NFL Coaching Changes – 2019

Eight NFL coaches – 25% of that coaching universe – lost their jobs as soon as the 2018 regular season ended. They are:

  1. Todd Bowles (Jets):  I have said before and I continue to believe that Bowles was not “the problem” in NY; I believe the roster needs work.  In the final quarter of the season when the Jets were obviously out of it, he still had the team playing hard.
  2. Adam Gase (Dolphins):  Seemed to me that the Dolphins were a middle-of-the-road team, so, I have to conclude that ownership in Miami thought the team should have been one of the top teams based on this personnel move.
  3. Hue Jackson (Browns):  After going 1-31 over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, I was surprised to see him coaching the Browns at the start of the 2018 season.
  4. Vance Joseph (Broncos):  The Broncos’ fortunes have been in decline since their Super Bowl win in 2015.  Vance Joseph took the fall for that decline.
  5. Dirk Koetter (Bucs):  The Bucs have been pretty bad the last two seasons, so this move does not surprise me all that much.
  6. Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  Turned the franchise around 15 years ago but the Bengals have been a disorganized mess for the last several years.  It was time for a change in Cincy.
  7. Mike McCarthy (Packers):   Of the coaches told to hit the bricks this year, he is the only one with a Super Bowl ring.  Yes, it was a while ago; but he has one…
  8. Steve Wilks (Cards):  I am surprised he is gone after only one year on the job; that roster was not built to win in 2018 – AND – the Cards had a suspended GM for a while last year, so roster building was hampered.

Normally, at this point, I would comment on the various rumors about who is being interviewed by whom for which position and what the odds and prospects might be.  I want to do something different this morning.  I want to talk about how good – or how not-so-good – each of those vacancies are.  Yes, I know that “not-so-good” is a relative term given that there are only 32 positions of this kind in the known universe.  Still, some of these jobs are better opportunities than others.  So, without further prelude:

  • Arizona Cardinals:  The Cards have a young QB who looks as if he can develop into a franchise QB over time.  The problem on offense there is basic.  There are not nearly enough stars surrounding QB, Josh Rosen, to make the offense a real threat.  With Larry Fitzgerald possibly retiring – and starting the countdown on the retirement clock to his enshrinement in Canton, OH – a significant question is to what degree can Christian Kirk take over the leadership duties for the WRs on the team.  The defense is good-not-great, and the Cards have the overall #1 pick in the draft for this year.  I doubt this team will turn it around in a year or two; this is a developmental assignment.
  • Cincy Bengals:  This may be the worst job of the lot.  The team is aging on defense; the starting QB is a “Lake Woebegone QB” – he is slightly above average; they have one playmaker at WR and a decent running attack.  Add to that the history of boneheadedness on the parts of various players on the team that seemed to be condoned by the coaches and management.  That is not a spigot one can turn off at will.
  • Cleveland Browns:  If Baker Mayfield is for real and not a one-year wonder, this is the best job of the lot.  The Browns’ defense is both young and very good; Nick Chubb is a solid running back; what the team needs is a top-shelf outside threat.  Moreover, the AFC North may be ripe for turnover.  The Steelers have an ageing QB and way too much drama going on; the Ravens’ fortunes could be on the uptick – – or not (See Below); the Bengals are a hot mess (See Above).
  • Denver Broncos:  The problems in Denver are simply stated.  The defense is aging and is not nearly what it was when it helped carry the team to the Super Bowl title in 2015 AND there is no capable QB in town.  The first problem can be resolved through the draft and free agency; the Broncos have shown they know how to do that.  The QB problem is different.  John Elway was a great QB who has shown exactly ZERO ability to find anything better than a marginal QB for the team since he became the GM.  (He did not find Peyton Manning; they found one another.)  Without a franchise QB the Broncos are a team lost in the wilderness – and there do not appear to be any “can’t miss” QB prospects coming out of college this year.
  • Green Bay Packers:  The allure here is obvious; Aaron Rodgers is there to play QB.  The fact that his cap number ranges from $26.5M to $37M (in 2022) could make roster building more difficult than it has to be.  Whoever gets this job will be expected to produce annual division championships and serious runs at Super Bowl appearances while Rodgers is still playing; he is signed through the 2023 season).  There is plenty of room here for the appearance of underachievement and failure to perform to expectations.
  • Miami Dolphins:  For reasons that escape me, the team and its fans seem to think that Don Shula and his championship teams happened about 3 years ago, and the current team is on the cusp of greatness.  It is not.  The Dolphins have a mediocre team led by a mediocre QB.  Adam Gase won 10 games with the Dolphins in 2016 and finished 2nd in the AFC East – behind the perennial champs there – twice in three seasons.  And he got fired.  Good luck to the new guy in town – – even if Don Shula is that “new guy”.
  • NY Jets:  If the Browns’ job not the best job of the lot, then the Jets’ job is.  Sam Darnold has the potential to be the best Jets’ QB since Joe Namath.  [That may seem as if I am damning by faint praise, but I am not.]  The defense has several young and solid players to build around.  The Jets will have a high draft pick this year AND they have plenty of cap room to play with in free agency.  If the coach and front office bungle the opportunity here, they deserve to have a short tenure in NYC – – and the tabloids there will see to that.  [Aside:  Just so you know, the NY Post has already declared that Giants’ coach, Pat Shurmer, is already in the “show-me” phase of his tenure there.]
  • Tampa Bay Bucs:  The new guy here will be the fifth coach of the Bucs in a 10-year span; let’s say that stability is not a key element of this team.  Jameis Winston is a question mark at QB; his physical talents are prodigious; his mental errors and his immaturity surrounding his off-field behaviors are less-than-satisfactory.  The Bucs appear to be on their way to picking up the final year option on his rookie contract; if he falters next year, the team will be back looking for a QB.  The defense is a mess; the top-shelf asset on the team is WR Mike Evans who is certainly one of the 10 best at the position now – – and perhaps one of the top 5.  The coach who gets this job ought to rent not buy…

Above, I said to “see below” regarding the Baltimore Ravens.  In addition to the fact that the team may be in a QB transition phase from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson, the fact is that coach John Harbaugh’s deal is up as soon as the Ravens play their final game of the season.  Owner Steve Bisciotti chose not to extend Harbaugh at the end of last season – and admitted that he thought of making a coaching change then.  Presumably, Bisciotti will offer Harbaugh contract after making the playoffs this year – – but will Harbaugh accept the offer or look elsewhere?  If the Ravens change coaching staffs AND change QBs at the same time, there would be plenty of uncertainty around the vector heading for the team fortunes in the near term.

Add to the turmoil and turnover here the possibility of two other coaches losing their jobs between now and the Super Bowl.  I am NOT saying that either of these coaches deserves to be fired – – but it could happen:

  1. Jay Gruden (Skins):  If he is fired, he is yet one more scapegoat for the chaos incubation chamber that Danny Boy Snyder has cultivated for the Skins over the two decades of his ownership there.  The coach is NOT the problem here; the roster is the problem.  The Skins have kept far too many players that they drafted simply because they drafted them even after those players have shown they are marginal on-field performers. There are clearly locker-room problems as shown by the DJ Swearinger mess, and that may be Jay Gruden’s undoing.  However, if he is fired, he will have a job as an offensive coordinator somewhere in the NFL before the 2019 season starts – – if he wants one.
  2. Doug Marrone (Jags):  Look, the Jags were the biggest disappointment in the NFL last year; if that grinds the gears of the owner, then Marrone could be looking for work.  Rather than focus on the underperformance of the Jags in 2018, I think it is equally proper to look at their amazing overachievement in 2017 when they went to the AFC Championship Game with Blake Bortles at QB.  The Jags do not have an NFL-caliber QB on the roster and will not be a top-shelf team until they acquire one.  Ka-beesh…?

Finally, Brad Rock had this observation in his column, Rock On in the Deseret News about a week ago:

“Drew Brees sent a commemorative football to 174 former teammates he believed helped him become the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader.

“Said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary, ‘What about us’?”

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



Washington Nats 2018 Season Postmortem

Like almost all prognosticators, I thought back in March that the Washington Nationals would win the NL East handily and would flirt with or exceed 100 wins over the season.  After all, the rest of the NL East looked pretty weak back then:

  • The Braves were young and had underachieved in 2017.  I was not sold then on their pitching; I was in “show me mode” in March with regard to the Braves.  They proceeded to “show me”.
  • The Mets had good starting pitching – if healthy – and a good closer.  The lineup looked anemic.
  • The Phillies looked to be in the midst of a rebuilding; in no way did I think they might be leading the division after the All-Star Game for even a day.  They were a positive surprise to me.
  • The Marlins had traded away all their assets except their catcher.  I did not expect them to win very often.

Despite that apparently soft division which would provide the Nats with 76 of their games over the season, the Nats finished at 82-80 and needed a surge at the end of the season to corral that many victories.  It was a monumental example of underachievement.

The examination of “what went wrong” and “how did this happen” has begun in the DC area and the folks who follow the team around here have already trotted out the usual suspects in these sorts of dark circumstances.  Let me acknowledge them here:

  1. Yes, the Nats had a new manager who had never done this before and who did seem to be a bit overwhelmed at times during the season.
  2. Yes, the team had injuries.  So did every other team in the division and the league and …  Injuries happen to all teams over a season that spans 162 regular season games and six months of calendar time.

Personally, I think both of those “root causes” for the underachievement in 2018 are nothing more than convenient excuses.  The Nats entered the season with an embarrassment of riches at the 8 permanent positions and 2 studs at the top of their rotation.  The team was built to withstand an injury here and there.  Consider:

  • The outfield featured Bryce Harper and Adam Eaton back in March.  The team that started the season did not have Juan Soto at the time but added him sufficiently early in the year, such that he could be a serious contender for Rookie of the Year.  The outfield was loaded.
  • The infield had a star player in Anthony Rendon at third base, another star player at shortstop in Trea Turner, a good hitting second baseman in Daniel Murphy and good old Ryan Zimmerman at first base.  Surely, no starting infield in the NL East looked as good let alone better when the season started.
  • Catching was iffy from the start but if Matt Wieters could just hit .250 and be an anchor for the pitching staff, that should have been sufficient given the rest of the lineup.  Wieters hit .238 but only played in 76 games.
  • Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg sat atop the rotation that then included Gio Gonzales and Tanner Roark.  Scherzer and Strasburg are All-Star caliber pitchers; Gonzales has been an All-Star twice.  Maybe – I said MAYBE – the Mets had – on paper – an equally formidable rotation as the season started.
  • The Nats did not have a lights-out closer back in March and they struggled all season to find one – and to find reliable guys to get the game to the closer-of-the-week in the ninth inning.
  • Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams were on the bench for pinch-hitting duties and to give some of the regulars a rest occasionally.

That is not the Opening Day type of roster that would cause most fans to take a deep breath and wait to see how bad the season might be.  That is not a roster built to go .500 over a six-month season.

Dave Martinez is going to take some heat for this underachievement.  I believe that he deserves some of it, but I think he will take a disproportionate amount of heat.  Martinez is a rookie manager; he is described as a players’ manager; he is one who can communicate with today’s players; he is big on symbolism and fun.  All of that can be very positive with the right team; here is the problem:

  • The Nats are not that team.

Here is where I will take the path less traveled in assessing the disastrous 2018 season for the Nats.  What the Nats need now – – and frankly have needed for at least the last 3 seasons – – is a manager and a management structure less focused on “Dr. Feelgood” and more focused on “Drill Sergeant”.  The Nats are soft and have been for a while.  This team has been coddled/pampered for far too long.

  • Several years ago, as the Nats prepared to play the Giants in a playoff series, someone mentioned to one of the Giants’ players – – cannot recall which one – – that the Nats looked like a tough matchup for the Giants.  That player then said rather crudely – – but accurately – – that the Nats had plenty of talent and physical skill, but they did not have it [and then he grabbed his crotch].  The Giants prevailed in that series…

The grittiest guy on the roster for the Nats was Jayson Werth but Father Time caught up with Werth and he left MLB at the end of the 2017 season.  The new manager came in and proceeded to pull an early symbolic stunt in Spring Training.

  • The Nats brought a camel to Spring Training in Florida to symbolize that this was the year they were going to get over the hump.  Get it?  Hump?  Everyone thought it was a brilliant ploy.  This was going to convince the players that they were going to succeed in the playoffs this time around and make it to the World Series.
  • Yeah … no!

What the Nats needed to do was to work on fundamentals like hitting the cut-off man and covering bases on hustle plays.  Camels don’t help with any of that; camels make you smile and feel good and let you know that you are going to be in the playoffs and you can worry about getting over the hump once you get there.  Ah, the sin of hubris…

I have said this to many folks in the last couple of months as the Nats’ season was circling the drain.  I believe this is one of the critical elements of the team’s shortfall:

  • The Nats needed to hire as their manager whoever passes for today’s version of Billy Martin.  They needed a manager who is no-nonsense and who will punch them out if they loaf or lollygag during a game.  The enormity of the Nats’ collective physical skills tends to obscure the fact that they do not play hard all the time and that milieu becomes contagious and is difficult to eradicate.
  • The Nats needed then and need now a General Manager who will help and support this “latter-day Billy Martin” to whip that roster into shape so that it is a short-money favorite to make it to the World Series.  There is no evidence that Mike Rizzo is of that mindset.
  • Who was/is today’s Billy Martin?  My nominee would be Ozzie Guillen – and he was/is available…

Remember, I said that manager Dave Martinez is not the cause of the problem.  At the same time, I believe that he is the wrong guy with the wrong temperament and outlook on life to lead this roster.  He found himself in a situation where the team was like a Brooks Brothers three-piece suit and he was a pair hot-pink crocs.

The Nats’ fundamental problem has been ongoing for a while – – as evidenced by the comment from that Giants’ player several years ago.  Moreover, the team as an entity has not dealt with it even when confronted with it.

  • At the end of the 2015 season, Jonathon Papelbon grabbed Bryce Harper by the throat in the dugout in the middle of a game.  Teammates had to pull Papelbon off Harper.
  • The cause of that incident was a lack of hustle on Harper’s part on a pop fly to the infield.  Maybe that seems like a trivial thing – – except that it was and still is a pattern of behavior for Harper and other top-shelf players on the Nats’ team.

There is a very overused word going around these days; people talk about “accountability” without ever defining what it might entail.  Well, I will use it here and tell you what it means in this context.  Players on the Washington Nationals have – – for several years now – – been allowed to “half-ass it” during games without being pulled from the lineup for a day or two.  Or maybe even more…  Nothing of a corrective nature happened to players in the past and the attitude has spread.  Until that kind of nonchalance becomes unacceptable, there are not enough creative stunts like bringing a camel to Spring Training that will get the Nats to reach their potential.

I do not pretend to know if the problem is with the manager or with the general manager or with some of the poohbahs in the owner’s suite.  It could be in all those places; that is opaque to me.  What is transparent to me is that there is an organizational acceptance of lassitude/lethargy that undermines the assemblage of physical talent on the roster.

Charles Sanders Pierce was a pragmatist philosopher of the late 19th century.  One of his signature lines was:

“Effort supposes resistance.”

In the situation at hand here, there is little to no resistance when it comes to “half-assing it”; and so, there is no reason to expect anything more than little to no effort.

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



NFL Season Predictions – 2018

A quick reset, if I may.  This is one of my annual exercises where I set out to embarrass myself.  I am going on the record here to predict the final regular season record for each and every NFL team and to predict the playoff pairings that will begin in January 2019.  [Aside:  I probably have a better chance of bringing peace to the Middle East by January 2019 than I do of getting all of this right.  But what the hey …]

These predictions will stay on the website as long as the website continues to exist as a monument to my ineptitude as a prognosticator.  I take solace in an old adage:

  • Prediction is difficult – – particularly when it deals with the future.

One more background item before getting down to business…  None of these predictions are made with any sort of malice or animus.  There will surely be teams who will have much better records in January than the ones I predicted for them in this piece.  I did not do that to disrespect the teams, the players, the coaches or the fans of that team; what I did was to make a mistake.  Under those circumstances, I do not owe anyone an apology; what I have to do is to admit that I was wrong.

With the administrative stuff out of the way, let me begin with an added feature of these annual things.  I want to make a list of the NFL Coaches on a Hot Seat – – before the season starts.  I will list them alphabetically lest anyone misinterpret and think that I have prioritized the heat on their seat:

  1. Jason Garrett (Cowboys):  He has been the full-time head coach of the Cowboys since 2011; the team’s cumulative record over that period is 62-50 with 2 playoff appearances and 1 playoff victory.  From all outward appearances, he and Jerry Jones have a relationship that is as close as one could have with someone who is not a blood relative.  Or, perhaps, Jason Garrett survives as the Cowboys’ coach because he does not push back against Jerry Jones’ “intrusions” into the football aspects of the Cowboys?  I dunno; I’m just tossing that out there for consideration…  However, at some point, this is nominally “America’s Team” and mediocrity is not going to cut it forever – unless Jerry Jones is happy cashing all the revenue checks he takes in and does not really give a rat’s ass about Super Bowl rings anymore.
  2. Adam Gase (Miami):  Yes, he had the Dolphins in the playoffs in 2016 and then had to try to navigate the 2017 season without his starting QB and with Jay Cutler on the field.  Call that whatever you wish; those were far-less-than-ideal circumstances.  However, the Dolphins let a bunch of their talented players take a hike.  Jarvis Landry and Ndamukong Suh left in the off-season; Jay Ajayi was shipped out of town in the middle of last season amidst rumors of “friction” with the coaching staff.  Boy they sure punished him by trading him to the Super Bowl champion Eagles!  Adam Gase cannot survive another 6-10 season in Miami.
  3. Jay Gruden (Washington):  He has lasted longer than any coach in the Dan Snyder Era and is the only Skins’ coach in that Era ever to get a contract extension.  Nevertheless, his overall record on the job is sub-.500 and the organization/fanbase has higher expectations for this year’s team than in recent seasons.  The QB situation is no longer a weekly soap opera; the Skins have a solid player at that position and his contractual status is settled.  I think the Skins need to be 8-8 or better this year for Gruden to be on the job next year.  Looking at the Skins’ schedule, there could be a big trap early on.  The Skins open at Arizona then host the Colts and Packers before getting the early BYE Week.  If the Skins lose to the Cards and Colts and then get blown away by the Packers leading to that BYE Week …
  4. John Harbaugh (Ravens):  I had him on this list last year.  He led the Ravens to the Super Bowl championship in 2012.  Since then in 5 seasons the Ravens have a cumulative record of 40-40 with one playoff appearance.  Last year, the Ravens would have been in the playoffs had they beaten a mediocre Bengals’ team in the final game – – but they didn’t.  I think the Ravens need to win enough games to make the playoffs this year or they will be finding a new coach next winter.
  5. Hue Jackson (Browns):  With a coaching record in Cleveland of 1-32 over the past two seasons, I am surprised that he is back on the sidelines for another go-round.  There is nowhere to go but up from an 0-16 season and some folks are already talking about the Browns winning 8 games this year and even challenging for the AFC North title.  If ownership has those expectations, Jackson is cooked.  If he wins 5 games with that roster he ought to be given another season at the helm; if he wins the AFC North, the folks in Canton, OH should fit him for a yellow blazer.
  6. Vance Joseph (Denver):  The problem with the Broncos last year was more than just their 5-11 record; in addition, the team did not make a game of it far too often.  Yes, the Broncos were limited by their QB position but 5-11 and looking dispirited on the field is hard to take.  The Broncos have a new QB who will never be a Hall of Fame candidate but who is a step up from what they had last year.  The team must win more games this year and must be competitive in their losses or Vance Joseph will be out of a job after only 2 seasons.
  7. Dirk Koetter (Bucs):  It was not that long ago that the Bucs fired Lovie Smith to promote Koetter to the top job because of the great work he was nominally doing with Jameis Winston.  So, how’s that working out?  Well, the Bucs are 14-18 in Koetter’s two years in the head coaching position and Winston will be sitting out the first 3 games of the season on a suspension for violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.  The schedule-maker did Koetter no favorites; the Bucs opponents in those 3 games without Winston will be Saints, Eagles and Steelers.  Ouch!
  8. Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  It seems as if I put him here every year, so I’ll do it again this year.  Actually, I think Lewis is relatively safe for this year unless the Bengals go 2-14 or something like that.  The reason is that he got a contract extension that runs through the end of the 2019 season and Mike Brown does not like to pay coaches not to coach.

I went back a forth about whether to put Todd Bowles on this list.  The Jets’ roster is not a good one and the Jets will start a QB who is 21 years old and only played in 27 games in college.  By all reason, the Jets should not be very good this year – and they were only 5-11 last year.  However, the reason I left him off the list is that the Jets were in the same situation as the 2017 season began; some folks thought that the Jets – not the Browns – would have a shot to go 0-16 for the season and Bowles somehow squeezed 5 wins out of that roster.  I think that overachievement from last season will get him a pass from 2018 and into 2019.

Now to the business at hand; I shall start in the AFC West.  My prediction is that this division will produce a cumulative record of 32-32 at the end of the season.  They may represent the “Left Coast”, but their record is pretty much “middle of the road”.

  1. LA Chargers (10-6):  That’s right; I am picking the Chargers to win the division this year.  I think the other teams in the division have come back to the Chargers and the best QB in the division is Philip Rivers.  They will need some other WR besides Keenan Allen to play well.  I think their weakness from last year was run defense and they seemingly have tried to improve that in the off-season.
  2. KC Chiefs (9-7):  The Chiefs’ D-line and run defense must improve; they got decent pass rush some weeks last year and not-so-good pressure on other weeks.  I think Andy Reid will have a good offense even with a new QB; the defense is “the issue”.  I am not sold on Sammy Watkins and the big money the Chiefs bestowed on him.  Watkins is 24 and this is his 3rd NFL team already.  He is not some journeyman roaming around looking for a place to hang his hat; he was a first-round pick and already 2 teams have “gone in a different direction”.
  3. Denver Broncos (8-8):  Last year, the Broncos’ pathetic offense kept them out of the playoff hunt; the defense was solid.  Case Keenum is not a Hall of Fame candidate anywhere in the future, but he is a significant step up from what the Broncos put on the field at QB last year – – and that assumes that Keenum does not improve even a little from last year to this year.  The Broncos will improve but not enough to win the division or make the playoffs.
  4. Oakland Raiders (5-11):  Their OL took a step back last year and their DL was just plain poor.  Football games are won and lost “in the trenches” and the Raiders paid dearly for those line failures.  The Raiders addressed the OL in the draft; I do not see how the DL is supposed to make a quantum leap this year over last year.  The Raiders’ WR corps will be interesting to watch.  Jordy Nelson is 33 – but he played well in Green Bay last year.  Amari Cooper pulled a disappearing act last year for the Raiders; will he find his way back this year?  Martavis Bryant seemed always to be 48-hours away from another suspension for something or other and that is rumored to be on the horizon for 2018 – – but the Raiders will dodge that bullet because they cut him from the roster in the final camp trimmings.  Those first round draft picks that the Raiders got in exchange for Khalil Mack will be of zero value in 2018 – – and they are going to be heavily scrutinized in the next several years.  The Raiders acquired AJ McCarron from the Bills to be the backup QB.

Moving to the AFC South, my prediction is that the division’s cumulative record will be 34-30 – making it the strongest division in the AFC.

  1. Houston Texans (11-5):  Even if there is a football god on Mount Canton who delights in torturing Bill O’Brien, that god has to take a breather this year.  Forget any draft picks that might make this team or any free agents who might contribute this season, the Texans will be significantly better simply to regain the services of Whitney Mercilus, JJ Watt and DeShaun Watson – – all of whom missed plenty of games last year.  Bill O’Brien has toiled in Houston without a competent QB who is healthy all the time and without the services of key defensive players for the last couple of years.  He – and the Texans – catch a break this year and win the division.
  2. Jax Jaguars (9-7):  The Jags will take a step back this season for a couple of reasons.  They will play a “first place schedule” this year and they are just not likely to repeat the good fortune they had to play teams with injured QBs as often as they did last year.  Unless I counted wrong, they faced 6 mediocre QBs last year [Jacoby Brisset, Blaine Gabbert, DeShone Kizer, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage and TJ Yates].  The Jags are a good team with a good defense, but I think this is a regression to the mean season for them.  Face the facts here; if Colts’ QB Andrew Luck is even able to play at 80% of his previously shown capacity, the Jags have the worst QB in the division by a mile-and-three-quarters.
  3. Tennessee Titans (9-7):  In terms of team needs, the Titans need an upgraded pass rush and they need to be sure Marcus Mariota says healthy all year.  The Titans signed two free agents from the Patriots in the off season – – Malcom Butler and Dion Lewis.  The new coach in Tennessee is Mike Vrabel.  Hmmm…  Where did he play his football?  Something to watch here is that Patriot players who go elsewhere do not always perform the way they did in New England.
  4. Indy Colts (5-11):  Yes, Andrew Luck is back, and everyone says he is throwing naturally and without pain.  Honestly, I hope that is the case now and the case going forward.  The fact is that he has not played in a real NFL game in about 20 months.  The Colts took 2 offensive linemen high in the draft signaling that they have finally realized that keeping Andrew Luck vertical is critical to their success.  We shall see how all that works out…  Meanwhile, the Colts’ defense looks as if will be a sieve once again.

The AFC North will produce a cumulative division record of 29-35 at season’s end, if my prognostications are correct.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5):  I think the Steelers win the division by default; none of the other three teams there present a credible challenge unless Ben Roethlisberger goes down and LeVeon Bell does not show up ready to play football.  This Steelers’ defense will not carry this team; it is a far cry from the Steel Curtain of old.  The Steelers drafted an “heir apparent” to Ben Roethlisberger in this draft; what they really needed was to draft an “heir apparent” to Ryan Shazier.
  2. Baltimore Ravens (8-8):  The Ravens need help at WR; they offered Dez Bryant a 3-year contract ($21M) and caught a break when he turned them down.  They added Michael Crabtree who is OK, but not someone who will keep defensive coordinators awake at night wondering what to do with him.  Pressure will mount on Joe Flacco as the season goes along because he has a sub-.500 record as a starter over the last two years and because flashy first-round pick Lamar Jackson is on the squad.  As I noted above, John Harbaugh may be coaching for his job this season.  For once, you can believe him when he says he is playing the guys that he believes give the Ravens the best chance to win.
  3. Cincy Bengals (5-11):  Here is a shocker; the Bengals will start the season with Vontaze Burfict serving a suspension.  Who woulda thunk it…?  The offensive line was miserable last year; I am not sure where the improvement will come from this year unless Cordy Glenn (acquired in a trade) and Billy Daniels (drafted early) play really well.  The Bengals are also single-threaded at QB; AJ McCarron left in free agency.  When they headed into mini-camp the guys on the depth chart behind Andy Dalton were Matt Barkley, Jeff Driskel and Logan Whiteside.  Ruminate on that as you realize that every other team in the AFC North took a QB relatively early in the 2018 NFL Draft – but the Bengals did not…
  4. Cleveland Browns (5-11):  Coming off an 0-16 record, this record would be an infinite improvement – mathematically speaking.  I know it is chic at the moment to talk about the Browns going 8-8 for this season but I just don’t see that happening.  Here is a big plus for the team.  Last year, the Browns soiled themselves so regularly that you might have thought they all ate prunes and All-Bran for breakfast daily.  Whoever played QB on any given series was a turnover waiting to happen.  With Tyrod Taylor at QB, those turnovers are going to go down significantly; he is not a great QB, but he knows how to protect the ball.

The AFC East – similar to the AFC North – is top-heavy.  I predict that the division will produce a cumulative record of 29-35 at season’s end.

  1. New England Patriots (12-4):  Ho-hum…  Another day at the office; another year making predictions about the AFC East champs.  Getting to double digit wins in a season is a lot easier when a team like the Pats can look at the schedule and pencil in at least 5 wins in their division – – and sometimes 6.  This could be one of those years.  The only real “football questions” surrounding the team involve Julian Edelman’s suspension and the deal that Tom Brady has made with Father Time.  To make things interesting, people have flogged to death the story about potential friction among Brady, Belichick and Kraft.  I do not doubt for a moment that there is some unease in that troika, but unless Brady breaks a leg and/or Belichick decides to go yak wrangling/yeti hunting for the balance of the season, the Pats will be just fine.
  2. NY Jets (7-9):  Yes, even with a rookie QB who only played in 27 college games at USC, I think the Jets will improve on their 5-11 record from last year.  I am not sure who is going to catch whatever Sam Darnold delivers in the passing game and I don’t think there are any All-Pro running backs on the roster.  Nevertheless, I was most impressed by the job that Todd Bowles did last year with a terrible roster.  By the way, safety, Jamal Adams, was a really positive addition to the Jets’ defense last year and should only get better this year.
  3. Miami Dolphins (7-9):  The good news is that Ryan Tannehill is back to play QB; the bad news is that Ryan Tannehill is the starting QB.  Fans in Miami have to hope for Tannehill to return to form and improve as the season goes on; he has missed 19 consecutive games so that is not a certainty.  The reason fans have to hope he is back permanently and competently is simple; Brock Osweiler is the back-up and we pretty much have figured out by now that he is not the answer to any question anyone might want to ask.
  4. Buffalo Bills (4-12):  I do not understand the thought processes in Buffalo.  The Bills made the playoffs – via the back door to be sure – in 2017 so they “built on that showing” by blowing up the team.  What I mean by the Bills getting into the playoffs by the back door is simple; they were outscored by 57 points in their 16 regular season games and made the playoffs as the last wildcard.  That does not happen often.  So, their starting QB – Tyrod Taylor – shuffled off out of Buffalo to Cleveland and the Bills replaced him with the triumvirate of Josh Allen, AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman.  Yowza!  Here are the cumulative stats for those three QB candidates:  5 starts, 8 TDs, 7 INTs.  Yowza – squared!!  And then the Bills traded AJ McCarron away to the Raiders for a 5th round pick and named Nathan Peterman as their Game 1 starter.  But it gets worse…  if I am not sure who will “do the catching of passes” for the Jets, I am even more in the dark when considering the Bills.  Last year, RB, Le Sean McCoy was the leading receiver on the team.  The most productive wideouts on the roster would appear to be Kelvin Benjamin (good but not a game changer) and Zay Jones (he caught 27 passes for 316 yards last year).  I will not be shocked to see a snowy Bills’ home game in December with three inebriated Bills’ fans in the stands with their shirts off and the letters W, T and F painted on their bare chests.  My answer would have to be along the line of “I don’t get it either, bro.”  I project that the Bills will be part of a coin flip to see who gets the overall #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The AFC playoff picture will look like this:

  • #1 seed:  Patriots
  • #2 seed: Steelers
  • #3 seed: Texans
  • #4 seed:  Chargers
  • #5 seed:  Jags
  • #6 seed:  Chiefs

And so, having taken a deep breath and refilled my coffee mug for the fourth time this AM, I shall move on to the NFC and like the progression in the AFC, I shall begin with the NFC West.  Should my predictions pan out, this division will be the weakest one in the NFC generating a cumulative record of 29-35.

  1. LA Rams (10-6):  With the recent signing of Aaron Donald to the richest contract ever given to aa defensive player, there seem to be no holes in this roster.  [Aside:  Donald’s contract enjoyed that status for less than 48 hours when it was eclipsed by Khalil Mack’s new deal in Chicago.]  About the only apparent challenge for the team will be the schedule – – not particularly easy outside the division – – and maintaining order in the locker room with some salty characters having been acquired in the off-season.  If things with Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib start to get out of hand at any point, maybe the coaches will need whips and chairs to keep things under control.  Another question mark for me is the acquisition of Brandin Cooks who is about to turn 25 years old and on his 3rd team already.
  2. SF Niners (8-8):  I hate to be the bearer of ill tidings to the Bay Area fans, but Jimmy Garoppolo is going to lose a game sometime this season.  Now that we are over that speed bump, RB, Jerick McKinnon was supposed to replace Carlos Hyde as the featured RB in Kyle Shanahan’s offense – but now it appears that he will miss 2018 with an ACL injury.  Linebacker, Reuben Foster will serve an early-season suspension; Foster is very important to the Niners’ defense; he is a difference maker.  Foster needs to get a grip on his life and recognize – hopefully during his suspended time – that if he does not get his off-the-field life in better control, he will not be part of the NFL for very long.  Another question mark for the defense is the level of play the Niners will get from Richard Sherman who is coming beck from an Achilles tendon injury last year and a “Grade 1 hamstring strain” suffered in this year’s Exhibition Season.
  3. Seattle Seahawks (7-9):  The turnover within the Seahawks organization is almost as complete as the turnover that occurred here in DC when President Trump took over from President Obama.  About half of the coaching staff is new; the defensive backfield is totally new – unless Earl Thomas relents and shows up to play.  The OL was awful last year and only a true Seattle fanboy would look at this group and say they are going to be world beaters this year.  Russell Wilson made some amazing plays out of nothing last year with his scrambling and throws on the run.  But magicians can only pull rabbits out of a hat if they have previously stuffed rabbits in there.  That OL has to be sure to keep Wilson in a position to keep finding those rabbits to stuff in those hats in order to …
  4. Arizona Cardinals (4-12):  If indeed this is Larry Fitzgerald’s last year in the NFL, this is a sad way for a great receiver – – and by all accounts a very good person – – to exit stage right.  I have this bleak prediction even though the Cards’ QB situation has improved from last year except Sam Bradford is a “China doll” (Bradford has been in the NFL 9 years and has made it through a complete season exactly twice.) and Josh Rosen is awfully green to be wearing Cardinal red.  Word is that the team will carry 3 QBs and include Mike Glennon in the QB discussions.  If Bradford suffers so much as a thumb blister, the Cards could be in deep water.

The NFC South will be a difficult division.  When the dust settles, I predict that the division combined record will be 35-29.

  1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4):  Falcons’ fans need not worry about where the yards and the points will come from as long as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohammed Sanu orchestrate the passing attack and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman handle the running chores.  I am not sold on the Falcons’ DL, but the rest of the defense appears to be plenty good enough.
  2. New Orleans Saints (12-4):  There are no glaring holes on this roster either; the Saints’ defense came to life last year after being AWOL for several seasons and the Saints will also put points on the board against anyone.  The Saints gave up next year’s first round pick to move up in the draft to take an edge rusher from UT-San Antonio, Marcus Davenport.  That took a huge set of onions.  I wonder if Drew Brees – at age 39 – has made the same deal with Father Time that Tom Brady has…  Mark Ingram will serve a 4-game suspension at the start of the season.  That is not exactly the toughest part of the schedule for the Saints except for the 3rd game when the Saints go to Atlanta to play the Falcons.
  3. Carolina Panthers (6-10): The O-line was a significant problem for the Panthers last year and I don’t see that they took any significant or bold steps to improve it during the off-season.
  4. Tampa Bay Bucs (4-12):  Jameis Winston took a giant step backwards last year and will start this year with a 3-game suspension.  When he comes back, he needs to be a lot better than he was last year.  The same must be said about WR DeSean Jackson who can be a real difference maker but just blended into the woodwork last season.  The Bucs did try to shore up their D-line and it does look good on paper.  They signed veterans Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry; they drafted Vita Vea out of Washington and they have Gerald McCoy coming back from an injury.  If my record prediction is correct, the Bucs will be in the market for a new coach in January 2019.  [Aside:  The NFL is anally retentive about what players can put on the nameplate on the backs of their jerseys.  Imagine if Vita Vea wanted his full name there – – Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau “Vita” Vea]  The Bucs will be coin flipping with the Bills to see who gets the overall #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Moving to the NFC North – or the Norris Division as Chris Berman used to call it – I think this will be the toughest division in the league this year.  I project a combined division record here of 36-28.

  1. Green Bay Packers (11-5):  The Aaron Rodgers’ contract issue is resolved, and it ought to be interesting to see how he and Jimmy Graham work to create offensive nightmares for opponents.  Davonte Adams returns also, but I wonder how much the Packers will miss Jordy Nelson.  The Packers added help in their secondary via the draft and they signed Muhammed Wilkerson from the Jets as a run stopper.  The question for the Packers’ defense is their pass rush; it was anemic last year, and it looks as if it will be the same personnel this year.
  2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5):  The team is solid on offense and on defense.  They made it to the NFC Championship Game last year and upgraded themselves at QB in the offseason signing Kirk Cousins to replace Case Keenum.  Moreover, they will get RB, Dalvin Cook back from a season ending injury last year and he looked like a really good player while he was playing.  Of course, there is a question as to how much the O-line will miss coach Tony Sparano who passed away in the off-season…
  3. Chicago Bears (9-7):  Their offense looks to be improved this year as Mitchell Trubisky starts his second year with plenty of experience under his belt.  Remember how Carson Wentz blossomed in his second season with a similar background last year.  The Bears added pass catchers in free agency for Trubisky to throw to – – Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson.  The Bears also have two RBs, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen who can take some pressure off Trubisky.  The Bears’ defense is not the worst in the league – – and it improved significantly with the trade last weekend to acquire Khalil Mack from the Raiders..  The defensive backfield seems to be Kyle Fuller and “three or four other guys”.
  4. Detroit Lions (6-10):  Two years ago, LeGarrette Blount got a Super Bowl ring with the Pats.  Last year, LeGarrette Blount got a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles.  This year, the Lions signed LeGarrette Blount… Is this an omen?  I don’t think so.

Finally, I come to the NFC East which will not be a fearsome division at the end of the season.  I prognosticate a cumulative record here of 31-33.

  1. Philly Eagles (10-6):  The Eagles may have sneaked up on an opponent or two last year; that will not happen again in 2018.  The two question marks for the Eagles in 2018 are pretty direct.  When will Carson Wentz be ready to play at something near the level he demonstrated in 2017?  Will Jason Peters be able to play at anything near the form that people have become accustomed to seeing from him as he returns from a major ACL and MCL knee injury last year?  If you believe in trends, the last time an NFC East champion repeated in the following season was back in 2004.  Sydney Jones was a high draft pick of the Eagles in 2017 who missed the entire season with an injury; his addition to the defensive backfield is as if the team had an extra draft pick this year to add to their Super Bowl winning roster.
  2. NY Giants (8-8):  The Giants are going to be better simply because they will have Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard on the field to catch the ball and they will have Saquon Barkley in the backfield to run the ball.  The reason the Giants will break even on the season is that the defense – – which struggled last year to be polite – – is going to continue to struggle this year.  Another “issue” for the Giants is that there is precious little offensive depth – particularly on the offensive line.  The Giants won 11 games in 2016; they were probably not that good that year; the Giants won 3 games in 2017; they were not that bad last year.  Given the roster available, 8 wins seems about right…
  3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8):  Whether you think Dez Bryant is a top-shelf receiver or not, the fact is that the Cowboys of 2018 are missing Bryant AND Jason Witten from their pass-catching corps.  That is lot of “chemistry” with Dak Prescott that needs replacing and as importantly, it is a lot of “pass catching” that is missing from the Cowboys’ roster.  Fortunately, Ezekiel Elliott is there to carry the ball; unfortunately, two of the Cowboys’ very good offensive linemen – Travis Fredrick and Zach Martin – will begin the season on the shelf.  In a surprising cutdown move, the Cowboys cut kicker Dan Bailey and will enter the season with a kicker who has never attempted a kick in a real NFL game.  Earl Thomas is holding out from the Seahawks and has said specifically that he wants to play for the Cowboys … a team that could use help in the secondary.  Somehow, Jerry Jones & Co. have not made that happen.  Strangely, I still see the Cowboys breaking even for the season.
  4. Washington Skins (5-11):  I will make no friends in the DC area with that prognostication; expectations are higher this year than they have been in the last 5 years in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area.  Alex Smith is here to be the QB without any drama about his contract; they already have him signed for 3 seasons.  The problem is that he cannot do it all by himself.  He needs a lot more production from the WRs on the team and somehow Jordan Reed has to find a way to play more than a half-dozen games or so.  I said above that Sam Bradford was a “China Doll”; so is Jordan Reed. They really need a ‘bell cow running back” [Hat tip to Keith Jackson] and Darius Guice was supposed to be that guy; he is out for the year with an ACL tear.  Now it will fall to Adrian Peterson at age 33 to be the workhorse at RB.  Good luck to him with that assignment.  The Skins’ defense was miserable last year and if you think it will be significantly better this year, I am anxious to hear your rationale for that.  The back end of the Skins’ schedule in 2018 is brutal.  Starting on Thanksgiving, they are AT Dallas, AT Philly, HOME vs Giants, AT Jax, AT Tennessee, HOME vs Eagles.  Ouch!

The NFC playoff picture will look like this:

  • #1 seed: Falcons
  • #2 seed: Packers
  • #3 seed: Eagles
  • #4 seed: Rams
  • #5 seed: Saints
  • #6 seed: Vikings

Please note that I have picked the LA Rams and the LA Chargers to win their respective divisions and participate in the playoffs.  I am not, however, anywhere near ready to think about a “LA/LA Super Bowl Game”.  If that is your deal, you can try to parlay the Rams and the Chargers as the two conference champions.  If you make the bet and cash it, you will make a tidy sum.  The Chargers are 10-1 to win the AFC Championship and the Rams are 6-1 to win the NFC Championship.  So, a parlay of those two events on a $100 wager should yield $7000.

I do believe that the Atlanta Falcons have an honest chance to be the first team to play in a Super Bowl game in their home stadium in February 2019…

So, just in case you decide to join Bill Belichick on his yak wrangling/yeti hunting expedition and miss the entirety of the 2018 season, you can take this definition of the future along with you and know exactly how things turned out.  Sort of…

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




I am in search of a label this morning and one is not coming to me.  I hesitate to refer to “mainstream sports media” because of the current negative connotation of “mainstream” when it comes to “media”.  At the same time, I do not want to trivialize by using the label “everyday sports media”.  So, let me settle for an admittedly imperfect label, “Widely Available Sports Media”, or The WASM – – rhymes with possum.

I really wish that The WASM would forego inflating stories beyond their worth.  There are plenty of stories to tell regarding sports and the role that sports – and athletes – play in society without taking a mouse turd and turning it into a mountain range.  That sort of “artificial inflation” was totally unnecessary when The WASM exposed Dr. Larry Nasser for what he is or when they reported on the raucous city-wide celebrations in the aftermath of the Eagles winning the Super Bowl last February.  There are tons of other examples I could cite where the stories told by The WASM had meat on the bones, not air in a balloon.  There are three “inflated stories” making the rounds about now and none of them matter.

The first story involves the “ambush-like” interview question tossed at Tiger Woods after he finished his final round at last week’s PGA tournament.  Someone wanted to know what Woods thought of President Trump.  Notwithstanding the fact that it is none of anyone’s business what anyone else’s political views are unless those political views are openly stated by the party of the first part, there were follow-up questions after Woods politely – and artfully – deflected the original question.

The media in general like to say when they break a story that is unflattering to the subject of the story that “the public has a right to know” whatever was in the story that was unflattering.  More often than not, the media is correct in that assertion.  In this case, they would be horribly wrong.

  • Tiger Woods is free to express his political views on any topic or any person in the political cosmos at any time and in any form that he so chooses.
  • Tiger Woods is ALSO free to keep those opinions to himself; and since he is not an elected official, he is entitled to the same right of privacy that is accorded to the reporters who asked those questions.

That is the generic complaint that I have with the story as it has been blown out of proportion but there are specifics that make it worse.  Two of the follow-up questions dealt with Woods’ thoughts on people – “especially people of color, immigrants” – being threatened by President Trump’s policies and another asked him about the state of race relations in the US today.  While there is nothing wrong with either question per se it is incredibly presumptuous of the questioner to seek an answer from a golfer who just finished a tournament.  And, may I point out, that the questioner engaged in just a tad of racial profiling by posing the question to the “Cablinasian golfer” and none of the other golfers who participated in the tournament.

The events leading to this story should never have happened.  Once they did happen, they should not have been given time and attention.  If The WASM has nothing better to report, then maybe shrinking sports sections in newspapers and cutbacks in TV network staffs are appropriate.The second inflated story has to do with the officials at the French Open deciding that Serena Williams will not be able to wear her “cat suit” in the French Open next year; they have changed their dress code.

In this case, The WASM has not only made a mouse turd into a mountain range, they have sought to pole vault over that mouse turd.  Why is this a non-story?

  • First of all, it applies to every player in the French Open next year not just to Serena Williams.
  • Serena Williams says she is fine with the new rule.  She wore the suit designed to protect her from blood clots that she experienced after her pregnancy and she says she no longer needs the suit.  She also said that she was confident that if she needed the suit again in the future, the French Open folks would consider a medical exemption.
  • Wimbledon has a dress code that would preclude Williams’ cat suit too.
  • The Australian Open has a dress code that would preclude Williams’ cat suit too.

The third inflated story is about NBC Sports using something they call “The Green Zone” for the Sunday Night Football telecasts.  If you have not seen “The Green Zone” yet, here is the deal:

  • On third downs, NBC will visually emphasize the line to gain for a first down by making the grass between the line of scrimmage and the line to gain a darker/more vivid shade of green.
  • That’s it folks; that is what the whole “discussion” is about…

I happen to believe that this is totally unnecessary since we have now – and have had for at least a decade – the infamous “yellow line” that unofficially marks the line to gain for a first down.  Simultaneously, I also believe that adding The Green Zone to the area of the field that leads up to the infamous yellow line is abjectly harmless.

  • It is neither an addition to the telecast nor is it a negative to the broadcast.
  • Being neither positive nor negative, it is a ZERO – a smidgen of mathematical deduction this morning.
  • The discussion/argument here is over ZERO which is NOTHING.

Once again, The WASM needs to find//uncover things that are more relevant that NOTHING to report on/create controversy over.

OK, I’ll go and up the dosage on my meds now…

Finally, let me close with a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald.  It sounds as if he and I agree on the story about Serena Williams’ cat suit:

“The French Open instituted a new dress code pretty much specifically designed to prevent Serena Williams from again wearing her skin-tight “cat suit.” Some saw it as an affront to women’s rights. Um, let’s save our outrage for causes that are actually important, shall we?”

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



College Football Preview – 2018

The 2018 college football season starts a week from this Saturday.  In addition to the normal stories about Spring Practice and over-the-top ravings about prep signings, this off-season has seen big time schools changing coaches, big time schools putting their coaches on administrative leave and – of course – Larry Fedora going into orbit about the downfall of America coming because of his imagined war on football.  The latest coach to be put on administrative leave is DJ Durkin at Maryland.

I want to take the same position here that I took at the outset of the Urban Meyer Saga.

  • Durkin is innocent until proven guilty in a legal sense, but this is the court of public opinion and some folks are already calling for his head on a plate.
  • I prefer to wait and see what other facts come to light before dropping the hammer on Durkin.
  • Given what has been alleged to date, Durkin – and his strength coach – appear to be Neanderthals at best.  [Aside:  Before you jump on that train as it seems to be leaving the station, please remember these three words:  Duke … Lacrosse … Team.]
  • The real tragedy here is that a young man – a Maryland football player – is dead apparently due to heat stroke suffered at a practice.

Maryland football is not even a speed-bump in the Big-10; whatever happens or does not happen to DJ Durkin will have no “conference consequences” let alone “national fallout”.  And it was because my mind went on that vector heading as I read stories about Durkin and his alleged “toxic culture” that I realized it was time to look at the upcoming season and to try to point out what we might look for.

So, let me take a lap around the major conferences and give a thumbnail sketch of what is there:

  • Big 10:  Ohio State, Michigan, Penn St. and Michigan St. will all be good; they are all in the East Division.  In the West Division, it looks like an old doo-wop group, Wisconsin and the Wannabees.
  • ACC:  Looks to me like Clemson – – and then a pretty significant drop off to Miami and Florida St.  The Seminoles have a new coach, Willie Taggert, who will be under scrutiny in Tallahassee.
  • SEC:  Alabama, Georgia and Auburn will all be very good – – but watch out for Mississippi St.  As usual the SEC West is the killer division and the easier path to the SEC Championship Game is in the East.
  • PAC-12:  Washington looks to be the class of the field in the North; maybe Stanford gives the Huskies a run?  In the South it sure looks like USC to me.  Chip Kelly returning to college football at UCLA will be interesting for me to watch.  Did defensive coaches catch on to his offense during his hiatus?
  • Big 12:  Can Oklahoma repeat after Baker Mayfield’s departure?  Is Lincoln Riley an offensive genius – – or did Mayfield make him look better than he really is?
  • Indies:  Notre Dame will be the best of the lot here.

That is the kind of overview one should expect from a typical college football summary essay.  However, here in Curmudgeon Central, we look at the world from the other end of the telescope and so here are some comments about which teams should be the bottom feeders in the major conferences:

  • Big 10:  I’m pretty sure that Illinois and Rutgers will be doormats in the conference.  Circle October 6, 2018 on your calendar because Illinois visits Rutgers that day.  It will surely be a game to miss.
  • ACC:  Looks as if either Syracuse or Virginia will be at the bottom of the league looking up at everyone else.
  • SEC:  Tennessee has a new coach and it will behoove him to make sure the Vols do not finish last in the SEC East.  Vandy should be the one to finish at the bottom of the easier division in the conference.  Out west, Arkansas may struggle with the schedule it draws.
  • PAC-12:  Oregon State looks like “conference patsy” for 2018.
  • Big 12:  Who else but Kansas?
  • Indies:  Liberty and UMass have the potential to be awful.

[Aside:  I mentioned one of Rutgers’ scheduled games above.  Looking at their non-conference schedule, I found Texas State (should be awful this year), Buffalo (maybe not awful but certainly not good) and Kansas (all you can say here is OMG).  Rutgers gets those 3 teams plus Illinois in the first 6 games of the season.  They had best make hay then because here is how they end the season:

  • @ Wisconsin
  • Michigan
  • Penn State
  • @ Michigan State]

Long term readers here know that I try to identify the worst teams in the country at the end of the season and to seed them into an imaginary tournament to find the worst team of all.  The way to do that is to have them play one another and the loser in the early rounds has to keep playing.  I call that the SHOE Tournament where SHOE is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement.

Before the first kickoff, here are possible entries in the SHOE Tournament:

  • C-USA:  Rice, UTEP and Florida International can all contend in the race to the bottom.
  • Sun Belt:  Georgia St., Louisiana-Lafayette and the aforementioned Texas State are on the radar.
  • MAC:  Ball State, Central Michigan and Kent State look like possibilities.
  • MWC:  Hawaii and San Jose State???
  • AAC:  Tulane, Tulsa and UConn may make the field.
  • Indies:  Liberty and UMass may be bad enough to make it to this level of ignominy.

And before I wrap this up, let me do a very cursory look at college coaches who are on a hot seat this season – – and I do not include Urban Meyer or DJ Durkin in this commentary.  These are coaches that could be fired because of on-field performance not meeting expectations.  In alphabetical order so that no one will think I am ranking or prioritizing any of this:

  • Chris Ash (Rutgers):  This will be his 3rd year at Rutgers and his record to date is 6-18.  Given that schedule, he ought to win more than 3 games this year; if he does not…
  • David Beaty (Kansas):  In his tenure in Lawrence, KS his record is 3-33.  Enough said…
  • Larry Fedora (UNC):  In addition to his ridiculous war on football rant and the fact that 13 of his players are suspended for selling shoes they were given by Nike, the Tar Heels were 3-9 last year.  If they are 3-9 again this year, he will need to contact a moving company.
  • Jim Harbaugh (Michigan):  The Wolverines were 8-5 last year and that is not the sort of record that was expected when Harbaugh “came home” to Ann Arbor.  Even worse, in his 3 years at Michigan, his record against Ohio St. and Michigan St. is 1-5.  QB, Shea Patterson arrives from Ole Miss and Harbaugh is a “QB whisperer”.  Fans in Ann Arbor will be looking for results this year.
  • Tom Herman (Texas):  In his first year, Herman’s Longhorns finished at 6-6; he inherited a mess so that was a honeymoon year.  I’ll be surprised if the honeymoon carries over much into 2018 if the Longhorns are not competitive.  Last year they lost at home to Maryland (not a powerhouse by any means) giving up 51 points.
  • Ed Orgeron (LSU):  His problem is that fans in Baton Rouge expect national championships at least 2 years out of 5 and LSU is not nearly that good.  His record at LSU is 15-6 but the team has never even been mentioned even as a national championship afterthought.  Hey, those yahoos in Baton Rouge ran off Les Miles even though he did win them a national championship.
  • Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee):  I know he is a first-year coach, but he got the job after the most bungled coaching search in history; now he has to prove that Tennessee did not get a booby-prize for all that bumbling.  The Vols better be competitive this year AND not finish dead last in the SEC East.
  • Lovie Smith (Illinois):  The good news for Coach Smith is that he has a 6-year contract, and this will be only his 3rd year on the job.  However, he enters 2018 with a 5-19 record and that does not put the boosters anywhere near football Nirvana.  The selling point when they hired him was his “NFL experience”.  Maybe they should have looked closer to see that his NFL record was a pretty bland 89-87 over 11 seasons.

I want to mention three other coaches here who are not in danger of being fired but who face huge expectations from the schools that just hired them

  1. Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M):  He signed a 10-year contract worth $75M.  I suspect that the alums and boosters around College Station, TX have lofty hopes for the team – and I doubt they think they should have to wait until the 10th year of the deal to see those lofty hopes realized.
  2. Dan Mullen (Florida):  They hired him away from Mississippi St. with the idea that he can give the Gators a semblance of an offense – something that has been absent from Gainesville recently.  Oh, and the folks at Florida cannot be too happy to see the ascension of Georgia within the SEC East at Florida’s expense…
  3. Willie Taggart (Florida State):  He took Jimbo Fisher’s job.  Read the FSU fan boards and you will see that just about everyone in Tallahassee is looking for an instant resurgence from the Seminoles this year after a highly unusual 7-6 season last year.

Enough with the overview, what about Week 1.  There is a full slate of games that week but here is a six-pack of games that ought to be interesting to watch and ought to give you a glimpse of things to come:

  • Oregon St. at Ohio St.:  This will be a blowout no matter who coaches Ohio St. on that day.  You or I could run the show and win the game by double-digit points.  However, if Urban Meyer is not on the sidelines that day and there is not yet any certainty around if/when he might return, this game could be an interesting indicator.
  • Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma:  Lane Kiffin and Lincoln Riley are young coaches who have been anointed as offensive gurus.  Take the OVER?
  • Cincy at UCLA:  I said above that I am interested to see how Chip Kelly’s offense works this year.  Here is its first test…
  • Texas at Maryland:  This is a revenge game for the Longhorns after losing 51-41 at home to the Terps last year.
  • Michigan at Notre Dame:  This is a renewal of a very old rivalry – and I am glad to see it back on the schedule.  Here is the thing that will happen when the final whistle sounds.  One coach will be exalted as someone who belongs in the pantheon of great coaches of all time; the other will be a candidate for being hanged in effigy.
  • Washington vs. Auburn (in Atlanta):  Washington is the powerhouse of the PAC-12 and Auburn is a top-shelf team in the SEC.  This should be a GREAT game and the best game on the card for opening week.

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


Change The Narrative On Anthem Protests

There is a storyline/narrative in sports journalism today that needs to be put to bed.  Specifically, I mean the storyline/narrative involving the NFL National Anthem protests.  It is a narrative that never should have had the legs that it has had; we have now reached the point where we should all say;

  • Enough is enough – – and too much is plenty.

Let me recap briefly what I said back when Colin Kaepernick was an active player in the NFL and first sat through a national anthem and then knelt during the national anthem.  I said then – and I believe now – that three things are true all at the same time:

  1. There are social injustices involving the way that Blacks are treated by police officers and district attorneys in some parts of the US.  Those issues are fair game for protests/activism/reform.
  2. Colin Kaepernick – as is the case with every US person – has an inalienable right to protest those social injustices without fear of restraint from any government entity.  However, he may or may not receive reprisal(s) from the public or his employer for his action(s).
  3. Choosing to kneel during the national anthem was a poor choice for such a protest for two reasons.  First, it was sure to be a hot-button issue with many folks who would see this as a protest of patriotism.  [As it turns out, I was pretty much right with that one.]  Second, progress on those social injustices will not happen on the sidelines of an NFL game; they will happen at police stations and in district attorney’s offices.  Kneeling during the anthem does not take the issues to a place where they can be addressed directly.  Based on these two reasons, the attention of the public will be divided on the issues.

It seemed as if the anthem issue had calmed down a bit when the NFL changed a rule and said that players who did not want to stand for the anthem could remain in the locker room until the anthem was over.  That rule change received a flurry of coverage – – and then seemed to do what ought to be done which is “go quietly into the night”.  And then …

  • President Trump held a rally and thought it was important for him to announce that, in his mind, the new rule was not a solution to the problem but the new rule made it worse.
  • That is exactly what we did not need!

Again, just to be sure that no one misunderstands:

  • The President can say whatever he wants on this issue.  I have no wish to censor him or limit his range of expression.  [And for the record, I agree with him that the new rule is not much of a “solution” to the anthem problem.  I don’t know if it is “worse” than what went before, but it ain’t great.]
  • Having said that, he did not help this situation even a little bit and I wish he had kept his opinion on this matter to himself.

That statement by President Trump put the entire “debate” about the anthem and the purported “blackballing” of Colin Kaepernick and the new rule right back on center stage – where it need not be.  Remember:

  • None – as in not a single one – of the social injustices that started all of this will be resolved or improved within the context of the NFL games on Sundays.

And then, just to be certain that this issue will continue to be a topic for fruitless debate and commentary, the NFLPA decided earlier this week to file an official grievance over the new national anthem rule.  Great!  That is about as useful as a set of Amish emojis.

There was a big win amidst all the falderal encircling these events in the last year or so.  Malcom Jenkins and Anquan Boldin founded something called the Players Coalition; and in meetings with NFL owners, the Players Coalition got a commitment from the owners to put a total of about $90M into the Players Coalition that would be used to address the social issues and social injustices that started all of this.  That news got some coverage for a short time, but there was no follow-up.  That is sad because there is news reporting to be had in there AND because this demonstrates how NFL players can make direct contributions to the potential relief of some of those social injustices.  Here is a key point that has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves:

  • The members of the Players Coalition got that significant monetary commitment from the owners by sitting down and talking with them about the issues and about how the players could help improve social conditions and how all of that would make the NFL itself look good.  I have seen no reporting to indicate that Colin Kaepernick or any of his supporters ever did that or tried to do that.  The folks in the Players Coalition achieved some progress through constructive dialog and not by kneeling on the sidelines of a stadium.

Not only is that a positive and constructive bit of reporting that has been missing, there is also a paucity of reporting on activism by NFL players that result in changes in communities.  I am not talking about the periodic puff pieces you often read concerning an NFL player organizing a day camp for kids in his home town or something like that.  Those are feelgood stories about things that have little-to-no lasting effect on communities.  Jenny Vrentas is one of the folks who has taken over the Monday Morning Quarterback column at since Peter King’s departure.  Earlier this week, she reported on the sort of stuff that ought to be front and center about NFL players and their off-field activism.  Here is just a sample from Vrentas’ column:

  1. Devin McCourty and Robert Kraft jointly wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe advocating a specific change in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system.  The legislature passed a bill and the governor signed it changing the age for criminal responsibility in Massachusetts from 7 years old to 12 years old.
  2. Three Pats’ players moderated a forum/town meeting that brought together the 5 candidates running for Boston District Attorney.  This is the sort of direct engagement of community and government officials that is important because district attorneys play a critical role in the justice system regarding who gets charged with crimes and who is or is not allowed out on bail awaiting the disposition of said charges.  [Vrentas also reported that the Players Coalition is similarly involved in other election races for district attorney around the country.]
  3. Demario Davis and Ben Watson lobbied for a bill in Louisiana that became law in May.  It restores voting rights to felons who have been out of prison for 5 years with a clean record.
  4. Malcom Jenkins and Chris Long lobbied for a change in the law in PA that was signed into being this year.  It is called the Clean Slate Law and it wipes clean the record of non-violent criminals who do not repeat any non-violent offenses for 10 years.

Do not misunderstand.  I do not mean to imply that these sorts of actions resolve the problems of social injustice and police interactions with minority communities all over the US.  But these are a start – – and more importantly, they show that progress can be made by NFL players – and owners – working with legislators and law enforcement officials directly.  That is the sort of “scorecard” that sports journalists are ignoring in favor of reporting on the grievance filed by the NFLPA about the new anthem rule.  And don’t get me started on that grievance which asserts that the new rule was “… imposed by the NFL’s governing body without consultation with the NFLPA, [and] is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights,”

Let me translate that for you:

  • Those meanies in the owners’ suites didn’t talk to us about how to resolve this issue even though we knew about the issue for a couple of years and offered no ideas as to how to resolve it.  So, we are going to be aggrieved about this and pout for a while…
  • There is no infringement on “player rights”.  Players have a right to be free of restriction on their expression by government entities not by private citizens or by private business entities.

There is a saying in the TV news business, “If it bleeds, it leads.”  That has become SOP in the TV news business and consumers of TV news – and much of print news these days – have become accustomed to that news taxonomy.  In the “anthem situation”, the part of the story that “bleeds” is the fact that Colin Kaepernick is without a job in the NFL and that is where 99% of the reporting has focused.  Not a word in any report on that vector heading will provide anyone with information about progress toward resolving any of the problems that motivated Colin Kaepernick to kneel in the first place.

Let me assume for a moment that sports journalists would prefer to see progress on social injustice issues more than they would prefer to maintain the convenient narrative that allows for rather easily written reports/columns periodically on anthem protests/blackballing/union grievances.  If that is the case, we should see much more reporting going forward about Players Coalition activities in communities and in lobbying efforts with legislators and in dialogs with police officials and district attorneys.  [I said we “should see” more of this in the future not that it is nearly certain that we will.]  The Players Coalition will be administering $90M of the NFL’s money – along with money the players themselves contribute to righting social injustice situations.  There will be plenty to report on there – – but most of it “will not bleed”.  Might we see a deviation from the norm of the TV news business here?  I would welcome it.  At the same time, I doubt it.

One final point regarding the now-filed grievance.  The NFL and the NFLPA are partners in what is unquestionably the most successful sports enterprise in North America.  I believe the current CBA calls for the NFL and the players who make up the NFLPA to split the national revenue stream on a 52%/48% basis.  [If I am off on those percentages, it is not by more than a percent either way.]  They are splitting up relatively equally an annual take of about $13 – 15B.  And those two entities seem to be unable to come to an agreement on any issue that is more controversial than whether Tuesday came after Monday last week.  William Shakespeare summed up the correct reaction to this situation in 1595 when he wrote in Romeo and Juliet:

“A plague o’ both your houses!”  Act III, Scene 1

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



A New Day Dawns For The Skins …

Notwithstanding the fact that the MLB season is in full swing and the Nats are in the midst of a close division race and the fact that the Caps won the Stanley Cup only a few weeks ago and the fact that the Wizards just completed their draft and made a minor trade yesterday, lots of sports attention and talk in the DC area is about the Skins.  Other teams in this area have strong fan support when they are winners or close to winners; the Skins get support and attention no matter what.

The upcoming season will be the 20th year for the Skins in the Danny Boy Snyder Era.  One of the themes advanced on one of the local sports radio stations – the one incidentally owned by Danny Boy – goes something like this:

  • A great businessman [Sotto voce: like Danny Boy was because that is how he amassed the money to buy the team in the first place] is someone who adapts to the marketplace.  When he bought the Skins in 1999, he ran the organization like a fan because that is what he was then.  And that didn’t work out so well.
  • Now, the “great businessman” has learned from his fellow owners how to be an owner who is passionate about his team and about winning and still have a functional and professional staff to run the activities of the team.  It is a new day at Redskins’ Park.

Obviously, here in Curmudgeon Central, the official position is that talk is cheap, and actions will tell the tale.  However, this subtle narrative spurred me to do some research into how the Danny Boy Snyder Era has gone over the past 19 seasons.  My research was rather simple; I looked at how the Skins have done over the past 19 years as compared to the other 3 teams in the NFC East.  I know that the NFL seeks parity among all its teams; nonetheless, I think that the teams in the NFC East as a subset are the best comparison for the Skins.

Let me start with a simple regular season win/loss comparison:

  1. Eagles:  177 – 126 – 1
  2. Cowboys:  158 – 146 – 0
  3. Giants:   156 – 148 – 0
  4. Skins:  132 – 171 – 1

I knew in my gut that the Skins would wind up on the short end of this yardstick just from experience, but I did not think that there was so much daylight between their regular season record and the rest of the Division.  However, I pressed on and looked at the NFC East teams’ playoff records over the past 19 seasons too.  Here are the results:

  1. Giants:  10 – 7
  2. Eagles:  13 – 10
  3. Skins:  2 – 5
  4. Cowboys:  0 – 7

By this metric, the Skins are superior to the Cowboys.  Neither team gets into the playoffs very often but when the Skins get there, they – at least – win a couple of times that they take the field.

It did not take a whole lot of research to ascertain that the NFC East teams have been in 5 Super Bowl games since 1999.  The Giants are 2-1 in those games – beating the Patriots twice and losing to the Ravens; the Eagles are 1-1 in those games beating the Patriots last season and losing to the Patriots in 2005.  [Actually, it took no “research”; I made these notes from memory and then checked them out for completeness at]

And just for the halibut, I set my calculator on fire and compiled the regular season “Points For” and “Points Allowed” by the teams in the NFC for the last 19 seasons:

  1. Eagles:  7,325 – 6,227
  2. Cowboys:  6,714 – 6,546
  3. Giants:  6,633 – 6,674
  4. Skins:  6,132 – 6,760

One surprise here was that the Giants have a negative points differential over the last 19 seasons.  I would not have predicted that.  The other surprise here is the miserable offensive showing by the Skins over the Danny Boy Snyder Era.  The Skins have scored 1,203 fewer points than the Eagles in that time; that is 63 points per season or 9 TDs per season.  Over an extended period, that is a big difference.

The Skins’ fanbase always latches onto any narrative that relates to closing one door behind them and opening a new one in front of them.  That is why they have been happy to welcome new coaches even though most of them brought as many questions as answers with them and even though one of the most competent of those coaches (Marty Schottenheimer) got fired after one season in which the Skins went 8-3 in its final 11 games in order to make way for Danny Boy to hire Steve Spurrier.  Today, that fanbase is looking to “write a new chapter” in team history in part because their owner has learned how to be an owner.

It is a glorious new day here in the DC area.  Fans need not concern themselves that it took almost 2 decades for their owner to learn how to be an owner; just focus on the “fact” that he has learned and mastered that situation.  [Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…]

Finally, it seems appropriate to close this rant with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Boss:  An underqualified moron who you cannot believe was hired by those other morons in HR and whose job you are certain you could do about a million times better.

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



PASPA is Unconstitutional

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) is no more.  By a 7-2 vote, the US Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional; it is no more.  I am not going to pretend to be able to give you a learned interpretation of the court’s decision here, but I will say that I am heartily in favor of getting PASPA off the books.

This legislation was a bad idea when it first appeared in the mind of whomever thought to make it the law of the land.  The fundamental concept had two major flaws:

  1. One premise is that gambling is bad news for sporting events bringing a corps of shady ne’er-do-wells into close contact with athletes whose focus needs to be striving for victory and excellence.  That sounds awfully good, but it does not stand the test of logic.  The fact of the matter is that the sportsbooks – the guys who enable gamblers to “get down on games” are the ones who have alerted the authorities in most of the cases where there was real or attempted skullduggery.  The reason is simple; the sportsbooks do not like to be on the losing side of things and they are highly motivated to point out betting patterns that might indicate foul play.
  2. That first premise leads ever so obviously to the conclusion that minimizing gambling opportunities will minimize gamblers getting close to athletes and possibly encouraging the athletes to shave points or throw games.  This second premise is galactic naivete.  If PASPA were effective, there would be no sports betting in any of 46 States because PASPA only allowed 4 States to do sports betting for the last 26 years. No one with two neurons close enough to play tennis with one another can possibly believe that is the case.

PASPA was flawed at the core and then proceeded to be completely ineffective on top of that.  I don’t think that is the sort of legislative exacta that the Congress would like to trumpet as one of its successes.

The NCAA and the four major sports leagues all opposed the action taken by the State of New Jersey that led to the overturning of PASPA – – until it began to look as if PASPA was a sinking ship and then the four pro leagues scrambled to figure out how to share in the revenue bonanza that could come from widespread sports wagering.  The latest twist here is that the unions representing players in the various pro sports have signaled that they want in on the cavalcade of cash.  Putting this in terms you might recall from The Godfather, everyone wants to dip his beak in the pool here and the open questions are how big a dip will each beak want or get.

In the opinion of the court, it begins by saying:

“Americans have never been of one mind about gambling, and attitudes have swung back and forth.”

I believe that Americans have never been of one mind about lots and lots of different social issues and behaviors.  There was a time when it was illegal to sell alcohol in the US; that worked about as effectively as PASPA has worked.  There was a time when it was legally acceptable to own other human beings as slaves; the country fought a Civil War in the process of adjusting that social issue.  Wavering opinions – even wavering majority opinions – on social issues is not something that should be part of a Constitutional determination.  Even if 80% of the populace thinks that the protections of the First Amendment are outdated, that should not be part of a Supreme Court decision on such matters.  [Aside:  In such a situation, that vast majority of opinion might embolden the Congress to pass and send to the States a new amendment to the Constitution limiting something in the First Amendment.  If ratified, then such limitations would be properly used and enforced by the Supreme Court, but wavering public opinion is not germane to Constitutional decisions.]

Those States that want to benefit from this ruling in the short term will need to get their act together in time for the start of the college football/NFL season.  Sportsbooks take action on baseball and golf and the like, but the big money handles are for football games and then for March Madness.  It will be interesting to see how the major players in this new regulatory environment come together – or fail to come together.  These times call for these folks to reach accommodations one with the others:

  • State Legislatures
  • State Regulators
  • Hotel and casino execs
  • Law enforcement officials
  • Various professional sports leagues
  • The NCAA – and perhaps the football conferences independently

One other thought…  PASPA may not have passed Constitutional muster here, but that does not mean that Congress may take another shot at regulating sports wagering.  The Supreme Court left that door wide open saying that Congress had the authority to regulate gambling but in the absence of doing so, it did not have the right to tell each of the individual States what they had to do.  My guess is a Congressional push to repackage much of PASPA’s misguided intent; I hope it fails.

Finally, speaking about linkages between bad guys and organized crime and the sports world, consider this comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“The IOC is threatening to remove boxing from the 2020 Olympics due to corruption and links with organized crime. Doesn’t the IOC understand? That’s what boxing is. Take away that fun stuff and all you have left is two guys punching each other’s ass in the face.”

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



The College Basketball Commission Report

Last Fall when news broke of the FBI investigation of “criminality” in the college basketball recruiting world, the NCAA created an independent commission to be headed by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to come up with recommendations for reform.  Yesterday, that report and those recommendations hit the street.  Not surprisingly, the recommendations are a mixed bag; the problem is that too many of the recommendations cannot be implemented by the NCAA even if every person at every member institution favored them.

Before I dive into the recommendations themselves, let me reiterate my position that I do not share the FBI’s assertion that there were criminal acts uncovered by their investigation.  There were clear and blatant violations of NCAA recruiting and eligibility rules in what the FBI found, but to my mind that is not equivalent to criminality.

I was not surprised in the least to learn that the Commission thinks that the one-and-done rule is no good.  My guess is that one-and-done enjoys the same favorable ratings among basketball fans as does cannibalism; it takes a while to find someone who likes it and is willing to stand up and say that they do.  I hate the one-and-done situation but there are two things related to the current report that bother me:

  1. Secretary Rice mentioned in remarks yesterday that recruiting shenanigans increased after the creation of the one-and-done situation about 12 years ago.  I agree that we have seen more evidence of and more details surrounding the seamy side of recruiting in recent years, but I would need to see some proof that the situation got worse.  As far back as the glory days of UCLA basketball under John Wooden, there were some “irregularities” surrounding some of the athletes who played there.
  2. The NCAA did not create the one-and-done situation; the NBA and the NBPA did.  The NCAA can no more eliminate one-and-done than it can summon up the Tooth Fairy and use her to fund any of the other recommendations made here.  Until and unless the NBA and the NBPA alter their existing Collective Bargaining Agreement, one-and-done is here to stay.  The good news is that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seems to want to get rid of that CBA provision, but that still does not put any authority or power in the hands of the NCAA.

There is another problem with using one-and-done as a punching bag.  While it may feel good and it may get heads nodding in agreement, it is not the thread that when pulled will unravel the entire mess.  One of the central figures in the FBI investigation – Christian Dawkins – allegedly funneled money to high school recruits AND to upperclassmen.  By definition, upperclassmen are not “one-and-doners”.  The problems here are not simple nor are they easily localized.

A key element here is that top-shelf recruits have different values to different people and institutions.  For college administrators and educators, they have one value; for coaches they have a different value; for boosters yet another value and for apparel companies one more value.  That environment creates a “black market” where shady characters can effect transfers of value among the different institutions.  In such a situation, the deal goes under the table – or as an uncle of mine used to say, the money goes “down south”.

There are some good ideas offered up.  They are easier said than done, but the NCAA ought to make a serious effort to make them happen:

  • The Commission says that schools who are caught cheating should get sanctions that last 5 years and that they would not share in any of the revenues generated in those 5 years.  The NCAA’s “broadcast partners” are not going to be happy to learn that a school or two guaranteed to draw big ratings will be on the sidelines for March Madness for the next 5 years.  Does the NCAA have the fortitude to stand up to that?  I would like to think so, but …
  • The Commission suggests banning coaches for life if they are found guilty of major violations.  This resonates with folks who believe in retribution and who think that all stories should end with everyone living happily ever after.  The problem here is the meaning of “found guilty”.  By whom?  In what tribunal?  To what standard of proof?  This one could take a while – – maybe even a lifetime.
  • The Commission recommends that players be allowed to declare for the NBA Draft and to return to college as eligible players if they are not selected in the NBA Draft.  That makes a lot of sense – except to the coaches and assistant coaches who are doing the recruiting.  For them, this change will mean that they do not know if a player who declared will be back the next season until after the NBA Draft in June.  Frankly, I think that is a level of discomfort and inconvenience that coaches can tolerate given the annual salaries they are pulling down.

There are other recommendations from the Commission that are akin to the one about eliminating the one-and-done situation; they sound great, but one has to wonder how the NCAA is going to pull them off.

  • The Commission wants the NCAA, the NBA and US Basketball to wrest control of “summer basketball camps” from the AAU and make things pure.  First, the NCAA, the NBA and US Basketball would be an unholy alliance; second, this is going to cost a lot of money and it will provide little if any benefit to either the NBA or US Basketball; ergo …  The reality is that the shoe/apparel companies fund the AAU summer camps and as long as they choose to do that, the AAU summer camps will go forward.
  • The Commission also recommends that the NCAA demand more transparency and accountability from the shoe/apparel companies regarding their expenditures of promotional funds.  Secretary Rice said that CEOs and Chairmen of the Board for public companies ought to be on top of how such funds are dispersed.  That sounds so good and so simple that it makes me tingle.  I am afraid however that the two operative words here are “Not” and “Happening”
  • The Commission recommends that players be allowed to deal with agents without losing their eligibility.  If the NCAA could find ways to keep that process from spinning out of control that would be a good idea.  Then again, regulating what agents may and may not do or provide for regarding athletes seems like rewriting the recruiting rules which clearly have not worked all that well or the FBI would not be investigating.

The Commission suggested that the NCAA expand its Board of Governors to include outside/independent members who would be voting members of the Board.  I like the idea but wonder just how “independent” a new member might be given that he/she would be nominated and vetted by the NCAA and its Board of Governors before taking a seat.  I know that is a cynical stance and I need to stifle it because putting a few “outsiders” on the inside is a step in the right direction.  It may not be perfect, but it is better than what exists today.  After all, this works for public corporations and non-profits…

The Commission suggested that the NCAA create a robust and independent investigative and adjudicative entity to do serious enforcement of whatever rules are on the books.  Again, I wonder about the “independence” of such an entity if it ever were to come to pass given that its budget would have to come from the NCAA itself.  Also, without the ability to compel “testimony”, the robustness of such an entity is open to question.

The Commission recommended – and I think this is a great idea – that the schools create a fund that would guarantee any athlete who left school to turn pro after two or more years and who was a student in good standing at the time of his departure scholarship status to return to school and finish his degree.  Given the potential costs involved here, I doubt there will be a lot of schools rushing forward to make this happen, but it is a great idea.

Let me make a suggestion of my own here that departs from what the Commission recommended and would put a dent in the one-and-done world.  It will not cure the problem, but it might change some of the recruiting dynamics.  For me to be transparent about this, let me acknowledge that I have cribbed most of this idea from remarks made by Coach Bob Knight about 30 years ago.  Do not confuse the message here with the messenger.

  • Each school should have a fixed number of scholarships that they can issue at any given time.  They are all full scholarships; none of them can be sliced and diced and distributed to more than one player.
  • Once signed onto, that scholarship sticks to that player for 5 years – or fewer than 5 years if the player graduates from that college before the 5 years have expired.  If the player quits the team, he keeps the scholarship and the team cannot issue it to another player.  If he transfers and gets a scholarship from another school, he then has two scholarships stuck to him from two different institutions.
  • A player loses all eligibility if he transfers more than once.

A school that recruits a class consisting of 4 or 5 “one-and-done players” is going to be hamstrung when they leave because they will be down 4 or 5 scholarships for the next 4 years until the 5-year expiration date allows them to re-issue the scholarship.  That will possibly decrease demand for top players – or at least disperse them among the colleges.  It is not a perfect solution, but it is as good an idea as many of the Commission’s suggestions.

The biggest issue that the Commission failed to address is the hallowed NCAA concept of the “student-athlete”.  There may indeed have been a time in the idyllic past when people went to college to earn a degree and who also decided to play basketball for the school at the same time.  That may still happen in some corners of today’s game but do not fall for the rhapsodic pronouncements of the NCAA on this subject.  College basketball players are only amateurs because the NCAA demands that they appear to be so, and it is that demand that creates the black market that led to the need for this Commission in the first place.  I have no insight into any deliberations or any of the dynamics of the Commission; nevertheless, the fact that Mark Emmert – the head honcho of the NCAA – was a member of the Commission that reported out yesterday might lead one to wonder if his presence assured that “amateurism reform” was not part of the final recommendations.

Overall, the Commission did a good job.  They had a monumental task.  In the 12 Labors of Hercules, he was tasked to clean out the stables of King Augeus – a rich man with lots of cattle and livestock – in a single day.  The Commission had a huge mess on its hands and only about 6 months to come up with recommendations.  Hercules solved his problem by diverting the water from two rivers through the stables to clean them up.  The Commission did not have access to enough river water here.

To me, the things that could have the largest and most far reaching effects on the recruiting process are these:

  1. Create and fund the independent investigative and adjudicative body recommended by the Commission.  The members would have to accede to authorities granted to those bodies or suffer sanctions from the NCAA directly.
  2. Increase the penalties for getting caught cheating.  Maybe lifetime bans need to be reserved for those who behave like Dr. Larry Nassar or Jerry Sandusky or Dave Bliss but keeping a coach or an assistant off the coaching carousel for 10 years might just keep folks a bit more honest.

The NCAA takes in almost a billion dollars a year in television rights fees from college basketball.  That is not chump change; that is real money.  [Aside:  The amount of money here puts the lie to the notion that the players are “amateurs” and that college basketball is anything but a business enterprise for the NCAA.]  The independent investigative and adjudicative body will not come into existence cheaply nor will it ever be self-sustaining financially.  Whether the NCAA members step up to this “cost of doing business” will be a significant indicator of their seriousness in trying to clean up this mess.

This story is not over.  Stay tuned for further developments …

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



Current Players To The Hall Of Fame

About a week ago, I wrote about the thought processes I would use to vote for or against a player nominated for a sports Hall of Fame.  What engendered that essay was the naming of the 2018 class of inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  I pointed out specifically that I have never had such a vote, nor did I ever anticipate having such a vote; but that statement evidently primed this question from a reader:

“If you did have a vote for the NFL Hall of Fame, which current players would you vote for?”

So, let me adjust my glasses and put on as erudite a look as I can muster and go through a list today.  I will surely miss some candidates here; I expect “nominations from the floor” and calls for removal of candidates from the list.  Nonetheless, with trepidation here I go.

I’ll start with the QBs simply because the Pro Football Hall of Fame seems to take kindly to players at that position.

  • Tom Brady – cannot be any argument here
  • Drew Brees – cannot be any argument here
  • Eli Manning – twice the MVP in the Super Bowl
  • Philip Rivers – gaudy stats but no “playoff achievements”
  • Aaron Rodgers – cannot be any argument here
  • Ben Roethlisberger – cannot be any argument here

Running backs are difficult to project because lots of great running backs have short careers.  Two examples of RBs with short careers who are deservedly in the Hall of Fame are Terrell Davis and Gale Sayers.  I admit that I have done some significant extrapolation with some of the players here.

  • LeVeon Bell – no extrapolation needed here
  • Ezekiel Elliott – needs to prevent his off-field behavior from curtailing his career
  • Frank Gore – longevity, durability and production put him on this list
  • Todd Gurley – lots of extrapolation here
  • LeSean McCoy – no extrapolation needed here
  • Adrian Peterson – his off-field behaviors will make him a controversial candidate

Next come the tight ends – and there are not a whole lot of tight ends in the Hall of Fame.  Tony Gonzalez will be eligible in the next couple of years; if he does not get in, then no one on my list here has a chance.

  • Antonio Gates – from undrafted free agent to the All-Decade Team of the 2000’s
  • Rob Gronkowski – a no-brainer in my opinion
  • Travis Kelce – lots of extrapolation here
  • Greg Olsen – a borderline call
  • Jason Witten – talk about longevity, durability and production …

At the wide receiver position, I think there are 3 shoo-ins and a couple of possibilities.

  • Odell Beckham, Jr. – possibly
  • Antonio Brown – a shoo-in
  • Larry Fitzgerald – a shoo-in
  • AJ Green – possibly
  • DeAndre Hopkins – an extrapolation here but an impressive start to a career
  • Julio Jones – a shoo-in
  • Jordy Nelson – possibly

If I am going to list offensive linemen here, I must admit from the beginning that I do not understand what the standard has been in the past for inductees.  What I am going to list here are the offensive linemen (not by position) who stand out to me when I watch games on TV.  Surely, I have over-valued some players here and have missed others completely.

  • David DeCastro
  • Jason Kelce
  • Alex Mack
  • Zack Martin
  • Jason Peters
  • Josh Sitton
  • Joe Staley
  • Trent Williams

On defense let me start with the defensive linemen and outside linebackers.  Given the way defensive coordinators line up their resources, sometimes it is difficult to tell if a player is a defensive end or a linebacker.  So, I’ll lump them together here.

  • Joey Bosa – an extrapolation from a good start to his career
  • Fletcher Cox – awfully good and awfully young
  • Aaron Donald – awfully good and awfully young
  • Everson Griffen – maybe yes, maybe no
  • James Harrison – a stud for the last decade
  • Justin Houston – a tackling machine
  • Khalil Mack – a younger version of Von Miller
  • Von Miller – has game-changing abilities
  • Terrell Suggs – a stud for the last decade with some off-field issues
  • Ndamukong Suh – anger management issues might keep him out
  • JJ Watt – injury problems starting to catch up to him

As with the defensive linemen and linebackers, I will group together the cornerbacks and safeties since some players go from one position to the other.

  • Eric Berry – seems obvious to me
  • AJ Bouye – an extrapolation here
  • Josh Norman – a real “shut-down corner”
  • Patrick Peterson – a real “shut-down corner”
  • Jalen Ramsey – a big extrapolation here
  • Xavier Rhodes – needs only to stay healthy
  • Richard Sherman – probably
  • Earl Thomas – probably

Punters and placekickers get into the Hall of Fame as often as Cookie Monster shows dietary restraint.  Therefore, I am not going to expend any effort on those positions.  Even though I was not asked to do so, let me consider the coaches in the NFL who may wind up in the Hall of Fame down the road.

  • Bill Belichick – a shoo-in
  • Tom Coughlin – a shoo-in
  • John Fox – took 2 different teams to the Super Bowl; he’s a longshot
  • Andy Reid – if he wins a Super Bowl; otherwise he is a fat Marty Schottenheimer
  • Mike Tomlin – 7 times in the playoffs and a Super Bowl win

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