Puzzling Times At Sayreville High

I am sure that you have heard and/or read about the high school in New Jersey that canceled its football season after allegations of outrageous hazing activities on the football team came to light. The alleged activities are not like taping the new players to a goal post and pouring honey on their heads. Suffice it to say that some of the alleged activities were of a sexual nature that involved bodily penetration and the allegations are serious enough to have brought criminal charges in a half-dozen cases. This is not going to be any kind of rant about morality or the imminent demise of Western Civilization; there have been plenty of those presented already.

What caught my attention was a recent action taken by the school board in Sayreville, NJ. About a week ago, the school board had a public meeting and announced that the coaches of the football team would be suspended indefinitely – with pay – not as a punishment but as a means to uncover the truth in all of this.

No one should be opposed to finding the truth in all of this to determine if in fact punishments are in order. I certainly have no problem with that. Nonetheless, I have to pose a couple of questions here:

    The season is canceled; there will be no football games. What exactly is the difference between a suspended football coach and a football coach whose team will play no games?

    Perhaps I am just being obtuse here, but how does the act of suspending any or all of the coaches further the quest for “the truth” here?

Please do not read into those questions any sort of hint that I think the coaches are blameless here. Even if the legal processes determine that there were no criminal actions involved, there certainly existed an environment where upperclassmen bullied freshmen brazenly. Since the football coaches are employees of the School Board – or whatever that governing body happens to be called in New Jersey – they are de facto adults involved in educating the students in that community. Creating an environment where bullying is acceptable – or just as bad – being so out of touch that one does not know that bullying of this type is ongoing do not fit well in the job description of “educator”. In this case, malfeasance and nonfeasance should carry the same degree of opprobrium; the total mass of the opprobrium to be borne by the adults in charge here depend entirely on the revelation of truth that the police and the School Board seek.

    [Aside: I read one report that said the head coach at this school had 12 assistant coaches. Thirteen sets of eyes and ears had no clue… What are some of the adjectives that come to your mind to describe this situation?]

Taken as a whole, the situation in Sayreville is simply a mess. According to reports, one of the victims has met with an attorney and that attorney has characterized the events as “rape”. I am not an attorney but I am confident that introducing the word “rape” into the dialog here is not going to make the revelation of truth any easier that it might have been before.

Controversy is not associated only with high school football these days. Florida State’s football program has the various issues involving Jameis Winston floating around it and yesterday, reports said that the Tallahassee Police Department has an ongoing investigation regarding domestic abuse involving RB Karlos Williams. Here is what the school had to say about that:

“The athletics department is aware of an investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department involving football student-athlete Karlos Williams. Until we receive more information regarding the alleged incident his status with the team will be under review.”

Karlos Williams is the leading rusher on the #2 ranked college football team. Pardon me for being a cynic here but I just have a feeling that Williams’ status with the team will continue to be “under review” until at least 48 hours after Florida State plays its final game of the season. The pace at which the school and the authorities there are pursuing the various incidents in Jameis Winston’s life off the football field point me in that direction.

For those who are spring-loaded to chastise me for jumping to a conclusion here, let me offer the words of H. L. Mencken on the subject of cynics:

“The cynics are right nine times out of ten.”

That is a batting average that would get one into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot…

An old adage of the newspaper business says that it is not news if a dog bites a man but it is indeed news if a man bites a dog. That adage came to mind when I read a headline on the Baltimore Sun website recently:

“NFLPA investigator Richard Craig Smith complains about lack of cooperation from NFL, Ravens”

Back when the NFL hired former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, to do an independent investigation of the way the NFL handled the Ray Rice matter, the NFLPA reacted by hiring their own independent investigator. That would be Mr. Smith referenced in the headline above. So, is anyone surprised that the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens are cooperating with the guy they hired and not cooperating with the guy that the other guys hired? More importantly:

    Is Richard Craig Smith surprised?

    I certainly hope not…

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald related to a “minor error” in a TV sports report:

“Seattle TV station KOMO, airing a report on Peyton Manning breaking the TD-pass record, mistakenly showed a photo of Gary Payton. Other than the football/basketball, black/white, first name/last name and spelling differences, the report was accurate.”

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

Academic Fraud At UNC – A Sordid Mess

The academic scandal at UNC continues to unfold and with every new investigation and revelation, the squalor of the situation gets worse. Obviously, I have no idea which if any of the members of the coaching staffs for any of the UNC teams had direct knowledge of the “shadow courses” and the ongoing fraud. Having said that, let me make a few observations from afar based on what has been reported:

    This business went on for about two decades. How this all managed to “stay under the radar” when students were obviously putting one over on “the system” is miraculous. Or maybe, people in the system actually knew it was going on and pretended not to notice…

    Those athletes who were on scholarship for 4 years and who took these shadow courses to major in a subject where they learned less than what might be reasonable were defrauded by the University of North Carolina. Their opportunity for an education was reduced almost to nothing.

    Where is the faculty outrage here? The stature of the university where their lot in academic life is cast has been tarnished.

    Where is the alumni outrage here? The value of UNC degrees has to be diminished given that thousands of students took these non-existent courses.

Now, we have something akin to a litmus test for the NCAA. For at least the last 50 years, the NCAA has presented itself as an organization dedicated to the concept of the “student athlete”. Recall all the self-congratulatory promos that the NCAA has done about its athletes who will be “going pro” in something other than sports. Here is a situation where one of its member schools – and one of its very successful athletic schools – has systematically undermined the concept of the “student athlete” for two decades. That situation is far more subversive to the concept of the “student athlete” than a booster hiring an athlete for a summer job and paying the kid more than he is worth. What UNC has been doing is to perpetuate a system that incentivizes athletes not to be students.

Please notice how quiet and private Mark Emmert has been over the last week or so as more information regarding the academic scandal hits the press. I doubt that he is in a coma so I wonder where he is and what he thinks about this and what the hell he is going to do about it.

On the assumption that what I have read about the investigative report is true – I have not read the investigative report itself – here is a baseline punishment:

    No UNC team in any sport will be allowed to participate in any game with any other NCAA school for a period of one year. Any athlete on any UNC team who chooses to transfer during that period can immediately be eligible at the school to which he/she transfers.

    That is the baseline; preferably, the period of time where UNC athletics would be “dark” would be two years and not just one year.

    If the NCAA limits punishment to “bowl bans” and “reductions in scholarships” for this 20-year violation of the rules, I will have to conclude two things:

      1. The NCAA is even more hypocritical than the IOC.

      2. The entire concept of a “student athlete” is a sham and no one in the NCAA can even pretend to believe it is real.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot made a cogent point related to this mess:

“No-brainer: Could you find academic corruption like the kind that was uncovered at North Carolina going on at other football and basketball factories? Sure, if anyone looked hard enough. But following big-time college athletics has always required fans – fans in the media included – to resist the temptation to look behind the curtain.”

I agree that academic frauds exist in places other than UNC. My position is, however, that existence elsewhere does not exonerate UNC even a little bit. Moreover, my agreement points one more accusatory finger at the NCAA and prods me to ask the institution:

    Will you reveal to the public the extent of the NCAA’s efforts to root out academic fraud at member institutions beyond waiting for the next whistleblower to nail a set of theses on your door – so to speak?

I have been enjoying the World Series games despite the “in your face” nature of the FOX telecasts. Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this plea in a recent column and I would like to join him in his entreaty:

“World Series Telecasts: Dear Fox: On those in-game dugout interviews, pleeease put the interviewee in a box in the corner of the screen, for the benefit of those of us who want to watch the freaking baseball game!

“The dugout interview: Greatest innovation since the $12 beer.”

Finally, here is an interesting observation from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:

“Warner Bros. television is planning to release a Mike Tyson-inspired adult cartoon series.

“That’s kind of been the theme all along, hasn’t it?”

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

Odds And Ends…

In the middle of last weekend’s Keeping Score blog entry by Gregg Drinnan, I found the following tidbit:

“When the Kamloops Blazers gave goaltender Bolton Pouliot to the Portland Winterhawks the other day — call it an early Christmas present — it brought back memories of Jan. 19, 1983. That was the day the WHL’s Seattle Breakers traded forward Tom Martin to the Victoria Cougars for a used bus.”

To say that my knowledge of the comings and goings in the Western Hockey League is an eighth of an inch deep would be most generous; clearly, the memories he refers to here did not leap to mind. So, I asked Gregg Drinnan if indeed a player had actually been traded for a used bus. Here is “the rest of the story”…

    Tom Martin had been drafted by the Winnipeg Jets but in 1983 found himself on the roster of the Seattle Breakers of the WHL. Martin wanted to play some hockey and also to get a college education; he was a native of Victoria. The Breakers needed a new team bus because the engine on their bus had gone to the great grease pit in the sky on a road trip to Kelowna. The Victoria Cougars had a spare bus they picked up when the Spokane Flyers’ franchise went belly-up. Martin was not going to play for Seattle; Victoria had a bus in Spokane that would cost them money to transfer and register in Canada. The trade of player for bus was pretty simple.

In that link, there are a couple other references to players who were traded for things other than players:

    Keith Comstock – a relief pitcher who bounced around in MLB for a few years – was once traded for a box of used baseballs whilst he was still in the minor leagues. According to an old Sports Illustrated report, he was actually traded from the A’s to the Tigers for $100 and a box of used baseballs.

    John Odom played for the Calgary Vipers in the Golden Baseball League and was traded to the Laredo Broncos of the United Baseball League for ten maple baseball bats. The reason for the trade was that Odom had a minor criminal offense on his record that prevented him from going to Canada to work/live.

    Fred Roberts was an NBA journeyman who was traded from the Jazz to the Celtics in 1986. The NY Times reported that he was traded for a “future draft choice”. The link here says he was traded in exchange for “two preseason games in which Boston would play Utah.” The report in this link makes for a better story, so I choose to go with that report…

Bob Molinaro had this item in a recent column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Numbers game: Media accounts of Kansas City’s undying love for its Royals go real easy on the inconvenient truth that the team ranked 25th out of 30 in attendance. The Royals were one of only six MLB clubs that didn’t break the 2 million mark this year. But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.”

Indeed, only 5 teams drew fewer fans than did the Royals in 2014; the Royals averaged 24,154 fans per game at home this year. Kauffman Stadium has a capacity of 37,903 so the Royals played to just under 64% of capacity. Granted, it had been 30 years since the Royals had been a playoff team; but this year’s team was “in the mix” all during the summer. Consider the five teams below the Royals in attendance this year:

    Houston Astros – 21,628 fans per game. The Astros took a big step forward this year losing only 92 games.

    Miami Marlins – 21,386 fans per game. The Marlins never draw well; the fans and the owner are not “best buddies”.

    Chicago White Sox – 20,381 fans per game. The Sox lost 89 games after starting slowly and never contending this year.

    Tampa Bay Rays – 17,858 fans per game. The Rays did not draw in years the team won the AL East; this year the Rays were 19 games out of first place there.

    Cleveland Indians – 17,746 fans per game. This is bad; the Indians were in the playoff picture much of the season.

Over the weekend, Danica Patrick led a NASCAR race – the Geico 500 at Talladega – with only 20 laps to go. She was not involved in a wreck and managed to finish 19th in the race. One report said that a caution flag in the late running took away her momentum and other racers finished ahead of her. I would point out ever so politely here that every driver in the race had to slow down and then restart when that caution flag was out so every driver similarly lost momentum for that time.
I am hardly an expert in searching out NASCAR stats but if I searched correctly, Danica Patrick has been a full-time NASCAR performer for two seasons and her best finish in a NASCAR race was 6th place in September of this year.

Finally, here is an interesting item from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“Olympic wrestler Dremiel Byers was cited for allegedly hunting deer at a Colorado Springs Lexus dealership … He was cited for hunting out of season. How about hunting out of place?”

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

A Step In The Right Direction

The NFL and NFLPA agreed on a testing regimen/protocol for human growth hormone (HGH) testing and finally implemented it. Testing began the week of October 6 and here is the rough outline of how the testing will go:

    Every week, five players on 8 teams will be selected for testing.

    No testing will be done on game days.

    Appeals of positive results will be handled by a third-party neutral and appeals will be handled “expeditiously”.

    Punishments will be:

      Use of masking agents is a 2-game suspension
      Steroids/stimulants/HGH is a 4-game suspension
      “Manipulating a test” is a 6-game suspension
      Second violation is a 10-game suspension
      Third violation is a 2-year suspension.

Is this a perfect solution? Of course not. Is it a step in the right direction? I think it is a big step in the right direction because it does several things:

    It acknowledges that HGH is a substance that can be abused and it includes HGH as part of the “banned substances” and/or PED menu.

    It provides random testing.

    It takes the adjudication/sentencing aspects of “failed tests” out of the hands of the Commissioner.

The league and the union have been working on this for at least a couple of years. Kudos to both sides for coming up with an improvement in this aspect of NFL football. I hope they seize on this success to arrive at a more effective and efficient means of handling other kinds of disciplinary measures involving players/coaches/front office folks/owners.

Speaking of those “other disciplinary matters”, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, which seems to indicate that some NFL players have not gotten the memo:

“On the NFL and harassment of women: Dolphins suspended defensive end Derrick Shelby after his nightclub arrest for allegedly harassing women. Cops did not buy his excuse that he mistook the women for quarterbacks.”

In another disciplinary matter that is ongoing, Adrian Peterson – charged with felony child abuse for beating his young son with a switch – is out on bail but admitted to smoking a little weed just prior to a urinalysis test. Yes, he lit up the test tube; no, courts do not look upon failing a drug test while out on bond as a laughing matter; yes, Peterson got himself another warrant and another charge to answer. What was it Joe Theismann said about NFL players?

    Geniuses do not play football.
    Geniuses are people like Norman Einstein.

It was something like that…

Here is something else that the league and the union can work on. This is the kind of juxtaposition that makes people wonder if there is adult supervision at work.

    Julius Thomas was fined $8,268 for an illegal chop block that injured another player. That fine is based on the current CBA between the league and the union; it is not just a number pulled out of a bodily orifice.

    Colin Kaepernick was fined $10,000 for wearing a brand of earphones other than Bose, which is a league sponsor and “the official earphones of the NFL”.

Fans look at that and ask to what level of stupidity must one sink in order for those two things to make sense. The NFLPA may be upset with the magnitude of Kaepernick’s fine; but before they get their knickers in too tight a knot, they need to consider that they were party to setting the level of the fine that injured one of their union brethren. The NFL might want to look at this kind of publicity and suggest to the NFLPA that until the chop block fine level can be increased, fines are not publicly announced.

As the baseball playoffs move along, recall that I said I was rooting for the Royals to make it to the World Series because they had not been in the playoffs since next to forever. I did not think they would make it this far, but they have a 2-0 lead over the Orioles with 3 games in KC providing the opportunity to close out the ALCS and go to the World Series. I get to see plenty of Orioles’ baseball on TV during the summer and the O’s are a good team to watch. However, in the back of my mind, I simply cannot invest any enthusiasm in rooting for the Orioles to win the World Series simply because I would not want to see Peter Angelos holding the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Finally, this comes from Gregg Drinnan’s weekend blog entry, Keeping Score:

“The best quote out of this week’s 1984 Edmonton Oilers’ reunion came from Mark Messier, who said: ‘I never finished high school, so this is my first actual reunion.’ “

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………
By The Sports Curmudgeon, on October 14, 2014 at 10:42 am, under Daily Rants

A Bit Of This And A Bit Of That

The NFL announced that Katy Perry will headline the Super Bowl halftime show in February – ignoring my advice and an Internet petition to get “Weird Al” Yankovic to do the show. Not surprisingly, I do not know Katy Perry and could not tell the difference between Katy Perry and Perry Como, Perry Mason, a Mason jar or a Freemason. That really does not matter since I do not watch Super Bowl halftime shows.

Speaking of the NFL, you have to have noticed the ads on games and on pre-game shows for Fan Duel – one of those fantasy football sites where each week is a season unto itself and people reportedly win lots and lots of money. If you look closely early in the ad, there is small print low on the screen that says:

    This is not a gambling site

Let me get this straight… Lots of people pay money into a pool in order to make fantasy football selections and some of the people who do so receive more money than they put in while others receive none of their money back. If that is not gambling, then pari-mutuel wagering on horses is not gambling and poker is not gambling. I do not play fantasy football – or baseball – simply because I do not find them interesting but the idea that fantasy sports is not a form of gambling is not much more than an exercise in parsing the English language.

Please remember the willingness of the NFL to have this advertising associated with programs that feature the NFL the next time the league files a legal brief alleging that gambling would attack the integrity of the game. Think about it folks, players in the NFL are playing fantasy football meaning they have an interest in how players on teams other than theirs perform. I do not believe that has destroyed the integrity of the game, but if you try to make “high moral ground arguments” about gambling and integrity and that kind of stuff, how can you allow fantasy football to be in your league and advertising on your programs?

Here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about 2 weeks ago:

“Four Redskins fans agreed to go on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and were surprised to be confronted by Native Americans. That’s like going on Fox News and being surprised by conservatism.”

I hope those same four fans are not surprised when they go to FedEx Field and see the team lose…

Switching over to baseball, Tony Bosch – the former director of Biogenesis – is in jail because his bail was revoked after he failed two drug tests and did not attend the voluntary treatment sessions that were part of the deal that let him out on bail. Here is what the judge said as he revoked bail:

“I simply have no confidence in his ability to appear as required. I don’t find that he’s a good candidate to remain out on bond.”

Bosch is “required to appear” to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances as part of a plea deal with prosecutors as he is a cooperating witness in other matters related to the whole Biogenesis mess. Bosch was one of the folks who provided evidence against Alex Rodriguez to MLB leading to the season-long suspension of A-Rod.

Here is another baseball-related idea from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Parting thought: Baseball continues to mull ways to speed up games. They already rejected my idea: Relievers getting from bullpen to mound via catapult.”

Man, the folks who run baseball are ossified fuddy-duddies. That is a great idea. You could modernize the concept and make it seem like a cannon with an explosion just as the pitcher is launched from the bullpen. Oh, and it would not be long until one of the DJ geniuses at one of the parks took to playing Johnny Cash doing The Wabash Cannonball as relievers’ entry music…

Pro football has its problems with domestic violence issues and concussions; baseball has its problems with PEDs. In college sports, the nefarious activities remain focused on old-fashioned bad behavior. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sanford Lovingood was the comptroller for an organization known as Seminole Boosters. It does not take a great deal of insight to realize that this organization raised funds to support Florida State athletics. The organization fired him after an audit of the organization’s bank records revealed that Lovingood “took” somewhere between $500 – 700K from Seminole Boosters for himself.

The report in the Tallahassee Democrat says that Lovingood admitted to Booster members that he had taken the money and explained how he did it. Evidently, he had been doing this since 2011.

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel put some perspective on misdeeds in Tallahassee with this comment:

“Did you see where Sanford Lovingood, the comptroller of FSU’s athletic booster organization, is accused of misappropriating between $500,000 and $700,000 from the booster fund? And we’re worried about Jameis Winston stealing $20 in crab legs?”

Finally, here is a self-contained description of a minor sports event from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The 60th Columbus Day Regatta wraps up Sunday on Biscayne Bay. That’s the local institution known for drinking, topless women, partying, debauchery and, when time allows, sailing.”

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

Thursday Night Football

A headline at CBSSports.com this morning says:

Arian Foster rips ‘Thursday Night Football:’ No one likes it

Recently, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Numbers game: If the string of lopsided scores from the NFL Thursday night games is any indication, the mystical forces that control the football cosmos strongly disapprove of the new prime-time CBS package. Through five games, the average margin of victory has been 29 points, with no result closer than 20 points.”

I do not have a direct line to the inner sanctum of the football gods, but Arian Foster and Bob Molinaro are both onto something here. The Thursday Night Games so far this year have been laughers; the “tightest game” was the Baltimore/Pittsburgh game where the score was deceptively close at 26-6. Here are a couple of Arian Foster’s comments about Thursday Night Football:

“Thursday Night Football is pretty annoying for players. I don’t know one player that likes it. I really don’t know a fan that likes it, either. I think it’s just the league’s way to try to generate more revenue, but that’s what they are here for.”


“Nobody is ready to play physically after a Sunday game but you have to go out there and do it.”

I guess the reason Arian Foster thinks fans do not like Thursday Night Football is because he has never met the ten million or so fans who tune in to watch those games on CBS and/or NFLN. However, I can certainly believe his two points that players do not like Thursday games and that many players are not physically recovered from the previous Sunday games when Thursday rolls around. The NFL itself provides some evidence for that last point.

More than a few times during the season, a player cannot practice during the week but recovers sufficiently to play on Sunday. Most – if not all – of them would not be able to play on Thursday night without putting their well-being at greater risk than normal. The NFL injury reports and the media coverage of teams and their practices tell us this.

Foster was asked why he did not voice his complaint to the NFLPA and his response was interesting:

“The union and the league is kind of the same thing.”

Well, I am not the same as the union or the league and so let me offer a possible path toward resolving this issue:

    Every team that plays a Thursday game will have a Bye Week the week before that game. Therefore, every player will have 10 days to recover/prepare for a Thursday game.

    That means every team will need 2 Bye Weeks during the season and to accommodate that, the regular season would be extended to 18 weeks (but would stay at 16 games).

    Players and coaches should like the extra time to prepare; the league and the union should like the extra revenue that another week of NFL games on TV will generate; the networks should like another week of highly rated programming; the fans should like being able to see more regular season games over a longer period of time. Only the folks in the scheduling department might dislike this idea because it would complicate their job ever so slightly.

Foster’s comments are timely because the Texans and the Colts are the Thursday Night Game this week…

While I am on the subject of making changes for the NFL, may I suggest a different way for the league to keep track of return yards? Consider the following scenario:

    Team A kicks off to Team B. The ball goes five yards deep into the end zone and Team B’s returner does not take a knee; he returns the kickoff.

    Team A covers the kick well and the returner is tackled at the 12-yardline.

    The current return stat would credit the returner with a 17-yard return. In reality, what he did was to cost Team B 8 yards of field position. Had he just refused to run the ball, Team B would have had the ball at the 20-yardline. Somewhere, the league should account for that kind of hidden yardage within a game and report it. If the returner gets the ball out to the 27-yardline, he should get credit for a 32 yard return and get a “plus 7” for field position as a result of his return. In my original example, the returner would get a “minus 8″ for field position.

It would be a new stat and it would be one that cannot be applied retroactively to previous games for at least 2 reasons:

    1. It would be more work than it is worth to go through NFL video archives and do the calculations for previous games.

    2. There are too many NFL games for which there is no video or film record and so the calculation for those games would be impossible.

Nevertheless, I would like to see the league begin to record this stat.

Finally, Bob Molinaro writes for the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot but is a Baltimorean by heritage. It should please him to realize that one of his recent items proves a point made by the Bard of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken:

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American Public.” [Mencken]


“Dollar signs: Derek Jeter’s career may be over, but the marketing of his image continues, right down to the selling of Jeter game-used dirt. Steiner Sports, the Yankees and Jeter are making available plaques that include a capsule of infield dirt from Yankee Stadium that Jeter allegedly walked on. But if that doesn’t intrigue you, you might be interested in Jeter game-used socks – only $409.99 per sock.” [Molinaro]

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

Good Intentions…

As the NFL continues to try to get itself on a positive side of the issue of domestic violence, the league announced recently that it will offer educational programs for players that center around socially acceptable behaviors and socially unacceptable behaviors. Good for the NFL; such programs cannot hurt. Nonetheless, count me as cynical on this one…

The fact of the matter is that every NFL player is an adult and adults arrive at a workplace with a set of life experiences. Every employer offers “training courses”/”indoctrination courses” that seek to focus new employees on the behaviors that are appropriate for the specific workplaces. With regard to most of those kinds of training endeavors, the idea of trying to mold “off-the-job behavior” is pretty far out in left field. And that is what the NFL is going to try to do here.

Look, those adults who play in the NFL – and the ones who coach and the ones who work in front offices and the ones who own teams and etc. – ought not to need an educational program to tell them the following:

    It is not socially acceptable to beat your wife/girlfriend/kids.

    It is not socially acceptable to drive drunk.

    It is not socially acceptable to [fill in the blanks here]

In addition to the expectation that none of those adults ought to need such programs, I wonder just how effective a “short course” along the lines of “Behaving Properly 101” will be in overriding the years of life experience for many of these athletes who have been conditioned to believe that their athletic prowess inoculates them from any consequences of their behaviors. The danger here is that these programs will provide a patina of security that the league and the teams are taking effective steps to deal with these image problems. I doubt that will be the case…

Moreover, even if these programs are designed and executed such that they have universally positive effects, the league needs to be sure to do two other things in conjunction with these programs:

    1. The programs must not be limited to players. Coaches have been known to behave badly; owners have been known to drive while impaired. Any programs that are mandatory for players must be mandatory for everyone else in the NFL including the Commish.

    2. The league needs to look at its “bureaucracy” and at the front office staffing for all 32 teams with an eye to this question:

      Do we have in place the right mix of professionals (psychology folks, security folks, counseling folks) to work with all employees to head off at the pass future incidents of gross anti-social behavior? It is not good enough to be wealthy enough to hire some smarmy “crisis communication consultants” after the fact. Are the organizations staffed properly to act proactively on this front?

Teams in the NFL are constructed and run with the idea that the single most important thing in the world is to win the next game and then to win the one after that… If the teams are expected to police themselves on anti-social behavior issues, that activity will almost immediately collide head-on with the “win now and win again” mindset. The conflict in terms of objectives here could not be more stark; teams just cannot be asked or expected to police themselves effectively.

In the last paragraph, I used the phrase “collide head-on” and that leads me to another problem the NFL faces. The concussion issue – in all of its ramifications – is another big problem for the league. Again, I think that the NFL has put in place “concussion protocols” that serve to provide a patina of “concern” and “activism” around the problem – but it is no more than a patina. Here is what a “dinged player” has to do to get back on the field:

    He must not show any of the overt symptoms of a concussion. If he can do that to the satisfaction of medical personnel on the sidelines, he can go back into the game. And, make no mistake here; the player prefers to go back into the game at least 99% of the time.

Once again, you have things working at cross-purposes only this time there are time constraints. After all, if the league protocols for a “dinged player” were to take 4 hours to complete, the player would de facto be barred from returning to any game where he had a problem. Aye, there is the rub…

Forget the case where the player was out cold on the field for 5 whole minutes before being revived to a blurry state of consciousness. That is the obvious case and it can be handled by someone whose only medical expertise comes from studying for the MCATs.

Since there is no rapid “litmus test” for a concussion that can be administered on the sideline where the results are comparable to litmus paper in a chemistry lab with regard to accurately detecting acids or alkalis, the protocol is subject to Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Some concussed players will be sent back onto the field; some non-concussed players will be misdiagnosed and prevented from playing again on that day.

Moreover, part of the protocol is to communicate with the player. If the player is motivated to be “uncooperative” or to be “less than candid” in his communication with the medics, the protocol itself is weakened even further than the real presence of Type 1 and Type 2 errors would suggest.

The fundamental idea here is a good one; I simply doubt how effective it is going to be.

Finally, since I am on the subject of the NFL, here is an observation from David Letterman the week after the Pats lost on national television to the Chiefs:

“The New England Patriots got routed 41-14, and a Kansas City Chiefs player was fined because he was in the end zone praying. That’s different than the New York Jets. They pray to get INTO the end zone.”

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

One Step At A Time

Back in September, I wrote that one of the major difficulties with the job that Roger Goodell has developed for himself was that he had to be “The Disciplinarian”. In that piece, I argued that the role of disciplinarian does not mesh well at all with the more fundamental responsibilities of a commissioner:

    A. Grow the league revenues

    B. Maintain labor peace

    C. Maintain and enhance the league’s public image and standing

I also suggested there that the best way to deal with discipline would be to “outsource it” to an arbitration staff paid for by both the NFL and the NFLPA such that there would be no suspicion of pulling fiscal strings behind the scenes. Well, last week, the NFL and the NFLPA took a first step exactly that path. They agreed to hire an outside arbitrator to handle the appeal that Ray Rice and his attorneys have filed. This is a big deal. The NFL and the NFLPA have agreed on a single person to handle this matter and both sides have agreed to live with the consequences of that person’s decision here. That may seem very normal – even mundane – for us “ordinary citizens” but that has never been the case for the league and the union.

Former US District Court judge, Barbara Jones, will be the arbitrator. For one, I hope that her handling of this matter is so exemplary that both sides come to the decision that hiring a small outside staff that will do nothing except handle disciplinary matters is a positive direction for both organizations.

Greg Cote posed an interesting rhetorical question in the Miami Herald yesterday:

“Question: How does A’s general manager Billy ‘Moneyball’ Beane get to keep being a genius when this was the 17th consecutive season his team failed to reach the World Series, let alone win?”

I think the answer to that question is that the baseball poets and Michael Lewis have anointed him as a genius and no one wants to be the fart in church to suggest otherwise. I never believed Moneyball to be a faithful rendition of history from the time I read it. I am not one who resists new analytical stats – although I do believe some of the “advanced metrics” are a tad arcane – but I also believe firmly in the “Eyeball Test”.

Now for a retrospective view of why the Oakland A’s were so successful around the turn of the millennium that you would not get just from reading/seeing/reading Moneyball:

    The A’s had three young pitchers (Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito) who all blossomed around the same time. No analytical process predicted that would be the case nor did any such process make it happen.

    The A’s at that time had a roster with more than a couple of players who have since been associated with PED use.

Now, that leads to a retrospective on this year’s big trades for Jeff Samardzija and John Lester near the trade deadline. For whatever reason, the A’s cratered after that trade; the team was 66-41 when the trade went down; the A’s went 22-23 after the trade. It is difficult to look at those numbers and say the trade was a “success” for the A’s but that is exactly what Billy Beane keeps trying to say. In fact, the SF Chronicle reported that he said the A’s might not have made the playoffs had he not made that deal.

There is no advanced analytical stat that measures “team chemistry” or whatever you want to call that concept. However, if the SF Chronicle report is accurate and I have no reason to doubt it, how might the 20 or so players in the A’s clubhouse feel about the way team management views their value. They were 25 games over .500; they had the best record in MLB at the time; management says they would have missed the playoffs without a couple of additions to the roster. Billy Beane likes to dismiss any discussion of things like “team chemistry” and the “Eyeball Test” as irrelevant. In this case, he had better be correct…

    [Aside: Every time someone asks me what I mean by the “Eyeball Test”, I use this example if the person is more than 35 years old. In football, the career quarterback ratings say that Chad Pennington, Duante Culpepper and Jeff Garcia were all better quarterbacks than John Elway. That does not pass the “Eyeball Test”.]

Here is another item from Greg Cote’s column in the Miami Herald yesterday:

“Saw a headline that LeBron already has mastered new Cavs coach David Blatt’s offense. Figures. The offense may be summarized as, ‘Give the ball to LeBron!’ “

That snarky remark got me thinking about the Miami Heat for the upcoming season and leads me to ask:

    How long will it be until folks begin to question if Erik Spoelstra is actually a good NBA coach or is he just a guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time to be on the bench with LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh?

The Heat will not be nearly as dominant this year as they have been for the last four years. The reason for that will be that LeBron James is in Cleveland and not in Miami. Nonetheless, Spoelstra will take some heat.

Finally, since I have used two of Greg Cote’s items from yesterday’s Miami Herald, let me close by using a third. It needs no amplification:

“Johnny Manziel says he might offer to counsel Jameis Winston. No, seriously.”

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

More Legal Stuff For The NFL

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed one of their rules. That rule had been the NFL’s basis for having and enforcing its “Blackout Policy” for local telecasts. The FCC did not order the NFL to do anything; it simply negated the rule. Here is where it gets complicated – too complicated for me to understand based on the various reports I have read/heard.

The NFL is appealing the FCC decision. No surprise here. However, I do not understand what if any added “jeopardy” this might heap upon the NFL. If there is no added jeopardy, of course they will appeal and appeal and appeal.

Several reports say that even with this ruling, the NFL can continue to have its blackout rule – no telecasts to the local area if the game does not sell out 72 hours prior to kickoff. If that is the case, I have to say that I do not understand why or how this is any big deal at all.

Finally, I do not understand why the NFL does not argue that lifting this rule and permitting even the possibility of local telecasts is blatantly unconstitutional per the Eighth Amendment. That amendment forbids the infliction of “cruel or unusual punishments. If the NFL has to televise Jacksonville Jaguars home games to the home TV market, that would inflict the punishment of watching the Jags stink it up on the road AND at home. How cruel and unusual is that?

I wonder if the scouts and the player development departments around the league are looking at the recent events involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson to the point where they might be changing the ways they will evaluate and interview high-talent collegiate prospects before drafting/signing them. I am specifically thinking of Jameis Winston here.

No questions continue to obtain with regard to Winston’s football skills; he can play. There are loads of questions about his socialization level/maturity/ability to stay out of trouble. Winston is only 20 years old; he has only been at Florida State for 2.5 years; and in that short time, he has been involved in:

    An alleged rape
    A shoplifting escapade
    Standing on a table in the student union shouting obscenities.

That is not a warm and fuzzy trifecta; that does not portray a young man who has self-control and/or a keen sense of what is right/wrong/acceptable/unacceptable in terms of behavior. No matter; he is going to be a high draft pick by an NFL team because he has “that kind of talent”. “That kind of talent” has seemingly immunized him from suffering the consequences of these kinds of actions to date; but in the current environment, that continued immunity is not a sure bet.

I would love to see the scouting reports that come from the “Chief Scout” that go to the “Player Development Guru” and the GM for teams that will be drafting in the Top 10 next year. If I had to write it, I would make sure it was clear that this kid is a special talent on the field – and that he has a special talent for finding troubles off the field. In large font type and in red letters, I would point out to the draft day decision makers that special talents like Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray Rice did not materially help their teams in 2014…

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot summed it up this way:

“A message: The consequences of Winston’s actions have stretched beyond Internet ridicule, an all-too-brief half-game suspension and a growing bad reputation. Now Mel Kiper Jr. has weighed in, dropping Winston from third to 25 on his famous Big Board eight months before the next draft. As silly as it sounds, maybe this will get through to the kid whose quarterback skills are eclipsed by his talent for making wrong choices.”

If I were King of the World, here is an immediate change I would make for all sports telecasts:

    There would be no interviews with coaches just before the game or at halftime of the game. The penalty would be caning – probably 50 strokes would do the trick. The coaches clearly do not want to be interrupted from whatever zone they are trying to get themselves into; they never say anything even remotely interesting; the interviewer has to pretend to care about the pabulum answers. Stop this insanity and stop it immediately!

Now that the police, prosecutors and a Grand Jury have decided that Tony Stewart will not face any criminal charges in the events that led up to and resulted in the death of Kevin Ward about a month ago in a dirt-track race, it is time for the people screaming for Stewart to be boiled in oil to – how can I say this politely? – shut the Hell up. Unless one of them can prove conclusively in public that he/she is a mind reader, there is not much that any more theorizing or arm waving can accomplish here. I do not know if Stewart ran over the kid intentionally or because he lost control of his car after “trying to scare the kid”. More importantly, neither does anyone else except Tony Stewart. That includes all the Internet shriekers who have already convicted him of a half-dozen heinous crimes.

Remember the adage used by lawyers for public figures who have been indicted by a Grand Jury that it is easy to indict a ham sandwich. Well, this Grand Jury found it more difficult to indict Tony Stewart so the evidence before them had to be pretty thin. That means he is less likely to have committed a crime than a ham sandwich – even one with mustard and a pickle.

Finally, here is one more cogent observation from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the strange course of events for the NFL in this early part of the 2014 season:

“In passing: Remember when NFL officials thought the biggest distraction this season would be Michael Sam?”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………