The ACLU Changes The Game?

As you know, there is a court challenge pending regarding the US Patent and Trademark Office allowing the “Washington Professional Football Team” to have trademark protection when it uses the name “Washington Redskins”. The challenge to that trademark is based on something called the Lanham Act which prohibits the registration of “scandalous”, “disparaging” or “immoral” trademarks. I am not a lawyer, so fear not; I am not about to go into some kind of history of the Lanham Act and how it has been applied. Rather, I want to focus on how the case may have taken a slight change in vector heading recently.

As the case made its way through the judiciary, I figured that it would be decided on the degree of “scandalous” and/or the level of “disparaging” became associated with the team name as the proceedings moved along. It is a case that seemed to me to have some elements related to a previous Supreme Court case that caused Justice Potter Stewart to say about hard-core pornography:

“I know it when I see it.”

However, recently the ACLU jumped into the fray with an amicus curiae brief urging the court to strike down those parts of the Lanham Act on the basis that they violate the First Amendment. I think I understand the basis of the argument to be that since the Patent and Trademark Office is a government entity, any time they apply the Lanham Act in a negative way it is a form of the government regulating speech/expression.

I am not going to try to offer an opinion on the ACLU position or on the case itself because I assert that the judge in this matter would have to be in a coma and on life-support not to have a more fundamental understanding of the matter than I do. However, one thing does confuse me about the ACLU position and perhaps someone who has been to law school might help me out here:

    It seems to me that every trademark ever issued puts limitations on “speech”/”expression” by forbidding me – for example – from putting the NFL logo on a T-shirt and just giving it away. The whole idea of “property rights” seems to crash head-on into “expression rights” in a ton of circumstances. It seems to me as if the Napster case violated “free expression” as much as this case might.

We shall see how all of this plays out…

Whilst we have a brief respite in the NCAA tournament until the games next Saturday evening, take just a moment to juxtapose in your mind the idea that the NCAA will likely exceed $1B in revenue this year while it continues to maintain that it oversees amateur sports played by student-athletes. If the NCAA ever hinted that the concept of amateurism and amateur athletes was not the foundation piece for its games, the NCAA would have no reason to exist. Lest you think I am putting words in the NCAA’s figurative mouth, here is a paragraph from the NCAA website:

“Amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority. In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.”

Let me be clear. I can believe that paragraph in its entirety when it applies to Division III teams such as Linfield College football or Division II teams such as Philadelphia University basketball or even to Division I schools in places like the Ivy League or in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. I cannot swallow the piety of that paragraph when it comes to the big-time schools that are participating in the basketball tournament for real especially in light of the recent revelations of academic shenanigans at Syracuse and UNC. Make no mistake, those were not actions taken by “deranged boosters” or some “rogue recruiter”; the events at Syracuse and UNC were genuine academic fraud perpetrated by or condoned by coaches, players, athletic departments and faculty.

The NCAA cannot maintain that amateurism is a “bedrock principle” and that in the “collegiate model” the athletes are “students first” so long as those kinds of activities are not crushed when they are discovered. The hypocrisy level in that statement is so great that it immediately brings to mind a quote from William F. Buckley, Jr.:

“I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.”

It would seem as if the NCAA continues to live with one abiding hope in terms of continuing to play the smoke-and-mirrors game with the American public. That one abiding hope was expressed by Noel Coward:

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

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

Tournament Notes

Here are notes and comments on the weekend basketball tournament games:

    Overall, the games on Thursday and Friday were mediocre while the games on Saturday and Sunday were all very good.

    Louisville/North Carolina State was an ugly game particularly in the first half when “neither team can hit ANYTHING.”

    North Carolina State got into the 60s; when teams do that to Louisville, they often win. Not here…

    Bob Molinaro posed this question regarding NC State in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

    “Which way is it? After eviscerating Villanova, N.C. State is classified as an overachiever. But couldn’t you make the case that a team good enough to beat a No. 1 seed was guilty of underachievement by finishing only 10-8 in the ACC?”

    Neither UCLA nor Gonzaga is proficient in offensive rebounding; “this is a one-and-done contest.” Gonzaga’s big men are not rim protectors.

    Bryce Alford hit nine 3-pointers to win a game for UCLA in early round of the tournament; he hit his first 3-pointer with 2:21 to play in this game with UCLA down by 19 at that point.

    The Kentucky/Notre Dame game was a GREAT basketball game. Period. “The only thing it lacked was overtime.”

    Michigan St/Oklahoma was another ugly game; both teams missed open shots for the whole first half; neither team scored for a 5 minute stretch of the second half. All those missed shots clang off the rims as if they were boulders.

    Duke/Utah was not pretty either. Let me reiterate something I said earlier:

      Justise Winslow is REALLY GOOD !!

    Louisville/Michigan State gave us extra time in a game that was tight from the start. Hard to ask for much more.

The Duke/Gonzaga game was a game of momentum swings; Duke’s win by 14 points is an example of a momentum swing. With 5 minutes left in the game, Duke led by 2 points and then the momentum swung… I think Damontas Sabonis played excellently and demonstrated the power of genetics; he is only a freshman and will not turn 19 for another month; he is going to be a really good NBA player. And now I am going to say something heretical:

    Jahlil Okafor needs to return to school for another year instead of going to the NBA. His game is not ready for the NBA; his body is not ready for the NBA.

Please note that I did not say Okafor is not a good player; he is a very good player. The issue is that he is “a big” meaning he will have to bang bodies with centers and power forwards in the NBA and he is not yet ready to do that. He also does not pass well out of double-teams and his footwork on defense needs polishing too. Another year playing NCAA basketball will do him a lot of good.

Three ads that assaulted my consciousness over the weekend need comment:

    Two people pull up to the dilapidated hotel with the crazy lady on the porch and use their in-car communication system to get out of there. They ask to be booked at the “furthest 5-star hotel”. Not a good idea because that might be in Beijing or Perth and their car isn’t going to get them there.

    Game of War is clearly a computer game that I know nothing about. However, if you can “play for free”, how does the owner of the game find the money to pay for the advertisement and for the time slots in these games? I do not understand the business model here…

    A “new show” on CBS will be The Odd Couple. Seriously now, hasn’t that been done to death yet?

Finally, here is another commentary from Bob Molinaro. I was fortunate not to have to listen to any of the radio broadcasts of any tournament games this year, so I did not have the same experience that he did. Nonetheless, he is definitely correct in his commentary:

“Too much static: Out and about in the car, I listened to parts of three NCAA tournament games last weekend, which means I heard a lot of screaming, yelping, screeching, wailing and howling from hysterical play-by-play men. And this was during the first half. When did so much caterwauling – to a supposedly neutral audience – become fashionable?”

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

NFL Excesses

Sports Curmudgeon 3/26/15

When you are the NFL and you are the 800-lb gorilla in the sports world in the US, you can do whatever you bleeping feel like doing. What the NFL has done regarding the Super Bowl next year fits the lifestyle of a good friend of mine about whom all of his friends say:

    His motto in life is that nothing exceeds like excess.

At the end of this season – in February 2016 – the NFL will stage the 50th Super Bowl game ever played. That is a fact; you can go back and count the games. The NFL will “honor” this game by making everything imaginable connected to this season and to that game “golden” because of course people celebrate their 50th anniversary as their Golden Anniversary. For the record, my long-suffering wife and I will celebrate our 50th – our golden – anniversary in 2016 too unless, of course, she finally decides to dispatch me by planting a fire-ax between my eyebrows. I understand well the concept of a Golden Anniversary and look forward to celebrating one next year.

What the NFL is doing here is a fraud wrapped up in a sham encased in a Nigerian e-mail scheme. The first Super Bowl game was played in LA in January 1967; I tuned in to watch that game and have seen every one of the games since that one. The 50th Super Bowl game will happen in February 2016 and that is the 49th anniversary of the first game, not the 50th anniversary. Having celebrated a 49th anniversary only about 9 months ago, let me assure everyone that it is not one’s Golden Anniversary. The marketing and PR folks associated with the NFL should be boiled in oil for this fraud and by the end of the season most of you are going to agree with me.

Here are some of the things that the marketing/PR trolls are going to make happen:

    The 50-yardline on every field for every game will have the numerals painted in gold on the field.

    All of the logos for things like the Draft in May 2015 and the playoffs that start in January 2016 will be lettered in gold.

    The NFL Shield this year will be in gold.

    Many of the team hats/shirts/whatever sold in this celebratory year will have team logos outlined in gold. Or, of course, you can also buy the “traditional” gear if you prefer – or you could also buy both…

    The winner of Super Bowl 50 – next February – will not only hoist the Lombardi Trophy but will also get the “Golden 50”. What might you ask is the “Golden 50”?

      It will be the numerals “5” and “0” that have been bronzed and plated in 18-karat gold and of a size that each numeral will weigh between 30 and 35 lbs.

    The only thing that can put this whole excessive nonsense over the top would be for the MVP in the Super Bowl Game to be – – wait for it – – Golden Tate.

A few days ago, I talked about the retirement of Chris Borland from the NFL because of his concern for his mental health in his later years. This week Borland announced that he would return a pro-rate share of his signing bonus to the Niners since he chose not to play out his contract. That means he is returning about $460K to the Niners. I have no idea how that affects their salary cap but it would be interesting to look at the books and see what the folks on mahogany row did with that $460K windfall…

Every year when the NFL holds its Spring Meetings, one of the agenda items is always proposed rule changes for the upcoming year(s). One change this year tries to clarify what is a catch for a forward pass in response to the “Dez Bryant Incident” in the playoffs and to the infamous “Calvin Johnson non-TD catch” from about 5 years ago. The sad thing is that the new wording in the rule does not clarify much of anything at all. More controversy to follow…

However, Dan Daly, on his fantastic blog Profootballdaly.com, has compiled a history of rule change proposals that the NFL owners have considered and subsequently rejected in their Spring Meetings over the history of the league. Please go and read this blog entry in its entirety; it is definitely worth your time. One of the rule changes that was rejected – in 1944 – was to award one point to the team kicking off if the kickoff went through the uprights.

All 32 NFL coaches showed up for a “photo-shoot” at the Spring Meetings. This is news because more often than not at least one of the coaches does not make an appearance and most often the absentee is Bill Belichick. I did not see any reports if he showed up wearing a hoodie – after all this was in Phoenix and not in Lower Kalskag, Alaska (population 294) – but there was a report that said Andy Reid showed up for the photo wearing flip-flops, shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. If the Hawaiian shirt fit Andy Reid, it might be a map of the Hawaiian Islands with a scale of 1:1…

Finally, here is a perspective offered up by Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald showing the status of sports in US society:

“Prince Charles’ U.S. tour has ended. It was similar to Derek Jeter’s retirement tour, only with 10,000-times less public interest.”

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

The Boston Olympics Redux…

It snowed a whole lot in the Boston area this winter. I suspect that lots of people there had more than a few moments tucked inside their homes with no real prospects of going anywhere and some used those moments to reflect on matters of import. I suspect some folks resolved their feelings for others in those moments; others may have pondered some of the big social/political issues of the day; others may have taken the time to completely restructure their finances. It would appear to me that some of the folks who are involved with Boston 2024 – the group behind Boston’s bid to get the Summer Olympics to that city – used that contemplative time pondering this question:

    Is this REALLY a good idea?

According to reports, the Chairman of Boston 2024 told area business leaders that the organization is going to get signatures on a petition to put a question on the 2016 ballot in Massachusetts asking if Boston 2024 should really make a final bid for the Games. Boston 2024 is a privately funded entity so no one involved there would run afoul of Boston mayor, Marty Walsh, and his edict that no city employee can speak ill of the Olympics, the IOC, the USOC or Boston’s bid for the games. Chairman John Fish reportedly told the business leaders that if the ballot referendum is not supported by a majority of the voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Boston 2024 will cease and desist with its efforts to pull together the final bid.

I read several accounts of Fish’s remarks and one of them said that he also indicated that Boston 2024 would stand down even with a majority in that referendum if the question did not also get a majority vote in the City of Boston. That added stipulation is not included in all of the reporting so I wonder about its validity. Nevertheless, what started out in a state of euphoria with Mayor Walsh approaching Nirvana in his joy seems to be coming into focus with reality. There is plenty of time between now and November 2016 when the referendum question will be on the ballot for politicking and deal-making; however, as a starting point, consider this:

    A local radio station – WBUR-FM – conducted a poll of 500 Boston residents and found only 36% of the people polled supported the idea of Boston bidding for the Games.

It is not as if Boston politicians have never faced the problem of selling an unpopular idea to the voters. However, this may not be the slam-dunk that Mayor Walsh envisioned in his euphoric state a couple of months ago. Time to put the political operatives out on the streets…

Arizona State fired basketball coach, Herb Sendek, earlier this week. Sendek had been at ASU for 9 seasons; in that time his record there was 155-133 but his PAC-12 conference record was only 68-86. His teams had been to the NCAA tournament twice and to the NIT four times in those 9 seasons. I bring this up not because I think Herb Sendek got a raw deal; I bring this up because it reminded me to go and look for some other data.

Two years ago, Florida Gulf Coast University made a Cinderella run in the NCAA tournament making the Sweet 16 despite being seeded 15th in their region. They ran the court and dunked the ball and their coach, Andy Enfield had 15 minutes of fame. He bolted that job at the first opportunity to take the job at USC – another PAC-12 school. He has been there for 2 seasons and here is the USC record:

    Overall record is 23-41
    PAC -12 record is 5-31

    USC has finished 12th in the PAC-12 in both seasons. Finishing 12th in a 12 team conference means they finished dead last.

Two points here:

    1. Herb Sendek’s record does not look so bad in juxtaposition.

    2. A coaching system that works against opponents such as Ave Maria, Florida Tech and Stetson does not always work as well against better competition.

As I was watching the tournament games, I had to notice that every announcing team had a “sideline announcer” appended to it. Those folks demonstrated yet again that sideline reporting and interviews with coaches at halftime represents very low grade ore. Other than the time when Richard Sherman called out Michael Crabtree right after the NFC Championship Game when interviewed on the field, I am hard-pressed to recall a sideline interview that contained anything bordering on informative – let alone newsworthy. The only good thing I would say about the sideline reporters for this year’s tournament is that I never saw one of them go into the stands and stick a microphone in front of a parent or other family member of a player or coach and ask something inane such as:

How does it feel to [fill in the blank]…?

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this observation about athletes seeking trademarks:

“Jameis Winston’s marketing agency is attempting to trademark his college nickname, Famous Jameis,’ to protect his ‘intellectual property.’ Legal experts say this would be the least-intellectual intellectual property since ‘Kiss my grits.’

“ ‘This better not be about cookies,’ said Famous Amos.”

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

A “Global Plea Agreement”…

There seems to be resolution in the Darren Sharper matter where he has been accused of drugging and then raping women in four different states. According to a report in the New Orleans Advocate yesterday, Sharper, his attorneys reached a “global plea agreement” with prosecutors in four states and Federal prosecutors (because there were drug charges involved here too) to resolve all of the cases. In yesterday’s report, the details of the plea agreement were not revealed. However, for a full synopsis of this wide-ranging set of circumstances, the report from yesterday is most useful. Here is the link:

Now today, the plea agreement details have begun to emerge. According to CBSSports.com this morning, Sharper will get 9 years in prison and lifetime probation for the guilty pleas. According to the report, this resolves the charges that he first drugged and then raped at least 9 women in 4 states. Now to me, that seems like a very generous plea arrangement from the prosecutors. Ignoring the Federal drug charges for a moment, the math here is that he gets 1 year per rape and that seems a tad light.

Given all the negative attention that has surrounded recent events involving NFL players – Sharper was in the NFL for 14 years – and violence against women, I would have thought that prosecutors would have been a bit more hard-nosed in this situation. Well, at least we can be spared the drama of Roger Goodell and the NFL imposing some kind of suspension on top of this deal and the subsequent outrage from people who are convinced that neither Roger Goodell nor the NFL can ever get anything right.

In other NFL news, the league has lifted the blackout rule for the 2015 season. That means that fans in cities such as San Diego, Oakland and Tampa – where games routinely do not sell out – may get to see their home games on network TV. I am not completely certain this is an unfettered blessing for some fans such as the ones in Oakland who will now see the Raiders 16 times instead of only 8. Given the way the Raiders have played for the last 10 years or so, fans there may have developed a fondness for those weeks of home games so that fans could stay home and watch good teams play. This is the mirror-image of the adage that every cloud has a silver lining. In this case the silver lining has a cloud around it.

In any event, the NFL will go without the blackout rules for a year and then “evaluate the impact” after the season is over. Let me tell you what the impact is most likely to be:

    Attendance in cities that sell out every game will be unaffected.

    Attendance in cities that do not sell out every game will decrease slightly – particularly in bad weather circumstances where there will be almost no “walk-up traffic”.

    Some season ticket holders in the cities that do not sell out will also stay home in bad weather situations or for some meaningless end-of-season games.

    Therefore, revenue for teams that do not sell out every game will go down very slightly.

    The fact that television rights provide the largest share of team revenue will be proven once again as no team will operate in the red.

If the NFL would like to name a committee to begin to evaluate the impact of the above, I will be happy to flesh out those 5 points for the committee members to give them a running start…

The league has another idea percolating with regard to telecasts for next year too. One of the London Games – the one in Week 7 between the Bills and Jags – will not be shown on standard TV and will not be part of the NFL Sunday Ticket package on DirecTV. The NFL wants the game to be on a “full digital platform” that can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection and/or by streaming. Stand by for more news about that initiative between now and October…

With the NCAA Basketball Tournament in full bloom, there is a little story in college basketball that has gotten about no attention. Let me do a reset for you here…

Geno Ford was the head coach at Kent State from 2008 – 2011. After that season he left Kent State to take the head coaching job at Bradley. The State of Ohio sued Ford for breach of contract and Ohio won a $1.2M judgment against Ford. That is unusual by itself but then Kent State moved to sue Bradley University for “tortuous interference” in the matter but then the Kent State side dropped the suit entirely about two weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin. So, the arrival of Geno Ford in Peoria to assume the role of head basketball coach at Bradley was a little out of the ordinary.

Now jump forward to 2015 when the college basketball season is over for all but the teams remaining in the various tournaments that are ongoing. Bradley University announced that it has fired Geno Ford as the head basketball coach. So what did Bradley get from Ford in his tenure there:

    Overall record was 46-86
    Missouri Valley Conference record was 19-53
    Record in 2014/15 was 9-24
    Missouri Valley Conference record in 2014/15 was 3-15.

So, is it just possible that one reason Kent State dropped its suit against Bradley was that it realized that one outcome might be that they would have had to take Ford back as their basketball coach and they did not really want him there in the first place? Just asking…

Finally, a note from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Cue laugh track: Darrelle Revis insists that it wasn’t the fully guaranteed $39 million that lured him away from the Patriots, but he returned to the Jets because, ‘This is where my heart is.’ They just don’t write lines like that anymore.”

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

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………