Football Ruminations

All during the “process” that led the NFL to put a second team in the Los Angeles market, I have wondered why those business-smart people thought that was a good idea.  Sports interest is a regional commodity.  In the Northeast, baseball is a focal point in the sports world and college football is “ho-hum” at best.  In the Southeast, the opposite is true.  If I look at what “draws” and what “commands fan interest” in the LA marketplace, here is what I have seen over the past couple of decades:

  • LA Dodgers baseball
  • LA Lakers basketball – – but not LA Clippers basketball
  • USC football
  • UCLA basketball – – off and on.

You can look at that list and simplistically conclude that LA fandom is a bunch of front-runners but I think it is more than that.  The Dodgers have had some lean years but the fans still go to the games; the Lakers have been mediocre or worse for several years now but they are still front-and-center in the LA sports cosmos.  I think that a careful view of the LA sports market would say that Los Angeles is just not into professional football as much as it is other things on the sports menu.  If that is the correct conclusion, then the size of the LA market may be sufficient to sustain one NFL franchise but may struggle to sustain two.  Remember, the Rams and the Raiders both played in LA and both left LA for much smaller markets because the fanbase was not there.

All of that is preamble to a report I read that makes me think that the NFL had better get itself ready for an emergency team transplant; the LA Chargers need to get out of town.  I mentioned earlier this week that last weekend’s crowd at the Chargers/Eagles game was about half Eagles’ fans and that it sounded more like an Eagles’ home game than a Chargers’ home game.  OK, so maybe the tiny stadium venue in a less than convenient location with top-shelf ticket prices kept LA fans at home sitting on their wallets.  Well, TV stats say differently:

  • Last weekend, the Saints/Dolphins game televised from London had higher ratings in the LA market than the Chargers/Eagles game did.

LA sports fans are not at home sitting on their wallets; LA sports fans are sitting at home and paying attention to two mediocre teams playing a game of no direct import on either LA team at a venue 8 time zones away.  To me, that does not sound like a problem that will be solved by playing games in a new stadium…

There is a football situation in Indy that I find interesting.  Andrew Luck has been cleared to practice starting this week and the team says he is on a “pitch-count” in terms of his throws in practice.  Luck continues his recovery from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder.  I have a suggestion for the Colts’ braintrust:

  • Put Andrew Luck on Injured Reserve and do not play him even a single down in the 2017 season.

The Colts are not contending for any championships this year no matter who plays QB.  Even Hollywood would not green-light a script that had John Unitas coming back from the great beyond to take snaps for the Colts and leading that squad to glory.  There is no need to risk further injury – perhaps some permanent impairment – to a franchise quarterback when there is no real potential return for taking that risk.  Moreover, if the Colts play Jacoby Brisset at QB for the season, there are two potential benefits:

  1. Brisset will gain experience and become either a top-flight backup to Andrew Luck starting in 2018 or a valuable trading piece to acquire other assets for the team.
  2. The Colts will lose plenty of games and have a high draft pick that they may be able to flip for multiple draft picks that will allow them to draft several offensive linemen and a solid running back that will protect Andrew Luck once he does come back in 2018 and beyond.

This week’s Colts/Niners game should give the Colts’ braintrust a signal.  The Niners are a mediocre squad at the very best; the game is in Indy.  If the Colts’ braintrust wants to harbor any continued delusions that the Colts can “make some noise” in 2017, then the Colts need to win this game by at least 4 TDs – and maybe 5.

The Titans’ QB, Marcus Mariotta, has a hamstring injury so the Titans were in the market for someone to come in and be the backup to the new starter, Matt Cassell.  The team signed Brandon Weeden.  The only thing that tells me is this:

  • Brady Quinn’s agent was out of town and did not respond to voicemail.

The Raiders lost QB, Derek Carr for 2-6 weeks with a fracture of the transverse process on one vertebra.  That makes EJ Manuel the starter and Connor Cook the backup.  The Raiders saw what Connor Cook provided at the end of last season; I suspect that the team is not thrilled to know he is one snap away from being “the man” once again.  If they go shopping in the free-agent QB market, the pickings are slim but they should definitely avoid falling into the trap of “looking for a guy who knows the system”.  That might lead the Raiders to consider JaMarcus Russell or – even worse – Todd Marinovich.

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

“South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen became the seventh golfer — and the only active one — with runner-up finishes in all four majors when he came in second at this year’s PGA Championship.

“He still earned $784,000 in prize money — and future Bills Super Bowl tickets.”

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

 

 

MLB Playoff Predictions 2017…

Before we begin today, let me tip my cap to Broderick Crawford for making this date memorable…

Back at the end of March, I predicted the outcome of the MLB regular season.  I shall revisit those predictions here simply to provide some context to the forthcoming predictions for the MLB Playoffs that are underway.

  • I picked the Red Sox and the Indians to win their divisions – and they did.
  • I picked the Astros to finish second to the Rangers in the AL West.  The Astros won the division in a walk and the Rangers finished below .500.  I did have the Astros in the playoffs as a wildcard.
  • I picked the Nats, Cubs and Dodgers to win their divisions – and they did.
  • I had the Mets as the NL wildcard team and that was not even close.

Those of you who have been reading these rants for a while will look at the description of the predictions above and think that it is more than a tad unusual for me to be so accurate.  And so, in order to present a full picture of the predictions from March 30, 2017, here are some other predictions that did not turn out nearly as well:

  • Blue Jays to finish second in the AL East
  • Tigers to finish second in the AL Central and Twins to finish fourth.
  • Giants to finish second in the NL West.
  • D-Backs and Rockies categorized as “after-thoughts”.

Since those predictions came to you for free, you should have known immediately what they were worth.  The same goes for the prognostications that follow here.

We know that the Yankees will advance to play the Indians in the AL based on their win over the Twins last night at Yankee Stadium.  Tonight, I believe that the D-Backs will win their play-in game over the Rockies and set the bracket in the National League.

What I would prefer to see in the World Series is an encore performance from last year.  No one who is a baseball fan could have been bored or disinterested in last year’s World Series.  Even without the story lines of each team going long periods of time without a championship, the games themselves were more than interesting and the seventh game was as good as it could get – – unless you were an Indians’ fan.  So, if I could wave a magic wand and start the Playoffs with the World Series matchup that I want, it would be the Cubs and the Indians.

Other World Series pairings that I would find very interesting from the point of view of a baseball fan:

  1. Red Sox/Nats:  How could you not like Chris Sale versus Max Scherzer?
  2. Red Sox/Dodgers:  How could you not like Chris Sale versus Clayton Kershaw?
  3. Indians/Dodgers:  Hottest team in MLB versus the best team in the National League

Here is how I think things will proceed up to the World Series:

  • I like the Astros to beat the Red Sox in the AL Division Series.  There are a bunch of really good young players on both of these teams and this should be a great viewing experience for fans.  Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are going to be around for a long time and they are fun to watch.
  • I like the Indians to beat the Yankees simply because they are the better all-around team with a better pitching staff.  Oh, and since I mentioned young players who are fun to watch above, please let me remind you that the Indians’ Francisco Lindor is also an outstanding young talent.
  • I like the Dodgers to beat the D-Backs in the NL Division Series – – but I add here that this is my least confident prognostication.  If the D-Backs find a way to beat Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 here, I think the Dodgers are in deep yogurt.
  • I like the Cubs to beat the Nats and I think that Kris Bryant will continue his hot hitting to lead the Cubs to this series win.  Too much will be made of the story line that both Bryant and Bryce Harper are from Las Vegas and that ties into the mass shooting there.   This is a baseball series, folks; it is not social commentary.

Moving on, the best baseball viewing experience for October 2017 will be the series between the Indians and the Astros.  Up until about August 1, the Astros were the best team in the AL; then the Indians caught fire.  These are two very good rosters with two very good managers.  This series ought to be top-shelf.  I like the Indians to win this series and my strong preference would be for it to go 7 games…

While my preference would be for the Cubs to go back to the World Series against the Indians, I cannot take them in a series against the Dodgers.  [Aside:  If, however, the D-Backs pull the upset in the NLDS, I like the Cubs to prevail.]    My crystal ball says that the Dodgers and the Indians will be the last two teams standing.

The last time the Dodgers won it all was in 1988 – almost 30 years ago.  That was the “Kirk Gibson Series” that every baseball fan knows about.  The last time the Indians won it all was in 1948 – almost 70 years ago.  That Indians’ team had some fine players on the roster even though some of the names have receded in the memories of baseball fans:

  • Gene Beardon
  • Lou Boudreau
  • Larry Doby
  • Bob Feller
  • Joe Gordon
  • Bob Lemon
  • Dale Mitchell
  • Al Rosen

My prediction for 2017 is that the Cleveland Indians win it all and the city celebrates for the month of November ignoring completely the ineptitude of the Cleveland Browns.

Finally, I ran across an interesting baseball stat from 2017 involving a player on a team that finished last in its division and won less than 70 games.  Joey Votto played in all 162 games for the Cincinnati Reds this year; he reached base in 150 of those games.  He led the NL in OBP at .454 and led the league in OPS with 1.032.  If he does not get a significant number of votes for NL MVP, the voters are not paying attention.

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

 

 

Last Weekend In Football

Last weekend was my first football binge-watching event of the season; it did not take me long to get back into the groove.  The plan for today is to provide some impressions of what I saw – and what I read about – in college football and NFL football.  I’ll start with college football.

LSU paid Troy to come to Baton Rouge to be the “Homecoming Opponent”.  Troy won the game and that did not make for much of a celebration in Tiger-land.  When the LSU folks fired Les Miles, I said that they may be a bit delusional about their expectations for achievement for their football team.  Their new coach, Ed Orgeron, is now feeling the heat.

Washington State and Luke Falk are for real.  They beat USC in a very close game and the Washington State defense played a major role in the win.  That is not a traditional strength shown by Mike Leach-coached teams, but it was on display over the weekend.

Something very strange is happening in Tallahassee.  Florida State struggled to win a game that prevented the Seminoles from starting 2017 with an 0-3 record.  Moreover, the team they struggled to beat was Wake Forest.  Yes, I know they lost their #1 QB to injury early on, but still…

Georgia is a very good football team.  They went to Knoxville and they dominated Tennessee in every phase of the game.  Tennessee coach, Butch Jones, has complained in the past that his team has not gotten the attention and recognition it deserves.  After two weeks where the Vols barely beat UMass and then got stomped by Georgia, my guess is that he would like to see the spotlight aimed elsewhere.

The Oklahoma St./Texas Tech game was close and exciting.  I was very impressed with the accuracy of Oklahoma St. QB, Mason Rudolph, particularly on throws where he had to drop the ball into receivers’ hands over the hands of defenders.

In Wisconsin’s win over Northwestern, the Badgers’ defense racked up 10 sacks of the QB.  Somehow, this was still a one-score game in the 4th quarter until one of those sacks also produced a safety.

Ole Miss had played Alabama tough the last several years and had upset the Crimson tide a couple of times.  Not this year; the final score was 66-3 and the score reflected the difference between the two teams.  This was an old-fashioned beatdown.

Division III Linfield College beat Whitworth last week 38-9 taking the Wildcats’ record in 2017 to 2-1.  Remember, the last time Linfield had a losing season in football was in 1956.

Moving up a level to the NFL, I noticed the crowd for the Eagles game against the Chargers in LA.  It looked to me as if there were at least as many fans wearing green jerseys as there were Chargers’ fans.  In case you were sleeping through geography class, it is more than a quick trip around the corner to get from Philly to LA.  That ought to be a warning signal for the NFL and its owners.

Los Angeles is a huge market when you measure all the demographic stats.  The problem is that it is not a great pro football market and putting 2 NFL teams in that market is not a good long-term idea.  In a more generic sense, the inability of the Chargers to sell out its 30,000-seat bandbox stadium is another example of the public’s unwillingness to enjoy the “NFL stadium experience”.  In the past, when a new stadium appeared in a city, fans filled it; the Rams/Chargers will inhabit new digs in a couple of years and we shall see how that goes.  The same applies to the Raiders as they make their long and protracted march to Las Vegas.  The Chargers’ attendance woes are not unique; there is a relatively new stadium for the Niners in Santa Clara and it has lots and lots of empty seats on a regular basis.

Before the start of the Ravens/Steelers game in Baltimore, the PA announcer asked the crowd to join in a moment of silent prayer “for kindness, for unity, for equality and for justice for all Americans”.  The Ravens as a team took a knee for that silent prayer and the fans deluged that act with “Boos”.  The teams then stood for the National Anthem.

  1. Since when is it even marginally acceptable to “Boo” a prayer?
  2. Why were those doing the booing opposed to either kindness or unity or equality or justice?

The Dolphins lost a game in London to the Saints.  OK, move on to the next game…  Except, the Saints pitched a shutout in that game.  Yes, the Saints’ defense pitched a shutout.  That ought to make it a tad more difficult for the Dolphins simply to move on to the next game.

The Bengals came to life against the Browns – as indeed, most teams come to life against the Browns.  Andy Dalton had been the target of bile and scorn from Bengals’ fans but his stats last weekend had to be acceptable to just about anyone:

  • He completed 17 of his first 18 passes.
  • He finished the day 25 for 30 for 264 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.

Last week was not Deshaun Watson’s first start in the NFL but it was his coming-out party.  The Texans beat the Titans 57-14 and Watson merely threw 4 TDs and scored another running the ball.

The Raiders lost to the Broncos in Denver but much more importantly they lost Derek Carr to a back injury that could keep him on the sidelines for 2-6 weeks.  Coaches like to talk about testing the character of a team; the Raiders are about to have their character tested.  Backup QB, EJ Manuel, did not look as bad as he has in the past but that is about all I can say positively about his performance.  Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch looks to me as if he still has plenty of rust to shake off; to me, it seems as if he is running “analytically” and not “instinctively”.  The Raiders will need the “old Beast Mode” in the next several weeks.

With the regular season 25% over, the Jets and the patriots have the same record at 2-2.  Who saw that coming?  The Jets won for the second week in a row beating the Jags in OT.  Meanwhile the Pats lost at home again and the Pats’ defense was about as effective as the Maginot Line once again.  No, I do not understand what is going on there.

The Bills beat the Falcons but a fumble recovered by the Bills for a TD certainly looked to me like an incomplete pass.  Whatever…

The Rams beat the Cowboys with a second half rally.  The Rams continue to put points on the board and this week the Rams’ defense showed up in the second half to dominate the game.  Rams/Seahawks game this week should be a good one…

NBC had a great introductory song a while back when Faith Hill did the singing.  The current song is awful at the very best.  If ESPN can go back in time to resurrect Hank Williams Jr. to introduce MNF, can I please ask the execs at NBC – ever so politely – to get the old Faith Hill song back on SNF?

The Chiefs/Redskins game on MNF last nighthad to be the best MNF game so far this year.  Some future games on Monday nights could be very good – – e.g. Skins/Eagles and/or Broncos/Chiefs and/or Falcons Seahawks – – but the game last night will be the season standard for all of the Monday night games.

Finally, with the concocted competition of golf’s President’s Cup out of the way, let me share a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald about golf on TV:

“There is online video of a golfer in Sweden being chased off the course by an angry moose. I’m planning to skip the next Ryder Cup to re-watch this video.”

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

 

 

Football Tidbits…

Earlier this season, the Rams beat the Niners 41-39 in a Thursday Night Football game that I did not see because I was out of the country.  However, I have to imagine that it was a fun game to watch – – unless you are an aspiring NFL Defensive Coordinator in which case you probably hid under your couch sometime in the third quarter.  Then, as part of my “catching up” process, I found this statistical tidbit:

  • Since 1940, only 40 teams have scored 39 points or more in an NFL game and lost that game.
  • On average, that only happens about once every other year.

Some of the previous instances where a team offense had a highly proficient day but the team still came away with a loss due to a complete no-show by the defensive unit include:

  • In 1963, the Raiders beat the Oilers 52-49.  The Oilers held the record for the most points scored in a losing effort for 52 years.  Then …
  • In 2015, the Saints beat the Giants by the same 52-49 score.  Now the Oilers – repositioned at the Titans – share the honor with the Giants for most points scored while still managing to lose a game.
  • In 2004, the Bengals beat the Browns 58-48 indicating that both teams probably decided to give up tackling for Lent in 2004.  [Yes, I know.  Lent does not occur during football season.  Work with me here…]
  • In 1966 and in the highest scoring NFL game ever, the Skins beat the Giants 72-41.

In this context, the Niners’ defensive debacle from a few weeks ago appears merely to be awful but not historically awful.

Here is another semi-interesting statistical tidbit related to sports in Cleveland:

  • In 2017, the Cleveland Indians won 22 consecutive MLB games.
  • From 2012 until today, the Cleveland Browns have won a total of 20 NFL games.

As of this morning, there are 5 teams in the NFL that have opened the season with records of 0-3.  I was wondering if any of them had a significant chance of “turning things around” and getting themselves into the “playoff hunt”.  Let’s look at them in alphabetical order:

  1. Cincy:  The Bengals are 31st in the league in yards per game, dead last in the league in points per game (11.0) and 30th in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage.  The Bengals’ defense ranks 7th in the league in yards per game allowed.  So, maybe they can “right the ship” …?
  2. Cleveland:  The Browns are 15th in the league in yards per game on offense and 11th in the league in yards per game allowed on defense.  That does not sound like a team in a “playoff hunt” but it sounds better than an 0-3 record.
  3. LA Chargers:  They only score 16 points per game and rank 28th in the NFL running the ball.  The overall defense looks good statistically – – except that they allow opponents to run for 146.7 yards per game.  No wonder they don’t score a lot; the offense is on the sidelines a lot.
  4. NY Giants:  The team just does not score points; they rank 31st in the league in points per game (12.3).  The defense ranks 16th in the league today but the way the offense is playing the defense is on the field way too much.  The team has some talent on defense, but they cannot run the ball and have difficulty protecting the QB.
  5. San Francisco:  Sorry, I cannot see this team doing much of anything other than losing most of their games for the rest of 2017.

As noted below, the Browns and the Bengals play one another this week so one of them will leave the ranks of the winless by Sunday night – – unless the game is a tie…

For those who are into questions of “Where is he now?”, I read that Trent Richardson just signed on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL.  The Roughriders are 6-6 so far this year and have 6 games left in the regular season.  Given the strength of the Western Division of the CFL as compared to the Eastern Division, they will have to scramble for a playoff slot.

Here are brief comments on a quartet of college football games this weekend:

  1. Clemson at VA Tech:  The line is Clemson -7.  Clemson is a big step up in terms of class of opponent for the Hokies but home field advantage in Blacksburg is a big deal.
  2. Miss St. at Auburn:  The line is Auburn -9.  State is tough in Starkville and not-so-tough on the road; Auburn is anything but a model of consistency.  Venue call…
  3. Miami at Duke:  The line is Miami – 7; Duke is +225 on the money line.  I think Duke has a shot to win this one outright.
  4. USC at Wash St.:  The line is USC – 6.5.  Two very good QBs on display here.  This game should be close all the way.

To maintain the symmetry of the universe, here are brief comments on a quartet of NFL games this weekend:

  1. Raiders at Broncos:  The line is Denver – 2.5.  Two good teams meet in the best game on the dance card for the weekend.  Looks like a venue call to me…
  2. Giants at Bucs:  The line is Tampa – 3.  The Bucs stunk it out last week; the Giants have stunk all season long.  Get out the air freshener.  Bucs send Giants record to 0-4…
  3. Titans at Texans:  The line is Titans – 2.5.  Important game for AFC South race, this should be a low-scoring/defensive game.  The Total Line is 44; I don’t see where a 45th point would come from…
  4. Bengals at Browns:  The line is Bengals -3.  This is the first round of the “Battle for Ohio”.  If you are going to root for a tie so neither team gets a win, you might as well also root for a scoreless tie.  It would be a fitting result…

Finally, earlier this year, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this comment about a Seattle Mariners’ game:

“The Mariners committed five errors in one inning?

“Everybody knows there’s no I in team, but who knew there were five E’s in Seattle?”

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

 

 

From The Penthouse To The Outhouse

Earlier this week, a former colleague who has been reading these rants from the time before they ever hit the Internet sent me an e-mail “welcoming me home”.  He also included a link to an article from Golf Digest which he pointed out confirms my repeated observations that the golf media’s obsession over the years with Tiger Woods continues.  He said they are “like crack addicts who just cannot quit their habit.”  The theme of this article is that despite Woods’ “year from Hell”, he is still golf’s biggest draw.

As confirmation of that general idea, there was broad coverage and commentary from the golf media when Tiger Woods “announced” that his practice regimen has now been expanded to chipping and putting as opposed to previous times when he could only putt.  Slow down and let me catch my breath there, Hoss…

However, it was this comment in my friend’s e-mail that got me thinking:

“Tiger and OJ are the two biggest ‘riches to rags’ stories ever.”

First of all, while both Tiger and OJ indeed fell from celebrity status to anathema status dramatically, that is where the similarity ends.  Tiger Woods seeks – and may someday attain – the ability to compete in his sport at a high level; OJ never did that once he retired from football.  Secondly, while Tiger Woods’ societal and familial behaviors are not what I tried to point my children toward, his actions are downright angelic as compared to the events related to OJ’s downfall.  Moreover, I think there are some other “riches to rags” stories to add to my friend’s list.  [To be fair, I have expanded beyond merely sports for some of my examples.]:

  1. Lance Armstrong:  He dominated his sport similarly to the way Tiger Woods and OJ dominated theirs.  The major difference here is that cycling is not nearly as popular in the US as is golf or football.
  2. Bill Cosby:  He was once considered a great role model as a father and considered to be an iconic entertainer.  Today, not so much …
  3. John Edwards:  He sought the Democratic nomination for President of the US at least twice and was the Democratic nominee for Vice President once.  I have no idea what he is doing today – but it is a far cry from running for Vice President.
  4. Michael Jackson:  From the stature of “King of Pop”, he managed to descend to the level of “pervy/creepy guy” at best.
  5. Joe Paterno:  To my mind, this is the saddest case on the list.  He never did any of the vile things that brought on his downfall; nonetheless, his reputation was destroyed.
  6. Michael Vick:  His story is interesting because he “rebounded” to some extent from his “fall from grace” to the point where he returned to the NFL and is now a TV analyst for NFL football.

And that list leads me to comment on yesterday’s action by Louisville to put Rick Pitino on “unpaid administrative leave” as the FBI investigation of bribery and fraud related to college basketball continues.  This is not the first encounter that Pitino has had with “scandal” but this is the first one that could put his school on the wrong side of an NCAA sanction that might affect the “bottom line” at Louisville.  Based on my comments yesterday about this investigation and the arrests that have been made and the following comment, I must confess that I do not understand where all of this is coming from or where it is headed:

  • The statement made yesterday by the prosecutor in charge of all this said that some people participated in some illegal/fraudulent activities that delivered highly recruited players to specific schools/teams.  It did not say that the schools/teams did any of those things; it was a cabal of agents and shoe company execs and assistant coaches.  So, if the prosecutor does not think the head coach(es) who received these top-shelf recruits was/were part of the illegal/fraudulent activities, why put the coach on “unpaid administrative leave” which is tantamount to firing him?

Clearly, I am missing something here that is at the core of this matter.  I still do not understand what laws were violated nor do I understand how this whole matter is washing over various folks in the college basketball world.  There is a story this morning speculating as to how this might affect Bruce Pearl at Auburn since one of the Auburn assistant coaches was arrested yesterday.  Suppose for a moment that Josh McDaniels – offensive coordinator for the Patriots – was convicted of a DUI.  Would that endanger Bill Belichick’s driver’s license?

Switching gears, if Highland Park High School (Dallas TX) has a “Hall of Fame”, I think they will soon be inducting two new members.

  1. Clayton Kershaw (Class of 2006) is – at the moment – the highest paid player in MLB.
  2. Matthew Stafford (Class of 2006) is – at the moment – the highest paid player in the NFL.

Finally, since shady dealings in college recruiting are front and center in the news these days, consider this comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News recently:

“An Ohio prep star said on Twitter he’d sign with Ohio State if he got 100,000 retweets.

“Remember football’s simpler days when all it took was a couple of boosters to buy a kid a car?”

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

 

 

The FBI Cracks The Case

From the viewpoint provided from Curmudgeon Central the sports story of the moment must be the arrest of some assistant college basketball coaches and some execs with shoe companies and a few other miscellaneous folks on charges of bribery/fraud/stuff-like-that with regard to high school basketball players and where they might go to college.  Here is a link to one of the online reports about the events involved.

Remember that I have not spent a day of my life in law school and that nothing that follows here ought to be considered as “informed commentary”.  Nonetheless, a couple of things in this story do stand out to me:

  1. This FBI investigation has been ongoing for about 2 years.  I think that is very important because even if everything alleged by the prosecutors in their public announcements can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, these charges do not represent a major threat to the establishment of justice or the assurance of domestic tranquility.  [See the Preamble to the US Constitution.]
  2. The NCAA – an organization whose credibility and standing in the eyes of US sports depends on its ability to assure a level playing field for all its member teams – did not know about these alleged frauds and briberies in the past and did not even know about the FBI investigation for the past 2 years.  Question:  Exactly what do those super-sleuths in the NCAA offices do for a living?
  3. Allegedly, “money men” secretly funneled cash to high school players’ families to assure that the kid went to a school that was aligned with a specific shoe company.  Other than possibly being a violation of the laws related to reportable income for Federal Income Tax purposes, I am not sure that whatever statute was violated here is all that important.

Once the NCAA was informed by the FBI as to what had been ongoing for years, the clueless-to-that point NCAA President, Mark Emmert, had this to say:

“The nature of the charges brought by the Federal Government are deeply disturbing.  We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior.  Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breech of that trust.  We learned of these charges this morning and of course will support the ongoing criminal investigation.”

Let me translate that statement for you:

  • Once again, the NCAA was clueless regarding a major violation of the rules that the NCAA itself created.  It was asleep at the switch – if indeed this is an “extraordinary and despicable breach of trust” between NCAA coaches and student-athletes.

The investigation is not over; the prosecutors have set up a hot-line people can call to add more information and more individual situations to the overall case.  In the end, the prosecutors will send someone or someones up the river for a couple of years; the NCAA will deflect focus on the fact that all this was going on under its collective nose for about a decade or so; college basketball will continue to be the dominant sports story in March of every year; shoe companies will recoil in horror and then find new ways to do essentially the same thing a couple of years from now.  Most importantly, now that these miscreants will have faced justice, the nation’s long national nightmare will come to an end.  Or something like that…

Speaking of recruiting high school athletes to particular colleges, Brad Rock has this comment in the Deseret News recently regarding the decision by ESPN to hold its College Game Day telecast in NYC as opposed to some venue around the country where there might actually be a real NCAA football game:

“Analysts say this could greatly boost recruiting for Julliard’s football team.”

In another story related to college basketball, the reigning champion UNC basketball team will not be visiting the White House for the typical ceremonial time with the President.  At this particular moment when sports news has such an overlap with political news, I am sure that lots of folks will find significance in their absence.  Here in Curmudgeon Central the basis for this inability to pay a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC is pretty simple:

  • The UNC student-athletes cannot possibly afford the time away from their classes and their study time and their term-paper preparations to go somewhere other than to play a basketball game.  There are, after all, only 168 hours in a week…

In another college sports story that resonates well here in Curmudgeon Central, it turns out that Nebraska paid Northern Illinois $820K to come to Lincoln, NE to play the Cornhuskers in an early-season non-conference game.  Nothing to see there; big-time schools do that every year.  The problem in this case is that Northern Illinois did more than show up for the game; Northern Illinois won that game 21-17.  So, it would appear as if the “sacrificial lamb” here was having nothing to do with being slaughtered and chose to ram the “executioner” in the goolies of his nether region prior to exiting the slaughter pen with the $820K in the bank.  Good for the sacrificial lamb…

Finally, I need to change the subject away from the above before I get totally depressed for the day by the disrepute of college sports.  Here is a keen observation by Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian Pilot regarding the return of Maria Sharapova to the pro tennis scene:

“Noise pollution: There’s no danger of me watching Sharapova’s scream queen matches, at least not with the sound on. The Shrieking Violet is as loud as ever. It recalls something the late actor Peter Ustinov said about Monica Seles at Wimbledon in the early ’90s: ‘I’d hate to be next door to her on her wedding night.’”

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

 

 

Catching Up On Football Happenings …

I got to watch my first Monday Night Football for 2017 last night.  I remember reading that ESPN was bringing Hank Williams, Jr. back to do the “opening” of the telecast but I had forgotten that fact until last night.  Frankly, I wish ESPN had forgotten to bring him back.  Or is that just me …?

I enjoyed the close game – it was a one-possession game in the fourth quarter – but the thing that I marveled at was this:

  • Larry Fitzgerald must have found what eluded Ponce de Leon.
  • Fitzgerald recently turned 34 years old.  Most WRs at that age have “lost a step” and if they can continue to play they do so with guile and not pure athletic prowess.
  • Last night, Fitzgerald caught 13 passes for 149 yards and a TD.  He did this – essentially – as the only real threat in the passing game for the Cards.  Two of his catches will be shown on SportsCenter as highlights of the week; you can be sure of that.

In reading a review of last weekend’s NFL activity, I saw mention that the Jags’ performance was sufficiently noteworthy that the Las Vegas oddsmakers had opened the Jags as 4-point favorites on the road against the Jets this week.  Even though the Jets won last week, the Jets are a hot mess and most people recognize that, so why is this noteworthy?

  • Since 2008, the Jags have been road favorites exactly twice – once against the Bengals in 2008 and once against the Colts in 2011.  Recall that 2011 was the year that Peyton Manning sat out the season with a neck injury and the Colts finished with the worst record in the NFL.

As I am trying to catch up on college football happenings, it will surely not surprise anyone to know that I am focused on the “top-tier teams” and I am also focused on the “abyssal plane teams” – the ones that cannot sink much lower.  Consider:

  1. Looking for a bottom feeder or two always requires a glance at the MAC and this year it would seem that Akron, Bowling Green and Kent State could fall to significant levels of disgrace.  Interestingly, this week fans can watch the Akron Zips as they travel to Bowling Green to play the Falcons.  Should be a yawn-fest.
  2. Unless I missed something, I believe UMass is the only team sitting at 0-5 this morning.  That cannot be good.
  3. Oregon St. is 1-3 but when you look at that record you notice that the Beavers have been blown out in all 3 losses and they beat Portland St. – Division 1-AA – by 3 points at home for their only win.  Next, take a look at the upcoming schedule for Oregon St. and see Washington, at USC, Colorado, Stanford as the next four games.  After that, the Beavers get to play two straight road games.  Ouch!
  4. Looking for a bottom feeder always requires a glance at the Kansas football schedule and it does not take long to recognize the potential for abject discredit here.  After an opening win over Southeast Missouri – Division 1-AA – the Jayhawks have lost to 2 MAC teams (both by double digits) and then were blown away by West Virginia.
  5. Looking for a bottom feeder always requires a glance at the Rutgers football schedule and there is also great potential for “stinkitude” here.  The Scarlet Knights are 1-3; the win was a 65-0 blowout over Morgan St. – Division 1-AA.  The three losses were to Washington (at home), E. Michigan (at home) and Nebraska (on the road).  Next up is a home game against Ohio St.; as of this morning, Rutgers is a 29.5-point underdog at home…
  6. Looking for a bottom feeder always requires a glance at the Mountain West Conference and San Jose St. caught my eye there.  The Spartans are 1-3 this year beating Cal Poly SLO – Division 1-AA – in their opener by 3 TDs.  After that, it would seem as if the wheels came off the bus; in the last 3 games – losses to Texas (on the road), Utah (on the road) and Utah St. (at home) – the cumulative score in those 3 games was 171-26.  So far this year, San Jose St. is giving up 46 points per game and one game was against a Division 1-AA opponent.

If you think I am making this next item up, Google is your friend.  There used to be a college football bowl game called the St. Petersburg Bowl.  You should not be surprised to learn that it is contested in St. Petersburg and this year will feature a contest between teams from the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA; those are matchups I never look forward to.  At one point in history, the bowl game sold naming rights and became the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl between 2010 and 2013.  Now the naming rights have been sold again and the St. Petersburg Bowl will be – – sound the trumpets – –

  • The Bad Boys Mowers Gaspirilla Bowl

In case that name is confusing, let me shed a scintilla of light here for you:

  1. Bad Boy Mowers makes zero-turn lawn mowers.
  2. Gaspirilla is not a soft drink; Gaspirilla is a pirate festival celebrated in Tampa each winter and takes its name from a Spanish pirate named José Gaspar who evidently terrorized Florida waters in times past.
  3. What lawn mowers have to do with a pirate festival is not clear to me.
  4. What lawn mowers have to do with Tropicana Field – where the game will be played – is not clear to me either since the stadium has artificial turf.

Now that you know all of that, will you be considering a Bad Boy Mower the next time you need to purchase a lawn mower?  Just asking…

Finally, here is college football related comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Rutgers installed a jacuzzi in its student section. When you watch Rutgers kids frolicking in a hot tub and Wisconsin students chugging beer from cheese-shaped mugs remember: Nebraska joined the Big Ten for the academics.”

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

 

 

I Made It Home …

Sadly, I was “on hiatus” on September 19 which means that I was unable to celebrate “Talk Like A Pirate Day” this year.  Too bad.  Shiver me timbers…

I got back from Portugal realizing that I had missed about a month of football season.  You might think that American football is not widely covered in Portugal and you would be absolutely correct.  Other than scores, I basically knew nothing about what had happened since Labor Day.  I was looking forward to reading some in-depth football stuff and instead I come home to a lot of sturm und drang about National Anthem protests.  I thought that would have been resolved by now – but I was clearly wrong.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Sally Jenkins wrote about the comments by President Trump regarding those protests and how the NFL got it right in terms of its response.  Here is a link to that column; I recommend you read it in its entirety.

In today’s Washington Post, Jerry Brewer praised the way that Roger Goodell steered the league and its teams and the players through what could have been a very divisive weekend.  It is not often that Commissioner Goodell earns any praise at all from Jerry Brewer – – let along high praise.  Here is a link to that column; I recommend you read it in its entirety also.

Anyhow, I would much rather write about football than about anthem protests and/or politics so let me point out that before I left, I presented my pre-season NFL predictions.  Two of them have already come to pass; another surely looks as if it is going to happen and one of them looks to be dead wrong.  And we are less than a quarter of the way through the NFL season…

  • Prediction #1:  The Patriots will not go undefeated.  Got that one right…
  • Prediction #2:  The Jets will not go winless.  Got that one right.
  • Prediction #3:  Colts’ fans should hope the Scott Tolzien Era is mercifully brief.  Looks as if it lasted for all of one game.
  • Prediction #4:  Lions will be looking for a new coach in January 2018.  Well, they just gave Jim Caldwell a contract extension so I guess that one is down the tubes.

About 6 weeks ago, I also predicted that the Phillies would not lose 100 games this year.  As of this morning, they have won 62 games so they need only 1 win in their final 6 games to make that come true.  What I did not foresee then was the total implosion of the Giants and the Tigers; I thought the Phillies would be mortal locks to have the #1 pick in the MLB Draft next summer but as of this morning that “honor” would fall to the Giants and the Phils would flip a coin with the Tigers to see who gets the #2 pick.  Oh, and by the way, the White Sox are only 1.5 games ahead of the Tigers and the Phillies in the bottom rungs of the MLB standings.

Here are some short observations about college football:

  1. Last year, I said that Penn State RB, Saquon Barkley was one of the best RBs in the country.  Last week against Iowa, all he did was to rush for 211 yards and add 94 yards receiving to that total.  He is the real deal.
  2. Oklahoma was rolling along and met up with a Baylor team that had looked like road kill in its early games.  Final score was 49-41 favor of Oklahoma.
  3. After Vanderbilt had beaten Kansas St. to run their record to 3-0 and had only allowed 13 points in those 3 games, someone on the Vandy defense basically said that they were doing to show Alabama what it means to come to Nashville and face the Vandy defense.  Not a smart move because the final score was Alabama 59 and Vandy 0.  Ooops…
  4. Ohio State is 4-1 this year with the loss coming at home against Oklahoma.  The Buckeyes have Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska as their next 3 opponents meaning they should be 7-1 when they host Penn State on October 28.
  5. Two weeks ago, Mississippi State disemboweled LSU by 30 points in Starkville.  Last week, the Bulldogs went on the road and lost to Georgia by 28.  Strange doings in the SEC …
  6. USF is ranked in the Top 25 for now and they beat Temple last week by 36 points.  The interesting stat for that game is that Temple’s rushing attack for the day was a total of minus-4 yards.

I see where the NY Knicks finally found a way to unload Carmelo Anthony.  What they got in return from OKC was Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick.  The Knicks got more than a bag of donut holes in this trade but no one ought to consider that this is an “equal trade” from a talent standpoint.

Finally, just before I left for Portugal, Dwight Perry had this quiz in his column in the Seattle Times.  See if you can get it:

“The 29th annual World Hen Racing Championships were won by a chicken named Cooked It.

The 2017 World Snail Racing Championships were won by a mollusk named Larry.

“So, now that we have your attention … Quick! Name the world heavyweight boxing champion!”

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

 

 

NFL Stuff Before The Season Starts …

The appeal filed by Ezekiel Elliott regarding his 6-game suspension by the NFL is still pending as I write this.  I want to make an observation about this matter before any decision is rendered here and before whatever decision is rendered here is appealed in some other venue.

  • Elliott is suspended 6-games because the NFL set that level of suspension as the standard for involvement in domestic abuse/violence situations.
  • The extant CBA gave the league the power to set that standard and it gave the commissioner the power to be sheriff, judge, jury and executioner in such cases.

Let me be clear.  Domestic violence is intolerable; it should be punished in the judicial system but often the victim can be motivated not to cooperate with prosecutors.  That is a societal problem that is beyond the scope of the NFL.  After the black eye the NFL inflicted on itself with the leniency shown in the “Ray Rice Affair”, they moved to set this stiff penalty and to put it in place.  We can argue if 6 games are too much or too little; once we settle that argument we can decide exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  Here is the problem at the moment:

  • Adam Schefter – a highly respected reporter with a ton of NFL connections – indicated that there was the possibility that Elliott’s suspension could be reduced from 6 games to something less than that.

I have a problem with that even though I have exactly no idea whatsoever if Elliott did what he is purported to have done.  Here is the deal:

  1. If he did what is alleged – and since this is not a legal proceeding, the standard does not have to be the same as would prevail in a courtroom – then Elliott needs to sit out 6 games.
  2. If he did not do what is alleged – and the standards are not those of a courtroom in that case either – then he needs to sit out 0 games.
  3. The thing about “zero tolerance policies” is that they are like the power button on your computer.  It is either “ON” or it is “OFF”.  There is no setting akin to “HALF-ON” or “SORTA-OFF”.

If the arbitrator hearing the case – or Roger Goodell subsequent to whatever his findings may be – decides to concoct a way to “split the difference” here, I think that would be a travesty.  If the NFL is convinced that he did it; he should sit for 6 games and there should be no temptation at all to increase that number due to other circumstances.  If the NFL is not convinced that he did it, he should start the season at RB for the Cowboys.  That’s it…

With the real NFL games about to happen, let me share a couple of streaks that exist in the NFL that may or may not be extended in 2017.  Before I start, remember that here in Curmudgeon Central we focus on negative records and streaks of futility.  I am not going to talk about the extension of the Patriots domination of the AFC East other than to mention that the odds on the Pats winning that division title as of this morning are 1 to 10.

  1. Longest streak without a winning season:  That “honor” belongs to the LA Rams and the last time they finished above .500 was in 2003.  From 1999 to 2003, the Rams were “The Greatest Show On Turf”.  In the 13 seasons since 2003, their record is 68-139-1.  I think this streak will continue through the 2017 season…
  2. Longest streak without winning a division: Technically, this “honor” belongs to the Cleveland Browns whose last division championship was in 1989.  There is a mitigating circumstance here, however; remember that the Cleveland Browns did not exist for 3 seasons in the time between 1989 and now.  Therefore, I think there are two teams worthy of mention here.  The Detroit Lions’ last division championship was in 1993.  The Browns futility will indeed continue through the 2017 season.  The Lions came close last year losing the division title on a tie-breaker; however, I do not think they will win the NFC North this year.
  3. Longest streak without making the playoffs:  Surprising to me, neither the Browns nor the Lions hold down this “honor”.  The team with the most severe playoff drought is the Buffalo Bills whose last playoff appearance was in 1999.  I doubt the Bills will make the playoffs in 2017.
  4. Longest streak without a playoff victory:  The infamy here belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals whose last playoff win came in 1991.  I thought the Browns also owned this record but the Browns won a playoff game in 1994 in the time Bill Belichick was the coach there.  The Bengals have been in the playoffs 7 times in the last 14 seasons under Marvin Lewis – and they have been “one-and-done” all 7 times.  I do not like the Bengals’ chances of making the playoffs this year let alone winning a playoff game, but they have a better chance of doing that than any of the teams mentioned above have of breaking their streaks of shame.
  5. Longest streak since the last Super Bowl appearance:  Four NFL franchises share this “distinction” because all four of them have never been in a Super Bowl game.  Those teams are the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.  As of this morning, the Texans are 10-1 to win the AFC Championship and that is the best of the lot here.  Odds for the Jags to make the Super Bowl are 40-1; odds for the Browns to get there are 125-1; odds for the Lions to represent the NFC in the game are 30-1.  These streaks look to continue on …

Finally, when the Tampa Bay Bucs cut placekicker Roberto Aguayo – someone they traded up to select in the second round of the draft, Mike Bianchi had this comment in the Orlando Sentinel:

“Even guys in my fantasy league know not to draft a kicker in the second round.”

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

 

 

RIP Rollie Massimino

Rollie Massimino died yesterday at age 82.  He was the coach at Villanova when Villanova  upset top-ranked Georgetown (one of the Patrick Ewing teams) in the NCAA basketball tournament final game.  It was one of the great upsets in March Madness history.

RIP Rollie Massimino.

I have been writing these rants since 2001; this is the first time that I have referenced the Hamilton TigerCats three times in a week.  In fact, if I were sufficiently motivated to check, I am pretty sure that I have never referenced them even twice in a single week before.  But here we go…

After hiring Art Briles and then firing him less than half a day after hiring him, the Hamilton TigerCats are in the news again.  According to reports, the coaches and at least some of the “upper level execs” associated with the team worked out Johnny Manziel in Buffalo a week or so ago.  In a way, I actually get this;

  • The TigerCats are 0-8 and are not much more than an afterthought in the CFL this year.
  • They score about 20 points per game and in CFL games that is not nearly enough.
  • Art Briles is a coach whose reputation is made on offense.
  • Johnny Manziel is a mobile QB who – in a former existence – made things happen on offense.

Having said all that, the Hamilton TigerCats got it right twice.  The PR hit the team took from hiring Art Briles would not likely ever be paid off.  The “workout in Buffalo” was sufficiently questionable to get everyone there to the point where they just did not want to be under the microscope that will focus on wherever Johnny Manziel next tries to play football.  Good for them…

Just a suggestion here for the TigerCats:

  • Open the wallet and think about signing Colin Kaepernick.
  • He ought to thrive on the larger field of the CFL.
  • His protest has to do with events in the US and not in Canada.
  • He needs a job; you obviously need offensive firepower…

Since I mentioned Buffalo in relation to the putative “Manziel workout”, let me offer a comment about the Buffalo Bills.  They are cleaning house out there in northwestern NY state almost to the same extent that the Jets have cleansed their roster in southeastern NY state.  As a franchise, the Bills are as much a “sad-sack” as are the Jets.  Consider:

  1. The last time the Bills participated in a playoff game was in January 2000.  They lost that game to the Tennessee Titans.
  2. Since that game the Bills’ cumulative record is 112-161.
  3. In the intervening years, there have been exactly 2 seasons where the Bills’ regular season record was over .500.

I mention all this because the Bills have a highly talented defensive lineman on the roster named Marcell Dareus; in the morass of mediocrity-at-best, Dareus stands out like a corncob in a lettuce patch.  The problem is that Marcell Dareus is also a stand-out when it comes to “off-the-field issues”.

  • In his career, he has been arrested twice.
  • In his career, he has been suspended by the NFL for violating the substance abuse policy.
  • Despite all of that, the Bills recognizing his physical talents signed him to a contract worth $96M over a 6-year stretch.  That deal still has 5 years to go…

Recently, the Bills sent Dareus back to training camp prior to an Exhibition game for “disciplinary reasons”.  I understand that his contract extension was done by a “previous administration” in Buffalo, but still…  If you give a defensive lineman that kind of money and tenure, you should expect some “leadership” from him too and given his previous behaviors – both in his collegiate years and his time in the NFL – one must wonder how he was supposed to become a “leader” once that kind of money was dangled in front of his face.  In microcosm, this is why the Bills have been without any participation in the playoffs for so long.  And looking at the roster they have going into the 2017 season, that playoff drought looks like it will be continuing for a while…

Another defensive tackle in the NFL also got a recent contract extension but seems to have reacted to that event more positively.  Linval Joseph of the Vikings (a really good DT and one who is comparable in skill to Marcell Dareus) recently signed a 4-year contract extension worth $50M.  After that signing, someone saw Joseph arrive at the Vikings practice facility in his pickup truck and asked him if he was going to spend some of his signing bonus money on a flashy car – – like a $200K Maserati.  Here is how Joseph responded:

“Why get one — I can’t fit in it.”

I really like pragmatists …

Finally, leave it to Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times to figure out what caused a record in MLB to be broken:

“Yankee slugger Aaron Judge broke the major league record by striking out in 33 straight games.

“That’s what he gets for changing his breakfast menu from Wheaties to Special K.”

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