Dysfunction In Cleveland…

Before I begin today, may I please air a pet peeve? Full disclosure, I am a shareholder – very minor – in the company that provides electricity to this part of the US. Now, notice the date today; we are in the middle of February; this is the 44th day of the year; it has been 50 days since Christmas. In our local area, there are still several homes where people still have their holiday decoration lights turned on every night. It is time for one of two things to happen:

    Take down the lights and the candy canes and wire frames holding lights in the shape of a reindeer.

    If some unusual happening forces you to delay said deconstruction, pull the plug on the lights.

Whenever you consider the 32 teams in the NFL on some scale or dimension, there must be a team at the top and the bottom of the list. Over the last decade or so, if I asked you to name the “Most Dysfunctional Franchise” in some kind of poll format, my guess is that three teams would be certain to garner lots of votes and wind up as the “Top Three” – albeit in this case the “Top Three” would really be the “Bottom Three”. In alphabetical order, those would be:

    Jacksonville Jaguars
    Oakland Raiders
    Washington Redskins

Yes, other teams would get votes too. Today, I am wondering if the Cleveland Browns are actively trying to crash this party and soar to the top of this list. No, I have no idea what might motivate them to do that; but when you look at events that have happened within and around the Browns’ organization since the end of their season, it makes me wonder…

    In no particular order, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had a long sit-down with head coach Mike Pettine and asked out of the last two years of his contract with the Browns. He did not resign nor was he fired; he convinced the organization to let him walk.

    Readers here know that I do not believe Kyle Shanahan is a budding offensive genius, but in this case the Browns replaced him with the guy who used to be the QB coach for the Raiders. Seriously. This is the guy whose tutelage produced the excellence we have come to associate with Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor.

    WR Josh Gordon may face a yearlong suspension for violation of the terms of his probationary status when he came off his last suspension involving substance abuse.

    QB-in-waiting Johnny Manziel entered rehab. Manziel’s publicist made the announcement and did not specify what malady this particular flavor of rehab sought to cure, but speculation has surrounded alcohol abuse given the myriad photos of him partying in alcohol-infused locales.

    Browns’ GM, Ray Farmer, found himself in NFL hot water allegedly for texting the Browns’ former QB coach on the sidelines during games. Even though I have said I have no idea why that might be against the rules, the allegation is that those text exchanges were about the quality of quarterback play and about personnel decisions. Question: Is that the reason Kyle Shanahan wanted out? Question: If the texts were about “quarterback play”, is that the reason Browns’ free agent QB, Brian Hoyer, seems cool to returning to the Browns?

    News reports have surfaced saying that Browns’ owner, Jimmy Haslem, meddles in the football side of the Browns’ operation. That may have been a good thing for the Browns back when Paul Brown was a part owner in the 1940s and 50s; Brown was a football coach and he knew a bit about football. Jimmy Haslem has none of the football-cred of Paul Brown. By the way, look at my list of “Top Three” dysfunctional teams above and note that two of them – the Raiders and the Skins – had “meddlesome owners” over much of the previous decade…

If Brian Hoyer were to choose to sign elsewhere as alluded to above, that would leave the Browns with Manziel and Connor Shaw at the QB position. In 4 games last year, Manziel demonstrated that if he has a lot of progress to make if he is ever to become a journeyman QB at the NFL level. Here is his stat line for 2014:

    18-45 for 185 yards 0 TDs and 2 INTs (for all or part of 4 games)

Shaw played one full game for the Browns last year and put up this stat line:

    14 – 28 for 177 yards 0 TDs and 1 INT

I mention those stats because of the reports that Hoyer wants to go elsewhere in free agency and that fuels rumors that the Browns might want to “trade up” to get Marcus Mariota in the draft. Normally, rumors of that kind are benign but the Browns have managed to put a sinister twist even on that rumor. Mariota has hired a trainer/training firm in San Diego to help him prep for the Combine and for team workouts after the Combine. His trainer is an employee of that firm but it is widely suspected that he is going to be hired by the Browns to be the QB coach for the Browns under the new offensive coordinator. This situation would allow the Browns to have contact with Mariota prior to the Combine when no other team is allowed to do so. As I said, even a harmless rumor can have a dark side this year if the Browns are involved.

By the way, even though I liked what I saw when I watched Marcus Mariota play last year, the practice of trading up to snatch a QB in the draft has not been a good strategy in recent years. Three instances come to mind – surely someone can find others if they want to expend the energy to do so – and none of the three recent instances has been a huge success for the team trading up:

    Jags traded up to draft Blaine Gabbert
    Ravens traded up to draft Kyle Boller
    Skins traded up to draft RG3

Oh yeah, the Browns traded up to get Manziel just last year too…

As things stand today, the Browns hold the #12 and the #19 picks in the 2015 Draft. That will not allow them to trade all the way up to #1 in the Draft to be sure of getting Mariota; it will take much more than that…

Finally, words of wisdom from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“A World Cup sailing race just ended in Miami. That reminds me. Officials of the 2016 Rio Olympics say the water to be used for sailing there is filled with raw sewage that cannot be cleaned in time. Question: ‘Do I really want a gold medal that badly?’ ”

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

RIP Jerry Tarkanian

Jerry Tarkanian died yesterday. During his time on the bench, I was convinced that he was a cheater and a slimeball. However, I did have to admire his defiant attitude and behavior with regard to the NCAA as an institution. On balance, though, I did not think highly of him. Nonetheless, I prefer not to rejoice in the passing of any person who is not a heinous human being – and Jerry Tarkanian was hardly in that category.

RIP, Jerry Tarkanian…

Speaking of basketball coaches, reports say that George Karl will take over as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings right after the All-Star break. Karl is a certified basketball lifer and he is a very good coach. He has turned sorry-assed franchises in to respectable franchises in the past; the man knows what he is doing. So this is a prime catch for the Kings, right?

Unfortunately, I have to answer that with “Maybe”. Consider:

    The Sacramento Kings franchise has been around since the dawn of the NBA – and even before that truth be told – residing in cities such as Rochester, Cincinnati, KC/Omaha, KC (by itself) and now Sacramento. This peripatetic franchise has won the NBA Championship exactly 1 time and that was in 1951. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, the Rochester Royals were winning the NBA championship about the same time that President Harry Truman was in the process of relieving General Douglass MacArthur of command in the midst of the Korean War. This franchise does not have a winning tradition.

    The current – and newly minted – owner of the Kings is an impatient man who believes that he has great professional basketball insights. It appears to me that he is a guy who will plant a crop of vegetables and then pull up each plant once a week just to be sure the roots are developing and then put it back in the soil. Months later, he will be surprised when his crop yield is below normal… In short, he seems to be what Danny Boy Snyder would be like if Danny Boy bought and NBA team.

Bonne chance, George Karl…

By now you must have heard about how the team that won the US Little League Championship last summer had that title vacated because they used ineligible players from districts that were not the same as the team playing in the tournament. Just a few comments:

    The kids did not do this; adults nominally in charge did this. Why not punish the adults in a way that does not punish these kids who went out and won games on the field?

    On the other hand, who is to say that the Chicago team would not have been eliminated several rounds earlier absent the “out-of-district ringers”?

    Once again, overzealous and less-than-honorable adults screwed up what ought to have been a wonderful experience for the kids on their team and for the opponents of that team. If I were to learn that those adults suffered some horrible setback in life, I do not think I would be moved to tears.

I have been a constant and vocal critic of the commercialism of the Little League World Series for more than a decade. I think Little League is a great thing; I played Little League baseball as a kid; the team from our district made it to the Little League World Series once back in the mid-50s (without any participation on my part to be sure). A childhood friend made the team that went to the Little League World Series that year; he passed away last year but he often spoke of that event as an important week of his life. The Little League World Series is a big deal and ought to be a big deal – FOR THE KIDS. The problem is that it has become far too big a deal for parents, coaches and television execs. Anyone who claims to be a concerned advocate for “exploited college athletes” needs to focus their attention on the Little League World Series if he/she wants to see what a young exploited athlete looks like.

One of the bedrock principles here in Curmudgeon Central is that just about any situation can be made worse if you just try a little bit. In that spirit, let me tell you how the folks who pay the money to televise the Little League World Series can go to the folks who nominally run the show and make it worse:

    ESPN offers the Little League mavens an extra “six-figure amount per year” if the powers that be arrange to put on a Little League Home Run Derby.

How horrific an idea is that? Do you doubt for a moment that the Little League mavens would turn down the scratch?

Moving from the idea of Little League where kids between the ages of 9 and 12 – unless your name is Danny Almonte – play baseball, I want to take a look at a semi-pro team in Japan called the Ishikawa Million Stars. This team just signed as a player-manager 56-year old Julio Franco. Yes, that Julio Franco. He is the guy who holds the record in MLB as the oldest player to hit a home run (he was 48 when he did that) and the oldest player to hit a grand slam (he was 47 when he did that). Franco’s career in MLB started in 1982 and ended in 2007.

The Million Stars play in a six-team league called the Baseball Challenge League. One of the players on the Million Stars is a 23-year old female knuckleball pitcher named Eri Yoshida. It is close, but she is about young enough to be Franco’s grand-daughter in addition to his teammate on the field…

Finally, an interesting rhetorical question from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Coral Springs High won the state title in competitive cheerleading. Question: Do cheerleading teams have cheerleaders?”

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

Sports And Politics Intersect Today…

I try not to inject politics into these rants for several reasons to include:

    I doubt anyone needs to hear my political views.

    I prefer to keep the comments here on a level of civil discourse.

    Pointing out the inane stuff in sports is more difficult than pointing out the inane stuff in politics.

Nevertheless, some of today’s items involve the collision of sports and politics and so you are going to hear a smidgen of my political views and I hope that any comments on this rant will reside in the realm of civility. Let me start with an item in President Obama’s Budget Proposal recently sent to the Congress. Not surprisingly, the Budget calls for expenditures and for changes in the tax structure to pay for those expenditures. Forget the macro-picture here, there is an item buried in the “tax reform section” that relates to sports and I like it a lot.

The proposed change – highly unlikely to be enacted sadly – would make it a lot more difficult for states and localities to build stadiums for professional teams and their owners. Without going into the details, most of the stadiums that have been built in the past 20 years or so would run afoul of the criteria set out by President Obama’s Budget Proposal to allow the issuance of tax-free municipal bonds as a way to pay for the stadiums. Of course I like this idea; it is half of something I suggested back in the late 1990s when stadium building threatened to reach epidemic proportions.

In addition, the proposal would tighten the loopholes that now exist which allow the Niners to build Levi Stadium pretty much on their own and operate it pretty much on their own and keep the revenue from all the events in the stadium pretty much on their own – but have the city listed as the actual owner of the stadium such that the Niners pay no local taxes on the real estate. How cozy is that?

Local governments need the concept of municipal bonds and their exemption from Federal Income Tax to fund local capital improvements. The tax-exempt feature allows small cities to raise money at low interest rates because bond holders keep all the interest they earn and do not have to pay a portion to Uncle Sam every April. Without that feature, interest rates for many small cities could double and their debt burden would become much more onerous.

Forget the stuff in the other 1500 pages of the latest Budget Proposal; I would not even pretend to have read it nor would I understand the implications of most of the items in there. This proposal is a good one; it ought to be enacted. The chances that it ever sees the light of day are minuscule…

You can read more about this subject here.

The other item involving sports and politics today originates in the Congress and so you may anticipate that I will hold it in low regard. And you would be correct in said anticipation… Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) reintroduced a bill to reimpose a Federal ban on wagering via the internet. Moreover, Sen Lindsay Graham (R-SC) indicated that he would introduce similar legislation in the Senate. Let me reset the stage here…

    About 4 years ago, the DoJ issued an opinion/finding (I am not sure of the proper legal term here) saying that the Wire Act of 1961 applies only to Internet wagering on sports and not on other forms of gambling. Chaffetz’ legislation would ban it all.

Anyone who has read these rants for more than a month or so has to realize that I support the idea of sports wagering and – even though I choose not to do things like play online poker – I support the idea that adults should make that choice for themselves. Yes, some people will abuse that privilege and be damaged by their gambling activities but that is not a reason to ban it for everyone. Think about it; some people abuse prescription drugs. Should we ban the use or even the possession of prescription drugs because a few idiots abuse them?

I have at least one other objection here. I doubt that this can be enforced. We have tried Prohibition; that did not work at all. We have had a “War on Drugs” for at least 40 years now and no one can possibly believe that drug usage and drug abuse has vanished from society. Gambling is in the same category; people are going to do it despite its “legality”. If you doubt that, you must also believe there are no local bookmakers in all of those state where local bookmaking is illegal. Wanna buy a bridge…?

Not surprisingly, there is big money behind this legislation and it comes from folks who have large financial interests in casino gambling. They are acting on enlightened self-interest and nothing more. Do not allow them to play the smoke-and-mirrors game with you by telling you that they are most interested in protecting the children from the evils of gambling which will necessarily be visited on them if you can do this over the Internet.

You can read about the proposed legislation here. I want you to note a rather large omission from the statements made by Rep Chaffetz and supporters regarding the proposed legislation.

They do not mention a ban on Internet participation in fantasy sports.

Just in case you wonder why they might not mention that and just in case you think it has not yet occurred to them, here is the reason:

    There are millions of sports fans who play fantasy sports and use the Internet as the vehicle for that activity. Fantasy sports is gambling. If politicians vote to ban fantasy football or fantasy baseball, they are going to suffer a backlash from a LARGE constituency. Hence, no mention of that here…

Finally, here is Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times putting two and two together…

“Q: What do the Seahawks and NBC anchor Brian Williams have in common?

“A: Both would’ve been better off staying on the ground.”

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

RIP Ed Sabol And Billy Casper

The sports world lost two more folks. Ed Sabol died at age 98. He was the person who had the idea that became NFL Films. Every fan of pro football has consumed what Ed Sabol created.

Billy Casper died at age 83. Casper was a major contender on the PGA tour in the 1960s and locked horns with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead. Despite that level of competition, Casper managed to win three PGA majors.

Rest in peace Ed Sabol and rest in peace Billy Casper…

People say that things “happen in threes”. Well, last night we had the third basketball coach in the past month to win his 1000th game. Greg Popovich joins Mike Krzyzewski and Herb Magee in reaching that milestone. Popovich got there in fewer seasons than the other guys largely because MBA teams play 82 games per season and college teams play 35 these days and used to play only about 25. Popovich does not get the credit that he deserves as a coach; some say he just “got lucky” in drafting both David Robinson and then Tim Duncan. Surely, that good fortune did not hurt his chances of winning games, but I think he has shown over the years that he is an outstanding coach.

By the same token, Greg Popovich seems to get a pass from reporters with regard to his surly and uncooperative in-game interviews. Let me be clear; I wish these things did not exist; none of them are particularly insight-producing. Nonetheless, they exist by contract. And in the context of that contractual obligation, Greg Popovich does exactly what Marshawn Lynch does; he turns the moment into a meaningless and annoying episode. Reporters jump all over Lynch; reporters are far less generous with their vitriol toward Popovich.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from a reader with the following paragraph:

“Also, perhaps some material for a future rant, the proliferation of suffixes on the names of professional sports figures recently. Coming first to mind is the Raven’s Steve Smith Sr., who needs some differentiation from the other Steve Smiths on the Raven’s roster. How about RGIII? Certainly there are exceptions, Ken Griffey Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., etc.”

Indeed, this proliferation can be a bit silly. I think the silliness meter began to move its needle to the right back when “Ochocinco” appeared on the back of a jersey and it continues to register today. Here is when you will know that this “trend” has gone round the bend:

    Our favorite player, Joe Flabeetz, decides that he needs for his jersey to read “Flabeetz I” in order to indicate clearly that his father had a different name than he does. When we get to that level of specificity and differentiation, we will know that it is time to find some other way to act silly.

Major League Soccer is facing a labor issue. The CBA with the MLS Players Union (MLSPU) has expired and the 2015 MLS season is scheduled to begin on 6 March. According to reports, the two sides are still far apart on issues and nowhere near a deal. It seems that the major sticking point in the negotiations is – – free agency. Like their counterparts in MLB, the NBA and the NFL, players in MLS want the ability to attain free agency. MLS asserts that free agency would escalate salaries at a pace that the league cannot accommodate. That does not sound like a pair of positions that can reach reconciliation between now and 6 March.

Of course, the two sides can agree to an interim deal of some kind that would allow the season to proceed but I would not expect to see any movement in that direction until very close to 6 March. Alternatively, we could also see the MLSPU go through the process of decertification – as the NFLPA did – and then file a suit against MLS under the anti-trust laws. It was a long time ago, but my recollection is that the NFL/NFLPA lawsuit that created free agency in the NFL took 3-5 years to wend its way through the legal processes to a resolution. That would indicate to me – and remember that I am not an attorney – that a similar legal action here would not be something that came to an end quickly.

Moreover, there is another “problem” here. MLS has grown nicely in the past 5-10 years; the league has stable franchises and television exposure. If an official of MLS had been in a coma since 2005 and woke up today, he/she would be pleased with the growth of the league and its general direction. Having said that, MLS is nowhere near what the NFL was in the 1980s and it is possible – not certain but possible – that indeed an anti-trust win by the players and full free agency might topple the league itself. That was never a real possibility for the NFL or for MLB when those entities faced similar challenges. This situation could be a bit dicier…

Rather than choosing litigation or playing under an interim agreement, the players can obviously choose to go on strike and just not play the 2015 season. We have seen that in the past in other sports. One “wildcard” in making such a decision is FIFA. When NFL or NBA or MLB players think about striking against their league, they do not have to consider what a world governing body might or might not do in response to a strike. Given the seemingly random nature of FIFA decisions, rulings and actions, players might want to tread carefully lest they somehow wind up with some kind of sanction from FIFA that would apply to their ability to play just about anywhere in the world.

For perspective here, the average MLS player makes $140K per year plus benefits. By comparison to other pro players in other team sports in the US, that is a low number; by comparison with top-shelf futbol players in Europe, that is a low number. The fact of the low number cuts two ways:

    Like their counterparts, these players are pro athletes and entertainers. Perhaps that average number should “move up a bit”…

    Unlike their counterparts, these athletes have not had the luxury of salting away large incomes over the past few years giving them a financial “pad” to absorb the shock of no income for a while.

Finally, Gregg Drinnan reacting to the news that Sports Illustrated had terminated all of its photographers and eliminated the photo department posted this in his blog, Keeping Score:

“How is it still Sports Illustrated if it has dumped all of its photographers?”

Good question; wish I had thought of it first…

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

RIP Dean Smith

Dean Smith passed away over the weekend at age 83. Dean Smith was a great basketball coach and from all reports a really good person. In the late 60s he offered Charlie Scott a scholarship at UNC making Scott the first Black scholarship basketball player in the ACC.

Rest in peace, Dean Smith…

On a happier note in college basketball, another coach reached the 1000-win milestone recently. Herb Magee and his team at Philadelphia University beat Post University 80-60 giving Magee 1000 wins for his career. Moreover, here is something Magee can claim that Mike Krzyzewski cannot:

    Magee has won all 1000 games at the same school – although it used to be known as Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science when he played there and then began his coaching career. Magee has been the coach there for the last 48 seasons.

A group of caddies has filed a class-action suit against the PGA. The suit asserts that the PGA makes the caddies wear bibs with sponsor logos on the bibs but the caddies do not get any share of the revenue generated from the sponsors. When I first read about this, my reaction was pretty close to indifference because I figured that the amount of money involved here could not be enough to make a difference to anyone. WRONG! The suit asserts that the PGA pulls in $50M for the “bib sponsor logos”. Seriously…

Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle regarding Tiger Woods’ most recent failure to finish a tournament:

“Tiger Woods. He withdrew with a bad back, explaining that a long wait in the fog caused his glutes to deactivate. First recorded case of foggy bottom. You know you’re in trouble when your ass goes south on you. Now can we declare a moratorium on discussion of any Tiger Woods body part below his waist?”

Personally, I wonder if this was a case of his glutes deactivating or a situation where he realized he was getting his glutes kicked…

One more golf item – Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this in his column over the weekend and it has all you need to know about the subject:

“Some facts require no punch line. Example: An LPGA golfer named Brooke Pancake just signed an endorsement deal with Waffle House.”

Three weeks ago, the NFL faced “Deflategate”; last week, the Falcons’ owner admitted that the team had pumped in extra crowd noise for home games; this week, the Browns are under the microscope because they allegedly were caught texting with the sidelines during games this season. Supposedly, the Browns’ GM, Ray Farmer, was texting with quarterbacks’ coach, Dowell Loggains, about the way the Browns’ quarterbacks were playing and various personnel decisions. Before you ask, I have no idea why there is a rule against that but evidently there is.

I read one account that said that Farmer might suffer a suspension for all of this and that the Browns could potentially lose a draft pick over this matter. I understand – and support completely – a ban on texting while driving. I have to say that I do not understand why a GM and one of the coaches on his team cannot text back and forth during a game. I am confident however that if Roger Goodell holds a news conference to explain why this is an issue, I will come away knowing nothing more than I do now about the basis for the rule.

Leave it to the folks at The Onion to take all of the NFL “scandals” and put them in perspective with a simple headline:

“Puppy Bowl overshadowed by league’s rampant heartworm-pill abuse”

Greg Cote had this item regarding the Miami Dolphins in the Miami Herald:

“The Dolphins’ renovated stadium will offer 16 four-seat “living rooms” with personal TVs and unlimited food and drink including liquor. Cost will be $1,500 per seat and up, or some $70,000 per season per “living room.” For that money, accoutrements had better include a playoff team.”

My family room – where my TV is located – can comfortably seat 4 people to watch a football game. My long-suffering wife is an excellent cook. I have a decent wine cellar and can procure any hard liquor anyone might want to consume. If 4 people paid me $6K to come over and watch a game here and we had to provide the food and drink, I think I might come out just a tad ahead at the end of the day. By the way, if they wanted to stay for a second game, I could still feed and water those folks and still show a profit. I cannot understand why anyone would want to pay $1500 to watch a game on TV.

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

A Hodgepodge Today…

I received an e-mail from a former colleague and long-term reader of these rants asking why he no longer received e-mail notifications for posted rants. I explained the demise of my old computer and the loss of that mail list and that he could easily “return” to the notification list now that I had his e-mail address once again. However, there was another portion of his note to me that was pertinent:

“Knowing that you do not keep abreast of happenings in the celebrity world, you might not yet know that Bruce Jenner is in the process of becoming a woman. It has been a while since he was an ‘athlete in the news’ but surely this announcement is worthy of curmudgeonly note.”

Actually, I did know about Jenner’s gender-alteration decision prior to receiving that e-mail. I had not commented specifically because it has been almost 40 years since Bruce Jenner was “sports-world relevant”; and to be blunt, I really do not care one way or the other if he lives his life as a man or a woman or a Klingon. However, note that he voluntarily married into the quartet of Kardashian women and has remained in that social status for about 20 years. With that fact established, how can anyone be surprised by any decision he might make?

Atlanta Falcons’ owner, Arthur Blank announced that the Falcons had piped in artificial crowd noise during Falcons’ home games over the past several seasons. The NFL had an ongoing investigation into this matter and Blank announced that he had received new information from an “internal source” confirming to him that the team had done this in violation of league rules. Blank said he would put a stop to it and that this is not the kind of thing he wants his team to be known for and that he will accept whatever punishment the NFL hands down in this matter. Good for him…

I cannot, however, allow that situation to pass without noting that the extra noise piped into the home stadium did not do the Falcons a whole lot of good in 2013 or 2014. Over those 2 seasons, the Falcons’ cumulative record was 10-22.

As you surely realize, I did not watch all of the pre-game hype for the Super Bowl game last Sunday and so I cannot be sure this did not happen. However, I did not see any mention of this during the two-week “game analysis-fest” leading up to Sunday, and so I wonder how this comparison escaped scrutiny:

    In the conference championship games leading up to the Super Bowl, both the Seahawks and the Patriots completed passes to offensive tackles who had declared themselves as eligible receivers. So how come no one “broke down the film” to determine which offensive tackle had the better skills as a pass receiver in a trick play scenario? It would seem to me that ESPN could have devoted an entire segment to the different footwork and stride lengths of these two guys – not to mention their hands. Call it a missed opportunity…

One more Super Bowl related comment… Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this to say about the game winning interception by the Patriots:

“Great escape: Amazing that Russell Wilson is receiving virtually zero blame for the Interception Heard Round the World. I’m not making him out to be the goat, but had his pass been lower and not so far in front of Ricardo Lockette, it’s less likely the ball would have been picked off. Some guys get – maybe earn – special treatment after they make a crucial mistake. Fair enough. But if Tony Romo had turned the ball over at the goal line like that in the Super Bowl, he’d be assuming a false identity and moving to Latvia.”

FIFA will hold an election later this year; Sepp Blatter’s term is due to expire. Blatter will run for re-election and there have been a couple of folks who have said they will run against him but no one seems to have taken seriously the possibility that FIFA will have new leadership any time soon. Nevertheless, a super-star from the world of soccer has recently announced that he too will seek the FIFA Presidency. Luis Figo played for the Portuguese National Team and was the FIFA Player of the Year in 2001. He is well known in the world of soccer.

Figo has made no secret regarding the reason he is running for the office. He believes the image of FIFA – and by extension the image of futbol – is tarnished by the myriad scandals that always seem to encircle the sport. He says the sport needs major change in governance and transparency and those changes can only come by way of a change in leadership.

While I tend to agree with Sr. Figo regarding the need for improved governance and transparency in FIFA, I suspect that he will remain another dark-horse in a race that is Blatter’s to lose. The election is in late May of this year. Given FIFA proclivities in the past, I wonder if the total votes cast will exceed the number of eligible voters…

During a home loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, three Toronto Maple Leaf’s fans took off their Leaf’s jerseys and threw them on the ice. They were arrested (charged with engaging in some prohibited activity that is not clear to me) and banned from the arena for a year. I guess I do not understand the basis for all of this.

The Maple Leafs have not been a championship level team in quite a while; their last Stanley Cup championship happened in 1967. Obviously, if these fans had Maple Leaf’s jerseys to throw on the ice, they were hardcore fans and as hardcore fans if they were still allowed to come to games, they would likely buy themselves a new Leaf’s jersey. Seems to me like a marketing opportunity missed…

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

NBA Stuff Today…

A few days ago, the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the second time this year. I happened to catch the last 20 minutes of this game and I want to be sure that everyone here understands two important things:

    The Sixers are a bad team.

    The Timberwolves are even worse. Over the course of 20 minutes I watched, the Wolves are a bad shooting team; a bad defensive team and a team that played with no energy/passion. That, folks, is a disastrous trifecta.

NBA Commish, Adam Silver, told ESPN the Magazine that he has spoken with the “other commissioners” about his stance on legalized sports betting and that the other commissioners were interested in his views. He said that each of the other leagues had folks studying the pros and cons of legalized wagering on sporting events in those sports and that those leagues will arrive at their own conclusions.

I have to assume that he shared with the “other leagues’ how the NBA is now a part owner of one of those online fantasy betting sites and how that might turn into a new and important revenue stream. The one sure way to get the attention of the commissioners in MLB, the NFL and the NHL would be to mention the phrase “new revenue stream”.

My position on legalized sports betting is obvious to anyone who has been reading these rants for more than a few months. I found it interesting that Adam Silver also told ESPN the Magazine that the NBA would be better “protected” against something like the “Tim Donaghy Situation” with legalized gambling because then the leagues would be involved in the protocols regarding how betting takes place. I certainly agree with him on that point. Here is another important point:

    People are going to gamble on sports. The passage of PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in the 1990s was ill-advised idealism that has not worked and never will work. The Congress needs to repeal it posthaste.

Kobe Bryant’s shoulder injury – the one requiring surgery that ended the 2015 season for Kobe – may have been a blessing in disguise for Bryant. Look, the Lakers are not any good with him on the floor and will be not any good with him off the floor. At the same time, Bryant has reached that state of his career where he has measurable level of energy left in his body and there is no pragmatic reason for him to expend another joule of that energy trying to make this current Lakers’ team anything other than miserable. I really wish that I could read the “thought-bubbles” running through Kobe Bryant’s mind as he sits back and watches this iteration of the LA Lakers try to play what has come to be known as “Laker basketball”. My guess is that the messages in those “thought-bubbles” would not be printable in a fine family newspaper…

The NCAA and CBS recently announced the broadcasting team for the Final Four this year. Jim Nantz will do the play-by-play and that should surprise exactly no one. However, Nantz will be joined by Bill Raftery and Grant Hill as the color commentators. That will be the first time for both of those guys on the national TV feed. Raftery has been doing college basketball games for CBS for more than 30 years how; Hill is a relative newcomer to the TV analysis business. I think this trio has the potential to be very good; we shall see if I am correct about seven weeks from now…

In other news involving the NCAA, two former athletes at UNC have filed a class-action or failure to provide the athletes with real academics and professional-grade instruction. In essence the suit says that UNC did what was necessary to keep these athletes eligible by NCAA standards without providing the athletes with a meaningful chance to receive a semblance of a college level education. As any long-term readers here know, I happen to believe that the scholarship an athlete receives is a significant opportunity for said athlete to set himself up in life just in case his pro sports dreams do not materialize. I tend to have little patience with athletes who squander that educational opportunity only to complain later. However, the assertions in this class-action suit are a bit different. These plaintiffs claim UNC gave them a scholarship but that their attendance at UNC did not give them an intersection with an opportunity to get a UNC-quality education. That is a markedly different circumstance from the knuckleheaded athlete who knows nothing of the inside of a classroom.

UNC will obviously defend this suit vigorously. I would suggest that the NCAA should do the same because if this suit is successful – and there could be a huge number of members of ”the class” – the verdict would strike at the heart of the NCAA’s contention that there is no reason to pay college athletes because they are students first and athletes only coincidentally. The stakes here are higher for UNC and for the NCAA than they are for the plaintiffs who have only a minimal risk in the matter.

It would seem to me that an important aspect of this case could be what UNC told the parents of the plaintiffs – who were likely minors at the time of their recruitment – regarding the educational aspects of the scholarship being offered to the prospective athletes. Of course, what the university “represented” as their educational value and what the parents might have heard could well have been two different things. Moreover, as time has passed and as the reality of the lack of a real pro sports career has materialized, it is very possible that the parents’ recollections may have had a different light on them.

The academic scandals at UNC are bad news for collegiate athletics everywhere. What I find as disconcerting as anything else about the whole thing is that there has been very little outrage expressed by the faculty at UNC regarding how some other faculty members participated in these academic shams. I would have thought that the stain on the academic reputation of UNC would be a bigger deal to the faculty at large there. I guess I was wrong. Maybe if UNC has to pay out a jillion dollars to these plaintiffs and all the members of their “class” and that outflow of dollars precludes faculty raises for a couple of years, the outrage will become more audible.

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

Kudos To Tom Brady

Now that my adrenaline levels regarding the super Bowl game have reverted to more normal levels, I must admit that I thought the game was over and that the Seahawks had the win in-hand early in the 4th quarter. With a ten point lead, they had just stopped the Pats and forced a punt; all they needed was a time consuming drive even if it came up dry to hold a two-score lead with only half a quarter to play. That was the drive where the Pats sacked Russell Wilson on third down to force a punt and from then on, it was Tom Brady who went into “Beast Mode”. The drive following that three-and-out stop by the Pats’ defense was eight plays and put the Pats only down 3 points with about 8 minutes left in the game.

Tom Brady is living proof that data and measurables only account for so much when it comes to measuring the potential of a prospective player. Recall please that Brady was not the #1 guy as the QB for the Michigan Wolverines. A guy named Drew Stanton who was a really good athlete and who played minor league baseball in the Yankees’ farm system was “The Guy”. Even at the combine, no one could possibly have been blown away with Brady’s speed, arm-strength or elusiveness. What Tom Brady has is “winning ability that arises from his approach to the game”. You can recognize that when you see it ex post facto; if any scout ever finds a way to detect it a priori, that scout will become the richest scout in NFL history by more than a mile.

Whether you love the Patriots or hate the Patriots, you should recognize that Tom Brady does not win games because of his immensely superior God-given physical skills. Tom Brady wins because:

    He prepares to win as thoroughly as any other great QB in the game today and perhaps just a smidgen better on some weekends.

    He commands a winning posture for himself on the field and that posture somehow becomes contagious within the offensive huddle. There is no ‘chemical formula” for what is going on here; nonetheless it surely seems to work and to be reproducible.

    He surely acts/behaves on the field as if he is smarter than most of his opponents. I have no idea if the Wonderlic test would coincide with that observation but it would only magnify my skepticism about the value of the Wonderlic test should the test not confirm what I observe every season.

Early this year, lots of folks thought Tom Brady was washed up and that his career was over. The last half of the 2014 season – and Sunday’s Super Bowl game – pretty much put that thinking to rest. I have no idea how much longer Tom Brady can play QB in the NFL; but barring a catastrophic injury, he will be back next year and he will be very successful next year.

At about the other end of the quarterbacking spectrum from Tom Brady and a few elite others, there is news regarding Johnny Manziel. Manziel’s publicist let it be known that Manziel would be entering rehab to learn how to become “a better family member, teammate and friend.” Personally, I think this could be the shortest rehab stint in recorded history if Manziel were ready to hear and act upon this simple and direct statement of his life objective:

    Stop being such a gigantamous [rhymes with “glass bowl”]

Seriously, Manziel’s behaviors from the end of his college career until the end of his rookie year in the NFL demonstrated that he was grossly immature, horribly under-prepared to be a starting QB in the NFL and severely lacking in self-awareness. Other than that, he showed the typical maturity of a 15-year old. Rehab works for some folks. I had a former colleague who was an alcoholic by any yardstick you might choose to apply. He went through rehab (AA was his “preferred provider”) and spent the final 20 years of his career completely sober and solidly proficient in his field. Rehab worked for him because he was committed to the objectives that rehab sought for him. My suspicion is that Johnny Manziel can too come out of a highly successful rehab session if he to makes himself committed to the objectives that rehab has for him.

Along that line, what I would want to know is how his entry to rehab came about. Was this his idea? That would be a very positive indicator… Was this his family’s idea? That would be a positive indicator – but not necessarily nearly as positive as if he made this decision on his own. Was this done at the urging/suggestion of his PR folks or other “handlers”? If so, this rehab will only come out as a long-term positive experience as a result of pure luck.

I am not going to pretend to know how this rehab idea and rehab event came about. Since I have no reason to wish for evil and/or failure to befall Johnny Manziel unless failure comes from his performance on a football field against NFL opponents, I hope this works. However, it should be clear from the tone here that I have my doubts…

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that people bet almost $116M on the Super Bowl game in Nevada casinos and that the sportsbooks won a total of $3.2M on that handle. Look, a net win is a whole lot better than a net loss, but a win percentage of 2.8% is a small one for the sportsbooks here.

One other observation from the Super Bowl game if I may. The officials did not affect the outcome of the game nor did they insert themselves into the game in such a way that the average viewer came to recognize any of the officials. That last sentence, may sound like damning by faint praise, but I do not mean it that way at all. I think the officials did a very good job in the game by maintaining order – until the final moments when glandular thinking took over on the field – and they did so without making their penalty calls a focal point for the game.

Previous crews of officials in playoff games this year had not draped themselves in glory. I thought the crew here did a very good job.

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

Super Bowl Analysis

I have just returned from a wonderful Super Bowl party hosted by the same person who handles all of the logistics for our annual Autumnal Pilgrimage to Las Vegas. He has done this many times in the past; it is always a fun gathering; this year it was a fun gathering plus a great football game – until the final minute.

Let me be clear; I had no emotional, financial or psychological investment in the outcome. In such situations, the thing that I want from the Super Bowl – or any other game is for the game to be competitive where the outcome is in doubt until the latest stages of the game. The game between the Patriots and the Seahawks provided that level of drama down to the end and so I would normally have been thrilled by the game.

However, the events of the final minute of the game tarnished the entire experience for me because one of the tacit conditions that underlies my hope for what I consider a “great game” is that the outcome is decided by players on the field playing the game at the highest level of competence that they can. That is not what happened here.

    First, the catch by Jermaine Kearse to set up the ultimate drama was nothing but pure luck. There have been equally lucky pass receptions late in Super Bowl games in the past that have given me a sense that the “better team” did not win but the “luckier team” did. I expected the same thing to happen in this game with less than a minute to play.

    Second, the call for a pass play with three shots at the goal line – to win the game – from the 1-yardline was THE dumbest play call in the history of the Super Bowl.

      Cris Colinsworth said that he would never understand that play call. Colinsworth has to be a bit diplomatic in his pronouncements given his position as the analyst for NBC prime time NFL games. He cannot come out and say explicitly that Pete Carroll and the offensive coaches of the Seahawks came up dumber than soup when they sent that play in from the sidelines. I have no such motivation to protect a self-interest because I have exactly no self-interest associated with that game.

    Third, after the abjectly stupid call that led to the interception at the goal line, the Pats did not have enough room simply to kneel down in victory formation to end the game. They had to run a play and by running a play they too could have done something fatally flawed. Nonetheless, the Seahawks’ defense then proceeded to do the single thing that could give the Patriots the ability to kneel down and run the clock out. They jumped offside. I cannot hang that blockheadedness on the coaches without assuming that the coaches did not emphasize to the players during the change of possession how devastating such a penalty might be.

What was a great game for about 59 minutes was polluted first by coaching stupidity and secondly by players reacting to their glandular signals instead of their cranial signals. For someone with no investment in the outcome, that was a horrible way to end a great game.

Here is a paraphrase of something I said to the assembled folks watching the game at our party:

    Pete Carroll – as the head coach – bears the responsibility for the boneheaded pass call at the goal line even if he did not make it. He would have been crowned as a genius had it worked and no one would have asked him if he also called the purely lucky catch that set up that attempt for a TD. With that in mind – whether or not that is a righteous measuring stick – that call was so stupid that even if Pete Carroll wins 4 Super Bowls, he should not be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. I do not know if there is enough coaching “soap” in Seattle to wash away that stain.

A couple of other things from the game:

    The NFL made sure that all of the footballs in the game were properly inflated. [Kudos to the NFL for not listing the psi readings for every ball to be used in the game to demonstrate their compliance with the rules. It is not impossible for that thought to have come up sometime during the past week.] With properly inflated footballs, Tom Brady and the Pats’ receivers did sufficiently well to score 28 points on the Seattle defense that had been holding opponents to less than half of that total over the past 6 or 7 games. The stat sheet says Brady was 37-50 (74%) for 328 yards and 4 TDs and 2 INTs.

    The Pats lost the “turnover battle” 2-0 and still won the game. That tends not to be the way Super Bowl games come out.

    For everyone who KNOWS FOR SURE that the only reason the Patriots won all those Super Bowls a decade ago is because they used Spygate cheating techniques, you are officially precluded from any more in depth analysis of football matters as of today.

Lots of folks will make tons of comments about the ads on the Super Bowl this year. I found most of them to be “ho-hum” but there was one ad that hit a Bad Ads Exacta. A Bad Ad can be tasteless and a Bad Ad can be stupid; then there are ads that hit this exacta with ease. In case you missed it, go and Google for yourself the Loctite Glue ad from yesterday’s Super Bowl. The group that thought up this spot and the people at the client who agreed to it and then paid the millions of dollars needed to produce it and air it during the game should be taken out and flogged.

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