A History of NCAA Infractions

The Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University has published a report that examines the “penalty consistency of NCAA infractions”. This was not a quick glance at a few highly publicized incidents; this was an examination of NCAA infractions, investigations and punishments going back to the 1950s. Included in the study were 554 incidents going back to 1953; to me, this is the interesting part of the research:

“… relative consistency of penalties prescribed by the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions were examined, and sources of variance in penalty severity were identified.”

Interestingly, the study could not support the myriad conspiracy theories that abound with regard to the NCAA when it comes to infractions. There is an old joke that if Kentucky basketball has to be investigated by the NCAA, it means that Cleveland State is going to be penalized severely for something going on at the smaller program. This study showed no correlation between penalties and conference affiliation. While I do not subscribe to the full-blown conspiracy theories that led to that old joke, I am a bit surprised to see no correlation at all.

I was not surprised to see in the report that 82.9% of the major infractions studied in the report involved football or men’s basketball programs. Those are now – and have always been – the college sports that provided the most revenue to the schools; if there is going to be any “corner-cutting” in the athletic department, you would think it would be in a sport that might pay off in the exchequer, right? Here are two of the findings I found interesting:

“The top four most common infraction types are recruiting inducements, impermissible benefits, other recruiting violations and unethical conduct.”

And …

“Probation was a prescribed penalty in 86.5 percent of all major infractions cases, with a two-year probation penalty being the most common time period. Postseason bans (42.2 percent) and scholarship reductions (45.5 percent) were also commonly prescribed penalties.”

This is an interesting study. If you want to get to the meat of the data, here is a link:

Last weekend, a friend offered me a piece of trivia that I have not taken the trouble to verify because it would be far too much work to do so. I present it here as it was presented to me simply because I find it interesting:

    The University of Southern California (USC) has had a student or an alum win a gold medal in every Summer Olympic Games since 1912. And, only 15 countries have won a gold medal in every Summer Olympic Games since 1912.

If you wish to do the research to debunk that claim, be my guest. If not – and if you are willing to accept it at face value as I have – that is an amazing accomplishment for a single university.

Sticking with the Olympics, I found a report in The Guardian about Olympic swimming that demonstrates that the overseers of that sport internationally are either incompetent or crooked or both. I tend to lean toward “both” here because they are clearly crooked and they are sufficiently incompetent that they let this sort of data come to light. According to The Guardian:

“The Olympic entry lists show many of the swimmers competing in Rio achieved their entry times at the World Aquatics Championships in Kazan in August 2015. In nine cases the entry times listed do not match the times recorded at those championships. Another eight are listed as having achieved entry times in events in which they did not compete or were disqualified from. The 17 athletes are from 16 different countries, and include 11 men and six women.”

FINA is the International overseer of swimming; it says that the Rio Organizing Committee made some mistakes when it compiled the Olympics entry lists. The Organizing Committee says that FINA is to blame because FINA approved the Organizing Committee’s compilation. Moreover, the World Aquatics Championships in Kazan was a FINA event AND the Mexican swimming mavens have admitted that they falsified the times of Mexican swimmers to make them eligible for the World Aquatics Championships. Let me get to the bottom line here very quickly:

    Swimming is as corrupt a sport as is figure skating and/or cycling and/or [fill in the blank here].

To understand the depth of the nonsense going on here, I suggest you read the report from The Guardian in its entirety here.

Let me stick with the Olympics here … After the US Women’s National Soccer Team lost to Sweden, Hope Solo called the Swedes “cowards” and proclaimed that the better team did not win that day. What the Swedes did was to play defense and look for a way to counter-attack; that is not cowardly; that is strategic. It would be a blessing if Hope Solo’s career arc would gently fade over the horizon now that the US Women’s Team is out of the competition. Frankly, I have heard enough from and/or about her. Vaya con Dios, Hope Solo.

Finally, with all of the detritus – to include body parts – that have appeared in the waters where Olympic events such as sailing and rowing are being contested, I wonder if it is possible that the body of Judge Crater will be found this year…

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

An Important NFL Roster Slot – Backup QB

I tuned in to Mike and Mike In the Morning on ESPN Radio today and they were doing a fantasy football marathon. I doubt that I need to remind anyone here that I am not particularly interested in fantasy football but as they were “debating” the merits of this guy versus some other guy, it flashed through my mind that there is an underrated position on an NFL roster. That position is Backup Quarterback.

The fact is that some starting QBs will get hurt during the upcoming season and will miss games. It is inconceivable that 32 starting QBs on opening day will be the same 32 QBs who take all the offensive snaps for their teams through to the end of the year. That never happens… In addition to injury situations, some of the starting QBs on opening day are going to play their way to the bench as the season progresses. This is not a “perhaps” situation; this is a “guaranteed” situation.

So, I started to think about teams that have good backup QB situations and ones that have shaky backup QB situations. This is not going to be the result of exhaustive research; most of this is off the top of my head.

I also realized that a few of the teams that I would consider having a “shaky backup” situation are in that category because the starting QB is excellent and the drop-off to whomever is the backup appears to be immense. So, let me start with that category and I will call it:

    Apparently Shaky Backup QB Situations:

      Pats: Jimmy Garropolo will have to be awfully good to measure up to Tom Brady.

      Giants: Ryan Nassib will have to be awfully good to measure up to Eli Manning.

      Steelers: Gradkowski and/or JOnes will have difficulty by comparison to Ben Roethlisberger.

      Colts: Scott Tolzein is not Andrew Luck.

      Packers: Brett Hundley is not Aaron Rodgers.

    Shaky Backup QB Situations:

      Titans: Matt Cassel backs up Marcus Mariotta. I like Mariotta from what I saw last year; I think Matt Cassel showed that he cannot play at the NFL level from what I saw last year.

      Jets: They have 3 QBs on the roster behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. Even though Fitzpatrick is nowhere near a “great QB”, there is a huge step down to any of the backups considering that 2 of the 3 guys on the roster have never taken a snap in a real NFL game.

      Texans: Brock Osweiler will start for Houston and that presents some questions all by itself. However, the backup at the moment is Brandon Weeden and I have seen him crash and burn enough times to conclude that the Texans will be in deep yogurt if Osweiler misses games. The other QB on the roster is Tom Savage; he does not have a “large body of work” by which to judge him…

    Apparently Solid Backup QB Situations:

      Bucs: Mike Glennon used to be the starter in Tampa and did not embarrass himself or the team. Now he backs up Jameis Winston there.

      Niners: Colin Kaepernick was the starter for the Niners in the Super Bowl not so long ago. Now he backs up Blaine Gabbert; that should work.

      Eagles: Chase Daniel has had 3 years to learn Doug Pederson’s offense from KC Chiefs’ days. Now he backs up the injury-prone Sam Bradford…

      Bengals: AJ McCarron acquitted himself well backing up Andy Dalton last year. Were it not for late-game melt-downs by Pacman Jones and Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals would probably have won their first playoff game in a long time with McCarron at QB.

      Browns: Josh McCown is the backup to RG3; unless RG3 reasserts his game to the level it achieved in his rookie year in Washington, McCown may in fact be the better QB on the roster. [Yes, I realize that is damning by faint praise …]

That covers about half of the NFL teams. If you are convinced that backup QB is an important position, you can check out the depth charts for the rest of the league and fill in the blanks here.

Oh, by the way, the fact that I can only come up with 5 backup QB situations that I would call “Apparently Solid” is not an opening for the Tim Tebow Fan Club to screech that he deserves a shot in an NFL training camp and that he is being “blackballed” – for some nefarious but unspecified reason – by the NFL or maybe by the Trilateral Commission.

Finally, here is an interesting observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“In 2017, Omaha will play host to the U.S. Olympic curling trials. If you’ve never watched curling, picture a three-hour algebra lecture featuring brooms.”

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

No, Not Morphing Into A Drama Critic …

I will need to be quick today… Last night, my wife and I attended a play in Philly. It was written by Ray Didinger, an old friend – much too long a story to relate here as to how I met him but I have known Ray since the early 1970s. Ray has been an outstanding sportswriter, a multiple Emmy-award winning producer for NFL Films, a radio host and a TV analyst in the Philadelphia area since forever. His main focus as a writer was as the beat-writer covering the Eagles and then as a columnist on sports in general. It turns out that his boyhood hero was Tommy McDonald – the Eagles’ wide receiver who caught a TD pass in the 1960 NFL Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers.

The play tells the story of “Young Ray” meeting his hero “Young Tommy” at Eagles’ training camp in Hershey PA and then interviewing “Aging Tommy” for various stories he was writing. Ultimately, Ray nominated Tommy McDonald to the Hall of Fame selection committee and after McDonald got the call to inform him of his election to the Hall, Tommy McDonald asked Ray Didinger to be his presenter at the ceremony. It was only then that “Adult Ray” told “Adult Tommy” that they had met back at Eagles’ training camp back in the 1960s.

The story obviously played exceptionally well in Philadelphia. However, this is a story that has legs and can easily travel to other venues. The play is called Tommy and Me. If you ever see one of your local theater companies putting this play on, let me urge you to find the time to go and see it. It got a standing ovation in Philly last night; I suspect it would get a similar reaction from audiences around the country.

Ray Didinger was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a writer in 1995 and Tommy McDonald was in the Hall of Fame Class of 1998.

The play was a touching presentation last night but that feeling does not carry over to the next item in today’s rant. David Stern – the Sultan of Smug – is about to speak to the global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas NV. Do not be confused; the Global Gaming Expo has nothing to do with Pokemon Go; this “gaming” is often called “gambling”. Now, anyone who follows sports in the US even a little bit knows that David Stern has never been someone who thought that sports and gambling could possibly co-exist. Gambling was a constant threat to the “integrity of the games”; the Tim Donaghy affair proved to David Stern that was the case; as soon as New Jersey tried to change its state laws to allow for sports wagering, David Stern and the NBA were right there to support in court any and all forces that sought to stop that action.

Now, David Stern is retired from the NBA and collects speaking fees here and there as a way to make some small change in his retirement. Here is some of what the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported with regard to this upcoming address by the former NBA Commish:

    “Stern will discuss the future of sports betting and its impact on major professional sports, as well as how the NBA’s expansion parallels the casino gaming industry…”

And …

    “The commissioner for 30 years, Stern in October joined current Commissioner Adam Silver in calling for legalized sports wagering nationwide.”

And …

“’I’m with Commissioner Silver,’ Stern said at the time. ‘There should be federal legislation that says, ‘Let’s go all the way’ and have betting on sports. It’s OK. It’s going to be properly regulated.’”

There is an old-saying in the Washington bureaucracy – and in politics to a lesser extent – that explains shifting positions. Basically, that saying goes:

    Where you stand on an issue depends on where you are sitting at the moment.

I think that saying applies in spades to David Stern…

With regard to the Olympics, Usain Bolt made history winning his third 100-meter dash Gold Medal. Given the apparent ease of his performance here, I would not be shocked if he tried to make it four-in-a-row in Tokyo in 2020.

You may have read the reports of US swimmers being robbed at gunpoint in Rio. If not, you will not have any difficulty in finding such reports. Let me say two things about those reports:

    1. Brazilian officials say that the athletes were not in their proper area at the time of the robbery. I guess that is supposed to gloss over the fact that armed robbery is a frequent and natural occurrence in Rio. One stat that I read was that there are 25 times more muggings in Rio than there are in NYC in a year and NYC has three times the population of Rio. Somehow, I do not thing the Rio Tourist Bureau trumpets those numbers.

    2. Ryan Lochte’s account of what he did and said to the armed robber(s) could be construed to make him sound like a tough-guy. To me, it makes him sound like a dummy. When a person with a badge and a loaded gun – real or fake “police officer” makes no difference – tells you to get on the ground; you do not argue with him. You just get on the ground because that is where you are going to wind up one way or the other.

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from a couple of months ago:

“The Indianapolis 500 (coming up May 29) has named an official poet laureate. OK, what rhymes with carburetor?”

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

RIP John Saunders

John Saunders died on Wednesday this week at the age of 61. I had no idea that he was sick; the only “change” I had noticed was that he had more grey hair than he had a year ago but that is not something that made me sit up and take notice with regard to his health. Saunders joined ESPN in 1986 as a SportsCenter host/reporter. In the last 30 years, he has done hockey and college football and SportsCenter and The Sports Reporters. John Saunders was not the attention-grabbing personality of the kind that Chris Berman or Keith Olbermann was. Nevertheless, he was an important part of how ESPN has grown in the past several decades.

Rest in peace John Saunders.

In addition to the retirement announcements of A-Rod and Mark Texiera this week, two other important MLB players may have seen the end of their careers:

    Prince Fielder had a second neck surgery to fuse cervical disks. After the surgery, the doctor would not sign off on Fielder’s return to baseball. What that means is that his career is over at age 32 from a debilitating injury. I surely expect some folks to attribute this to Fielder’s weight and physique. I will leave that assessment to his doctor who did the surgery but I will say that his injury/condition is in his neck which is not exactly part of the major weight-bearing apparatus of his skeleton. If he had knee problems or ankle problems that were inoperable or uncorrectable, that might be a different story. His neck …?

    Tim Lincicum has been trying a comeback with the Angels this season and it has not gone well at all. The Angels sent him down to Triple A this week which is something that was unimaginable about 5 seasons ago. So far in 2016, Lincicum has thrown 38.1 innings with the Angels; in that time, he has accumulated an ERA of 9.16. In addition, he has walked 223 batters while striking out 32; that is not a good ratio at all. Lincicum just turned 32 in June.

Cecil Fielder and Tim Lincicum seem to have reached the ends of their careers at age 32 and not in their late-30s. The peak earning years for top-shelf athletes are often rather short-lived…

I mentioned earlier this week that Tim Tebow is trying to make it to MLB at age 29. A former colleague took note of that report and sent me this e-mail:

“He throws left-handed and if he can throw 90 miles per hour as a left-handed pitcher, he may have another dozen years to make it to MLB. Of course, if he could throw 90 mph with any accuracy, he would be a starting QB in the NFL by now.”

While I am talking about MLB, #1 son is a devoted fan of the Chicago Cubs. He went to grad school in Chicago and then did a post-doctoral fellowship there. He came to be a Cubs’ fan in those two stints of living in Chicago and he has carried that with him even now that he lives in Dublin, Ireland. He has been very hopeful for the Cubs this season but he still retains the “Cubs’ fan pessimism” as he awaits the fated dire event that will derail the Cubs from the World Series. Since I never acquired that “pessimism strain”, I have been feeding him optimism for the season. Now that we are in mid-August, it seems fair to ask this question:

    Will the Cubs win 100 games in 2016?

Right now they are on pace to win 101 games. The last time a Cubs’ team won 100 games was back in 1935 when MLB teams only played 154 games per season. The 1935 Cubs did make it to the World Series but lost the Series to the Detroit Tigers in 6 games. Given the way the Tigers are pounding the ball, they too could make the playoffs and could reach the World Series. It could happen …

Of course, here in Curmudgeon Central I always like to take a look at the world through the “other end of the telescope” and that viewscape suggests that this is a pertinent question:

    Will the Atlanta Braves lose 100 games?

If not the Braves how about the D-Backs, the Reds or the Twins?

The Braves are on pace to lose exactly 100 games; the other teams are on pace to lose 98 games. The Braves have had a lot of difficulty selling tickets this year given how bad the team has played and given that the team is moving to a new venue next year. If the team goes down to the wire trying to avoid losing 100 games, maybe that will goose attendance a few hundred folks for late games this year.

Earlier this week, there were folks who were Tweeting during the Opening Ceremony for the Rio Olympics. If one was already watching the Opening Ceremony, the Tweets were abjectly unnecessary. If someone was not watching the Opening Ceremony and experiencing it only in the “Twitterverse”, that reminds me of a bit of useless radio…

    About 20 years ago, my long-suffering wife and I and her sister and our brother-in-law flew to Albuquerque NM to experience the hot air balloon festival there. Hundreds of hot air balloons of all sizes and shapes and with all sorts of sponsorships are there and in the early morning hours, they fire up and take off and go with the wind in a great spectacle.

    We somehow acquired passes that got us into a “Premium Area” for the launch and that access got me to see a tent that had been set up by one of the local radio stations. They were doing a remote broadcast with two of the station personalities and they were describing the balloon launches as they happened:

      “Oh, there goes the Dodge Caravan balloon. It sure has a golden glow about it.”

      “Look, there is the Domino’s Pizza balloon. You can see the pepperoni slices against the glow inside the balloon.”

      “Wow, here comes the Albuquerque Isotopes balloon. Remember last year when they dropped coupons for $5 off on game tickets? Boy that was exciting…”

I stood by the tent listening to the “coverage” until they broke for a set of commercials. With the mics dead and the headphones off, let me assure you that the commentary from the guys who were made to do this coverage was far less upbeat and positive. I recall more than a few scatological references…

That is the precise value of Tweeting the Opening Ceremony – – except the Tweeter thinks he is doing something valuable and important and it is left to the listener/recipient to put forth the scatological references.

Finally, as the Olympics continue, let me share with you a great comment from Dan Jenkins about the sport of track and field:

“The only thing more boring that track, is field.”

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

NFL Items Addenda …

Yesterday, I wrote about Donovan McNabb signing on with ESPN Radio to do color analysis for NFL games and I wished him well in that endeavor. Later in the day, I was in an e-mail conversation with someone who has known Donovan McNabb since about the time he was drafted by the Eagles in 1999. I asked this person how he thought McNabb would be in a radio booth given his performance as a studio analyst. Here was his assessment:

“I think he will be better in the booth. In studio, he tried too hard to be polished and ‘TV-ish’. He tended to overstate and too often went for the big sound bite which usually fell flat. A live game will force him to be more spontaneous and stick to talking X’s and O’s which he should do pretty well. He is no dope. He studied communications at Syracuse and prepared for a post-NFL career in TV.”

I certainly agree that Donovan McNabb is no dope. I guess I never interpreted his studio performance as going “for the big sound bite”; but if that is a correct assessment, I agree that doing, color analysis for a live game will relieve him of that temptation. I suspect that ESPN Radio will try to put him on a few Eagles’ games early in the season since McNabb was a teammate/understudy to new Eagles’ coach, Doug Pederson. Just that connection could provide him with a few opportunities for insights that will get him headed in a positive direction.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that the cancellation of the NFL Hall of Fame Game – an extra meaningless EXHIBITION GAME no less – was a blessing for all of us. Loads of people on the Internet and in the “Twitterverse” do not feel that way and have declared this a disgrace of major proportion. I understand that people spent good money to buy tix for a game that never happened and that some folks traveled – and therefore incurred expenses – to go to the induction ceremonies and to see that game. I appreciate that those folks might be upset or even slightly angry about this turn of events. But let us maintain perspective here…

    The Hall of Fame Game is an EXHIBITION GAME and it means NOTHING.

    If the teams scheduled to play this game held a scrimmage at one of the two training camps, it would have as much impact on the world as would this EXHIBITION GAME.

    Players should not risk their health/careers playing an EXHIBITION GAME on a field that is unsafe.

The Hall of Fame Game came under criticism last year because the playing field was substandard and Steelers’ kicker tore his ACL on that field. This year, the league “imported” a playing surface from the Superdome in New Orleans. That fact alone tells me that the NFL and the NFLPA – who inspected the field prior to the application of the paint job – knew that there were problems with this field. The powers that be chose to try to “fix” the problem from last year but did not get it right. Perhaps they might consider one of these two options:

    1. Forget having an EXHIBITION GAME associated with the Hall of Fame induction. Those ceremonies pay tribute to the greatest players in the game; if there is to be a game associated with those ceremonies, at least it should be a real game that means something somewhere in the known universe.

    2. If the NFL and the NFLPA must associate an EXHIBITION GAME with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, do not put NFL players on a glorified high school field. There is an NFL quality field about 60 miles north of Canton, Ohio in Cleveland and another one about 225 miles southwest of Canton, Ohio in Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, the outraged folks need to adjust their medications on this topic. This is not an omen portending the downfall of Western Civilization. This is merely a demonstration that the NFL is playing one more EXHIBITION GAME over and above the 64 other ones – and that number is too many to begin with – just to put their product on TV as early as possible. That is all it is and nothing more.

The NY Yankees will finish a three-game series in Boston against the Red Sox tonight. Assuming that Alex Rodriguez is in the lineup, this will be his final game in Fenway Park since A-Rod is supposed to leave the team tomorrow and head off into the sunset. One of the great understatements of the month would be to say that A-Rod is not very popular in Boston. In fact, according to the NY Business Journal, Red Sox fans have been paying elevated prices on the ticket resale market just to go to Fenway for this series to express their displeasure with Alex Rodriguez. Consider:

    Back in April/May this year, the median price on the resale market for a Yankees/Red Sox game was $99. The range of prices was $78 to $117. Yes, I know that it can be cold in Boston at night in April – and even May – but in that series, there was not the attraction of “last opportunity to boo A-Rod” in the offing.

    This week, the median price for a resale ticket yesterday and tonight for the Yankees/Red Sox is $132 for last night and $159 for tonight. I really do not think that there are any other circumstances that would explain a 30-60% rise in the median price for a ticket to these games.

Here is a comment from Gregg Drinnan in his Keeping Score blog:

“Pre-Games headline at SportsPickle.com: Line already growing for Olympic Village’s working toilet.”

Finally, here is another Olympics-related comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Sure sign you haven’t been paying close enough attention to the Olympic Games: You think Zika is Brazil’s latest soccer star.”

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

Strange News Yesterday …

There were two reports at CBSSports.com yesterday that were ones I did not expect to see when I clicked on the website. The first report came from Will Brinson and it said that Tim Tebow has eschewed his NFL ambitions but plans to work out for MLB teams. The report cited Adam Schefter saying that Tebow has been working out/practicing/honing his baseball skills in Arizona for the past year. Tebow did play baseball successfully in high school and last played in 2005.

I am neither a “Tebow-fanboy” nor a “Tebow-hater”. I wish him well in this endeavor as a 29-year old man to take up a sport he played as a kid and to hope to make it to the top echelon of that sport while still in his athletic prime. I wish him good luck here but I am not going to wager any money on his ever making it to the big leagues.

The second report I did not expect to see yesterday comes from Dayn Perry and it said that Curt Schilling “announced” that he plans to run for the presidency in either 2020 or 2024. Jim Bunning was a Hall of Fame pitcher who had a stint in the US Senate; Wilmer ‘Vinegar Bend” Mizel was a MLB pitcher who served in the House of Representatives; there is precedence for pitchers to practice politics. Schilling’s Presidential Campaign would come after a presumably successful campaign to win an election – still unidentified – at the state or local level.

If I recall correctly, there were 22 folks who declared that they were running for President as of the time of the first party “debates” (17 Republicans and 5 Democrats). I shudder to think that Curt Schilling might be any less impressive or qualified to be President than the majority of those folks. The 2016 Presidential Campaign has proven to me that what my elementary school teachers told us is true:

    Anybody can be President of the United States.

The Philadelphia Business Journal had an item a week or so ago saying that ESPN Radio has hired Donovan McNabb to be a color analyst for NFL game broadcasts on that network. I remember watching some of McNabb’s studio work on FOX Sports and I have to say that I was underwhelmed; his comments seemed to me to be far more “platitudinous” than “insightful”; I expected more from someone who had played QB successfully in the NFL.

In a sense, this gig is a career revival opportunity for McNabb. He was fired at FOX Sports after two DUI arrests and a conviction that sent him to jail briefly. Since those events, McNabb has been contrite and admitted his wrongdoing; this assignment gives him the opportunity to restart his broadcast career. Here is some of what he had to say about that career restart:

“When you make mistakes, obviously there’s consequences with it. Obviously I’ve acknowledged the mistakes that I’ve made and I apologized for it and I know that’s not going to happen again. But when you step away from a job that you truly enjoy doing — I was working at Fox and all the other networks I was a part of after retirement — you feel that drive of continuing on. It’s sort of unfinished business for me. ESPN gave me that opportunity when other networks were there, but nervous about making that decision early on because of the scrutiny they may feel they’d get. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m so excited at getting this opportunity to work with ESPN and get back on track and get more involved in sports and being able to talk about them.”

Indeed, those are the right things to say. Now, comes the time for Donovan McNabb to be sure not to have any more “mistakes” and for him to show that he really does have a future in radio/television as a second career.

Bonne chance.

Yesterday, I said that I do not like arguments about who is the “greatest of all time” in any sport. Today, I will declare that I do not like something that is going to get me in trouble with #2 son because #2 son thinks this is one of the great innovations of modern civilizations:

    I do not like – indeed I hate – NFL Red Zone.

I am not going to do an old guy rant here – – Get off my damned lawn! – – about whippersnappers having the attention span of kittens. I recognize that many people of all ages prefer to hop around from game to game to see the big plays and the scoring plays. Indeed, if you are playing in a half-dozen fantasy football leagues, that sort of game-hopping may be of paramount interest to you. I have a different interest in watching a football game. I am not saying that my interest is better or worse than anyone else’s but it is different.

I see a football game as an ebb and flow as teams adjust to what the other team has been doing to thwart what that team has been doing successfully. I enjoy watching the game as it evolves and trying to put myself in the shoes of the offensive and defensive coordinators on both teams as they call the plays. I find that to be an essential ingredient to my enjoyment of a game and that essential ingredient cannot be found on NFL Red Zone.

Instead of feeling excited about being switched from a Steelers/Bills game to watch a 5-yard TD run in the Cowboys/Lions game, I feel angry and want to grab a remote and change back to the game I was watching. Oh, and when they now switch immediately to the Broncos/Falcons game, I am ready to throw my shoe at the TV screen…

Finally, since I am in hot water with #2 son, let me offer as a closing item something he sent to me. This is a comment from Conan O’Brien about the phenomenon known as Pokemon Go:

“The coach of Manchester United has banned all players from Playing Pokemon Go. He apparently doesn’t want any of his team distracted by a fun game where something actually happens…”

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

Over-Rated Athletes …

Late last week, I had a conversation with a neighbor who is a sports fan and an infrequent reader of these rants. He asked me the kind of question that is difficult to answer on the fly:

    Who is the most over-rated athlete in all sports?

I gave him the first answer that came close to that criterion that flashed into my head and said, “Danica Patrick.” Fortunately, he knew who Danica Patrick is and so he accepted my answer without forcing me to embellish on the topic or defend my position. Over the past few days, I have had some time to reflect on that question and I would like to present here four candidates who never came close to living up to the reviews:

    Danica Patrick: I leave her on the list because her fame and celebrity far exceed any domination of her chosen profession. She has been on the scene as a race car driver for about a decade; in that time, I believe she has won exactly one race. I doubt that comes close to living up to the reviews …

    Anna Kournikova: She was around on the pro tennis circuit for only about 5 years and in that time she managed to win exactly zero tournaments as a singles competitor. Even more than Danica Patrick, her celebrity and fame was based on her looks far more than her achievements on a tennis court. The late Bud Collins who was the dean of tennis journalists once said of Kournikova that she was the center of attention at Wimbledon – or some other major tournament I do not recall exactly – because of her beautiful backhand and backside.

    Maurice Clarett: After a freshman year that saw him as a star player on a national championship team, he managed to get himself in the middle of an academic scandal at Ohio State and was dismissed from school. He challenged the NFL rule about draft eligibility in court and lost. When he was finally drafted by the Broncos, he never saw the field in an exhibition game let alone a real NFL game. He did play one season in the United Football League before that organization went “paws up”; in that season, he rushed for 154 yards (4.2 yards per carry).

    Ryan Leaf: I put him on this list because back in 1998 as the NFL Draft was approaching, there was serious debate about who would be the better NFL QB, Peyton Manning (taken #1) or Ryan Leaf (taken #2). I remember thinking at the time that the Chargers (picking second) would get themselves a quality QB no matter whom the Colts selected at #1. Boy, was I wrong; and so were the folks who thought the Colts should have taken Leaf with the #1 pick.

There is my list. I am sure that folks here can add other names to that list. I toyed with putting Art Schlichter and/or Todd Marinovich on the list but chose Leaf instead. I also toyed with putting Trent Richardson on the list but chose Clarett instead. I could not come up with any MLB or NBA players who fell short of the hype to the degree that these four did. I suspect that others here may come up with worthy candidates and justifications for their inclusion on this infamous listing.

Looking at the world through the opposite end of the telescope, I really do not like arguments about who is the “best whatever of all time”. Let me use the example of “best basketball player of all time” as an example. For the sake of argument here, assume that I believe that Magic Johnson was the best player ever and two other folks believe the right answer is either Michael Jordan or Bill Russell. Here is my problem in a nutshell:

    In order to bolster my assertion and advance my argument in favor of Magic Johnson (a great player to be sure), I need to find fault with and denigrate to some extent the achievements of both Michael Jordan and Bill Russell (both great players to be sure). My preference in a situation like that concocted one is to acknowledge and celebrate the greatness of all three players and to marvel in the skills and achievements of all of them.

      [Aside: In a similar vein, the baseball arbitration system is set up to create the same kind of adversarial relationship where no such relationship need exist. In order for a team to justify its lower offer to a player than the player demands, it has to show that the player is not as good as the player claims to be. Just what both sides need to advance a constructive relationship over the short term let along the long term.]

Ichiro got his 3000th hit in MLB on Sunday against the Rockies. If he is not a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, they ought to initiate drug testing on all the voters for the Hall of Fame.

The NFL cancelled the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday because the playing field was unsafe. The league and the NFLPA jointly said that the cancellation was because player safety was paramount. Actually, a large portion of the decision was that player safety was important and the game itself was barely up to the level of meaningless. Nonetheless, give all those folks credit for canceling a game that would have been played under sub-standard conditions.

    [Aside: I wonder if Roger Goodell will find a way to blame this fiasco on Tom Brady.]

Here is the thing that gets me. After last year’s Hall of Fame Game, players roundly criticized the field as unsafe and unplayable. The stadium folks had a year to get the field into “playing shape” and botched that responsibility about as badly as one could imagine. Here is an interesting speculation:

    This year will prove conclusively that there can be an induction ceremony for the Hall of Fame without a meaningless 5th exhibition game for 2 of the 32 NFL teams. So, might this lead the league – and the NFLPA – to conclude that the Hall of Fame Game should go the way of the late-but-hardly-lamented Playoff Bowl?

    We can only hope …

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times with regard to the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony from last weekend:

“Brett Favre said he wanted his induction speech at Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement to mirror his career.

“Which explains why he quit speaking and then re-started three times.”

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

Another Round Of 58 …

Just last week, I wrote about Stephan Jaeger shooting a 58 on the Web.com golf tour. It was only the third round of its kind in pro golf history. Last weekend, Jim Furyk shot a 58 in a PGA event – the first time that has happened. Since “things happen in threes”, I think I will put an end to the suspense here and go out and play some golf.

    I can shoot 58 for nine holes and we can then put all of this to rest.

Contrast that upbeat story related to golf with this less-than-rosy one. Nike announced last week that they were getting out of the golf business. Actually, that was a bit of an overstatement; Nike will discontinue making golf clubs, golf balls and golf bags; Nike will continue to make golf shoes and a somewhat curtailed line of golf apparel. The sport of golf is in decline; it hit a peak about 15 years ago and it is now definitely in decline.

There are surely economic and demographic factors that play into that decline in a highly significant way. I think that a contributing factor – not a major factor but not an inconsequential one either – is the way that the PGA and the TV networks tied themselves to the vast popularity of Tiger Woods. Ten or fifteen years ago, TV coverage of tournaments consisted of covering whatever Tiger Woods was doing at the moment notwithstanding whatever else was happening on the course. The PGA rode that horse to death to the point that it gave short shrift to other golfers who were also playing well and who could have developed a significant following if allowed to get some breathing room in “publicity space”.

Tiger Woods crashed – literally – and burned on the night that his ex-wife found out about his dalliances and rushed out to “save him” by crashing in the window of his car with a nine-iron after his car ran into a fire hydrant. He has not been the same competitor since then and now he is so absent from anything related to the PGA that there is a void when it comes to fan icons. The TV networks can move on from this situation simply by offering less money for future TV rights to anything other than the majors. The PGA, on the other hand, needs to roll up its sleeves and work to create a new set of icons for fans to follow.

In previous times, golf had Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the scene at the same time. The PGA did not “pick one” of them; the PGA reveled in the fact that all three had significant numbers of followers. The PGA had better get back to that mode of thinking quickly because if TV ratings for everything other than the majors continue to fall, golf will not only be in decline, golf will be in danger.

The Yankees announced that A-Rod will play his final game as a Yankee this week and will then remain part of the organization as a front office “special advisor” and as an instructor for the team. A-Rod is as polarizing a figure in baseball as Pete Rose is. He was clearly an outstanding player; he was also clearly a drug-cheat. He has been on the baseball scene for more than 2 decades; his performance on the field this year will make people remember that his career ended with a whimper; they ought not forget some of the great years that preceded this one. The Yankees made it clear that A-Rod’s player’s contract would be paid in full; he is owed the balance of the $21M he is to make for this season and another $21M for 2017.

The countdown can begin right now for the first column to appear arguing the merits of A-Rod’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame. May I please ask anyone so tempted to write one of those pieces to take a deep breath and wait for about 5 years when A-rod’s name will be on the Hall of Fame ballot to offer such opinions? We do not need 5 full years of that sort of rhetoric.

Fans of baseball teams that are “sellers” at the trade deadline can feel dejected about the way a season is going for their heroes and usually console themselves with the thought that the “prospects” the team got will make things right in the future. I would have to imagine that Yankees’ fans had to be doubly dejected to see the team as “sellers” this year given that the team started the season with a $228M payroll and this is not the sort of thing that is supposed to happen to a team spending that kind of money. Moreover, the same guys who assembled the roster that posted this “disappointing season” are the same ones who are selecting the “prospects” that they want from other teams in trades. Hmmm…

I watched a little bit of the Opening Ceremony in Rio last Friday night. Even my long-suffering wife who loves that sort of pageantry could not make it through the entire evening; she dozed off and then went to bed after about an hour and a half. We were not alone in our disinterest here; ratings for this Opening Ceremony were down 25% as compared to the Opening Ceremony in London in 2012.

I realize that NBC spent a ton of money to secure these TV rights and that they have to sell ads to make up that expenditure. Having said that, do you think it would have been possible for them to cram any more ads and/or self-promotional spots into their coverage? I think I would need an abacus to count the total number they had. And remember, it was all of a 1-hour tape delay.

Just for fun, here is an observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times from last weekend regarding the Rio Olympics:

The official birth control of the Rio Olympic Athletes Village is:

    a) 450,000 Durex condoms

    b) the Pokemon Go app

Last week, Brad Rock had a column in the Deseret News that I suggest you read in its entirety because I do not think that I can summarize it sufficiently. Some people have suggested that big-time football will see its demise because mothers will not allow their sons to play football due to the danger of head injuries; some people have suggested that big-time football will die because the excess money involved with the game will corrupt it to the core. I am not a soothsayer – and Brad Rock does not pretend to be – but he suggests a different danger that confronts big-time college football. It is worth your time to read this.

Finally, since I spoke about golf above, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald about golf:

“Hidden Valley Golf Course in Lincoln reported golf ball-sized hail. How confusing was this for golfer searching for their lost ball the next morning?

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

The Race Card …

Last week, the Washington Post had a report that Charles Barkley will host a new TV show – to make its debut next year on TNT – where he will examine “race, class and cultural differences” in our society. The working title for the show is “The Race Card”. This program has the potential to be very important and constructive for a wide audience and this program has the potential for self-immolation. Clearly, I would prefer the former outcome but even though I would root for that, I have to acknowledge that “crash and burn” is a real possibility.

Charles Barkley is not shy about sharing his opinions and feelings and his opinions are never ones that are universally held throughout society. Here is an overview of what he will try to do:

“… bring [race and cultural tensions] to the forefront, and create a dialogue, and he’s going to bring a Who’s Who [of people] with him to both dramatize it, to opine on it, to participate. And he hopes it’s sort of a lightning rod, and a really constructive dialogue.”

I can assure you that I will be watching for this program and hoping that it succeeds. And, simply because Charles Barkley has been himself “sort of a lightning rod” in the past, there will be some who tune in because they think this will be equivalent to inviting Howard Stern to a church social.

There was another report that caught my eye recently regarding the Monday Night Football game this year that will be played in Mexico City (Raiders/Texans on 21 November). The game will take place in Azteca Stadium there and the venue seats 98,500 people. The NFL reported that after tickets for the game went on sale, the game was a sellout “within minutes”. This is scheduled as a home game for the Raiders; clearly, this will be the largest home attendance that the team will see this year.

The reason that report caught my eye is because it points to the potential for the NFL to expand revenues in international settings. Roger Goodell – like Charles Barkley – has been a lightning rod for the last several years with regard to his role as the league disciplinarian. [Aside: Back in September 2014, I wrote here that Goodell ought not be the league disciplinarian because it interferes with his main job – growing the revenue for the NFL.] This show of support for the NFL product in an international venue seemed to be an indicator that Goodell’s “vision” for annual revenue of $25B for the NFL by 2027 might just be realistic.

Consider that in 2010, the NFL revenue was $8.5B and in 2015 the NFL revenue was $13.1B. In case your calculator is not handy, that is an increase of 54% in 5 years. If you extrapolate that sort of increasing revenue over the next decade you will see that NFL revenue in 2025 would be in excess of $30B. Since it becomes much more difficult to sustain that level of growth as the base for calculating the growth expands, even the NFL has to accept the reality that growth will slow – – and yet an annual revenue of $25B in 2027 might be achievable.

This is what Roger Goodell is hired by the owners to accomplish; that is why he enjoys support among the owners. By the way, the players ought to appreciate what he is doing – and what he is seeking to accomplish – because roughly half of all the league revenue shows up in players’ contracts. If the league revenue were to grow by $12B in the next decade, then player salaries will grow by $6B. Even if the players may feel that they deserve a slightly higher percentage of the gross revenue than they are currently receiving, it is not as if they are the recipients of chump change.

The way I see it, the single largest obstacle in the way of the NFL growing to the levels that Roger Goodell has envisioned is continued labor peace. The current CBA extends through 2020; that is the timeframe where this growth engine could hit a speed bump – – or it could find a bridge over troubled waters and come to suitable compromise(s). Therein lies the great unknown in all of this.

How will the league grow revenues between now and 2025 – – assuming labor peace beyond 2020?

    1. International expansion: The league maintains they want to put a franchise in London. I think that is not a good idea but it is certainly not so disastrous that it would topple the league if they did it and it turned out to be as bad as I think it would be. I think the NFL can continue to play individual games in international venues (London, Mexico City, Tokyo, Calgary, Berlin, Beijing). With significant attendance at those games, interest there will grow in the NFL product which will open doors for more TV rights fees abroad and for more merchandise sales.

    2. More TV games: Notice, I did not say more games here; while I would enjoy seeing an 18-game NFL regular season schedule, I recognize that player safety issues stand in the way of having that happen in the near future. However, the NFL has gone from “Sunday-only” to “Sunday and Monday” to “Sunday and Sunday Night and Monday” to “Sunday and Sunday Night and Monday and Thursday” in its scheduling. What that does is put more games on the air in a national audience setting. That attracts more viewers; that means ratings go up; that means more ad dollars; that means higher TV rights fees and that increases revenues.

      Saturday is a “set-aside” for the NFL so that they do not poach on the long-standing tradition of college football games on Saturday.

      Therefore, Tuesday and Wednesday are still in play. Do not discount those possibilities…

Finally, since I talked about Charles Barkley above, here is an item from Gregg Drinnan in his Keeping Score blog:

“A piece of advice from the always relevant Charles Barkley: ‘Don’t get in a fight with somebody who’s ugly. They got nothing to lose.’”

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

I Don’t Like Moneyball …

I have never been a fan of Moneyball. I thought the book was shallow and self-evident if you believed the implied premise that this approach to building a baseball team was transferable to each and every other situation in MLB. I tried to watch the movie and did not make it past the first 15 or 20 minutes. Billy Beane continues to receive the sort of accolades one usually associates with a true visionary. My problem is that true visionaries have successes at least once in a while.

The A’s last won a World Series in 1989; that happened before Beane was the GM in Oakland; if fact, that was before Beane was even hired as a scout in Oakland. The idea behind Moneyball is to find value in players such that the team can win without having an outrageously expensive payroll. As I said above, the premise is sort of self-evident. However, what Moneyball seems not to be able to address is this:

    Once you find a valuable player – or two or three – and the on field performance demonstrates that they are worthy of more than some sort of minimal salary, how does the team keep some of them as the foundation for building a team with other new “value discoveries” that the genius GM will uncover?

I assert that the A’s have not yet figured out how to do that simply because of the top-shelf players that they have had on their roster “on the cheap” and whom they traded away to other teams for lesser performance. I am not going to pretend here to have done hours upon hours of research to come up with these examples because I did not. I suspect that there are more examples – and better examples – of the point I want to make here but I have not had the time or inclination to do the work to uncover them. Nevertheless:

    The A’s had Josh Donaldson playing third base for them. Rather than face up to the fact that he was going to cost a lot more money in his next contract negotiation, they traded him away for an inferior third baseman, two pitchers that have yet to do anything in MLB and a prospect at shortstop who has yet to see action in MLB. They traded away performance and got little if any value in return.

    The A’s had Ben Zobrist playing second base for them. They traded him away for a young pitcher who has a 4.68 ERA this year and another pitcher they traded away before he ever saw the parent club.

    The A’s had Nelson Cruz in their minor league system for about 5 years and never found a way to see that he might be a major league hitter. They traded him to the Brewers in 2004; the Brewers traded him to the Rangers in 2006 and Cruz is still playing productively as a DH in 2016. Back in 2004, the A’s received an infielder who appeared in 51 games for them and batted .161.

    The A’s had outfielder Yoenis Cespedes on their roster. Despite his All-Star level performance, they traded him to the Red Sox for John Lester – whom they failed to keep, he appeared in a total of 11 games for the A’s – and Jonny Gomes.

I am not trying to make the case that the A’s had tons of Hall of Fame quality players that they gave away for nothing; that is not the point. What they did have were solid MLB players or better and they got rid of them to save money and did not get any “Moneyball-value-players” in return. As of this morning, the A’s are 47-60 and are sitting comfortably in last place in the AL West. They have a run differential of minus-85 which is by far the worst in the AL. for the last 10 years (since 2006), the A’s cumulative record is 867-859. That is a winning percentage of .502.

    That winning percentage over a decade says “mediocrity” to me and not “visionary genius”.

Enough negativity for the day … There are two positive things that happened last week which I want to mention today. The Web.com Tour is sort of like the AAA affiliate of the PGA Tour; players on the Web.com Tour have not yet made it to the main tour and almost all of them aspire to do so. This “developmental tour” if you will, was originally known as the Ben Hogan Tour and most recently as the Nationwide Tour. Stephan Jaeger is one of the players on the Web.com Tour and last week all he did was to shoot a round of 58.

    To put that in perspective, this is only the third time in the history of pro golf that a player has carded a 58.

Moreover, this was not a mere flash-in-the-pan round where everything was dropping for him. In the other 3 rounds of the tournament, Jaeger shot 65,64,63 meaning that his total for the four rounds of the tournament was 250.

    The previous US record for low score in a 72-hole professional tournament was 254. Jaeger broke that record by 4 strokes.

The other positive happening from last week was an announcement by the NBPA saying that retired NBA players who had accumulated 3-years of tenure in the league will get health insurance provided by the NBPA. Open enrollment will begin in October 2016 and coverage will commence on Jan 1 2017. The vote to make this happen was passed unanimously by the players.

    Kudos to the NBA players and the NBPA for this classy move.

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald recently. It brings together the current political debates in the US with the world of sports.

“Democrats say they want to put an end to the rich getting richer on the backs of the middle and lower classes.

“In that case, they can start by investigating how the Golden State Warriors got Kevin Durant.”

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