Halls Of Fame Voting

Mixed in among all the hubbub of the Super Bowl, the 2018 class of inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was announced.  In case you missed it, here are the 8 members of that class:

  1. Bobby Beathard
  2. Robert Brazile
  3. Brian Dawkins
  4. Jerry Kramer
  5. Ray Lewis
  6. Randy Moss
  7. Terrell Owens
  8. Brian Urlacher

I have no argument with any of those selections; in fact, I was surprised to see Jerry Kramer’s name on the list only because I assumed that he had been inducted long before now.  The name on the list that can spark discussion is – of course – Terrell Owens.  Let me use his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a reason to proclaim what would be my voting criteria for Halls of Fame if I had such franchise.

I believe that any Hall of Fame is supposed to honor the achievements and the memory of the greatest players and coaches and “contributors” to the sport.  [Aside:  I am only talking about sports Halls of Fame; I consider the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a museum.  That’s just me…]  I believe that there is a significant distinction that I would make between “great players” and “very good players”.  If someone wants to start up the Hall of Very Good Players as an adjunct to the Hall of Fame, that would be hunky-dory with me.  However, I would not add the “very good players” to the Hall of Fame.  Remember, this is how I would vote if I actually had a vote…

Terrell Owens has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for several years and was denied entry until this year.  Many folks have opined that the voters were “teaching him a lesson in humility” by delaying his entry because Owens was not the greatest teammate ever and was not a great “ambassador of the game”.  Since I am not part of the process that selects Hall of Fame members, I have no idea how true that is; so, let me assume it is true for the sake of argument.

I think that sort of behavior is petty, childish and small-minded.  If in fact, someone with a vote thought that Owens’ behavior was such that it made him unworthy of entry in Year 1 of his eligibility, then changing one’s vote a couple of years later makes no sense since none of his “bad teammate-ness” or “bad attitudes” have been cleansed away in the intervening time.

I believe that members of the Hall of Fame should be there because of their performance on the field – – or in the Front Office or the League Office or whatever.  The Hall of Fame should not be an assembly of “Great Players Who Also Happen To Be Great Humanitarians”.  In fact, there are players in various Halls of Fame who are not particularly nice people but who happened to excel in their sport.

  • Ty Cobb was not a nice person by most accounts.
  • Tris Speaker may indeed have thrown games as a manager and bet on them.
  • Babe Ruth was hardly a model citizen or role model for children.
  • OJ Simpson – – you know…
  • Eddie DeBartolo Jr. was accused of sexual harassment and plead to charges of bribing of a governor.
  • Marvin Harrison has been in and around several shooting incidents in Philadelphia.

You get the idea…

Notwithstanding any or all of the human frailties of the players above – and the team owner on that list – they all deserve to be in their Hall of Fame because they were outstanding practitioners of their sport when they were involved in their sport.  I would have voted in favor of every one of the people on that list – and probably would have done so in the first year of their eligibility unless voting restrictions in that year precluded such a vote.

Please note that Ray Lewis is on this year’s list of inductees.  He was involved in an incident where someone died, and Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice.  Notwithstanding that reality, there can be no doubt that Ray Lewis was a great player in the NFL for about 15 years and the Pro Football Hall of Fame is there to honor that achievement in his life.  He belongs there.

To be sure, there is a level of heinous behavior that can trump the most outstanding on-field career achievements and that behavior would cause me to ignore the on-field stuff and to vote against someone’s induction.  Let me give two examples.  Neither of these people have any achievements that are “Hall-of-Fame-worthy” but pretend for a moment that they had them.  I would still vote against:

  • Rae Carruth:  Convicted of conspiracy to murder his pregnant girlfriend.
  • Dr. Larry Nassar:  I’m not big on child molesters.

For me, the real conundrum comes when considering steroid users in MLB.  My problem there is very simple:

  • Steroids – and Performance Enhancing Drugs as a class – were a part of the regimen that produced the eye-popping career stats that brought Joe Flabeetz’ name to the voters.  In that case, the “greatness” of the athlete becomes a bit fuzzier than I would prefer it to be.
  • I would not vote for a known steroid user.
  • If there were a preponderance of evidence (say 75/25) indicating steroid use, I would not vote for a player.

So that is what I think about people in Halls of Fame and that is why I have no problem with all the inductees in the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame; Bobby Beathard was a great GM/Personnel Guy and the others were great players.

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

“At Super Bowl opening night, Tom Brady was asked if he’d rather battle a duck the size of a horse or 100 horses the size of a duck. Folks, this is what we’re left with when newspapers lay off lots of sports reporters.”

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



The Future Of The NFL – Conflicting Data

Sometimes you receive conflicting data; and in such circumstances, you need to avoid leaping to a conclusion that you prefer to be the case because some of that data point in that direction.  In the early days of 2018, the “future of football” as the “dominant sports focus” in the US is the subject of much scrutiny.  Lots of different people have totally opposing views on what will happen to football as a sport – and the dominance of the NFL very specifically – in the coming decades.  For those who believe that football has an ominous future, consider:

  1. Nielson reports that NFL TV ratings were down 9.7% over the course of the 2017 regular season.  That translates to an average of 1.6 million fewer people watching a typical NFL game this year as opposed to 2016.
  2. This drop comes on the heels of an 8% drop in ratings/viewership in 2016 that was “explained away” by extraneous factors such as Presidential debates; this year, the “issue du jour” was the National Anthem Protest.
  3. Undeniably, lots of people are “cutting the cord” and that means fewer people can have access to all the games.
  4. Fewer kids are playing youth football (from “ankle-biters” through high school) nationally.  Some estimates say the drop from 2016 to 2017 is approaching 20%.  The interpretation here is that fewer young players will eventually result in fewer adult fans who will passionately follow the games.

If you do not like football for any reason or if you feel some compulsion to be a Cassandra on its future, you can look at any or all of those data and use it to lead yourself to the point where you believe the NFL is about to implode.  And – hold your breath here – you may be correct!   Then again, you may be dead wrong because there are conflicting data and other ways to interpret the data cited above.

Let me start with #4 above.  I have no reason to doubt that fewer kids are playing football now than in recent years and that concern by parents over things like CTE and player safety are significant contributors to the decline.  I resonate with those injury concerns because I held those concerns as a parent myself.

  • When #1 son was about 8 years old, he wanted to be a football player.  I would not allow him to play youth football; I was not so concerned about CTE; I was worried about permanent injuries to his joints which had not completely formed at that age.  I told him he could play once he got to 9th grade and not before.  My adamancy here was a bone of contention between me and my son for years.
  • My son now has a son of his own (age 10) and my grandson has not been part of any football activities.  Moreover, my son now holds the position that HIS son will never play football at any time until my grandson is of an age to make decisions independent of his parents.  Where you stand on any issue depends on where you are sitting at the moment…

The issue of the future of football, however, is not linearly linked to youth participation.  My grandson LOVES to watch televised NFL games and he follows the teams and the players league-wide as only an enthusiastic 10-year old fan will.  Projecting to the future, this non-participant in youth football will be a future consumer of televised NFL games.  I do not want to make future projections based on only one kid who happens to be related to me, so let me consider the linkage of “participation” with “fandom” and “viewership” through a different lens.

For years – even multiple decades – people have been telling me that the significant increases in youth participation in soccer in the US will make professional soccer in the US explode.  Indeed, more kids play soccer now than ever before.  More telling is the fact that the number of girls playing youth soccer has increased almost 30-fold over the past 20 years.  And none of that has translated into a fanbase for soccer – men’s or women’s – that is anything more than a rounding error when estimating the NFL fanbase.  I believe there is only a tenuous linkage between “playing a sport as a kid” and “being a fan of the sport as an adult”.

Now let me point out some data that will be refreshing to those who think football is omnipotent and that it will be the “the king of US sporting world” forever and ever.

  • While ratings on TV shows may be down, actual viewership may be up.  TV ratings are just that; they are measures of how many folks are watching games on the telecasts by the networks.  Some people now watch NFL Red Zone instead of individual games; those numbers are not captured.  [Aside:  I happen to HATE NFL Red Zone; I will watch it if my only option is to watch an infomercial for acne medicine, but that’s it.]  Similarly, the number of people who tune into NFL Network to get updates on all the Sunday games as they are in progress are not counted here.
  • Notwithstanding the ratings decrease, Nielsen ratings showed that 20 of the top 30 TV shows in 2017 were football games.  For all the networks that telecast games (CBS, ESPN, FOX and NBC), NFL football games were the highest rated programs on each network all year long.
  • Sunday Night Football (NBC) was the highest rated prime time TV program in 2017 for the 7th year in a row.  By the way, the second highest rated prime time TV program last year was Thursday Night Football (CBS).
  • According to mediapost.com, advertising revenues paid to the networks for NFL games through Week 15 of the regular season was up 16% to $3.7B.  That figure does not include added revenues to NFL Network and added revenues to the NFL from the “digital/mobile transmission sector”.  As of now, the league and its TV partners are all “getting fat”.

I have been on Planet Earth long enough – and I am sufficiently realistic – to recognize that nothing is permanent and times change.  When I was a kid, the plum assignments for sports writers in newspapers were boxing, horse racing and baseball.  Today, you would be hard-pressed to find a newspaper that has a boxing writer or a horse racing writer of any kind.  In fact, my local paper – The Washington Post – does not even publish the entries or the results of the local tracks except for Preakness Weekend at Pimlico.

When I was a kid, baseball dominated pro football and overshadowed college football in most of the country.  Not intending any disrespect to MLB at all, but that is simply no longer the case.  I make these observations to note that the same thing might happen to football and the NFL 50 years from now.  I have no crystal ball; I am not Cassandra nor am I Pollyanna.

What I think is important for all of us to avoid is coming to a conclusion about the future/fate of the NFL and football as an activity and then finding data to support our previously drawn conclusion while ignoring all other data.  Now that I mention it, maybe that is a good behavior model for everyone to emulate as they evaluate more important things than the future of football in our world – – like maybe social reforms and political candidates and “family values”.

Just saying …

Finally, when you think about “fandom” in its most rabid forms, consider this comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“USA Today speculated the Dolphins as a possible landing spot for Tom Brady should the Patriots dynasty come apart. Hmm. Is wishing and hoping for a QB who’ll be 41 next season not its own form of sadness?”

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



Bad Ads 2017

There is a comfort in periodicity; the Super Bowl is the first Sunday of February; March Madness ends on the first Monday in April; the Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May; coincidentally, that is also the date on which the Oakland A’s are usually eliminated from MLB’s postseason action.  I take comfort in my annual compilation of Bad Ads that adorn my TV set while I am watching sporting events; that compilation is my final rant of every calendar year.

Since the focus of today’s offering will be television advertising, I guess I should start with disclaimers:

  • Do not read on if you are allergic to bad ads.
  • No animals were harmed in writing this screed.
  • Your mileage may vary.
  • Valid only at participating locations.

The real challenge here is where to start because there are plenty of Bad Ads to fill up the space here. There were two beer ads that I found particularly annoying/idiotic:

  1. Sam Adams Boston Lager ran an ad where the background music included lyrics to “follow me into the jungle”.  Can someone tell me what Sam Adams lager has to do with the jungle – or Sam Adams the person for that matter?  Just plain dumb…
  2. Coors Light had an ad where they showed a sequence of people involved in strenuous activities culminating with a group of folks reaching the summit of a snow-capped mountain.  The tag line is that the tougher the climb, the better the reward.  Let me say this gently.  If the reward is Coors Light, then the climb should have been made on an escalator.

Samsung ran an ad about millennials making movies on their phones because someone told them they couldn’t do that.  The ad exhorted these millennials to “Do what you can’t.”  Immediately, I resonated with that ad and that direct message; I came up with this response:

  • Here’s something millennials can’t do.  Stop acting like a bunch of self-absorbed, insufferable, know-it-all assholes.
  • Get to it…

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

For some reason – known only in the highest creative circles of the advertising community – this year was a year focused on poop and pooping in TV ads.  I know we have had the bears who use Charmin toilet paper to “enjoy the go” in past years, but this year was different; this year went to places that had not been examined before.  Pardon the play on words, but I would not shed a tear if any of these were eliminated:

  • There is a product out there called VIPoo.  It is a liquid in a small spray bottle that is sprayed on the top of the water in a toilet prior to “dropping a deuce” and its purpose is to eliminate the odor.  The ad lets you know that you can use someone’s rest room and not leave behind any aromatic evidence of what you did in there.  In the ad, they refer to one’s elimination as “the devil’s donuts”.  We can do without that – rather easily.
  • Febreze tackled the same “problem”; Febreze asked if your bathroom is ready for halftime at your Super Bowl party.  That is less graphic than the VIPoo ads but no less revolting.
  • An ad for CharcoCaps, an activated charcoal anti-gas product, has an animated ad showing people going about with little “fart clouds” emanating from their nether regions.  Obviously, the assertion is that the little charcoal pill can resolve that problem for you.  The ad would have been in borderline bad taste if it stopped there but it went just a tad further with a tag line telling you there would be “less boom in the room”.  Question:  When did frat-boy level fart jokes become a good way to sell products?
  • Quaker Oats spent time extolling the virtue(s) of oats and oat fiber in one’s diet.  No problem at all; there are indeed plenty of health-benefits provided by maintaining a good level of fiber in one’s diet.  What I did not need was for the ad to ask me, “What good will you pass along today?”

Let me pause for a moment here to refer to a news report that I saw earlier this year; it is not an advertisement, but it does seem to fit into the discussion here.  NBC News reported on a model of American Standard toilets that can flush 18 golf balls at once.  Obviously, at this moment you are thinking I made that up, so here is a link to show you that I did not.  However, if you need a toilet in your bathroom with that level of “flushing power”, might I suggest that you do something to alter your diet.   And do not even think of using anyone else’s bathroom not equipped with such a toilet.  VIPoo will not help you out here…

Jimmy Dean Breakfast Frittatas announced with pride that they are made from “real ingredients”.  Well, thank Heaven for that.  I know I would not want to eat anything made from phlogiston for breakfast…

During the Holiday season, KFC ran ads where the Colonel replaces Santa and brings presents to a family comprised of some of the dumbest bipeds ever to exist.  The mother of this consortium of cretins is the recipient of a “KFC $20 Family Fill-up Meal”.  In her ecstatic reaction to that gift, she declares that it is a home-made meal that we don’t have to cook at home.  There is something very fundamental about a “home-made meal” that has eluded this genius.

Some sort of breath mint – I don’t even remember the brand name indicating just how effective this ad is – shows us a young woman talking with a man in an office; she is going through the paper work of being hired.  She says she will need 3 weeks’ vacation; the man says that 2 weeks is standard.  She pops a breath mint; a unicorn appears; she tells the man she is not standard and demands 3 weeks; the man acquiesces.  In the real world – you know, the one we all exist in – the way that conversation likely ends involves the man escorting the young woman to the door and telling her to take her fresh breath and her unicorn and find somewhere else to work.

There was a Hyundai ad where a guy is stuck in a traffic jam and he starts singing Sweet Caroline at the top of his lungs.  That gets a woman in a car in the adjacent lane to start singing the song with him.  Really?  What does Sweet Caroline have to do with Hyundai vehicles?  Is this targeting the Boston Red Sox fan demographic?  Combien stupide…

The Black Friday car ads for GMC vehicles announced that you can get 20% off the MSRP during the sale.  Sounds good – – but this delivers another message to me besides the one convincing me to run out and buy a new vehicle.  Since I am relatively certain that the folks at GMC and at the various dealerships are not out to lose money on every sale for the week or so that the Black Friday prices are in effect, that means no one should EVER pay more than 80% of the MSRP for a GMC vehicle.  They are making money at that price.

I don’t know if this next ad is a local ad or if it is one that can be seen in lots of markets.  It is for RE/MAX Realty and the scene shows us a couple that is mightily confused about the housing market.  They cannot figure out if it is up or down; they think they want to sell and move elsewhere, but they are in a fog.  To the rescue comes a RE/MAX agent who gives the couple confidence by telling them that all the houses that he has listed in their neighborhood have gotten multiple offers above the asking price.  The young folks look at one another and nod peacefully.  Excuse me, let me tell you what just happened there.

  • That realtor just told those folks that he is really bad at setting prices on the houses that he lists in that neighborhood.  He prices them too low!
  • Here is the important takeaway for confused couple.  Find another realtor!

There are tons of banks and credit unions that run ads on sports programming.  Let me offer the folks who run their ad campaigns some free advice.  You can entice me to use your bank and its products/services by:

  • Offering higher rates than other banks on deposits
  • Offering lower costs than other banks on products/services
  • Offering more convenient locations/hours than other banks
  • Offering unique products/services that I might need

Here are some messages that are meaningless, and you might want to avoid:

  • You do not “share my values”; you are a bank and I am a person.  Please do not try to pump that sunshine up my ass.
  • You do not “care about our community”; you participate in community events as a way to keep your name in front of the citizenry involved in said community events.
  • You are not “on my side”; the first time there is any sort of controversy between you and a client on a product or service will demonstrate that fact directly.

Sprint hired the guy who used to do the Verizon ads asking every 10 feet if you “can hear me now”.  He says his name is Paul; I have no reason to doubt that.  The problem is that Paul’s pitch for Sprint is an unappealing one.  He tells you that Sprint costs less than Verizon and AT&T and he also tells you that the Sprint network is less reliable – – it is close; but Sprint is not as good.

My reaction to advertising is that every ad campaign tries to convince me that its product is superior – – even when I know it is not.  See for example – Coors Light. Miller Lite, Hyundai autos, Taco Bell, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Papa John’s … you get the idea.  Now consider that Sprint is going out of its way to tell me that it is not as good as its major competitors.  Thanx, but I will choose not to touch that service with a fork…

There is an ad campaign that is very active now for a product called Alpha Force.  It is one of the family of products that is aimed at aging males and it insinuates that the use of this product can “turn the clock back” on their “maleness”.

  • Memo to Aging Males (of which I am one):  The “arrow of time” is a phrase coined by a British astronomer about 75 years ago denoting that time has only one direction.  Turning the clock back only happens when Mr. Peabody fires up the Wayback Machine with his boy Sherman.  Al Gore thought his climate warning was “An Inconvenient Truth”; well the irreversibility of time is yet one more inconvenient truth.

Having disposed with the fundamental instability of the foundation for the ad’s claims let me now turn to the ad itself.  It uses Bo Jackson as the spokesthing to convince me that this stuff works because Bo Jackson uses it to stay in top shape.  OK, I can live with that sort of nonsense, but here is where I get off the train.

  • Bo Jackson tells me in this ad that HE has “looked into the science behind this stuff personally” and with that sort of endorsement, how could it be anything but the real thing.

When I want some sort of scientific or nutritional verification, I tend not to go to great athletes/Heisman Trophy winners for that sort of confirmation.  By the same token, if I were drafting players to play in the NFL, I would not start my search with people who may have been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine nor would I contact the incumbent Poet Laureate of Manitoba.

There is another category of ads that I find repulsive and they are sort of attached to the Alpha Force ad cited above.  These are the ads for drugs manufactured by reputable pharmaceutical firms for serious conditions.  The object of the ads is to get people who suffer from those serious conditions – or their families/caregivers – to “ask the doctors” about this specific drug.  When I am in my most magnanimous mood, these ads seek to inform people with serious medical conditions to seek every possible option to alleviate their serious condition.  Momentarily, I think those ads are good…

And then comes the time in the ad when the drug manufacturer needs to list the side effects and the possible “adverse events” that may or may not occur with taking the drug that is the subject of the ad.  In one such case, I counted 21 potential adverse events – including death which must be the ultimate adverse event – from using the drug being advertised.  I understand; the lawyers require this sort of “disclosure” because we are a humongously litigious society; nonetheless, if there are more than 20 adverse conditions that are sufficiently bad that they need prior notice to mitigate lawsuits, maybe there should not be any advertising?  Just saying…

I am sure you have seen the ad for NFLShop.com where the guy wears a Raiders’ sweater to Christmas dinner at the home of a bunch of Chiefs’ fans.  This ad sends so many mixed messages that I wonder if anyone associated with the NFL ever screened it.  Let me walk through the ad:

  • Guy is wearing a Raiders’ jersey; wife tells him he cannot wear a Raiders’ jersey to her family’s Christmas dinner; he takes off the jersey to reveal a Raiders’ sweater.  We never do learn why she finds that as acceptable attire.  The message is that the guy is a doofus for wanting to wear a football jersey to a Christmas dinner, but he is a docile doofus because he removes the jersey as soon as his wife tells him it is inappropriate.  Or, maybe he is a manipulative SOB, because he knows there is a Raiders’ sweater underneath.  Or, maybe he is henpecked…
  • Then, seated at the Christmas dinner table with the wife’s family – all of whom are dressed in Chiefs’ jerseys – the guy has his Raiders’ sweater on with blinking Christmas lights.  Everyone at the table is offended; the wife tells him to turn off the lights; the guy just sits there blinking away.  The message is that the guy is not henpecked; he is a passive-aggressive asshole.  Oh, and the family that eats their Christmas dinner wearing football jerseys is a piece of work too.  Passive-aggressive guy has a wife who is the spawn of these cretins and will probably need lots of therapy down the road.
  • Final scene has the family dog – also decked out in Chiefs’ gear – growling at Raider guy.  The message here is that even a dog is smart enough to know that everyone seated at that table is a cretin.

Remind me to check out the great values an NFLShop.com so I can enjoy my Christmas dinner next year the same way those folks enjoyed theirs this year.

I saved the best – or worst depending on your vantage point – for last.  There was an ad for Dairy Queen that touted the fact that drinks and pretzels are only two dollars every day during “Happy Hour” at Dairy Queen.  I think there is a hugely important message in this ad campaign:

  • If you are spending “Happy Hour” at Dairy Queen – even once a year – you have no social life that is supportive of claiming any time period as a “Happy Hour”.

The New Year is about to start.  Companies have already committed millions upon millions of dollars to produce and air ads during the Super Bowl.  Other companies will agree to ad campaigns that the “creative people” at their ad agencies tell them are targeted just right.  And the fact of the matter is that I will be back here at the end of 2018 – just as I have been here at the end of previous calendar years – pointing out the Bad Ads of the year.

Not to worry; you can ignore the ads in whatever way fits your lifestyle.  I’ll be here – Lord willing and the creek don’t rise – to point out the next tranche of Bad Ads.  Until then …

  • No sub-atomic particles were created or destroyed in the writing of this rant.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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


A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

Merry Christmas to all …

As I sat down to watch some football yesterday afternoon, I discovered that in the DC area there would be only one game televised in the 1:00 PM time slot.  That was the Skins and Broncos in one of the more meaningless games of the day, but I had a cup of coffee in hand and no social commitment until 5:00 PM and so I watched.  By the middle of the third quarter, I found myself thinking of Charles Dickens.  What I was watching was – with apologies to Mr. Dickens – A Tale of Two Quarterbacks.  The month of March in 2016 joined these two quarterbacks at the hip; they are Kirk Cousins and Brock Osweiler.

They both came to the NFL in 2012; neither set the league on fire until the 2015 season; even in 2015, what they showed was more like a campfire than like a forest fire.  Nonetheless, competency at the QB position is important in the NFL and two teams took very different approaches with these two young men.

  • On March 1, 2016, the Skins applied the franchise tag to Kirk Cousins.  At the time he signed that offer sheet, he was guaranteed a $20M salary for the 2016 season with no assurance that he would be back with the team after that.
  • On March 9, 2016, the Texans signed Brock Osweiler to a 4-year contract worth a total of $72M with $37M of that contract guaranteed.

According to reports at the time – and I have nothing else to go on besides those reports – the reason the Skins and Cousins could not reach a long-term deal was that the Skins would not go beyond $16M per year for 5 years with only $35M guaranteed.  That was a low-ball offer and probably served as a starting point for the Skins in what should have been a back-and-forth deal making process; reports say the Skins refused to budge.  Whatever.

In the 2016 season, Osweiler stunk out the joint in Houston and lost his starting job.  The Texans gave him and a draft pick to the Browns in the aftermath of that 2016 season in exchange for the Browns picking up the tab on the rest of the guaranteed money in that contract.  The Browns cut Osweiler to go with DeShone Kizer at QB and Osweiler went back to the Broncos – the team he started with in the NFL – for a less-than-mediocre season in 2017.  Cousins had a good year 2016 throwing for 4917 yards and leading the Skins to an 8-7-1 record and he has had a solid year so far in 2017.

Not only did the Skins fail to sign Cousins at the end of the 2016 season, they franchised him again; that time the franchise tag was worth $25M (approximately) and was guaranteed the moment the ink was dry on Cousins’ signature.  As the 2017 season ends, the Skins still have no assurance that Cousins will be their QB in 2018.

Yesterday, these two QBs faced each other on my TV in a meaningless game.  So, I concentrated on watching them; I wanted to compare them.  Here is my assessment:

  • Kirk Cousins is a better-than-average NFL QB.  He would be the starter on at least a dozen teams and probably on 20 teams as of this year.  He is a solid and methodical player who makes few mistakes other than the times when he tries to do something that is beyond his athletic skill level.
  • Brock Osweiler is a stop-gap back-up QB at best.  He is sonly 27 years old; he may improve with time and experience.  However, in December 2017, he is clearly inferior to Kirk Cousins.

I doubt that the Broncos would shed crocodile tears if they had to part with Brock Osweiler one more time.  I believe it would take a Hollywood twist of fate to see him as the starting QB in Denver in 2018.  The Skins’ situation is very different.

Recall that the Skins would not guarantee Cousins more than $35M back in 2016 (according to reports).  Well, with the two franchise tags they have used, they have already paid him about $45M in guaranteed money – and have no assurance that he will be back.  If they apply the franchise tag again, it will cost them $34M in guaranteed money in 2018 and after that they cannot prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.  If they do that – and they might – they will have committed $79M in guaranteed money to a player they refused to give a contract with more than $35M in guaranteed money.  The going rate for franchise QBs in the NFL these days seems to be in this range:

  • $25-27M per year with about $80-85M in guaranteed money over 5 to 6 years.

Before the naysayers chime in here to tell me that Kirk Cousins has never won a playoff game so how can he possibly think he is worth that kind of money, let me point out that those sorts of numbers are what Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford received as long-term deals in 2016.  And just like Kirk Cousins, neither Carr nor Stafford has ever won a playoff game.  In fact, Carr has never participated in a playoff game.

Someone in the Skins’ braintrust back in 2016 had the chance to sign Kirk Cousins with a competitive offer – such as the one the Texans made to Brock Osweiler.  Maybe Cousins’ agent would have been more aggressive; maybe the Skins would have to “overpay” a bit – as the franchise has done with free agents more than a few times in the last 20 years.  The fact is that they might have been able to have Cousins set to enter the third year of a 5-years deal having guaranteed him not much more money than they have already paid him in guaranteed money.  Moreover, the annual salary level from a 2016 contract would be several millions of dollars less than what it will cost the Skins to sign Cousins to a long-term deal – or to sign a free agent of comparable capability.

Or, the Skins could draft a QB and hope that he turns out to be another Kirk Cousins and not another RG3 – both of whom came to the Skins in the same draft in 2012.

I started out this rant thinking about Charles Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities.  Having gone through the thought processes here, I will go to the far end of the literary scale for my next metaphor.  This thinking applies to the folks who oversaw the Skins’ Front Office in 2016 and the “literary” moment comes from the screenwriter for I Love Lucy.  Desi Arnaz was wont to say:

“Lucy, you have some ‘splainin to do.”

Enough venting for the day.  My long-suffering wife and I are off to a neighbor’s house for Christmas dinner.  I hope everyone has a good a time celebrating Christmas as we are sure to have at this event.

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



Will “Parity” Kill The NFL?

There has been a change in the NFL over the past couple of decades.  The NFL used to be a “5-tier league”; there were elite teams at the top; there were pathetic teams at the bottom; and there was sufficient variation in the middle to carve out three categories of teams.  True, teams could improve or “deprove” as the season progressed and move from one tier to another, but it was usually possible to discern 5 different levels.  That is just not the case today.

The NFL is now a “3-tier league”.  You can call that “parity” or you can call that “mediocrity” or you can call that “evolution”; putting a label on it really does not matter.  What you have today is a grouping of teams whose records and whose on-field performances are just better than the rest of the league; let me call them the “Category 1 Teams”.  As of this morning I would make this grouping:

  • “Category 1 Teams”:  Pats, Steelers, Eagles, Vikes, Saints, Panthers, Rams, Seahawks.

At the other end of the line, we can pull together the list of bottom-feeders for 2017; let me call them the “Category 3 Teams”.  As of this morning, here is my grouping:

  • “Category 3 Teams”:  Niners, Bucs, Bears, Giants, Broncos, Colts, Texans, Browns.

By default, everyone else falls into “Category 2”; all the teams in “Category 2” are better than the teams in “Category 3” but nowhere near as good as the ones in “Category 1”.  And unlike 20 years ago, it is nigh onto impossible to separate the “Category 2” teams into a more fine-grained structure.  Moreover, if you look at the “Category 2 Teams”, you probably would have a hard time convincing yourself that perception might change in the final weeks of the season such that any of the “Category 2″ teams might wind up in either “Category 1” or “Category 3”.  And to make it worse, half of the league is in that amorphous “Category 2”.

To the extent that NFL football’s popularity has declined in the 2017 season, I suggest that this “parity” among the teams and the unlikeliness of any change in category for any team is part of the problem.  I look at this “parity” situation as “mediocrity”; when I turn on a game between two “Category 2” teams”, the game lacks a compelling tone.  What I see on my TV screen is good-but-not-great football; and in my mind, I know that the outcome of this game is really not all that important.  I continue to watch about the same amount of NFL games as I did in prior years, but I wonder if others are tempted to do “other stuff” because the product on the air is too often mediocre.

My theory is that the cause of this situation is the fiscal success of the NFL.  Writers and commentators love to spin the narrative about the competitive desire of owners to field championship teams and how they will “do anything to bring a championship home to the fans”.  Really?  I suspect that owners of teams that do not win championships – or even win more than half their games – can apply a psychic balm to their injured competitive spirit when they look at the books and see that they netted a profit in the 8-figure range last year plus Forbes says that the value of their franchise just went up in the 8-figure range.  Owners – and by extension their teams – have gotten fat, dumb and happy.  That is analogous to Dean Wormer’s assessment of the frat boys in Animal House and that is not a good way to go through life.

To my mind, the epitome of a team having more profit than brains is the Cleveland Browns and their Front Office dominated by people who have had some success managing baseball teams.  There is a line of thinking in organizations that someone who can manage one thing well can manage anything well.  I have seen so many examples that disprove that line of thinking that I wonder how it maintains currency – – and then I look at the Cleveland Browns’ Front Office and the fact that the owners there set it up that way and …  Now, I ask myself why the Browns’ owners need to change anything because they are not losing money and they have a franchise worth $1.9B (according to Forbes) for which they paid $987M.

Here in the DC area, fans have a team mired in mediocrity.  The franchise is worth something north of $3B; Forbes puts last year’s earnings at $145M before all of the accounting legerdemain of amortization and depreciation and all that stuff.  Juxtapose those numbers with the fact that the owner cannot find a way to provide the team a field to play on that has live grass on it after late November.  Why should he care?  Why should he care if the team wins 8 games this year or only 6?  He will probably make another $145M next year too.

I said above that “to the extent that NFL football’s popularity has declined in 2017 …” and I used that wording specifically because I wonder just how much it has.  The narrative goes that the NFL is in decline; the 800-lb. gorilla in the world of professional sports in America is aging and is fast approaching its expiration date.  That narrative allows commentators to list and complain about all the evils of the NFL.  You know the list; here are a few items that are always good for a column or a hot-take:

  1. Concussions/CTE:  Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to play football…
  2. Domestic violence:  Players do it; the league ham-handles it.
  3. Anthem protests:  The league is squarely in the middle of the country’s culture wars.
  4. Officiating blunders:  Been happening for years; will continue to happen; live with it.
  5. Obscene salary for the Commish:  An employee is worth what his employer pays him/her.

With all those issues as a backdrop to games on TV that are not compelling, you could conclude that an implosion is imminent.  However, there is some contrary evidence that does not support the narrative and seems to have gotten scant attention.  Mediapost.com tracks issues related to the financial aspects of the media; they reported the following:

“The NFL’s October take was stronger in national TV ad dollars versus a year ago.

“Confirming other recent reports, the NFL is picking up steam when it comes to higher national TV advertising revenues. October TV dollars grew 3% over the same month the year before.

“Across all TV networks, national TV advertising grew to $757 million in October 2017 against $738 million in October 2016, according to Standard Media Index. From the start of the season — early September through November 6 — national TV advertising totaled $1.76 billion against $1.44 billion, according to iSpot.tv.

“In October, across all five NFL TV networks, the average unit 30-second commercial rate rose 7% to $482,000 in October 2017.”

Could the prevailing narrative be “overstated”?  Is it even possible that the prevailing narrative is “dead wrong”?  The NFL economy is driven by advertisers on its programming; when advertisers buy time and pay premium prices, networks pay premium TV rights’ fees.  Talk about how that revenue will dry up due to “cord cutting” and “streaming” is interesting if you believe that the NFL will give “streaming services” a free ride as opposed to whatever rights fees they have come to enjoy from networks.  It also assumes that fans will not find ways to watch games even if they cut cords.

For the record, I buy into part of the narrative about NFL economics.  I do not believe that the growth rate in revenues/profits or that the growth rate in terms of franchise value can be sustained at the current level for long.  Using the example of the Browns from above, the current owners bought the team in 2012 and have – approximately – seen the franchise value double in 5 years.  That represents a growth rate of about 14.5% per year; that is not sustainable over the next decade; if that were to be the case, the Browns would be worth $7.6B in 2027.  Personally, I don’t see that happening.

However, I also do not believe that parents will not allow their kids to play football to an extent where the talent pool dries up.  The US population today is about 325 million folks; for the NFL as it is currently constructed, the league needs about 60 players per team totaling a little less than 2000 players.  Even if you can imagine a future where the number of high school football players is halved from today’s level, the NFL will still be able to find 2000 “employees” for their enterprise – particularly if the league’s economics continue to support a salary structure where the minimum salary for rookies is $450K per year.

I also do not believe that the NFL’s blatantly stupid handling of domestic violence incidents – or more generally its handling of anti-social behaviors by its players/coaches/others – will doom the league.  Another popular narrative making the rounds today is that women are now feeling empowered sufficiently to call out powerful and famous people for sexual harassment/assault.  Some commentators have even said that we have reached a tipping point here and if that is the case, then there is no going back.  That is what happens if there is really a tipping point…  If that empowerment is real, then it ought not to be very long until women also no longer tolerate domestic violence incidents or other manifestations of anti-social behavior by men in general and football players in particular.  In other words, if the trend afoot among women today is real and continues on its trajectory, the “domestic violence issue” for the NFL will likely resolve itself with or without any impetus from the league.

I believe that the biggest threat to the NFL and its economic dominance resides in its relationship with its players as seen through the lens of collective bargaining.  Other than social hot button issues on which just about every rational human being agree, the NFL and the NFLPA are at odds with one another.  I find this to be amazing.  One of the foundations of the trade union movement in the US over the past century or so has been that workers wanted to share in the economic bounty that their labors produced.  For a time, the idea of “profit sharing” was an important union goal in negotiating new contracts with management.

In 2017 – and for the last two decades or so – profit sharing is precisely what NFL players have.  Strip away much of the verbiage that makes the Collective Bargaining Agreement into a tome approaching 100 pages; the CBA defines classes of “shared revenue” and after audits of those classes of income for each season, a fixed percentage of that revenue must be paid to players as salary.  That is the source of the “salary cap” and the “salary floor”.  What this means is that the NFL and the NFLPA are business partners not adversaries.  When revenues go up, salaries must also go up.  When revenues decline, salaries must also decline.  The league and the union may squabble over the exact percentage paid to players from one CBA to another; they can argue about how fines and suspensions are adjudicated; however, they must recognize that they are squabbling and arguing with a “partner” and not an “evil opponent”.

Check the statements and the interactions and the legal battles between the NFL and the NFLPA over the past couple of years and ask yourself if that is the way “partners” deal with one another or if those pitched battles represent the behaviors of “opponents” or even “enemies”.  This is the area of concern for the NFL if it is going to continue as a growing enterprise in the entertainment industry.  [Aside:  The NFL economic success is built on the fact that it is a TV series more than a sporting event.  The NFL is the highest rated programming on all 4 of its “broadcast partner” networks.]  The NFLPA needs also to come to this recognition.  What that mutual recognition might accomplish is that both parties will act in such a way as to be sure that their actions do not offend significant portions of the audience.

The NFL has issues; but in too many places, those issues have been inflated beyond reality.  Consider:

  • TV ratings are down – – but ad revenues are up.
  • “Parity”/” Mediocrity” does not help TV ratings; we have lots of “Parity”/” Mediocrity”; that does not seem sufficient to kill the league.
  • There will always be sufficient numbers of players to provide the league with employees.
  • There is no cure to poor officiating.
  • People will get over the “obscene salary” paid to the Commish.

The big issue for the NFL is to find a way to reach a much more constructive relationship and modus operandi with the NFLPA.  That is a two-way street; the NFL cannot fix that alone; the NFLPA has to accept that its partnership with the NFL is not enhanced by obstinate opposition to the NFL on any and all issues that arise.  I think that is the most important challenge for the league that poses the greatest danger.  Given the adversarial history between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, is it optimal to have these two folks as the “point persons” to change the nature of the relationship?

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


Benching Eli Manning

The NFL has provided sports fans with more than a few examples of boneheaded leadership.  Just to give a couple of examples:

  • Leonard Tose had to sell the Philadelphia Eagles to pay off his gambling chits to casinos in Atlantic City.
  • Al Davis hung on as the capo di tutti capi with the Raiders for a decade after he lost more than a little bit off his fastball.
  • The “Matt Millen Era” in Detroit.
  • Everyone in a position of authority with the “Cleveland Browns 2.0”.
  • Daniel M. Snyder – – need I say more?

That is hardly a complete list; I am sure that a historian could provide lots more examples of boneheadedness in the NFL for those who crave that sort of thing; I merely want to establish the existence of the phenomenon because it is time to add to the list.

The New York Football Giants [ / Howard Cosell] have apparently mistaken a rabbit hole for a NYC subway entrance.  They issued a press release yesterday announcing that in the midst of a disastrous – and highly disappointing – season, they are going to bench Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith.  Let that sink in for just a moment…

The Giants’ record stands at 2-9; the Giants have been outscored by 95 points this season; they have not scored more than 24 points in any game this year; they have been held to 10 points or less 4 times this year.  Last year, the Giants were 11-5 and made the playoffs.  In no way would I suggest that there is anything in this season’s performance that merits praise.  The 2017 version of the NY Giants stinks!

There were reports a few weeks ago that “people in ownership” had made it known to “the football people” that “the football people” should pay attention to the anticipated mother lode of college QBs slated to be in the NFL Draft in 2018.  There is nothing wrong with that; Eli Manning is about to turn 37 years old; it makes sense to plan for the future.  Indeed, if the Giants had a young QB on the roster who had been a highly touted pick, it might make sense to bench Eli Manning now to see what “the kid” can do.  But that is not the case…

There are two QBs on the depth chart who were behind Manning until yesterday.  They are Geno Smith and Davis Webb.  Let me begin with Davis Webb here:

  • He played 4 years of college football.  Three of them were at Texas Tech and the fourth was at Cal.  He had impressive numbers at both schools and it should be noted that both of those schools play “pass-happy football” making impressive numbers easier than normal to come by.  Overall, he played in 35 college games where he threw 83 TDs and 34 INTs.
  • He is about to turn 23 years old.  He was taken in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft about 6 months ago.

If the Giants had announced that they were benching Eli Manning and replacing him with Davis Webb, I would be surprised – maybe even shocked – but I would understand that there might be a strategic purpose to that move.  If Webb had been announced as the starter for this week’s game, I could interpret that to mean that Webb’s practices had been sufficiently enticing to make the “big thinkers” in the organization want to see if they already had their QB-of-the-future on the roster.  After all, no one on the planet has any empirical evidence related to Davis Webb as an NFL player; he has never seen the field on a Sunday in his career; he may be the next Aaron Rodgers sitting on the sidelines behind a franchise QB on the field – – or he may be the next Kevin Kolb sitting on the sidelines behind a franchise QB on the field.  I don’t know and the Giants’ “big thinkers” don’t know either.

What the Giants’ move tells me, however, is that the Giants’ coaching staff does not think that Davis Webb is better than Geno Smith at this point.  And that – ladies and gentlemen – is where I must get off the bus.  In the statements surrounding this decision, here is what head coach, Ben McAdoo had to say:

“I have a lot of confidence in Eli as a player, as a quarterback, but at this point it is my responsibility for the organization to make sure we take a look at Geno and at some point take a look at Davis [Webb] and give them the opportunity to show what they can do heading into next year.”

Let me deconstruct that sentence for you:

  1. You damned well better have confidence in Eli as a player and as a QB, coach.  He has won the Super Bowl twice – over the Pats both times I might add – and was the MVP in both of those Super Bowl games.  He has been to the Pro Bowl 4 times and in the 12 consecutive seasons where he has started every game for the Giants, they have had only 3 losing seasons.  Eli Manning is not the greatest QB of all time – and maybe not even the best Giants’ QB of all time – but he is an excellent player and QB.
  2. Your “responsibility to the organization” is to win football games until such time as your bosses tell you not to worry about that so much because they will not mind having a good draft pick next year.  Is that what just happened?
  3. You say you need to “take a look at Geno”.  Excuse me, but you and I and a jillion NFL fans have already looked at Geno and just about everyone else is pretty sure that Geno Smith is a career backup QB.  Period – – and exclamation point.  What Geno Smith can do next year is what he did last year; he can go looking for a job in the NFL with a team that has a solid starting QB where he is the guy on the sidelines that everyone hopes is never needed on the field in a real game.
  4. You say at some point you also need to take a look at Davis Webb.  I agree that would be a reasonable thing to do – – if and only if your assessment now is that Davis Webb is better than Geno Smith in terms of winning NFL games – – unless that is not the objective anymore.

I want to create the following scenario.  Imagine that the Giants’ record is 2-9 (as it is this morning) but in the first game of the season, Eli Manning suffered a season-ending injury; the Giants have gone with Geno Smith at QB since Manning left that game on a stretcher.  What would be the likely narrative in the football punditry today?

  • It has been a horribly disappointing season for the Giants, but what can you expect?  They lost their star QB in Game 1 and had to go with Geno Smith for the entire season.  Davis Webb is still too green to throw out there because he played in a spread offense in college and is still learning the pro game.  The Giants will be all right next year once Manning is healthy and back under center.

That sounds about right to me…

So, forget the fact that the two best WRs on the team have been lost to injury for almost all the season and that the third best WR has missed games due to injury.  Forget that the targets for Eli Manning’s passes are the likes of Tavarres King, Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph.  Forget that the Giants’ OL looks like dancing bears on ice skates in pass blocking situations.  Forget that players on the defensive unit have played such that people label them “quitters”.  None of that matters – – and here is why none of that matters.

  • The fundamental problem with the 2017 NY Football Giants is not the QB and it is not the injuries to the WRs.  The fundamental problem is that the roster is poorly constructed.
  • There was no depth at WR in the event of injury.
  • The OL was sub-standard last year and nothing was done to improve it for this year.
  • The RB situation is mediocre at best – – even if any Giants’ RB had a functional OL in front of him to block and open holes.
  • The Giants’ star rookie TE, catches only 52% of the balls thrown his way.

All denunciation for the problems listed above must be directed at the Giants’ Front Office.  None of that is a “QB problem”.

On the other side of the ball, some of the defensive players have earned the label of “quitter”.  That is not a term thrown around lightly in NFL circles or in NFL reporting; but it has appeared this year relative to the Giants.  The blame for that – ladies and gentlemen – belongs on the coaching staff for deficiencies in motivational skills and on the individual players who have allegedly done the “quitting”.  None of that is a “QB problem.”

The “big thinkers” for the NY Giants have crossed the Rubicon here.  This decision can only mean that Eli Manning will not be the Giants’ QB in 2018.  It has been reported that Manning has a no-trade clause in his contract; it has also been reported that the Giants will owe him a $5M roster bonus in mid-March 2018.  I have to think that the Giants will arrange not to pay that money and the way for that to happen is for Eli Manning to be off their roster by mid-March.  That puts the coaching staff – whether or not it includes Ben McAdoo and company – and the front office – whether or not that includes Jerry Reese and company – and the Giants’ ownership mavens – the Maras and the Tischs – squarely in the spotlight.

It is easy to see what happens to NFL teams without a franchise QB.

  • The Browns have not had one since returning to the NFL and they are a laughingstock.
  • The Jets have not had one since Joe Namath.  Nonetheless even in their state of desperation, they gave up on Geno Smith.
  • Check out the 2017 version of the Miami Dolphins.
  • The Broncos have an excellent defense – that no one thinks has “quit” this year – but lack of QB play gives the Broncos a 3-8 record with one of those losses being to the Giants.
  • Compare the Houston Texans with Tom Savage to the Houston Texans with Deshaun Watson.

The Giants have just run off a franchise QB – an aging one to be sure but still a franchise QB.  If the “big thinkers” there do not find a replacement for Eli Manning – or someone who can become a replacement for Eli Manning in a year or two, the Giants are going to experience life down that rabbit hole they mistook for a subway entrance.  They can pick their QBs from the attendees at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the coaches/execs can busy themselves the way the White Rabbit did by rushing off hither and yon being late for a very important date.

In the end, they need a replacement for Eli Manning – and it will be more difficult to find one in his absence than it would be with him playing QB.  It takes time for most young QBs to learn to play the position at the NFL level; with a QB mentor on the team, a young QB can be eased into the position to play when he is ready.  If Geno Smith is the starter going forward, the pressure to win games and keep the fans from open revolt will be felt right down to the youngster(s) in the QB room.

All I can say is, whoever made the decision to bench Eli Manning starting right now had better be the smartest football guy on the planet – or the luckiest – because that decision is a career defining one.  Right now, this looks to me as if the caboose is pulling the engine.

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



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………