RIP Blackie Sherrod

Blackie Sherrod died last week at the age of 96. He was a giant in the world of sports reporting. In addition to some of his own prose that you will see momentarily, he amassed a great staff of writers as the sports editors of the now defunct Fort Worth Press. That sports staff included Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake and Gary Cartwright; all you can say about that lineup is, “Wow!”.

When asked how he managed to assemble such a great staff of sportswriters, Sherrod said that he did not hire sportswriters, he hired writers. He told an interviewer:

“Red Smith wasn’t a sportswriter. Jim Murray wasn’t a sportswriter. Jimmy Cannon wasn’t. There wasn’t a one who could tell you the definition of the infield fly rule.”

Last weekend, many writers took a moment to pay tribute to Blackie Sherrod. I think that Mike Bianchi’s tribute in the Orlando Sentinel was the best one I read:

“A Moment of Silence, please, Blackie Sherrod, the legendary sports columnist of the Dallas Morning News, has gone to That Big Pressbox in the Sky. Three of Blackie’s best lines:

    (1) On legendary quarterback Bobby Layne’s car accident: ‘After indulging in some heavy, late-night research with scholarly friends, Bobby was driving back to his hotel, innocently enough, when he was sideswiped by several empty cars lurking at curbside.’

    (2) On leveling the playing field: ‘In a perfect world, a fair world, Bob Hayes should be forced to carry a small calf on his shoulder when he runs the dashes, Mark Spitz would swim with a sea anchor and Ella Fitzgerald must sing every note with a mouth full of Tootsie Rolls.’

    (3) On an unknown tomato can fighter: ‘He has everything a boxer needs except speed, stamina, a punch, and ability to take punishment. In other words, he owns a pair of shorts.’”

Rest in peace, Blackie Sherrod…

It looks as if today’s offering could be easy to write if I just keep quoting the brilliant prose from others. So, to keep on that glide path, consider these three capstone comments from around the country about the totality of the NFL Draft from last week:

“If Ole Miss has to forfeit a bunch of football wins and scholarships, just think of it as a Tunsilectomy.” (Dwight Perry, Seattle Times)

And…

“Quarterback Carson Wentz of North Dakota State was chosen No. 2 overall by the Eagles at the NFL draft. Imagine one day you’re living in laid-back, friendly Fargo, and the next you’re in Philadelphia being booed on your way to breakfast.” (Brad Dickson, Omaha World-Herald)

And …

“The 81st NFL Draft wraps up in Chicago: Three days, seven rounds, 253 players, and if you paid much attention beyond your favorite team’s selection in the first round, please have yourself evaluated by a mental-health professional. Somewhere, the first 2017 Mock Draft is now out. Oh how I wish I were kidding.” (Greg Cote, Miami Herald)

ESPN.com will launch TheUndefeated.com on May 17. This site had come to be known as “The Black Grantland” and in its original incarnation Jason Whitlock was supposed to be in charge. For whatever reasons, that did not work out and the launch of the site was delayed. Kevin Merida – late of the Washington Post – is in charge now. Here is the site’s Statement of Purpose:

TheUndefeated.com will combine innovative long-form and short-form storytelling, original reporting and provocative commentary to enlighten and entertain African Americans, as well as sports fans seeking a deeper understanding of black athletes, culture and related issues. The name, The Undefeated, is inspired by a passage from American poet, author and civil rights leader Maya Angelou: ‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.’”

I mention this for two reasons. First, I want to visit the site to see what it has to offer and who is doing the writing there. But beyond that, the fact that the birthing of this website led to Jason Whitlock parting ways with ESPN – or vice versa? – brings up ESPN staffing issues. I have mentioned in the past that I believed ESPN lost a significant amount of talent over the last year or so with the departures of:

    Colin Cowherd
    Keith Olbermann
    Bill Simmons
    Jason Whitlock

Now it appears that more folks are in the process of departing “The Mother Ship” in Bristol, CT :

    Skip Bayless supposedly will leave ESPN to go to FOX Sports. Bayless and Stephen A. Smith spend far too much time “debating” various sports issues on ESPN’s daytime show, First Take. The poor woman who “moderates” those “debates” will be a candidate for sainthood when she passes simply because she put up with those non-stop bloviations without taking a machete to either or both of the participants. I can take Skip Bayless in small doses. His departure is not of the magnitude of the 4 folks above in my mind.

    Trent Dilfer is rumored to be on his way out as an NFL analyst. If indeed that is the case, ESPN will lose one its best analysts. It is not as if they do not have several dozen of them on staff, but if I were to “thin the herd” there and do it on the basis of quality of performance, Dilfer’s position would be in no danger.

    Brad Nessler is rumored to be on his way to CBS. Nessler is a mainstay of ESPN’s college football telecasts and the rumor is that he will go to CBS to do college football there with the idea that he will take over for Verne Lundquist on the SEC Game of the Week somewhere down the line. I like Nessler’s work; he is not “a screamer”. However, I like Verne Lundquist a lot and will be sorry when he does hang up his microphone.

    Mike Tirico supposedly will leave ESPN – and Monday Night Football – to go to NBC where that network does Sunday Night Football and will have five Thursday Night Football games late in the season starting this season. NBC also has the Olympics; Tirico’s versatility fits right in with broadcasting that sort of stuff.

Finally, when the Denver Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch last week, folks were quick to pronounce the Broncos “out of the QB market” and to put the kibosh on any trade rumors that had been out there. However, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald may have reason to believe that the Broncos are still in the market for Colin Kaepernick:

“A rumor has Colin Kaepernick going to Denver. This would give the Broncos some much needed tattoo depth.”

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

Serious Stuff And Silly Stuff Today…

Last night the Miami Marlins swept the LA Dodgers in a 4-game series and then got some bad news. Their All-Star second baseman and the guy who led the NL in hitting last year, Dee Gordon, will serve an 80-game suspension – through July 29 of this year – for failing a PED test. According to MLB, testing showed “exogenous testosterone” and “clostebol” (whatever they are) in Gordon’s samples and both of them are on MLB’s banned substance list.

Gordon maintains that he does not know how those substances got into his body and that he did not do this knowingly. That may be true, but we have heard that sort of explanation before… Gordon signed a contract extension with the Marlins in January 2016. That contract was for 5 years and a total of $50M. This season, his base salary is $3M and since this suspension is one without pay and it amounts to half a season, it will cost Gordon $1.5M

One more “baseball related item” if I may… I read that the SF Giants will give away Gaylord Perry bobblehead dolls on August 13th of this year. If I ever had a Gaylord Perry bobblehead, the first thing I would do would be to take a dab of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly and put it under the brim of the cap. But that’s just me…

I am not big on the argument that the ends justify the means because there are too many examples where the “means” are pretty obnoxious. However, in this case I will accept the result despite being underwhelmed by the basis for the decision.

According to a report in the NY Post, Syracuse University will get rid of its “Kiss Cam” on the Jumbotron because of a suggestion from someone that the Kiss Cam is in conflict with the efforts that colleges and universities are putting forth to combat sexual violence on campuses.

    1. I take a back seat to no one on Earth when it comes to declaring that Kiss Cam – or any other name you want to put on that abomination – is stupid, annoying, intrusive and horrid. I assume I have made myself clear here…

    2. I could even support a Constitutional Amendment to ban these things. [Actually that is hyperbole for effect. To get an amendment to the Constitution would require the involvement of the Congress and about the only thing that might make a Kiss Cam worse would be Congressional bloviation on the subject.]

    3. Having said that, anyone who thinks that Kiss Cam is even a minor component of the causes for sexual violence on campuses in the US is living in a delusion. Sexual violence on campuses is a serious problem; Kiss Cams are simply annoying.

Here is a link to the NY Post report on this matter.

The Daily Collegian at Penn State had a story recently alleging abuse by the gymnastics coaches – a husband and wife team – at that school. The abuse here is not sexual abuse; the allegations are about psychological and verbal abuse that – to my mind – seems to cross the line into “bullying”. Naturally, this report only represents one side of the story; these remain allegations and nothing more to this point. However, there is one point made in this story that convinces me that these allegations are serious. Women gymnasts who worked under these same coaches at Auburn as far back as 2003 also say that there were problematic issues:

“[The coaches] pushed women to train through injuries, sometimes making them feel as if they had to hide their physical pain.

“The women also said the coaches pressured their gymnasts to lose as much weight as possible, which led to some athletes developing eating disorders.

“Several former gymnasts, and parents of former gymnasts, said some athletes developed depression due to their mistreatment by the [coaches].”

And those are not necessarily the worst of the allegations made in this article. That is why I say this needs to be investigated thoroughly and quickly.

Here is a link to the report in The Daily Collegian.

Since some of you out there may be thinking of taking in a baseball game over the weekend, let me inform you of a couple of culinary extravaganzas you may encounter at the ballpark:

    The Cincy Reds offer up The Meat Lover’s Dog. That would be a bacon-wrapped hot dog along with fried salami and pulled pork and then topped with queso blanco and pickles. In case you are not familiar with queso blanco, it is an unaged cheese made from cow’s milk and is pretty much cottage cheese with much of the whey pressed out of the cheese. This offering sounds like it would be a stress test on your cholesterol medication…

    The Minnesota Twins will let you buy a Buffalo Chicken Bloody Mary. Seriously… This is a Bloody Mary with a Buffalo Chicken wing on a skewer inside it along with pieces of cheese and grilled polish sausage. If you really want to kick it up a notch [/Emeril Lagasse], you can add another skewer with a bacon cheeseburger slider on it. This offering sounds like something created by the folks who sell Pepto Bismol.

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

“The U.S. Treasury announced plans to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

“Except in Alabama, where the locals are pushing for Nick Saban.”

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

The Intersection Of Sports And Jurisprudence

Deflategate is like a vampire; it will not die. Today, news comes that Jeanne Shaheen – US Senator from New Hampshire and former Governor of New Hampshire – has called upon the NFL to release the “PSI data” in its possession to demonstrate that indeed the NFL has “credible evidence” in the whole matter. No offense to Sen. Shaheen, but when a sports issue rises to the level that it attracts the attention of the Congress, you can be sure the story has achieved “vampire status”.

Just for fun, I went to Sen. Shaheen’s US Senate website and at the bottom the website lists “Jeanne’s Priorities”. In order, they are:

    Economy and Jobs
    National Security
    Fiscal Responsibility
    Energy

Evidently, “Deflategate” and “PSI data” somehow shoehorned themselves into those priorities.

Meanwhile, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found a way to make light of a sidebar to this story. Tom Brady has expressed his support for Donald Trump during the Republican Presidential primaries. So, Dwight Perry juxtaposed Trump/Brady 2016 and came up with this:

“Destined to be a best-selling T-shirt in 31 of 32 NFL markets: ‘Make America inflate again.’”

The other story related to an NFL QB that could become a “vampire story” is the one related to Johnny Manziel. The latest development there is that Manziel has now been charged by a grand jury with “misdemeanor assault with bodily injury”; evidently, in Texas a conviction on such a charge could bring a penalty of a $5K fine and a year in jail. Manziel has until 5 May to turn himself in to the authorities in Texas; his bail has been set at $1,500 which should be an amount that he can readily post; he is not turning himself in to spend a long time in the hoosegow awaiting a trial.

There is a fine line indeed between a cynic and a realist and a lot depends on whether you agree with the person who might earn one of those labels. So call me a cynic if you must but somehow, I sense that the outcome of this matter will be something along these lines:

    Manziel agrees to take anger management rehab and/or alcohol rehab and the authorities retain the right to subject him to random drug/alcohol testing for some period of time.

    Manziel reaches a rapprochement with the victim – his former girlfriend – which includes a financial exchange, confidentiality clauses and her vow not to testify in any trial that might occur on these charges.

    Then, this incident goes away. But the story probably will not die until or unless Johnny Manziel becomes a hermit living somewhere in the Himalayas in a community of yetis.

There is one more intersection of sports and jurisprudence to note today. In 1989 – yes, 27 years ago – there was an event in England known as the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpool was playing Nottingham Forest in Hillsborough in an FA Cup game and a “human crush” occurred that wound up killing 96 people – all Liverpool fans. An investigation in 1990 concluded that the physical plant at the stadium and the fencing used to keep the crowds off the pitch caused the problems and changes were made to all football stadiums to remedy those situations. It would seem as if that matter had been settled more than 2 decades ago.

However, in 2009, the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport called for the release of all the information that the police and other authorities had provided to the investigation in 1990. With that information in hand, something known as the Hillsborough Independent Panel was created and after several years of analysis, that panel concluded that the fans were not responsible for the tragedy. Basically, it concluded that there had been a cover-up and there was some culpability on the part of the emergency services and other public entities.

Earlier this week, a new inquest into this matter concluded that the fans themselves were not responsible at all for the events that led to these deaths and that the folks who died that day were “unlawfully killed”. Here are some of the findings in the report earlier this week:

    The “Match Commander’s” actions amounted to gross negligence.

    Police planning errors contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on that day.

    Police and emergency responders “caused or contributed to the loss of life” by error or omission once the “human crush” began.

Here is a link to a lengthy report on what happened 25 years ago and what happened earlier this week.

To bring this full circle, it would seem that there is a parallel between Senator Shaheen’s call for release of data in Deflategate and the action of the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that led to the new findings earlier this week. On the surface it would seem that it took someone with social and political stature to “make the situation right”. To be sure, that parallel does exist. I would suggest, however, that the matter in England involved the death of 96 people and the matter here in the US involves a 4-game suspension from NFL games.

I do not care how big a fan of the New England Patriots one is or if you think that tom Brady is the most wonderful human being on the planet; Deflategate does not rise to the level of importance of the Hillsborough disaster.

Finally, since the NFL Draft starts tonight and since I cited a Dwight Perry comment above, here is another one from Professor Perry related to the NFL Draft:

“LaQuan McGowan, the 405-pound Baylor tight end, could become the heaviest player ever drafted by an NFL team.

“Besides 405, his other key stats are 6-7 (height), 5.41 (40 time) and 7.3 (Richter Scale).”

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

NFL Officials Camp?

About a week ago, I read a report that the NFL and the Canadian Football League (CFL) had joined together to create an “officiating development program” that would seek to improve the quality of current officiating and to “raise up” the next generation of game officials. Some of the things mentioned as key parts of this joint effort were:

    NFL officials will work some games in the CFL in June and early July prior to their reporting to NFL Officials Camp in July. The idea here is that this will increase “time on the field” for those officials and sharpen their “football senses” as they head off to officials’ camp.

      [Aside: Who knew about “Officials Camp”? Clearly, there have to be such things to go over things like new rules and rule changes and the mechanics of officiating; but have there ever been reports originating from any activities there? If so, I missed them.]

    CFL officials will go to NFL minicamps and training camps and some will officiate in NFL exhibition games.

I certainly have no objection to either the CFL or the NFL undertaking any sort of constructive activity that intends to improve the in-game officiating. Surely, neither of the programs outlined above will hurt in-game officiating so it is hard to object to any of that. However, if part of the program is “developmental” in the sense of generating aa pipeline of new officials, I fail to see how anything described here would do anything to meet that objective.

The Washington Wizards hired Scott Brooks to be their coach last week; they game Brooks a 5-year deal worth $35M. Naturally, lots of the local sports yakkers on the radio jumped to the self-satisfying conclusion that this move was done as a prelude to signing Kevin Durant as a free agent this summer since Brooks had been his coach in OKC. Time will tell if that angle has even a smidgen of relevance. Nonetheless, this hire is potentially a good one for the Wizards.

Scott Brooks is a coach who teaches solid defense and demands that from his players. The Wizards need to play defense; a major reason why they are sitting at home watching the NBA Playoffs on TV is that their defense was somewhere between non-existent and pretty-awful in far too many games this year. Sure, the Wizards will become a better team if they happen to lure Kevin Durant to the DC area. They may also become a better team if they get their rears in gear and play some defense next season.

The LA Lakers fired Byron Scott. Frankly, I think that is a bit silly given that Scott had a roster that was destined to lose games and then had to administer the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour for all of last year. However, in LA, the team needs to do something lest it lose spotlight time to the Clippers. Lots of suggestions have been made with regard to who the Lakers’ next coach ought to be. Naturally, Luke Walton’s name came out of the gate early. He is a logical candidate for the job as an ex-Laker player, a SoCal native and a guy who did awfully well as the stand-in coach of the Warriors last season.

It is exactly for those logical reasons that Walton will likely not get the job. In LA, things need “sizzle” more than they need “substance”. Walton is high on “substance” but not much on the “sizzle scale”. If you doubt the importance of sizzle over substance in LA, consider this:

    If substance counted for more than sizzle, there never would have been a second movie made where one could use the phrase, “starring Steven Segal”.

So, who might be a “sizzle candidate” – someone whose name would generate interest even if someone else actually got the job at the end of the day.

    Jay Wright: He is as hot a name as there is in college basketball for people not named Krzyzewski, or Calipari.

    Nancy Lieberman: She played the game; she is in the Hall of Fame; she has head coaching experience. And she has something no NBA head coach has ever had – – ovaries.

One more NBA note … The league is expanding its TV footprint to include sub-Saharan Africa. In a deal struck with Econet Media, the NBA will have at least 500 games televised live to sub-Saharan Africa starting next year. Games will be telecast in English, French and Portuguese based on the prominent language spoken in different regions of Africa. Econet is a major player in television and digital media in that part of the world. Obviously, the NBA is taking this expansion initiative seriously.

In the past week two NFL players received 4-game suspensions. Tom Brady had his suspension reinstated by a 3-judge panel in the US Court of Appeals; Demarcus Lawrence got 4 games for failing a drug test. The Brady suspension – linked inexorably to Deflategate – got much more attention along the lines of “what does this do to the team”. Personally, I think his suspension is less meaningful to the Pats than Lawrence’s suspension is to the Cowboys.

    The Pats open at Arizona and then play 3 home games against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills. Recall that the Pats went 11-5 with Matt Cassel at QB when Brady went down in the first half of the first game of the season; that was without time to prepare for Brady’s absence. My guess is that the Pats come out of that stretch with a 3-1 record or better.

    The Cowboys hope to make a big run this year with a healthy Tony Romo at QB. However, over on defense, the Cowboys have a problem with pass rushing and Lawrence had 8 sacks last year. Not only will he be gone for the first 4 games, so will Randy Gregory – who also flunked a drug test – and so will Greg Hardy unless Jerry Jones panics and signs him again to a 1-year incentive laden deal.

    The Cowboys open at home against the Giants, at the Skins, home against the Bears and then at the Niners. That is not a murderer’s row schedule, but it does have two division games against teams that could be very competitive if the Cowboys cannot pressure Eli Manning or Kirk Cousins. It is never good to lose a game in the NFL, but should the Cowboys lose two division games to open the season, it might get ugly in Dallas.

Oh, by the way, imagine if you will that Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory decide to room together for that 4-week suspension. I believe neither one of them is married so just consider it a possibility. If that happens, I would definitely be going long on marijuana futures…

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald regarding another athlete who had difficulty with a drug test:

“A rugby player in Italy tested positive for 11 banned substances. This makes him eligible for the Tour de France.”

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

NFL Pre-Draft Analysis 2016

For new readers who have joined the parade here in the last 12 months, this is an annual feature. During the Fall, I watch a lot of college football games on TV because I like college football and I am retired. The essence of a “happy retirement” is doing things you like to do. Ergo

While I am watching the college games, I like to look for players who might make it in the NFL as a means of earning a living. I keep a notepad next to the TV while I am watching and make notes on those players. Now, I gather them together for the purpose of deciphering them and compiling a list of players I saw who should be part of the upcoming NFL Draft.

That tells you what this feature is. Now let me tell you what it is not:

    These are my opinions based on my watching games on TV. I do not travel to games; I do not go to watch practices; I do not talk to players or coaches; I am not part of any organized cadre of folks who share information.

    This is most definitely NOT a mock draft.

Given that method of “data collection” there are obvious shortcomings to the system here:

    1. I live on the East Coast and therefore, it is more convenient for me to watch games played in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Over the course of a season, I see more teams in that part of the country than I do teams in the West.

    2. Even though there are tons of college football games on every weekend, I tend to focus on ones involving bigger schools and major conferences. That means there will be lots of players from smaller schools that I will have never seen. Thus, I will have nothing to say about them here – unless –

    2a. Several folks have come to realize that I do this sort of thing every year and they know that I will not see small schools often. If they see a player at their school or a school local to their area that they think should be mentioned here, they send me an e-mail and I include it here with the notation that this comes from someone other than me.

    3. Since I do not see any team play every game on their schedule – and often see a team only once or twice during a season – I can easily miss an outstanding player who winds up going in the first round of the draft.

What makes sense is to go position by position and for me to try to collate my notes around that. So, let me start with the Quarterbacks and that leads me to demonstrate the limitations of this essay right away.

    Carson Wentz (N. Dak. St): When the Rams traded up to acquire the first pick in the draft, Sam Farmer of the LA Times said that they did so to draft Wentz. The very fact that a respected reporter would make such a statement has to mean that some folks in the NFL think Carson Wentz is a really good prospect. Here is my problem; I never saw him play. Wentz’ detractors say he played against inferior competition in college. To those people I would say:

      Joe Flacco (Delaware)
      Rich Gannon (Delaware)
      Steve McNair (Alcorn St.)
      Tony Romo (E. Illinois)
      Kurt Warner (N. Iowa)
      Doug Williams (Grambling) … you get the point.

    I do not mean to minimize the importance of top flight college competition, but there are sufficient examples of players “making the jump from Division 1-AA football to the NFL” with significant success in the NFL.

    Jared Goff (Cal): My notes say that he is “very accurate” and “hits receivers in stride”. To be sure, the fact that he played in a spread offense made some of those throws a tad easier than ones he will have to make in the NFL, but the tools are there. Reports say he is highly coveted by NFL scouts; I agree he could be a good first round pick.

    Paxton Lynch (Memphis): He is big; a screen graphic said he was 6’ 7” and 245 lbs. However, he is also mobile and fast. Importantly my notes say “throws accurately on the run”. That might be an important asset for him at the NFL level. I think he will go in the late first round; if he is still available at the end of the second round, a team will be getting a bargain.

    Cardale Jones (Ohio St.): Even after winning the College Football Championship Game two years ago, I was not sold on Jones. He is big and strong and there is no denying his arm strength, but I do not think he delivers the ball quickly or with impact. Here are my notes: “big and strong”, “fast enough on the run”, decent accuracy” “happy feet – seems to want to run rather than throw”. I would take him somewhere in the 4th or 5th round.

    Connor Cook (Mich St.): I think he is the latter-day Kirk Cousins. He is not flashy; he has a good enough arm but not a great one; he can move around a bit but he is not a mobile/running QB; he is neither very big nor very slight. What he does is play solid error-free football. Here are my notes: “good accuracy” “very good on sideline passes” “big enough to take hits in NFL”. I think he is a sleeper in this draft; many reports say he will go in the third round. I think he is good value pick if he is still there in the third round.

    Christian Hackenberg (Penn St.): Here are my notes: “plenty big enough” “limited mobility” “strong arm but questionable accuracy” “can throw the ball a mile”. I think he is a project for an NFL team but has the physical makeup to be worth the effort. Maybe he goes in the 4th or 5th round…?

    Jacoby Brisset (NC St.): Here are my notes: “big and quick” “accurate short passes but misses lots of downfield throws” “ball sailed on him 3 or 4 times today”. Like Hackenberg, I think Brisset is a project for an NFL team but he has the physical makeup to be worth the effort. Maybe he goes in the 4th or 5th round just after – or just before – Christian Hackenberg?

    Blake Frohnapfel (UMass): Here is the first of four contributions from a reader via e-mail. The writer is a UMass alum; I note that here in the spirit of full disclosure:

    “The NFL likes big QBs (Manning, Roethlisberger, Osweiler) and [Blake] Frohnapfel is 6’6” and 235 lbs. He throws deep better than other QBs in the conference [the MAC] … he is more mobile than 235 lbs ought to be. He is definitely a project for the NFL but I bet a team will sign him as a free agent after the draft.”

Let me move on to the Running Backs; there appear to be more than a couple of capable folks here even though the position of running back in the NFL seems to have been devalued over the past couple of years.

    Derrick Henry (Alabama): If he does not make it as a running back for some reason, a team could move him to offensive guard. This man is very large; a screen graphic said he was 247 lbs; I think he is bigger than that. Henry “runs with authority” and “punishes tacklers – who are smaller than him usually”. He is not a breakaway threat at the NFL level, but he is a valuable asset and should go in the first round or the early second round.

    Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio St.): If you want a running back a tad faster than Derrick Henry but not nearly as big, then this is your guy. I particularly liked his ability to “change direction and accelerate immediately”. He too will be taken in the first or early second round.

    Jordan Howard (Indiana): Dean Wormer told one of the Delts in Animal House that “fat drunk and stupid was no way to go through life”. Well, Howard is “big, strong and fast” and if you are a running back, that is indeed a good way to go through life. He did not get the attention that Elliot got simply because Elliot played on a very good team and Howard played on a mediocre team. But Howard can play and if he drops into the top of the 3rd round, some team will get themselves a bargain.

    Alex Collins (Arkansas): “Plays in a pro-style offense that features power running” “good straight ahead runner” “quick enough to an outside hole”. I think he is well-prepared to play in the NFL and should go by the end of the 3rd round.

    CJ Prosise (Notre Dame): “Converted to RB due to team injuries” just last year. It sure looked to me like he had been doing this all his life. “Catches the ball well” is another plus. Here is a minus, “needs to get a lot better pass blocking”. I think he is 4th round pick.

    Wendell Smallwood (West Virginia): He is not very big but he is quick and shifty when he gets the ball. He “catches well”. Here is my note that says some team needs to spend a pick on him late in the draft, “reminds me of Darren Sproles”.

    Soma Vainuku (USC): He is a fullback so there are a bunch of NFL teams that will not even consider him. However, if you need a fullback, this guy is “built low to the road” and “an excellent blocker”. He has “decent speed” but “not gonna break any 60-yard runs in the NFL”. He is listed at 5’11” and 246 lbs. I am not sure he is that tall… He should go in the fourth or fifth round to a team that uses a fullback.

    Troymaine Pope (Jacksonville St.): Here is a second information dump via e-mail from a reader. I never saw Jacksonville St play and would not know Troymaine Pope from Alexander Pope, Pope Francis or Helen of Troy. The e-mail came to me after Jax St. hammered Charleston Southern in the Division 1-AA tournament last year.

    “I watched [Troymaine Pope] run over, around and through [Charleston] Southern’s defense like it wasn’t there. [Pope] is very fast in the open field and can make tacklers miss with sharp cutting. You won’t see him on TV but I’m sure NFL scouts have already seen him.”

    [Aside: For the record, I looked up stats for the Jax St/Charleston Southern game and Troymaine Pope gained 250 yards rushing and scored 3 TDs in that game.]

Next up, let consider the Wide Receivers coming out of college this year.

    Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma): “Good speed” and “sharp cuts on pass routes” is a good way to start when talking about Shepard. Then add “soft hands/catches about everything” and you have a good prospect. I think he goes in the late first round.

    Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss): He suffered a grotesque leg and ankle injury in 2014 but sure looked like he fully recovered when I saw him in 2015. He is “big and strong” and “fast enough”. He has “long arms and soft hands”. I think he goes in the first round too.

    Will Fuller (Notre Dame): I liked his “straightaway speed” and that he “gets open deep”. My concern was “not very big”. I think he could go in the 3rd or 4th round.

    Charone Peake (Clemson): “Perfect size and build for NFL” and “willing and able blocker on run plays” says that he should get a shot to play for pay next year. I think he is a 3rd round pick.

    De’Runya Wilson (Miss St): He is “very big”. “Screen graphic said he was 6’ 5” and 230 lbs and he looks it”. He “catches the ball well” but he is “not real fast”. Given the size, a team should take a chance on him in the late rounds.

    Kenny Lawler (Cal): He “gets open and [Jared] Goff throws him the ball”. Then he catches the ball and Cal moves downfield. Lawler is “big enough” and “catches well” but is “not real fast”. He “could be a good possession receiver” so I guess he goes in the late rounds.

    Corey Coleman (Baylor): Coleman was a terror in the Baylor offensive system last year. However, the important words here are “in the Baylor offensive system”. He is fast and he has good hands and he runs decent routes. He is not very big. Some reports have him rated as the top WR coming out of college this year but I have seen far too many Baylor speedsters come to the NFL with little or no impact to take him in the early first round. Here are my notes: “blazing speed” and “shifty runner after a catch”. “Good hands” but “not very big”. He may be a star someday – – or not. If he were still on the board in the 3rd or 4th round, I would take him. But early in the first round …?

Next up should be the Tight Ends. However, as I have collated my notes from last season, I do not have any players identified with the Tight End position. So, this is the simplest section imaginable. Let me move on…

Moving on to the Offensive Linemen, I have a robust list here.

    Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss): Lots of folks touted him as the overall #1 pick until the Rams/Titans trade went down. My notes suggest that might be a fair place for him to be taken. Here are three comments: “absolutely dominates on drive blocks” “pass blocking is excellent” “the man is a monster”.

    Jack Conklin (Mich St.): I thought he was a “dominant drive blocker” and a “good enough pass blocker”. He seemed “a bit slow” which is not great for leading runs outside. He should go in the first two rounds.

    Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame): He is “quick on his feet” and a “dominant pass blocker”. He too should go in the first two rounds.

    Taylor Decker (Ohio State): Looking at my notes, he looks like Jack Conklin’s twin brother: “powerful run blocker” and “OK at pass protection”. Here is another guy who should go in the first two rounds.

    Kyle Murphy (Stanford): He “does everything well except block downfield” because he is “not fleet afoot”. He should also go in the first two rounds.

    Joshua Garnett (Stanford): He “controls his space” along the line and “opened some nice holes for Christian McCaffrey”. My notes say that I “would take [Kyle]Murphy first but take this guy next”. That means Garnett should go by the end of the second round.

    Ryan Kelly (Alabama): He played center for the Crimson Tide and “dominated the interior line play”. Obviously, coming from a Nick Saban coached team he has sound fundamentals. He should go in the second or third round.

    Sebastian Tretola (Arkansas): This team loved to run the ball inside and Tretola is “a bulldozer blocking straight ahead”. His pass blocking is “good but not great” and he does not “pick up blitzes well”. He will likely be taken in the later rounds.

    Denver Kirkland (Arkansas): He is another “very large man” on the OL for a team that loves power running. He is “not as powerful as [his teammate], Tretola, but I think he is “a better pass blocker”. He will go somewhere near where Tretola goes in the draft.

    Vadal Alexander (LSU): “This man is huge” but at the same time “he can lead run plays”. The best thing about him is his “drive blocking on inside runs”. I would guess he is gone by the end of the third round.

    Caleb Benenock (UCLA): I liked his “good quickness and agility” and the fact that he was an “effective pass blocker”. He should go in the middle rounds of the draft.

    Austin Blythe (Iowa): He was the center on an offensive line that led Iowa to a Top Ten ranking last year. I thought he was “excellent in pass protection”, “quick enough to get a block on the OLB on sweeps” and “agile for such a large man”. I think he can go in the middle rounds this year.

    Siaosi Aiono (Utah): Frankly, I do not recall seeing Utah play last year but according to my notes, Aiono is “a fireplug” that can “block and move with agility”. If accurate, those sorts of notes suggest a late round pick.

Moving over to defense, let me start with the Defensive Line. I did not realize as I was making my notes that there would be a very distinctive SEC flavor to my listing – but that is how it turned out.

Before getting to my list, there are plenty of draft reports/analyses that have Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) and Vernon Butler (La Tech) as top-shelf defensive linemen. I did not see La Tech play last year so I have nothing on Butler; I did see Louisville play but have nothing in my notes on Rankins. That does not mean he is not a good prospect; what it means is that I did not make any note of his play in the particular game(s) I saw.

    Jarran Reed (Alabama): He is a “run-stuffer” who “is not pushed around even by a double-team”. He can generate “middle pressure against the pass” but he is “no so good on stunts where he goes outside”. I think he is a first round pick.

    A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama): He is also a “run-stuffer” who “dominates inside”. I read some pre-draft reports that say Robinson does not play hard all the time and often just mails it in. If that is indeed the case, then any coach who can motivate him to play hard all the time will have a gem on his hand. If what I saw was nonchalant play, I wonder what he would be like if he were driven… I think he also goes in the first round.

    Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss): He “generates inside pass pressure all the time” and is fast enough so that he “gets in on run plays to the outside”. I also wrote “natural athlete”. The downside here is that Nkemdiche has had some off-field issues one of which involved the gendarmes and marijuana. Based on football, he should go in the first round. Based on his potential for meatheadedness, …

    Joey Bosa (Ohio St.): He was double-teamed about half the time because “he explodes off the snap” and “can push OTs around”. Lots of folks think he will go in the top 5 picks; I would not argue with that.

    Shaq Lawson (Clemson): He “plays the run very well” and “can rush the passer inside or outside”. He is a DE and not an OLB because I never saw him have any pass coverage responsibilities. For a team willing to play him at DE only, this is a first round pick.

    Kevin Dodd (Clemson): He is “strong and quick” and “gets good pressure on the QB”. Question:

      Is he good because teams are focused on double teaming Shaq Lawson on the other side of the formation? I think he goes behind Lawson in the draft – – but not more than one round behind.

    DeForest Buckner (Oregon): “Biggest college DE I can recall” and “really long arms” gives you an idea that he has the physical tools to be a DE in the NFL. He “rushes the passer well” and is “strong on runs to his side”. I do not think he can be an OLB because he is “not very fast” so he would probably have difficulty in pass coverage. I think Joey Bosa will be the first DE taken; after that, either Buckner or Shaq Lawson will be the next.

    Chris Jones (Miss St.): He is “big and very strong” and “quick in pursuit of outside run plays”. I also noted “hustles on every play”. He looks like a guy to go in the first two rounds somewhere.

    Carl Nassib (Penn St.): “Generates pressure on every pass play except when they drop him into coverage”. Another positive note was “hustles every play for the whole play”. This guy is a DE who might be able to convert to an OLB or a pass rush specialist. I think he goes in the 3rd or 4th round.

    Chris Mayes (Georgia): A screen graphic said he was 6’ 4” and 335 lbs. My comment was “Is that all?” Mayes is very large and not very mobile. He “does not rush passer well” but “he can be a nose tackle in the NFL”. I see him going in the middle rounds this year.

    DJ Reader (Clemson): “Nose-tackle prospect for any 3-4 team in the NFL” gives you an idea what I thought of this guy. He will go in the middle rounds.

    Sheldon Day (Notre Dame): He is “built like a bowling ball” and is “really quick for a D-lineman”. He is “not gonna knock down any passes on the inside” but he “will generate pass pressure”. He looks like a middle round pick to me.

    Travis Britz (Kansas St.): He “plays the run well” and he has “enough speed to generate pass pressure”. Also, “plenty of hustle”. He is a late round guy…

Next up are the Linebackers. In many years, I have more players on this list than any other position; that is not the case this year.

Let me note that lots of folks think Myles Jack – late of UCLA – is the top linebacker in the draft this year. I did not see him play because he was injured for the entire 2015 season. So with those introductory remarks, here is my list.

    Reggie Ragland (Alabama): He played ILB for ‘Bama with two top defensive linemen in front of him. No wonder Alabama’s defense was so good. Ragland has “good size and strength” and “he tackles with authority”. The only negative comment I have is “not a lot of speed” but ILBs usually do not have that. Another first round pick off the Alabama defense here…

    Joshua Perry (Ohio St.): He “gives 100% on every play” and is a “sure tackler”. On run plays he “forces everything inside because of his strength”. I would guess he goes in the late first round.

    Deion Jones (LSU): He “looks like he should be at safety” but he “is very strong and defeats blocks by bigger offensive players”. His “pass coverage was good” too. He will go somewhere in the second round.

    Joe Schobert (Wisconsin): He “plays the run well” and makes “form tackles”. However, he “gets beat in pass coverage situations”. He is probably a 3rd or 4th round pick.

    Cassanova McKinzy (Auburn): “Good speed” and “strong against the run” are his calling cards on draft day. I have no notes regarding his pass rushing abilities or his pass coverage abilities. Just a guess, but I’ll put him in the 4th round somewhere.

    Blake Martinez (Stanford): “Plays the run very well” is good news for a guy who plays ILB. “Disappears on pass plays” is not good news for any defender aspiring to play in the pass-happy NFL. I think he goes in the late rounds.

    DeVondre Campbell (Minnesota): “Athletic” “quick” “good tackler” “lots of hustle” and “decent speed” would tend to describe someone who will go in the top 10 overall. The problem here is that Campbell “plays out of control” and “takes himself out of plays”. He has the physical requisites to be an NFL linebacker but he needs coaching. I think a team that can afford to spend a year developing him as a linebacker will take him in the late rounds.

Next come the Defensive Backs. Because NFL teams like to move secondary players around, I will lump together the CBs and the safeties here.

    Mackensie Alexander (Clemson): has a lot of positive reviews from people who track the NFL Draft. I obviously saw Clemson play last year given my notes on other Clemson players but I have nothing on Mackensie Alexander.

    Jalen Ramsey (Florida St.): What’s not to like? Ramsey is “big and strong”; he is “fast/covers lots of ground”; he “covers receivers well”; he is “good against the run”. He will go in the Top 10 picks…

    Eli Apple (Ohio State): He is “super-fast” and “big for a CB”. He also “plays the run aggressively”. A negative comment was “not a tackler/drags people to the ground”. He will be drafted in the first two rounds this year.

    Vonn Bell (Ohio St.): “Solid against the run” and “good pass coverage” are the plus comments. “Not very big” is the minus comment. I think the plus outweighs the minus here and I think he will be taken by the end of the third round.

    Jayron Kearse (Clemson): He is “very big and strong” and has “the kind of physique an NFL team likes”. He is listed at 6’4” and 216 lbs. He played safety for Clemson and he “covered lots of ground in the secondary”. I think he too will be taken by the end of the third round.

    Xavien Howard (Baylor): “Good size” and “good in man coverage” are strong points here. The weak point is he is “not as fast as other DBs”. I think he will be a mid-round pick.

    Jalen Mills (LSU): He is “fast” and “very good in coverage”. He “needs to add strength” to play the run in the NFL. He should go in the third or fourth round.

    Trae Elston (Ole Miss): He is a “big hitter” and “strong against the run”. However, he is also “awfully small”. I think he is a late round pick.

    Jonathan Jones (Auburn): He is a good news/bad news player. Good news is “top-shelf speed” and “good tight coverage”. Bad news is “awfully small” and “could be overmatched physically” in the NFL. I think a team takes a chance on him in the later rounds.

    Richard Leonard (Florida International): This e-mailed assessment comes from a former colleague who has retired to Delray Beach in Florida. Over the years, she has taken exception to my “picking on” FIU’s football program – a charge I deny because I think that in prior years FIU’s football program was severely bad. Nonetheless, here is what she had to say to me:

    “[Richard] Leonard returns kicks and punts for the Panthers and he is their best cornerback. He is very fast …he is tough. If he can’t make the NFL at cornerback, he can make it as a special teams’ player.”

My former colleague has ample reason to take umbrage at my previous negativity with regard to the FIU football program. However, all of those disparaging comments are in the past. What she must be really upset with is this sort of commentary from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald just last weekend. Please note as you read this comment that Florida International University is located in Miami, FL and not in WhotheHellcares, Antarctica…

“FIU’s spring football game was canceled by bad weather. No, seriously.”

Now, isn’t that note from my former colleague the perfect segue to the final stage of this NFL Pre-Draft Analysis – the Special Teams Players?

    Kaimi Fairburn (UCLA): He is a placekicker. His kicks were “accurate” when I saw him. The note I have here says “kickoffs go into the end zone” which is not all that commonplace for college football these days. Most teams do not draft kickers but someone ought to sign him for a tryout in training camp as a free agent after the draft.

    Will Monday (Duke): He is a punter. His punts were “long” with “plenty of hang-time”. I also noted that he had a “pooch-punt 35 yards downed inside the 5 [yardline]”. Once again, teams rarely draft punters but I think he too ought to be signed and given a tryout as a free agent after the draft.

    Pokey Harris (Murray State): I will close with the fourth and final e-mail note from a reader whose daughter goes to Murray State or has recently graduated from Murray State.

    “[Pokey Harris is] a little guy who returns kicks for the Racers. The program says he weighs 175 lbs but he looks smaller than that … He is definitely not “pokey” and he can change directions at full speed to escape tacklers.”

There you have it. When I watch the NFL Draft – and I will not watch all of it to be sure – I will be looking to see how well my notes match up with the draft boards that NFL teams assemble. I will particularly look to see how well my e-mail correspondents did with their assessments of Blake Frohnapfel, Troymaine Pope, Richard Leonard and Pokey Harris.

Finally, since I used a Greg Cote comment from the Miami Herald above, let me close with another one from him that speaks to something that I consider immensely important with regard to the NFL Draft:

“I can’t wait for the draft … mainly because it puts a merciful end to the endless speculation of national mocks drafts and local flat-out guessing on what Miami might do.”

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

RIP Milt Pappas

Milt Pappas died last week. When you consider that he spent 17 years in MLB winning 209 games and pitching 129 complete games, you would think that he would be remembered for his career. Pappas was twice an All-Star and over his career he struck out twice as many batters as he walked. Not bad at all; Milt Pappas was an accomplished player.

Nevertheless, he will be remembered more widely for something over which he had no control. After the 1965 season, he was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Cincinnati Reds along with Jack Baldschun (relief pitcher) and Dick Simpson (outfielder) for Frank Robinson. Of course, Robinson continued his career that landed him in the Hall of Fame (his career OPS was .926) and Robinson became the first player to win MVP Awards in both leagues.

Rest in peace, Milt Pappas.

News came late last week that ESPN fired baseball analyst Curt Schilling after Schilling seemingly ignored warnings to temper his social media remarks on the transgender issues that are controversial at the moment. Schilling’s views were stridently opposed to what many feel are important rights for transgender individuals and I am sure than many people took offense at his remarks. This is not the first time ESPN had to deal with controversy ignited by Schilling’s socio-political views on sensitive subjects. Last year, Schilling seemed to equate today’s Muslim extremists with the Nazis of the 1930s and 40s. As a result of those remarks, Schilling earned a suspension from ESPN.

In announcing the firing, ESPN had this to say:

“ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.”

As you may imagine, some folks who agree with Schilling’s stance on today’s transgender issue immediately screamed that his First Amendment rights had been violated. To steal one of HL Mencken’s favorite words:

“Buncombe!”

Just because ESPN is a media company and Schilling was working for them, this matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the First Amendment. This is a matter – plain and simple – of an employer telling an employee what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior. In the situation where the employee repeatedly chooses “unacceptable behavior”, that leads to termination of employment. The First Amendment has nothing to do with that.

Last week, Bob Molinaro reported in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that the Kutztown University football team found an interesting way to conclude their spring football game. Evidently the game ended in a tie and – fortunately – the coaches did not choose to use the college overtime rules to break the tie in that meaningless contest. Rather, they decided the outcome of the game with a series of rock/scissors/paper confrontations. How great is that?

Speaking of how great something is, how great is it to be the NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions for 2016. The Villanova Wildcats have had a parade in their honor in Philly; they will surely get an invite to the White House to meet the President and now the team – via the university to be sure – has received a donation of $22.6M to renovate their on-campus arena. The gift comes from Bill Finneran, a Villanova alum – no surprise there! – who is the founder of a hedge fund.

The on-campus arena, The Pavilion, needs a makeover. It seats only 6500 folks and has no suites or “luxury boxes”. That means that prime seats for Villanova home games have deep-pocketed supporters in them while students have to scramble for the leftovers. A major part of the renovation plan here is to put in suites for the pooh-bahs and to put student fans in the prime seating areas.

The Pavilion has a sort of interesting history. From the time that it opened in 1986 until 1997, the building was known as the John Eleuthère du Pont Pavilion, the man who provided major funding for the construction of the facility. The reason the du Pont name came off the building is the reason that name rings a distant bell in your memory.

    John Eleuthère du Pont was the man who became enamored with amateur wrestling and pentathlon sports and started a wrestling training facility at his Foxcatcher Farm in Delaware. Ultimately, he was convicted of the shooting death of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz in 1997. At that point, the name of the Villanova facility simply became known as “The Pavilion”.

Back in the 1970s, the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA moved west to become the Kansas City/Omaha Kings. The team split their home town affiliation from 1972 to 1975 before settling down in Kansas City and then ultimately moving to Sacramento in 1985. Omaha then hosted a team in the Continental Basketball Association for a while but the city has been without professional basketball since 1997. However, last week the Omaha Chargers came into existence as a franchise within the newly emerging National Basketball League of America – the NBLA. The league proposes a 20 game schedule between September and November.

At the moment, the NBLA has only three franchises; the Omaha Chargers, the Sioux City Hornets and the Dakota Magic. That paucity of teams led Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald to make this observation:

“You think it looks bad when an NBA team doesn’t make the playoffs?”

Finally, here is one more observation from Brad Dickson:

“The Lehigh valley Ironpigs minor league baseball team has a new concession item, bacon on a stick. Isn’t eating this basically a cry for help?

“How about something a wee bit healthier? Say crack burgers?”

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

RIP Jerry Greene

Jerry Greene, sports columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, passed away earlier this week. He was an e-mail pen-pal and his column From the Cheap Seats was the source of some of the closing quips that I use in these rants. I never met him in person but he was a wonderful “electronic acquaintance”.

Rest in peace, Jerry Greene…

Well, Drew Rosenhaus carried through on his promise. He dropped Johnny Manziel as a client because Manziel did not seek the counseling/help that Rosenhaus said was a prerequisite to their maintaining an agent/client relationship. It is not difficult to note here that this is a monumental event because it represents a situation where a sports agent actually told the truth about what he was about to do. It is also easy to point out that Rosenhaus was able to maintain an agent/client relationship with other NFL players with a “notorious streak” such as Plaxico Burress, Josh Gordon and Greg Hardy. However, this matter involves things of much greater gravity that than.

    [Aside: Recall that this is the second sports agent to drop Manziel. Earlier this year, Eric Burkhardt announced that he had terminated his agent/client relationship with Manziel citing essentially the same issues that Rosenhaus has alluded to here.]

Johnny Manziel is in the process of flushing whatever possible career he may have had in the NFL down the commode of life. Frankly, that is his action to take and just as frankly, I do not particularly care about his “possible career’. He is also in the process of ruining his life and possibly damaging the lives of others as he continues his non-stop participation in the “partying scene”. Many folks look at his “partying behavior” as merely youthful indiscretions that will sort themselves out with maturity. The problem here is that some fraction of the population gets to a point where maturity is not enough to give them the ability to say “Enough is enough!”. I am not competent to make a diagnosis here, but I have seen enough of life to recognize that Johnny Manziel is awfully near a precipice – if indeed he has not already gone over it.

Manziel insists that it is his intention to play NFL football in 2016 and for years after that. That stands in stark contrast with the fact that he remains unsigned by any team despite the fact that several teams could use a “quarterback upgrade”. Just as he seems to be unable to control his partying behaviors, he seems not to be able to recognize that teams and GMs are moving ahead without him. What seems patently obvious to many others seems to be completely opaque to him.

There is another depressing sort of story rumbling around in the sports world today. Sheryl Swopes was a star player in the WNBA and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When her career finished, she decided to go into coaching. She spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Mercer Island High School in suburban Seattle. Then in 2013, she took the job as the head coach of the women’s basketball program at Loyola, Chicago.

Swopes said that she intended to put Loyola ‘on the map” in women’s college basketball; her stated intention was for Loyola to compete with programs such as UConn, Notre Dame and Tennessee and that she was taking the long view because achieving that stature was not possible as a “quick fix”. She has been at Loyola for 3 seasons now and the team record for that period is 31-62; if the goal is to be like UConn, Notre Dame and/or Tennessee, winning one out of 3 games over a 3-year stretch is not a good imitation at all.

Now things get a lot worse. Loyola announced that it is embarking on a full investigation of the women’s basketball program in the wake of:

    Ten of the twelve players on the team with remaining eligibility have requested releases from the school so that they can go elsewhere to play – and –

    An unspecified number of those players have alleged “player mistreatment” within the Loyola program.

I have not read any reports that specify the sort of “player mistreatment” alleged here but those sorts of allegations placed in juxtaposition with that number of players asking out of the program has to be worrisome. Here is a link to a recent ESPN.com report on this matter. Somehow, I do not think this will end well…

In a strange move, the Carolina Panthers rescinded the franchise tag they had on CB, Josh Norman, and simply released him making him a free agent. Norman was a large part of the Panthers’ defense that took the team to the Super Bowl last year; to say that this move was unexpected would be the understatement of the month. This move is so unusual that I suspect there will be some sort of angle to this story that becomes known somewhere down the road; my “spider sense” is tingling here…

On a more upbeat note, Ohio State set a record recently for the largest attendance at a spring football game. The school announced that “more than 100,000” fans showed up at Ohio Stadium (aka “The Horseshoe”) for the spring intrasquad game. When packed to the gills for a real game, “The Horseshoe” holds 104,944 so there wasn’t all that much extra space in there for that exhibition game.

Finally, let me close with a quip by Jerry Greene formerly of the Orlando Sentinel that I have had on my clipboard for a couple of months:

“Beijing had dangerous air pollution, and Rio has water pollution out of a cheap horror movie. What’s next? Perhaps holding the Olympics atop an active volcano? (Of course it would be a great opening ceremony to watch on TV.)”

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

Logos = $$$$

Late last week, the NBA announced that it would embark on a “three-year pilot program” that would allow individual teams to sell advertising space on their uniforms. Any team can sell a “patch” on its game jerseys that is 2.5” by 2.5” to carry a sponsor’s logo. While sports radio commentary – at least in this area – exploded with this “news”, I think it is only a small step for the NBA. Remember, the NBA has been sporting sponsor logos on their practice jerseys for several years now.

Before addressing the screeches on local sports radio, there was another part of the announcement that caught my attention. Someone in the market research business who has to know a thousand times more than I do about this move estimated that sales of sponsor logos could amount to $120M per year in new revenue for the league. For the moment, assume that figure is absolutely correct. Now ask yourself this:

    What exactly might be the final decision on this “pilot program” after three years has gone by?

      If you answered that the NBA would cancel it and go back to “blank jerseys” you can write on the blackboard 500 times, “I am a dunderhead!”

      If you answered that the NBA will continue the program permanently, you have learned your lessons well.

      If you answered that the NBA would find a way to expand the program and sell more than one logo spot per uniform, give yourself a Gold Star.

Meanwhile the angst and the wailing that I endured on sports radio for about 72 hours after the NBA’s announcement was predictable and mainly irrelevant.

    What is the world coming to? Don’t those teams make enough money?

      Plenty of stuff is “wrong with this world” and none of that “stuff” has to do with NBA players wearing “unsullied uniforms” in their games. Oh, and by the way, owners of sports franchises everywhere never make “enough money”.

    Does the NBA want its teams to look like soccer teams where there is no identification of the team and only the identification of the team sponsors?

      The NBA probably does not want to remove the team name or the city name from team jerseys; but even if they do, would it change anything fundamental to the game? Boiled down to reality, the games are played by men running around in colored underwear. What verse in The Bible makes that inviolable?

      By the way, many soccer teams in Europe use jerseys that never had the team name or city name on them. Many teams were identified by the color scheme of the jersey without any verbiage so the addition of sponsor logos did not “remove” or “obscure” the team name or the city name; it was never there in the first place.

    Does the NBA want its teams to look like NASCAR drivers and race cars?

      If owners can find sponsors that will pay them millions of dollars for every 6.25 square inches on a jersey, they will happily have their teams look like NASCAR drivers.

Buried in the text of the announcement of this “three-year pilot program”, was a statement that jerseys sold at retail shops would not have the sponsor logo on them at the start of the program but that teams could – if they wanted to – sell logo jerseys in addition to the ones without the logo. That statement warmed the hearts of every marketing troll who works for every NBA team. Think about it for just a moment.

Why do you suppose that teams wear so many different varieties of uniforms in the first place? The answer is that more variety translates into more sales volume. That is why you can go into a sporting goods store and find at least 3 – and probably as many as 5 – different jersey styles/colors for every team. Now, the number of possible jerseys has been doubled by offering each color scheme/style with the sponsor logo and without the sponsor logo. Cha-ching…!

One other tiny reason that the screechers on sports radio should not have been stunned by this development is that the WNBA – the poor relative of the NBA – has been selling sponsor logos on WNBA game uniforms for at least 5 years now. If you do not watch the WNBA and have not seen this for yourself, use Google Images to search for “Phoenix Mercury team jerseys” – just to pick a WNBA team at random.

    [Aside: Before anyone hyperventilates about how horrible it would be if this “contagion” should spread to the NFL, please consider that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been wearing a corporate logo on their helmets for decades now. That “thing” on their helmet is the old logo for US Steel; it’s been there a long time; it is a lot bigger than 2.5” X 2.5”.]

Proximal to the NBA’s announcement of this new “cash-grab” – let me call it what it is – there was another report indicating that things are looking up for the NBA in the economic sphere. Looking at the last NBA regular season and the money spent by advertisers on TV advertising for game telecasts, the increase is very significant.

    Advertising expenditures for 2014/15 = $329.8M
    Advertising expenditures for 2015/16 = $487.8M

    That is an increase of 48% year over year!

Here is a link to the report containing more information on this expansion of spending by advertisers over the last year.

Understand, that money does not flow to the NBA directly; that is the money spent by advertisers that goes to networks who televise the various games. Nonetheless, that level of interest on the part of sponsors is indicative of their perceived interest fans have with regard to the NBA. Certainly the suits in the NBA Front Office can look at those figures and begin to plan for a subsequent increase in the television rights once it comes time for a new TV contract to be negotiated.

In addition, if there is indeed that level of fan interest out there and sponsors want to spend money on NBA advertising and promotions, maybe this is the perfect time to start selling logos on jerseys…

Finally, here is a suggestion from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that shows how colleges might find a way to get a commercial sponsorship for themselves:

“Whitman College in Walla Walla is dropping its ‘Missionaries’ mascot and is taking suggestions for a replacement.

“Samplers, anyone?”

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

Nice Neighbors…

I bumped into a neighbor who is a reader of these rants and he asked me why I had not commented on the NCAA ruling against “satellite football camps”. He said that he thought the decision by the NCAA was narrow-minded and he was surprised that I had not taken the opportunity to use the NCAA as a punching bag as I so often have done. My answer to him was that at the time it was a “front-and-center issue”, I had not considered it a big enough deal to worry about. My neighbor said he thought it was “a really cheesy move” by the NCAA and that I should go back and look at what they had done.

So, I did. And indeed it was a “cheesy” move. Then again, coming from the NCAA “cheesy” is sort of the center of gravity of what I have come to expect from such pronouncements and rules interpretations. Nevertheless, let me recap this for you.

    The NCAA – prodded to a large extent by the folks in the SEC and the ACC – ruled that Jim Harbaugh could not hold a “satellite football camp” in the South hoping to get to know potential recruits there. Then, it went a step further and said that if/when a school holds a camp in its own facilities, coaches from other schools cannot attend that camp or participate in the instruction there – even at the invitation of the school hosting the event.

I can understand the first rule. Indeed, it was a power play by the SEC who have a vested interest in keeping Michigan out of their fertile recruiting grounds. I get that. I do not like it, but I get it. It is the second part of this pronouncement from the NCAA that makes no sense at all. Since this all started with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, let me use them as the centerpiece of this example:

    Jim Harbaugh decides to hold a football camp right there on campus in “The Big House” where the NCAA says he is allowed to do so. He invites a ton of recruits from Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Western New York because those areas are proximal to Ann Arbor.

    He knows that all of the invitees will not be of a caliber that he will want at Michigan but he also knows that he wants to “be known” in a lot of communities in that part of the recruiting world, so he brings in lots of potential collegiate players – only some of them will ply their trade at some lower level program.

    Then, to help run the event and to maintain good relations with coaches at neighboring institutions at a level beneath Michigan, he also invites the coaches at Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Finlandia University and Albion College. [Please note: Michigan State is not invited to this hypothetical event.] Those coaching staffs decide to join in the fun to get to see some potential recruits for their programs (the ones who will not go to Michigan) and to maintain their local networking connections.

    The NCAA says those coaches at smaller schools cannot attend or participate.

Surely, those coaches now barred from participation did not petition the NCAA for their banishment. So, what is the purpose here? What sinister and venal motivation had to be held at bay with this ruling?

The NCAA has lots of really serious issues to contend with including the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the pressures to pay college players in the revenue sports and player safety as evidenced by the Ivy League’s move to ban tackling at practices during the season. The complaints here amounted to not much more than whining by a few coaches and athletic departments who were arguing from a point of transparent self-interest. My neighbor called this ruling “cheesy”. It is really nice living in a neighborhood where the residents are so polite.

Switching gears, in Spanish soccer teams compete in La Liga at the top level of the sport there and at the same time teams compete for the Copa del Rey. I do not speak Spanish but I believe that means the King’s Cup; it is a tournament that has been ongoing for more than 100 years and it is a very big deal in Spain. Perhaps, it is analogous to the FA Cup in Great Britain.

Back in December, Real Madrid – one of the top teams in Spain – was disqualified from this year’s Copa del Rey tournament because it used an ineligible player, Denis Cheryshev. Here is a link to an article in The Guardian that describes why Cheryshev was ineligible and what the ruling was related to his participation. In the end, Real Madrid appealed the ruling but lost that appeal so the club was out. Their opponent in the contested game, Cadiz, went on to the next round.

I have to admit that I had to go back and look up the references here to figure out what happened to Real Madrid in this matter and what the stature of the Copa del Rey was. Spanish soccer is not even close to my wheelhouse. What brought this to my attention was a comment by Brad Rock in his column Rock On in the Deseret News this week:

“Fans of Real Madrid are suing the club president after the team was tossed from Copa del Rey, due to an ineligible player.

SI.com reports the plaintiffs feel they “had to endure being taunted in cafes and our place of work.”

“In America, that’s called life after losing the Utah-BYU game.”

I wonder if part of the pain these fans nominally had to endure came from fans of Barcelona – Real Madrid’s arch rival – because at the moment, Barcelona is the current holder of the Copa del Rey…

Finally, consider this comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald wherein he channels Carnac the Magnificent:

“Answer: The U.S. team trained in Miami won the World Cup of FootGolf, a sport played on golf courses in which players kick soccer balls into giant holes.

“Question: Whaddya mean there are too many ridiculous, made-up sports?”

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

Mea Culpa…

I have to begin today by correcting an error from a rant last week. I was talking about the impending retirement of Dick Enberg and said:

“Enberg had the call for the Ohio State/Cincinnati NCAA basketball championship game in 1961. That was the game that had Oscar Robertson on one side and Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried and Bob Knight.”

I received a correction from the reader in Houston who is a top-shelf sports historian. I got part of the above right – but I depended on my memory and not on Google for the details here. Mea culpa… :

“Oscar was with Cincy in 1961, but it was the Cincy Royals of the NBA. He was in the Final Four with Cincy in 1959 and 1960, losing in the semis both years to Cal, which was led by Darrall Imhoff at center.

“The Big O finished his senior year after the 1960 season and played on the Olympic team in Rome beside Jerry West, which was a “dream team” before the “Dream Team”.

“Tom Thacker took over Robertson’s spot on the Bearcats in 1961. The 1961 game between Cincy and OSU was one of the greatest finals of all time, as Cincy beat undefeated reigning national champ OSU, 70-65 in OT, but since it was shown in only a few markets, it is hardly remembered by the public and media as a classic.

“Cincy also made it to the championship game in 1962, beating OSU again, but rather easily this time, as Lucas wrenched his knee in the semi-final win vs. Wake and was no match vs. Cincy’s Paul Hogue in the championship game, getting outscored, 22-11.

“Then in 1963, Cincy met Loyola Chicago in another classic game won at the buzzer on a put-in by the Ramblers’ Vic Rouse. Loyola trailed by 15 points with 14 minutes left. Once again, only a minority of us got to see the game on TV, so this game also is often overlooked as one of the great NCAA Finals of all time.”

Thanks to the reader in Houston for the correction and the expansion here…

In Boston, the Red Sox have put Pablo Sandoval on the DL with a shoulder injury. Some people have suggested that this is a phantom injury and the real problem is that Sandoval is too fat to play well. If indeed, this is a ruse on the part of the team, they have gone to great lengths to establish the hoax. Sandoval has had an MRI on his shoulder and supposedly will see Dr. James Andrews for another examination.

As all of that is playing out, Sandoval’s former trainer, Ethan Banning, said that Sandoval needs a “baby-sitter” to help him control his eating. The former trainer likened Sandoval’s eating proclivities to an alcoholic’s drinking behaviors. Obviously, I am not qualified to make a determination here and I have no idea if Banning has the qualifications to make such a diagnosis. What I can conclude simply from observation is that Sandoval is way overweight.

I always enjoyed watching Pablo Sandoval play baseball back in his days with the Giants. Even then, his physique was atypical for a major league baseball player; but he played with a flare and a joy that made him fun to watch. After he signed his 5-year/$95M contract with the Red Sox before the start of the 2015 season, he added weight to his already corpulent stature. This year, he showed up in training camp even bigger; some folks speculated that he was at or north of “three bills” and the added weight did not help him in the batter’s box or defensively at third base. He lost the starting third base job to Travis Shaw who is a converted first baseman. Let me just say in summary that all is not well in Boston between Sandoval, the Red Sox and the Red Sox fans.

Now there are also rumors that the Red Sox would like to trade Sandoval but – and this is too easy – there are two large obstacles:

    1. Sandoval’s girth – and –

    2. Sandoval’s large contract which includes:

      $70M in base salary through 2019
      Club option at $17M per year or a $5M buyout in 2020
      Limited no trade clause (he can block trades to 3 teams)
      A suite in hotels for road games
      A variety of bonuses for various achievements.

Obviously, if Sandoval has a shoulder injury that is serious, no team will take on that contract until the injury is completely in the past. Even if that injury is healed – or if it never existed in the first place – most teams will be wary of assuming that contract for a player who is overweight and hit only .245 (with an OPS of only .658) last season.

A trade might help Sandoval get back to a sufficient condition where he was a sought-after free agent. In the Boston area, there is a Dunkin’ Donuts attached to about half of the gas stations there. If Sandoval has an eating disorder of some kind, that is not an environment that would work for him. I have no idea how all of this will end, but I believe that Pablo Sandoval needs to lose 30 lbs – and maybe 50 – in order for him to be the player he was in San Francisco.

Here is how Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times sees this situation:

“If corpulent Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval were a car, he’d be in the shop getting:

    a) heavier suspension springs
    b) a gas-tank reduction
    c) a belt replaced”

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