The UNC Academic Fraud Scandal

What is “malodorous” to a skunk?  What is “disgusting” to a maggot?  What is “too good” for a child molester?  I pose these questions only to provide a context for the real question that is on my mind this morning:

  • What is “shameful” or “embarrassing” or “humiliating” or even “contemptible” to the NCAA?

The announcement last week – in a Friday news dump no less – the NCAA announced that it would not punish UNC for about 20 years of academic fraud.  Athletes in the “revenue sports” – and that phrase is VERY important here – were steered to sham courses in the African and American Studies Department where they all got good grades in exchange for no academic work so that they might stay eligible.  After deliberating on this matter for about 5 years after being made aware of it by outsiders, the NCAA decided that behavior was not in their ambit and it was a “university issue”.

Here are some reasons why the NCAA threw up on its shoes last week:

  • The minute the NCAA made the decision to “investigate” this matter as a potential violation of its rules on “impermissible benefits to student-athletes”, it was obvious that UNC would have to be found innocent because these courses were open to every student on the campus and students who were not athletes took those courses.  That decision was made several years ago and yet the NCAA pretended to “investigate” and “deliberate” and “adjudicate” this matter.
  • The fact that this involved the UNC football and basketball programs meant that any sanctions levied would have to restrict the participation of a major revenue generator – UNC – and so, there were significant economic barriers to finding any wrong-doing here.
  • The NCAA overloaded the hypocrisy meter on Friday when it abandoned the individuals who comprise the corps of its most sacred class of people – the “student-athletes”.  Dozens – maybe hundreds – of “student-athletes” came to UNC on “NCAA scholarships” in a deal that the NCAA says offers them a free college education in exchange for their athletic performance(s).  By turning a blind eye to what happened here, the NCAA has told all the “student-athletes” that those scholarships may in fact be meaningless because schools can offer them courses that teach the “student-athletes” exactly nothing.

I have never been – and I am not yet – a proponent of paying college athletes to play football and/or basketball.  I am not a Pollyannaish guardian of the ideal of “amateurism” in that position; I simply think that there are ways for athletes to be paid to play sports and that they should seek out those places if they do not want to go to college for the primary purpose of getting an education beyond the high school level.  I am making no value judgements here; high school graduates are adults – or close to it – and they should be able to make those kinds of choices for themselves with the understanding that all choices have consequences and some consequences are good while others are bad.  In and of itself, that is a life lesson – a molecule of “education” if you will…

I mention that because the NCAA has been violently opposed to paying athletes for the entirety of its existence; that is the core reason that they have come up with their multi-hundred-page rulebook over the years.  What the NCAA has done here is to advance the case made by the proponents of paying college athletes for a simple reason:

  • The NCAA position is that the scholarship is a thing of value and that thing of value is what is exchanged for services rendered.  The scholarships provide opportunity to the “student-athlete” and he can seize that opportunity or not at his choosing.
  • The real value of that scholarship drops like a turd into the bowl if the schools – with no fear of sanction – can steer their “student-athletes” to content-free courses by using “academic advisors” who are employed by (note the advisors are paid by) the athletic departments.

As all this unfolded, there has been a category of losers that have received little attention.  These are the folks who graduated from UNC without inflating their GPAs by taking courses such as the ones the “student athletes” were steered to.  Those alumni have had their diplomas devalued and defaced – and no one has done anything about it.  The alums who are not fanboys of the basketball and football teams ought to be outraged by that and ought to be pressuring the school to do things to assure no further damage be inflicted on their diplomas.  Somehow, I don’t hear those cries.

Similarly, the faculty at UNC should be outraged.  In academic circles – the ivory towers of scholarly pursuit – there should be a level of contempt for courses designed from the outset to teach students nothing at all.  There has to be “collateral damage” done to members of the UNC faculty where that sort of thing happened without anyone noticing for almost 20 years.

I have said before that the only reason to tolerate the existence of the feckless and hypocritical NCAA is because it stages the single best athletic event every year – – March Madness.  My first thought last Friday was this:

  • Once this passes over, maybe those goofs in Indianapolis can stumble through the months to March without any further incidents.
  • Then I remembered the FBI investigations of “fraud” and “bribery” that are ongoing and realized that my hopeful vision for the next 4 months is an unlikely outcome.

Finally, let me leave you with this comment from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“What I love about college sports is the purity. That’s why I go to ESPN Classic and watch only games played prior to 1910. The hi-def sucks, but you can’t beat the purity.”

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



MLB And A Football Weekend

The Yankees and the Cubs lost their first two League Championship Series games on the road and face “must-win” games at home.  Both teams have seen their bats go silent; the Cubs have 7 hits in 2 games; the Yankees have only 10 hits in 2 games.  I have been saying for much of the MLB season that the Astros were fun to watch; if José Altuve’s mad dash home to win Game 2 of the ALCS does not convince you they are fun to watch, I would have to conclude you just don’t like baseball.

It was a wild and wacky weekend in terms of football outcomes so let me begin with college football.  The schedule did not provide many games where both squads were ranked so the upsets last week were even more stunning than usual:

  1. Syracuse 27 Clemson 24:  Just about everyone had Clemson running the table this year and meeting Alabama in the CFP championship game for the 3rd year in a row.  If Clemson was going to lose a game, it certainly would not have been to Syracuse.  Except it was – and it happened last weekend.  To make it worse, Clemson QB, Kelly Bryant had to leave the game with a concussion.
  2. Cal 37 Washington St. 3:  This was not a fluke; Cal held Wash St. to 257 yards passing and only 23 yards rushing.  One DL for Cal, Ross Bowers, recorded 9 sacks in this game and Cal intercepted Luke Falk 5 times.
  3. Arizona St. 13 Washington 7:  Arizona St. held the Huskies to 139 yards passing in the game and 91 yards rushing.  Washington missed two field goals in the game and both were less than 30-yard attempts.  The importance of the Apple Cup game took a hit this weekend.
  4. LSU 27 Auburn 23:  Auburn was looking at a “1-game season” in their game against Alabama but LSU came back from a 20-0 deficit in the second quarter to win the game.  Auburn QB, Jarrett Stidham was held to 9 for 28 for 165c yards in the game.
  5. Memphis 30 Navy  27:  This was the first loss of the season for the Middies and that makes 5 undefeated teams that lost that status this week.  Wow!
  6. Oklahoma beat Texas in their rivalry game and – looking ahead – the Oklahoma/TCU game is one to circle on the calendar.
  7. Speaking of TCU, they avoided losing their undefeated status this weekend beating K-State by 20 points at K-State.  TCU is a good football team…
  8. Miami stayed unbeaten too with a come-from-behind-win over Georgia Tech.  The Hurricanes were down 11 points in the third quarter and rallied to win by 1 point.
  9. Speaking of comebacks, W. Virginia trailed Texas Tech 35-17 in the middle of the third quarter.  Then things changed and the Mountaineers won the game 46-35.  Yowza!
  10. Iowa St. followed up on their upset of Oklahoma last week by trouncing Kansas 45-0.  It is never a shock to see Kansas get stomped in a football game; but still, someone might want to check the contents of those Gatorade jugs on the Iowa St. sidelines…
  11. Boston College beat Louisville 45-42.  Yes, BC scored 45 points in a single football game; normally, that takes about 10 quarters for them to accomplish.  Louisville has now lost 3 games and Lamar Jackson can forget about repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner.
  12. Carolina beat Tennessee 15-9 in Knoxville, TN. That makes the Vols 0-3 in the SEC and I suspect that there are some Tennessee boosters that are calling to find out just how much “buyout money” there is in Butch Jones’ contract.
  13. And just to show that there is some stability in college football, Alabama beat Arkansas 41-9 and in doing so held Arkansas to 27 yards rushing for the day.

I guess the NFL teams checked the Sunday morning papers and figured that this was “Upset Week” and wanted to get in on the action.  Ten underdogs covered on Sunday out of twelve games.

  1. The Dolphins trailed the Falcons 17-0 at the half and came back to win the game 20-17.  Forget the Falcons’ epic collapse in the Super Bowl last year; that was last year.  In the 2017 season, the Falcons have been outscored in the second half 72-40 and they have already lost 2 home games.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins with their dink-and-dunk offense and Jay Cutler at the helm are 3-2 – – same as the NFC defending champion Falcons.
  2. The Skins narrowly beat the Niners 26-24.  Remember, I said the Skins tend to play down to the level of their opponent; they were 11.5-point favorites at kickoff and did not come close to covering.
  3. The Saints beat the Lions 52-38.  Halfway through the 3rd quarter, the Saints led 45-10 and then the Lions got on a roll and almost made a game of it.
  4. The Pats beat the Jets by a TD and there was a most controversial booth-review and the overturning of a call on the field that would have given the Jets the tying TD.  Instead it was ruled a touchback giving the Pats the ball at their 20-yardline.  It changed the game.
  5. It took overtime, but the Bears beat the Ravens.  Mitchell Trubisky won his first NFL game as a starting QB.
  6. The Cards led the Bucs 31-6 at the end of the 3rd quarter and Jameis Winston was on the sidelines.  So, Ryan Fitzpatrick put 27 points on the board in the 4th quarter to make this a game; the cards did prevail 38-33.
  7. The Chiefs were the only undefeated NFL team as of Sunday morning.  Then the Steelers showed up in KC and beat the Chiefs 19-13.  The Steelers’ defense held Chiefs’ RB, Kareen Hunt, to 21 yards on 9 attempts.
  8. The Chargers beat the Raiders 17-16 even though Darek Carr returned from his back injury.
  9. The most surprising result of all, however, was the Giants going to Denver and beating the Broncos 20-10 – and the score looks closer than the game really was because of a late TD by the Broncos.

Finally, I mentioned above that Lamar Jackson was not going to repeat as the Heisman trophy winner and that brought to mind this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding another potential Heisman candidate:

“Oklahoma State punter Zach Sinor has launched his own Heisman Trophy campaign. What would it take for a punter to win the Heisman? First, an offense that stinks a lot.”

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



Baseball And This Weekend’s Football …

I got lots of stuff to cover today and not a lot of time to do it.  So, on with the show…

The Cubs advance to the NLCS to meet the Dodgers after beating the Nats 9-8 last night.  Forget any nonsense you read about a “Washington Sports Curse”; the Cubs played better baseball than the Nats last night and they get to move on while the Nats get to preen as they look over their stats.  Because baseball seasons are as long as they are, there is a completely different environment surrounding a “win-or-go-home game” in the playoffs.  And last night the overmanaging by both Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker dragged this game out for an eternity.  I did not time it but it had to be about four-and-a-half hours.

  • Both teams used 7 pitchers.
  • All 14 pitchers hosted meetings on the mound with varied attendance all night long.
  • Each team had 19 players participate.
  • I believe only 3 team at-bats were “three-and-out” all night long.

Eerily, the Nats led 4-3 in the top of the fourth when Dusty Baker began his “strategery” and pulled starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez.  The Nats went on to lose the game.  That is the same thing that former Nats’ manager, Davey Johnson, did to Gonzalez in 2012.  And once again, the Nats’ bullpen – and ironically the Nats’ best starting pitcher for the last two seasons – coughed up a hairball and the Nats’ season came to an end.

Dusty Baker is a baseball lifer and is seemingly liked by just about everyone.  I think that gives him a pass on some of his playoff managerial decisions that always seem to backfire.

Since it is Friday – and Friday the 13th no less – I want to look at what is on the menu this weekend regarding football.  Let me start with college football.

Earlier this week, I summarized last weekend’s activity and made no mention of Washington beating Cal 38-7.  The reason for that omission was that I was hardly surprised by the result and it was not a rivalry game.  However, a reader who is a Washington alum pointed out that I had neglected to point out something unusual from the game:

  • The stats say Cal ran the ball 25 times for a minus-40 yards.
  • In college football, sacks are recorded as rushing attempts; in this game, the Cal QB was sacked 9 times for minus-41 yards.  That explains the highly negative output but it also means that on real running attempts, Cal tried to run 16 times and gained a net of 1 yard.

A tip of the hat to my informant here…  That is a stat worthy of mention.

I said last week the Oregon St. might be looking for a new coach sometime soon.  Well, that time arrived earlier this week; Gary Andersen resigned as head coach.  Maybe he was nudged; but according to reports, by resigning he left $12.6 million on the table; Oregon St. had given him a contract extension last January and that is what he had coming to him.  Andersen had been at Oregon St. since the start of the 2015 season going there after a successful stint at Wisconsin.  Things did not go well at Oregon St.; his record there was 7-23; in the last 4 games, his team lost by a cumulative score of 180-54.

File these circumstances under the heading “Rubbing It In”:

  • Rutgers ranks 13th in the Big 10 in Total Offense and 123rd in the country.
  • Originally, Saquon Barkley and Jonathon Taylor both “committed” to Rutgers only to change their minds later.
  • Barkley is a Heisman-contender at RB for Penn State and leads the Big 10 in all-purpose yards.
  • Taylor is the featured RB at Wisconsin averaging 7.9 yards per carry and ranking 2nd in the big 10 in all-purpose yards.

There are still 13 unbeaten teams in Division 1-A.  Everyone knows about the “big-boys” here like Alabama and Clemson and Georgia and Miami and Penn St. and TCU and Wisconsin.  Keep an eye on:

Regarding top games this weekend:

  1. Texas/Oklahoma:  This is the biggest game of the weekend and the best rivalry game of the weekend by far.  Both teams have shown well at time this year and both teams have embarrassing losses on their record; Texas lost to Maryland and Oklahoma lost to Iowa St.  Both teams can lose this game.
  2. Arkansas/Alabama:  Bama is a 31.5-point favorite; the Arkansas program is staggering at this point; this will be ugly.
  3. Carolina at Tennessee: Butch Jones needs another conference loss at home like a moose needs a hat rack.
  4. Auburn/LSU:  LSU is coming off a road win; Auburn still has a chance to be the SEC West champ; LSU is “offensively challenged”; the game is in Baton Rouge.  The oddsmaker has the Total Line at 43.5; that seems about right…
  5. Utah/USC:  If Utah prevails here, it will be because their defense won the game.
  6. Michigan St./Minnesota:  Can “Sparty” build on its upset win from last week or will there be a rapid deflation?

Just the luck of the draw, but lots of conference games this weekend have blowout potential.  It is just a twist of the schedule.  However, as usual, there are some games that pair two really mediocre teams:

  1. Northwestern/Maryland:  Who cares?
  2. Rutgers/Illinois:  Even the coaches shouldn’t care.
  3. Appalachian St./Idaho:  Not exactly a “border war” game.
  4. New Mexico St./Ga Southern:  NM St. is a two-touchdown favorite on the road in this game.  Let that sink in…

Before I list the NFL games that are interesting this week, I want to point you to a column by Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post earlier this week.  I think this is the best summation of the conflicting views surrounding the “National Anthem Protests” and it articulately points out that both sides of the argument may be right and both may be wrong.  I am incapable of summarizing it in a befitting way and I would ask you to follow this link and read the column in its entirety.  It is worth the time and effort.

And here are the NFL games of interest for this week:

  1. Chargers at Raiders:  Will Derek Carr be back for the Raiders already?  Raiders’ fans must hope this is not a “panic move” that might lead to further injury.  The Raiders have other significant issues above and beyond Carr’s absence from the lineup such as an under-performing defense (31st in the league), “Beast Mode” looking more like “Lap-Dog Mode” and Amari Cooper disappearing as well as his namesake, D. B. Cooper.
  2. Giants at Broncos (Sun Nite):  Giants suspended Dominic Rogers-Cromartie “indefinitely” this week after some sort of altercation/confrontation with coaches.  [Aside:  The CBA says a team can not suspend a player for longer than 4 games so “indefinitely” has a limit here.]  Given the Giants’ horrid offense and the Broncos excellent defense, the question here is if the Giants can score into double-digits.
  3. Browns at Texans:  Beat writers should be furious with Hue Jackson and his decision to start Kevin Hogan at QB this week.  Had he stuck with DeShone Kizer, lots of those beat writers would have done a riff on the matchup of DeShone versus Deshaun this week.  Too bad; it might have been the most interesting thing about this game.
  4. Niners at Skins:  This is the return to DC of Kyle Shanahan; do not expect a warm welcome…  The Skins are the better team with more talent; history says that the Skins play down to the level of opponents that they outmatch on paper.  Skins are 11-point favorites…
  5. Colts at Titans (Mon Nite):  When the post the line, seriously consider taking the UNDER if Ryan Mallett is starting for the Titans.  That game might be 3-0 at halftime…
  6. Rams at Jags:  When I was perusing the schedule to do my NFL Predictions back in August, I did not focus on this game as one of the best matchups of the week.  You probably didn’t either.  Jags are a 3-point favorite here; I think the Rams are the better team.

Finally, since I mentioned Rutgers’ offensive woes earlier on, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that speaks to the futility there:

“Rutgers’ football program was put on two years’ probation on a “failure to monitor” rap.

“Even more embarrassing, the Scarlet Knights broke the rules — and the team sucked anyway.”

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



Tales Of Futility …

The US will not compete in the World Cup tournament in Russia in 2018.  The immediate reason for that is the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) lost to Trinidad and Tobago a couple of days ago.  As of this morning, Trinidad and Tobago ranks 99th in the world on the FIFA World Table; that puts it two notches behind Mauritania and two notches above Madagascar.  And the US lost to that team in a situation where a win or a tie guaranteed the Americans a trip to the World Cup.  That is about as embarrassing as losing a game to the Cleveland Browns.

Forget all the nonsense you may have read about how this sets back the development of soccer as a major sport in the US.  The US would have struggled to make it out of the Group stage in the World Cup and was not going to win the tournament.  A World Cup is what it would take to have soccer take meaningful strides in the US as a major sport; that was simply not going to happen.  Here is the most important take-away from this embarrassing loss:

  • In his post-game press conference, US Coach, Bruce Arena, expressed his shock and his dismay at the outcome and said that the team should be in the World Cup tournament.  Then he added that there was no reason to make sweeping changes to US Soccer; he said that there was a solid and progressive system in place and this was not the time to contemplate significant changes.

Excuse me?  You lost a play-in game to the 99th best team in the world and you think everything is hunky-dory?  Here is the logical end-point to that line of thinking:

  • This sort of thing will happen again.

Looking analytically and not emotionally at the situation, men’s soccer in the US is a niche sport that is played mainly in the suburbs.  Even in that suburban sports environment, the best athletes do not tend to gravitate to soccer over football, basketball and baseball and the coaching/training available to most suburban soccer players is amateurish.  That is the current state of affairs as overseen by the US Soccer nabobs.  Those folks – the ones who hired Bruce Arena – need to look at their programs and their structures to figure out why the USMNT lost to Trinidad and Tobago and to figure out how to prevent that from happening again.

Notwithstanding Bruce Arena’s self-interested statement, this is exactly the time for thought, analysis and then significant change.  One thing that might be very beneficial would be to identify young talent early on and then to send those young players overseas for soccer training at some of the academies there.  I am not a soccer expert but when I watch European players as opposed to American players, they play differently.  European players seem to know what they are going to do with the ball before it arrives on their foot; American players seem to focus on trapping the ball and setting up to do something that they will figure out once they have the ball controlled.  I doubt that is genetic; I suspect it is taught – – except not in whatever US teaching/training programs exist.

Since I mentioned the Cleveland Browns above – in great literature that is called foreshadowing; here it is called a convenient coincidence – the team has decided to bench rookie QB, DeShone Kizer this week and to start Kevin Hogan.  Since the Browns were reborn in 1999, their cumulative record is 88-205; that is a winning percentage of .300; their number of starting QBs over that stretch is measured in dozens; the current head coach has a record of 1-20 since his arrival; the GM and much of the Front Office come from the world of baseball and they are devoted to advanced analytics.  If NFL Films decides to do an hour-long feature on this mess, here is my suggested title:

  • Moneyball Comes To Cleveland

Whatever advanced algorithms are in use by the Browns’ Front Office, may I suggest that they need more work.  Indeed, the team roster was devoid of sufficient talent a few years ago and just about nowhere was the talent deficit starker than at the QB position.  So, what did the analytics tell the Browns to do in free agency and in the NFL Draft?

  1. Two years ago, the analytics said to pass on drafting Carson Wentz in the #2 slot and trade down with the Eagles.  I am not nearly ready to anoint Wentz as a great QB, but he is a whole lot better than anyone who has played the position – or been on the roster to run the scout team in practice – for the Browns in the last two seasons.  The Front Office explained their choice saying that their data did not project Wentz as a top 20 NFL QB.  Compare that standard to the QBs on the Browns’ roster today (DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler) and ask which of them the analytics projects as a Top 20 NFL QB…
  2. Last year, the analytics said to do the same thing to DeShaun Watson and wait to draft Deshone Kizer in the second round.  (Actually, the Browns passed on Watson twice since they had the 1st overall pick and then, the 12th overall pick which they traded away to Texas to allow the Texans to draft Watson.)

This week, the Browns travel to Houston to face DeShaun Watson and the Texans.  If Kevin Hogan leads the Browns to a win, you can be certain that the Cleveland papers will anoint the team as “Hogan’s Heroes”.  If, however, they lose [Aside:  The Texans are minus-500 on the money line.] and Watson lights the Browns’ defense up, someone should ask the GM what he was thinking.  His perfect response would be to channel Sergeant Schultz and say:

“I know nuuuuthing.”

It would at least be very close to the truth…

Oh, speaking of DeShaun Watson as the Texans’ QB, let us just say that Bill O’Brien has made do with some quarterbacking mediocrity since his arrival in Houston.  Prior to drafting Watson – and inserting him into the lineup in Game 1 – here are the Texans’ QBs that have given the team three consecutive winning records:

  1. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  2. Brian Hoyer
  3. Case Keenum
  4. Ryan Mallett
  5. Brock Osweiler
  6. Tom Savage
  7. T.J. Yates

I do not want to anoint DeShaun Watson as an all-time NFL great just yet, but looking at his seven predecessors as the Texans QBs, can we agree that they would not be known as The Magnificent Seven?

Finally, since I have been talking about quarterbacks here, let me close with an observation made by Dandy Don Meredith about his Cowboys’ coach, Tom Landry:

“Coach Tom Landry is such a perfectionist that if he was married to Raquel Welch, he would expect her to cook.”

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



A Less-Traveled Path Today …

I am going to stray off the normal path of these rants today.  I have run across some reports which are tangential to the sports world or which involve sports that I do not comment on regularly here.  Let me start with European professional golf.  The Euro Tour is an established professional golf tour in Europe and according to reports, they will experiment with a rule imposition in the Austrian Open this year.

  • The Euro Tour will use a shot clock in the Austrian Open this year.

Here is the deal:

  • Players will have 40 seconds to get off their shot.  The report I read was not clear on what constitutes the beginning of the countdown, but once it starts a player needs to execute the shot within 40 seconds.
  • The first failure to get a shot off in the required time will get the player a “yellow card”.  [Aside:  This is Europe after all where soccer is king.  There should be no surprise to see a “soccer-influence” on the penalties here.]
  • For each subsequent violation of the shot clock, a player will be given a penalty stroke.

I think that this sort of rule would be a boon to golf on TV.  I am not a consumer of golf on TV except for the weekends of the major tournaments; so, I am not the target demographic for people at the PGA who want to increase TV audiences.  However, what will get me to change the channel quickly is to watch a professional golfer take 3 minutes to study and line up a putt.  That is not good TV and that is not critically important to a professional golfer.

As with just about any rule change, most of the current pros will probably not like it; I get that.  However, if it gooses TV ratings even 5%, that means increased ad revenues for the networks and that means more prize money for tournaments down the line.  Yes, that is trickle-down economics; but in this case, it works.  You can read more about this concept here.

Another interesting development tangential to the sports world is a report that Nike has received “a swath of patents” related to a new self-lacing sneaker that will sell for $700.  Lest you think I only imagined something so out of the ordinary, here is a link to a report on the subject.

These are going to be high-tech shoes.  They will have sensors in the soles that will keep the shoe attached to the foot with the same pressure as the wearer does different things with his feet.  Nike says this new shoe – currently called the Hyperadapt 2.0 – will be used in NBA games and that would indicate to me that Nike has already set in motion plans with some of its NBA player-partners to sport these shoes in live competition.

According to the report linked above, this new shoe represents the first “high-tech” adaptation to the shoe industry since “light-up shoes” about 25 years ago.  Fortunately, there is no mention of marrying “light up shoes” with “self-lacing shoes”.  I recall when light up shoes first hit the market and I was officiating a basketball game where two of the players were wearing them.  Talk about distracting…

There was a time about 2 years ago when stories about the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar were front and center on a regular basis.  In more recent times, that subject has been quiescent other than a few stories recently alleging that Qatar has been using North Korean workers to build some of the needed venues and that those wages actually go to pay for parts of the North Korean nuclear development program.  I do not know if that is the case; I would hope it was not the case; it would surprise me to learn that it is indeed the case.

Now, there is a hint that perhaps the 2022 FIFA World Cup will not take place in Qatar after all.  We know for sure that there were “irregularities” in the bidding process that awarded the tournament to Qatar in the first place.  We also know for sure that the summer weather in Qatar is not conducive to playing championship level soccer; the average high temperature in Qatar from the beginning of May until late in September is 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher – – and it tends to be humid then too.  FIFA may need to stage the World Cup tournament in the winter months and many of the powerful leagues and associations around the world are not thrilled with that idea.  Notwithstanding those “irregularities” or the “climatological realities”, FIFA has pressed on with the idea that the 2022 World Cup Tournament will take place as announced.  Until now …?

The BBC obtained a copy of a report prepared by an international management consulting firm which concluded that the 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar is a “high-risk project”.  Let’s count some of the ways – over, above and beyond the health risks imposed on players and fans by the heat of the day:

  • Qatar is currently embroiled in diplomatic squabbles with some – but not all – of its neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula plus Egypt.
  • The current cost estimate for presenting the tournament is in the neighborhood of $200B.  We are still 5 years away from the start of the tournament and none of these sorts of projects ever come in “under the estimate”.
  • The FIFA President – the guy who took over after the “Qatar bidding irregularities” led to investigations that led to a housecleaning at the top of FIFA – has said that Qatar is in a “diplomatic crisis” but that FIFA is not considering any change of venue.

For the record, FIFA has moved a World Cup Tournament in the past.  In 1986, the World Cup was to take place in Colombia but economic factors and some ongoing drug wars in the country suggested that a change of venue would make sense.  Those games were played in Mexico that year; there is precedent here.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding the emergence of professional tag as a competitive sport in Europe:

“There is a new competitive sport: Tag. The good news is it shouldn’t take long to explain the rules.”

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



Baseball, Football And Basketball Today

Yesterday was a great day to be a sports fan with cable TV access until the final helping.  The Yankees evened their series with the Indians at 2-2 in what was the least exciting baseball game of the day.  The Dodgers competed their sweep of the D-Backs in the NL in workmanlike fashion.  Then, there were the other two games;

  1. The Cubs beat the Nats 2-1 to take a series lead of 2-1.  They did this despite Max Scherzer throwing six-and-a-third innings and giving up only 1 hit and 1 run.  The Nats led 1-0 at the time but the three relievers that followed Scherzer could not hold the lead.  Dusty Baker has been questioned in the past for some of his playoff decisions and there were two in this game that will attract scrutiny.  The first was pulling Scherzer – presuming that Scherzer’s hamstring injury did not flare up – and the decision to pitch to Anthony Rizzo with first base open in the eighth inning will be “examined” if the Nats lose the series.
  2. The Astros closed out the Red Sox in the ALDS.  This was the best game of the day because the Astros had to find a way to score 3 runs off Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrell to get the win.  Make no mistake, Sale and Kimbrell are both excellent but the Astros did what was necessary with 2 runs in the eighth inning and another run in the ninth inning to move on.  The winning run was driven in by Carlos Beltran; it seems as he has been around since the time when the world’s oldest profession was merely a hobby.

And then, there was Monday Night Football.  After a main course of those two great baseball games, the dessert offered by MNF was disappointing at best.  Imagine yourself at a fine-dining event with a fixed menu where you have had a stunning appetizer and main course only to discover that your dessert is broccoli and brussels sprouts pudding.  Yeah, that’s about right…

Even though the game was close throughout, it was a mess because the reason it was close was that neither team could do diddley-squat on offense.  The Vikes started Sam Bradford at QB and he was clearly still aching; he could not move well and his throwing motion was forced and erratic.  After halftime, Case Keenum came to the rescue…  Meanwhile, last night was the dawning of the Age of Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago.  He did not throw up on his shoes but he wasn’t very good either; Jon Gruden tried to make it seem as if he was doing lots of good things but that just did not pass the eyeball test.

I meant to include this comment from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle in yesterday’s football roundup, but I missed it in my notes.  It deals with the controversy last week over Cam Newton’s troglodyte-like remarks to a female reporter; let me put it here:

“Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has a favorite saying. In urging his players to focus on the job at hand and shut out distractions, he reminds them, ‘Be where your feet are.’

“Newton’s spent all last week in his own mouth.”

Believe it or not, the NBA Exhibition Season is in full swing; it seems as if they just finished the playoffs a week and a half ago.  There has been lots of movement and change in the league over the summer but I doubt that I will care about more than a game-or-two between the start of the season and mid-February.  The NBA did make a change to the format of its All-Star Game.  The player selection for the game itself remains the same; there is fan voting, press voting and player voting to determine who is going to be in the game.  The change is that the two players who get the most votes will then “choose up sides” in playground style to set the teams for the game.  Wow!  I don’t know if my heart can take that level of excitement and tension…

The “problem” with the NBA All-Star Game – the reason that it is ridiculed – has nothing to do with how the two teams on the court are formed.  The “problem” is very simple but it is not one that the league or the players’ union wants to articulate:

  • The NBA All Stars dog it in the All-Star Game.  They do not even pretend to play actual NBA basketball; they do not even give a good imitation of someone going through the motions to play basketball.
  • They are entertainers who are ripping off the crowd that came to see them.  It is like going to a piano concert by Vladimir Horowitz and when he comes onto the stage all he does is play chopsticks.

In an attempt to make it to the Guinness Book of World Records in the category “Most Irrelevant Topic for Debate Ever”, the people covering the NBA have given us a 3-day discussion of Jeremy Lin’s choice of how to wear his hair.  Seriously …

Remember the D-League – – the minor leagues of pro basketball in the US?  Well, it is now the G-League and the “G” stands for Gatorade.  The other interpretation is that the G-League is three grades below what used to be the D-League but that would be ungenerous of me to point out.  The G-League has an Exhibition Season too; how much would they have to pay you to go and watch one of those events?

The NBA and the G-League are doing some experimenting with the G-League Exhibition Games and with the G-League games in November.  They are going to use 4 officials in those games plus they will try using 5 officials in a half-dozen or so games.  I remember that the D-League did some games with 4-person officiating crews so my only conclusion is that someone still thinks this is a good idea.

I officiated basketball for 37 years albeit not at any level remotely close to the D-League or the NBA.  The change to 3-person crews was beneficial to the game; when I watch NBA contests, I do not see many situations where officials are so out of position that they cannot make proper calls because they cannot see the action on the court clearly.  I think 4-person crews are overkill and the idea of a 5-person crew is redundantly superfluous.

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle seems to agree with me regarding expanded officiating crews in the NBA based on this comment:

“Another suggestion for the NBA: The Gatorade League (formerly D League) will experiment with four refs. The NBA should follow suit, but the fourth ref should be a trained acting coach whose job will be to call flops. James Harden would soon be playing in the G League.”

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



Football Retrospective …

None of the MLB playoff series has ended so I will devote today’s rant to a look back at football happenings over the weekend.  I’ll start with college football.  THE upset of the day – and perhaps the season to date – was Iowa St beating third-ranked Oklahoma at Oklahoma. Iowa St. had not beaten Oklahoma anywhere since 1990.  There are two interesting things to come out of that game:

  1. If the Big 12 has a hope of getting one of its teams into the CFP, it will have to be TCU because I doubt that a one-loss team from the Big 12 will make it.  The Big 12 simply does not have sufficient depth of good teams for its conference winner to sport a top-shelf strength of schedule.  Ergo, that champion had best be undefeated – – and as of today, that means TCU.  Oklahoma hosts TCU on November 11 …
  2. Iowa State has a player – Joel Lanning – who did something a tad unusual in this game.  He played 13 snaps on offense as a backup QB; he played 8 snaps on special teams; he played 57 snaps on defense as a linebacker.  At QB he generated 60 yards offense running and passing; on defense he forced a fumble and recorded a sack.  Too bad the folks who make Swiss Army knives to not offer a college football award at the end of the season…

Western Michigan beat Buffalo 71-68. This game is interesting because it went to 7 overtime periods to reach a conclusion.

Miami beat Florida St. 24-20 on a touchdown with 6 seconds left on the clock.  Miami remains undefeated while Florida St. drops to an uncharacteristic 1-3 on the season.

LSU bounced back from its embarrassing loss to Troy to beat Florida 17-16 at Florida.  That windiness in Baton Rouge has nothing to do with Hurricane Nate; that was Ed Orgeron exhaling; his job is safe for another week.

Arkansas was steamrollered by South Carolina, 48-22.  Arkansas is now 2-3 and still has to play Alabama, Auburn and LSU.  Good luck with that…

Arizona backup QB, Khalil Tate, came into the game in the first quarter.  Here is all he did:

  • On 14 carries, he gained 327 yards rushing.
  • He was 11 for 12 passing for another 152 yards.
  • He accounted for 5 TDs as Arizona beat Colorado 45-42.
  • I wonder if gets the start this week…

It is no surprise that Ohio St. clobbered Maryland last week.  The stat of the game should be that Maryland’s total offense for the day was 66 yards.  That is “Rutgersesque”…

Michigan St. beat Michigan 14-10 in Ann Arbor.  Since arriving at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh’s teams are 1-4 against Michigan St and Ohio St and will face Ohio St. at the end of this season.

After Washington St. beat USC a week ago, the students stormed the field.  Here is how Cougars’ coach, Mike Leach, described the scene according to Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“It’s like Woodstock, except everybody’s got their clothes on.”

Looking at the dregs of the college football season so far:

  • UNC and BYU are both 1-5.  That is atypical for both schools.
  • Here are some other teams that are 1-5; there are not a lot of surprises here.  Bowling Green, Kent St. Nevada, Rice, Tulsa.
  • Rutgers is 1-4; they had last week off.
  • UConn is 1-4 but have lost to Memphis by 39 points and SMU by 21 points.
  • Baylor is 0-5 to date.
  • Residing in “0-6 Land”, we find UMass, UNC-Charlotte and UTEP.

In NFL happenings, I have now heard Tony Romo do 3 games for CBS and I like him.  He and Jim Nantz seem to have developed a rhythm and rapport very quickly; Romo has a long career in broadcasting ahead of him if he wants to do that.

With Marcus Mariotta nursing a hamstring injury, the Titans signed a backup QB off the waiver wire.  Here is what Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had to say about it:

“The agenda: In need of a quarterback after the hamstring injury to Marcus Mariota, the Tennessee Titans signed Brandon Weeden after working out four quarterbacks who shared one key qualification: They are not Colin Kaepernick.”

  • For the record, the other three QBs invited for a workout were Matt Barkley, Matt McGloin and TJ Yates.

The Eagles beat the Cards 34-7 and the score is reflective of the dominance of the Eagles.  There are some mediocre offensive lines in the NFL this year and the Cards’ OL is among the “most mediocre” of the lot.

The Jags beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh 30-9.  There are three stats from this game that jump out:

  1. Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 55 times and LeVeon Bell ran the ball only 15 times.  That is not “Steelers football”.
  2. Ben Roethlisberger threw 5 INTs in the game.
  3. Blake Bortles – the winning QB – threw for a total of 96 yards in the game.

The Dolphins beat the Titans 16-10; the Titans went with Matt Cassel at QB and not newly signed Brandon Weeden.  Cassel threw for all of 141 yards and a TD in the game and – believe it or not – Cassel won the QB duel.  Dolphins QB, Jay Cutler, was the winning QB throwing for 92 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.

The Chargers won their first game of the year beating the still-winless Giants 27-22.  The Giants lost Odell Beckham, Jr. to an ankle fracture and saw their other two starting WRs, Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard leave the game with leg injuries.  The Giants also have no running game to speak of; this team is in significant trouble; what looked like a playoff team in August now looks certain to accumulate double-digit losses.

Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense shrugged off all of those dreaded “distractions” from the last week and beat the Lions in Detroit.  I did not see the game, but Newton’s stats (355 yards and 3 TDs with 0 INTs) are impressive.

The Browns lost at home to the Jets by 3 points.  The Browns turned the ball over in the Red Zone 3 times in this game plus they missed two very makeable field goals.  If you look at the Browns’ remaining schedule, things look mighty bleak…

The Niners lost again this week and it was an OT loss again this week to the Colts.  The Niners and Giants will meet on Nov 12 in SF; that could be a “Bagel Bowl” – a game where both teams have 0 wins going into the game and the best thing to root for is a 0-0 tie game.

The Texans lost to the Chiefs in a shootout on Sunday night but the bigger losses for the Texans were injuries to JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus.  Both could be lost for the season.  Deshaun Watson played well against a good Chiefs’ defense; he is going to be a solid NFL QB.

The Ravens beat the Raiders 30-17.  With 11 minutes to play in the 2nd quarter, the Raiders trailed 21-3; with EJ Manuel at QB, the Raiders are not going to come back from that sort of deficit against a decent defense; the game was effectively over at that point.  The Raiders are 2-3 and unless Derek Carr can come back and play effectively very soon, the Raiders’ season may be effectively over before Halloween.

The Seahawks beat the Rams 16-10; the Rams had been averaging more than 30 points per game until Sunday.  The Seahawks’ offense continued to sputter here; Russell Wilson’s passing yardage did not reach 200 yards and the Seahawks’ leading rusher was Thomas Rawls with 8 rushes for 20 yards.

Aaron Rodgers worked yet some more magic in Dallas leading the Packers on a game winning drive that started with 1:13 left to play and ended with 11 seconds left on the clock.  If these teams me3et in the playoffs, it will almost surely be in green Bay.  Given the way Rodgers has played in Dallas over the years, that may be to the Cowboys’ advantage.

Finally, after Nebraska beat Illinois in a Friday night game in Lincoln, NE, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this to say;

This was the first Big Ten Friday night conference game. Which has about the same historical significance as the first Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl.

I’m not $ure why the Big Ten agreed to play TV game$ on Friday night$.

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



Football Weekend 10/7/17

Since it is Friday, the order of business is to check out the upcoming football games for this weekend.  Before getting to those weekend college games, let me say that NC State has quietly inserted itself into any discussion of “top teams” in the country.  The Wolfpack already had a win over Florida State in the bag last night when they beat Louisville by 2 TDs.  They still have Clemson on the schedule and the game is in Raleigh on 4 November.  As of this morning, that looks like a spotlight game.

There are some interesting games in college football this weekend involving good teams:

  1. LSU at Florida:  After losing to Troy at home, LSU’s Ed Orgeron is clearly feeling the heat.  As each week goes by, that loss to Mississippi St. looks worse too.  This should be a low-scoring affair.
  2. Georgia at Vandy:  I have only seen Georgia once, but I am very impressed.  Too bad Georgia and Alabama are not scheduled to play one another this year…
  3. Alabama at Texas A&M:  The line is Alabama – 27.  That seems like a fat line for a road team in a place where home field advantage is a real thing.
  4. Michigan St. at Michigan:  The key element of this game is pretty obvious:  Can Michigan get production from the QB position now that they have been forced to make a change?  Michigan State has been anything but a world-beater so far this year.
  5. Miami at Florida St.:  Miami seems to be a team on the rise; Florida St. seems to be just the opposite.
  6. Stanford at Utah:  Expect a defense-dominated slugfest here…
  7. San Diego St at UNLV:  Do not be fooled by UNLV’s 2-2 record.  This is the team that lost to Division 1-AA Howard at home as a 43-point favorite.  Also, there is no way to assess to what degree the mass murder in Las Vegas will affect the emotions here.  Could be interesting to watch…

There are also a couple of college games this weekend involving some of the less-than-very-good teams in the country:

  1. Hawaii at Nevada:  Hawaii is favored by 4 points on the road; Hawaii is not a good team this year and is rarely a good road team.  There is information content in that betting line.
  2. Oregon St. at USC:  Oregon St. is a 34.5-point underdog.  Oregon St. is over-matched in the PAC-12 and will likely be seeking a new coach soon.
  3. Tulsa at Tulane:  Here are two teams seeking the cusp of mediocrity.  However, it is a matchup of two great team names; the Golden Hurricane takes on the Green Wave.  That’s all I got …

Before making comments on some of the NFL’s weekend lineup, let me say something very simply:

  • Cam Newton is an immature meathead.

I will cut him the slightest bit of slack regarding his apology for his stupid remarks; at least it did not sound as if someone wrote it for him to read in front of a microphone/camera.

One more thing …  The Patriots have no pass rush and do not blitz.  Even though they beat the Bucs last night, Jameis Winston had tons of time in the pocket on most of his pass attempts.  That is an area of the game the Pats will have to improve upon if they plan to do anything come playoff time.

Here are some interesting NFL matchups for this weekend:

  1. Bills at Bengals:  I find this game very interesting.  Are the Bills for real?  Did the Bengals regain consciousness last week or was it just that they played the Browns?  I sorta like the Bengals here …
  2. Jets at Browns:  The Jets can advance to a 3-2 record with a win here.  No one saw that coming…
  3. Niners at Colts:  These are 2 bad teams notwithstanding the fact that the Colts are only 1 game behind the division leader in the AFC South.  The oddsmaker says Colts – 1.5; I say do not bet on this game and watch something else.
  4. Chargers at Giants:  Both teams are 0-4 – – and still I think this will be a better game to watch than the Niners/Colts game.  The Giants have lost two heart-breakers in a row; the Chargers will invent a way to lose once again.
  5. Seahawks at Rams:  This is one of the top three games for the weekend.  Are the Rams for real?  Can the Seahawks play well on the road?  Will the LA Coliseum be 60% full for this game?  So many questions …
  6. Ravens at Raiders:  Both teams are 2-2; both teams have looked horrible in the last 2 games.  Ravens offense is non-existent; Raiders’ defense cannot stop anything; the moveable object meets the resistible force.  Might there be an Amari Cooper sighting this weekend?  Venue call if you must play this game…
  7. Packers at Cowboys:  This is another of the top three games of the weekend.  The Cowboys need a win here more than the Packers need one.  Expect plenty of points in this one.
  8. Chiefs at Texans (Sunday Nite):  The best game of the weekend.  Despite the Texans’ offensive eruption last week for 57 points, do not expect a lot of points in this game.  The Total Line is 45.5 and I think the oddsmaker is right on.

Finally, here is a comment from Lou Holtz – former coach at Arkansas, NC State, Notre Dame and other schools – about job stability for college football coaches:

“I have a lifetime contract. That means I can’t be fired during the third quarter if we’re ahead and moving the ball.”

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



Football Ruminations

All during the “process” that led the NFL to put a second team in the Los Angeles market, I have wondered why those business-smart people thought that was a good idea.  Sports interest is a regional commodity.  In the Northeast, baseball is a focal point in the sports world and college football is “ho-hum” at best.  In the Southeast, the opposite is true.  If I look at what “draws” and what “commands fan interest” in the LA marketplace, here is what I have seen over the past couple of decades:

  • LA Dodgers baseball
  • LA Lakers basketball – – but not LA Clippers basketball
  • USC football
  • UCLA basketball – – off and on.

You can look at that list and simplistically conclude that LA fandom is a bunch of front-runners but I think it is more than that.  The Dodgers have had some lean years but the fans still go to the games; the Lakers have been mediocre or worse for several years now but they are still front-and-center in the LA sports cosmos.  I think that a careful view of the LA sports market would say that Los Angeles is just not into professional football as much as it is other things on the sports menu.  If that is the correct conclusion, then the size of the LA market may be sufficient to sustain one NFL franchise but may struggle to sustain two.  Remember, the Rams and the Raiders both played in LA and both left LA for much smaller markets because the fanbase was not there.

All of that is preamble to a report I read that makes me think that the NFL had better get itself ready for an emergency team transplant; the LA Chargers need to get out of town.  I mentioned earlier this week that last weekend’s crowd at the Chargers/Eagles game was about half Eagles’ fans and that it sounded more like an Eagles’ home game than a Chargers’ home game.  OK, so maybe the tiny stadium venue in a less than convenient location with top-shelf ticket prices kept LA fans at home sitting on their wallets.  Well, TV stats say differently:

  • Last weekend, the Saints/Dolphins game televised from London had higher ratings in the LA market than the Chargers/Eagles game did.

LA sports fans are not at home sitting on their wallets; LA sports fans are sitting at home and paying attention to two mediocre teams playing a game of no direct import on either LA team at a venue 8 time zones away.  To me, that does not sound like a problem that will be solved by playing games in a new stadium…

There is a football situation in Indy that I find interesting.  Andrew Luck has been cleared to practice starting this week and the team says he is on a “pitch-count” in terms of his throws in practice.  Luck continues his recovery from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder.  I have a suggestion for the Colts’ braintrust:

  • Put Andrew Luck on Injured Reserve and do not play him even a single down in the 2017 season.

The Colts are not contending for any championships this year no matter who plays QB.  Even Hollywood would not green-light a script that had John Unitas coming back from the great beyond to take snaps for the Colts and leading that squad to glory.  There is no need to risk further injury – perhaps some permanent impairment – to a franchise quarterback when there is no real potential return for taking that risk.  Moreover, if the Colts play Jacoby Brisset at QB for the season, there are two potential benefits:

  1. Brisset will gain experience and become either a top-flight backup to Andrew Luck starting in 2018 or a valuable trading piece to acquire other assets for the team.
  2. The Colts will lose plenty of games and have a high draft pick that they may be able to flip for multiple draft picks that will allow them to draft several offensive linemen and a solid running back that will protect Andrew Luck once he does come back in 2018 and beyond.

This week’s Colts/Niners game should give the Colts’ braintrust a signal.  The Niners are a mediocre squad at the very best; the game is in Indy.  If the Colts’ braintrust wants to harbor any continued delusions that the Colts can “make some noise” in 2017, then the Colts need to win this game by at least 4 TDs – and maybe 5.

The Titans’ QB, Marcus Mariotta, has a hamstring injury so the Titans were in the market for someone to come in and be the backup to the new starter, Matt Cassell.  The team signed Brandon Weeden.  The only thing that tells me is this:

  • Brady Quinn’s agent was out of town and did not respond to voicemail.

The Raiders lost QB, Derek Carr for 2-6 weeks with a fracture of the transverse process on one vertebra.  That makes EJ Manuel the starter and Connor Cook the backup.  The Raiders saw what Connor Cook provided at the end of last season; I suspect that the team is not thrilled to know he is one snap away from being “the man” once again.  If they go shopping in the free-agent QB market, the pickings are slim but they should definitely avoid falling into the trap of “looking for a guy who knows the system”.  That might lead the Raiders to consider JaMarcus Russell or – even worse – Todd Marinovich.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen became the seventh golfer — and the only active one — with runner-up finishes in all four majors when he came in second at this year’s PGA Championship.

“He still earned $784,000 in prize money — and future Bills Super Bowl tickets.”

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



MLB Playoff Predictions 2017…

Before we begin today, let me tip my cap to Broderick Crawford for making this date memorable…

Back at the end of March, I predicted the outcome of the MLB regular season.  I shall revisit those predictions here simply to provide some context to the forthcoming predictions for the MLB Playoffs that are underway.

  • I picked the Red Sox and the Indians to win their divisions – and they did.
  • I picked the Astros to finish second to the Rangers in the AL West.  The Astros won the division in a walk and the Rangers finished below .500.  I did have the Astros in the playoffs as a wildcard.
  • I picked the Nats, Cubs and Dodgers to win their divisions – and they did.
  • I had the Mets as the NL wildcard team and that was not even close.

Those of you who have been reading these rants for a while will look at the description of the predictions above and think that it is more than a tad unusual for me to be so accurate.  And so, in order to present a full picture of the predictions from March 30, 2017, here are some other predictions that did not turn out nearly as well:

  • Blue Jays to finish second in the AL East
  • Tigers to finish second in the AL Central and Twins to finish fourth.
  • Giants to finish second in the NL West.
  • D-Backs and Rockies categorized as “after-thoughts”.

Since those predictions came to you for free, you should have known immediately what they were worth.  The same goes for the prognostications that follow here.

We know that the Yankees will advance to play the Indians in the AL based on their win over the Twins last night at Yankee Stadium.  Tonight, I believe that the D-Backs will win their play-in game over the Rockies and set the bracket in the National League.

What I would prefer to see in the World Series is an encore performance from last year.  No one who is a baseball fan could have been bored or disinterested in last year’s World Series.  Even without the story lines of each team going long periods of time without a championship, the games themselves were more than interesting and the seventh game was as good as it could get – – unless you were an Indians’ fan.  So, if I could wave a magic wand and start the Playoffs with the World Series matchup that I want, it would be the Cubs and the Indians.

Other World Series pairings that I would find very interesting from the point of view of a baseball fan:

  1. Red Sox/Nats:  How could you not like Chris Sale versus Max Scherzer?
  2. Red Sox/Dodgers:  How could you not like Chris Sale versus Clayton Kershaw?
  3. Indians/Dodgers:  Hottest team in MLB versus the best team in the National League

Here is how I think things will proceed up to the World Series:

  • I like the Astros to beat the Red Sox in the AL Division Series.  There are a bunch of really good young players on both of these teams and this should be a great viewing experience for fans.  Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are going to be around for a long time and they are fun to watch.
  • I like the Indians to beat the Yankees simply because they are the better all-around team with a better pitching staff.  Oh, and since I mentioned young players who are fun to watch above, please let me remind you that the Indians’ Francisco Lindor is also an outstanding young talent.
  • I like the Dodgers to beat the D-Backs in the NL Division Series – – but I add here that this is my least confident prognostication.  If the D-Backs find a way to beat Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 here, I think the Dodgers are in deep yogurt.
  • I like the Cubs to beat the Nats and I think that Kris Bryant will continue his hot hitting to lead the Cubs to this series win.  Too much will be made of the story line that both Bryant and Bryce Harper are from Las Vegas and that ties into the mass shooting there.   This is a baseball series, folks; it is not social commentary.

Moving on, the best baseball viewing experience for October 2017 will be the series between the Indians and the Astros.  Up until about August 1, the Astros were the best team in the AL; then the Indians caught fire.  These are two very good rosters with two very good managers.  This series ought to be top-shelf.  I like the Indians to win this series and my strong preference would be for it to go 7 games…

While my preference would be for the Cubs to go back to the World Series against the Indians, I cannot take them in a series against the Dodgers.  [Aside:  If, however, the D-Backs pull the upset in the NLDS, I like the Cubs to prevail.]    My crystal ball says that the Dodgers and the Indians will be the last two teams standing.

The last time the Dodgers won it all was in 1988 – almost 30 years ago.  That was the “Kirk Gibson Series” that every baseball fan knows about.  The last time the Indians won it all was in 1948 – almost 70 years ago.  That Indians’ team had some fine players on the roster even though some of the names have receded in the memories of baseball fans:

  • Gene Beardon
  • Lou Boudreau
  • Larry Doby
  • Bob Feller
  • Joe Gordon
  • Bob Lemon
  • Dale Mitchell
  • Al Rosen

My prediction for 2017 is that the Cleveland Indians win it all and the city celebrates for the month of November ignoring completely the ineptitude of the Cleveland Browns.

Finally, I ran across an interesting baseball stat from 2017 involving a player on a team that finished last in its division and won less than 70 games.  Joey Votto played in all 162 games for the Cincinnati Reds this year; he reached base in 150 of those games.  He led the NL in OBP at .454 and led the league in OPS with 1.032.  If he does not get a significant number of votes for NL MVP, the voters are not paying attention.

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