I Am Not “Deeply Troubled” Today…

First of all, Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all – particularly the family contingent currently residing in Dublin, Ireland.

Second, congratulations to Michigan and Holy Cross as they won their “play-in” games to join the round of 64. If you are drawn to Cinderella stories, consider Holy Cross who is in the tournament with a sub-.500 record and who will need to make it to the Final Four to get their record up to .500. The first obstacle in the Crusaders’ way is #1 seed Oregon tomorrow…

Now, there was a disheartening report yesterday regarding Arnold Palmer. It seems that he will indeed be attending the Masters next month meaning he has been at Augusta National for the tournament every year since 1954. Palmer cited a shoulder injury that will prevent him from joining Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in the opening tee shot ceremony. I know there have been a bunch of golf tournaments already in 2016 but the fact is that the Golf Season really begins with The Masters. Palmer is 86 years old; there is a sort of majesty associated with the three great golfers walking to the first tee and hitting drives down the fairway to start the tournament and the season. This year, it will only be two-thirds as majestic as it was last year. Here’s hoping Palmer’s shoulder injury will heal sufficiently to let him join his colleagues on the first tee in 2017.

Back in the days of the NFL Combine, there was a report that one of the members of the coaching staff of the Atlanta Falcons asked one of the players there in an interview if the player was gay – or some question to that effect. The team disavowed the question and the player did not get himself into high dudgeon and the story went away. Personally, I filed it in the corner of my brain where I keep examples of people saying stupid things.

    [Aside: In the past, I had opportunities to give presentations to people with regard to my professional endeavors. At the end, I would invite questions by saying, “There are no stupid questions; there are only stupid answers. Ask what you want…”

    Based on the report of this interview, I may have to amend the premise of my invitation. There may, in fact, be stupid questions…]

In any event, the story went away … until yesterday. It seems that the Attorney General of New York – remember, the coach works for the Atlanta Falcons and the question was asked in Indianapolis – announced that he was “deeply troubled” by the incident and that he was going to ask some questions of his own. Please note, that the NFL Combine closed its doors on 29 February; it is more than two weeks since the stupid question was asked, answered, announced and forgotten. Personally, I think that is a significant measure of the “depth” of the troublesome feelings that the Attorney General may or may not have on this subject.

Look, I understand the impropriety and the illegality of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. If you read the two previous paragraphs, it should be clear that I do not think the assistant coach was in the right by asking what he did. Nonetheless, this smacks of a grandstand play of the highest order by the Attorney General.

As a result of his ”deeply troubled” state, he has asked the NFL to examine its hiring practices and cites as the basis for his intervention in the matter the fact that the NFL Headquarters is at 345 Park Ave in Manhattan. I will leave it to the lawyers who read these rants to explain the reasoning that is asserted there because I think it is a stretch worthy of Reed Richards of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four.

Imagine for a moment that the Jacksonville Jaguars fired a game-day parking lot attendant and that the attendant claimed that the basis for his termination was his sexual orientation. Would that be something sufficiently “deeply troubling” to the Attorney General of New York to get involved in some sort of dialog with the suits on NFL’s Mahogany Row about the league’s hiring practices? If so, the Attorney General of New York must simultaneously be able to assert that serious criminal wrongdoings have been rendered extinct in the State of New York and that is why he is inserting himself into such a matter.

Roger Goodell has shot himself in the foot – and perhaps in even more sensitive portions of his anatomy – with his handling of investigations into alleged misdeeds by players and coaches and equipment managers and etc. Despite his singular ineptitude in that arena over the past several years, he is not responsible nor should he be accountable for the stupidity of each and every person who is employed by the NFL. Similarly, the Attorney General of New York should not be held accountable for every mistake or blunder committed by someone working in that orbit of the State Government. If a mass murderer goes free because someone mishandled the critical evidence that would have put the mass murderer in jail forever-and-a-day, that is not the fault of the Attorney General and he should not be responsible for that result.

What the assistant coach did was inexcusable; it may in fact be illegal. But it did not happen in New York; the coach’s immediate employer is not in New York; the player who received the question is not a resident of New York. If the Attorney General is genuinely “deeply troubled”, I can see him contacting his counterparts in Indiana or Georgia or possibly a US Attorney in one of those areas since there may be Federal laws that apply here. Those contacts and expressions of his “deeply troubled” state of mind can easily and effectively be done quietly and privately. As opposed to…

Since I mentioned the Combine and the concept of being “deeply troubled” above, I want to make an observation about some of the hyperventilating coverage that event draws. Every year, there is a report – or multiple reports – where the writer cites a conversation with an unnamed “NFL scout” or “NFL personnel people” who the writer says were “deeply troubled” by the 40-yard dash time registered by some offensive or defensive lineman. Every time I read such a report, I wonder what the problem might be. Perhaps, the “NFL scout” in question here harbored some idea that his team might draft this lineman and use him also as a kick returner – but the slow time in the 40 would mean the special teams coach would not go along with that.

The NFL Combine is an unending source of irrelevant stories; it ranks second in NFL events in that category right behind Super Bowl Media Day. Sadly, this year’s Combine provided a story that lingers two weeks after the event – as if we did not have enough while it was ongoing.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding another sports story of minimal lasting importance:

“Nebraska hosted its first beach volleyball game. The World-Herald assigned its beach volleyball expert. It’s a guy who’s seen the movie ‘Blue Lagoon’ nine times.”

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

Law And Order…

Before launching into today’s rant, let me offer a welcome to Wichita St and Florida Gulf Coast as they make it into the Field of 64 for March Madness. The bar for success for these teams has been set rather high. VCU was a play-in winner and made it to the Final Four. Good luck to both schools…

Reports yesterday said that the NFL and the NFLPA were talking about changing the role of Roger Goodell when it comes to discipline. Goodell has said that he would welcome changes there and according to reports yesterday there may be some movement toward that end. Obviously, that has engendered discussion and I think this is an opportunity to stand back and look at this issue broadly.

Tony Kornheiser – with whom I agree more often than I disagree – said on Pardon the Interruption yesterday that “disciplinary functions” were part and parcel of being “Commissioner”. I think that was the case in the past but that it is no longer the case. The whole concept of a “Commissioner” came out of the Black Sox Scandal in 1919 and gave MLB Judge Landis as the “Overlord of the Sport”. In the early 1920s, that was probably a good idea because it was a necessary idea. Baseball was in a situation where the viability of the enterprise itself was in jeopardy; the sport – which was a business then just as much as it is a business today – needed a no-nonsense figure in charge of its rectitude. Judge Landis was then in a very different situation than Roger Goodell is today – or Rob Manfred or Adam Silver, or Gary Bettman is.

I believe the disciplinary function today needs to be seen as a two-part problem. Back in September 2014, I wrote that Roger Goodell was in a very difficult situation as the NFL’s de facto disciplinarian. Now that there is potentially serious consideration being given to making a change there, let me offer some broader perspective on the subject.

I will use Roger Goodell as my example here but I think that everything I suggest with regard to the NFL and the NFLPA would translate for the most part to the other sports. First, I would separate “Disciplinary Situations” into three categories:

    Discipline Category #1 – Existential Threats to the Sport: For this category, the Commissioner has to be the one to make the call. If a player or coach is found to be gambling on games that he participates in, that person has to be banned from the sport permanently; that has to be the Commissioner’s call. If an owner is found to be tampering with players on other teams, that owner needs to be disciplined; that has to be the Commissioner’s call – even though it means he will have to discipline one of his employers.

      Shades of Grey: What about a situation where someone does something that could well damage the sport – say reduce revenues by 30% – but would not “kill the sport”? I recognize there is a lot of wiggle-room here but I would tend to put this sort of necessary disciplinary judgment in the hands of the Commissioner also.

    Discipline Category #2 – On-field/In-game Discipline: For this category, I think the current system works satisfactorily because there have been a priori negotiations to frame the scope of the punishments handed down. However, if the idea is to look at the problem from afar to design a better mousetrap, “satisfactorily” is not good enough. Moreover, the current system which allows and justifies the situation whereby Roger Goodell hands down the disciplinary decision and then he is the unilateral arbiter of any appeal filed on behalf of the offending party is beyond tolerable. As I suggested back in September 2014, these decisions should be handed down by a small entity set up and funded jointly by the NFL and the NFLPA. That entity would not be “beholden” to either side; the people in charge would have to be acceptable to both sides; with nothing else to do, that entity can gather information and hand down decisions efficiently – and hopefully effectively too.

    Discipline Category #3 – Violations of Law/Anti-social behaviors: This is where it gets sticky… Let me use the infamous “Ray Rice Incident” as an example here. What Ray Rice did was inexcusably wrong under any circumstance short of self-defense where he was in fear for his life. I have no interest in “re-litigating” that event. However, what he did was not an “existential threat” to the NFL nor was it any sort of action that had any effect on the field of play. The judicial system of the United States is the place for punishment/exoneration to be determined and not the NFL or the NFLPA. The problem here is that such behavior does generate a negative image for the league and that does – potentially – affect the bottom line. Ergo… I would put this category in the basket of responsibilities of my suggested neutral entity – although I am sure that any people who might work there in the future would probably wish it were somewhere else.

So, how might disciplinary matters be handled in the future? Consider the sorts of common “infractions” and where they fall in my categories:

    Failing a PED test: That is Category #2. Players who use drugs previously determined to be PEDs are affecting on-field games. That means the Commissioner does not make the call here.

    Failing a “recreational drug” test: That is Category #3. Unless the failed drug test was administered – and analyzed – five minutes before kickoff of a game, this is a matter for law enforcement and not the league or the union. It does not affect the game on the field.

    After-the-fact “personal fouls”: That is Category #2. When the Commissioner fines a player $25,000 for a blow to the head – or in the case of Vontaze Burfict also adds a suspension on top of that – that should be handled by the neutral entity.

    DUI/Domestic violence/etc.: These are clearly Category #3. The challenge here is for the neutral entity to find ways to bring these matters to closure in a time-frame that is shorter than the one typically found in the judicial process. Whether or not one agrees with the lengthy suspension for Adrian Peterson, it would not have been a “good look” for the league to have him on the field for an entire season while the legal process made its way through the legal system. As I said above, this category can get very sticky and it will require serious negotiation by both the NFL and the NFLPA to come up with boundary conditions within which the neutral entity can operate in situations such as these.

The Framers of the US Constitution as a whole constituted a body of men with a degree of wisdom and foresight that would certainly be the equal of any group assembled to negotiate these changes. I mention that because even the Framers of the US Constitution recognized the need to be able to adapt to change in the future and included the mechanism to amend the Constitution. Likewise, if the NFL and the NFLPA come up with some version of what I call the “neutral entity” here, they also need to create ways to amend what it does and how it does the job. Since CBAs tend to be 5 years or more in duration, it is insufficient to say that the changes will come as part of those periodic negotiations. My suggestion would be for the three parties – the NFL, the NFLPA and the “neutral entity” to meet annually to consider changes in the processes and that any of the three parties should be free to offer suggested changes at such convocations.

Before I wrap up today, let me mention some significant discipline problems that are ongoing in another sport – tennis. It was not all that long ago when police in Europe charged gamblers with fixing tennis matches; one of the pros said proximal to the Australian Open that he had once been offered a hundred thousand dollars to tank a match; more recently, Maria Sharapova failed a drug test – for a PED – and said that what she was taking was under a doctor’s prescription and that she had been taking it for about the last 10 years.

    [Aside: If she had been taking it for 10 years before she failed a drug test, may I suggest that the tennis mavens change either the “randomness” of their sampling or the testing lab they employ…]

These incidents are “existential threats” to the sport. If tennis were anything more than a niche sport in the US, this would be a big deal as sponsors reacted to the barrage of bad news. This is not such a big deal in the news cycle simply because most people do not care enough about tennis at this time to do more than shrug their shoulders and turn the page to something more interesting to them.

The message for leagues, players and unions that represent players is that the bigger the sport gets economically, the more stringent the disciplinary boundaries need be drawn and the more severe the penalties for going over the boundary lines. The reason is simple; there is more at stake. If the NFL and the NFLPA find a way to break the logjam here and come up with some significantly different ways to investigate infractions and hand down discipline, it could be the model for every other major sport.

Finally, since I have been talking about the NFL and “disciplinary matters” today, here is an item from Gregg Drinnan recently in his blog, Keeping Score:

“The Cleveland Browns released quarterback Johnny Manziel last week, after just two seasons. Still, Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer won’t refer to Manziel as the Edsel of NFL draft picks. As Shaw points out: ‘Let’s be fair. The Edsel lasted three years.’”

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

The NCAA Tournament And Names In The News

The 68-team field for the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is fixed. All that remains is to play the games – well, and for me to have my annual fun with the names of players participating in the tournament and the team mascots too. So, before we get started on that, let me get a few other peripheral notes out of the way:

    No team was snubbed by the Committee. Selection here is an art and not a science; therefore, there is no way to show that Team A (the one that got in) was unassailably less qualified for the Tournament than Team B (the nominal “snubee”)

    Seeding really does not matter all that much. If a team is going to win it all, it needs to win 6 straight games against whomever shows up as the opponent at tip-off time.

    Location does matter. The Committee needs to try to assure that teams do not play de facto home games in the Tournament and therefore have to ship some teams out to distant venues. Hey, if that is such a huge burden, all the team that has been “exiled” has to do is turn town the invitation. No one is forcing them to participate…

The NCAA likes to beat fans over the head with the message that NCAA student-athletes do so with no real hope of becoming professionals in their sport. The ads they run show lots of perky youngsters saying that they are “going pro” except they mean “in life” and not “in sports”. For the gymnastic teams and the badminton teams, I can buy that; for the “revenue sports”, not so much… Nevertheless, here are some players in this year’s Tournament whose name might indicate their focus in life and hence their major as the move toward graduation:

    Ron Baker, Sr. Wichita State – – Food Science
    Jabari Bird, Jr. Cal – – Ornithology of course
    Jalen Bond, Sr. Temple – – Finance
    Bennie Boatwright, Fr. USC – – Mechanical Engineering
    Alex Caruso, Sr. Texas A&M – – Music
    Lawrence Cooks Jr. Hampton – – he can open a restaurant with Ron Baker
    A.J. English, Sr. Iona – – nah, too easy
    Eric Green, Sr. Holy Cross – – Sports Management – golf
    Makai Mason So. Yale – – Structural Engineering
    Deondre Parks, Sr. South Dakota St. – – Agronomy
    Craig Ponder Sr. UNC-Wilmington – – Philosophy
    Ikenna Smart Fr. Buffalo – – he can major in anything he wants and be successful
    Diamond Stone, Fr. Maryland – – Geology
    Thomas Walkup Sr. Stephen F. Austin – – Real Estate Management
    Roger Woods, Sr. Arkansas-Little Rock – – Forestry

The Selection Committee gave us a Maryland/South Dakota St. game in the Round of 64. The mascots here are pretty close to matching the tortoise and the hare. The Selection Committee probably would have found a way to pair South Dakota University – if they were Tournament qualified – with Cal St. Bakersfield. That game would have been the Roadrunners versus the Coyotes…

We have several players with numbers following their names:

    Joel Berry II, So, UNC
    Gary Payton II, S. Oregon St.
    Frank Mason III, Jr. Kansas
    Wade Baldwin IV, So. Vandy

Surely many of the players with no numerical description after their names could rightly be considered “Joe Flabeetz I”. So all we needed was a “Sam Glotz V” to get a numerical lineup for the All-Tournament Numerical Suffix Starting Five…

Oh, and the All-Tournament Numerical Suffix Team should also include Edward Joyner, Jr. (Hampton) as its honorary coach.

Allow me to pause here to insert a comment on college basketball from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“North Carolina coach Roy Williams is fine after fainting during a game. Apparently, he passed out after hearing a Kentucky player planned to return for his sophomore season.”

The Tournament could name an All-Presidential Team:

    Jalen Adams, Fr. UConn
    Brice Johnson, Sr. UNC
    Shaquille Harrison, Sr. Tulsa
    Nigel Hayes, Jr. Wisconsin
    Justin Jackson, So. UNC

Oh, and do not forget that Austin Peay – the 16-seed in the South Bracket – is called The Governors. Governors like to try to become Presidents so maybe the All Presidential Team should get their awards on the campus of Austin Peay. Just a thought…

The Selection Committee gave us one game between Cats and Dogs in the first round. Villanova (Wildcats) take on UNC-Asheville (Bulldog)s in the South bracket.

It will not be easy for Seton Hall to play Hampton in the Midwest bracket. However, if they do meet, it will be the Pirates versus the Pirates – – Blackbeard versus Captain Kidd.

In the Midwest bracket, we could also see Texas Tech play Middle Tennessee. That would pit the Red Raiders against the Blue Raiders.

Stephen F. Austin starts both Trey Pinkney and Demetrious Floyd. Pinkney and Floyd. Hmmm.. Wonder if they ever thought of using Comfortably Numb as the background music for their practices?

Perhaps if Middle Tennessee does well, their coach might be hired on at a bigger school such as TCU. If that were to happen Kermit Davis would be coaching the Horned Frogs. How appropriate is that?

Iowa meets Temple in the first round in the South. Iowa’s coach is Fran McCaffrey; Temple’s coach is Fran Dunphy. Too bad the game is in Brooklyn and not in San Francisco.

Since the winner of too many office bracket pools is someone who would not know a basketball from quart of pus, here is a suggestion from Brad Dickson (Omaha World-Herald if you had forgotten) as a way to identify such people from the outset:

“Companies should keep Louisville in their NCAA tournament office brackets to weed out people who couldn’t identify a photo of a basketball but usually still win.”

Players who do very well in the tournament need to recognize that they might be putting themselves at risk by doing so. Think about it; the Philadelphia 76ers will have a high draft pick in this year’s NBA draft. Someone just might “play his way into Philly” with some outstanding play over the next few weeks. I shall consider the players properly and thoroughly briefed on this matter…

Look at the Midwest bracket that the Committee put together. It is just a tad overloaded with Bulldogs; Fresno State, Gonzaga and Butler are all among the low-seeds on that side of the bracket. Do you think that the NCAA is trying to get some sort of sponsor relationship started with the Westminster Dog Show?

Look at the West bracket that the Committee put together. This is the “Natural Rivalry” bracket with:

    Oregon and Oregon State
    Texas and Texas A&M and Baylor
    Texas and VCU (The Shaka Smart Confrontation)
    Duke and UNC-Wilmington
    Texas and Oklahoma
    Virginia and Hampton.

If the Committee had chosen Harvard as a second Ivy League school, I am pretty sure they would have been in the West bracket along with Yale.

In the South bracket, a game between Temple and South Dakota State would be a predator/prey game between Owls and Jackrabbits. In the same bracket, a game between Wichita St and Buffalo might be dubbed the Grain Bowl; Wichita St are the Shockers; Buffalo is coached by Nate Oats.

In the East bracket it is interesting to note that Stephen F. Austin (the Lumberjacks) is coached by Brad Underwood. Seems appropriate… Stony Brook is in the tournament for the first time. They are the Seawolves which is a bit confusing because wolves are not sea creatures. Once familiar with the tournament, perhaps Stony Brook will be back some day with a less confusing mascot.

The Selection Committee will swear that they make their decisions purely on the merits of the teams involved and are not influenced by outside factors – – such as TV ratings. Maybe so … However, consider the potential 2nd round matchups they put together:

    Kentucky could play Indiana – no rivalry history there
    Villanova could play Temple – two Big 5 teams from Philly
    Texas could play Texas A&M – no rivalry there.

In the East, the early round game to watch is West Virginia versus Stephen F. Austin. The Mountaineers might just go on to play in the East Regional final game; the Mountaineers might just lose this first round game to the #14 seed in the East.

In the South, the early round game to watch is Cal versus Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors have no household names in their starting lineup but they do have experience. They start 3 juniors and 2 seniors – not a commonplace lineup these days. That experience might propel Hawaii as the #13 seed in the South into the second round.

    [Aside: Riddle me this… Hawaii is ineligible for next year’s Tournament based on a ruling by the NCAA as reported here. All of the violations occurred in the past so some Hawaii players will pay a price for actions that none of them had anything to do with. Not cool under any circumstances, but why impose the sanctions next year and allow this year’s team to play?]

In the Midwest, the game I want to see will be down the road a bit. In each of the last two seasons, Michigan State eliminated Virginia from the tournament. This year they are the #1 and the #2 seeds in this bracket. That would be an interesting re-rematch.

In the West, there are two low-seeded teams that could be problematic opponents in the early rounds. VCU (#10 seed) and Northern Iowa (#11 seed) could both advance and both have plenty of upperclassmen in their lineups.

It would take both teams making it to the Final Four to see Xavier play Virginia. If that happens Myles Davis would be playing for Xavier and Tony Bennett would be coaching Virginia. That would be easy listening…

Of course, if you have a nostalgic streak you can root for Yale (#12 seed) here. The last time they were in the NCAA Tournament, John Kennedy was President, the Beatles had not yet come to the US and Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game against the Knicks. Or, you could root for Holy Cross (#16 seed if they win the “play-in” game) as the school that gave basketball Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn and Togo Palazzi.

Did someone ask for a Final Four prediction? Really, you expect me to do something that serious in a rant filled with basic nonsense? Well, if you insist:

    Kentucky/Kansas/Michigan State/Oklahoma

If you prefer something more akin to longshots:

    West Virginia/Miami/Dayton/Baylor

If you love the ACC:

    UNC/Miami/Virginia/Duke (and it would be an added “touch” if Miami were the team to eliminate Maryland)

If you are a fan of Catholic colleges:

    Notre Dame (or Providence)/Villanova/Gonzaga/St. Joe’s

Enough silliness for today – and for the year to be sure. The games start tonight and although none of the four “play-in” games are particularly compelling, they serve an important function. Think about the last time you dined at a fine and upscale French restaurant. After you sat down and got the menus and placed your cocktail order, the chef sent out an amuse-bouche. That is the name of that small complementary appetizer that is provided just to get wake up your taste buds and get your gastric juices flowing as you begin to peruse the main menu. The 4 “play-in” games are the amuse-bouche for the Tournament to come.

Finally, I want to thank CBS for their 2-hour program on the Bracket Selections. That’s right; I want to thank them. They provided a needed public service and they have not gotten credit for it. We had lost an hour’s sleep on Saturday night due to Daylight Saving Time and CBS gave me back that hour right away with their programming. Here is tip of the hat to CBS…

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

Special Weekend Rant…

No, I did not set my calendar ahead a day instead of setting my clock ahead an hour last night. This is a weekend rant simply because I know that I will not have any time to write one if I wait until tomorrow. So, on with the show…

Sports fans ought to be gearing themselves up for the single best sporting event of the year. As of tonight, we will know the teams and the seedings for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament; frankly, as much as I believe that the NCAA is a feckless and useless organization, I do believe that they put on the best sporting event of the year and perhaps for that reason alone should be allowed to continue to pollute the sporting world. What makes March Madness great is its finality. There will be 67 games; one team in each game will end its season with a loss; one team will win the tournament.

It is that finality which – unfortunately – seems to help to diminish the college basketball regular season. There are more than 300 teams that play Division 1 college basketball; they play multiple thousands of games and only a minuscule fraction of them have anything remotely similar to “finality”. Far too many of the regular season college basketball games are:

    Occurrences rather than events

    Games in which the outcome has only marginal meaning – and –

    On television.

On a typical weekend in the DC area, it would not be unusual to find 2 or 3 dozen college basketball games available on the various cable channels – and that does not even begin to count the reruns of those games multiple times on some of the channels. Now hear this:

    From around Thanksgiving time until the start of the conference tournaments (I am being generous here.) there is not a single week – let alone a weekend – where there are 2-3 dozen college basketball games that are significant.

    The humongous over-exposure of college basketball on TV is hurting the game as much – if not more – than anything else.

Believe me; I understand the economic driving forces that put so many games on TV. I also recognize that interest in the regular season games as a whole is significantly diminished from the days when there were only two or three “national games” on TV over a weekend. I doubt that network execs, athletic directors and broadcasters would want to acknowledge it but there is an application of the Economic Law of Supply and Demand at work here:

    The current demand for college basketball on TV is pretty much saturated.

    The current supply of TV games is more than the demand can consume.

    Ergo, the only thing that can happen is that the value of each regular season game diminishes.

Fortunately, we can put aside senses of apathy, torpor and indifference about now. From here on out, the games are for real.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot feels the same way about regular season college basketball as I do but perhaps for different reasons:

“In the shadows: I almost feel sorry for college basketball, which even as we approach the tail end of the regular season, takes a back seat – picture the third row of a mini-van – to talk radio’s and the Internet’s fascination with the NFL combine, mock drafts, landing spots for Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel and spring training. Until March, when a lot of people think it’s cool to pretend to care, college hoops is becoming more of a niche sport … I guess what I’m saying is, it’s a poor reflection on the sport when Pablo Sandoval’s stomach gets more attention in February than the college top 25.”

Since Professor Molinaro brought up the name Johnny Manziel in his commentary, that leads me to pose this pair of questions.

    Given the off-field situations that have accreted themselves to “Johnny Football” and the seemingly unending number of similar situations that continue to fall into his orbit:

      Will he ever start another NFL football game at QB?

      What will he do with his life once he no longer has a future in football – be it next year or whenever?

With regard to the first question, I believe there is reason to doubt he will ever get another starting shot based on the fact that it is only a 50/50 proposition that any NFL team will sign him now that he is a free agent. First you have to be on a team; then you get to be a starting player. Moreover, I cannot imagine that any NFL team would bring him in and anoint him as the starter; at best, he would be signed with the understanding he would be given a chance to compete for the starting job and to win it he will have to be clearly the best option on the roster.

With regard to the second question, I am not qualified to make any sort of definitive statement. His actions seem to me to be a combination of self-destruction, entitlement and a gross lack of maturity. I would defer to those trained in psychology to confirm or deny those labels and to predict what might be the future for someone with such presentations. I will simply say that from my perspective, his future does not look all that great.

Finally, since I mentioned Bob Molinaro above, let me close this weekend edition with another of his observations – this time about televised college basketball games. He is spot-on with this comment:

“Shouting back: When courtside analysts raise their voices asking why a college player committed a bad turnover or foul or took a wild shot, I sometimes find myself saying to the flat screen, ‘Because he’s 19. He’s a half-formed player who came out of AAU ball with minimal real coaching and probably less discipline. So shut up, already.’”

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

Timing … Timing … And Timing …

A few days ago, I suggested here that the significant jump in the NFL salary cap would cause folks to shake their heads at some of the contracts offered to good-but-not-great or even promising-but-unproven players. In terms of real estate, they say the three most important factors are “Location … location … and location”. Looking at the free agency frenzy this year, I think it is clear that the three most important factors for cashing in on free agency are:

    Timing …
    Timing … and

If reports are accurate, Brock Osweiler will over the next 3 seasons make $7.9M more than Tom Brady will make. Sure, Osweiler is younger and perhaps Tom Brady may not last for 3 more seasons. Nevertheless…

Recently, CBSSports.com had a report saying that Roddy White blamed Falcons’ offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, for screwing up the Falcons’ season last year and blamed Shanahan for the team decision to release White. That report had the potential to become a “juicy story” but it seems to have blossomed and then faded into oblivion. Obviously, I have no insight into that situation whatsoever. However, I have said before and will say again here:

    If Kyle Shanahan’s last name were Flabeetz, he would not now be nor would he have been given a job as an offensive coordinator at such an early age.

Let me just suggest that Shanahan the Younger had one glorious season in Washington and then helped to preside over one of the most dysfunctional teams in North American sports for a couple more years. He next surfaced as the offensive coordinator with the Browns for a year; that was anything but a success and he asked out of his contract in Cleveland – admittedly a smart move – so that he could take the Falcons’ offensive coordinator job. Now this report…

Aubrey McClendon was a minority owner of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. McClendon was also currently charged with violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act; the charges include bid-rigging and improper collusion with regard to oil and gas contracts. Obviously, the details surrounding those charges are way above my pay-grade so I will not try to explain them here. Given the other news items related to McClendon, I suspect they have to do with securing fracking rights because he was routinely referred to as “The Shale King” and/or “The Fracking King”.

Earlier this week, Aubrey McClendon died in a fiery crash when the vehicle he was driving hit a bridge support at high speed and blew into a fireball. That happened one day after the Federal charges for anti-trust violations became public. Obviously, this has led to speculation that he took his own life. In terms of his ownership of the Thunder, he was a 20% shareholder in the group that originally bought the Seattle Supersonics back in 2007. Subsequently he increased his share of ownership buying out one of the other minority owners.

You may remember his name from back in that time; he was the minority owner who “let the cat out of the bag” regarding the purported willingness of the new owners to keep the team in Seattle if they got the kind of arena deal they wanted. It was McClendon who infamously said:

“We didn’t buy the Supersonics to keep them in Seattle.”

That significantly undermined the NBA’s negotiating position to get a new playpen for the team and then-Commissioner David Stern fined McClendon $250K for running his mouth. Given that he was probably worth something comfortably north of $1B at the time, I doubt that he minded.

Changing the subject here, perhaps someone can explain to me the current fascination with Ronda Rousey. Simply put, I do not get it. For a while she was a dominant force in MMA competitions beating many opponents in only a few seconds. She also engaged in a war of words with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on the subject of which one would kick the other one’s ass and how often. Since my over-arching view of MMA as a sport is that it is pro-‘rassling where the blows actually land and the blood is real, I saw that interplay with Mayweather as typical promotional fodder. Never did I expect to see the two of them in any sort of ring engaged in a real fight.

Then Rousey lost a fight. Not only did she lose, she was KO-ed. But that seems not to have diminished her celebrity status even a little bit. There were reports that she revealed that she had suicidal thoughts in the days after her defeat. Given the previously convenient promotional exchanges with Mayweather, I took those reports with a grain of salt. It seems that the latest installment in her celebrity diary is that one of her rival MMA fighters has said that she is finished as a fighter because she is more interested in having a baby. There was another report calling Rousey a “broken woman”. Here is my question:

    Will there ever be a lid put on this sort of stuff?

I admit that I am a troglodyte and often have difficulties understanding the core of modern pop culture. That is why I need someone to explain this fascination to me because it makes no sense in my worldview.

Finally, much has been made of the Ivy League’s decision to ban tackling from its football practices during the season. Brad Rock of the Deseret News had a very interesting interpretation of that decision:

“Ivy League coaches have voted to ban tackling in practice during the regular season.

“Instead, players must shout out the Euler-Lagrange Equation to bring down a runner.”

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

Coaching Instability…

In professional sports, one of the indicators of a team successful over a long period of time is stability in the coaching ranks. Gregg Popovich has been the coach of the San Antonio Spurs since 1996; the Spurs have been very successful over that span of time. Bill Belichick has been the coach of the New England Patriots since 2000; the Pats have been very successful over that span of time. Mike Scioscia has been in the dugout with the LA Angels since 2005; the Angels have only had 2 losing seasons over that span and have never failed to win 78 games in a season. Compare those examples with the Palermo FC in the Italian Serie A.

This team is the poster-child for coaching instability; they just changed coaches about a week ago; this is the 12 “new coach” for the team since June 2012. I put “new coach” in quotation marks on purpose because for some of the individuals involved the coaching position was a revolving door.

    Giuseppe Sannino coached from June 2012 to Sept 2012

    Gian Pierro Gaspirini took over in Sept 2012 and lasted until Feb 13

    Alberto Malesani took over then and hung around until March 2013

    Gian Pierro Gaspirini came back in March 2013 and lasted less than a month

    Giuseppe Sannino returned to coaching in March 2013 – completing the circle of life? – and stayed for 3 whole months until June 2013

The owner of Palermo FC is Maurizio Zamparini. Either he has the attention span of a kitten or he is in the pantheon of meddlesome owners worldwide. Here is the more recent coaching history for his club:

    Giuseppe Iachini had been the Palermo coach for 2 years – an eternity there. He started in Sept 2013 and was comfortably ensconced until November 2015. Note that November 2015 was only about 4 months ago. Then…

    In Nov 15 Giuseppe Iachini was fired and replaced by David Ballardini

    In Jan 16, Ballardini was fired and replaced by Fabio Vivani

    In Jan 16 (less than a month once again) Vivani was fired and replaced by Giovanni Tedesco

    In Feb 16, Tedesco was fired and replaced by Giovanni Bosi

    In Feb 16 (less than a month yet again) Bosi was fired and replaced by – – wait for it – – Giuseppe Iachini


Unsurprisingly, Palermo is in 17th place in the Serie A and is exactly one point out of the relegation zone with 10 games to play. If the owner has had trouble getting along with coaches while his team is in the top league, just imagine how happy he will be should the squad get relegated at the end of this season.

Bernie Lincicome – as a Special Contributor to the Chicago Tribune – had a column there where he decried the 3-point shot in basketball. Truth be told, I tolerate it but if I were Dictator of the Universe, it would be relegated to history. My dislike is not even close to his; I never called the 3-point shot an abomination. I commend this column to your reading in its entirety and here is a sample to whet your appetite:

“The 3-pointer has become as dull as the intentional walk, and any competent player in the NBA can make a 3. There is no special skill to it. Some are better than others just as some are taller than others or more agile than others. They do not get an extra reward for being so. This is nothing against those who do it well. The concern is how easy it has become and how it has altered the game.

“A basket should count what a basket counts. If we start assigning greater value to the length of things, Pinocchio never would stop lying.”

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had a recent commentary on the 3-point shot and Steph Curry’s proficiency:

“Too good: Move the 3-point line back because of Stephen Curry? Did the NBA consider raising the basket when Shaquille O’Neal dominated? Here’s a suggestion for teams frustrated by Curry’s quickness and range: Figure out a better way to guard him.”

I have no quarrel with Professor Molinaro’s reasoning and conclusion here. I would have to point out, however, that the NBA has – in the past – changed rules because a player was too dominant under the old set of rules. Recall that the free throw lane – and thereby the 3-second violation zone – was more than doubled to assure that Wilt Chamberlain could not set himself up so close to the basket. My only point here is that there is precedent for the NBA to make such a specifically focused rule change.

Finally, Greg Cote had this observation in the Miami Herald last weekend with regard to the start of an annual sporting event:

“The Iditarod sled-dog race is underway in Alaska. I wonder if Sarah Palin can see it form her backyard?”

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

Getting Out Of One’s Own Way

Yesterday, I said positive things about the classy way Peyton Manning handled the announcement of his retirement. Today, I would like to turn attention to the other end of the spectrum. After the 2016 inductees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame were announced, Terrell Owens took umbrage at the fact that he was left out. He played the “disrespected card” and made some comment about how Cris Carter had “begged his way” into the HoF. His comments reinforced in everyone’s mind two things that are apparent about T.O.:

    He has a strong narcissistic streak.

    He does not have even a 10-nanosecond delay line between his brain and his mouth.

There is a wide-receiver who will be inducted this summer; Marvin Harrison made it into the HoF and Harrison did not appreciate Owens’ fulminations. Here is what he said during a radio interview:

“The person who was supposed to get in got in. And that was me. If he didn’t get in, that’s his problem. He can talk all that other bullsh*t like he’s been doing. That’s on him. But I’m in. My jacket is gold. I will look in the rear view for nobody. So he can get his ass in whenever he gets in … if he gets in. If he doesn’t get in, too bad. The hell with him.”

If T.O. had said those words, people would have been marginally surprised at his potty-mouth but few would have shocked. Marvin Harrison was sort of like the “Silent Cal” Coolidge of the NFL during his career; he rarely said anything let alone anything at that level of candor. But there it is and there you have the essence of T.O.’s “problem” with Hall of Fame voters.

As I noted before the voting on the finalists was revealed, Owens’ numbers written on a piece of paper with no relationship to the human being who generated those numbers demand that the player be in the Hall of Fame. Having said that, the path to “getting a gold jacket” demands also that the player in question pass through the filter of a few dozen voters. Like it or not, those voters are humans and they will always put things in context when they ponder a decision they consider to be important.

The fact of the matter is that Terrell Owens still does not realize how off-putting he can be. Consider for a moment that Owens played for 5 different NFL teams. Even if you spot him his last two teams as merely the last gasps in a productive career wherein the team hoped he could recapture his prior productivity, that means that 3 different teams had enough of him and his antics while he was still performing at a Hall of Fame level.

    The Niners did not move Heaven and Earth to keep him in SF at age 30.

    The Eagles shed no tears when he departed Philly at age 32.

    The Cowboys just moved on when he left Dallas at age 35.

    Oh, and along the way he probably did not endear himself to anyone in Baltimore after reneging on a contract deal there. It was an ugly mess…

The two obvious personal characteristics I noted at the start of this rant allowed teams to deal with him taking his talents elsewhere without having the team sink into a terminal blue funk. The sort of outbursts we saw after his exclusion from the HoF this year surely would not have been “positive locker room leadership”. Moreover, this sort of tantrum-like behavior is likely to remain in the minds of a few of the voters – many of whom will be back “in the room” sifting through the final candidates. I wonder if Terrell Owens even recognizes that fact.

On the flip side of the coin here, try to imagine the induction speech T. O. might give somewhere down the line when he does in fact join the Hall of Fame. It could be memorable…

Former Cowboys’ RB, Joseph Randle, was arrested in Kansas on a warrant that says he failed to appear in court. At this point, I usually try to point out that final judgment needs to wait until more facts are in. Indeed, that remains the operative stance; but in this case, I might be tempted to conclude that Randle is living his life just a bit off-center. This is the sixth time he has been arrested by police in various jurisdictions in the last 18 months on charges to include inter alia theft, drug possession and assault.

Randle spent three years as a “student-athlete” at an NCAA Division 1-A school maintaining his eligibility all along the way. I have no idea what courses he took, but would it not be ironic if it turned out that he was a criminal justice major?

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

“Major slippage: After they blew another game – losing to the Clippers after being up 16 with 7:26 to play – it’s impossible to take the Oklahoma City Thunder seriously as a title contender. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may be fine entertainers, but the Thunder, who had a chance for redemption late Thursday night at the Warriors, are proving to be underachievers, chokers even. They’ve lost nine games this season when taking a lead into the fourth quarter. Only the 76ers have lost more that way.”

I am shocked by this commentary. I am not shocked by Prof. Molinaro’s assessment that the Thunder are disappointing underachievers; they certainly have played that way recently. Here is what I am shocked by:

    I would never have thought that the 76ers had held the lead at the end of 3 quarters enough times to top the Thunder in that “League of Lowness”.

Finally, one more item from Bob Molinaro:

“Did you realize that you can bet on MLB spring training games? Nothing says compulsive gambler quite like throwing good money at bad split-squad games featuring minor-league pitchers.”

He is right you know…

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

Venting My Spleen…

Excuse me, but I do have to vent some spleen here… Last evening, my long-suffering wife said that she really had a craving for Chinese food and suggested we go to our favorite Chinese restaurant. That sounded like a great idea to me and so we did. It is a 2.5-mile drive from our house to the restaurant and on that short drive home we counted 4 – that FOUR – homes that still had their Christmas lights up and turned on.

    Memo to Whomever: It is March 8! I do not care how religious one is nor how happy one might be during the Christmas season for secular reasons; you need not continue the celebration into March.

    I can understand if somehow you fell and broke a hip and cannot climb a ladder to take down the lights and put them away. I cannot understand why you feel it necessary to illuminate them announcing to everyone who passes by your home that you are an asshat. Pull the plug on the lights or do not flip the switch to turn them on.

    That is all…

Given that evidence of my current state of crankiness, you should not be surprised to learn that I did not react well yesterday to an announcement from the US Olympic Committee. That august organization announced the details for the 2016 Road to Rio Tour – sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance don’t you know. The Tour’s purpose is to

“…bring the spirit and excitement of the Rio Games to fans throughout the United States.”

Now before you think that I need to up the dosage on my meds because this is just a harmless announcement, let me inform you that the Road to Rio Tour began last year. So, if you are going to take the position that this is an important way for the Committee to pump up interest in the Games, tell me three things that have happened on the Tour already. Since you almost assuredly have no idea that the Road to Rio Tour existed in the first place, you surely cannot tell me where it has been or what it has done. So, here is the next event; you can prepare to be excited.

On 27 April, the Road to Rio Tour will be in New York City at Times Square to begin the “100 Day Countdown” to the Rio Games which start on 5 August. This extravaganza on Times Square will:

“…engage fans through athlete meet-and-greets, interactive sport elements, athlete demonstrations, Team USA giveaways and sponsor activation.”

The USOC Chief Marketing Officer had this to say about the “100 Day Countdown”:

“We have the most passionate fans in the world, and because of events like 100 Days Out and the Road to Rio Tour, we are able to bring the energy of the Games to more Americans than ever before.”

    Memo to Chief Marketing Officer: “Most passionate fans in the world” is not a phrase that belongs in the same paragraph with events such as “synchronized diving”, “canoe slalom”, “rhythmic gymnastics” and/or “modern pentathlon”.

I do not know about you, but I am certain that on April 27th I will have some meaningless and inconsequential thing to do with my life which will take precedence over paying even a moment’s worth of attention to the start of the “100 Day Countdown”. Maybe I will go to those houses that still have their Christmas lights up and volunteer to take them down for the homeowners.

One other recent announcement was a bit unsettling. The retailer – Sports Authority – filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced the closing of hundreds of its stores. I know that the idea of “creative destruction” is considered to be a fundamental element of capitalism, so I do not give a fig if Sports Authority reorganizes and survives or reorganizes and “goes paws up”. However, the fact that people are not buying enough stuff from Sports Authority to keep them afloat now raises a question that has bothered me for a while.

The Denver Broncos play their home games in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Sports Authority pays the Broncos more than a little money for those sponsorship rights and whenever any deal such as that one is announced, the folks doing the paying exult in the great value they will derive from paying millions to a football team to name a stadium.

    Memo to the Sports Authority Financial Mavens: So, how’s all that “promotional benefit” working out for you?

My spleen is vented. As Gomez Addams was wont to say:

“I’m feeling MUCH better now.”

Notwithstanding what Peyton Manning did or did not say to Bill Belichick after the AFC title game, Manning’s retirement announcement means that the 2015 season was indeed his “last rodeo” as an NFL QB. You have been inundated in the past day or so with summaries of Manning’s statistical accomplishments; I will not repeat them here. Suffice it to say, he was a great QB and if he is not a first-ballot inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it will be a shocking turn of events. What impressed me as much as his on-field accomplishments was his retirement announcement.

    Clearly, he wrote those words himself; those were not the words of a PR spokesthing.

    He thanked and acknowledged more than the usual suspects for such a speech and by doing so he honored those other folks.

    If the emotion he showed at points in the speech was “faked”, then Peyton Manning should be a favorite to win an Oscar after he stars in his first movie next year.

Tony Kornheiser said on Pardon the Interruption that Manning might be “running for Commissioner” of the NFL. I have no idea if that is the case but given the performance of the incumbent Commish over the past couple of years, it may not be such a horrible idea…

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about the outcome of a recent sports-related lawsuit:

“PGA Tour caddies lost a lawsuit in which they sought compensation for having to wear bibs with advertising. Dear fellas: Your job consists of carrying a golf bag, telling your guy, ‘178 yards’ and collecting up to 10 percent of his earnings for doing very little. Quiet, please!”

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

Admin Note

Over the weekend, I encountered e-mail gremlins. Some readers here have requested an e-mail notification when I post a new rant; that mailing list was one of the files corrupted by the gremlins. I have reconstituted it from memory – but my short term memory is not what it used to be.

Therefore, anyone who fell off the mail list who wants to be back on – – or anyone who wants to be added to the list anew – – just send me an e-mail at:

    [email protected]

Sorry about that…

Football Fidgetings…

The NFL free agent season is now close enough that when you look at a list of potential free agents, you can reasonably expect the great majority of them to be available. Sure, there is still time for an “eleventh-hour contract signing” or two, but I think that is about all that could happen in the next couple of days. I think this free agent season arrives at the conjunction of two phenomena:

    1. The NFL salary cap is up significantly this year. Teams that were at last year’s cap now have cap room to sign players to expensive deal(s); teams that were way under the cap or who created cap room in the days since the Super Bowl now can “mega-spend”.

    2. The list of free agents is pretty much devoid of eye-popping star players – certainly not enough such players to absorb the large amount of cap space out there. So, some of the good and serviceable – yet not great – free agents look to cash in this year to an extent that they might not have imagined at this time last year.

Not that anyone asked, but here is my assessment of the free agent candidates that might be at the top of the list by position:

    Quarterback: Slim pickings this year. Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick look like the pick of the litter to me despite Osweiler’s very limited résumé and despite the fact that Fitzpatrick will be 34 years old in the middle of next season. RG3 is a boom or bust proposition for whichever team signs him.

    Running Back: Doug Martin had a nice year last season but his total body of work is not stunning. Matt Forte is awfully close to his “sell-by date”. I think the two backs who merit “investment consideration” are Chris Ivory and Alfred Morris.

    Tight End: No impact players here. Probably the best one on the market is Antonio Gates – potentially a Hall of Fame inductee – but he will be 36 years old before training camp convenes.

    Offensive Linemen: Alex Mack and Russell Okung are the best players available at these positions.

    Wide Receiver: No impact players here either. If available at bargain-basement prices, I might take a flyer on Reuben Randle or Travis Benjamin.

    Defensive Backs: There are several players here who ought to get nice paydays out of this free agent season. Sean Smith and Janoris Jenkins are both young and talented cornerbacks. Walter Thurmond has played cornerback and safety competently at the NFL level. Eric Weddle has been an All-Pro at safety (not just a Pro Bowl participant) twice in his career and there is still tread on the tires.

    Linebackers: Danny Trevathan is really good and he is just about to turn 26 years old. Jerrell Freeman is also really good but he will be 30 years old when training camp starts. I think Bruce Irvin who will turn 29 in the middle of next season is the best player at this position on the market.

    Defensive Linemen: Malik Jackson should get some very nice contract offers; he deserves them. The big question is whether Mario Williams – at age 31 – showed that he was out of gas last year or if he just did not fit into the Bills’ defense under Rex Ryan. Some big run-stuffers are available but they are not youngsters such as BJ Raji, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Knighton.

Let the feeding frenzy commence…

When I was a kid and used to go to the movies on a Saturday afternoon, there were always a few cartoons that “warmed up the audience” prior to the main attraction. In those cartoons, a standard visual was for a character to come to an understanding of a situation with a light bulb turning on over his head. That was the image that came to mind last week when I read that the folks who run the Sun Belt Conference made the decision to kick the University of Idaho out of the conference come 2017. Let me be clear; Idaho had no more business being in the Sun Belt Conference than the University of Saskatchewan does. Why Idaho was ever invited/admitted to the conference remains a mystery to me.

The University of Idaho is known as The Vandals; over the past ten years or so, they might also have been known as The Vagabonds. Since the start of this millennium, Idaho has been in the Sun Belt Conference, then the WAC, then an independent, and then back in the Sun Belt Conference for a second time. The school says that it is examining its options for the future – no surprise at that sort of statement – and one of the options might be for Idaho to drop a level to Division 1-AA and join the Big Sky Conference. Geographically that makes a ton more sense than the Sun Belt Conference ever did.

For the record, the Sun Belt Conference will also kick New Mexico State out of the conference in 2017. The Aggies have been one of the least competitive teams in college football over the past several years – but at least Las Cruces, NM is part of the Sun Belt; Moscow, ID – not so much.

    [Aside: The last time New Mexico State was in a bowl game was in 1962 when they were in the Sun Bowl and beat Utah State. It has been a long time since the Aggies were any good.]

I have read some reports saying that New Mexico State could be joining C-USA after leaving the Sun Belt Conference. Whatever… Unless the school finds a coach who can recruit and motivate squads that are far more competitive than has been the case recently, does it really matter which “minor conference” the Aggies finish at the bottom of?

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding the upcoming NFL Draft:

“North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz may be the first quarterback taken in the draft. Scouts are excited to see what he can do surrounded by NFL talent. Forget that, I’m excited to see what he can do on a field where the temperature is over 9 degrees.”

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