RIP Chuck Bednarik

Chuck Bednarik died over the weekend at age 89. He was a great middle linebacker before anyone knew about Dick Butkus and all the great middle linebackers that followed Butkus. Chuck Bednarik played in the first football game I ever saw; it was his last game at the University of Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving Day in 1948. My father took me to see the game; I was 5 years old.

Rest in peace, Chuck Bednarik…

The rest of today’s rant will simply be random notes from a weekend of watching basketball tournament games. So let me start with my first note that says Len Elmore is doing an excellent job as a color analyst. Co-analyst, Chris Webber, is a useless appendage.

The tolerance of traveling as evidenced by the failure to call the violation seems to have moved down from the NBA to the NCAA Tournament level this year. Takele Cotton took 3 full steps with the ball on a drive to the basket and there was no call. That was merely the worst of the “no calls”; there were plenty of others.

There was an ad for Bass Pro Shops that ran a half dozen times or so and one of the spokespersons in the ad was identified as “Pro Hunter and TV Host”. I had not realized that hunting was a professional sport until that moment. However, if I ever find myself participating in a Fantasy Hunting League, here are my top Draft Picks:

    Tiger Woods
    Wolf Blitzer
    Hawk Harrelson
    Bobcat Goldthwait
    Jerry Tarkanian

Seth Tuttle (C UNI) is probably not going to have a long and storied NBA career, but he is a really good college player. In the UNI/Wyoming game, Wyoming had 24 points at the half and one of the Wyoming players hit 4 3-point shots to have 12 of those points. “Offensively challenged” is a fair label for Wyoming.

If you had to find one word to describe the West Virginia/Buffalo game, it would have to be “frenetic”.

Maryland and Valparaiso were in a game down to the final play. With about a minute left to play, two of the Maryland big men each committed a stupid foul to disqualify themselves. If there were stupidity deductions, Maryland would have lost.

Two comments from the Louisville/UC Irvine game:

    Mamadou Ndiaye = Manute Bol + about 75 lbs.

    Yes, Terry Rozier committed a foul that was not called on what was the final play of the game.

The Oklahoma State and Oregon uniforms were so loud that I suspect a couple hundred TV sets around the country blew out their color elements. When Joseph Young scored 15 straight points for Oregon near the end of the first half, all of the announcers resisted the temptation to call him “Mighty Joe Young”.

There was an ad for Century 21 where a real estate agent runs through the airport and through security screening to present a bouquet of flowers to a couple just boarding a plane to tell them “they got the house.” How did he get through TSA screening without a boarding pass?

In the Saint John’s/San Diego State game, neither team had anything resembling an efficient offense. The best move for either team was to miss a jump shot and then go play volleyball with the rebound.

Given Utah’s defensive prowess and Georgetown’s occasional struggles on offense, I thought this game might have ended as an ugly 52-50 contest. Instead, the game was much more entertaining.

I have always enjoyed Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel as an announcing team. The powers that be broke them up this year. Jim Spanarkel is teamed with Verne Lundquist and the two of them did a really nice job with their games. Ian Eagle and Doug Gotlieb were paired and they too were very good.

CBS keeps flogging me with the slogan:

“The Masters, a tradition unlike any other.”

Can someone tell me why the tradition of the Masters is any different from the tradition surrounding:

    The Kentucky Derby
    The Daytona 500
    The Army/Navy Game
    The Rose Bowl
    Thanksgiving?

Just asking…

I really like Trey Lyles (Kentucky). With some time in a weight room, I think he has a nice NBA future ahead of him. He puts the ball on the floor effectively for a guy who is at least 6’ 10”.

For those who decry the lack of scoring and the slow pace of college basketball, the Butler/Notre Dame game was an example of many of your complaints. Nonetheless, it you watched that game and did not like it, I am not sure you really like watching basketball – or perhaps you graduated from Butler or you just hate Notre Dame. That was an entertaining game that was close from start to the finish – in overtime no less.

In the Villanova loss to NC State, ‘Nova had to have missed at least 3 open layups and a dozen open jump shots. Final shooting stats for Villanova were 19-61 from the field. You are going to lose a lot of games shooting that way.

There ought to be a law against Michigan State wearing those neon-green shoes on television. Most distracting…

There is a Southwest Airlines ad running where a kid visits four colleges with his dad and loves them all. The message is that Southwest’s low fares can get you to all these places for the college visits – so long as you read the voluminous fine print about those low fares. However, the kid loves everything he sees meaning he is not very discriminating in his tastes. I suspect that is why the kid can tolerate flying Southwest Airlines…

I love Justise Winslow’s total game. He can do just about everything very well. Perhaps Grant Hill got a tad ahead of himself declaring Winslow the best defensive player in Duke history, but the kid can play.

By the way, have they stopped calling 3-second violations in college basketball? SDSU center Angelo Chol was about to take root in the paint. On one trip down the floor, I had him at 6 seconds in there; after there was no whistle on that play, I just stopped watching him in there.

Wichita State finally got its chance to play Kansas and they dominated the game.

Conspiracy theorists must be going crazy coming up with the way the Selection Committee has treated Dayton this year. First they get a play-in game on their home court; then they are in the bracket that has the second and third rounds in Columbus, OH which is close to a home game for them. What did Dayton do to earn/deserve that kind of treatment?

I expected Gonzaga to beat Iowa but that was too easy. Gonzaga made Iowa look bad in that game.

The three games I am most looking forward to in the Sweet 16 round are:

    Notre Dame/Wichita St.
    Wisconsin/UNC
    Gonzaga/UCLA

I think there will be two interesting – but very ugly – games in that mix also:

    Kentucky/West Virginia
    Louisville/NC State

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

“Talk about watching an overmatched 16-seed taking on a 1-seed on national TV this week.
“But enough about Dick Vitale kissing Ashley Judd.”

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

Notes From In Front Of The TV…

If you still have a clean bracket sheet this morning, one of two things will happen:

    a. You will win your office bracket pool in a walk – or –

    b. The basketball gods will get even with you today.

What follows here are contemporaneous notes from watching yesterday’s games while wearing out the buttons on my TV remote.

In the Notre Dame/Northeastern game, Brian Anderson did the play-by-play and color analyst, Steve Smith, kept calling him “B.A.”. It got to the point that I thought I was watching a rerun of The A-Team. Notre Dame seemed very sluggish; I noted that perhaps they were not used to playing a game at noon – or maybe even being awake at noon. Their defense – they do play tough defense – saved them because their shooting and shot selection was less than impressive for a team that had beaten Duke and UNC twice each. Notre Dame’s big men were in serious foul trouble in the first half and sat out at least 10 minutes; moreover, Zach Auguste then got his third foul on the first play of the second half. Northeastern did not exploit that advantage.

Iowa State was the first of three Big 12 teams to take the pipe yesterday. Here is my note from the end of the game:

    “#3 seed goes out in the early afternoon. Today is the day of upsets?”

Every time I flipped over to that game, UAB was outplaying them but the score was always close. With about 6 minutes to go in the game the score was tied and I started to think that I was jinxing UAB by leaving that game to watch another one because from the times I was tuned in I would have figured them to have a double-digit lead. UAB won by 1 point and indeed there were more upsets to come.

Arizona cruised against Texas Southern, a team that cannot shoot from the outside and a team that plays mediocre defense. Arizona could have named the score; this game was no more of a challenge for them than a game scheduled in early December against a cupcake.

Then Baylor – another #3 seed from the Big 12 – stunk it out and lost to Georgia State a team that won their conference tournament to get to this game by a score of 38-36. They may not score a lot but they do play pressure defense for 40 minutes. Ga State went about 11:30 in the second half without a field goal and they still won by a point.

Texas completed a day of ignominy for the Big 12 losing to Butler who lost their best player to a leg injury for just about all of the 2nd half. Texas is another team that “just cannot shoot from outside.”

Ole Miss got here by winning a play-in game. My comment in the midst of the first half was:

    “Why did they bother winning that last game? Don’t seem particularly interested in playing this one.”

Ohio State beat VCU in a slight upset; Ohio State was a #10 seed. Here is my note from early in the game: and fundamentally, it was the story of the game:

    “Ohio State is bigger; VCU is faster. Winner will be the one that exploits its advantage better.”

SMU and UCLA put on an entertaining game all the way to the end when a controversial call determined the outcome. The officials called goaltending on a 3-point shot attempt by UCLA with the Bruins down 2 and about 10 seconds left in the game. That proved to be the game winner and UCLA advanced. My note – as someone who refereed basketball for 37 years:

    “Only second time I ever saw that call. Glad I never had to make one.”

One other note from that game:

    “[Bryce] Alford shooting 3’s like his dad; makes you realize Mendel was right.”

For the record, Bryce Alford scored 27 points in the game hitting 9 three-point shots.

Villanova/Lafayette was a mismatch from the opening tip. About 8 minutes into the game my note was:

    “’Nova can name the score here. Not interesting.”

Cincy/Purdue was an 8-9 game and it seems as if the Selection Committee was right seeding these teams so close to one another. The game was decided by one point in OT. My note for the game says Purdue “gagged” because they had a 7-point lead with about 45 seconds to play and let the game go to OT. In retrospect, that is not a fair comment; Cincy earned that win with its play at the end of regulation time.

UNC dominated the first half against Harvard and had the game in hand early in the second half. In my mind, I relegated that game to a low status for checking in; it seemed to be decided at that point. Then I saw the score get closer and closer and then Harvard took the lead with about a minute to play. UNC was fortunate to win the game.

Stephen F. Austin came to their game with Utah averaging 80 points per game. Utah obviously played a lot more and a lot better defense than SFA’s opponents had played. Midway through the first half my note was:

    “No way they get 80 tonite. May not get 50”

They got exactly 50 and lost by 7 points to a better team.

NC State/LSU was another eight/nine game; and just like the Cincy/Purdue game, it was a nail-biter at the end. LSU led by 14 at one point in the second half and my note says:

    “State looks like they don’t care.”

Well, that was wrong because State put it in gear and closed that gap to win the game.

One other note from the second half said:

    “Tigers missing loads of foul shots”

Indeed, they missed 10 free throws and lost by 1 point…

Arkansas/Wofford was a good game to watch because it was close from beginning to end. I am not going to expend the effort to check the running score of the game, but I cannot recall either team leading by more than 5 points. This was not an artistic game by any means, but I enjoyed it.

Kentucky/Hampton was not interesting because the game was never in doubt as was the case with Villanova/Lafayette. My first half note here read:

    “Ho-hum.”

Georgetown has not played well against double-digit seeds over the past several years but they manhandled E. Washington yesterday. My note says:

    “Hoyas playing angry. Every shot is contested and everyone is involved on offense.”

AT&T gave us a series of new ads where Shaq and Dr. J and Christian Laettner and another player I did not recognize make silly remarks about themselves and the NCAA tournament. The dumbest one has Shaq declaring his nickname in college was The Big Dance – nominally a clever play on words here but not really – and then dancing in front of a TV screen to show Christian Laettner that he earned that nickname. Question:

    Can anyone tell me what in the name of Chubby Checker that has to do with improved 4G LTE signals?

Finally, a note from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Pablo Sandoval isn’t overly rotund, Red Sox spinmeisters insist. He’s simply a roll model.”

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

Scott Boras Vs. The Cubbies

With the focus on the impending basketball tournament and then the unexpected retirement of Chris Borland, two baseball stories have slipped by with relatively small notice. Yesterday, Scott Boras “accused” the Cubs of not being interested in winning because they will likely not put their rookie phenom, Kris Bryant, on the opening day roster. The reason for that decision by the Cubs is based on the complicated rules that govern baseball contracts and arbitration and free agency that are spelled out in the existing CBA between MLB and the MLBPA. Essentially, putting Bryant on the opening day roster this year will accelerate the time at which he can go to salary arbitration and attain free agency; and with Boras as his agent, that means he will cost the Cubs or any other team a ton of money. The Cubs are decelerating that process; it is a business decision.

My problem here is simple. Scott Boras does not now nor has he ever spoken for any team in MLB. He is a players’ agent; he speaks for the players just as the Lorax spoke for the trees. (H/T to Dr. Seuss) Moreover, it has been his combative nature and his history of being difficult to deal with in free agency that impels the Cubs to make this particular business decision that Boras finds so odious that he needs to speak up.

If you ever turn on one of the Sunday news/talk shows such as Meet the Press and you see that the guest on the program that morning is the senior advisor to the President on any matter whatsoever, you can be certain that you will hear:

    The President is dedicated to fighting to preserve truth, justice and the American way and whatever matter is under discussion at the moment proves his unwavering dedication here.

    Any human on the planet who disagrees with even a semi-colon in the President’s plan for whatever is either obstinate or not doing the will of the people.

You should know that before you hear the first word out of that guest’s mouth – just as you should recognize that Scott Boras is the baseball equivalent of that Presidential advisor. Nothing Scott Boras says in a situation where he has a microphone in front of him has even a semblance of balanced and rational assessment of reality. He is an agent; he is a very good agent; he is totally biased in his views; he ought to be totally biased in his views. And for those reasons, no one should pay even a smidgen of attention to what he says about a rookie third baseman who is having a great Spring Training but who has never been in a real MLB game.

The other baseball matter that came up recently is the news that Pete Rose’s “people” have contacted the new Commissioner to seek Rose’s reinstatement to baseball. Everyone here should know by now that I think Pete Rose belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame but that he cannot even be considered for induction there while he is banned from baseball. However, that is not the point of my comment today.

Driving along on an errand, I heard a caller to a local sports radio show say that Rose should be reinstated to baseball to allow voters to decide if he deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame and the fact that he would then be eligible to be part of baseball again does not matter. The reason it does not matter is – according to this caller:

    No owner or GM in their right mind would ever hire Pete Rose again to do anything more than sell peanuts at the ballpark. (That is a paraphrase but the “peanuts at the ballpark” bit is a quotation.)

I fundamentally disagree with the caller on that point. Of course, Rose can no longer play the game and no team is likely to incur the PR hit and hire Rose to manage their team. I completely agree with the caller on that. However, if I were a GM or the guy in charge of player development in the minor leagues, I would hire Pete Rose in an instant as my “roving minor league hitting instructor”. I refuse to believe that he has nothing of value to deliver to young players in the area of a batting cage nor do I believe that a young player who decides to emulate the way Pete Rose played the game on the field would be a detriment to that young player’s development. The argument that he might corrupt those young and impressionable players with his clearly tainted past depends on a sequence of events that is akin to a parade of improbable horribles.

Even if I worried about that parade of horribles – which I would not – I doubt seriously that Pete Rose would ever bet on another baseball game should he be reinstated. I would not try to make Rose out to be some kind of intellectual titan because he appears to be closer to an intellectual midget. Nonetheless, I do not think he is nearly so moronic as to do what got him banished from baseball for about a quarter of a century should he be let back in. In a perverse way, Pete Rose’s past might actually be a positive learning experience for young players. Perhaps, this sort of thought process might occur:

    This guy was in the major leagues for 24 years. He holds a bunch of all-time records including games played and hits. He was Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and an All-Star 17 times. Even so, he got kicked out of baseball and was kept out of the Hall of Fame for his off-field behavior. Wow; I guess I better watch my Ps and Qs carefully…

I am not saying that is going to happen but it is as likely to happen as is the “horrible outcome” that association with Pete Rose will turn an innocent young kid into a gambling addict. I am not aware of any medical studies that show addiction to be contagious.

Pete Rose – despite his betting on baseball and his tax evasion activities – is as much an “Ambassador of Baseball” as just about anyone else. MLB can benefit from his inclusion in various events such as All-Star Games and/or the World Baseball Classic – the next of which is scheduled for 2017. If I were in Rob Manfred’s position I would move to reinstate Pete Rose and reap some of those small benefits that the game can garner from Rose’s inclusion. Just my two cents…

Finally, here is an interesting comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The Miami Open, which starts a week from Monday in Key Biscayne, this year will include a swimwear fashion show, pro beach volleyball tournament and “Taste of the Open” event with celebrity chefs. Reportedly there also will be tennis matches, time permitting.”

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

Chris Borland Retires At Age 24…

The retirement of Niners’ linebacker, Chris Borland, at the ripe old age of 24 created plenty of fodder for sports talk radio. Borland was a bright light on defense for the Niners last year and to say that the Niners have undergone a personnel purge in this offseason would be a massive understatement – sort of like saying Lance Armstrong is not trustworthy. Borland said that he was retiring because he does not think that an NFL career is worth the risk of serious brain injury/impairment down the road. In making his decision, he said he had spoken with “researchers” – I use quotation marks there because he did not cite the individuals so their bona fides cannot be evaluated – and reached his decision. He said he plans to go back to school – Wisconsin is where he played college football – and hopes at some point in the future to launch a career in sports management.

I am in no position to pass judgment on Chris Borland’s decision here nor do I think that it makes sense for anyone else to do so because this has to be a deeply personal issue for him. However, his thought process(es) here might have implications for the NFL down the road. Obviously, professional football – and football at every level – is a dangerous undertaking. Vince Lombardi once quipped that dancing is a contact sport while football is a collision sport. He was correct. Players in the NFL make “big bucks” and for those “big bucks” they put their bodies and their brains at risk. Either consciously or unconsciously, all players go through an individual calculus to determine if that risk is worth that reward. Some call it “love of the game”; I believe it is closer to “acceptable assumption of risk”.

Does the early retirement of Chris Borland portend the downfall of the NFL as we know it? Not in my lifetime… Take a look at the last year or so in the NFL and try to imagine what else could have happened to the league to make it less popular or less attractive. Yes, I guess there could have been a player who took a hit and died on the field with the cameras focused on him, but other than that… Then take a look at the TV ratings especially for the playoffs. The NFL in the short term is virtually immune to bad news or bad publicity or just about anything bad. Nevertheless, the really long term future for NFL football as we see it today is not a good one.

Some parents are going to steer their kids to play other sports; some parents will actively and aggressively keep their kids out of football. I have a personal way to relate to this situation:

    My #1 son wanted to play football from the time he was about 6 years old. I refused – and enforced my refusal – to allow him to play “ankle-biter football’ or anything of that ilk until he got to high school. He wound up playing 4 years of high school football. During the time I had him “sidelined”, he did not view me as an enlightened parent or a concerned adult; I was simply thwarting him from doing what he wanted to do.

    #1 son is now 41 years old and he has a 7-year old son. My grandson will “never play football” according to my son because it is not worth the risk.

Decisions of this type will diminish the talent pool for football – or the labor pool for the NFL if you prefer. However, that will be a gradual trend and it will be a long time until there will be a major effect on the league. Perhaps the model to consider here is the sport of boxing.

In the 1950s and 60s, newspaper reporters considered the “boxing beat” to be a plum assignment. Many of the memorable newspapermen of the first half of the 20th century did a lot of writing about boxing such as Jimmy Breslin, AJ Liebling, Bert Sugar, Red Smith and Jim Murray. Today, boxing is a moribund sport. Part of its demise has to do with the recognition that many boxers do not enjoy their golden years very much because of the constant pounding they took to their heads during their boxing careers. Today we call the condition later in life by clinical terms such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy; 50 years ago, folks said that retired fighters were “punch drunk”. To paraphrase the old Dragnet TV show:

    The name has been changed – but it still does not protect the victim.

I can imagine a time way into the future when football will exist in one of two states:

    1. It will be a moribund sport played only by people who have no other real skills in life with which to try to earn a living – much as is the case with much of of boxing today.

    2. The NFL will have come up with more and more rules that are purely safety related and the game played then will bear little if any resemblance to what we see today.

Some folks on sports talk radio seem to see that same future but see it coming upon us very quickly. That is not my vision for the short term but I do believe that Chris Borland’s decision yesterday should give us a reason to step back and think about the long-term future of American football.

And speaking of boxing – obliquely – NBC has decided to televise boxing in prime time on the main network and on NBCSN. Norman Chad’s syndicated column, Couch Slouch, focused on the first prime time telecast recently. Let’s just say he was less than overwhelmed:

“[Adrien] Broner – [John] Molina was hyped as all action, all the time. As it were, I don’t believe either fighter landed a punch in the first round; the crowd had the look of folks waiting for keno results to post.

“Heck, I’ve seen several three-minute eggs that were more exciting than these three-minute rounds.”

And this…

“Anyway, I can’t tell you how tempted I was during 2 ½ hours of “Premier Boxing Champions” to flip over to “Pit Bulls and Parolees” on Animal Planet, but I had a column to write, so I stuck with the pugilists over the pugs.

“Still, if I were an NBC programmer, I’d show bingo in prime time before I’d show boxing.”

Finally, here is an observation from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:

“Last Sunday was the 35th anniversary of the famous “Miracle on Ice.”

For confused Millennials, no, it had nothing to do with freezing Ted Williams for science.”

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

Bracket Pools

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

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

    There are about 300 million people in the US.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Diabetic Delight

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

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

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

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

Sports Economics

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Porta dos Fundos”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chip Kelly – NFL Man Of Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Should Jim Boeheim resign or not?

    Will Jim Boeheim resign or not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shorter Shot Clock For Men’s NCAA Basketball?

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

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

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

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

I believe there are two causes for that inability:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olbermann Back From Suspension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Ernie Banks & Minnie Minoso

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

Rest in Peace Minnie Minoso and Ernie Banks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Going up against the NFL on TV

      Juggling schedules around because FOX is also an NFL broadcaster.

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

Stay tuned; this saga has more acts to follow…

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

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

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

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

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

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