation that was as good as any in baseball and made it clearly the best starting rotation in baseball. The Nats now have 6 quality starting pitchers; most teams do not have three. Nevertheless, I do not think this acquisition will scratch the itch for Nats’ fans. Consider:

    The Nats have had the best team in the NL East by a wide margin for the last two years. They waltzed into the playoffs.

    In the playoffs, they have laid eggs and they have been ostrich-sized eggs.

    Nats’ fans – many of whom are bandwagon-hopping front runners – want to see the team in the World Series.

    A six-man starting rotation is not of great use in a playoff scenario.

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

Admin Note

My old computer is dead. It served me well; it was time for it to go to the Great Internet In The Sky.

Two problems however:

    1. I lost access to all of my historical records and to the clipboard I kept for things to write about. That will make pickings slim for the next several weeks.

    2. I lost all of my e-mail contacts. Some readers have been on an e-mail list to get notifications of recently posted rants on the website. That list is gone because all of the e-mail addresses themselves are gone.

Here is my solution to Problem #2:

    Any reader who wants e-mail notification of newly posted rants needs to send me a request to be put on the list. Send requests to sportscurmudgeon@Verizon.net

Catching Up…

Catching up on a variety of issues since I was last “on the air”…

Doug Marrone opted out of his job as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. There was a clause in his contract that said he could do that and be paid $4M this year anyway in the event the team was sold. After Ralph Wilson died last year, the Bills were indeed sold. Early in the NFL coach-shuffling season, Marrone was supposedly on the inside track to take over as the head coach of the Jets but the bloom came off that rose pretty quickly. Earlier this week, Marrone signed on as the OL coach for the Jaguars. That is what you might call a huge step down in the football coaching hierarchy.

I read an item somewhere – and did not record where so I cannot cite it – that if Stephan Curry actually wins the NBA MVP Award this year, he will be the first player for the Warrior franchise to do that since – – –

    Wilt Chamberlain in the 1959-60 season when the Golden State Warriors were the Philadelphia Warriors.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot spoke about all of the “insight” we will be exposed to from draft analysts and those devising mock NFL drafts over the next three months. He pointed out that we should take all of that with a grain of salt and remember the serious debates that flew around just 3 years ago with regard to the merits of taking RG3 ahead of Andrew Luck. Indeed, you should heed that warning and also recall from a bit further back in NFL Draft history:

    More than a few analysts thought Ryan Leaf was a better QB prospect than Peyton Manning and recommended taking Leaf as the #1 overall pick.

    Many analysts scoffed at the Texans taking Mario Williams first and passing on Reggie Bush and Vince Young.

The draft is an art and not a science…

Bob Arum says that Manny Pacquaio has agreed to terms for a fight with Floyd Mayweather. Even if this fight were to happen in the near future, it is at least 3 years later than it should have been and maybe 5 years later. This was the fight everyone wanted to see somewhere around 2010…

Today’s Washington Post – in the Business Section no less – has a short note about football wagering. Here are some of the numbers:

    The estimate for the amount of money Americans will bet illegally on the Super Bowl this year is $3.8 Billion.

    Last year, Nevada’s sportsbooks handled $119.4M in legal wagers on the Denver/Seattle Super Bowl game. [Aside: The books won $19.7M from Super Bowl wagers last year.]

    Remember the magnitudes of these numbers the next time someone tries to argue that sports betting will ruin sports in the US. Even when only one state in the US can take bets on single games, there are multiple billions of dollars wagered on games. The “cause of ruination” has been there for decades and remains there today.

I do enjoy watching college basketball. I prefer it immensely to watching NBA basketball. However, even as a fan of college basketball, I have to admit that it is hugely over-exposed on television. Let me use today’s Washington Post once again to make my point:

    Tonight on my cable channels, there will be 3 men’s college games on the air. That may not sound like too many, but here are two of the offerings:

      Manhattan at Quinnipiac
      Valparaiso at Green Bay

    Tomorrow on my cable channels there will be 36 men’s college games on the air. You may be sure that many of them will be replayed in case I might have thought to do something other than tune in.

    On Sunday, my cable channels will show 14 men’s college basketball games.

    Mix in 19 women’s college basketball games over that same 3-day period and you have evidence of over-exposure on television.

Tony Verna passed away on Jan 18. Verna was the person who introduced instant replay to sports on television. He was the director for the Army/Navy game on CBS in 1963 where he ran the first instant replay ever shown. I wonder if he realized in the moment the impact that event would have on televised sports. The practice got the name “instant replay” from the second game where it was used. That was in the Cotton Bowl on Jan 1, 1964; Pat Summerall was announcing the game and used the words “instant replay” in that game. Obviously, the name stuck…

Rest in peace, Tony Verna.

Finally, the NFL fined Marshawn Lynch for an obscene gesture – he grabbed his crotch after scoring a TD in the 4th quarter against the Packers last week. That brought to mind a comment by Greg Cote of the Miami Herald after Phillies’ pitcher Jonathan Papelbon did the same thing a couple of months ago:

“The Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon was suspended for a vulgar crotch grab. He claimed he was just adjusting his cup. Uh-huh. And the guy giving you the middle finger was just inspecting his digit.”

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

Mindless Musings Today…

I doubt that many folks would argue that the NFL has evolved its rules over the past 20 years to infuse offense and scoring into the game. I think this is an overall perspective to keep in mind as you look at whom six NFL teams just hired to be their new head coach. There were seven jobs open; five of those jobs went to “defense guys” and the job still open is rumored to be held open to await the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks after the Super Bowl game. Gary Kubiak took over the job in Denver and he is definitely an “offense guy”, but consider the others:

    Todd Bowles
    Jack Del Rio
    John Fox
    Dan Quinn – reports are he will get the job in Atlanta in 2 weeks
    Rex Ryan
    Jim Tomsula

In a year when about 20% of the teams in the league decided to change coaches, those owners/GMs went overwhelmingly for new coaches with a “defensive pedigree. Yes, it is a small sample size; yes, there is absolutely no indication that this “trend” will continue into next year’s NFL hiring and firing season; I stipulate all of that. Nevertheless, I wonder… On the assumption – dangerous I know – that rational/analytical thought went into the hiring processes, perhaps the thinking went something like this:

    Given the way the rules are written and enforced and given that colleges are turning out more great offensive players these days, maybe our offense can “take care of itself”. What might give us an edge these days is to put someone in charge who will emphasize defense so that we can make it just a bit more difficult for “the other guys” to light up the scoreboard.

I claim exactly no proficiency in mind reading; so, I am not saying that represents any actual thinking on the part of owners/GMs. Nevertheless, I wonder…

I mentioned above that colleges are producing plenty of offensive players these days. Actually, college football seems to have morphed into a different game from NFL football; college football is almost like a track and field competition where the sprinters wear helmets. Teams recruit speed and put the fastest guys on offense; defenses do not have enough players with superior speed to stay with all of the guys that opposing offenses can put into formations play after play. The ball goes back and forth on the field like a tennis match.

Please note that I am not complaining here. I enjoy college football a lot but my observation stands. Consider the semi-final games in the College Football Playoff; nominally, those games paired off the 4 best teams in the country. If my addition is correct, here is the offensive output from those two games (Ohio St/Alabama and Oregon/Florida State):

    Total Offense by the 4 teams was greater than 2000 yards
    Total First Downs by the 4 teams equaled 102
    Total Score by the 4 teams equaled 155 points

It would seem to me that the “nominal 4 best teams in the country” had a significant imbalance on their rosters in favor of offense, big plays and quick scores.

Switching to the NBA, there are reports that Sixers’ rookie, Joel Embiid, has not been as conscientious as one might want in terms of his rehab and conditioning as he recovers from surgery. Embiid was the #3 guy taken in the draft last year and scouts projected him as a dominant big man in the NBA; however, he needed back surgery… The Sixers tanked last season waiting for Nerlins Noel to rehab his reconstructed knee; Noel is playing this year. This year the Sixers continue their tanking awaiting Embiid. Now the story goes that Embiid weighs 300 lbs (50 more than his playing weight last year at Kansas) and that he has had some issues with the “strength and conditioning guys” associated with the Sixers.

There are several points I want to make about these reports – again assuming that they are accurate:

    Lower body injuries (ankles, knees, back) seem to be more debilitating to “big guys” than they are to smaller players. If indeed Embiid weighs 300 lbs, that means he is putting more stress on the bones and joints that keep him upright and allow him to move than a guy who weighs only 200 lbs. That situation might retard the rehab process from skeletal surgery.

    If the above is valid, it becomes critically important when drafting/signing a “big guy” who may need to do some rehab work to determine as best one can the degree of commitment that guy has to himself in the context of being an excellent player.

    The entire “tanking strategy” in the NBA depends in large part on the success that the “tanking teams” have in selecting franchise players in the draft. However, I am beginning to wonder about the equivalence of “top draft pick” with “franchise player”.

College basketball has become a “one-and-done” proposition with regard to the top draft picks. What that means is that NBA teams with picks in the “Top 5” are selecting kids who may not yet be 20 years old as franchise saviors. Many of these players have never had to play against others with comparable – or even superior – talent and skills. Most of them are not nearly ready physically to turn around a franchise. And that does not even begin to take account of the maturation level to deal with being a professional athlete on a bad team.

The “tanking strategy” sounds simple and obvious. It can fire up a fanbase and it makes for juicy hyperbole on sports radio programs. However, if there is no LeBron James or Anthony Davis at the top of the draft, what a team picking down around #5 in that same draft is doing is closing their eyes and hoping for the best from their selection.

Please do not interpret the above as wistful nostalgia for the days when college basketball players went to school and stayed 4 years before going to the NBA. That is not what I am advocating or contemplating. What I am saying is that if a team were going to adopt a “tanking strategy”, it would have had a better chance at success under the “old college basketball environment” than it does under the current conditions.

Oh, and by the way, is anyone looking forward to the next confrontation between the Knicks and the Timberwolves this year…?

Finally, a comment by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle about former Purdue basketball coach, Gene Keady:

“Gene Keady, former Purdue men’s basketball coach, confessed that for years he paid a hairdresser $600 per week to dye his hair, add extensions and whip the whole mess into a comb-over. That’s like Quasimodo getting silicone injections to plump his hump.”

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

Super Bowl Silliness Time

For the next two weeks, sports reporting will be a mélange of predictable stuff. There will be far too much made of preparations for the Super Bowl; any and all Twitter pronouncements from each and every hominid associated with either team will be parsed and analyzed even more than a State of the Union address; people will actually impute some importance into “Media Day” next week. Frankly, none of that matters even a little bit. I am going to try to refrain from commentary on the upcoming Super Bowl game all the way to a week from Friday when I will offer up my Mythical Picks for the game itself.

I say at the outset that I am unlikely to be successful in this attempted abstinence simply because someone somewhere will do something sufficiently outrageous that I will not be able to resist the temptation to recount it here. However, the fact that my computer will have to go into “computer hospital” for a “system purge” might work to my benefit here by keeping me off the air for a short time…

One of the outcomes of last weekend’s games determining the Pats/Seahawks matchup is a story that the NFL is investigating the Pats for using “deflated footballs” in the Colts’ game. The rules state that the home team has to provide balls that are inflated to an internal pressure of between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. According to reports, an official had a ball removed from the game and it was “weighed”. Supposedly, that triggered the investigation.

As a former laboratory scientist, may I say that weighing a football that has been out in the elements for half a game would not be the way to determine if the internal pressure was in the proper range. Let me do a back of the envelope calculation here:

    If we assume that the football valves did not leak meaning that all the air pumped into the balls in the locker room before the game remained in the balls during the game, then the Ideal Gas Law says that the internal pressure will vary inversely with the Kelvin temperature. Assume the average ball provided to the game officials had an internal pressure of 13 psi the moment they handed the ball to the official.

    If the indoor temperature at the time of inflation was 70 degrees Farenheit, that is a Kelvin temperature of 294.2 degrees. If the temperature outdoors during the game was 45 degrees and the ball equilibrated to that temperature over an hour or so outdoors, that corresponds to a Kelvin temperature of 280.3 degrees.

    Under those conditions, a ball that “started out” at 13.0 psi would register an internal pressure of 12.38 psi meaning that any ball inflated indoors prior to the game between 12.5 and 13.0 psi would be “underinflated” – notice the difference between “underinflated” and “deflated” here – once the ball cooled down.

    Weighing the balls – assuming no leakage – would determine if enough air was in the ball except for the variables of wetness and other things like dirt that might be on the outside of the ball after half a game outdoors that was not on the ball as it was inflated.

    Conclusion: There are a ton of variables here.

Another NFL story got a small mention in the Pats/Colts game on Sunday night. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were happy to tell viewers that CBS and the NFL agreed to continue Thursday Night Football next year and that CBS would carry the first games of the year while NFL Network would do the ones later in the season. Since Nantz and Simms work for CBS, they were announcing good news from their perspective. They will get to do more games; CBS will get 8 highly rated bits of programming for its Thursday nights; CBS will draw about 12-12.5 million sets of eyeballs to their telecasts; the NFL will continue to enjoy that revenue stream as advertisers pay for time on these telecasts. Fans will tune in.

Nonetheless, before we all join hands, sit in a circle around a campfire and sing Cumbayah, let me reflect for a moment on the Thursday Night Football experience. Yes, there have been some good games but many of the games – particularly the ones that are later in the season – have been snoozers. As injuries pile-up during the season, it becomes more and more difficult for a team to play on Sunday and turn around to play again on Thursday night. The NFL has a series of initiatives within their rules aimed at “player safety” and it is difficult to imagine that too many folks would be in favor of “player hazard”. However, that surely seems to be what Thursday Night Football represents as it is currently structured.

Let me reiterate a suggestion I had for TNF previously:

    Extend the regular season to 18 weeks – but do not add any games beyond 16.

    All teams playing on Thursday will have a bye week the week before their Thursday game and every team will have their “normal bye week”.

    The league and the networks get more revenue by televising an extra week of games.

    The players get more time to heal .

One other detail about the continuation of Thursday Night Football for the upcoming 2015 season is that the contract between CBS, the NFL and NFL Network reportedly gives the NFL the option to extend this arrangement into 2016. I think there is only a vanishingly small chance that the NFL will consider even for a moment the possibility of shutting down this portion of its revenue stream.

Finally, here is a comment from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle. After Jim Harbaugh and the Niners “mutually agreed to go in different directions”, Niners’ GM Trent Baalke held an optimistic news conference:

“Trent Baalke says, ‘This isn’t a rebuilding situation; this is a reloading situation.’ Please, someone tell Aldon Smith this is just a figure of speech!”

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

The Super Bowl Teams Are Set…

The participants in this year’s Super Bowl game are set; the two conference championship games that led to this matchup could not have been more different. The Seahawks/Packers game was full of errors and turnovers; it went to overtime after a furious Seahawks’ rally to come from 15 points down in the final 5 minutes. The Patriots/Colts game was an example of one team dominating the other team and the outcome was not seriously in doubt even at halftime.

After dominating the first half of the game, the Pats only led by 10 when they got the ball to start the 3rd quarter. However, the first possession of that 3rd quarter announced to just about everyone not contractually tied to the Colts’ organization that the game was over. The domination was on offense and on defense.

The Seahawks played about as badly as they could on offense in the first half against the Packers. Russell Wilson had a QB Rating of ZERO for the first half of the game just to give you an idea of what I mean by “badly”. I thought the Seahawks might have generated some momentum when – down 16-0 – they intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass with about 8 minutes to play in the second quarter. Actually, it turned out to be a false alarm; all that happened was the Packers getting an interception in the end zone with 2 minutes left in the half.

The second half of that game was almost a mirror image of the first half. The Packers were inefficient and the Seahawks made everything work – including a fake field goal and two TDs plus a 2-point conversion in the final 5 minutes of the game.

I believe the turning point in the game came back in the first half when the Packers had the ball twice with “goal to go” and settled for field goals both times.

Prior to the game, there was some drama regarding some gold shoes that Marshawn Lynch hoped to wear for the game. According to reports, there was something improper about the shoes/cleats and the NFL said he could not wear them. Lynch said he was going to do so and would pay whatever fine came from the league. Then – according reports – the word came down that if he entered the game with the “illegal shoes” the Seahawks would be penalized on the first play and if he were in for a second play with the “illegal shoes”, he would be ejected from the game. I have no idea what this is about; but clearly, Marshawn Lynch and the NFL are not on the same page when it comes to things such as game attire and participation in press-related events.

For whatever his reasons, Lynch prefers not to deal with the press. He has been fined a reported $100K for not doing so and he complies to avoid fines/suspensions by participating without actually participating. His most recent press event had him answer every question by saying “I’m thankful.” Seemingly, the reporters who attend these events enjoy poking Lynch and making him persist in the environment he so clearly dislikes. Here is some unsolicited advice for Marshawn Lynch:

    The sooner they want to leave; the sooner the press event is over. Ergo, go out and buy yourself a clarinet or a saxophone. Do not take lessons but bring the instrument with you to the press events. Give a one-word answer if you wish – or say something like, “Here is what Benny Goodman would have to say about that – and launch into a screech-laden series of notes on the instrument. My guess is that the scribes will catch on to the fact that they are going to listen to atonal noise pretty quickly and you can get on with your life expeditiously.

    Just a thought…

Richard Sherman, who is the publicity antithesis of Marshawn Lynch, obviously hurt his elbow in the fourth quarter of that game. It appeared to me that Kam Chancellor hit Sherman’s arm along with a ball carrier in making a tackle. Sherman played with one-arm from that point on and the Packers never really exploited the fact that he was injured on the field. After the game, Sherman said uncharacteristically briefly that he “hurt something in my elbow” and that he was definitely going to play in the Super Bowl even before knowing the nature or extent of the injury.

Odds on the Super Bowl opened with the Seahawks as 2.5-point favorites but after about an hour of wagering the line sagged to “Pick ‘em” at the Westgate sportsbook in Las Vegas. Early odds at various Internet sportsbooks have lines where the Seahawks are 2-point favorites and others where the Pats are 1-point favorites. By Wednesday or Thursday of this week, there will be enough money on the books that the line will settle down wherever it is going to be. What the line tells me now is that the betting public sees this game as a contest between the best NFC team and the best AFC team and that they should put on an exciting game. I surely hope that is more than wishful thinking…

The constant theme of “the NFL putting a team in Los Angeles” continues to simmer with recent news that the Rams’ owner has some land in Los Angeles and has plans to build his own stadium there in which, of course, the Rams would play. I think there are several pertinent points here:

    1. Los Angeles has seen three NFL franchises leave town and take up residence elsewhere. All three of those teams – Chargers, Raiders, Rams – went to places where they now have “stadium issues”. All three went to new venues that were markedly smaller than LA and all have been gone for more than a few years. They left town because LA facilities were not good plus the fact that fan support there was far less than one would expect from a city of that size.

    2. There seems to be little if any “fan clamor” for an NFL team to return to the city – let alone two teams as many suggest will be the case if a top-shelf stadium emerges in the city.

    3. If an NFL team actually goes to LA, the league will lose a significant leverage piece when it comes to shaking down politicians in smaller cities for stadium construction and improvements. Imagine if the Raiders went back to LA – just to pick a team. The NFL is not going to have nearly the same level of “threat” to hold over the city fathers in places like St. Louis or Jax or Tampa if the new “threat” is for the team to pick up and move to Oakland.

Finally, to the point of moving an NFL team to LA, let me close by giving you an evaluation of Los Angeles by “The Bard of Baltimore”, H. L. Mencken. Just a foreshadowing, his assessment would not coincide with the one put forth by the LA Chamber of Commerce.

“If Los Angeles is not the one authentic rectum of civilization, then I am no anatomist. Any time you want to go out again and burn it down, count me in.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 1/18/15

First, I need to review last week’s less-than-wonderful Mythical Picks. I made 5 picks on NFL playoff games and 4 of them were wrong. The only correct pick was taking the Colts +7 against the Broncos. I came within a replay of having a real shot at my money-line pick of the Cowboys but such are the vagaries of wagering. Anyway, the 1-4-0 record for last week brings the season total to an embarrassingly bad 117-150-5.

For the College Football Playoff game, I had Oregon +8 right and the OVER/UNDER pick wrong.

Clearly, no one in an even semi-rational state of mind would look at those numbers and conclude that this was the place to go if you want cogent information regarding how to pick sides in NFL football games. Yes, I acknowledge that one could have come out ahead for the year if one had simply done the obverse of the picks here. However, that seems too perverse a strategy to consider seriously.

Ergo, please do not use any information here as the basis for making a wager on one of the two NFL playoff games this weekend. If you did that, you would force me – in an attempt to be polite – to say this to you:

    Maybe you are not stupid. Maybe you are just unlucky every time you think.

General Comments:

NFL coaching change season has hit high gear. Rumors abound that John Fox is about to get the head coaching job in Chicago and other rumors link Gary Kubiak to Fox’s previous job in Denver. Kubiak had said just a few days ago that he was going to stay in Baltimore as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator – but those reporting the rumors point out that his statements came before the “Denver possibility”.

The Niners have their new coach. Jim Tomsula had been the Niners’ offensive line coach for all of the Jim Harbaugh regime and even several years prior to that. In fact, he was the Niners’ interim head coach for a game at the end of the Mike Singletary era. Several interesting things come from this Niners’ decision:

    It puts to rest the “insider news” that Kyle Shanahan had the inside track on the job.

    By “staying in house” with the hire, it gives some credence to the stories that the clash between Harbaugh and owner, Jed York, was one of management style.

    Tomsula worked under defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio. That means Tomsula leapfrogged his immediate supervisor and it would be no surprise to see Fangio seek other employment.

    Offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, has already left the Niners to take the offensive coordinator job in Buffalo under Rex Ryan meaning that the first order of business for Tomsula is to create a coaching staff in SF.

The Raiders have their new coach. Reports are that the decision came down to a choice between interim coach, Tony Sparano, and Broncos’ defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio. The Raiders chose Del Rio. I like this decision by the Raiders for several reasons:

    Del Rio has been a head coach before and was able to get the Jaguars into the playoffs twice. Granted, his coaching record is a couple of games under .500, but consider that he was in Jax when he generated that record. It is not as if the Jags have been a powerhouse since he left.

    Defense is his thing. When he was in Jax, the Jags played solid defense and when he became the defensive coordinator in Denver, the defense improved. Granted that the Raiders have been a hot mess in all phases of the game for the past several years, but their defense has been particularly poor in recent years.

    Mike Smith – late of the head-coaching job in Atlanta – was Del Rio’s defensive coordinator in Jax and Smith is still unemployed. Perhaps…?

    This is a safe and sound move by the Raiders and that is what they need about now. Mark Davis has been in charge since Al Davis went to the Celestial Owners’ Meeting a few years ago and Reggie McKenzie has been the guy in charge of football there. Over that 3-year span, the Raiders have gone 11-37. The Raiders need credibility and stability not flash and sizzle. Jack Del Rio fits that model.

    It is not as if Del Rio should be expected to take the Raiders back to the Super Bowl in the next year or two. I said above that the team is a hot mess and the last time they had a winning record was in 2002 when they went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Bucs.

In the past, I have designated individuals for something I call the Just Go Away Club. Membership is granted in this club for folks who make repeated outrageous statements/claims. I am putting down a marker here; Ray Lewis is only one more goofy remark away from membership in that club.

Recall that Ray Lewis claimed that the NFL “arranged for” the lights to go out in the Superdome during the Super Bowl game there to stop the Ravens’ momentum because the league wanted the Niners to be able to keep up with the Ravens. Let me just call that Strike One.

Now, Lewis has claimed that the “Tuck Rule” is only reason we know who Tom Brady is. Here is what Lewis said to Stephan A. Smith on Smith’s ESPN Radio program:

“Listen, not to go all totally out of conscious, but just think about this, Stephen A., honest to God … when we — the first time we created something called a tuck rule, it’s the only reason we know — I’m just being honest! — the only reason we know who Tom Brady is, because of a tuck rule! There’s no such thing as a tuck rule! If the ball is in your hand, and I knock it out your hand, whether it’s going backwards, forwards, lateral, sideways, however it’s coming out, that’s a freaking fumble! But guess what we created? We created a freaking tuck rule!”

OK, so Ray Lewis does not like the tuck rule; that would not get him into the Just Go Away Club because lots of folks do not like that rule. However, even if you put a little credence in his rambling statement here, you have to ask yourself if perhaps you might have heard of Tom Brady outside the realm of the tuck rule because of his two other Super Bowl wins and his two other Super Bowl appearances and his performance in the year when the Pats went through the regular season undefeated. Lewis’ statement to Stephen A. Smith is Strike Two.

Reports say that the Ravens have settled with Ray Rice over his arbitration filing regarding how much money they owe him in the aftermath of the bungling of his suspension by the NFL. Rice claimed the Ravens owed him $3.5M because that is what he would have made when the Ravens cut him but ultimately his suspension was overturned. Normally, when cases of this type settle, the terms of the settlement are closed. We will probably never know what kind of money changed hands here – and frankly, it is not anyone’s concern outside of the parties to this dispute – but we do know that one more loose end from the Ray Rice Affair has been taken care of.

John Mara, owner of the NY Giants, told WFAN in NYC that he thinks the NFL needs to talk some more about the “Calvin Johnson Rule”. [Aside: Should it now be called the “Johnson-Bryant Rule”?] Mara is part of the Competition Committee, which is the body of owners and coaches that recommends changes in the rules to the league – and to the NFLPA – for adoption. He also said in that interview on WFAN that he has always been opposed to using replay to review pass interference calls but that he is warming to that idea.

Mara is one of the influential owners in the league. He is like the old radio/TV ads for the brokerage house, E.F. Hutton:

    When Mara talks, people listen…

The Games:

(Sunday 3:00PM EST) Green Bay vs. Seattle – 7.5 (46.5): If you want to watch two hot QBs, this is the game for you. Consider what these guys did last week:

    Aaron Rodgers finished the game against the Cowboys by completing his last ten consecutive throws averaging 16.3 yards per attempt.

    Russell Wilson’s performance on third downs against the Panthers was similarly perfect. On third down, Wilson was 8 for 8 for 199 yards and 3 TDs.

Oh, by the way, Rodgers and Wilson have the highest QB Rating in NFL history in playoff games lest you think that they just had a one-time good performance last week…

Neither team is “backing into this game”. The Seahawks have won 7 in a row and the Packers have won 8 of their last 9 games. One “issue” for the Packers is that they gave up 5 yards per carry last week to the Cowboys. The Packers’ defense will need to do better than that to stay in this game. Here is Fact Not Worth Remembering #25697:

    When the Seahawks beat the Panthers last week, it was the first time a defending Super Bowl champion had won a playoff game since 2005.

I think the Seahawks home field advantage will be too much for the Packers to overcome. I really wish that half-point hook was not hanging there on the spread but I will take the Seahawks to win and cover despite the hook. I also like the game to go OVER.

(Sunday 6:45PM EST) Indy vs. New England – 6.5 (54): Overall last week, the Colts played a better game in beating the Broncos than the Pats did in beating the Ravens. The Pats’ defense gave up 4 TD passes last week and the Colts passing game is better than chopped liver. ON the other hand, the Pats’ performance last week sort of put to bed the idea that a team needs a “balanced offense” in order to be successful. Last week, the Ravens stuffed the Pats’ running game; the Pats’ response was simple and direct. The last running play they called came with 1:13 left to play in the second quarter. They never even tried to run the ball in the second half and that was the game in which the Pats overcame two 14-point deficits to win. Against the Colts, the Pats will probably try to keep CB Vontae Davis, away from the play and try to force safety, LaRon Landry into coverages because Davis is a top-shelf cover corner and Landry is only even money to be able to cover a refrigerator. I like the Pats to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.

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

P.S. My computer is acting up again and I may need to be off the air next week until I can get it fixed or even replaced.

All Star Officiating Crews…

After the Lions/Cowboys game and, more importantly, after the cries of “conspiracy against the Lions” had died down, lots of folks focused on the fact that Pete Morelli was the head of an “All Star Crew” of officials who had not worked together at all during the regular season. Much was made about the teamwork that is needed amongst the members of an officiating crew and how the lack of familiarity of the folks there may have contributed to the fiasco.

    [Aside: As a former official – mostly for basketball but for other sports as well – I can vouch for that point of view. When you work with others over a period of time, you get to know where they are going to be and what they will be checking almost instinctively. It is a plus but not a sine qua non.]

I wondered whose idea it was to use the “All Star Crew” model of officiating for the playoffs and just figured that it was an idea that sounded good to someone and so they went with it. Evidently, there is more to the story than that.

According to a report in the Boston Globe, the All Star Crew idea is the brainchild of the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA). According to this report, the NFLRA collectively bargained for the concept of the All Star Crews in the playoffs as part of the latest CBA with the NFL. Here is the rough history of playoff officiating for the NFL:

    Up through 2004, the highest rated officiating crews were awarded playoff games. Just as the teams with the best records got into the playoffs, the same concept applied to the crews of officials. Best team evaluation = playoff assignment.

    From 2004 – 2012, playoff assignments were sort of by crew rating except one or two of the lower rated officials on each playoff crew might be replaced with a higher rated official at that spot for the season. For example, if the side judge on a highly rated crew was the perceived “weak link”, he might be replaced by a higher rated side judge from another crew that would not be doing playoff games.

    After 2012, officials are rated individually and new crews are created for playoff games. The rating system has a few wrinkles you can read about in the linked report.

Before everyone concludes that going back to one of the earlier models for assignment of playoff officials will “solve the problem”, let me remind you that officials are subject to human error and no rating system or selection process can inoculate the officials in a playoff game from that malady. If I were an NFL official, my preference would be for the “pre-2004 system” where a crew works together all season long and they earn a playoff assignment together or they sit home and watch the playoffs “together”. But that’s just me…

By the way, there are other points covered in this summary report in the Boston Globe that are worth reading too.

The AFC East round of the coaching game of musical chairs appears to be over now. Rex Ryan will take over in Buffalo and it seems as if his “act” has simply moved about 400 miles northwest from New York to Buffalo. Ryan takes over a Bills team that has:

    A strong defense – – check
    Questionable quarterbacks – – check
    Solid running backs – – check.

Rex Ryan should feel right at home with that team – and it sounded that way if you watched his introductory press conference in Buffalo. Yes, the Bills would play “ground and pound offense”; yes, the Bills will be aggressive on defense; yes, the Bills will try to bully – Ryan’s word here – other teams; yes, he thinks the Bills are going to win the Super Bowl. You have to love the consistency that is Rex Ryan…

Meanwhile, back in New York, the Jets hired Todd Bowles as their head coach. If you went searching for the polar opposite of Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles definitely is in the Top 5 of your search. Bowles is soft-spoken – to the point that one writer said he was taciturn – and another writer called him “unassuming”. After having Rex Ryan there as a “quote machine” for all that time, the NYC media will likely go through a period of withdrawal as they adapt to a Jets’ coach who is soft-spoken and unassuming. I was a bit surprised to see that Bowles’ first major addition to the Jets’ staff was Chan Gailey as the offensive coordinator. I thought Gailey had retired; the reason I came to that conclusion is that on closer review, he has been away from football for the last 2 seasons. Moreover, Gailey completes the AFC East game of musical chairs almost perfectly; his last football job was as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

In NBA news, it seems that the Brooklyn Nets are for sale. Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, has probably gone through at least some of this logic chain:

    The roster is old and the team is mediocre.

    The team projects to lose money again this year and it is going to cost money to redo the team.

    The “revenue bump” from the move to Brooklyn has matured.

    Steve Ballmer just paid $2B for an NBA franchise. Since the Nets only cost him something in the neighborhood of $700M, there is the potential for a tidy profit to come from a sale.

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

“The NFL fined Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch $11,050 for grabbing his crotch at the end of his 79-yard run against the Cardinals last Sunday.

“So what were you expecting — 10 yards for illegal use of hands?”

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

Congratulations To Ohio State

The College Football Playoff determined a national champion on the field and the results of the three games leave only a faint cry in the distance when it comes to disagreement with Ohio State as that national champion. Horned Frogs everywhere can muse about what might have been, but the dominating victories that led Oregon and Ohio State to the final game compounded by Ohio State’s domination of Oregon makes most folks feel satisfied about the end of the college football season.

Pundits have suggested that the field of teams will expand to eight in short order. Let me take a moment here to recount for you my position on a college football playoff system and how it has changed over the years. Back in the late 1980s, the bowl system that existed usually assured that the top two teams would not meet on the field at the end of the season. Conferences had contracts with different bowl games for their champions; the top two teams usually went to different games. My solution at the time is what came to be known as the “Plus One Option”. After the bowl games on New Year’s Day, take the top two teams and play one more game to determine the national champion. My idea for when to do that was at noon on the day of the Super Bowl; it would turn the first weekend of February into Football Orgy Day.

By the late 90s, I had changed my mind and suggested an 8-team tournament that would play on January weekends. The bowl games would basically set up the field of eight and the teams would play through January with the final game taking place in that empty week between the NFL Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl.

Now we have a 4-team tournament field; and frankly, I am comfortable with that. In fact, there are some attractive aspects to the idea of 5 “Power Conferences” and only 4 “Tournament Slots.” Perhaps the lack of a guaranteed spot in the playoffs for at least one team from each “Power Conference” might:

    Add a championship game to the Big 12 – and –

    Encourage “Power Conference’ teams to beef up out of conference schedules.

Now, let me add another idea to the mix to improve a lot of things.

    “Power Conference” teams should schedule real games – not intra-squad games – at the end of Spring Practice. These are the games that should involve sacrificial lamb teams who come to a big school to get a payday and to get their asses handed to them.

    The Selection Committee can make it clear that this means the big schools have to take away one of their patty-cake games from the regular season schedule and replace it with a game against another real team – lest that look bad for the school and maybe even the conference when it comes to picking those 4 top teams…

Having said all of that, congratulations to Ohio State.

Speaking of Ohio State here, I have to tell you that the selection of Jim Tressel to be installed into the College Football Hall of Fame makes a mockery of that institution. Halls of Fame in major sports will always have controversial members; for me, Jim Tressel is an abomination in that institution. He still remains under an NCAA “show-cause” order should any NCAA school think about hiring him to coach their football team. The reason for that is that he knowingly played ineligible players – sort of taints his won/lost record don’t you know – and then lied to NCAA investigators looking into the whole thing. If I find myself in Atlanta sometime in the future, I will be certain to find something else to do with my time than to go and visit the College Football Hall of Fame.

There are reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the NCAA may be willing to restore the 111 football victories they stripped from Joe Paterno’s record in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Evidently, this issue is part of talks to settle a lawsuit brought against the NCAA by some Pennsylvania legislators that challenges the consent decree between the NCAA and Penn State University and involves some $60M in state funds. I will not pretend to give you a legal analysis here. I will say, however, that even though those 111 victories under Joe Paterno are only symbolic, they should be restored posthaste. The reason is simple:

    Those victories should never have been removed in the first place.

Let me reiterate here for the umpteenth time that what Jerry Sandusky did to boys who were nominally under his mentorship is unforgivable. Given what I know now, I cannot imagine circumstances that would bring me to support any effort to commute his sentence and set him free. And with all of that on the table, consider this:

    1. Joe Paterno was not abusing young children.

    2. Joe Paterno’s Penn State teams derived no competitive advantage against any opponent in any way related to Jerry Sandusky’s abhorrent behavior. Unlike Jim Tressel, whose actions and whose obfuscations aided his coaching record, Paterno’s on-field record had nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

I said at the time of the NCAA intervention that they had over-reached and had gone into an area that should have been taken care of by the judicial system. Interestingly, it seems as if the judicial system now has given the NCAA some reason to re-think some of their actions.

The Denver Broncos and John Fox had another of those “mutual decisions” to go in different directions. It is amazing how this epidemic of agreeing to disagree has spread throughout the NFL. Fox however, is not leaving a team that has failed to reach .500 for the last several years; Fox is leaving the Broncos after 4 seasons in which the Broncos have won the AFC West every year and with a combined record of 46-18. That means he won an average of 11.5 games per season in Denver. If I counted correctly, he has been a head coach for 13 seasons (9 with Carolina before Denver) and he has been to the playoffs in 7 of those 13 seasons. Not too shabby…

I have to think there is a lot more to this “mutual decision” than has been publicly revealed. Moreover, I suspect that until Fox and/or John Elway write memoirs we will all be left to speculate – that is a high-falutin’ way to say we will be guessing – as to the motivation for this coaching change.

Finally, a comment on a minor bowl game this year from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Parting thought: Howard Schnellenberger referred to the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl as ‘larger than life.’ Rarely has life been more insulted.”

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

Finally, The Mueller Report

The NFL hired former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, to investigate what happened within the NFL such that the league botched the handling of the “Ray Rice Affair” so badly. That was about 4 months ago which seems to me to have been a supremely protracted length of time. Finally, The Mueller Report is finished and delivered.

Please recall when this story was fresh, I said that if Roger Goodell was telling the truth about never having seen or known about the “inside the elevator video” of the “Ray Rice Affair”, then the folks in charge of NFL Security and whoever was in charge of this specific investigative task needed to be fired immediately. According to The Mueller Report:

“We found no evidence that anyone at the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video before it was publicly shown. We also found no evidence that a woman at the NFL acknowledged receipt of that video in a voicemail message on April 9, 2014.”

Let me deconstruct that statement for a moment and assume that what it says is true because indeed no one at the NFL did have or did see the in-elevator video prior to TMZ springing it on the public consciousness.

    1. NFL Security – by reputation a paragon in its field – has more than just feet of clay. The reason no one in the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video is because the folks in NFL Security did not figure out how to get it. TMZ figured that out so it probably was not exactly equivalent to untying the Gordian Knot.

    2. There were stories of a reporter – or reporters, I really do not recall if it was singular or plural – hearing a voicemail message from a female who called from an NFL telephone number saying that they had received said video. If The Mueller Report is accurate, someone went to elaborate means to concoct a forgery of a message. The reporter(s) for that story need now to come forth to demonstrate the level of veracity of their report based on the credibility of their source(s). If this was a hoax, it was an elaborate one indeed.

The above deconstruction focuses specifically on the quotation taken from The Mueller Report. No one should generalize from my comments here to assume that I find Roger Goodell or any other NFL employees exonerated by the findings. In fact, no report can possibly be written by anyone on the planet that might explain away the following logic chain:

    Originally we all saw a video of an elevator door opening and Ray Rice standing over the unconscious body of a woman later identified as his then-fiancée with no other folks exiting the elevator. Immediately, I concluded one of three situations obtained:

      1. She was conscious getting on the elevator and passed out during the descent to the ground floor.

      2. She was conscious getting on the elevator and he rendered her unconscious during the descent to the ground floor.

      3. She was unconscious prior to getting on the elevator meaning she had been dragged/carried onto the elevator in that state and some kind of investigation as to how she found herself in that circumstance needed to be done.

It turns out that #2 is indeed the case now that we have seen the in-elevator video…

However, if someone with even a meager background in investigations at NFL Security saw only what I saw, the implications presented by #2 and #3 above would have to have sparked a sense of awareness that this situation might just turn out to be a steaming pile of equine ordure. Now, with that heightened sense of potential “problems” I would think that a trained, focused and savvy investigator would have made sure that the full expertise of the elite investigative unit that is NFL Security was brought to bear on this matter. Evidently, not…

Not only did the first person in NFL Security to run across the original reports seemingly shrug his shoulders and move on to the next issue; it would also seem that as the first few days of the awareness of Janay Palmer Rice exiting that elevator in a comatose state no one else in NFL Security or anyone else in a position of influence in the NFL thought this was any kind of big deal. They did not have much in front of them – other than a completely unconscious woman in the company of an NFL player – but they did not throw it into high gear to find out what had happened here.

The Mueller Report says that the NFL knew a little something soon after the outside video had hit the streets. The NFL had a copy of the summons written by the local police and that summons report said that Ray Rice had struck Janay Palmer with his hand and that led to her unconscious state. Still, no one at 345 Park Ave in NYC screamed something akin to:

    “Holy domestic abuse, Batman, this could become a PR nightmare!!”

Not only did everyone in NFL HQs go about their business and ignore what everyone else saw, the league and the security folks who nominally keep the league safe from all manner of evil-doers did not do any of the following:

    Contact the local police who wrote that summons report
    Contact the local prosecutor’s office who might be handling this matter
    Contact the casino security folks who might have more info

Moreover, as time passed and as the local prosecutor was contemplating some kind of action against Ray Rice, Rice’s attorneys were given copies of the in-elevator video as part of the discovery proceedings. Seemingly, the league did not know that ever happened and it never asked either Rice or his attorneys anything about the existence of an in-elevator video let alone to see a copy of the video they had in their possession.

OK, so Rice and his attorneys could have stonewalled the league and conjured up reasons to keep that information from the league as a way to protect Rice’s future economic interests. However, The Mueller Report says that the Baltimore Ravens had been in contact with the local authorities and the Ravens were given:

“…a detailed description of the in-elevator video [by a local police official]… The Ravens did not volunteer that information to the league.”

Well, of course the Ravens did not divulge that information to the NFL. Ray Rice was the #1 RB on their depth chart and Roger Goodell was/is the league’s “Disciplinarian-in-Chief”; it was in the best interests of the Ravens’ brass to keep this under wraps as much as possible. But according to The Mueller Report, the NFL was less than dogged in asking the Ravens what all they might know about the incident.

What the NFL did was to conduct an investigation that you would praise if you called it “junior varsity”. I said this before and I will repeat it here:

    Heads must roll in NFL Security and heads must roll in any and all departments tangentially related to the incident where no one questioned the lack of information and insight coming from NFL Security.

What seems clear to me now is that someone – or some ones – along mahogany row in the NFL decided early on that the NFL did not want to know exactly what happened in that elevator and so there would be no impetus given to the folks in NFL Security to get to the bottom of this mess. If The Mueller Report is correct in saying that the NFL never had or saw that in-elevator video, it almost certainly has to be the case that the NFL never really wanted to see it and therefore never expended much effort to get it.

And speaking of not expending a lot of effort to get hold of some critical information, I can find no reference to any of the investigators involved in The Mueller Report busting their butts trying to get information from the guy who claims he sent that copy of the in-elevator video to the NFL. If the investigators can find no record of it ever reaching the NFL by examining the NFL’s records, would not a prudent next step be to find the guy who says he sent it to the NFL and report on what he has to say?

The Mueller Report as I read it does not exonerate Roger Goodell in this matter except to confirm his assertion that at the time he issued the 2-game suspension to Ray Rice for the Atlantic City assault, he had not seen the in-elevator video. The problem is that he had ample opportunity to have had more information at his disposal – to include the in-elevator video – if the folks who work for him had done their jobs efficiently and effectively. They did not and when that happens some of the fault for that nonfeasance has to reside with the guy in charge.

Roger Goodell has said more than once that the league made mistakes in its investigation of the Ray Rice Affair. The Mueller Report confirms that statement in spades. The question for the NFL now seems to take the league on two different paths:

    1. The league moves on to another Commissioner and the new guy/gal domes in with a mandate to change the foundations of NFL Security and to give it an entirely new structure, charge and leadership.

    2. The league sticks with Roger Goodell – mainly based on his demonstrated ability to increase league revenues for the owners and secondarily for the players – but it forces him to make significant personnel changes both in NFL Security and along NFL mahogany row.

Make no mistake; if major changes in personnel and in the way things are reported and tasked within the NFL do not happen as a result of The Mueller Report, this is going to happen again. If the Ray Rice Affair was uncomfortable and smarmy, it will look like a glimpse of Nirvana once the next issue of this kind breaks if the NFL reacts in the same way.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this terse but cogent summation of The Mueller Report and the events surrounding it:

“See no evil: To no one’s surprise, an independent investigator says there is no evidence that the NFL saw the elevator video of Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancée. I guess there’s no way to prove the NFL didn’t want to see it.”

In addition, here is how Greg Cote of the Miami Herald summarized The Mueller Report:

“An independent investigation found NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was not aware of the Ray Rice video when meting out his initial punishment. Which sort of means Goodell was both exonerated and called incompetent at the same time.”

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