The First Day Of The Tournament

Today is not a great day to be a PAC-12 basketball fan.  The conference sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament and all three of them lost their first game:

  1. UCLA lost one of the play-in games to St. Bonaventure earlier this week.  The Bonnies then lost badly to Florida in the opening round games yesterday.
  2. Arizona St. also lost a play-in game earlier this week.  The winner of that game was Syracuse who faces TCU today.
  3. Arizona was seeded 4th in the field and lost badly to Buffalo yesterday.  See the commentary below…

PAC-12 fans may point to the fact that the Selection Committee did not put USC in the field despite USC finishing second in the conference and in the conference tournament.  If that is the rhetorical refuge for PAC-12 fans, that only confirms that this is not a great day to be a PAC-12 basketball fan.

Here are transcriptions – with some editing to clean up some of the language and lots of the grammar – of notes I made while watching yesterday’s games.  Yes, I am bleary-eyed this morning and I may indeed need to change the batteries on my TV remote before today is over.

  • OU/Rhode Island:  Trae Young has lots of skill/potential; he can create shots for himself and others.  The rest of the OU team is mediocre.  The first game of the day went to OT; hope that is a good omen.
  • Kansas/Penn:  Game is in Wichita making it almost a home-game for Kansas – as if they needed an advantage.  Penn committed 3 turnovers in its first 4 possessions and clanked a lot of 3-point shots early.  Cannot stay with Kansas doing that.  Devonte Graham had 19 of Kansas’ 33 points at halftime.

[Aside:  As a Penn alum from MANY moons ago, I have followed Ivy League basketball for a long time.  This Penn team has lots of very good Ivy League players; nonetheless, the fundamental difference in speed and athletic ability as compared to Kansas was huge.]

  • Tennessee/Wright St.:  No doubt about this outcome about 8 minutes into the game.
  • Gonzaga/UNC-Greensboro:  Gonzaga leads by 9 at the half but the game is closer than that.  UNC-G went 0 for 12 on 3-point shots in the first half.  The game was tied with 30-seconds to play and a truly dumb offensive foul by UNC-G lost the game.
  • Duke/Iona:  Duke dominated early and then seemed to coast going into halftime.  Then they hit the gas again in the second half and won comfortably.
  • Loyola-Chicago/Miami:  The game was tied at the half and that is a fair representation of how the play went for the first 20 minutes.  Miami is obviously the bigger team, but Loyola is relentless on the boards.  In the second half, both teams played tough defense; every shot was contested.  Loyola pulled the first upset of the tournament with a buzzer-beater that left 0.3 seconds on the clock.
  • Ohio St./South Dakota St.  Ohio St is bigger and quicker, and they hit six 3-point shots in the first half.  Nonetheless, the game was tied at halftime.
  • Seton Hall/NC St.:  Seton Hall won by 11 but these teams are more evenly matched than that.  If this were the NBA, these teams would go to seven games to decide the one that moves on in the playoffs.
  • Villanova/Radford:  This was a mismatch from the start.
  • Kentucky/Davidson:  Kentucky is way more athletic, but the game was tied at 54 with 7 minutes to play.  Kentucky fans may not like to hear this, but the officiating was very much in Kentucky’s favor for most of the second half.
  • Texas Tech/Stephen F. Austin:  SFA led by 3 at the half and both teams played good defense in the first half.  Texas Tech guard, Keenan Evans, scored 19 points in the second half to lead Tech to its win.
  • Houston/San Diego St.:  San Diego St. has 4 players who look as if they can scratch their ankles without bending at the waist; they are long and skinny.  The game was decided when a buzzer-beater did not drop, and Houston moves on…

[Aside:  Players wearing “man buns” seem out of place.  It makes them look more like team managers than it does players.  When I see it, I wonder if they have done their hair that way as an homage to their mother.  But that’s just me…]

[Another Aside:  Houston has 4 players on the roster whose name ends in “Jr.”  I looked at the official roster and learned that of the 4, only Galen Robinson, Jr. is actually a junior at Houston.]

  • Alabama/Va.Tech:  This would have been far more interesting as a football game than as a basketball game.  The game was close so there was some reason to watch.  Neither team played effective defense.  Alabama played much better in the final 5 minutes of the game and that decided it.
  • Buffalo/Arizona:  Buffalo was the better team for the first 10 minutes and the Bulls led by 2 at the half.  The Buffalo quickness produced a 13-point lead with 9 minutes to play in the game and soon after that, it sure looked to me as if Arizona just quit.  Arizona was bigger and stronger, and it made no difference.  Arizona under Sean Miller has underachieved in the NCAA tournament in recent years, but this performance was nothing short of embarrassing.
  • Michigan/Montana:  The first 5 minutes of this game produced a week’s worth of bad shots by both teams – or so I thought.  In the second half, Montana went 10 minutes and 7 seconds without scoring a point and some of the shot selections in that period might be considered felonies in some jurisdictions.  Michigan “survived and advanced” which is what they need to do in a single elimination tournament, but they sure did not look good doing it.
  • Florida/St. Bonaventure:  The first half produced a lot of running and frenetic motion on the floor but not a lot of points.  The game was really no contest in the second half; the Bonnies just ran out of gas and Florida won handily.

It is hard to say which teams looked the best yesterday because some of the really good teams had no meaningful opposition.  Rhode Island, Loyola, Buffalo and Alabama all played hard for the full game yesterday.  Kansas and Kentucky are scary in terms of athleticism.  Villanova and Duke were surgically efficient.

However, it is easy to point to Arizona as the team that looked the worst yesterday.  Deandre Ayton is clearly their best player – and may indeed be the overall #1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft – and somehow the team found ways to keep him from getting the ball on offense.  I said above that it looked to me as if the team quit in the second half; in addition to that, they played dumb basketball while they were still trying.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment recently in the Seattle Times about a new degree program offered at a university in Switzerland.  College coaches and athletic directors have taken notice…

“Switzerland’s Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts will offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in yodeling, starting in the 2018-19 academic year.

“So what’s next, a Lit minor in ‘Old Yeller’?”

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



Let The Games Begin …

I wonder if any of the coaches of highly seeded teams that will tip off today in the NCAA tournament will remind his team to “Beware the Ides of March” lest they be upset.  I also wonder how many of his players would get the reference if this admonition was presented to the team.

Verne Lundquist will not be calling any of the games this year for the first time in a long time.  CBS Sports has moved the team of Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel up a notch to take the #2 slot in their announcing rotation previously headed up by Lundquist.  Long-term readers here know that I have always enjoyed the Eagle/Spanarkel tandem; so, while I am sad to know that Verne Lundquist will not be there, I am also glad to see the “new guys” get a promotion.  Eagle and Spanarkel – along with Allie Force as a sideline reporter – will start their coverage this year on Friday afternoon with the Purdue/Cal St.-Fullerton game.

The lead announcing team for the Tournament – the folks who will call the Final Four games and the Championship Game down the road – is the same as it was last year.  Jim Nantz will do play-by-play with Bill Raftery and Grant Hill providing commentary and Tracy Wolfson handling the sideline duty.  This has been an excellent announcing crew for the past couple of years and I am glad to see that the network mavens have not chosen to make a change simply for the sake of making a change.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) is a trade group that represents and promotes the casino gaming industry.  I mention that because they have a vested interest in proclaiming some of the numbers I will cite here.  According to the AGA, Americans will wager $10B on the 2018 NCAA Tournament.  That is a whole lot of cheese even when you consider that there are 67 games involved.

The AGA also says that it estimates $300M of that wagered money will flow through the Nevada casinos where sports wagering is legal.  In case the batteries on your calculator are dead, that means 3% of the money will be wagered legally and 97% will be wagered “illegally”.  Lumped into all of that “illegal” wagering are all of the Bracket Pools that are constructed and conducted around the country.  [Aside:  I mean the ones that are always won by Gladys in HR as I noted in my rant two days ago.]  It makes no sense to get bogged down in the numbers themselves here except to note that there will be lots of money bet on the Tournament in ways that are not sanctioned by the laws on the books.

Again, according to the AGA, approximately two-thirds of the states have extant laws that make it illegal to participate in sports pools including Bracket Pools.  I seriously doubt that the State Police and State Prosecutors will be swooping in to arrest Gladys in HR and the people who organized every Bracket Pool in those 30+ States; but technically, all those people are “lawbreakers”.

Every person reading this has either been a part of a Bracket Pool or knows someone who has been.  All of those people are not hardened criminals despite their behavior here – even if they have repeated this behavior every year for the last 20 years.  This situation simply makes it clear that these laws are ineffective and out of touch with the reality of human nature.

One reaction to all this could be:

  • Well, since no one is ever arrested or prosecuted for these “crimes”, the laws on the books are harmless.  Let well enough alone.

I prefer to look at the situation through a different lens:

  1. The same – or companion – laws that make Bracket Pools illegal also make it illegal for lots of folks to wager on the basketball games themselves.  Like the laws regarding Bracket Pools, that does not prevent that behavior; it simply drives it underground to illegal bookies and/or offshore Internet sportsbooks.  If the Truth In Advertising laws were applied to the laws that forbid sports wagering on individual games, those laws should be labeled “The Local Bookies’ Full Employment Acts”.
  2. Simply because millions of people choose to participate in Bracket Pools recognizing that – technically – those pools are against the law, it breeds a disrespect for the extant laws.  If the citizenry is expected to honor and respect the laws, there should not be silly laws on the books that are routinely ignored by tons of people for whom there are no consequences.  In those situations, either enforce the law(s) or change them.

I am not a member of the AGA; moreover, I am suspicious of statistics tossed out there by trade associations simply for the fact that they have an axe to grind.  In this case, I do not have to believe their stats are completely accurate to know for certain that there are lots of good folks out there who are going to be “lawbreakers” as soon as the first game of the Tournament begins just after noon (EDT) today.  Like Gladys in HR – who will win many of the Bracket Pools out there – these folks are not hardened criminals.

Recently, I cited a comment from Memphis basketball coach, Tubby Smith, who decried all the transfers made by athletes.  His point was that as soon as things did not go the way the athlete expected, they simply transferred schools; Smith called that quitting and said the system encouraged/taught the athletes to quit.  Well, that will not be a burr under Tubby Smith’s saddle for now.  Memphis fired Tubby Smith as its head coach earlier this week citing a drop in attendance and “unrest” among the boosters of the program.  Memphis has not made the Tournament in either of Smith’s two years at the school.

Rumor has it that Memphis will try to get Penny Hardaway to take the job there.  Hardaway played at Memphis during his collegiate days and has become a successful high school coach after his NBA career ended.  Time will tell who winds up with the Memphis job, but in the meantime, do not shed copious tears for Tubby Smith.  He will get a payment of $9.7M to stay home and not be the coach at Memphis.

Finally, you will quickly realize that Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle is all in favor of increasing the pace of play in MLB when you read this comment:

“MLB players rejected a 20-second pitch clock. OK. How about a big loudspeaker next to the mound.  After 20 seconds: ‘THROW THE DAMN BALL, MEAT!’   Speed up the game? Shoot relievers out of a bullpen cannon.”

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



Where Angels Fear To Tread …

Even though today is “Pi Day”, I hope not to be irrational in this rant.  Having said that, I am going to tread carefully into an area that I try assiduously to avoid here; I am going to comment on a prominent political figure.

A few weeks ago, the FBI investigation of college basketball was prominent in the news and lots of commentators were tut-tutting about player exploitation and NCAA greed and the venal mess of a system that has evolved around recruitment of top-shelf players and … you remember all that stuff.  Amid all that sound and fury, President Obama said that the current NCAA system for college basketball is:

“… not a sustainable way of doing business.”

First of all, I think it is perfectly sustainable; it has been going on for a while and absent a legal theory in the Department of Justice that says schools are defrauded when a shoe company pays money to a player to attend a specific school – that is the essence of the legal theory behind the FBI probe – there is no reason the current system cannot project to the future.  The event that will make the current system unsustainable would be for the shoe companies to decide to stop the payments to the families of the high school recruits.

President Obama addressed a Sports Analytics Conference hosted by MIT in Boston.   In addition to his statement about unsustainability, he also said:

“[Basketball] needs to create a well-structured [developmental league], so that the NCAA is not serving as a farm system for the NBA with a bunch of kids who are unpaid but are under enormous financial pressure.”

Please note that if the Department of Justice under President Obama three years ago did not start the probe they are continuing today, the kids would be paid – not by the schools but by the shoe companies – and that would alleviate the “enormous financial pressure” that they putatively face.  For the top-shelf high school player who is a year away from being a lottery pick, the payment of $100-150K by a shoe company can tide him over for his year in college; then he can sign his millions-of-dollars guaranteed contract in the NBA.  Let us not lose sight of the fact that the real problem here is not the poor kid who is getting a six-figure tax free payment; the real problem here is the hypocrisy of the schools and the NCAA who pretend that these are “student-athletes”.

On another vector, I have to point out that President Obama is late to the party.  He was the President for 8 years and in those 8 years, there is ample evidence that he was paying attention to college basketball.  He made the “Presidential Bracket Selection” into an annual television program; his brother-in-law was the head coach at Oregon State.  I recognize completely that the President of the United States has lots of things on his calendar every day of the year, but President Obama had 8 years to use his bully pulpit to push for reforms of college basketball – – and he did not.

For those of us out here who have long thought that the NCAA is feckless, hypocritical and corrupt, may I pose this question to President Obama with utmost respect:

  • “Where were you when you could have used the prestige of your office to move the debate here on a positive vector?  Surely, you have not had this epiphany after you left office; you had to know the current system was rotten at the core.”

I am not willing to accept that the time was never right for the Administration to take a position on this matter because President Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, managed to use the NCAA Tournament as a reason to decry the less-than-laudatory graduation rates for “student-athletes” at many of the big time schools that were participating in the tournament.  [Aside:  It always fascinated me that Secretary Duncan never acknowledged how ill-prepared some of these “student athletes” were to be college students and that lack of preparation came out of institutions nominally aligned with the Department of Education.  But that is none of my business…]

I am not here to “trash” President Obama.  Rather, I want to urge him to pitch in and help do something to fix college athletics – basketball and football being the two sports that need the most “fixing”.  If the FBI probe shuts off the money from the shoe companies – via assistant coaches at various schools – to the players and if nothing else changes, the players will be the main victims of the probe.  Is that really the outcome most desired by most people?

The NCAA will take in more than $800M from the basketball tournament this year; they have little motivation to change much of anything so long as that money spigot stays wide open.  The NBA is making plenty of money too; they have no economic reason to change much of anything; if they do make a change, you can be sure that it will not voluntarily be one that costs teams or the league a ton of money.  Change is only going to come from pressure outside the sport – and once the FBI has concluded its probe and potentially some folks are indicted and tried for what the DoJ thinks is fraud and bribery, the FBI will be on to other things.  The FBI is not an agent of change here.

Presidential involvement in college sports goes back to Teddy Roosevelt; no new ground needs to be broken here.  If President Obama holds these ideas in something more than a rhetorical context, I hope he will take the initiative to add his voice and his prestige and his energy to making the system into a better one.  I doubt that he needs to worry about accidentally making it worse; I am not sure it could be much worse.

Finally, the other annual sporting event that happens around this time of the year is the Iditarod.  Here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times giving us a status report from the middle of the race:

“Norwegian mushers were a surprising 1-2 when this year’s Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska reached the halfway point.

“Race-watchers say they’d never seen dogs trained to cross-country ski before.”

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




For far too much of the year, we are subject to essays on Bracketology – the study of how the ultimate NCAA Brackets will be populated.  Now that we know which school is in which slot, I presume that any discussion of the outcomes of the NCAA Brackets would fall under the heading of Bracketeering.  The intended landing spot for today’s rant is somewhere between Bracketology and Bracketeering.

I have to begin with a bit of advice for your office bracket pool; unfortunately, the advice is a bit of a downer.  No matter how much time and effort you put into your understanding of this year’s Bracketology such that you have insights into the ultimate workings of this year’s Bracketeering, you are not going to beat out Gladys in HR who does not know a bracket from broomstick or a basketball from a basset hound.  Here is the good news, however.  If you finish second to Gladys in the office pool, you can claim bragging rights for the simple reason that no one ever sees or hears from Gladys all year long and no one ever goes to HR voluntarily.

As you ponder this year’s Bracketeering, let me give you some advice about the 4 play-in games that will happen tonight and tomorrow night.

  • The winners of those games get to advance to the main bracket of 64 teams.
  • None of those 4 winners will make it to the Final Four.

Everyone – except Gladys in HR of course – knows that a team seeded 16th in its regional bracket has never beaten the team seeded 1st in that same bracket.  Everyone also knows that someday this will happen – just as “Someday my prince will come…”  [ /Snow White].  Could this be the year?  Sure, it could.  Is this going to be the year?  Highly unlikely.  And even if this is going to be the year, you would only have a one in four chances of picking the right earth-shattering upset.  Good luck with that.  The best you can hope for is that if such an upset happens, you did not have that #1 seed advancing all the way to the final game on April 2.

I think this year’s Bracket Pools should have a consolation prize built in.  Anyone who picks all four of the “eight-nine games” correctly should get his/her money refunded.  Those are four inscrutable games; even a crystal ball would not work here; I think you would need to sacrifice a goat and have someone read the entrails to figure those four out.

There are no great college teams this year; that has been evident since late December.  Oklahoma and Arizona St. were both ranked in the Top Five at one point this year.  Here is where they stand today:

  • Oklahoma is a 10-seed and has lost 8 of its last 11 games.
  • ASU is in a play-in game tomorrow night.

So, maybe this is the year to pick two double-digit seeds to make it to the Final Four.  That has never happened; maybe this is the year it will.  Hey, you only live once; it only costs ten bucks to enter the office pool anyway – – and remember, you are going to lose to Gladys in HR no matter what you do.

The way the NCAA Bracket has been populated, we could see Villanova play West Virginia in the Sweet 16.  You can be sure that Villanova coach, Jay Wright, will be wearing a perfectly tailored designer suit on the sidelines.  The big question for that game is this:

  • Will West Virginia coach, Bob Huggins, break out a brand-new West Virginia polo shirt for the game?

If you want to watch a game where the scoreboard lights up, let me give you two possibilities:

  1. UNC/Lipscomb:  They will meet on Friday in Round 1; you know that UNC loves to play fast and that the Tar Heels can score in bunches.  Lipscomb is often in the 80s and it has lost games by giving up more than 90 points a couple of times this season.  The Total Line for this game is 164.  I smell an OVER.  [Aside:  If Lipscomb pulls the unlikely upset here, be ready for a tsunami of “Big Daddy” references.  If you are younger than 40, Google is your friend…]
  2. Kansas/Penn:  They will meet on Thursday in Round 1; you know that Kansas plays fast and has plenty of firepower.  You may not know that Penn has scored in the nineties 4 times this year plus Penn has gone north of 100 points in a game twice.  The Total Line for this game is only 146.5 …

There will be a Geezer Moment on Thursday afternoon when Miami plays Loyola-Chicago in the first round.  Loyola-Chicago won the National Championship in 1963 beating Cincinnati in OT in the Final Game.  Cincinnati had won the National Championship in each of the two previous years.  Since then, Loyola has hardly been a tournament “regular”; they have only been in the field 4 times since 1963.  However, us Geezers can think back to that exciting finish in the Final Game starting Thursday afternoon.  Loyola-Chicago are known as the Ramblers; too bad they could not play Georgia Tech in that first round game…

There is another Geezer Moment that will happen tonight – although this nostalgia is not as uplifting as the return of Loyola-Chicago to the tournament.  There was a time in the 60s and 70s when UCLA dominated college basketball.  No school since then has approached that level of dominance.  Tonight, UCLA will play St. Bonaventure in a play-in game and the winner will slide into the 11th-seed slot in the East Bracket.

  • Sic transit gloria mundi …

The Midwest Bracket is top heavy with Kansas, Duke and Michigan St. all in there.  Similarly, the South looks tough with Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky and Tennessee all there.  The other two brackets seem a bit softer.

If you are looking for potential first round upsets – – in addition to Loyola-Chicago upsetting Miami in a Nostalgia Special, consider:

  • Providence (10) over Texas A&M (7):  Providence played very well in the big East tournament.  If they can carry that over to this week, they could advance.
  • South Dakota St. (12) over Ohio St. (5):  S. Dakota St. as a team shoots just over 40% from three-point range and Ohio St. has a few clunkers on its résumé this year.

One final note about the Selection Committee if I may…  They take a lot of heat every year about the way the put teams in the brackets and the teams they leave out of the brackets.  One of the recurring themes yesterday on sports radio was that the Selection Committee had only one job and it failed to do that.  According to callers – and a host or two – the only thing the Committee is there for is to find the 68 best teams and then put them in the brackets.  Excuse me, that that is pure nonsense.  The Committee has 31 automatic entries to the tournament and they exercise exactly no control over them.  If indeed, the NCAA tournament was populated with the 68 best teams – by whatever advanced analytical methodology you happen to prefer this week – you would not have teams like Penn, Bucknell, Montana, Lipscomb and Georgia St. in the field.

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Airbrush:  An artist’s tool invented by Playboy Magazine to give your girlfriend and inferiority complex.”

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



The Tournament Field Is Set…

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has adjourned for the year leaving us with about 24 hours of moaning and wailing regarding teams that got snubbed – or were poorly placed in the bracket.  I did not see nearly as much college basketball in the late part of the season as I normally do – because I was out of the country for a little over 2 weeks – so I have even less interest in the who got snubbed question than I normally do.  [Aside:  Normally, I do not care about it much at all.]  However, three schools that are often cited as “Snubees” are:

  • Louisville
  • Oklahoma St.
  • USC

With regard to Louisville, one of the arguments made is that every loss suffered by the Cardinals this year was to a team that is in the tournament.  OK; that means they have no bad losses on their résumé; at the same time, Louisville lost 13 times this year meaning they have shown they are not quite as good as a whole bunch of teams already in the field.  Oh yeah, and then there is that recent NCAA decision to strip Louisville of its 2013 championship …

I saw Oklahoma St. lose to Kansas last week and there was no doubt which was the better team on the floor.  Add that showing to the fact that the Cowboys lost 14 games this year and I reach a point where I wish them well in the NIT.  [For the record, they play Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NIT later this week.]

USC did finish second in the PAC-12 and lost 11 games for the season – which is not great, but it is better than the records posted by Louisville and Oklahoma St.  However, they are only 6-5 since February 1st and they have lost to Arizona and UCLA twice each in that stretch.  The Trojans have the strongest case of the three here – – but it is hardly something that would cause me even a minor case of agita let alone generate outrage to see them out of the tournament.

Since I mentioned the NIT above regarding Oklahoma St., the tournament will involve 32 teams and will incorporate some interesting rule changes.  Presumably, these are rule changes that someone in the NCAA rules hierarchy thinks could be incorporated into college basketball one of these days.  So, let me comment on them.

  • The three-point line will be moved back 20 inches to the distance that it is in International play.  I like this change; I think the three-point line is too close to the basket.
  • The free throw lane will be widened 48 inches to the NBA width.   I have no problem with this, but I also see no need for it.  When the NBA widened its lane – twice – the reason was to keep Wilt Chamberlain from dominating the game as much as he did.  College basketball has not had that problem recently.  Oh, and by the way, the officials never call 3-second violations in the smaller lane so, what is the point here?
  • Games will have four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves.  Bonus foul shots will come on the 6th foul of each quarter.  The timing change means two extra buzzer-beater shots per game.  The number of fouls a team can commit before entering the bonus is doubled.  I do not like this change.
  • When a team gets an offensive rebound, the shot-clock will reset to 20 seconds instead of 30 seconds.  You know what this rule will insure?  There will be more mistakes made by shot clock operators.

Tiger Woods finished second – one stroke back – in the Valspar Championship yesterday.  Golf writers and the folks who count the money for the PGA are ecstatic; Tiger Woods changes the public’s interest in golf in a hugely positive way.  Moreover, the public acts on its perceptions.  Out in Las Vegas, Tiger Woods was listed at 100-1 to win The Masters 10 days ago; this morning, his odds have dropped to 10-1 and according to the Westgate Superbook, more money has been wagered on Woods than on any other player potentially in the field.  Remember, he finished second in the tournament last weekend not first…

It appears that Jake Arietta has found a home in MLB for the next 3 seasons.  Surprisingly, he signed a 3-year deal worth a reported $75M with the Phillies.  I say that is surprising for two reasons:

  1. The Phillies are rebuilding but are not yet “rebuilt”; Arrieta is 32 years old.  It will be interesting to see how he fits in once the Phillies have finished their reconstruction.
  2. Arietta is a Scott Boras client.  The Phillies and Scott Boras have done very little business since the year that JD Drew sat out and played independent league baseball rather than sign with the Phillies.  That was back in the mid-90s…

I have often said here that there is not much NBA stuff that is interesting before March 15th.  Last weekend was an exception to that statement; the Houston Rockets rode a 17-game winning streak into Toronto to take on the Raptors who happened to lead the NBA East at the time.  The result was a 3-point win for the Raptors in a game that did not have the urgency of a playoff game, but it had the same intensity.  There are 1230 NBA regular season games; perhaps, 15 of them are as good as the Rockets/Raptors game was last weekend.  You do not have to be a math major to look at those numbers and recognize that buying season tickets in the NBA is not a good deal.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Dubuque assistant women’s basketball coach Justin Smith was hailed as a hero for rushing up from his seat and slamming on the brakes of the team bus after the driver passed out while going 70 mph on a Kentucky freeway.

“Basketball purists can’t decide whether to call it a textbook fast brake — or getting a much-needed stop.”

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



When Is A “Banned Substance” OK?

Earlier this week, there were reports that middleweight boxer, Canelo Alvarez, had a tainted sample regarding a “banned substance” – clenbuterol.  I have no desire to get all pharmacological here, but clenbuterol is a bronchodilator often used by asthmatics as a treatment; it is also used by body builders as part of their “cutting cycle” wherein they seek to lose weight but not muscle mass.  There is evidently insufficient clinical evidence to say that it is an important part of such weight loss regimens, but the IOC – and more specifically – the sport of boxing has put it on the “banned substance list”.  So, you would expect that Canelo Álvarez would be facing some sort of disciplinary action…

His explanation is that he ate “tainted meat” and that was the causative agent that put whatever it was in his bloodstream that caused the failure of the test.  [Aside:  It is too easy to make a comment here using the name of any of a half-dozen fast food pushers and the phrase “tainted meat”, so I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.]  In fact, it appears as if the boxing mavens have accepted this explanation and have moved on.  Oh, there is one other factor that might have some bearing on the matter:

  • Canelo Álvarez is schedule to fight Gennady Golovkin in Las Vegas on 5 May.  Their first fight was huge; this fight is likely to be the biggest boxing event of 2018 – unless Floyd Mayweather decides to challenge the winner of that fight for a payday sometime in December.

So, let me recap all of this.  Clenbuterol is a “banned substance” but its “banishment” is not nearly as ironclad as it might be were it discovered in the bloodstream of a ham-and-egger who is fighting in a 6-round undercard match.  The fight is big money and big money trumps any sort of drugging/doping test anomaly that might occur in the lead up to the big money fight.

Here is the bottom line:

  • Boxing just threw in the towel – so to speak – on PED usage and PED testing in the sport.

As you may recall, back when it was first revealed that the FBI had been investigating college basketball coaches and shoe companies for paying high school prospects under the table to attend certain schools, I wondered what Federal Law had been broken and even if sent to some part of the US Code I wondered if such crimes warranted years of time and effort by the FBI.  I will not rehash here why I do not think that paying these kids or their families to influence their decision is an egregious form of bribery or fraud but clearly the FBI and the US Attorneys do.  While I was gone, news broke that the FBI had used wiretaps to garner information about players and payoffs and schools and the people involved in these activities.  That information means that the FBI had to go before a judge to get warrants to install those wiretaps and collect whatever information they collected.

Presumably, in their representation before whichever Federal Judge(s) who authorized the warrants, the FBI spelled out which laws they believed were being broken – other than the obvious tax evasion laws by the payment recipients who did not declare it as income.  I guess it is too idealistic for me to wonder why one of those judges did not ask – merely for clarification sake – why the FBI was expending this level of effort and resources on a “crime” that really only affects college basketball teams.  I continue to think that in the Pantheon of Federal Crimes, whatever anyone did here is akin to jaywalking in the world of people who are not hardened criminals.

An ancillary part of the story from about a week ago was the Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller was one of the people whose phone calls were recorded and that he discussed a “bribe”/payment of $100K to guarantee that prized recruit Deandre Ayton did indeed sign on with Arizona.  The school suspended Miller for a game and proceeded to do its own investigation; Miller – of course – proclaimed his innocence; after a one-game absence, Miller returned to the bench to coach the team and the school said that it awaits further movement in the criminal investigation.

There appears to be credible evidence that over the past 2 seasons, there could be improprieties regarding top recruits and “financial emoluments” at schools to include:

  • Duke
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan St.
  • NC State
  • UNC
  • USC

I think the important thing to recognize here is that if all of this FBI generated evidence shows that all these schools were doing “bad things” for all these years, it happened completely outside the scope of NCAA scrutiny.  The organization that has devoted itself to maintaining the ideal of amateurism and fair play and the “student-athlete” did not have any inkling that any of this stuff was going on until the FBI clued them in.  There are two possible reasons for that blindness:

  1. The NCAA enforcers/investigators are feckless incompetents.
  2. The NCAA mavens were too busy counting the hundreds of millions of dollars that the men’s basketball tournament generated every year, and which funded their cushy lifestyle.

Those two choices boil down to incompetence or corruption – but you are free to pick Door Number Three which is “BOTH INCOMPETENT AND CORRUPT”.  It would certainly not bother me one little bit to see those sorts of labels hung publicly and boldly on the NCAA and the fat-cats who live off of it.  But at the same time, when all of this is put into the past tense once and for all, I have to wonder why the FBI spend years and manpower on this instead of investigating things like:

  • Drug dealers/syndicates
  • Doctors who over-prescribe and fraudulently prescribe opioids for Medicare/Medicaid patients
  • Human traffickers
  • Hate groups
  • Cyber criminals.

I guess it is pretty clear why no one would ever think of considering me to be the Attorney General…

Finally, in light of these FBI revelations, I think it is fitting that I close today with a statement made by a man who made his living skirting NCAA regulations with impunity.  The late Jerry Tarkanian was the head coach at UNLV in the Rebels’ heyday and he spent most of his time there in the crosshairs of the NCAA gumshoes.  Here is Tark’s observation about the NCAA rules and how they are honored by schools:

“Nine out of ten schools are cheating.  The other is in last place.”

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



NFL Free Agency – A Wider Angle View

Ever since I got home, it seems as if three hours cannot pass between new “reports” on where Kirk Cousins will play football next year and how much he will be paid to do so.  There are no quotes attributed to Cousins or his agent or any NFL GM, but this seems to be the “story du jour” for about every sports media outlet this week.

Surprisingly, Kirk Cousins is not even the best QB about to become a free agent in the middle of next week.  The best QB on the market will be Drew Brees – unless he and the Saints reach a deal in the next several days.  The simple fact is this:

  • Drew Brees will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when eligible.
  • Kirk Cousins might get to that level one of these days but is not nearly there at present.

The reason Drew Brees is “not interesting” as a storyline is that everyone expects that he and the Saints will reach an accommodation and he will finish his career in New Orleans.  That removes the “speculation factor” and makes story writing a lot less interesting.  I have no idea where Kirk Cousins will play next year except to say it will not be in Washington.  However, there are other players at other positions who will hit free agency next week besides Kirk Cousins and just for the sake of completeness, let me list two players at each position who ought to attract some attention from teams in the NFL.

Two running backs who will be free agents are Deion Lewis and Carlos Hyde.  I prefer Lewis slightly here but both of them can play.

Two tight ends who will be free agents are Jimmy Graham and Tyler Eifert.   Both of these guys have had injury problems in the past; Eifert has only been in 10 games in the past 2 seasons.  However, when healthy, both of them are very good.

Two wide receivers who will be free agents are Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson.  Watkins is a deep threat averaging about 16 yards per catch over his career; Robinson is coming off ACL surgery but was very productive before the injury with Blake Bortles throwing to him.  In 2015, he led the NFL in TD receptions!

Two offensive linemen who will be free agents are Nate Solder and Josh Sitton.  Solder will be 30 years old next year and has been with the Pats for 7 seasons; Sitton will be 32 next year and 2018 will be his 11th season in the NFL.  Both of these guys can play.

            Two defensive linemen who will be free agents are Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.  Ironically, both started their NFL careers with the Jets and both got crosswise with the team.  Both are still in their 20s and both are plenty talented on the field.

Two linebackers who will be free agents are Nigel Bradham and Zach Brown.  Both of these guys should be in demand around the league; I would give preference to Bradham because he is much better in pass coverage than Brown.

Two safeties who will be free agents are Morgan Burnett and Eric Reid.  Reid can play but some of his actions with regard to protests and social issues may make him a bit “scratchy” with some teams.  Burnett is serviceable but not spectacular.  This is not a good year to go searching for safeties on the free agent list.

Two cornerbacks who will be free agents are Malcom Butler and Kyle Fuller.  I have no idea what Butler did to get on Bill Belichick’s s[p]it list for the Super Bowl game but any GM looking to sign Butler will want to know what all that was about.  I also have no idea why the Bears let Kyle Fuller hit the free agent list; Fuller can play.

So, as you read the next tranche of speculation about Kirk Cousins and his new contract wherever, keep in mind that there are other competent free agents out there who are likely drawing significant attention from coaches and GMs…

The Seattle Seahawks traded Michael Bennett to the Philly Eagles yesterday for the equivalent of a ham sandwich.  Bennett is 32 years old and has been known as much for his off-field comments/actions as for his on-field performance over the past year or so.  Having said that, Bennett can still rush the passer, so it is a bit strange to see that all the Seahawks could get in return for him was an unproven WR and an exchange of low-round draft picks.  Reports say that the Seahawks are also going to trade Richard Sherman sometime soon.  Given that he ruptured his Achilles tendon around Thanksgiving of last season, the odds are that the Seahawks will only get a marginal return for him too.

If indeed Sherman leave Seattle during this offseason, that should mark an official end to the Legion of Boom Defense.  Cliff Averill and Kam Chancellor suffered neck injuries last year that might render them medically uncleared to play.  If those two guys plus Bennett and Sherman are gone, the Legion of Boom is likely to morph into the Legion of Bust.

In addition to these player personnel changes for the Seahawks, recall that the team also parted company with its offensive coordinator, its defensive coordinator and 5 other assistant coaches from last season.  But the turmoil in the Great Northwest is not limited to Seattle.  Out on the Palouse in Pullman, Mike Leach is the overseer of the Washington State Cougars football operation.  Since the end of last season, Washington State has lost its defensive coordinator and four other position coaches to other jobs at other NCAA schools.  In addition, the strength coach left the Cougars to take a similar job with the Chicago Bears.  Nevertheless, like Pete Carroll in Seattle, Mike Leach hangs in there as the head guy in Pullman, WA.   Is there something in the water in that part of the world…?

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that sheds light on the costs of hosting the Olympics:

“What more do you need to know about the profligate spending required of an Olympic host nation than that the cost of building the Pyeongchang sliding center – home to luge, skeleton and bobsled – was $110 million.”

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



A Keith Olbermann Sighting?

In the process of doing my “catching-up reading”, I ran across a report in the NY Post saying that Keith Olbermann would be substituting for Michael Wilbon on PTI for two shows at the beginning of march.  Sadly, I did not get to see those episodes; if anyone here did see them, I would be interested to know how they went.

Olbermann and Kornheiser are two broadcasters that I like a lot; they are both intelligent, opinionated, sarcastic and candid.  Because they are so similar, I wonder if they could “co-exist” on a program together.

Keith Olbermann’s political commentaries are extraordinarily polarizing – in large part because he is intelligent, opinionated, sarcastic and candid – and there is no denying that when Olbermann departs for a job he does more than burn bridges behind him.  Nevertheless, I think he is an extraordinary talent and sports TV networks like ESPN or FS1 are better off when he is on the air as opposed to when he is off the air.  I hope that his brief stint on PTI went well enough that it represents a first step on a journey that has him returning to ESPN somehow and in some capacity.

It seems as if NBA Commish, Adam Silver, is thinking about getting rid of the rule that requires a player to be 19 years old and/or 1 year removed from his high school graduation in order to be an NBA player.  If that is the case, that would go a long way toward ending the “one-and-done” players in college basketball.  While John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski might have to alter their recruiting focus a bit, lessening the “one-and-done” population in college basketball is a step in the right direction.  Let me be candid here:

  • There are too many “student-athletes” in college today who are doing a bad job even at pretending to be “students”.
  • They are uninterested at best – and completely unprepared at worst – to derive even marginal benefit from a college level course in anything.
  • They have come to believe – rightly or wrongly – that they are going to make pro basketball their career/life’s work and “the system” forces them to spend a year after high school treading water until their glorious entrance into the NBA.
  • There is little or no hand-holding or ego-massaging in the NBA for young players who are not actually ready to play there.  The NBA is a meritocracy; if the player has over-estimated his skills, the league will be sure that he knows that he is incapable of doing this as his life’s work for more than a brief time.

All the other major sports have paths to professionalism that are better than the one the NBA uses.  Personally, I like the MLB system the best:

  • A player can be drafted straight out of high school and if he wants to sign with the team that drafted him that is hunky-dory.  He forfeits his college eligibility by doing that, but he is on his way to his career goal(s).
  • That same player can choose not to sign with the team that drafted him and choose instead to go to college and play baseball there to hone his skills – – and possibly derive some benefits from collegiate level education.  The reason he may derive educational benefits is that this option will require him to stay in college for 3 years before he can be drafted again.
  • This system works.  Moreover, the MLB system is a quick introduction for the prospect to one of the important life lessons that most high school students never face.  Once a person turns 18, he is legally an adult; adult life involves making lots of choices and choices involve consequences.  This MLB draft system presents the 18-year old prospect with a choice to make with clear and obvious consequences.  It is a good life lesson.

Juxtaposed with the news that Adam Silver might be seeking ways to minimize the “one-and-done” situation in college basketball, we have this commentary by Memphis head coach, Tubby Smith:

“I’ve been in this business a long time, never seen anything like it. We had over 800 Division I players transfer last year. We’re teaching them how to quit. That’s what we’re doing. Things not going well, let’s quit.”

Tubby Smith has a point here; he is much closer to being right than his is to being wrong.  Nonetheless, college coaches are precisely not the people to make that point.  Here are two obvious reasons why they are not the right messengers:

  1. There is an obvious self-interest here on the part of a coach who has recruited a player and then a year later has to go and recruit the player’s replacement because the player is transferring to Whatsamatta U.
  2. College coaches – particularly in football and basketball – do the equivalent of transferring when they leave a job at Disco Tech in order to take a more lucrative/prestigious job at Fugue State.  In fact, Tubby Smith himself did just that leaving Texas Tech to take his current job at Memphis in 2016.

Finally, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Cavaliers suspended guard J.R. Smith for one game because he reportedly threw a bowl of soup at assistant coach Damon Jones.

“Guess you could say he made himself bowl-ineligible.”

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



Spring Training Is In Full Swing

Spring Training is rolling; opening day is only about 3 weeks away.  Looking back at coverage of the early parts of Spring Training I noticed that the formulaic stories made their brief appearances.  For example:

  • Joe Flabeetz showed up in camp this year with an additional 15 pounds.  He pushed extra hard in his workouts over the winter because he felt that he had tired himself out by the time September arrived and the added weight/strength will obviate that problem in 2018.  Meanwhile …
  • Sam Glotz reported to Spring Training looking lean and mean.  He hired a nutritionist over the winter who put him on a probiotic-paleo diet that added lean muscle but took off 15 pounds of useless fat.  Glotz said that he had felt burdened down with that extra weight last year, but he was raring to go in 2018.
  • Hi-ho…

I ran across an article that talked about non-roster invitees to Spring Training. These players are not on the team’s 40-man roster, but they are participating in the major league camp.  Some teams invite their top minor league prospects to participate with the “big guys”; some teams offer those invitations to veteran players who hope to impress the coaches sufficiently to get themselves put on the 40-man roster.  Most of these players will not be involved in Opening Day games but some could get a shot with the big club later in the year.  As I scanned a list of non-roster invitees for various clubs, 5 names jumped out at me:

  1. Taylor Clarke (Arizona):  This name means something to me because he was a pitcher for a traveling youth baseball team here in Northern Virginia and the coach/manager of that team was a former colleague of mine.
  2. Nick Gordon (Minnesota):  I checked to make sure; yes, he is the younger brother of Dee Gordon.  So, if you believe in genetics…
  3. Shohei Ohtani (LA Angels):  Of course, he is the most interesting name on the entire list for obvious reasons.
  4. Fernando Tatis, Jr. (San Diego):  His father is the only player in MLB history to hit two grand slam home runs in the same inning.  OK, son; top that…
  5. Tim Tebow (Mets):  If the Mets’ season goes in the toilet (distinctly possible), I hope they call Tebow up to the majors just to put a punctuation mark on that whole experiment.

Back in the middle of the NFL season, Jerry Jones just about lost his s[p]it when the NFL handed down a 6-game suspension to Ezekiel Elliott and Jones hired a lawyer threatening to sue the other owners who were negotiating a new contract with Roger Goodell.  That showdown never happened but the league and the owners on the Compensation Committee incurred legal costs.  Now Goodell is reportedly going to fine Jones and make him pay those other owners for their legal costs.  It seems to me that this kerfuffle has an obvious end-point.  Various courts have ruled that the Commissioner’s authorities with regard to meting out disciplinary events is wider than a mile.  [/Henry Mancini].  Here is what I would like to see come out of all this:

  • Both Jones and Goodell come out of the whole process looking like spoiled-brat rich kids and that they are forced to go to their rooms without supper until they can make-nice with each other and keep their big yaps SHUT.
  • Not gonna happen…

I know that the answer to this next question is “Money!”, but I will ask it anyway:

  • Why is the Big 10 men’s basketball tournament going to take place in Madison Square Garden?

This still makes no sense.  The closest schools to NYC would be Rutgers and Penn State; neither school is a basketball blue-blood and neither team has a rabid following in NYC.  The Big 10 is a conference that has been around for almost 125 years and it has always had its center of gravity in the mid-west.  For most of those 125 years, Michigan and Michigan State were the easternmost teams in the conference and the drive from NYC to Ann Arbor is more than 600 miles.  If you stop and think about which teams in the Big 10 might put on a great show in the NCAA tournament, you would probably come up with:

  • Michigan State
  • Michigan (maybe)
  • Ohio State
  • Purdue

In prior times, the honor of Big 10 basketball has been represented by:

  • Indiana
  • Wisconsin

So, I ask again, why take the teams to NYC for the conference tournament?  As one option, consider that the Pacers’ home court is Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.  It is in the heart of the Big 10 geography and it seats about 18,000 folks for basketball games.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Former Anchorage Daily News desker Roy Neese, via Facebook, after the U.S. topped Canada to reach the gold-medal match in men’s curling: ‘That’s like the U.S. beating Italy in pasta-making’.”

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



Getting Back To The Keyboard …

Two years after retreating from the Philippines in WW II, General Douglas MacArthur returned.  Two weeks ago, I left this space setting out for a trip to Chile; and today, I have likewise returned.  General MacArthur had a much more difficult time of it having to drive back the land and sea forces of the Empire of Japan to return to the Philippines; all I had to do was to endure a 9-hour overnight flight from Santiago to Atlanta and then a 5-hour layover in Atlanta before connecting to get home.  Nonetheless, like general MacArthur, I can proclaim that:

  • “I have returned.”

When I left, the sports menu seemed to be dominated by pretty meager stuff.  The NBA All-Star Game was about to happen, and the Winter Olympic Games were still ongoing.  I care not at all about either of those events; so, it did not pain me to take off for a part of the world where I would be totally out of touch with the sports world for most of a couple of weeks.  I have not bothered to check, but I assume that the NBA All-Star Game weekend went off with no hitches to the game itself – probably about 300 – 320 points total in the game – and that the slam-dunk contest continued its decline in interest.  Ho-hum …

Just quickly scanning some NBA scores since the teams returned to real games as opposed to All-Star nonsense, I recall the NBA cognoscenti assuring everyone that the trades made by the Cavaliers at the trade deadline had totally overhauled the team and that the new young athletic teammates surrounding LeBron James would be able to play much better defense than the older/smaller guys the team traded away.  I did not see any NBA action in Chile; I am not sure that anyone there cares about the NBA at all.  However, looking at the game results only, it sure seems to me as if the Cavaliers continue to give up 110 points or more in lots of their games.  Even in the NBA, that is not sterling defensive play…

Speaking of the Cavaliers’ trades at the deadline, Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this to say just before I left:

“NBA media birddog Chris Broussard reports that Thomas ‘felt like LeBron talked down to him when he was there.’ Thomas is 5-feet-9; LeBron 6-feet-8. How could James help himself?”

Good question …

We are about 10 days away from the time when NBA games start to become meaningful.  The idea is for teams to make the playoffs – if they have not already committed themselves to tanking a season or two to rebuild their roster(s).  So, for the last month or so of the regular season, teams will be expending max effort in just about every game; no one can look at a typical NBA game in December and think that is the case.

NBA games to this point in the season are more like concerts than athletic events.  There is a light show and lots of noise; there are distractions to keep the audience occupied during time-outs and half-times.  Go and Google the phrase “red panda basketball halftime” and check out any of the several YouTube links you find there.  When you figure out what that has to do with basketball, let me know.

This is the time of year on the sports calendar when the NCAA earns its keep.  I believe that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is the single best sporting event of the year; staging that event is the only thing that the NCAA does that is laudable; once the tournament gets going, I will have to forego any criticism or mocker of the NCAA until it is over – – unless of course they outdo themselves with outrageousness.  However, in the past couple of weeks, the NCAA demonstrated its fecklessness.  It stripped Louisville of its 2013 National Championship and ordered it to “vacate” 123 wins over several seasons.

In case you have forgotten, Louisville beat Michigan in the final game in that tournament.  So, with Louisville’s title vacated one of two situations obtains:

  1. The losing team – Michigan – is declared the National Champion.  That is the sort of thing that only seems logical in professional ‘rassling…
  2. There was no National Champion that year – meaning that the 67 games played in the tournament that year all meant nothing.

The foundation of the NCAA action here was the sex scandal surrounding players and recruits when an assistant coach was accused of hiring strippers and prostitutes to “entertain” the players and potential recruits.  While that is sleazy enough to get you to think that the folks at Louisville deserve a public spanking, please consider this for a moment:

  • North Carolina kept players eligible for NCAA events by having them take sham courses to keep their grades up.  North Carolina was not punished for that because the school allowed anyone on campus to take the same courses – meaning that the “student-athletes” were not receiving any benefit not available to the student body at large.

So, here is the question for the NCAA:

  • If that assistant coach had “opened up” these strip sessions and these prostitute visits to other members of the Louisville student body, would that have made all of this just a “local anomaly” that the school can deal with in whatever way it sees fit?

Finally, since I cited something from Bob Molinaro above, let me close with another of his observations;

“Some fear that the sexual harassment suit brought against Shaun White will ‘tarnish the legacy’ of the American gold-medal winner in the halfpipe. Really? People actually worry about the legacy of a snowboard jockey? Who knew?”

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