Not Coachspeak – Coach-Misspeak…

Yesterday, I said that I did not know enough about what happened in the reported Aroldis Chapman domestic violence event and I would defer judgment/comment on it until I knew more. Washington Nationals’ manager, Dusty Baker, did not defer comment and many folks considered his defense of Chapman insensitive at best and atavistic at worst. The brouhaha over those comments seems to have allowed another of Baker’s recent utterings to slide gently off into the world ether with much less commentary than I think it deserves.

These words have been attributed to Dusty Baker. I did not hear him say them but I have also heard no denials from him or the Nats regarding them.

“I think the No. 1 thing that’s missing in the game is speed. You know, with the need for minorities, you can help yourself — you’ve got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans. I’m not being racist. That’s just how it is.”

If I take those words as presented here on the page, I agree that “speed” is not a dominant element of baseball in 2015 and adding speed to a team a plus. I also agree that – on average – a scout is more likely to identify a speedy player when he is scouting Latin or African-American players then when he scouting Asian or Caucasian players. Indeed, that is not racist; that is just how it is…

Having said that, if you read Baker’s remarks and recall the words of Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder, you may find a small parallel. What Snyder said was that Blacks “were bred” to be better athletes than Whites. Granted, Snyder’s use of “bred” reduces Blacks to the category of animals at worst or chattel property at best, but if you are talking about “speed” as an athletic attribute, what Snyder said was pretty much the same thing Baker said.

Now compare the reaction of the people in the media who reported both sets of remarks. Snyder was excoriated and even with an apology he was fired by CBS – or maybe it was NBC, I really do not recall. In the words of George Orwell’s 1984, Snyder was made into an unperson.

In no way am I defending what Snyder said. However, in no way can I accept what Dusty Baker just said as a mere slip of the tongue. Snyder was hired by one of the networks as a commentator, a person who was supposed to communicate with the public using words. His misuse of words was a firing offense. Baker is hired by a baseball team to help the team win games; he is not paid to be an orator or a communicator. Therefore, his words should not be even close to a firing offense. However, his words should bring him a healthy serving of public opprobrium and that has not yet been delivered.

While on the subject of managers/coaches whose public utterances may be just a tad off center, let me focus on recent comments by José Mourinho, the coach/manager of Chelsea in the English Premier League. Chelsea is not doing well at all this year; as of this morning, they stand 16th (out of 20 teams) in the EPL Table and they are exactly one point above the “relegation line”. Granted, the season is only near the halfway point, but this is indeed an unusual position for the Chelsea squad. Just last year, Chelsea finished 3rd in the EPL and only allowed 27 goals in 38 league games. This year, they have already allowed 26 goals in 16 games.

As you may imagine, the Chelsea fans and the football commentators are not pleased with Chelsea’s performance this year and as happens here too, much of the criticism is focused on Mourinho as the manager/coach. In the US, one might expect a coach under serious scrutiny and having this kind of a season to resort to coachspeak about working harder and correcting the “little things” that have been going wrong and etc. Not José Mourinho:

“One of my best qualities is to read the game for my players and I feel like my work was betrayed. I think [Leicester City] deserved to win because they were better than us during a long period of time. We conceded two goals that were unacceptable.”

And …

“All last season I did phenomenal work and brought [the Chelsea players] to a level that is not their level and more than they really are.”

The argot of the times would say that Mourinho just threw the entire Chelsea roster under the bus. Actually, if I look at what other coaches have said where those words were defined as “throwing someone under the bus”, I would characterize Mourinho’s remarks as “throwing the team under the bus, circling the bus around and running over their bodies a few more times and then pissing all over the huddled mass on the pavement”. This almost makes Stalin’s scorched earth policy seem humane.

I will not pretend to know how effective José Mourinho is/has been as a football manager/coach for his career. In US football terms, I am confident that he is somewhere on the spectrum between Vince Lombardi and Richie Kotite. In terms of being a coach who creates a warm and fuzzy environment in the locker room, I think I am on safe ground suggesting that he either has a lot to learn or that he just does not care about said warm and fuzzy environment.

For the next item, I need to set the stage for a moment. A maiden filly named Ruby Queen was supposed to run in a race at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Ohio; her form must have been awful because she went off in a race for fillies and mares at 110-1. Accidentally, the horse that entered the starting gate and ran in the race and blew away the field was a male horse named Leathers Slappin. Here are two paragraphs from the AP report on how this happened:

“An investigation found that a stable worker went into the wrong stall on Nov. 4 and brought out a male horse named Leathers Slappin instead of Ruby Queen, who was in a neighboring stall, said William Crawford, executive director of the Ohio State Racing Commission.

“A track employee, known as an identifier, then failed to properly check the horse before what was supposed to be an all-female race, he said. The identifier’s job is to verify each horse by looking at the numbers on its lip tattoo.”

I understand that “process” is important and that the identifier here may not have been nearly as alert as one might have expected. However, may I suggest ever so gently that there might have been yet another way to determine that the animal he was “identifying” was not a female of the species…?

Finally, here is another horse racing item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“American Pharoah will command a $200,000 stud fee and, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, could easily do 200 bookings in five months.

“Pass the Neighagra.”

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

All Baseball Today…

There has been a lot of activity in the Hot Stove League already this year and I would like to comment on a small part of the player exchanges. I wonder what the Atlanta Braves are thinking/doing.

Last year, the Braves lost 95 games which is bad enough; moreover, their run differential for the season was minus-187 which was 4 runs worse than the Phillies’ run differential. That means they got blown out more than once in a while. There is no question the Braves need a rebuild. And that sets the stage…

First the Braves traded Andrelton Simmons who was the best defensive shortstop in the National League and who was not an embarrassment at the plate. In exchange, they got a replacement shortstop in Erick Aybar who hits a bit better but who is several notches below Simmons in the field. The Braves also acquired 2 minor league pitchers in that deal.

Then, the Braces sent Cameron Maybin off to the Tigers and acquired 2 more minor league pitchers. So, it would seem as if the idea is to shore up the pitching staff, right? After all, with that negative run differential, one has to look at the team pitching and say to oneself:

    We ought to be able to upgrade that…

However, the next trade was to ship out their single best starting pitcher – Shelby Miller – to acquire Ender Inciarte (a good young outfielder), Dansby Swanson (a shortstop who was the overall #1 pick in last year’s draft), and 2 more minor league pitchers. In this series of moves, the Braves subtracted three solid major league players to acquire one good young outfielder, a journeyman shortstop, a top draft pick and 6 minor league pitchers.

    If Dansby Swanson does not become a solid major league player and at least 2 if not 3 of those minor league pitchers make it to the majors, one has to wonder how long it might be for the Braves to recover.

What the Braves seem to be doing is to trade off their valuable assets to accumulate numbers of young prospects in the hope that they will all mature together and become the nucleus of a strong contending team. That is not a bad idea when it works. There are two potential problems here:

    1. It may not work. The players they acquired may not pan out.

    2. There should be some anxious times in store for Braves’ fans. If you think I am exaggerating, talk to some Philadelphia 76ers fans; they are in medias res as we speak.

Another Hot Stove League trade of interest is the one that is limbo at the moment between the Dodgers and the Reds involving Aroldis Chapman and allegations that he was involved in a domestic violence incident several months ago where shots were fired although no one was injured. I have no idea what actually happened there so I shall reserve all judgments regarding that matter except to wonder:

    Do you think that Jerry Jones might sign Chapman for the Cowboys? He can throw a baseball 100 mph; I wonder if he can throw a football…

In other baseball news, Commissioner Rob Manfred said that he will not lift Pete Rose’s lifetime ban from baseball. Given that Manfred is only 57 years old, it would seem as if he is going to be in that position for a while; that means Pete Rose’s lifetime ban could likely extend to the end of Rose’s lifetime. According to this report by Matt Snyder on CBSSports.com, Rose told Manfred when the two met that he (Rose) continues “to bet on horse racing and professional sports including baseball.” Rose lives in Nevada where those activities are perfectly legal and millions (literally) of people go to Nevada every year to do just those sorts of things. Notwithstanding the legalities here, Pete Rose has to be dumber than a bag of hair. The thing that got him in the situation he is in now is “betting on baseball”. He is seeking clemency and redemption; so how can he still be betting on baseball and hope to obtain said clemency and redemption?

It would be even better if he stopped gambling on the horses and other sporting events and focused his gambling energies on things like poker or blackjack or roulette. It would be difficult for an objective observer to say that those activities might affect the “integrity of the game” when the person involved is not going to be a player or manager any time soon. So, Rose came to the Commish with a weak case for clemency/redemption to start with and then sealed his fate by doing something even more stupid. According to Snyder’s story, there is a footnote in Manfred’s report regarding his decision:

“Even more troubling, in our interview, Rose initially denied betting on baseball currently and only later in the interview did he ‘clarify’ his response to admit such betting.”

So, Rose is still betting on baseball and – after getting an interview with the Commish that he has been seeking for years to plead his case – what he did was to lie about his continued betting on baseball. Given those circumstances, I now pronounce Pete Rose as

    The Bull-Goose Looney.

In the Ken Kesey novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randall Patrick McMurphy wanted to know which of the inmates in the asylum was “the bull-goose looney”. Well, now we know who it is…

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding another baseball issue:

Joe Posnanski of NBCsports.com, on MLB traditionalists’ aversion to bat-flipping: ‘If Neil Armstrong had played by baseball’s stupid unwritten rules of decorum, he would have whispered, ‘Yeah, I’m on the moon.’”

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

What Is A Catch/What Is Not A Catch…

Roger Goodell announced last week that the NFL would create a committee to think about possible revisions to the NFL rule governing what is a catch and what is not a catch. That committee would then make its recommendations to the Competition Committee – who has studied this matter in the past and is the group that came up with the head-spinning rule that exists today – and then, the Competition Committee might suggest rule changes to the NFL and the NFLPA that might go into effect… Calculating the value of pi to 1000 decimal places using only a pencil and a notepad might not take as long to reach a result.

However, I prefer to be a problem-solver as opposed to a problem; therefore, I present to this new Yet-To-Be-Named Committee a simple place to start as they seek to define what is a catch and what is not a catch:

    When a receiver controls the ball and gets two feet down – or his knee, elbow, butt or some other part of his anatomy – that is a catch.

    When he can only control the ball and only get one foot down, that is not a catch.

    When he controls the ball – two feet down – and then hits the ground and loses the ball, that is a fumble.

Yes, there are still elements of judgment in those suggestions meaning that there will be the need for replays/challenges and there will still be some elements of controversy in the calls. Nonetheless, I do think my suggested rule change will be less controversial – it is certainly briefer and simpler than the current rule(s) – and should be worth consideration.

Oh, and while I am at it, I have another suggestion for the Competition Committee’s consideration:

    Just as “what is a catch/what is not a catch” is a mystery, another mystery is “what is pass interference/who committed said pass interference”. Having watched hundreds upon hundreds of replays of pass receptions and pass interference calls/non-calls, it almost seems as if these calls can be made with a flip of the coin in 75% of the cases.

    Therefore:

      1. Change the penalty for defensive pass interference to the same one that exists for offensive pass interference. Make it 10-yards and an automatic first down. Why should defensive pass interference result in a 50-yard penalty when offensive pass interference cannot be more than 10 yards? That seems a bit out of balance…

      2. Allow receivers and defenders to contact one another/hand fight/whatever until the moment the pass is thrown. Then, if there is any contact other than making a play on the ball as it arrives for reception/interception/incompletion, that is pass interference on the player who makes the first contact.

Now that my work is done with the NFL for today, let me turn my attention to college football for a moment. David Shaw is the head coach at Stanford and has shown himself to be highly competent in that position and a thoughtful man when it comes to what is good for the sport of college football. I took notice of the following remark in large measure because it was attributed to David Shaw; if it had come from a half dozen other college coaches who shall remain nameless here, I would likely have not paid it much mind:

“I do believe at some point it’s going to be an eight-team playoff. I think it’s going to be unavoidable. I’m not upset by any stretch of the imagination. I just know this year is a part of the process where you have these teams in Stanford and Iowa and Ohio State that you could make a case could be in a playoff, and it would be a phenomenal playoff. So I have no problems with where we are now. I just do believe eventually, it will become an eight-team playoff because it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

I agree completely with David Shaw that the CFP will eventually expand to 8 teams. I do not agree that the reason for that expansion will be to accommodate four more teams for which one “could make a case could be in a playoff”; rather, the expansion will be driven by the economics of the matter. Money talks…

I too like where we are now; the CFP as it is configured is a light-year better than the BCS was and the BCS was a light-year better than what existed when polls were taken after the big-time bowl games were played and a “national champion” was elected in an off-the-field process. I am happy with a four-team field and can continue to live with that for a long time. However, you will not hear me screech about the insanity of expanding the field to eight teams when that comes to pass maybe 5 years from now.

However, when the discussion of expansion/non-expansion heats up, let me put down a marker right now:

    It is ridiculous to say that expansion to 8 teams will eliminate the controversy about who is admitted to the playoffs and who is not. That sort of controversy/tempest-in-a-teapot will continue to happen until or unless the CFP includes each and every team playing Division 1-A football.

    If you doubt that statement, consider that there are now 68 teams in the March Madness field and there are discussions ever year about what team was unjustly denied a chance to be in the Big Dance.

Note that David Shaw named 3 teams he believes can and should be in a college football playoff this year. If you take his nominees and add them to the existing field that would give you 7 teams and the need to add an eighth. So, just for fun, let me posit that the second tier of 4 teams would be Iowa, Ohio State, Stanford and – – Notre Dame. Surely you do not believe that the folks in Tallahassee (Florida State), Chapel Hill (UNC) and/or Houston (Houston) would unanimously agree that was the only logical field of 8 teams. The tournament will expand because there is a ton of money to be made by expanding. However, the screeching and whining about who is in and who is not in the tournament will not go away.

Finally, Brad Dickson had these comments recently in the Omaha World-Herald about a college bowl game at the other end of the spectrum from the CFP games – the Foster Farms Bowl to be played in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara CA:

“Nebraska has been selected to play in the Foster Farms Bowl. That’ll teach the team to go 5-7.

“The Foster Farms Bowl features a 5-7 Nebraska team vs. UCLA, a team Nebraska has played multiple times in recent years. The best way to sell this game to Husker fans may be to publicize the typical high temperature here [in Nebraska] on Dec. 26.”

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

The NBA Goes Dormant Until March…

To begin today, I want to juxtapose two recent occurrences in the NBA. The first event is summarized by an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Philadelphia 76ers finally snapped the longest losing streak in American pro-sports history — 28 losses in a row.

“That popping sound you hear is the Washington Generals hitting the champagne at Don Shula’s house.”

The other NBA event is at the other end of the success spectrum; the Golden State Warriors finally lost a game this year and as of this morning, their record stands at 24-1.

Those two streaks were very important to the NBA for a simple reason. Each of those streaks gave people a reason to give a fig about a few NBA regular season games in November and December. For the majority of such games in just about every NBA season, no one really pays attention at all. Without meaning any offense to the 5 games the NBA will stage on Christmas Day, few if any people really care about them either save for TV execs who have programming for the day other than the 6437th rerun of It’s A Wonderful Life. With these two polar opposite streaks in the past, serious fan attention to NBA games will be minimal until late February/early March when playoff positioning becomes interesting.

The NBA is somewhat fortunate in another way this season. Kobe Bryant’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the season has fueled

    The Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour Across America

That series of tributes – which in reality are not much more than a series of feelgood events – allows teams to promote the final visit of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant to their city/arena. It too brings attention to games that would normally be somewhere between “Meaningless” and “Blah” on the Spectrum of Interest. The Farewell Tour also masks something else:

    The Lakers are an awful basketball team.

    The Sixers are intentionally awful; the Lakers are awful even though they are trying not to be.

    You make the call which is the worse situation…

The Lakers have two young players taken high in the draft. DeAngelo Russell went #2 last year and he has had his fanny on the bench for all of or the majority of the fourth quarters of most Lakers’ games this year. Julius Randle was taken at #7 in the 2014 draft and he sat out last season with an injury. He had been a starter for much of this year but was recently demoted to coming off the bench. If the Lakers swung and missed on both of those guys – hard to believe after seeing them play in college – the franchise may be a while until it returns to an upper echelon NBA team. I will say one thing about Russell, he has a whole lot to learn about playing defense against NBA quality opponents and there are times that he does not look all that interested in said learning…

Another young player for the Lakers is Jordan Clarkson; I have only seen the Lakers play about 5 quarters of games this year but I think Clarkson might become a good player. Note I said “good player”; he is not the second coming of Jerry West or Elgin Baylor but he might be a “good player”. Here is an interesting strategic situation the Lakers find themselves in:

    The Lakers owe the Sixers their first round pick in the June 2016 draft – unless that pick is in the Top 3 of the draft. In that circumstance, they would then owe the Sixers their first round pick in 2017 draft no matter where it is.

    Question:

      Do the Lakers tank to protect that pick this year as best they can in a lottery situation or do they “play it straight”?

      Keep an eye on the meaningful minutes played by Clarkson, Russell and Randle for your answer here.

To bring to mind another tidbit of news from last weekend, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“They announced Alabama running back Derrick Henry as the Heisman Trophy winner Saturday. I thought I saw Nick Saban almost smile but it may have just been indigestion.”

Derrick Henry is a really good player; he averaged 6.2 yards per carry over his three year career at Alabama; this season, he fell only 14 yards short of gaining 2000 yards. Now let me pose a rhetorical question:

    Would Derrick Henry start at RB if he were at LSU?

    I do not have a definitive answer for that one. As I said, Henry is really good and he had a fantastic season; as I have said before, Leonard Fournette is the best RB that I saw this year.

You make the call…

Finally, let me close out today with one more item from Greg Cote last weekend:

“The week-long Orange Bowl International Junior tennis tournament ends Sunday in Plantation. It’ll seem so quiet without all those boorish parents yelling.”

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

Dipping Into Inventory…

My writing rhythm for football season changes this week. With only NFL flavored Mythical Picks left to do, I have to find material for an additional daily rant each week. That is why I keep a document called “Clipboard” in my computer memory; I need to dig a bit deeper into the inventory starting right about now.

Not that football is off-limits for commentary here… The Linfield College Wildcats needed a second-half comeback last week to beat Mary Hardin-Baylor 38-35 advancing Linfield to the quarterfinals of the Division III NCAA football tournament. On Saturday, the Wildcats venture east to play the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. The Tommies have a 13-0 record so far this season and every victory has been by 19 points or more. It should be a good game… Go Wildcats!

In the continuing saga of the NFL’s glacial pace to put a team in the LA market, there was a report late last week that Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke was open to the idea of having a second team occupy the stadium he wants to build in downtown LA. That seemingly changes the dynamic of the league decision because until that news broke, the choices seemed to be Kroenke putting the Rams in a downtown stadium or the Chargers/Raiders jointly building and occupying a stadium in Carson, CA.

When I read that report, what came to mind was that Kroenke had counted up the votes he was likely to get for his original proposal and knew that he was short of the 24 votes he would need for approval. Therefore, he wanted to float another idea to:

    a. Give his fellow owners another option to consider
    b. Keep the heat on the folks in St. Louis who want to try to keep him there.

However, this new proposal is such a departure from his original plan – he would go it alone and wanted to develop the area around his new stadium by himself – that it felt to me as if there was more to it than slight feint for a minor advantage in the process. I just had a sense that there was more to this…

Then, someone dug up some more information and it would appear that Mr. Kroenke is still playing hardball on his proposal. Yes, he would accept a “partner team” who would occupy the stadium but his terms for the “partnership” are just a tad skewed:

    The Partner Team would pay half the costs to build the stadium. OK…
    Partner would not have control over design or construction of the stadium. Uh…
    Partner would not have control over development of surrounding area. Uh…
    Partner gets none of the non-football revenue from the stadium. Wait, what…?
    Partner gets no revenue from the development of surrounding area. WTF?

Obviously, I do not have nearly the resources to pretend that I might be a “partner” in a deal of this magnitude. Nonetheless, this seems more like a “Master/Apprentice” relationship than it does a “partnership”. So, I doubt I would be interested in such a deal for very long. However, it might be sufficiently intriguing to either the Raiders or the Chargers to drive a wedge between them and their Carson, CA joint venture.

The “NFL-to-LA saga” is not over; the fat lady may not even be loosening up her vocal chords just yet. I do believe, however, that the NFL as an entity has to start to move toward a decision in the next couple of months if not make their decision then. Here is why:

    There are 3 cities (San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis) where the league risks losing some of the fanbase because the team is threatening to move.

    That drives down revenue; that will ultimately drive down TV ratings.

I think the NFL needs to stop the music and find out which teams are left standing without a seat so that the teams NOT moving to LA can figure out what to do in their home cities to “mend fences with the fans” or to find some other place to move (San Antonio, London, Ulan Bator…)

In NBA news, there have been several videos played and replayed hundreds of times on ESPN and FS1 showing James Harden “loafing” on defense and not exerting himself in rebounding situations. Confronted with the idea that he might not be playing hard at both ends of the court, here is how Harden responded to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Forty [minutes] a night is pretty tough, especially if you want to get efficient on both ends of the floor. We got to figure it out. We have to figure out how to give guys more minutes and be more effective on the court so as a team we can get better.”

The bit about having to figure it out and get better as a team is standard pabulum; I would have been shocked not to hear that roll off his lips. However, the part about 40 minutes a night being tough if you have to play both ends of the court may get by some millennials who are not aware of anything that did not happen during the span of time when they were sentient. However, we old-timers recall an NBA player named Wilt Chamberlain. Here are some of his numbers that James Harden – and some of the millennials who bought into his excuses – need to consider:

    On offense, Wilt once scored 100 points in a single game and for one entire season (1961/62) he averaged more than 50 points per game. He played a bit on offense.

    On defense, Wilt averaged 22.9 rebounds per game over his 15-year career. In one game he took down 55 rebounds; that record has stood for 55 years. He played a bit on the defensive end of the court too.

    In terms of minutes played, over his 15-year career in 1045 games, Wilt averaged 45.8 minutes per game. For the entire season in 1961/62, he averaged 48.5 minutes per game. Remember, there are only 48 minutes in an NBA game so he played just about all the time in every game and then some OT minutes too.

Perhaps James Harden finds “forty a night” tough. However, we should acknowledge that it is not beyond the limits of human endurance.

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from earlier this week:

“Curry, Warriors reach 22-0: NBA scoring leader Steph Curry and Golden State made it 22-0 Sunday at Brooklyn. I think we finally discovered a team that could beat the Carolina Panthers.”

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

Bowl Game Reviews…

Back in the 1960s, there was a genre of movies that enjoyed widespread – though brief – popularity. These were the “Spaghetti Westerns” produced in Italy and featuring gratuitous violence at every turn. It seems that the film that was the apogee of that art form was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. In a sort of homage to that cult classic, I want to present to you some of the 40 college bowl games for this year grouped under those headings. By default, you may consider any bowl game not mentioned here as “The Irrelevant”.

The Good:

Las Vegas Bowl: 12/19 BYU 9-3 vs Utah 9-3 [Big rivalry game here]
Camelia Bowl: 12/19 Appalachian St. 10-2 vs Ohio 8-4
Sun Bowl: 12/26 Washington St. 8-4 vs Miami 8-4 [About halfway between the campuses]
Russell Athletic Bowl: 12/29 UNC 11-2 vs Baylor 9-3 [Bet the OVER]
Orange Bowl: 12/31 Oklahoma 11-1 vs Clemson 13-0
Cotton Bowl: 12/31 Alabama 12-1 vs Michigan St. 12-1
Citrus Bowl: 1/1 Florida 10-3 vs Michigan 9-3
Rose Bowl: 1/1 Stanford 11-2 vs Iowa 12-1

The Bad:

Idaho Potato Bowl: 12/22 Akron 7-5 vs Utah St 6-6 [Starting to snore already]
Pinstripe Bowl: 12/26 Duke 7-5 vs Indiana 6-6 [Cannot give tix away for this one]
Independence Bowl: 12/26 Tulsa 6-6 vs Va Tech 6-6 [Guaranteed losing season here]
Arizona Bowl: 12/29 Nevada 6-6 vs Colo St. 7-5 [Two MWC teams in one bowl game?]

The Ugly:

New Mexico Bowl: 12/19 Arizona 6-6 vs New Mexico 7-5 [A border war; who cares?]
Cure Bowl: 12/19 San Jose St. 5-7 vs Georgia St 6-6 [Somniferous or soporific?]
Quick Lane Bowl: 12/28 Minnesota vs C. Michigan 7-5 [Bad Big 10 vs MAC…]
Cactus Bowl:
1/2 W Va 7-5 vs Ariz St 6-6 [Game starts 10:15 EST; ends ~ 2:00AM]

All 40 of these bowl games are sanctioned by the NCAA and generate revenue for the member institutions and conferences that make up the NCAA. Since the games here are only about money, consider a potentially negative aspect of money that could befall the NCAA as a result of a courtroom action. Recently a California Appeals Court ruled that a defamation of character lawsuit brought against the NCAA by Todd McNair, a former assistant coach at USC, can proceed. The assistant in question was at USC during the “Reggie Bush Investigation” and the NCAA announced that it was issuing sanctions against USC because this assistant knew of the improper benefits that Reggie Bush received. This may all sound pretty vanilla at this point but it seems to me that the three judges on the Appeals Court Panel made it pretty clear that they think the NCAA played “fast and loose” with the facts here:

“This evidence clearly indicates that the ensuing [infractions committee] report was worded in disregard of the truth to enable the [committee] to arrive at a predetermined conclusion that USC employee McNair was aware of the NCAA violations … To summarize, McNair established a probability that he could show actual malice by clear and convincing evidence based on the [committee’s] doubts about McNair’s knowledge, along with its reckless disregard for the truth about his knowledge, and by allowing itself to be influenced by nonmembers to reach a needed conclusion.”

I think that translates roughly into something like this:

    It is pretty damned clear that you folks figured out what the answer was supposed to be and then contorted whatever process you sort of established to make sure that the “right answer” came out over the signature of the investigators. Good luck with that…

I do not think this is nearly the first time the NCAA has pulled a stunt like this. In the Nevin Shapiro fiasco at Miami, there was the aroma of at least a smidgen of pre-ordained outcome. Moreover, in the Duke Lacrosse Mess, the NCAA stood by allowed one of its member institutions to fire a coach and defame more than a few of its student-athletes on false accusations and then on actions by the prosecutor that were so atrocious that the prosecutor was disbarred and sent to jail.

I have wondered for some time now just why it has taken the NCAA so long to finish whatever it is doing with regard to the academic fraud situation that was ongoing at UNC for about a decade. Perhaps the problem is that so much of the evidence in that matter is in the public domain already that it has been very difficult to sculpt the outcome that is in the best interests of the NCAA. Would love to be a fly on the wall…

In another legal proceeding not having anything to do with the NCAA but one that might be fun to watch, Jonathan Papelbon has filed a grievance against the Washington Nationals who docked him 4 games pay for the time the team suspended him after his “dugout choking incident” with Bryce Harper. Given that the confrontation was replayed on national TV at least a bazillion times, one might wonder what the grievance is all about.

According to reports, there is no precedent under the history of MLB CBAs for a team-initiated suspension to carry with it a loss of pay. That seems counter-intuitive to me; but if that is the case then Papelbon ought to fight to get back the money the Nats took from his pocket. My rough calculation is that it comes to about $275K which may seem like a whole lot of nothing considering MLB salaries these days. But there are two things to consider here:

    1. If indeed there is no precedent for any of this, then the MLBPA surely does not want to set such a precedent outside the umbrella of a collective bargaining scenario.

    2. Papelbon has a reputation for being “difficult to get along with” and this is the sort of thing a person who actually is “difficult to get along with” might do over a long and boring offseason.

Seriously, if Papelbon is still on the Nats’ roster when Spring Training starts, it will be fun and games for the reporters assigned to that beat for about 6 weeks.

Finally, Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle a while back. Maybe the folks at the NCAA who do investigations and write disciplinary reports could take note:

“Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko says of the massive doping allegations against his country, ‘We admit some things, we argue with some things, some are already fixed, it’s a variety.’ You fellas out there, memorize that speech and try it on your wife or boss next time you get caught doing something really stupid.”

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

Officiating Problems…

The 2015 NFL season has had its share of officiating blunders and I am not merely talking about questionable actions on replays where the officials can slow the motion down to stop action for inspection. There have been rules interpretations that have been mistakenly applied leading to suspension of an official for a game and leading to an entire officiating crew being taken off the Sunday Night Game. If there has been a full season of poorer officiating in the NFL’s past, I must have missed it.

I do recall a time when the mantra was that “instant replay” would resolve all controversies and get all the calls right. Well, the current system of coaches’ challenges has been in place for about 15 years now and they still do not get all the calls right. I do recall a time when the NFL officials were locked out and the league used “replacement refs” who butchered games badly until they completely blew a call on national TV (Seahawks/Packers) that changed the outcome of the game and the labor dispute miraculously settled in about 48 hours. That was supposed to assure that they get the calls right too…

Let me ask; how many times this year have you heard this statement or a small variant on this statement:

    “I just don’t know what a catch is anymore…”

That is a telling comment because it usually comes from a color analyst who is nominally an “expert”; if that comment was merely the screeching of Joe Fanboy somewhere, you could ignore it. However, we are getting to the point where the NFL may not be able to ignore this kind of thing much longer. I say that because the narrative seems to be changing.

On PTI about a week ago, Michael Wilbon said that the Patriots “were hosed” by the officials in the Pats’ loss to the Broncos. There is more than a semantic difference between “the Pats’ lost on a blown call” and “the Pats were hosed by the officials”. The first comment speaks to officials’ competency; the second intimates officials’ intent. Now, as soon as there is even a whiff of “officials’ intent” in the conversation, you begin to think about “integrity of the game” and stuff like that.

The NFL loves to stand tall and announce its commitment to the integrity of the game – because it has to do that. Never to be admitted in public, the NFL suits know that their game enjoys its 800-lb gorilla status to the fact that people gamble on the games legally and illegally. If there is any perception that the outcomes of said games are scripted in any way, the public’s gambling interest will dwindle and the NFL’s product will be less attractive. The “officiating problems” from 2015 have to be corrected.

I believe that replay has made officials lazy. They know in the backs of their minds that they might get a buzz from the booth to review a call or that a coach may challenge one they make so there is no need to invest the physical and mental energy in getting it right with the toot of the whistle. After all, Big Brother Replay, can set things straight at a more leisurely pace…

In the past, the NFL, the NFLPA and the officials have tried the single-focus solution to problems such as “replay” or “get rid of the replacement refs”. What 2015 has shown, is that the problem(s) are more complex than that.

Now since I mentioned the word “hosed” a couple of paragraphs above, consider please that North Carolina was hosed by the officials in its loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game last Saturday. Trailing by 8 points late in the 4th quarter, Carolina executed and recovered an onside kick giving them a chance to tie/win the game. The officials threw a flag and said Carolina was offside on the kickoff when replay showed clearly that they were not; no Carolina player was even close to being offsides. Why might this be a “hosing” rather than a “blown call”?

Well if you love conspiracy theories consider:

    Carolina had been ranked about #10 in the CFP polls going into the game; Clemson was #1.

    If Carolina wins and is the ACC Champion, it is possible – even likely – that neither team would make the CFP meaning the ACC would be out of the spotlight for those games.

    And who employs the officials? Why the ACC itself. How convenient…

Let me be clear, I do not believe for a moment that conference moguls sat around in a closed room two days before the Clemson/North Carolina game and assigned someone to let the officials know that Clemson had to win that game. Clemson did not have to cover – which they did anyway –; but they had to win – which they did. If you want to make a “hosing argument” that erodes the integrity of the game, you can do so with the video replays from that game.

Reports have it that the Super Bowl halftime act will be a rock group named Coldplay. It should surprise exactly no readers here that I do not know Coldplay from Hotwork or The Hot Toddies. Since this is Super Bowl 50 and the NFL will be flogging the nostalgia angle for that game for all it is worth, I wonder why they did not go back to Super Bowl 1 and invite the Grambling State University marching band to perform. I do not know what fee the NFL will pay for Coldplay’s appearance, but I suspect that the folks at Grambling can use the money more than the rock group can use the money. If you want to make it even better, do a “Battle of the Bands” at halftime with Grambling against Southern.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment after the Cavs and LeBron James visited Miami for a regular season game:

“Half of NBA fans are talking about Steph Curry’s unbeaten Warriors and the other half are talking about Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement. Meanwhile, the Heat on Saturday hosted the Cavaliers and ol’ what’s-his-name.”

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

Erratum

I must begin today with an erratum. Last week I was writing about Mark Richt’s firing at Georgia and mentioned that his winning percentage of 74% put him in the company of Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Bob Stoops. That statement is absolutely correct – but it is not as inclusive as it should be.

I received an e-mail last Friday from a former colleague who is a devoted football fan and an alum of TCU. The e-mail informed me that “this proud Horned Frog” knows that I did not omit the name of Gary Patterson intentionally but that I would “give offense to all who follow TCU” if I failed to correct my error. Not meaning to give offense, my former colleague is exactly correct. Gary Patterson’s record at TCU – his only head coaching job at the collegiate level – is 142-47 and that winning percentage is just north of 75%.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa…

Yesterday, the Portland Timbers captured the MLS Cup by beating the Columbus Crew in Columbus. The fact that two “small market teams” played in the final game surely did not enhance the TV ratings for that game going up against a full slate of NFL games. However, the presence of two “small market teams” in the final game does present MLS in a positive light with regard to the competitiveness of the league and the ability of any city to field a team that can compete for a championship.

Let me say one other positive thing about MLS here. The league has spent a lot of money and effort on player development. Youth academies continue to open and operate putting young players in a skills-learning situation as opposed to an environment where much of the time is devoted to games. In addition, MLS and the United Soccer League (USL) have created a third level of US soccer as another way to develop players. MLS is the top-tier of professional soccer in the US; the North American Soccer League is one level down from MLS; the USL is a third tier of pro soccer in the US consisting of 28 teams. Just as MLB incurs costs for developing young players in the minor leagues, MLS is involved directly with teams in the USL to develop talent that one day could show up in MLS or other professional leagues.

The NBA and Anheuser-Busch have extended their marketing agreement. I was glancing through a report about this extension and ran across this paragraph:

“A number of Anheuser-Busch’s flagship brands will activate as part of this partnership. Starting this season, Budweiser and Bud Light will run NBA marketing activations at the same time, with each brand owning year-round platforms and different marquee league events, including NBA All-Star, NBA Playoffs, The Finals, NBA Draft, and WNBA All-Star.”

I am pretty sure that I could define every word or phrase in that paragraph. Nonetheless, I am positive that I have no idea what that paragraph means. This is a value-subtracted process – as opposed to a value-added process. Here we have words I understand arranged in sentences that make no sense.

    What does it mean for a flagship brand to activate? Does that mean that cans of Bud Lite will open themselves and pour themselves into mugs?

    What is the significant change that I will notice now that “Budweiser and Bud Light will run NBA marketing activations at the same time”?

    What does it mean for a brand to “own year-round platforms”? Should I expect to see Budweiser trucks floating on barges in lakes? Maybe the Clydesdales will be on the roof of an arena near me?

Here is something I am sure that I do know about all of this. None of this management-speak is going to change the fact that Bud Light is undrinkable…

After the Arizona D-Backs signed 32-year old Zack Greinke to a deal reportedly worth $206M over the next 6 years, someone went back through the myriad records kept for baseball games and figured out that Greinke had thrown “more than 33,000 pitches in his major league career”. Talk about a pitch count… I checked his minor league stats and found that Greinke has had a couple of “rehab assignments” to the minor leagues and he threw 333.1 innings in the minor leagues as he was coming up to the major leagues. Seems to me that is an awful lot of pitches for an arm or a shoulder but then I did one other calculation:

    Nolan Ryan struck out 5714 batters in his career. If I estimate that it took him 4.5 pitches per strike out – probably a low estimate but good enough – that means Ryan threw 25,713 pitches just to his strikeout victims.

    Ryan pitched a total of 5386 innings meaning he got 16,158 hitters out. That means 10,444 hitters were retired in some way other than a strikeout. Conservatively, that is another 20,000 pitches…

    Ryan walked 2795 batters. At 5 pitches per walk, there go another 13,975 pitches.

    Ryan gave up 3,923 hits in his career. Round that off to another 10,000 pitches

    Using conservative estimates for all of these situations, Nolan Ryan threw at least 68,900 pitches in his career. By that measure, Greinke could be only in the mid-day of his career…

Finally, since I mentioned the NBA and Anheuser-Busch and their new marketing agreement, let me close with something from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times at the intersection of sports and beer:

“Canadian Lewis Kent broke the world record for the beer mile — four laps around a track, and downing a bottle of ale before each one — running it in 4:51.9.

“In terms of miles per gallon, though, that makes a Winnebago look like a Prius.”

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

Coaching Stories

Last week, when news reports had it that Les Miles was on his way out at LSU, I wrote that it is not so simple to replace a coach who wins about 70% of the games played along with a national championship. I stand by those remarks as LSU folks seemingly have come to their senses. Les Miles will be back at the helm in Baton Rouge next season.

However, in the frenzy of “football coach firing season”, which occurs in late November and early December every year, the folks at the University of Georgia have climbed out on a limb by firing their head coach, Mark Richt. Here is a brief overview of Mark Richt’s tenure at Georgia – the only school where he has been the head coach:

    Head coach from 2001 through 2015
    Bowl eligible every season
    Overall record is 145-51 (74% wins)
    SEC East Division Champion 6 times
    SEC Conference Champion 2 times
    SEC Coach of the Year 2 times

For the record, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Bob Stoops are the only other current college football coaches I found who had winning percentages of 74% or higher. Mark Richt is in rather good company there…

Coach Richt will be 56 years old early next year; his coaching days are not done if he decides that he wants another position. The résumé that I summarized above will surely get him offers from other schools unless he makes it known that he is not open to such offers. Meanwhile the folks at Georgia will now figure out at whom they will throw money to come to Georgia and surpass Mark Richt’s record there.

Having said all of the above, the 2015 season was disappointing for Georgia fans. The SEC East was a mess this year; South Carolina imploded; Missouri fell apart; Florida had a new coach; Tennessee was improved but still middling. Nonetheless, Georgia found a way to lose 3 conference games and finish 2 full games behind Florida. Personally, I think the reason for that poor showing goes beyond the coaching staff.

On October 10th, Georgia lost RB, Nick Chubb, to a season-ending knee injury. The Georgia offense was designed to feature Chubb as the main weapon and the passing game as the icing on the cake. This offense was supposed to be akin to Rex Ryan’s “ground and pound”; and like Rex Ryan’s NFL teams, Georgia had QBs for whom the top aspiration was that they would “manage the game” as opposed to stink out the joint. Here is what I wrote about the loss of Nick Chubb in NCAA Mythical Picks the week after his injury:

“Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury on his first carry of the game and Chubb is more than just a really good RB; he is what makes the Georgia offense go. Georgia led 24-3 in the first half and managed to lose 38-31. The Vols ran up 512 yards of total offense on a Georgia defense that has not looked nearly that bad all season long. Some folks may want to ascribe this loss to the hangover sustained from the clobbering that Alabama put on Georgia 2 weeks ago; I think it was more about the loss of Nick Chubb. And, that has implications for Georgia and the SEC East going forward.”

Indeed, those implications going forward seem to have encompassed the coaching tenure of Mark Richt. Yes, this was a year when the SEC East was ripe for picking and Georgia did not do the picking. Yes, that makes fans/boosters/administrators frustrated. No, that is not justification for them to take leave of whatever they have that passes for common sense. Here is what Nick Saban had to say about Mark Richt, his firing at Georgia and what it means for the college coaching profession:

“I don’t know what the world’s coming to in our profession. Mark Richt has been a really good coach and a really positive person in our profession for a long, long time. … We all get it. We know we have to win games. But winning nine games is not bad.”

At the NFL level, recall that the Miami Dolphins fired head coach, Joe Philbin, a couple of months ago and took the opportunity to fire the defensive coordinator too. The team had a brief “resurgence” if you count beating the Titans and the Texans as pivotal events for your team. Nonetheless, the Dolphins now find themselves at the bottom of the AFC East; they are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they have as much chance of winning the Powerball lottery as they do of making the playoffs. So, what did the Dolphins do next?

    They fired their offensive coordinator.

People have looked at that and interpreted it as a sign that the owner will do a total restructuring and reorganization of the football operation in the off season. Good for him; the team needs it. The problem he has to face up to is that the players on the field are also in need to a total restructuring; the Dolphins have bigger problems than just the coaching staff.

By the way, the Dolphins made another announcement recently that is not likely to make their fans real happy. In the wake of this unsuccessful season and the bloodletting of the coaching staff here is what the Dolphins will do next year:

    They will increase ticket prices for about half the seats in Sun Life Stadium.

In the world on international soccer, there is a coach in place who is facing a revolt from his players. Fifteen members of the Venezuelan national team have said they will quit the team unless the coach and some folks in the Venezuelan Federation are removed. Venezuela has never made it to the World Cup Tournament and has been a traditional doormat in South American international soccer play. This is not nearly the sort of seismic news that it would be if such a threat came from the Brazilian or the Argentine teams; however, it does speak to the idea that sometimes the players believe the coaches are incompetent just as coaches often believe certain players are incompetent.

And for the record, one of the Venezuelan Federation folks – an overseer of a traditional doormat of a program – was one of the FIFA officials who was arrested in Switzerland about 6 months ago as part of the US/Swiss investigations and prosecutions of FIFA execs who just might have been involved in some corrupt activities.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times. Yes, he should be ashamed of himself for this groaner…

“Former Olympic 1,500-meter champ Sebastian Coe of England defeated former 20-foot vaulter Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, 115-92, to become president of IAAF, track & field’s governing body.

“Moral of the story: It doesn’t pay to run against Coe, even if you are No. 1 in the poles.”

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

A Race To The Bottom Tonight

Sports fans always look forward to “Games of the Year” whereby two teams considered to be “The Best” meet on the field/court/ice/pitch to determine the superior squad. However, there is inherent symmetry in the world and tonight will provide fans with a chance to glance at the other end of the stick. Tonight, at 7:00 EST, the Los Angeles Lakers tote their 2-14 record to South Philadelphia to play against the Philadelphia 76ers and their 0-18 record. You might be surprised to learn that the Sixers are favored by 1.5 points in this Race-to-the-Bottom Classic.

The fact that Kobe Bryant – who went to high school in suburban Philly before jumping to the NBA – has just announced that this will be his final season as a player will likely goose the attendance for the game. Might it actually be a sellout? If it is, it could be the only sellout of the season for the Sixers.

Philly fans like basketball; they generally support teams well even if those teams are “not fully functional”. Nevertheless, the Sixers of the past few years have been well below the descriptor of “not fully functional”; for the past several years, the Sixers have been “painfully pathetic”. Most folks identify the arrival of GM Sam Hinkie a little over 2 seasons ago as the start of the “painfully pathetic” era; I happen to think that the origin of this giant puddle of dog-barf began with the idiotic trade the Sixers made to acquire Andrew Bynum. However, that is quibbling so I will move on.

From the fans’ perspective the problem with the Sixers these days is that they are not only losing but they are losing every way you can imagine.

    Sometimes, they get blown out from the start and lose by a huge number.
    Sometimes they lead in the 4th quarter and then lose.
    Sometimes they rally from behind to take the lead late and then lose.

There is no fixed script for Sixers’ games except for the outcome. They lose. Moreover, one has to wonder if there is anything more than rhetorical gas behind the pronouncements that there is a master plan behind all of this. The front office plan/philosophy is to tear down the team to nothing and then proceed to use the assets gained by the tear down to rebuild the team. Indeed, they been wheeling and dealing for draft picks and foreign players. The problem is that the product on the court after 2 full years of restructuring is abjectly awful – or painfully pathetic if you prefer.

GM, Sam Hinkie, is trying to implement an NBA version of Moneyball; he is a devotee of advanced analytics for the game and he believes – probably correctly – that if/when he assembles a team with 5 or 7 outstanding young players at one time, that the Sixers will become a dynastic team. As Hamlet said, “Aye, there’s the rub…” So far, Hinkie’s top picks in the draft have been:

    Nerlins Noel: Good defensive player but no offense
    Michael Carter Williams: Traded away to Bucks and now benched there
    Joel Embiid: Has yet to see the floor due to foot injuries/surgeries
    Jahlil Okafor: Good offensive player but no defense

In the 2+ seasons of the Hinkie Master Plan, the Sixers cumulative record is 37-145. One need not resort to advanced analytics to recognize that is beneath miserable. The Sixers potentially have as many as 5 first round draft picks for next summer. Hey there, that has to be the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, if you look at the prior draft picks (note that three of the four top picks all play center) you have to wonder if that light at the end of the tunnel might actually be a gorilla with a flashlight.

And just when it seemed as if the Sixers were due for just a smidgen of good news, we learned that the latest top pick, Jahlil Okafor has had 3 “off-court incidents” in the last month to include an altercations where punches were thrown, a gun outside a club in the late-night hours and a speeding ticket on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge where the vehicle was clocked at 108 mph. Okafor is only 19 years old but that speeding ticket indicates to me that he knows that his future lies in getting out of this situation as fast as possible.

There is a report on CBSSports.com this morning that the Sixers will provide Okafor with a security guard “whenever he goes out”. Obviously, the Sixers want to protect the value of their asset; not so obviously, the Sixers seem not to understand the difficulty of protecting anyone from oneself.

However, all of that drama regarding the Sixers will be on hold tonight as the Lakers come to town with their “local kid made good” who is on his farewell tour on a team so bad that the Sixers might actually win the game. For one night, Philly basketball fans might actually enjoy going to the arena for a game – unless and until the Sixers find a way to lose at the end yet again.

Meanwhile, the world of college football finds itself in the situation whereby they are not going to have 80 bowl-eligible teams available for the 40 stupid bowl games that will transpire. As of this morning there are 75 teams with 6 wins. Of the teams with 5 wins, only 3 of them (Georgia State, Kansas State and South Alabama) have another game to play this weekend. Ergo, the NCAA will have to name at least 2 and as many as 5 ineligible teams “good enough to participate in a bowl game.” Never an entity to miss an opportunity to perpetuate a fiction, the NCAA will determine which ineligible teams to anoint with pixie dust by using:

    The Academic Progress Rate

I am not going to try to explain what this is other than to say it is a concoction of the NCAA that tries to hold schools accountable for having athletes take courses and progress toward degrees. And if you think that is effective, you have already bought into the fiction of the student-athlete in revenue sports and do not need to have your eyes diverted by smoke and mirrors. If you care to know more about that nonsense, here is a link to Wikipedia’s explanation.

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

“Wisconsin fans hurled snowballs at their own cheerleaders at last Saturday’s football game.

“Coincidence? Irate school officials immediately announced they will no longer accept student applications postmarked Philadelphia.”

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