The UNC Academic Fraud Scandal

What is “malodorous” to a skunk?  What is “disgusting” to a maggot?  What is “too good” for a child molester?  I pose these questions only to provide a context for the real question that is on my mind this morning:

  • What is “shameful” or “embarrassing” or “humiliating” or even “contemptible” to the NCAA?

The announcement last week – in a Friday news dump no less – the NCAA announced that it would not punish UNC for about 20 years of academic fraud.  Athletes in the “revenue sports” – and that phrase is VERY important here – were steered to sham courses in the African and American Studies Department where they all got good grades in exchange for no academic work so that they might stay eligible.  After deliberating on this matter for about 5 years after being made aware of it by outsiders, the NCAA decided that behavior was not in their ambit and it was a “university issue”.

Here are some reasons why the NCAA threw up on its shoes last week:

  • The minute the NCAA made the decision to “investigate” this matter as a potential violation of its rules on “impermissible benefits to student-athletes”, it was obvious that UNC would have to be found innocent because these courses were open to every student on the campus and students who were not athletes took those courses.  That decision was made several years ago and yet the NCAA pretended to “investigate” and “deliberate” and “adjudicate” this matter.
  • The fact that this involved the UNC football and basketball programs meant that any sanctions levied would have to restrict the participation of a major revenue generator – UNC – and so, there were significant economic barriers to finding any wrong-doing here.
  • The NCAA overloaded the hypocrisy meter on Friday when it abandoned the individuals who comprise the corps of its most sacred class of people – the “student-athletes”.  Dozens – maybe hundreds – of “student-athletes” came to UNC on “NCAA scholarships” in a deal that the NCAA says offers them a free college education in exchange for their athletic performance(s).  By turning a blind eye to what happened here, the NCAA has told all the “student-athletes” that those scholarships may in fact be meaningless because schools can offer them courses that teach the “student-athletes” exactly nothing.

I have never been – and I am not yet – a proponent of paying college athletes to play football and/or basketball.  I am not a Pollyannaish guardian of the ideal of “amateurism” in that position; I simply think that there are ways for athletes to be paid to play sports and that they should seek out those places if they do not want to go to college for the primary purpose of getting an education beyond the high school level.  I am making no value judgements here; high school graduates are adults – or close to it – and they should be able to make those kinds of choices for themselves with the understanding that all choices have consequences and some consequences are good while others are bad.  In and of itself, that is a life lesson – a molecule of “education” if you will…

I mention that because the NCAA has been violently opposed to paying athletes for the entirety of its existence; that is the core reason that they have come up with their multi-hundred-page rulebook over the years.  What the NCAA has done here is to advance the case made by the proponents of paying college athletes for a simple reason:

  • The NCAA position is that the scholarship is a thing of value and that thing of value is what is exchanged for services rendered.  The scholarships provide opportunity to the “student-athlete” and he can seize that opportunity or not at his choosing.
  • The real value of that scholarship drops like a turd into the bowl if the schools – with no fear of sanction – can steer their “student-athletes” to content-free courses by using “academic advisors” who are employed by (note the advisors are paid by) the athletic departments.

As all this unfolded, there has been a category of losers that have received little attention.  These are the folks who graduated from UNC without inflating their GPAs by taking courses such as the ones the “student athletes” were steered to.  Those alumni have had their diplomas devalued and defaced – and no one has done anything about it.  The alums who are not fanboys of the basketball and football teams ought to be outraged by that and ought to be pressuring the school to do things to assure no further damage be inflicted on their diplomas.  Somehow, I don’t hear those cries.

Similarly, the faculty at UNC should be outraged.  In academic circles – the ivory towers of scholarly pursuit – there should be a level of contempt for courses designed from the outset to teach students nothing at all.  There has to be “collateral damage” done to members of the UNC faculty where that sort of thing happened without anyone noticing for almost 20 years.

I have said before that the only reason to tolerate the existence of the feckless and hypocritical NCAA is because it stages the single best athletic event every year – – March Madness.  My first thought last Friday was this:

  • Once this passes over, maybe those goofs in Indianapolis can stumble through the months to March without any further incidents.
  • Then I remembered the FBI investigations of “fraud” and “bribery” that are ongoing and realized that my hopeful vision for the next 4 months is an unlikely outcome.

Finally, let me leave you with this comment from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“What I love about college sports is the purity. That’s why I go to ESPN Classic and watch only games played prior to 1910. The hi-def sucks, but you can’t beat the purity.”

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

 

 

College Basketball Scandal 2017

Ever since news broke about the FBI investigation of fraud and bribery in the business of recruiting 5-Star high school basketball prospects, I have been quizzical about the role of the Federal Government in all of this.  Readers have accused me of being dumber than usual on these sorts of matters and I have gotten e-mails accusing me of being an “Internet troll” on this subject taking a ridiculous position simply to generate heat on the matter. Let me be clear; I am no dumber this week than I have been in the past and I am not “trolling”.

Before getting into substance here, let me set the stage.  I really like college basketball; I have been a fan of college basketball since the 1950s.  I liked it better when players stayed in college for 4 years before turning pro; I do not like the concept of “one-and-done” even a little bit.

I think it is hugely inappropriate for major college basketball programs to pretend that they are in the education business.  They are not; they are in the basketball business; and in some cases, they also get involved in the education business.  I have argued for years that major college athletic departments should be considered and taxed as business entities and that they should enjoy exactly no status that allows contributions to those departments to be tax deductible.  I know that college basketball played at the top echelon is a profitable business and I do not mind that it is so if I get to see good college basketball games as a result.

Now for my problem with this investigation/prosecution…  One of the charges at the heart of all this is bribery.  The shoe companies allegedly provided money to top recruits and/or their family members using college assistant coaches as a conduit to influence the choice of that player regarding where he would play college basketball for a year or two.  Consider these two points:

  1. First, bribery usually follows this trail.  I pay someone to do something that is improper and to my benefit.  To me, the “impropriety” is what makes bribery a criminal act.  If I tip a headwaiter to get a choice table promptly at a restaurant, that is not bribery because what he does is not illegal.  In his job, he gets to choose who sits where and when; if I slip him a portrait of Benjamin Franklin to get a prime table and he makes the choice to seat me there, no law has been violated.
  2. Second, imagine the situation where I am in high school and nationally known for my genius as a bassoon player.  [Recall that Professor Moriarty was a virtuoso on the bassoon.]  Perhaps both the New School in Philly and the Juilliard School in NYC covet a bassoon player for their orchestras.  When/if each of them offer me a scholarship and perhaps some living expenses to attend their institutions, they are not bribing me.  Those “inducements” seek to affect my completely legal activity of deciding where I want to go to school to enhance my skill levels.

What has seemingly happened in the college basketball scandal du jour is that there have been under-the-table payments to high school recruits as a result of the fact that the NCAA as the guardian of amateurism in intercollegiate sports has ruled out any above-the-table payments of any kind in matters like this.  Now, let me be clear about something here:

  • The NCAA rule book regarding what is OK and what is not OK regarding collegiate recruiting and eligibility is not the same thing as Federal Law.
  • The NCAA investigators and its Committee on Infractions need to enforce the NCAA rule book.  The FBI and the US Attorney Offices around the country need to enforce Federal Law.  I do not want the NCAA investigators – a bunch of wannabe Inspector Clouseaus at best – doing the FBI’s business; as a taxpayer, I do not want the FBI wasting its time enforcing the NCAA rule book.

[Aside:  If the allegations presented so far are indeed 100% accurate, there is indeed a Federal Law that seems to have been broken.  That would be tax evasion on the part of the people who received the illicit payments to steer a specific recruit to a given school.  Interestingly, the words “tax evasion” never occurred at the announcement of the arrests and charges in this matter.]

It turns out that I am not alone in my thinking here.  Charles P. Pierce is a writer with a long history in sports commentary.  He has branched out from that niche over the years but I have read his stuff in venues from the Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated and The National all the way to Slate and Gentleman’s Quarterly.  He has a recent piece on SI.com which called this investigation absurd.  Here is a link to his essay; please read it in its entirety.  Here are his concluding sentences:

“Nothing good will come of this. The underground economy of college sports will adapt the way it always does. And the aboveground economy will remain the province of the unindicted sharpers who did such a great job with it in 2008. If Chuck Person goes to jail while those guys walk around free, the country is out of its mind.”

Charles P. Pierce and I are not alone in this sort of thinking.  Also at SI.com, there is a column by Michael Rosenberg on this same topic.  Please follow this link and read this column in its entirety also.  Here are some selected bits of commentary:

“These criminals, we are told, ‘defrauded’ the universities that employed them.  This may turn out to be legally accurate, but it is also utterly laughable. These schools—apparently Arizona, Louisville, Auburn, Oklahoma State, USC and Miami—are not victims. They are perpetrators … But as far as defrauding the universities … well this is like nailing the accountant who defrauded Al Capone.  Let’s be honest about who is in charge.”

And …

“The schools were supposedly ‘defrauded’ because these dastardly assistant coaches broke NCAA rules, then filled out forms certifying that they never did. The forms are another joke. Nearly everybody in college sports must fill them out, and I am still searching for anybody in history who used them to confess to anything. They’re just a cover for the schools.”

I am not trying to make the case that no one did anything wrong here.  What I continue not to understand is how and why the FBI and the US Attorney’s office spent two years investigating and wiretapping and using undercover assets to bring all of this to light.  There are real criminal enterprises at work in the country; there is an opioid epidemic; there are problems with human trafficking; there are cyber-criminals at work on a daily basis and so on.  In my opinion, I think the FBI and the US Attorney’s office need to focus attention on those sorts of violations of law and not to concoct justifications why college basketball recruiting is a nexus of evil worthy of a 2-year investigation.

Now that the NCAA has information at its disposal that its own internal investigators would never have discovered in a geological era, the question is what should they do with it and what are they likely to do with it.  What they should do is pretty straightforward.

First, using standards of proof that are not nearly as stringent as the ones applied to guile and innocence in criminal proceedings, the NCAA should determine what schools and which coaches circumvented its recruiting rules and while they are at it they should determine if any violations of eligibility rules adhered to said illicit recruits.  They should divide their findings into two categories – – the Sleazy/Slimy/Nefarious Ones and The Truly Outrageous/Blatant Flaunting of Standards Ones.

  • For The Sleazy/Slimy Ones, ban any and all coaches involved from coaching at any NCAA institution (down through Division III) for ten years minimum and then allow those coaches back into the profession only after a case-by-case review of their behaviors and activities over that ten-year hiatus.  Make it clear that a re-entry into the college coaching profession is not guaranteed.  With regard to the schools, they will go on probation for 5 years and will not be allowed to participate in any conference basketball tournaments or in the NCAA men’s post season tournament for that same period of time.  Also, no TV appearances on any of the network TV partners; only local telecasts will be allowed.
  • For The Truly Outrageous/Blatant Flaunting of Standards Ones, the coaches should be banned-for-life from collegiate coaching at all levels.  Period; no questions asked…  With regard to the schools, if their athletic departments participated in actions of this nature, the school should get the “basketball death penalty” for ten years.  If they want to play basketball on an intercollegiate basis, there is the NAIA – if those folks will have them.

I have no problem with hammering people and institutions that violated NCAA rules.  Even though the rules are stupid in many cases, the schools and the coaches signed up to them; when there are violations, there need to be consequences.  In this matter – as in most other situations – I do not believe that the end justifies the means.

  • I do not want the FBI to become the investigative arm of the NCAA looking to enforce that NCAA rules with contorted legal logic as to what is criminal activity.
  • I do not want the NCAA to continue its hypocrisy.  If it must have its 500-page rule book defining acceptable and non-acceptable behavior(s), then it needs to enforce those rules with severity notwithstanding the economic impact of the enforcement.  The fact that an academic fraud situation at UNC that was ongoing for about 2 decades has yet to be adjudicated despite the evidence coming to light about 5 years ago speaks to the influence of economic impacts on rule enforcement at the NCAA.

In addition, I do not believe for a moment that every under-the-table recruiting inducement would evaporate if college athletes in the revenue sports were paid.  I have reservations about paying them that have nothing at all to do with the recent scandal revelations.  However, I think that people who are strongly in favor of paying college athletes have wrongfully advocated that payments would obviate these sorts of behaviors.

Finally, in order to get out of this in a lighter tone than has been prevalent so far, let me leave you with the words of Alex Karras – a former student-athlete at an NCAA institution – regarding his time there:

“I never graduated from Iowa.  But I was only there for two terms – Truman’s and Eisenhower’s.”

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

 

 

NFL Pre-Season Predictions 2017

I’ll begin with a brief introduction here for readers who have gotten on this bus in the last year.  This is an annual feature – one where I embarrass myself.  What I am going to do here is to foretell the NFL season in detail; I will:

  1. List coaches on the hot seat and suggest which ones will not be returning for the 2018 season.
  2. Predict the final record for all 32 NFL teams and the conference seedings for the playoffs that start in January 2018.

Not only will these predictions stay up on the website, I will return to them sometime after the season is over and grade myself on the accuracy of these predictions.  In almost every circumstance, the grading process is a humbling experience.

One other thing needs to be mentioned at the outset.  There will surely be at least one case where I think a team will stink and I will assign them a record of 4-12 for the season.  When the results are in and the team has won their division with an 11-5 record, I do not owe the team or the team’s fans an apology.  I did not disrespect the team or the coaching staff; what I did was to make a serious mistake – and I will acknowledge that in the post-mortem after the season.  Very often, fans of teams take it personally when I underestimate the success of their teams and fail to recognize the difference between disrespect and abject error.

With that as prelude let me begin with the NFL coaches I think are on hot seats for 2017.  I will list them in alphabetical order because I have no intention of trying to rank order the hotness of those seats.  I have 10 coaches on my list here and it would not surprise me to find 6 or 7 of them among the ranks of the unemployed next January.

  1. Todd Bowles (Jets):  I hate putting him on this list because I think he is a victim of circumstance.  In his first year with the Jets, Bowles’ team just missed out on a playoff berth on a tie-breaker; then last year, the wheels came off the wagon.  Looking back, the Jets of 2015 were not as good as their record so the expectations for 2016 were overly high; that made the 5-11 record last year seem much worse than it was.  He will need significant improvement over last year’s 5-11 record or the NYC tabloids will crucify him; the problem is that the Jets have gutted their roster and the real outlook for 2017 is that a 5-11 record would be a rosy outcome.  As has happened to Jets’ coaches in the past, there is a lack of talent at the QB position.  After pretending to have a “QB competition” in camp this year, the Jets will go into the season with Josh McCown under center.  In the last 3 NFL seasons, McCown has started 22 games; the team record in those games is 2-20.  Good luck with that…  Given the hounding of the NYC press, Todd Bowles may be the first coach fired this year – and he does not deserve that fate.
  2. Jim Caldwell (Lions):  In December of last season, the Lions appeared to have the NFC North division title in their hip pocket.  The last time the Lions won a division title was in 1993 so things were looking up.  The Lions then proceeded to lose their last 3 games – thereby losing the division title to the Packers – and the team went into the playoffs as a Wildcard.  They went to Seattle and laid an egg out there losing 26-6; it wasn’t really that close.  If the Lions miss the playoffs this year, I think Jim Caldwell will be looking for work elsewhere.
  3. John Fox (Bears):  Before coming to Chicago, Joh Fox won an NFC Championship with the Panthers and an AFC Championship with the Broncos.  His coaching accomplishments are significant.  In Chicago, things have not gone nearly as well.  In his two seasons there, the Bears have a cumulative record of 9-23; last year they were 3-13 and looked every bit as bad as that record indicates.  The team has a significant QB conundrum to resolve – and there may not be a positive choice for 2017 on the roster.  I suspect that this is John Fox’s last year in Chicago.
  4. John Harbaugh (Ravens):  Yes, I know that he won a Super Bowl in Baltimore and that his regular season record with the Ravens is a cumulative 85-59.  However, the NFL is very much a “what-have-you-done-lately league” and in the 4 years since winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens only made the playoffs once and have a cumulative record of 31-33.  It would take a disastrous season for Harbaugh’s seat to get hot enough that he had to leave it, but with Joe Flacco missing most of training camp with a “balky back” and Ryan Mallett as the replacement, “disastrous season” might not be out of the picture.  I mention him here as a long-shot; his seat is merely lukewarm.
  5. Hue Jackson (Browns):  I put him here only because the Browns were miserable last year in his first season and they project to be only marginally better this year.  However, I also expect that the folks running the franchise in Cleveland now recognize the importance of some sort of stability when it comes to rebuilding a football team.  The Browns were 1-15 last year and in some of their losses they were barely competitive.  For 2017, they have to play such that they are not just a scrimmage partner for the opposition.  The Browns BYE Week is in Week 9 this year (November 5th); when NFL teams make an in-season coaching change, they often use the BYE Week to do that.  Now, if the Browns go into the BYE Week with an 0-8 record and three of those losses have been horrible blowouts …
  6. Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  This will be Lewis’ 15th season as coach of the Bengals; the franchise he took over was a laughingstock; in the last 14 seasons, Lewis has had the team in the playoffs 7 times.  That is the good news; here is the bad news.  The Bengals have yet to win a playoff game under Lewis.  In 2015, they had the game in their hands and then a total meltdown in focus and discipline cost them their first playoff win of the Marvin Lewis Era.  You would have expected improvement in that area in 2016 and that Lewis would have made it a team objective.  Well, that did not happen and the team finished a dispirited 6-9-1.  One other factor working against him is that he only has 1 year left on his contract.  Ownership in Cincy does not like to pay coaches not to coach …  I think the Bengals have to make the playoffs for him to keep his job – – and if they do not win their first playoff game, they have to lose respectably.
  7. Bill O’Brien (Texans):  This is a longshot guess on my part because O’Brien has been successful with the Texans despite never having a Top 25-QB on this roster.  The Brock Osweiler experiment from last year was a disaster – and that is looking at it optimistically.  This year, he has two young QBs with “lots of potential” which is NFL code-talking for two young QBs “who have not yet accomplished a damned thing.”  This man does not look happy on the sidelines during games even though his teams win more often than they lose.
  8. Chuck Pagano (Colts):  The facts are these.  The Colts play in a not-very-good division and they have not made the playoffs for the last 2 years.  They have a very good QB but they do not protect him and he will start this season basically having no training camp practice sessions as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery brought on by the lack of protection he gets.  I have not figured out how much of the Colts’ failures over the past couple of years is due to Pagano’s coaching and how much is due to the way the roster was built and how much of a role Pagano played in the roster building.  The old GM is gone for this year so the Colts need to show improvement if Pagano is going to stay on as the coach.
  9. Sean Payton (Saints):  Like John Harbaugh, some might ask what Peyton has done for the Saints lately.  They had a great run from 2009 (winning the Super Bowl) to 2013 (making the playoffs each year and winning 11 or more games in each season).  However, the last three seasons have come in at 7-9 with no playoff appearances.  This is another longshot on this list – – but it is not impossible.
  10. Ron Rivera (Panthers):  Last year the team suffered “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome”.  From a record of 15-1, the Panthers descended to an unremarkable 6-10 which earned them a last place finish in the NFC South.  Rivera has been the coach in Carolina for 6 years now; his overall record is 53-42-1 which is pretty good; interestingly, he has only had 2 winning seasons in those 6 years and with that overall record one might have expected more.  There has been plenty of turmoil within the franchise recently with the GM getting fired in June after he oversaw the Draft and the signing of free agents.  Logic would argue for Rivera to stay around to provide some stability but “logic: and “stability” are not always key ingredients in NFL decisions…

Let me go to the individual team records now and I’ll start in the AFC West.  I project that the four teams here will have a total of 36 wins; only the NFC South will have more.

  • Oakland Raiders  12-4:  Derek Carr is back and the highlight reels say he is throwing the ball as well as he was before his broken leg last year.  The Raiders’ offense can scare any defensive coordinator.  The defense is good-not-great and the defensive weakness is stopping the run.  The Raiders open the season on the road against the Titans – a team that wants to run the ball down your throat.  That game should shed a lot of light on the level of improvement in the Raiders’ run defense.  The Raiders’ schedule is back-loaded.  After their BYE Week in Week 10, they host the Pats, Broncos and Giants; then they hit the road to visit the Chiefs and then come home again to host the Cowboys.  I think the Raiders will beat out the Steelers for a playoff bye based on conference record.  When the Raiders win the AFC West, it will be the first time they have done so in 15 seasons.
  • KC Chiefs  10-6:  The Chiefs were good last year and not much has changed in KC so they ought to be good again this year.  The loss of Spencer Ware at RB for the season is certainly not a positive, but it is not disastrous either.  Remember, they lost in the playoffs last year to Pittsburgh never giving up a TD – although they did yield 6 field goals.  The Chiefs will be the top AFC Wildcard Team.
  • LA Chargers  7-9:  There were times last year when the Chargers had so many injuries that I expected to see the guys who run onto the field with the water bottles during timeouts pull up with hamstring injuries.  The football gods wouldn’t do that to the same team two years in a row, would they?  The Chargers offense is OK; the Chargers’ defense needs to improve; that is why Gus Bradley is the defensive coordinator.  The most interesting thing about Chargers’ games this year will be to see what the atmosphere is in their new stadium that seats less than 30,000 folks.  And on top of the atmosphere, it will be interesting to see if the Chargers can even sell out so small a venue.
  • Denver Broncos  7-9:  The Broncos’ defense is still a premier unit and will be the source of the team success this year.  On offense, the Broncos have questions at RB and most importantly at QB.  Once again, Paxton Lynch failed to earn the starting QB job over Trevor Siemian who started 14 games last year.  Broncos’ coach Vance Joseph said the decision came down to the fact that Siemian was the more consistent QB in the Exhibition Games.  Does that translate into something like “I wish I had some other option here – – but I don’t.”?  The Broncos went 8-6 with Siemian under center and none of his stats jump out at you and say “Hey, look over here!”  In the John Elway GM Era, the QB position has been questionable.  Some of the Broncos’ acquisitions at QB were Tim Tebow, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian.  That is a pretty vanilla bunch surrounding the acquisition of Peyton Manning for one last run at a Super Bowl ring which turned out to be successful.  Still …

Next up I’ll move to the AFC South.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 32 games meaning the four teams will average 8-8 which is pretty much the definition of mediocre.

  • Tennessee Titans  11-5:  I think the Titans’ time has come.  Marcus Mariotta has a dominant running game that will allow him to pick and choose when to throw as opposed to having to wing it 50 times a game.  Mariotta may not be an All-Pro; but in this division, there is not a lot of QB competition if indeed Andrew Luck is still not able to throw a football in anger with only a week or so to go until kickoff.  The Titans’ defense is nothing to write home about but that strong run game will help that unit also.  The schedule maker gave the Titans an easy glide path to the playoffs this year.  Their last 3 games of the season are at the Niners and then home to host the Rams and the Jags.
  • Houston Texans  9-7:  Of course the Texans will go 9-7; that is what they have done under Bill O’Brien in each of his 3 seasons at the helm.  Last year, the Texans made the playoffs even though they gave up 49 more points than they scored; let’s just say that is atypical.  Tom Savage has been named as the Week 1 starter; I suspect we will see Deshaun Watson in that role before Thanksgiving.  The Texans’ defense was excellent last year and should be even better this year with the return of JJ Watt although the loss of CB, AJ Bouye, and S, Quinton Demps, to free agency creates a challenge for the defense.  The worst part of the schedule for the Texans is a 3-game stretch at the Patriots and then home to host the Titans and the Chiefs.  That rough patch is followed by a visit from the Browns and then a BYE Week.  The Texans will be the second AFC Wildcard Team.
  • Indy Colts   6-10:  This projection assumes that it will be a while into the regular season before Andrew Luck is ready to play QB the way Andrew Luck is capable of playing QB.  If that does not happen this year and the Colts have to embark on the start of the Scott Tolzein Era, this might be a generous projection.  Fans in Indy have to hope that the Scott Tolzein Era is mercifully brief.  The Colts seemed to recognize their shortcomings during the NFL Draft this year.  With their first four picks, the Colts took 3 defensive players and an offensive lineman.  The running back listed first on the depth chart at the moment is Frank Gore.  I love Frank Gore’s drive and dedication; on the other hand, he is 34 years old.  That is not the usual recipe for a solid run game to support your QB …
  • Jax Jaguars  6-10:  This prediction is another one that could be wildly optimistic.  I am basing this on the continued solid play by the defensive unit.  Were it not for those guys, this team would struggle to win 2 games.  If you believe the reports coming from the Jags’ training camp, Blake Bortles and Chad Henne were in a neck-and-neck race to see who would be the starting QB.  That is a sad state of affairs.  Things got so loose after the 2nd Exhibition Game that the owner of the Jags said he would be open to bringing Colin Kaepernick onto the roster if his “football people” said they needed him.  Then time went by and the “football people” made no such entreaty.  The Jags begin the season with 3 difficult games – at the Texans and then home against the Titans and Ravens.  The Jags close out the season with a challenging 4-game stretch – home versus the Seahawks and the Texans followed by two on the road at the Niners and at the Titans.  Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel had this to say about the QB situation in Jax:

Everybody I talk to keeps saying that if Blake Bortles struggles again this season, he will be done as the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In other words, I guess you could say that this is a Make-or-Blake season.”

The next stop will be the AFC North.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 31 games.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers  12-4:  The Steelers have a ton of talent on offense.  Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown and Martavious Bryant to throw the ball to on the outside.  The Steelers do not have a great tight end on the roster but Jesse James and Vance McDonald will not embarrass the team.  Big Ben can also hand the ball to LeVeon Bell – once Bell decides that he will show up and play a season of football for something in the neighborhood of $12M.  If it takes Bell a moment to “get his sea legs”, the Steelers have Knile Davis on the team to be the lead back.  The Steelers’ defense for 2017 may not be equal to the Steel Curtain guys from 40 years ago, but the Steelers’ defense is better than merely present and the signing last week of Joe Haden from the Browns should help the defense a lot.  I think the Steelers will lose out on a bye week in the playoffs to the Raiders based on conference records.
  • Baltimore Ravens  8-8:  This prediction is based on Joe Flacco being able to play like Joe Flacco has shown he can play for most of the games this season.  He has not played in any Exhibition Games and has been treated with kid gloves in training camp due to a “balky back”.  His backup is Ryan Mallett.  You can decry Flacco all you want about how he is not an “elite QB”; none of that matters here; he is many rungs of the ladder higher than Ryan Mallett.  And if you want to get really frightened, the other QB on the roster during training camp was Thad Lewis.  The Ravens’ offense was anemic last year and the loss of Steve Smith Sr. on the field and on the sideline will not help that situation or help Joe Flacco be highly productive.  The Ravens’ defense will keep them in plenty of games but that unit needs help from the offfense.  The Ravens have three tough road games on the schedule – – at the Raiders, at the Packers and at the Steelers.
  • Cincy Bengals  7-9:  The Bengals offense looks solid if – and this is a big IF – the OL improves significantly over last year’s performance.  Andy Dalton needs more time/better protection than he got last year; if he gets protection, he will be able to get the ball to AJ Green, Tyler Eifert and some talented running backs.  If opposing defenses can force Dalton to scramble and throw on the run, the Bengals will struggle.  The defense has not changed a lot from last year and the presence of Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones on that unit always provides the potential for a meltdown.  Burfict will serve a 3-game suspension; if that is enforced at the start of this season AND later he contributes to some other Bengals’ misfortunes with more on-field meltdowns, the team may struggle to reach my predicted record.  I suspect this will be the end of the line for Marvin Lewis in Cincy and I am sad to say that.  Marvin Lewis appears to be a very good person when he is on TV as well as a good football coach.
  • Cleveland Browns  4-12:  If I am right on this projection, that means the Browns will improve their win total by 300% over last year.  The thing that will be the measure of the Browns this year is their competitiveness; last year, too many opponents had a stroll down a primrose path when they played the Browns.  The schedule maker chose to throw this team into the deep end right away.  They open the season hosting the Steelers; then they have two road games at the Ravens and Colts followed by a home game against the Bengals.  That’s right; three of the first four games are division games.  Later in the season they have a string of games that is daunting.  From late November to mid-December the Browns face the Bengals and Chargers on the road followed by home games against the Packers and Ravens.  In Week 16, the NFL schedule maker gives us the Browns and the Bears in Chicago.  If that is a “blizzard game”, it might be fun to watch just for comedic value; other than that …

To wrap up the AFC, here are my predictions for the AFC East.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 27 games – tying it with the NFC West as the weakest overall division in the NFL.

  • New England Patriots  13-3:  No, the Pats will not be undefeated in 2017.  They will have the best regular season record in the conference and in the league; they are the defending Super Bowl champion and they may have a better overall roster this year than they did last year.  The training camp injury to Julian Edelman does not help them a bit, but there are still plenty of weapons on that offensive unit.  One of these years, we will witness Tom Brady’s performance decline significantly.  As they say in the NFL, Father Time has never missed a tackle.  However, I do not think that 2017 will be that year – and oh, by the way, I believe that the Pats have THE best backup QB in the league on the bench in Jimmy Garoppolo.  If you are a Patriot-hater, I think this will not be a good year for you.  I have the Pats with home field advantage throughout the playoffs in 2017.  [As of this morning, the odds on the Pats winning the AFC East yet again stand at -1000 or -1050 at various Internet sportsbooks.  Those folks think that outcome is a “mortal lock”.]
  • Miami Dolphins  8-8:  Let me say something sort of outrageous here.  If Jay Cutler has a really good year in Miami – meaning he still has plenty of gas in the tank at age 34 – that might be a factor in whether John Fox keeps his job in Chicago because the Bears got little if anything out of Cutler in the John Fox Era.  The Dolphins made the playoffs last year and then proceeded to lay an egg against the Steelers in a Wildcard round game.  I do not think they will get to the playoffs this year.  The schedule maker seemed to stick pins in a Miami Dolphins bobblehead in the offseason.  They have road games in LA against the Chargers, in Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina and KC in addition to their customary road games against their division opponents.  Oh, and one of their home games will be in London.  That is tough sledding …  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian Pilot had this to say about Jay Cutler’s arrival in Miami:

Miami signed Jay Cutler. Apparently ownership was impressed by all the passes he completed to Dolphin cornerbacks when he played for Chicago.”

  • Buffalo Bills  4-12:  I feel sorry for Tyrod Taylor.  Even if he improves a lot over last year, it may be hard to notice given who he has to throw the ball to.  The Bills shipped Sammy Watkins out of town and traded for Jordan Matthews who promptly broke his sternum in practice.  The Bills also signed free agent Anquan Boldin who stayed in training camp for a week or so and then retired.  Other wide receivers on the depth chart include Andre Holmes [No, he is not Sherlock’s younger brother.], Zay Jones and Brandon Tate.  In reality, none of those players will inflict insomnia on any defensive coordinators around the NFL.  LeSean McCoy is still there as a competent running back; if McCoy has to miss any significant playing time this year, the Bills’ offense might be listed as “moribund”.  Rookie coach Sean McDermott will take his lumps this year.
  • NY Jets  2-14:  No; just as the Pats will not go 16-0, the Jets will not go 0-16.  There are too many winnable games on the schedule even for a team with a gutted roster that seems to be tanking so they can draft one of the many promising QBs coming out of college this year.  Instead of focusing on the question, “Will the Jets go winless in 2017?”, I think the more appropriate question is “Will the Jets equal the 1-15 record they posted in 1996 under Richie Kotite?”  The Jets play the Browns on October 8 in Week 5; that may be the nadir of the NFL season.  Jets’ fans will need to vent their spleen by December 3rd because the Jets play 3 of their last 4 games on the road.  Maybe the schedule maker took pity on the Jets’ fans and kept them out of the cold weather this year with such a bad team on the field…  The NY Jets will be “on the clock” for the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as of January 1, 2018.  Unfortunately for Todd Bowles, he will not be participating in that draft preparation.  By the way, I am not the only one to think that the Jets/Browns game in Week 5 will be a “snoozer”; here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

Yawning is contagious, University of Nottingham researchers have confirmed.

Which probably explains why pundits are predicting 70,000 open mouths in the stands at next month’s Jets-Browns game.”

To summarize the AFC:

  1. Patriots – Home field advantage throughout the playoffs
  2. Raiders – First round bye beating out Steelers on conference record
  3. Steelers – Home field for the Wildcard round
  4. Titans – Home field for the Wildcard round
  5. Chiefs – First Wildcard team
  6. Texans – Second Wildcard team

Now I will move over to the NFC and begin with the NFC West.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 27 games – making it tied with the AFC East as the weakest division in the NFL.

  • Seattle Seahawks  11-5:  The defensive backfield for the Legion of Boom is starting to get up there in years and watching how Darrele Revis’ play fell off a cliff last year makes one pause for a moment here.  Richard Sherman is 29; Kam Chancellor is 29; Earl Thomas (back from injury to the delight of Seahawks’ fans) is 28 and Jeremy Lane is 27.  Their experience and savvy will make up for any “age issues” this year but it is an issue to keep in mind.  Another plus for the Seahawks is that Russell Wilson had to battle foot/leg injuries for much of last year but he seems to be fully recovered from all that.  The schedule maker did the Seahawks no favors this year.  In the first 7 weeks, the Seahawks have 4 road games against the Packers, Titans, Rams and Giants.  [There is a BYE Week in there between the Rams and Giants.]  On Christmas Eve, they will be in Dallas to play the Cowboys.  The Seahawks will win the division comfortably.  I have them in a 3-way tie-breaker situation with the Falcons and the Packers to see which two of them will get playoff byes.  These three teams play each other this year so the tie-breaker situation could get very interesting.
  • Arizona Cardinals  8-8:  I am just not sold on the Cardinals.  Running back, David Johnson, is a top-shelf player and Larry Fitzgerald is the kind of role model you would want to hold up in front of your kids if they were athletic.  But when I consider the rest of the team, I am lukewarm at best.  Last year, the Cards were 7-8-1; basically, this is the same team the Cards put on the field last year, so I don’t see much of anything different happening at the end of this year.  On the positive side, this could be the last year for both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and perhaps the two “old pros” can make the rest of the team play a lot better than they really are.  It could happen…
  • LA Rams  5-11:  The Rams will play in a bigger stadium than the Chargers and will draw bigger crowds but they will not win as many games as the Chargers will win.  The Rams have a new coach in Sean McVay who is just outside the age range for a “teen idol”.  The Rams have a really good defense – – assuming that DT Aaron Donald ever shows up in football shape ready to play to his capability.  In addition, they have a very good running back in Todd Gurley.  What they also have is a humongous question mark at the QB position.  Jared Goff looked terrible last year in all those times when he did not look bewildered.  Sean McVay is there to prove to Rams’ fans and the rest of the NFL that Goff as a #1 overall pick is able to bear that burden.  The jury is out – – but Jared Goff has to play better than he did last year because last year he could barely play dead.
  • SF 49ers  3-13:  This is a step up from last year’s walk in the wilderness.  The roster last year was awful; I guess it is a tad better this year but still not nearly good enough.  The presence of Kyle Shanahan is supposed to convey some degree of competence on the QB position; that is Shanahan’s calling card in the coaching game.  He does not have a lot to work with.  Brian Hoyer is nominally the starter with Matt Barkley as the backup.  Those two guys saw a lot of action in Chicago last year and fans there saw a lot of ugly action as a result.  Also on the depth chart is rookie CJ Beathard from Iowa who could be this year’s version of Dak Prescott or this year’s version of Spergon Wynn.  NaVorro Bowman will make his presence felt from his MLB position on defense and maybe rookie Reuben Foster will be a top-shelf linebacker too.  Other than that, the defense is not much to write home about.

I’ll just move along here to the NFC South.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 37 games making this the toughest division in the NFL for 2018.

  • Atlanta Falcons  11-5:  The Falcons will suffer the “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome” and that is why they are going to lose 5 games this season.  The team is extremely talented; Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones is scary by itself but the Falcons have plenty of other pass catchers to take the pressure off the Ryan/Jones connection and they have a solid running game.  They lost the Super Bowl on a boneheaded bit of play-calling and because the Falcons’ defense was totally gassed for the final 6 or 7 minutes of the game.  It will not require much of an uptick on defense to take care of that little problem.  The rematch with the Patriots will be in Foxboro on October 22; it is probably worthwhile circling that date on your calendar.  The Falcons take on the Cowboys at home in Week 10 and that game could be a preview of an NFC playoff encounter.
  • Tampa Bay Bucs  10-6:  Jameis Winston takes his next step down the path to NFL stardom here.  The off-season acquisition of DeSean Jackson will help the Bucs offense a lot.  Jackson is not a high-volume pass-catcher; he averaged less than 4 catches per game last year.  However, what he does is to get the ball downfield; he led the NFL in average yards per catch (17.9 yards per catch).  With his speed, he will make opposing defenses play the whole field and that will open up a lot of targets and catches for his companion wide-out, Mike Evans.  Doug Martin and Jacquiz Rodgers provide more than competent running back skills.  The Bucs defense needs to improve and Jameis Winston needs to cut down on his INTs this year.  I see the Bucs in the playoffs as the NFC’s first Wildcard team.
  • New Orleans Saints  8-8:  I’ve seen the movie before.  The Saints’ offense will move the ball and score lots of points; then the Saints’ defense will go out on the field and allow the opponent to move the ball and also score lots of points.  Sometimes the Saints will win and sometimes they will lose.  Hence, my predicted record.  The Saints’ 5 games in December include 4 division games including the Falcons twice with a visit from the NY Jets in the middle of those 4 games.
  • Carolina Panthers  8-8:  Cam Newton is still recovering from shoulder surgery and while the Panthers have a reasonable backup in Derek Anderson, the Panthers will not survive without Cam Newton playing near his level of competence.  The Panthers already had a good corps of running backs and then they added Christian Mc Caffrey in the draft.  The Panthers’ defense is quite good with solid players at most of the positions.  Nevertheless, they have to have the Cam Newton of the 2015 season on the field this year and not the Cam Newton of 2016.  That is the bottom line…

Next up is the NFC North.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 30 games in the 2017 NFL season.

  • Green Bay Packers  11-5:  In recent seasons, the Packers have started slowly and hit their stride later in the season.  This year they open at home against the Seahawks and then travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons in Week 2.  If my projections are correct, they cannot afford to start 0-2 because that would make them lose out on the tie-breaker that I believe will come to pass among those three teams.  However, even if they do start 0-2, I do not think there is reason for the Cheeseheads to panic; the Packers are the class of this division and should coast to the division title and the playoffs.  In an atypical move, the Packers dipped into the free agent market earlier this week signing Ahmed Brooks – late of the Niners – to play linebacker; that cannot hurt this team.  By the way, the schedule maker did the Packers no favors toward the end of the season either; they will be on the road for four of their final six games.
  • Minnesota Vikings  9-7:  The Vikings will field a tough defense once again in 2017 and their offense will be pretty much plain vanilla.  Normally, that sort of overview would lead to a break-even record but the Vikes play in a division with two very weak teams meaning they get four division games that are perfectly winnable.  The schedule maker has also given the Vikes games against the Browns and the Rams; those are also perfectly winnable.  On that basis, I think the Vikes will squeeze themselves above .500 for the season but will not be involved in the playoffs.
  • Detroit Lions  6-10:  The Lions looked like division winners last year and then threw up on their shoes losing the last three games of the year and the division title to the Packers.  They did make the playoffs as a Wildcard team but lost badly to the Seahawks in the first round.  In building their division lead, the Lions won lots of games by very close margins of victory and seemed to have the power to pull rabbits out of hats.  In fact, they came from behind in the 4th quarter in each of their first 7 wins of the season.  The Lions record last year was 9-7; had they gone 3-4 in those 7 games where they trailed in the 4th quarter, their record would have been 6-10.  Big difference …  That sort of football-fortune tends to even out over time and that is not a good omen for the Lions in 2017.  The Lions would benefit from a strong performance by RB, Ameer Abdullah this year.  Overall, I do not think this season will save Jim Caldwell’s job.
  • Chicago Bears  4-12:  The Bears were terrible last year; in the offseason they off-loaded all three QBs on their roster and replaced them with Mike Glennon (on an expensive contract), Mitchell Trubisky (a rookie the team traded up to draft early in the first round) and Mark Sanchez (yes, that Mark Sanchez).  Under the most benign circumstances, you would expect the Bears to take a few games to get all the pieces working together properly.  That is where the schedule maker did the Bears no favors.  Here is how the Bears’ schedule plays out for the first 6 weeks – – home against the Falcons, at the Bucs, home against the Steelers, at the Packers, home against the Vikes, at the Ravens.  The Bears will be underdogs in all 6 of those games and will likely be underdogs in the next two games just prior to the BYE Week.  If the Bears are 0-8 at the BYE Week, it would not surprise me to see John Fox lose his job right there.  The schedule gets a bit easier in the second half with winnable games against the Browns, Niners and Lions (twice) on the dance card.

The last division up for attention is the NFC East.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 36 games this season meaning that this division like the AFC West is only one game behind the NFC South in terms of total wins.

  • Dallas Cowboys  10-6:  This projection assumes that Ezekiel Elliott serves at least a 4-game suspension from the NFL.  At the moment, his “sentence” is for 6 games and is “up on appeal”.  This projection also accounts for defensive coordinators spending a lot of time during the offseason analyzing whatever weaknesses may exist in Dak Prescott’s game and exploiting some of them this season.  Notwithstanding all of the above, the core of the Cowboys’ offense remains intact; the outstanding OL is still there and Jason Witten is still there to catch the ball and move the chains.  The challenge for the Cowboys in 2017 is a continuation of their challenge from 2016; can the defense play anywhere near the level of competency as the offense?  You will get to see a lot of the Cowboys on TV this year.  They will be on in prime time 5 times; they will be on the “late Sunday afternoon game” 9 times.  The Cowboys draw ratings on TV and all the networks want to show you the Dallas Cowboys.
  • NY Giants  10-6:  The Giants made the playoffs last year mainly due to an efficient and effective defense.  The 2017 squad will field mostly the same defense but the Giants have added some offensive weapons in the offseason – notably Brandon Marshall to play WR opposite Odell Beckham, Jr.  The running game is still suspect but I expect that Eli Manning will have a big year throwing the ball.  The Giants open the season on the road against the Cowboys and they play 4 of their first 6 games on the road; in December, the Giants have 2 road games – – at Oakland and at Arizona where they traditionally struggle.
  • Philadelphia Eagles  9-7:  It appears that the Eagles’ defense has come to a point where it can reassert itself after a couple of seasons where it went AWOL.  The challenge for the team is to continue to develop QB, Carson Wentz, after a promising rookie season.  The Eagles made major changes to their receiving corps over the summer adding Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith and the Eagles can present a diversified running game with LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnell Pumphrey.  The Eagles start the season at the Skins, at the Chiefs and home against the Giants; the final three games will be at the Giants, home against the Raiders and Cowboys.  Those 6 games at the start and end of the season will decide how well – or how poorly – the Eagles do this year.
  • Washington Redskins  7-9:  Football coaches love to talk about getting rid of distractions.  Well, the Skins have a distraction built into the core of the team for this year and that distraction is the “Kirk Cousins Contract Conundrum”.  If you don’t know what that is, you should not have read this far into an NFL prediction piece for the 2017 season.  In the offseason, the Skins lost two prominent WRs in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon; they replaced them with Terrelle Pryor.  I am a big fan of Terrelle Pryor, but I wonder if he can replace the production of both departed WRs.  The Skins’ defense last year was just plain bad; they have a new defensive coordinator and plenty of new personnel in the front seven.  They almost have to be improved over last year – but that is a low standard for this unit to have to meet.  The Skins’ schedule from the end of October until mid-December is daunting.  They face a seven-game stretch starting with a visit by the Cowboys, then a trip to the Seahawks followed by a home game against the Vikes, a road trip to play the Saints, the Giants at home on Thanksgiving and ending with road games against the Cowboys and the Chargers.

The playoff picture in the NFC according to my projections will be a muddled mess.  So here is my prognostication:

  • The Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions on tie-breakers over the Giants.
  • The Giants will be in the playoffs as a Wildcard team
  • The other three division winners (Falcons, Packers and Seahawks) will have the same record and I think the Seahawks will be “odd-team out” in terms of playoff byes.

Therefore, my overall NFC Playoff prediction looks like this:

  1. Packers – Home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  [True confession here – I make this prediction because I like to watch winter games in Green Bay where everyone is freezing their butts off more than I like watching winter games in a dome like Atlanta.]
  2. Falcons – First round bye in the playoffs
  3. Seahawks – Home field advantage in the Wildcard round
  4. Cowboys – In the playoffs as the NFC East champ
  5. Giants – First Wildcard team from the NFC
  6. Bucs – Second Wildcard team from the NFC.

I’ll check back with you – and with these readings of goat entrails – sometime early next year.  We shall see then how close I came to being right – – or how far off the mark I could be.

Finally, to conclude on a light note, consider this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“According to a website’s survey, 54.2 percent of Jacksonville fans would sit on a hornet’s nest to win a Super Bowl. Which could produce an oh-so-rare Jaguars standing ovation.”

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

 

 

The Rio Olympics; The Aftermath…

The IOC previously selected Paris as the site for the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles as the site for the 2028 Summer Games.  The Games in 2020 will be in Tokyo and preparations for that event are well underway.  Anyone who has read these rants for a while knows that I hold the IOC in very low regard; nevertheless, these last three decisions on venues are good ones.  The reason they are good decisions is simple:

  • All three cities reside in countries with solid/prospering economies and all three cities already have many of the necessary venues and infrastructure in place and in functional condition.

Some recent analysis of the aftermath of the 2016 Games in Rio point to the importance of putting these events in cities that are established and with sound economic underpinnings.  Sportspromedia.com has a lengthy analysis of the Rio Games and it is very ugly.  I recommend that you read this analysis in its entirety because it lays bare what happens when euphoric idealism (the status that existed when Rio was selected as the host for the 2016 Games) meets the real world.  Let me offer just a few of the lowlights:

  • Brazil’s economy was solid in 2009; the future looked bright; the political situation was stable by Latin American standards; there was plenty of time to make the Rio Games a showcase for the country.
  • Following on the heels of the FIFA World Cup tournament in 2014, the Rio Games existed in a time of economic collapse and political upheaval in the country.  Lots – and I mean LOTS – of the money appropriated to ready the city for the Games was wasted or fraudulently diverted.
  • Costs for the 2016 Games is estimated at $13.1B.  Problem is that Brazil does not have that kind of money in reserve in 2016/17.  Compounding the problem, the Brazilians only budgeted around $9B for these endeavors back when they actually had money to spend.
  • Many of the venues are “white elephants” – much like the huge soccer stadium built in rural Brazil for the World Cup that is now a bus parking lot.  The venue that housed the 2016 Opening and Closing Ceremonies has been vandalized with many of its seats ripped out and stolen.  Not surprisingly, it is unused these days.
  • The Athletes Village is described as “void of life” and the golf course constructed for the Games charges $180 for a round of golf.  In a country deep in a major recession, it does not get a lot patronage.

I am not so Pollyannaish as to believe that corruption and fraud do not occur in cities like London, Paris, Tokyo or Los Angeles.  However, here are a couple of comments from the Sportspromedia.com report that probably would not be written about the preparations for games in one of those cities:

“… the malfeasance in Brazil’s political system has long been cancerous and its scale staggering, with every governor elected in Rio since 1998 either facing corruption charges or serving a sentence. He adds that the lucrative building contracts and ensuing construction boom brought about by the arrival of sport’s two biggest events only spawned new opportunities for corruption, with deals between politicians and large construction firms for venues and other infrastructure inflated and founded on sizeable tax exemptions.”

And …

“If the financial and political consequences were dire, the social ramifications have been profound. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people were evicted from Rio’s favelas to make way for large-scale construction projects and new real estate developments tied to the Games, exacerbating the deep distrust for elected officials that already existed among the city’s poorest people.”

And …

“Most troubling of all is the fact that wasted public money has contributed to shortfalls in funding for vital services such as policing, schooling and healthcare. Protests from unpaid civil servants against the corruption, crony politicians and overspending on the Olympics in general were a feature of the months and years leading up to the Games; since they concluded, crime has spiraled to the highest levels in a decade, with street violence and stray bullets having become a daily reality. Just last week, thousands of armed forces were deployed to Rio’s streets as part of federal efforts to increase security and preserve public order.”

 

The IOC – probably intending to be ever so politically correct – celebrates the fact that it presents to countries the opportunity to be part of the “Olympic Movement” and to “play with the big boys”.  The problem is that when countries overreach, the economic and social consequences are disastrous for the citizenry.  It is not just Rio; look at the aftermath of the 2004 Games in Athens.  The Greek economy was wobbly before the Games; it went into a freefall such that Greece was almost kicked out of the EU after the Games.

What would make sense would be for the IOC to take a position that would create some enemies.  They should come up with a list of a half-dozen countries that will host the Summer Games on a rotating basis.  There would be no need for “bidding”; there would be no mystery as to where the Games will he held when.  And those half-dozen countries need to be in robust economies.  Let me list some – perhaps most – of the contenders to be on the “List of The Half Dozen”:

  1. Australia
  2. Canada
  3. China
  4. France
  5. Germany
  6. Great Britain
  7. Japan
  8. India
  9. Russia
  10. United States

Here is what is “wrong” with my list of ten countries that should be trimmed to six.  There are no “representative countries” from Africa or Latin America.  And because of the potential for dire consequences – social and economic – to smaller economies, there ought not to be any.  That last statement represents another collision between “idealism” and “the real world”.

The IOC will continue to do its business as it has in the past because the people at the top of the IOC and at the top of the various federations that govern the international sports involved in the Games are all in comfy situations.  Their isolation protects them from the suffering that can befall people in countries where the economy collapses under the added burden of Olympic expenditures that were beyond the means of the economy from Day One.  The IOC will not be able to slurp at the public troughs in Paris and LA to the same extent that they can and did in years gone by.  Probably by the time they come to consider the venue for 2032, they will go looking for another site to exploit.  Emerging economies beware…

Finally, all is not gloom in the world of the “Olympic Movement” – something that I have previously likened to a bowel movement.  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian Pilot had this item in a column recently.  It shows that the IOC is looking to the future for the Paris Games in 2024 and is not slavishly tied to the threadbare motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”:

“C’est la vie: Another sign of the coming Apocalypse comes from organizers of the 2024 Paris Olympics who are considering the inclusion of eSports – video gaming – as a competitive event.”

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

 

 

Had Enough Yet?

A regular reader of these rants lives nearby; yesterday, I happened to run into him at a local shopping strip and he thanked me for not writing about LaVar Ball three times a week like lots of other outlets do.  We got to chatting and I explained to him that I think LaVar Ball is a sports media and social media creation; he started out with saying some outrageous stuff about his son being better already than Steph Curry and that he could have taken Michael Jordan back in his prime; when that got him publicity, he escalated the outrageousness and that made him a mainstay for media coverage.  I think he is far more toward the “showman” end of the spectrum as opposed to the “sportsman” end; that is why I rarely write about him.

His latest antic – claiming that a female referee at the Las Vegas AAU tournament was fat, out of shape and incompetent and that she should “stay in her lane” – was beyond outrageous; it was offensive.  The media created LaVar Ball; the twits on Twitter and the “Faceboobs” made much of his stuff viral – not in the infectious sense but in the widespread sense.  Until those regions of modern society tire of his antics, please expect more of them and they will be more outrageous/offensive as time goes on.

But that conversation got me to thinking about the following question:

  • Which recurring sports story/sports topic are you most tired about hearing about?

LaVar Ball has to be on that list – – but he is surely not alone.  I have a few other candidates to suggest for your consideration.

  1. OJ Simpson: When he is released on parole in a few weeks, I have no interest in hearing about any retrospective on his murder trial, his Nevada imprisonment, his life adjusting to freedom, his golf game or his continued hunt for the real killers. I don’t know about you, but I have heard everything I ever want to hear from or about OJ Simpson.  Period…
  2. The NFL Draft:  Howard Cosell said about 35 years ago that Pete Roselle should get and Emmy and an Oscar for staging the most over-rated/over-propagandized annual event in sports.  If Cosell were alive today, he would think the hoot-doodle surrounding the drafts in the 1980s were “the good old days”.  Think about it for a moment folks; the NFL Draft for 2018 is still 9 months away; no college football team has played even a single down in the 2017 season.  Not to worry; there are already at least a half-dozen Mock Drafts for 2018 out there for your perusal.  I would rather gargle with razor blades…
  3. “Snub Stories”:  These are nothing more than a way for writers or sports radio hosts to vent their spleens for a short period of time.  “Snub stories” sometimes take the form of a team being “snubbed” by not being invited to participate for a round or two in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; another form is the outrage expressed about a certain player who was not named to an All-Star team or to the Pro Bowl.  The “Snub Stories genre” can also extend to teams who were given a spot in March Madness but were seeded far too low by the author’s yardstick.  I guess these stories make the venter(s) feel good for a moment – or else why do they spend the energy on them?  For me, they are tales told by idiots full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.  [/W. Shakespeare]
  4. Tim Tebow’s minor league baseball accomplishments:  I am not a Tim Tebow basher by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, I think he has gotten a very raw deal from a faction of the sports media who like to take shots at him for his overt religiosity.  Personally, I think the proper label for folks who do that is “bigot”; but that is the topic for another rant.  My problem is that I do not care at all about his successes and/or his failures in the minor leagues.  He is selling tickets for his team – and for their opponents when he and his teammates are on the road.  That is a plus for minor league baseball – – and I happen to think minor league baseball is a wonderful entertainment institution that needs all the support it can get.  Nevertheless, I don’t care if he hits a walk-off homerun in a game against the Macon Bacons, the Greensboro Grasshoppers or the Mudville Nine.  Wake me when he plays for the Mets other than in a game in September when the Mets are 15 games out of first place in the NL East…
  5. Tiger Woods’ progress toward his return to the PGA Tour:  For a period of about 10 years, Tiger Woods was the best golfer on Planet Earth and he played the sports media like a Stradivarius.  Then came the “car accident”; the one where his wife – at the time – “rescued him” by beating out the window of the vehicle with a nine iron.  Then came the injuries and the surgeries and the pain-killer addiction issues.  Tiger Woods is no longer even a competitive professional golfer – let alone someone who is presumably in contention to win any tournament he might deign to enter.  His story is on hiatus; it might be a great story of revival and dominance over great odds; it might be a story of tremendous talent wasted and demons that resided within.  Who cares anymore?  I do not until I know if he will ever be a shadow of his former self as a golfer.  As in the case of Tim Tebow above, wake me when he wins a PGA tournament and then is on the leaderboard the next week against top shelf competition…
  6. Colin Kaepernick … :  I do not want to hear from or about Colin Kaepernick until and unless he gets a job in the NFL or until he turns in his retirement papers and dedicates the rest of his life to whatever social justice causes are important to him as time moves forward.  The bottom line is simple here.  He has the talent to make an NFL team.  However, he may not have sufficient talent to offset the baggage he may bring to any locker room because of his actions off the football field.  In the world of sports media, we can surely do without any more “analyses” until he is suited up to play professional football.  OMG, what will the Twitter Twits do without this topic trending…?
  7. Pete Rose:  I have had enough.  I know of his on-field accomplishments; I know of his gambling and his prevarications; I am now being treated to stories of him having sex with a minor child about 40 years ago.  Enough already …

Finally, I have confidence that there are other sports stories that readers here will have had enough of and that they will share them with the rest of us.  Meanwhile, consider this comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News about another form of “overdosing”:

“A charity hockey game in Buffalo lasted 11 days.

“Reports say a dozen people were sent to the hospital after overdosing on organ music.”

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

 

 

CTE And The Future Of Football

The topic for today is chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  From now on, I shall refer to it familiarly as CTE.  Depending on your particular mindset, CTE is either:

  1. A church bell tolling to indicate the imminent death of American football as a sport – – or – –
  2. A legal/financial liability that is an annoying burr under the saddle of Roger Goodell, NFL owners and NCAA Athletic Departments.

As with most things, I believe that reality lies somewhere between the extremes.  Let me start with what I think I know about this subject.  CTE is a degenerative brain disease; it manifests itself with symptoms such as dizziness, reduced attention span, memory loss, headaches, disorientation and suicidal thoughts/actions; there is no known way to cure the condition; it is progressive; it comes on as a result of a person suffering repeated blows to the head with or without full-on concussions because of those blows to the head.

Medical science has – currently – a severe limitation when it comes to diagnosing CTE.  The only real diagnosis comes from examining the brain tissue of a dead person; as of July 2017, there is no way to examine a living/breathing person to determine that he/she has CTE in an early stage or in an advanced stage.  That means there is no way to “screen” athletes before/during/after events that involve them taking repeated blows to the head to see if CTE has begun or has advanced.

Medical science has advanced to the point that there can be a post-mortem diagnosis which can then lead to correlation studies which can illuminate the potential dangers of playing football.  What it has done is to provide athletes with sufficient information that they might make informed decisions regarding their participation or continued participation in a sport like football.  Just this morning, the Ravens’ OL, John Urschel announced his retirement at age 26.  Urschel is not your normal NFL player; he was pursuing – and will continue to pursue – his PhD in mathematics at MIT.  Although he made no public pronouncement about the reasons for his abrupt retirement just as training camp began, the fact that a major study related to CTE and deceased football players became public only a few days before makes one suspect how he reached that decision.

The big news earlier this week was that a lab study on the brains of 111 former football players showed that 110 of them had some degree of CTE.  You can read reports of that study in this Washington Post article.  As a person trained in science, I know that correlation and causation are two different things but when the correlation is 110 out of 111 cases, one must sit up and take notice.

There is one aspect of this study that must be recognized.  There is a built-in sampling bias here that favors the correlation of CTE and playing football.  The brains that were examined came from players and or their families when either the player or members of the family had some reason to believe that the deceased had suffered some sort of brain injury.  That does not negate the study in any way; it does mean that this is not a “definitive” study that has explicated the entire situation.

Obviously, CTE has existed in Homo sapiens since the time when early men hit their heads on cave walls; the technology to detect CTE and the understanding of human brain structure and function have expanded since then, but the condition has persisted.  I have written before that people knew that boxers suffered from being “punch drunk” as they got older and people loosely attributed that condition to their history of being repeatedly punched in the face and head.  Football players similarly take repeated blows to the head albeit not in the form of punches.  Former head coach at Michigan State, Duffy Daugherty famously described football this way:

“Football isn’t a contact sport; It’s a collision sport.  Dancing is a contact sport.”

Former NFL players have sued the league successfully seeking compensation to cover the aftermath of their careers based on CTE symptoms.  That suit along with revelations like the ones in the study cited above have led more than a few commentators to suggest that the NFL and American football as a sport are on a downward arc.  That may ultimately be true but let me point out that CTE ought to be present in plenty of other sports as well.  If CTE is going to serve as the Grim Reaper for American football, then what about:

  • Boxing
  • Ice hockey
  • MMA
  • Rugby

Rather than conclude that football and these other sports are doomed to extinction based on the expanding awareness regarding CTE, I believe that the sports will continue to exist and will maintain a loyal fanbase but that there will be fewer athletes in the pool for teams to choose from.  Some parents will indeed refuse to allow their kids to participate in these activities but the number will not dwindle to zero so long as there are ample financial and social rewards for participating in those sports.

I suspect that the NFL – as the sport most closely located in the bull’s eye of this study – will address the results in a properly constructed legal and public relations manner.  I expect them to say inter alia:

  1. The league feels great sympathy for those former players who suffered in their later years and for the families of those players.
  2. The league supports further investigation into CTE and looks forward to a time when there is a diagnostic test for CTE that can be administered easily, and reliably during one’s playing career.
  3. The league has made player safety a priority as knowledge of CTE has expanded and will continue to do so.

The last point on that list needs to be expanded just a bit.  Recalling Duffy Daugherty’s assessment of football as a collision sport, it is not something that can be made “completely safe’.  I do not care what new rules are installed or what level of protective gear is invented and applied to players; football will be more dangerous to one’s brain than chess.  I think football is similar to NASCAR and/or Indy car racing in this aspect.  In both of those motor sports, there have been safety advances over the past 3 decades that have made those sports much safer than they were in the past.  But they are not “completely safe”; and as long as drivers are barreling around a racetrack at 200 mph, they will never be “completely safe”.

Auto racing execs and football execs need to recognize that safety is a real issue and it is important to the future economic well-being of their sport.  They cannot and should not ignore it; nor should they be paralyzed in their thinking by ‘safety fears”.  The CTE study announced earlier this week ought to make a broad spectrum of society take notice and begin to think about sports and athletes and economics and societal norms.  In today’s hyper opposition environment, I fully expect to be labeled as a societal cretin because I provide economic incentive to athletes to go out and injure their brains purely for my enjoyment.  Someone will identify me as akin to the folks who sat in the seats at the Roman Coliseum and watched gladiators fight to the death.

Obviously, I do not see myself that way and I do not think every sports fan should think of himself/herself in that way.  At the same time, I cannot control how everyone else sees me and if it is out of my control, I guess the best thing to do is to ignore those other folks.  Fighting/arguing with them is not likely to be productive; I doubt that I am going to reverse the course of my life regarding how I spend my leisure time.  So, arguing is going to lead to nowhere and I would prefer to do other things than engage in fruitless arguments.

Finally, there has to be a kernel of truth/reality in satirical commentary for it to be relevant.  So, let me close today with an observation by Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding the ardor of some football fans in 2017:

“During the Husker football Fan Fest last Friday a tornado warning was issued for Lancaster County and still virtually nobody left. That one sentence perfectly encapsulates Husker football.

“During the first Husker football Fan Fest free pizza and Chick-fil-A was served. Husker football, free pizza, free Chick-fil-A. I believe the unofficial attendance was 13 million.”

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

 

 

The Olympic Movement – Spare Me

I have long held the position that the IOC is venal and corrupt and that the Olympic Games themselves are flawed to the core and should be cancelled/abandoned/terminated.  Please take a moment and read this prior rant written sometime in 2003 and then reposted on a new version of the website in 2007.  Here is a summary paragraph to give you an idea of the line of reasoning:

“Remember, some folks will still cash $1B in checks for all of that. And that money comes out of your pockets because it is the US TV contract and the advertising on US TV that fuels all of this. Cancel the NBC contract for televising Olympic games and the IOC might be able to hold a ping-pong tournament in a low cost of living area of the world such as Mali. They probably have enough money left in “savings” that have not been paid out to consultants and officials and international conferences to afford hotel space in Bamako.”

I suggested bluntly and directly sometime in 2008 that the Olympic Games themselves ought to be canceled.  Please take a moment and read that prior rant here; as with the above, here is a sample paragraph:

“So, let me get to the bottom line here. The games have been turned into a medley of events where most of the events don’t belong there in the first place; the athletes are merely a bunch of self-indulgent employees of some sponsor; the people organizing the games are about as noble as gun-runners; the television coverage is overdone and cloyingly sweet and pseudo-poignant. And they wonder why the TV ratings were lower this year when these events were on an 18-hour tape delay than they were in Atlanta when they were live. If you can’t see why, then you are suffering from rectal blindness.”

With that as prologue, I hope my starting point for today – or my bias if you will – is crystal clear.  Now let me add this.  The Olympic Games are bad for the countries that host them despite the rosy PR statements you hear from the IOC and various organizing committees.  The Games can be beneficial in countries/cities where the economy is already large and established. In other situations, the economic “benefits” are negative –  not positive.  If you think that is harsh, consider:

  • Athens hosted the Games in 2004.  If the Olympics provided the Greek economy a huge boost, can you explain to me how Greece is in the economic condition that it is today?
  • Rio de Janeiro hosted the Games in 2016 – getting a double shot of “economic benefit” from hosting the FIFA World Cup just two years before that.  According to reports, the unemployment rate in Brazil in 14% and many governments have been known to shade the unemployment stats to the “low-side”.  The Olympic Park is unoccupied; several of the arenas are already boarded up; the former mayor of Rio is under investigation for taking about $5M in bribes.  Regarding the FIFA World Cup “benefits”, one of the largest new soccer venues built for the Tournament in a remote city is now used as a parking lot for buses.

Brazil has a federal prosecutor looking into the bid for the Olympics and the events in the run-up to the games.  He issued a report recently – it is not clear to me if this is a “final report” or an “interim report” – that contained just a few items of concern:

  1. He said that many of the Olympic venues are “white elephants”.
  2. A venue destined to be a public park in a “poor area” remains closed off with its venues unused.
  3. He says there was “no planning” that went into the original bidding and that “bribes and corruption” littered the path to the Games.

Most estimates say that the Rio Olympics cost Brazil $12B.  If you look at photos taken of the favelas in Rio, it should not take you long to think that maybe – – just maybe – – that $12B might have been spent differently by the Brazilian government.  [Aside:  Most coverage that refers to the “favelas” usually equates that word with “neighborhoods”.  I prefer to call the favelas what they are; they are slums.]

Even the casual follower of the events that lead up to an Olympic Games will recognize two recurring themes:

  1. The Games always cost a lot more than originally thought.
  2. The complexity of staging the Games is always a lot more complicated than originally thought.

The Games in 2020 will be in Tokyo; the Japanese economy can take the hit.  The Games in 2024 and in 2028 are still under consideration but it appears now that only two venues are interested in bidding – – Paris and Los Angeles.  Once again, the French and American economies can take the hit.  Once those three sets of Games go off without triggering an economic nightmare in the host city/country, the ultra-politically correct faction of the world will rise up and “demand” that some developing country get a piece of these “benefits”.  I have no idea who will win the bidding for the 2032 Olympic Games, but I will not be surprised to see some folks push for a totally bizarre venue such as Kigali, Rwanda or possibly Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

  • Quick Quiz:  Name one other city in Rwanda and in Uzbekistan…

Please do not try to convince yourself that the Olympic mavens will realize by then that such out-of-the-way places must be taken off the table.  Remember that their brothers-in-venality – namely FIFA – have still to figure out how to hold the World Cup in Qatar because they saw only the bribes and gifts in the bidding process and not the average temperature in the summer in Qatar as they made their decision.

With that as the basis for my conviction that the Olympic Games are at best economically neutral and most often economically awful for the host city/country, let me turn to the events in the Games as blessed by the IOC.  Please understand; when the IOC includes new events in the Games, that means they become benefactors for added international organizations that oversee those new sporting endeavors and by extension they become benefactors for each of the national oversight committees in every nation where they play that sport.  The bottom line here is that adding benefactors to the list means more opportunity to “extract resources” from those new sources.  In US politics, they call this “pay to play”; for the IOC, that would be a literal description.

So, what new stuff is on the horizon?  Of course, it will fit nicely with the Olympic Motto:

  • Faster, Higher, Stronger

            About 2 weeks ago, I told you that the IOC has taken under consideration recognizing cheerleading as a sport and including it in the Games.  Now let me tell you that the IOC has decided to include 3-on-3 half-court basketball in the 2020 Games in Tokyo.  That’s right; the IOC is bringing a made-up playground game to the Olympics.  If anyone here wants to get in on the Olympic action, let me suggest that you start to push for the IOC to recognize HORSE as a new Olympic event right after you establish yourself as the head of USHOOF – the United States HORSE Oversight and Organizing Federation.  Give me a break here…

I said before that it was time to shut down the Olympics; I stand by that position.  In the past, I have referred to the Olympic Movement as a Bowel Movement; I stand by that position too.  Here is the state of play in 2017:

  • The Olympic Games – – summer and winter – – are not much more than an irregularly scheduled Reality TV show.  They contain loads of sub-plots and hidden agendas; they can regularly provide or concoct real or imagined heart-throbbing tales; they provide the TV cameras with lots of staged shots; when needed, they can provide a dose of glitz and glitter.  Oh yeah; every once in a while, a genuine athletic competition where the winner is not decided by the opinion(s) of judges happens to break out.

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

 

 

NFL Pre-Draft Analysis 2017

Just a quick introduction here for new readers who do not recognize what this annual occurrence is.

  • It is NOT a mock draft;
  • It is NOT an expert opinion;
  • It is NOT the result of contacts throughout the country in the world of college/NFL football.

This is nothing more than a compilation of some notes I took while watching college football games on TV last year.

Because I like college football, I watch lots of games.  Over the years, I have formed the habit of keeping a notepad next to me as I am watching and when I see a player who I think might “graduate” to the NFL, I make some notes.  At this time of year, I dig those note up and try to decipher my handwriting – which is not always easy and may result in some transcription errors – to put together my sense of some names that should be called during the NFL Draft sessions.

My “methodology” here has several humongous flaws that need to be stated clearly and unambiguously:

  1. Since I am doing this by making notes on games I watched on TV, that limits the players I see to ones on the larger schools and better teams.  Let me be clear here; if I have the choice of watching a game between two SEC teams or a game between two Sun Belt teams, I will watch the SEC game 99 times out of 100.
  2. I live on the East Coast.  I am more likely to see a game that starts at noon Eastern Time between two Big 10 teams than I am to see a game that starts at 10:30 PM Eastern Time between two PAC-12 teams or two Mountain West teams.  I really do not have an “East Coast bias”; what I have is an “East Coast biological clock”.
  3. For some teams, I will only see them play once; I do not pretend to have seen every play for any team in the country last year.  That means there may be an excellent pro prospect on one of those teams that I did not notice.  Maybe that is because I am a doofus; maybe the player had a sub-standard game; maybe he was injured for that game.  Whatever…
  4. I am not connected with nor privy to any sort of extended network of people who scout football.  The only opinions in here that are not my own will be clearly marked as such.  Some long-term readers of these rants know that I do this every Spring and when they think they saw someone at a small school or at a school that might not be on my “go to list”, they will send me an e-mail and I will excerpt it here.

Now that the purpose and the limitations of what is to follow are out in the open, let me begin with my notes on Quarterbacks.

Various commentators have said that this year’s crop of QBs entering the Draft is not a good one.  I guess I have to agree with them because as I went through my notes filtering the players into position categories, I discovered that I only had made notes on 2 QBs:

  1. Chad Kelly (Ole Miss):  My notes say he is “big enough” because he can throw the football “accurately” and “with touch when needed”.  I said he might be a late first round pick based on what I saw.  That is unlikely to be the case now because he tore up his ACL in a game after the one I saw and he was subsequently “dis-invited” to the NFL Combine due to an off-field issue regarding a bar fight.  If I were a GM and the medical folks told me that it looks as his knee is going to be OK and the background investigators told me that the bar fight was unlikely to be repeated, I would surely look closely at Kelly in the 3rd round.
  2. Deshaun Watson (Clemson):  My notes say he is “big and mobile” and that he is “poised when pressure is on”.  [For the record, that note was made during the late stages of the CFP Championship Game against Alabama.]  I also said – from a previous game – that he is “not consistently accurate” with his throws and “does not always lead receivers well”.  I said he was probably a “2nd or 3rd round pick”.  If you believe the mock drafts, he will be gone sometime early in the 1st round.  Whatever…

Just for the record, there are a bunch of other QBs who are getting a following as the Draft approaches.  I saw lots of them and made no notes about them last year.  I saw Josh Dobbs; I saw Brad Kaaya; I saw Deshone Kizer; I saw Pat Mahomes.  I have no notes on any of them.  I am not sure I saw Mitch Trubisky at all because I have no notes on any other UNC players here.

Just as the draft experts are “down” on this year’s QB entries in the draft, those same experts say that there is quality and depth in the Running Backs coming out.  My notes would tend to agree what that overall assessment:

  1. Leonard Fournette (LSU):  It does not take a lot of genius to watch him play and realize he is a big, fast, strong running back who can “run over people and run around people too”.  I also noted that he is a “powerful and effective pass blocker” who “picks up blitzes well”.  I said he is “definitely a 1st round pick”.
  2. Dalvin Cook (Fla St.):  My notes say that his “acceleration through the hole is outstanding” and that he is “elusive once in the secondary”.  I also had him as “1st round pick”.
  3. Christian McCaffrey (Stanford):  His “speed” and “cutting ability” make him a prospect as a 3rd down back or a slot receiver.  I also noted that he is a “good pass receiver”.  I did note that he does not appear to be the sort of back would turn out to be a “featured RB in the pros”.   I had him as a “late 1st round pick or a 2nd round pick.”
  4. Joe Mixon (Oklahoma):  “Excellent runner and good pass catcher” along with “breakaway speed” indicate that Mixon has a future in the NFL.  I said he was “late 1st round pick or a 2nd round pick” – – but that did not take into account his off-field/character issue which could make him drop a round or so.
  5. Samaje Perine (Oklahoma):  He is a “power runner” and “runs over defenders not around them”.  He is “not a breakaway threat” but he will “get tough yards inside”.  Screen graphic had him as 6’ tall and 235 lbs.  That is a reasonable size for a power runner in the NFL.  I said “3rd to 5th round pick?”
  6. Alvin Kamara (Tennessee):  My notes say, “he is a slasher but not big enough to play all the time” but he “might be a great 3rd down back because he is a really good receiver”.  I had him as a “late round pick”.
  7. Jamaal Williams (BYU):  He looked very good in the BYU bowl game and gained about 200 yards.  I said “always makes another yard or two after contact”.  “Tough runner” and “good enough speed” were two other comments.  I said “late round pick”.
  8. D’Onta Foreman (Texas):  He is a big back with “surprising speed” but “not elusive”.  My notes say “third day pick”.
  9. Devine Redding (Indiana):  My notes say he is “built like a bowling ball” so he is “hard to hit”.  He is “not big enough or fast enough to be a feature back” but he is a guy who just “keeps on plugging”.  “Might make a team if he can play special teams?”  I said “7th round pick or UFA”.

Let me move on here to Tight Ends.  I only have notes on three players at this position.

  1. OJ Howard (Alabama):  I was impressed with his “really good speed for a man as big as he is” and his “good hands”.  He is a tight end who “can get deep”.  He “blocks well enough” in the run game but his “value is as a receiver”.  I said “1st round or 2nd round pick.
  2. Jordan Leggett (Clemson):  He is “big and fast with good hands”.  He also “takes plays off/does not block much”.  Assuming teams are convinced that he will give full effort all the time, I had him as a “3rd day pick”.  If they think he is going to be a malingerer, he will need to find another way to make a living.
  3. Jeremy Sprinkle (Arkansas):  He is “big, strong and excellent blocker for run game”.  “Catches well but not a lot of speed” makes him more of a possession receiver than a deep threat.  My notes say “third day pick”.

Before leaving the Tight Ends, I have to include here a message from a reader of these rants who lives in a suburb of Akron, OH.  He tends to be upset with me when I do not take MAC football as seriously as he does but our exchanges tend to be sarcastically tolerant.

“You never see Division II football so you never see Ashland University.  [Absolutely correct.]

“So, you never heard of Adam Shaheen the [Ashland] Eagles tight end.  [Once again, absolutely correct.]

“Put his name in your draft column next year and you will look smarter than you are.  [OK, I did that.  Looking smarter than I am is not all that difficult.]

I went and looked up Adam Shaheen’s stats; he caught 57 passes and 16 TDs last year.  More interesting from a draft potential standpoint is that he is 6’6” tall and weighs 275 lbs.  It is a big step from Division II football to the NFL, but this is a big man.  I will listen for his name…

Now on to the Wide Receivers…  Before I go through my notes, I have to admit that I am rooting for Cooper Kupp (E. Washington) to go in the early rounds.  After Dwight Perry (Seattle Times) urged me to follow his exploits in Division 1-A last year, I saw that he put up some prodigious stats against defenders who will never see the field in an NFL uniform.  I have no idea if he can play on Sundays, but I am rooting for him…

  1. Corey Davis (W. Michigan):  I saw him play twice last year – in the MAC Championship Game and against Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.  He was the best WR on the field in both games.  My notes say “great hands” and “really fast out of his cuts”.  Wisconsin game showed “he can play against top college defenders”.  I said “1st round pick”.  For the record, he caught 97 passes for 1500 yards in 2016.
  2. Mike Williams (Clemson):  He has “excellent hands” and “makes plays on poorly thrown balls”.  I said he “helps pad stats for [Deshaun] Watson.”  I said “1st round”.
  3. Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma):  He is a “little guy who is always getting behind the defender”.  He has “good hands and good speed”.  I said “2nd round maybe 3rd”.
  4. Chris Goodwin (Penn St.):  My notes say “big enough and probably fast enough” and “has good hands”.  He also “blocks downfield”.  I had him “going in 4th or 5th round”.
  5. Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M):  I said he is “tall and skinny” but “has glue on his hands/catches everything”.  Looking at the stats, he is only 185 lbs and in the NFL if you are going to be that small as a WR, you need to be really tough and/or really fast.  In my notes I said “maybe 4th round/probably lower.”
  6. Gabe Marks (Washington St.): “Not very big but quick with good hands” is my comment.  “Worth a shot in the late rounds”

Before leaving the Wide Receivers, I am aware that John Ross (Washington) has gotten a lot of attention after breaking the NFL Combine record for time in the 40-yard dash.  I saw Washington play last year and I have no notes on Ross.  Maybe I was up getting a snack when he made some dazzling plays…?

Next up are the Offensive Linemen.  I used to try to differentiate them by position but over the past several years I have seen that NFL teams move these “big uglies” [ /Keith Jackson ] around from place to place on the line.  So, I’ll just combine them here:

  1. Cam Robinson (Alabama):  He is “big and strong and a good run blocker”.  He is “not agile in pass blocking but makes up for it with strength”.  I said, “Good enough to start for Alabama = 2nd round or better”.
  2. Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin):  My notes say he is “big and strong and plays hard all the time”.  “Pass blocking is good and run blocking is better”.  I had him as a “1st or 2nd round pick”.
  3. Erik Magnuson (Michigan):    I said, “excellent run blocking” and “good enough pass blocking”.  “Got outside to lead running plays to his side”.  I said, “probably goes around 3rd round”.
  4. Pat Elfein (Ohio St.):  He is a “bulldozer as a run blocker” and “adequate in pass blocking – missed a blitz badly”.  I noted, “3rd round”.
  5. Isaac Asiata (Utah):  My notes say “really good interior run blocker and good enough as a pass blocker”.  I said he would go “3rd round or 4th round?”
  6. David Sharpe (Florida):  He is a “huge man” who is “dominant run blocking”.  “Needs work in pass blocking against speed rushers/not very quick” is the reason he will not go early.  I said, “late round pick”.
  7. Taylor Moton (W. Michigan):  I was much more focused on watching Corey Davis when I tuned into a W. Michigan game but I also made this note about Moton – –  “he is a good run blocker and a better pass blocker”.  I said, “could be a bargain in 5th or 6th round”.
  8. Damien Mama (USC):  I noted that he was “very big and very effective at power blocking” but that “he isn’t very mobile”.  My assessment was that he “can start at USC so that means some team will probably take him late in the draft”.
  9. Jermaine Eluemunor (Texas A&M): “Big strong run blocker but not so good in pass protection”.  “Should get a tryout”; “final round pick”?
  10. Josh Boutte (LSU):  My notes say “just a huge man who is not fast but awfully strong”.  His “lack of speed/quickness will drop him in the draft”.  I said he is “worth a pick in the final round just because of his size.”

Before leaving the offensive side of the ball, let me share part of another e-mail dealing with an offensive lineman.

“IUP [Indiana University of Pennsylvania] guard, Ethan Cooper, is athletic and quick even though he is 320 lbs …  He dominates D-II [Division II] opponents and if he does well at the [NFL] Combine, he could be drafted.”

And now, I shall proceed to the defensive side of the ball and focus on Defensive Backs first.  As with offensive lineman, I have given up on trying to figure out if NFL teams will take a DB and play him at cornerback or at safety; so, all I am doing here is to give you an idea of what I saw in terms of secondary players.

  1. Jamal Adams (LSU):  He is “big and athletic” and he “plays both run and pass very well”.  I did not see him do anything that he did not do well.  I said “1st round pick”.
  2. Marshawn Lattimore (Ohio St.):  He “covers really well” and “kept up with every fly pattern run by Michigan”.  I think he will “go in the 1st round”.
  3. Malik Hooker (Ohio State):  My notes say “big” “quick” and “very athletic”.  My assessment was simple, “Has to go in 1st round”.
  4. Marlon Humprhey (Alabama):  My notes were totally positive.  “Fast and athletic” … “great in coverage” … “sure tackler” … you get the idea.  Naturally, I thought he was a “1st round pick”.
  5. Jabril Peppers (Michigan):  He “is everywhere on the field” doing “everything except punting”.  His versatility should mean “he is gone somewhere in the 1st or 2nd round”.
  6. Adoree Jackson (USC):  My notes say “very fast and good in coverage” and “only question is size – big enough for NFL?”  Overall, I thought 3rd round”.
  7. Kai Nacua (BYU):  He is a “big hitter as a safety who covers well enough to be a corner(?)”.  He was “also out there on special teams”.  I said, “3rd or 4th round”.
  8. Sojourn Shelton (Wisconsin):  He played well against Cory Davis in the Cotton Bowl and my comment was “is he big enough to be a DB in the NFL?”  The trend in the NFL now is for tall/rangy cornerbacks and Shelton is neither.  Thus, I said “probably late rounds”.
  9. Corn Elder (Miami):  In addition to a great name, he is “great against the run” with “good speed”.  However, he is “not quick to react to cuts made by receivers” so “he is a project” for an NFL coaching staff.  My guess was “4th or 5th round”.
  10. Nate Gerry (Nebraska):  My notes say he is a “big hitter” and “quick to fill on run plays”.  I also noted he “might not be fast enough to play CB in the NFL”.  So, maybe he is a safety?  My assessment was “late round pick”.
  11. Justin Evans (Texas A&M):  He is “strong against the run” but “not so good against the pass”.  The NFL is a passing league so my guess was “late rounds”.

Now let us look at the Linebackers.  I will mix together guys who played inside linebacker and outside linebacker and even some defensive ends whose real chance to make an NFL roster would be as an outside linebacker/edge rusher.

  1. Reuben Foster (Alabama):  Here is my opening comment, “If the ball carrier is there, Foster is there.”  He is a “big hitter” and “fast and athletic”.  My assessment was “has to be a 1st rounder”.
  2. TJ Watt (Wisconsin):  Somebody is likely to draft him simply for genetic reasons; yes, he and JJ Watt have DNA similarities.  My notes say that TJ Watt is a “sure tackler” and a “good edge rusher on blitzes”.  Overall I thought he would be “gone by round 2”.
  3. Derek Barnett ( Tennessee):  He is “strong against the run” and an “excellent pass rusher from the outside”.  I had him as a “2nd or 3rd round pick”.
  4. Solomon Thomas (Stanford):  Maybe he is a DE; maybe he is an OLB; definitely, he is “big, strong, fast”.  He “plays run very well” so he is “not a liability when doing something other than rushing the passer”.  I thought he was a “3rd round pick”.
  5. Taco Charlton (Michigan):  He is a “pass rusher first and foremost”; his defense against the run is “adequate”.  I said “3rd round pick”.
  6. Takarist McKinley (UCLA):  He is a “pass rusher off the edge – nothing more” but he has “exceptional speed around the OTs”.  I also noted that he “chased down two plays to the opposite side of the field for short gains”.  However, “run defense is not very good/gets pushed around”.  My assessment was “3rd day pick”.
  7. Rich Brown (Mississippi St.):  He is big and strong and a “run-stuffer”.  I also wondered “can he cover NFL TEs?”  My guess was 5th or 6th round”.
  8. Jordan Evans (Oklahoma):  He has “good speed for pass coverage” and “plays the run adequately”.  His pass rush seemed “half-hearted”.  The Big 12 does not yield a lot of defensive players so my guess was “late round pick”.
  9. Ben Boulware (Clemson):  My notes say “strong against the run and not real good against the pass”.  That probably makes him a “late round pick” at best.

Before leaving these linebackers/defensive ends/hybrid players, I have another e-mail to share with you.  This comes from a long-time friend who is a Villanova alum:

“While you are busy slurping Cooper Kupp in FCS football [what I always call Division 1-AA football], there is a real pro prospect from that level here in Philadelphia at Villanova.  Tanoh Kpassagnon could be a defensive end or an outside linebacker for an NFL team.  [Aside:  I would not even try to pronounce that name or give it a phonetic spelling here.]

“He dominates opponents in the run game and rushes the passer to (sic).  And he plays on most of the Nova special teams too.”

OK, so now you know about another small school player that I never saw even one time.  Make of those comments what you will and keep an ear out for his name in the draft.

In terms of Defensive Linemen, here are my notes.  There are not a lot of them but I do like the ones I have on this list.

  1. Myles Garrett (Texas A&M):  He is an “excellent pass rusher” and “he plays the run very well too”.  He “plays hard on every play”.  My assessment is 1st round pick guaranteed”.
  2. Jonathan Allen (Alabama):  He is a “monster against the run” and he “generates serious pass rush right up the gut of the offense”.  A screen graphic said he was 285 lbs; my comment is “he plays bigger and stronger than that” and “he plays faster than 285 too”.  My comment was “he has to go in the 1st round”.
  3. Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama):  He is a “run-stuffer but not a pass rusher inside”.  He would probably be better appreciated if he were not playing next to Jonathan Allen all the time.  I said, “3rd round pick”.
  4. Malik McDowell (Michigan St.):  He is a “big strong run defender” who can “generate some pass pressure inside”.  I said he was a “2nd round pick maybe 1st”.
  5. Ryan Glasgow (Michigan):  He is a “300 lb. nose tackle who stops the run”.  He has a “low center of gravity so he can add weight upstairs to become immoveable”.   I said “gone by 3rd round”.
  6. Jarron Jones (Notre Dame): He “spends a lot of time in the offensive backfield” and he “can put pressure on the QB outside”.  He is “big and quick but not fast”.  I said he was a “3rd/4th round pick”.

I only had one note on a Punter:

  • Toby Baker (Arkansas):  My notes say he is a “big kid” who “has lots of hang time on punts”.

I had a note on only one Kicker:

  • Andy Phillips (Utah): “Kickers are little guys; this guy is short and stocky – unusual.”  He “provided the margin of victory over BYU” last year.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding the speed shown by WR John Ross at the NFL Combine:

“Ex-Washington receiver John Ross set an NFL combine record by running a 4.22 40. For perspective that’s how long it takes the Cleveland Browns to be mathematically eliminated most seasons.”

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

 

 

The Free Agent QB Market – 2017

Yesterday, we learned the fate of Tony Romo.  He is now an announcer and not a quarterback.  As is often the case, the answer to one question creates new questions that need new answers.  The answer to “Where will Tony Romo play football in 2017?” turned out to be “Nowhere,” and that generates quarterback questions for NFL teams.

By my count, there are 7 NFL teams that have serious problems at the quarterback position but it would be a mistake to lump all 7 into a single category.  I think there are 3 teams that could be playoff caliber teams if they were able to upgrade the quarter back position and I think there are 4 teams that just need a decent quarterback to reach the level of “respectable”.

Tony Romo would have been a consideration for at least 2 of the 3 teams in the “might be a playoff team with a better QB” and now that he is off the market, it might cause other dominoes to fall involving teams in both categories.  Let me go through my list of teams starting with the 3 teams that need upgraded QB play to be playoff contenders:

  1. Denver Broncos:  They are in a tough division; the Raiders are very good; the Chiefs’ roster is loaded.  The Broncos have a good defense – not as good as it was when they won the Super Bowl but still a good defense.  At QB, they have no one on the roster who – at this time – causes defensive coordinators to stay awake at night.  If the Broncos want to make the playoffs – and not “waste” a good defensive unit – they had to have an eye out for Tony Romo to hit the free agent market.  Now that he will not do so, the Broncos should become players in the QB free agency market.  Trevor Siemian was OK when he played last year and Paxton Lynch may have great “upside”, but there is plenty of room for an upgrade here in the 2017 season.
  2. Houston Texans:  The Texans’ situation is the same as the Broncos only more so.  The Texans’ defense is excellent; they led the NFL in yardage allowed last year; and they will get JJ Watt back in action next year.  They play in a mediocre division so they got to the playoffs last year even with sub-standard play from the QB position.  On the Texans’ roster this morning at QB are Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden.  I have to think the Texans coveted Tony Romo and will now have to turn their covetous eyes elsewhere.
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars:  Yes, I know the Jags only won 3 games last year.  The issue in Jax is simple.  They have added talent to the roster via free agency and via the draft over the last several years; but last year, Blake Bortles was just plain bad.  If that is what he is going to be as a QB down the line, then the Jags need to do something to change their situation.  I do not know what Jags’ head coach Doug Marrone and/or Jags’ QB coach Scott Milanovich think of Blake Bortles.  Here is what I am confident about:
  • If they do not find a way to improve the QB play in Jax relatively soon, their tenure in Jax will not be a long one…

Certainly, the Broncos and the Texans will be scanning the free agent market to see if any of the QBs there make sense as acquisitions in terms of economics and in terms of fit with the offensive philosophy of the teams.  Maybe the Jags also enter that marketplace but if they want to sell a veteran free agent on coming to Jax, they had best put together a solid economic offer because as noted above, the Jags won exactly 3 games in 2016.  As these teams begin to move, the other 4 teams in need of QB help can begin to shop around.

  1. Chicago Bears:  The fans in Chicago are probably happy to see that Jay Cutler is gone along with Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer.  The Bears spent a lot of money to sign Mike Glennon and a little bit of money to add Mark Sanchez to the roster.  Glennon gets $18.5M guaranteed and a total of $45M if he plays out his 3-year deal.  But, what if he is not “the answer”?  Surely, John Fox and QB coach, Dave Ragone, know that Mark Sanchez is not “the answer”.  So, do the Bears go shopping in the free agency market yet again or do they go to the draft for a “development project”?
  2. Cleveland Browns:  Well, they acquired Brock Osweiler as part of a salary dump and roster cleansing by the Texans.  The Browns have 3 QBs on the roster as of this morning, Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan.  As has been the case since the Browns re-entered the league in 1999, they are in desperate need of an upgrade at the QB position.  However, trying to shop in the free agent marketplace presents the Browns with a dilemma.  The team is not any good now and is not likely to be good in the next few years.  The Browns are a long-term development project as a team.  Many of the free agent QBs are at stages of their career where they may not be of any value to the Browns by the time the team elevates to the status of “not awful”.  If I assume that will take a minimum of 3 years, then which of the available QBs would I want to commit myself to for something longer than 3 years?  My answer is:  None of them.
  3. NY Jets:  The Jets already dipped a toe in the QB free-agent market signing Josh McCown to a 1-year contract.  Call this what it is; this is kicking the can down the road.  The Jets may or may not have a serviceable QB for 2017; time will tell.  The Jets are in the midst of a roster reboot that – like the Browns – will take several years; they will not have Josh McCown as their QB in 3 years when McCown will be 40 years old.  Neither young QB on the Jets’ roster has shown he can play and the Jets may be in the position of drafting a QB yet one more time.  When last season turned to a disaster and the Jets never allowed Christian Hackenberg to see the field just for the sake of experience, that tells me that Hackenberg cannot play dead in a “Spaghetti Western”.  The Jets have to guess correctly about the QB position eventually; even the blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.
  4. SF 49ers:  Somehow, the new folks in charge of football in SF decided that the Bears miserable showing in 2016 was not the result of poor QB play.  The Niners have already signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley who made up the majority of the Bears’ QB cadre last year and produced a season record of 3-13 and scoring only 17.4 points per game.  Once again, this is probably nothing more than a temporizing move since both contracts are 2-years in duration.

To have a market, one needs buyers and sellers.  If you doubt that statement, ask any stock broker.  If these are the teams who represent the buyers, let us now take a look at some of the sellers – the remaining free agent QBs themselves.  Like the teams on the “buyer side”, I think the QBs fall into 2 categories – free agents who might go somewhere knowing that their job is backup QB and free agents who might go somewhere with the idea that they will be the starting QB.  Let me start with eleven potential backup QBs and a brief comment on each:

  1. Austin Davis:  He is 27 years old.  He has been in the NFL since 2012.  He started 10 games and his team record in those games is 3-7.
  2. David Fales:  He is 26 years old.  Last year was his rookie season in Chicago and he is already a free agent.  Ka-beesh?
  3. Blaine Gabbert:  He is 27 years old.  In 6 seasons, he has started 40 games and the team record in those games is 9-31.  Shudder …
  4. Bruce Gradkowski:  He is 34 years old.  His last start was in 2010; his last pass attempt in the NFL was in 2012.  His arm should be well-rested…
  5. Shaun Hill:  He is 37 years old.  In 11 seasons, he has started 35 games and the team record in those games is 17-18.
  6. Thad Lewis:  He is 29 years old.  His last NFL action came in 2013 when he started 5 games for the Bills.  Not a lot of mileage on those tires …
  7. Matt McGloin:  He is 27 years old.  He has been in the league 4 years and the team record in his starting assignments is 1-6.  Hi-ho …
  8. Dan Orlovsky:  He is 33 years old and I was not aware he was still in the NFL.
  9. Ryan Nassib:  He is 27 years old.  The Giants released him and then signed Geno Smith as their backup.  ‘Nuff said…
  10. Christian Ponder:  He is 29 years old.  He has been in the NFL for 6 years but he has not seen the field since 2014.  He has had time to ponder his future …
  11. TJ Yates:  He is 29 years old.  He has been in the NFL since 2011.  In that time, he has started 7 games and his team record in those games is 4-3.

Candidly, there are slim pickings on that list above.  That is not to say that the remaining list of 4 QBs represent the motherlode of quarterbacking excellence but there is something to think about with these four free agents:

  1. Jay Cutler:  He is 33 years old.  I have never been a huge fan of Cutler all the way back to his days at Vandy but when he gets protection and is in rhythm, he can throw a football as well as anyone.  People complain about his “body language” and his “surly demeanor” and his “lack of leadership”.  If I were a coach, I might worry about that stuff too unless my alternative was to take my chances with a Tom Savage (in Houston) or either young QB (in Denver).  Even if Jay Cutler is truly as big a pain in the ass as he is often portrayed to be, he can still throw the ball better than any of those guys.  I also think that Cutler would be a good fit for the offensive philosophy in Houston where the Texans have tried to use QBs in the pocket and not in “free-lance mode”.  Now that Tony Romo is off the market, I think this is where the Texans ought to look.
  2. Ryan Fitzpatrick:  He is 34 years old.  He had a career year in 2015 starting all 16 games and leading the Jets to a 10-6 record; his performance in 2014 was pretty good too.  However, he has been in the NFL since 2005 and those are the only two seasons where he has been “better than a journeyman”.  Surely, he wants to have a shot at a starting job but at his age, it might be difficult to convince a “building team” to take him on and his résumé might be insufficient to tempt the really good teams who merely need a QB upgrade.  If he has a landing spot, I think it would be Jax in the event that the new coaching staff there has a severe case of agita brought on by watching Blake Bortles botch a bunch of possessions in 2016.  [Aside:  Bortles has been in the NFL 3 years; his record in Jax is 11-34 as a starter; he has thrown 51 INTs in those 3 seasons.  It is not as if the Jags are looking to replace Joe Montana here…]
  3. Robert Griffin III:  He is 27 years old.  I put him on this list as opposed to the list above because I believe that he only wants to be a starting QB and will likely make that clear in any interviews/negotiations.  I do not think he is any prize as a starting QB even though he did have that one magical season in Washington in his rookie season.  If indeed he “plays hardball” and signs with a team with the understanding that he will be the starter unless he completely screws the pooch in training camp, my guess is that he will not make it out of training camp.
  4. Colin Kaepernick:  He is 29 years old.  On one hand, Colin Kaepernick took the Niners to the Super Bowl and made a game of it.  He also led the Niners to the playoffs in another season his record in playoff games is 4-2.  That sort of “positive stuff” is not to be found on any other stat sheets here.  Then comes the negative stuff…  Last year – playing for a team short on talent around the roster – Kaepernick started 11 games; the Niners’ record in those games was 1-10.  At the end of the season, the new football regime in SF decided to jettison Kaepernick – along with Blaine Gabbert – in order to make room to sign Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.  As my mother used to say, “You are known by the company you keep.”  A coach/GM who takes on Colin Kaepernick has to be convinced that he has been in a career slump for the last couple of seasons and that the “real Colin Kaepernick” is one we saw when Jim Harbaugh was the Niners’ coach.  I am not sure where Kaepernick is a “great fit”, but when I look at the QBs on this list and then look at the QBs who are on rosters in the NFL as backups, I have to say that he has the skills to be somewhere.

And that last entry on the list brings me to the topic of “collusion” and/or “blackballing” because those terms have been tossed around by some folks who think Colin Kaepernick should have been signed by now.  It seems to me that these two things are related but they are not the same thing.  Blackballing is a way of “counting votes” in a secret ballot system whereby a single negative vote (a black ball) or a significant minority of negative votes can deny entry in to club or organization.  In the extreme, if there are 100 members voting on 1 new member and there are 99 affirmative votes and 1 negative vote (the black ball), membership is denied.

Blackballing does not necessarily involve collusion because no collusion is necessary.  If I belong to a club set up exclusively for right-handed people, then it is pretty obvious that someone in that club would vote against Steve Carlton or Phil Mickelson should that name come up for entry in the club.  If I were a member of that club passionately devoted to “the right-handed cause”, I would blackball either of those two individuals despite any other qualifications they may have.  I would open myself to criticism as a bigot and a royal doofus, but in the situation I just created, that is how I would behave.

Now, if my hypothetical club is a private club, I suspect that there is no legal reason that our bylaws and election procedures would be improper.  Stupid, yes; illegal, no.  I am not an NFL owner nor am I a GM, but I am confident that there is no such process among the owners with regard to who can and who cannot be a quarterback on any of the 32 NFL teams.  It is lazy thinking to apply this label improperly and then stand back in some sort of righteous posture having proclaimed the source of Colin Kaepernick’s unemployed status.

At the same time, collusion has a legal meaning and a colloquial meaning.  In a colloquial sense, consider that I and two neighbors own properties such that a developer needs an easement from one of us to allow him to develop some land near us; and also assume that we would prefer for that land to remain undeveloped.  If we meet at my house one evening and we all “pinky-swear” that none of us will give that easement to the developer without the agreement of the other two of us, we have colloquially colluded to prevent the developer from doing what he wants to do.  However, we are not depriving him of any of his rights and so our “pinky-swearing collusion” is not likely to be overturned by a court.

The rub in the Colin Kaepernick situation is that one of his rights would be affected by collusion among the NFL owners/GMs.  The operative CBA provides Kaepernick with the contractual right to free agency status; the owners have agreed to this; if the owners – or the GMs as the agents of the owners – then collude to prevent Kaepernick from being a free agent in the same way all those other QBs are free agents, then a court might look very unkindly on that behavior.

Recall in the mid 1980s, that the MLB owners colluded among themselves not to bid to sign any free agents who were not from their own teams.  That drove salaries down and that was an injury suffered by the players.  Courts awarded players something like $300M in judgments and penalties in those cases.  However, here is a key point:

  • The MLB owners shared information among themselves about what salaries they were offering to various free agents so that other teams might know what the player had in front of him during negotiations.  Even worse, they kept records of those interactions and those records were discovered.

About 20 years after those collusion findings, Barry Bonds sued MLB alleging collusion when he was a free agent – in his mid-40s – and got no offers from anyone.  In his case, he lost because there was either no documentary evidence of a concerted effort by the teams or if there was some such evidence, it was insufficient.  Just because a player is treated differently than other players of a similar stature, that does not prove collusion.  So, even if Colin Kaepernick enjoyed on-field stature similar to Barry Bonds – he most assuredly does not – , his lack of contract offers does not mean the owners have colluded to keep him out of the NFL.  Take a look at my list of 11 free agent QBs above and realize that some of them are not going to be signed this year – or maybe in any future years.  No collusion involved there; 32 teams would have decided independently to sign someone else.  If Kaepernick charges collusion, the burden of proof is on him and not on the teams.

I do not think that Kaepernick is being blackballed or colluded against due to his National Anthem protests any more than I believe that Thad Lewis is being blackballed or colluded against because he is African-American.  I think both of them are free agents at the moment and circumstances other than skin color or social protest form the basis of their continued free agency.  I would come to the same conclusion with regard to Adrian Peterson who remains unsigned as of this morning.  Yes, he had those domestic violence issues he had to deal with a couple of years ago.  I believe, however, his injury history over the past couple of years and the “high mileage” on his running back’s body coupled with reports that he wants $9M per year have more to do with his continued unemployment than collusion or blackballing over his legal issues.

I suspect that there will be only minor activity in the QB free agency marketplace.  With the draft only a few weeks away, I think teams will be spending much more energy on their “draft boards” than on free agent quarterbacks – most of whom will still be in that status after the draft is over and teams can see what they were able to get in the draft both at the QB position and at other positions on the field.  I suspect the next period of activity for free agent QBs will be in early May.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald about the virtue of NFL owners:

“NFL owners voted 31-1 to OK Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas, with Dolphins’ Stephen Ross the lone dissenter. Ross has since been so heroically lauded in the media you’d think he’d rescued three nuns from a burning car.”

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

 

 

Reinventing College Football

 

Before I even get started here, let me make something crystal clear:

 

THIS AIN’T NEVER GONNA HAPPEN!

 

There is more than too much inertia and “history” built into the current incarnation of college football to assure that this sort of restructuring would be out of the question.  Nevertheless, just as a flight of fancy come with me on a gedankenexperiment where we reinvent – or reimagine if you prefer – college football.  What I want to do is to wave my magic wand and freeze college football as it exists today and then reinvent it.  I am not talking about the game; I do not want to invent a game where there is no tackling or where there is no such thing as pass interference.  I want to reinvent the way the game is structured/organized.

 

[Aside:  If Vice President Al Gore could presume to “reinvent the government” 20 years ago, I think I can presume to reinvent college football.  And, by the way, the non-implementation of my ideas here will have about the same lasting effect on college football as Vice President Gore’s actions had on the government.]

 

The top tier of college football in 2016 had 128 teams in what they call FBS or what I call Division 1-A.  That is the perfect number for my reinvention idea.  So, pour yourself a cup of coffee and put on your thinking cap while you take a trip in my fantasy world for a moment.  It just might be more interesting than a stroll down memory lane…

I want to break up the 128 Division 1-A teams into two equal parts.  Let me call these parts the “Big Boys Category” and the “Little Boys Category”.  I want to put 64 teams in each of the two categories and then I want to break each of the categories into 4 conferences of 16 teams each and each conference into 2 divisions of 8 teams each.  The Big Boys Category would consist of:

  • The SEC Teams (14 teams)
  • The Big 10 Teams (14 Teams)
  • The PAC-12 Teams (12 teams)
  • The Big 12 (10 teams) – – plus – –
  • The “14 Best Teams” from the other Conferences

The Little Boys Category would consist of the “other 64 teams”…

Now I want to divide those teams into 4 conferences and I will do that on a geographical basis.  The 14 teams that I added to this category from the “other existing conferences” would go into the existing structure on the basis of best geographical fit only because there has to be some sort of criterion here to avoid a ton of tsouris along the path leading to the assignments.

The Little Boys Category will be divided up into 4 conferences of 16 teams also and I would do my best to make this as geographically consistent as possible.  I am not focusing on the Little Boys category here nearly as much as the Big Boys Category but that will change later on…

In the new 16-team conferences in both Categories, there will be NO interconference play in the regular season.  An 11-game regular season schedule will consist of 7 games for each team in one’s division plus 4 games against teams in the other division of the same conference rotating the inter-division schedule every year.  In each conference, the two division winners will have a playoff to determine the conference winner.

The 4 conference winners in the Big Boys Category will get automatic berths in an 8-team CFP that will happen in January.  The other 4 teams in that CFP bracket will be selected by either a committee or a set of computers or a “college football czar” – makes no difference to me – and the winner of that 8-team tournament will be the College Football National Champion for the year.

I can hear lots of mumbling at this point with regard to “So, what’s the big deal here?” or “All he wants to do is change the composition of the conferences.”  As Lee Corso would say:

“Not so fast, my friend …”

You see, I want to do the same thing in the “Little Boys Category” but I want the playoffs there to have some sort of meaning or gravitas.  In fact, I think my idea here would make the Little Boys Playoff bracket almost as interesting as the one for the Big Boys.

What I want to do here is to steal the concept of relegation from the British soccer leagues.  Here is the deal:

  • The 4 finalists in the Little Boys Playoff Tournament will be promoted to the Big Boys category for the next season.
  • Geography will be the primary determinant for which team goes to which Big Boys Conference but in the case where that is not a clear choice, the team that finished higher in the Little Boys Playoff would get to choose where they will go.
  • To make room for them, there would also be a selection process – don’t care who does it or how – to determine which 4 teams from the Big Boys Category get relegated.  The easiest would be to relegate the worst team in each of the 4 conferences and then add the best 4 teams from the lower category.  Since college football never does anything in the easiest way, I am sure no one would like do it that way…

My reinvention of college football has pluses and minuses; I will be the first to acknowledge that.  Let me do the pluses first:

  1. Teams will play much more balanced schedules if they have to play all of their games “in conference”.  Every game will matter as much as every other game.  Athletic directors will not go out searching for a glorified scrimmage game against Comatose State because there will be no place on the schedule to put such a waste of time.
  2. Bowl games at the end of the season will be a lot more interesting because of the lack of interconference play.  There will be an element of inter-conference rivalry that develops and there will be a curiosity factor to see how conferences fare against one another.
  3. The big money will be with the Big Boys Category and so there will be a significant monetary incentive to win and to stay in the Big Boys Category.  Relegation will be more than just an affront to alums; relegation will be a good swift kick in the wallet.  A late season head-to-head game between two teams that are both 1-8 will be meaningful to each team – and particularly meaningful to each coach and athletic director.
  4. The Little Boys Category teams that do very well in a season can get to spend the next season trying to establish themselves in the Big Boys Category where the big money is.  That makes the Little Boys Playoff Tournament very important to the teams and the coaches – – and that will make that playoff into something that fans might be interested in.

The posers at the NCAA will not be able to complain that too many of their student-athletes will play too many games under my phantasmagorical new system.  Most teams will play only 11 games plus a bowl game (perhaps).  The best teams will play 11 regular season games plus 2 games in a conference tournament plus as many as 3 games in a CFP-like tournament for a maximum of 16 games.  In the current rendition of college football the two best teams play a 15-game schedule.  My idea is NOT a huge expansion of an already over-exposed sport.

Please note that I have refrained from including here one of my pet ideas from NCAA Mythical Picks.  Please note that the decision(s) on relegation will not be made on the basis of an on-field tournament where the losing team has to play on to see if it will be relegated or not.  My imaginary SHOE Tournament from Mythical Picks is fun for me to imagine; it would never work in reality.

I can hear screams of upset already over the idea of relegation because that relegation would potentially interrupt/destroy longstanding rivalries.  There is no “schedule flexibility” in my scheme so if one party to the annual “Big Deal Game” sucks wind for a year, they may indeed have to forego next year’s “Big Deal Game”.  You know what?  Life will go on…

I would be open to the idea of extending the relegation/promotion opportunities to the teams that finish in the Top 4 of the Division 1-AA national tournament that already exists.  The reason I would not mandate it from the start is that it is not clear to me that all of the schools in Division 1-AA would want to try to grow their football program into one that might continue to exist at the Division 1-A level.  For example, Ivy League teams would probably not want to do that and I really do not know how the folks at this year’s four finalist schools in the Division 1-AA tournament would feel about “being promoted” to the Little Boys Category of Division 1-A.  For the record, this year’s finalists are:

  • Eastern Washington
  • James Madison
  • North Dakota St.
  • Youngstown St.

By the same token, I would not presume to extend the relegation/promotion concept down from Division 1-AA to Division II or from Division II to Division III.  I know that sort of thing happens in the British soccer leagues and that is the model for my idea.  I just don’t know if it is a good idea to implement this all the way up and down the ladder here in American football.

Earlier on, I said that I really did not care how various selections would be made in this reinvented system.  Actually, that is not completely correct.  I do care that the humans involved in the decision making are people who can and will spend the time to pay attention to what they are doing.  A committee composed of athletic directors and coaches and journalists is not going to be satisfactory for a simple reason:

  • Those folks have other full-time jobs and commitments that preclude them from spending 40-50 hours per week doing nothing but focusing on the tasks at hand such as adding 4 at-large teams to the Big Boys Category CFP and/or picking the 4 worst teams in the Big Boys Category to relegate.  That is not a job done by simply reading stat compilations; the selectors need to take the time to watch the candidate teams and make decisions based on the “Eyeball Test” as well as the “Statistical Test”.

Oh, by the way, that same statement would eliminate a totally computer based selection process.  Computers are not yet to the point where they might perform any sort of “Eyeball Test”.

I made a passing reference above to a “college football czar”.  I doubt that I would have difficulty convincing you that finding an acceptable person to assume that position would be impossible.  However, I will offer a nominee for the job.

 

Larry Culpepper – the Dr. Pepper stadium vendor.  After all, he invented the College Football Playoff, right?

 

That completes your tour of my fantasy world for the reinvented game of college football.  It will never come to pass, but I had fun contemplating it.  And now, let me go and adjust my meds …

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