Final Four Weekend Is Here

As you get yourself prepped for tomorrow night’s NCAA Tournament semi-finals, consider these two comments from Brad Dickson, formerly of the Omaha World-Herald:

“If we find out that Sister Jean accepted money from a booster to steer her away from rooting for DePaul I’ll become even more jaded.”

And …

“A Kansas player to KU fans: ‘Without all you guys we couldn’t have did it.’  OK, if I find out he’s an English major I’m rooting against Kansas.”

I think the games on Saturday offer the possibility of an interesting dilemma for Monday’s Final Game.  Just suppose Loyola-Chicago and Villanova play on Monday night.

  • Who will Pope Francis be rooting for?

From a fan’s perspective, this year’s Final Four teams feature lots of players who are likely to be back on the court in college basketball next year.  Devonte Graham will graduate this year; maybe another player or two will decide to enter the NBA Draft; however, most of the guys you will see on Saturday night and then on Monday night will be back.  To my mind, that is a plus.

Earlier this week, I tuned in to Pardon the Interruption to find that Michael Wilbon was off for the day and that Keith Olbermann was in Wilbon’s chair.  For me, Kornheiser and Olbermann are two of the most interesting and entertaining sports media figures; I sat back in my chair and expected greatness from this show.  I was disappointed; it was a very good show, but I had anticipated something transcendental.  Whatever…

The most important things I took away from that program were:

  • Keith Olbermann belongs on ESPN with a program of his own.  I know there have been clashes and very rough times between Olbermann and ESPN in the past, but sports journalism/entertainment would be better off if all of that “history” can indeed be nothing more than “history”.
  • James Pitaro is the new ESPN President.  Maybe his “recency” in the job is a way forward to bridge the gap between ESPN and Olbermann?

So, as I was thinking about a way for Keith Olbermann to make a comeback on ESPN, my mind wandered off – no surprise there – and I started to think about other things in the sports world that I wish would make a comeback.  Here is what came to mind:

  • Baseball doubleheaders: I don’t mean day-night doubleheaders necessitated by rainouts; I mean doubleheaders scheduled from the start.  Raise ticket prices for those events; that’s fair.  But give fans who love baseball a chance to see old school doubleheaders.
  • Final Four games in basketball arenas:  There is a reason why college basketball teams do not play all their regular season and conference tournament games in football stadiums.
  • Meaningful games on MNF:  The schedule makers cannot anticipate a priori what will be a “meaningful game” in Week 12.  I get that.  They can, however, make a reasonable guess for Weeks 1-5 and the schedule makers have not always given us meaningful games in those early weeks.
  • An actual off-season in the NBA:  I will be generous and say that the NBA demands focused attention from March 1 to June 30 every year.  That is when the regular season games mean something; that is when the playoffs happen; that is when the draft lottery is drawn; that is when the draft takes place.  Notwithstanding that time frame, the NBA never seems to go away any more – and it really needs to do that.
  • NFL Pre-game shows that are short and sweet:  The NFL pre-game shows have expanded to the point where they are longer than some Oscar-nominated movies.  If the discussions there were about topics as important as world peace, I would not have a problem; these shows discuss football matters and they concoct “cutesy segments” to fill time.  Some TV execs need to take a set of pruning shears to these programs.

Since I mentioned the NBA Draft obliquely above, there is news today that a 5-star basketball recruit who had committed to Syracuse has rescinded that commitment and will play in the NBA’s G-League next year.  In recent years, we have seen players choose to go to Europe instead of to college for a year to meet the NBA regulation that players must be one-year removed from high school to play in the NBA.  LiAngelo Ball did that this year; his brother LaMelo Ball will likely do the same; Brandon Jenkins and Emmanuel Mudiay also traveled that route.

Now, according to Yahoo Sports, Darius Bazely has chosen to spend a year in the G-League here in the US rather than with a pro team in Europe.  His is an interesting decision.  On one hand, even with the augmented pay scale for G-League players recently implemented, Bazely would make more money playing in Europe – albeit he might have to sign a 2 or 3-year commitment to get “the big bucks”.  On the other hand, playing in the G-League means that he will be seen more frequently and by a larger cadre of NBA scouts, GMs and personnel people.

Jim Boeheim is probably not happy about this.  Then again, Jim Boeheim rarely seems happy about much of anything…

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Airport:  A mall placed near a large parking lot in which planes often land but rarely take off.  To take your mind off the endless delays, these cavernous dungeons are populated by clueless security and ticket agents, zombie-like skycaps, and thousands of needlessly detained travelers enduring either the frustration of lost luggage or an impromptu body-cavity search.  If Dante were alive today, airports would be listed as the fifth ring of Hell.”

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



RIP Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub passed away today; he was 73 years old.  He spent 23 years in MLB starting with the expansion Houston Colt 45s.  He spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Montreal Expos where his bright red hair earned him the nickname, “Le Grand Orange”.  He was selected as an All-Star 6 times and amassed 500 hits with 4 different teams in his career.

RIP Rusty Staub.

Surely you have read/heard about the issues between the NY Giants and Odell Beckham, Jr.  Personally, I have already tired of the breathless reports that the Giants want to trade him which are then followed quickly with equally breathless reports that the Giants have no intention of trading him followed by …  However, there is an aspect of this nonsense that raises a question in my mind:

  • Today on, there is report from Will Brinson which says that Beckham has told multiple Rams’ players that he “wants in” on a trade to the Rams.
  • If “multiple Rams’ players” were to say publicly that they wanted Beckham to engineer a trade from the Giants to the Rams, the NFL would accuse those “multiple players” of tampering.
  • So, why is it OK for Beckham to say essentially the same thing in reverse?

Jeff Capel took the job as the head basketball coach at Pitt.  He has a Herculean task ahead as he works to rebuild that program.  One problem is that Pittsburgh – and Western Pennsylvania in a larger sense – is much more “football country” than it is “basketball country”.  Notwithstanding that generalization, Pitt basketball fans are not easily pleased.  Consider:

Jamie Dixon built a solid program at Pitt; he was there for 13 seasons.  His teams made the NCAA Tournament 11 times in those 13 seasons but never made it to the Final Four.  There was plenty of pressure for Pitt to “move on” and when Dixon got the chance to go back to his alma mater (TCU), the folks in Pittsburgh virtually helped him pack up his belongings.

Jeff Capel was the lead assistant to Mike Krzyzewski for the last 5 years and he has had two head coaching gigs (VCU and Oklahoma) in the past.  His overall record as a head coach is 175-110 and one of his Oklahoma teams made the Elite 8.  I think that Pitt got themselves a good coach here; now, they need to have a bit of patience while he reconfigures the mess that the program has become.

You knew something like this was coming but now it is official.  Out in Las Vegas, they have prop bets available on the upcoming NFL Draft.  Here are some of the bets on the board.

Who will be the first QB taken:

  • Josh Rosen  minus-120
  • Sam Darnold  +175
  • Josh Allen  +500
  • Baker Mayfield +2000

Will Lamar Jackson be drafted in the first round?

  • Yes  minus-250
  • No  +190

Who will be the player drafted #1 overall?  [Note the contradiction here compared to the prop on which QB will be taken first.]

  • Sam Darnold  Even money
  • Saquon Barkley  +200
  • Josh Rosen  +250
  • Josh Allen  +800
  • Bradley Chubb  +4500
  • Minkah Fitzpatrick  +4500

Over/Under on the draft position for Baker Mayfield?

  • Over 11.5  +110
  • Under 11.5  minus-140

Which of these two players gets drafted first?

  • Bradley Chubb  minus-160
  • Minkah Fitzpatrick  +130

Finally, to end today on a light note, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Nearly every passenger vomited on a turbulent flight from Charlottesville, Va., to Washington, D.C.

“That’s what they get for making the Browns’ 2017 highlight video the in-flight movie.”

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



The Real First Day Of Spring

I do not care what astronomers or meteorologists or Punxsutawney Phil say; tomorrow is the first day of Spring.  Tomorrow is Opening Day in MLB; that is the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring in Curmudgeon Central.  Normally, I devote today’s rant to a prediction of every division in MLB from top to bottom.  This year, however, feels significantly different.

It feels as if MLB has segmented itself into a group of “super-teams”, a group of teams trying to become contenders and a group of “tankers”.  It seems to me that only one division in MLB has two of the “super-teams” in it meaning that predicting the top of each division here will look like a thousand other predictions you can read elsewhere.  So, let me do something different this year.

I will list the consensus choices for the division winners and the one division where there might be some threat to the team at the top.  Then, I will suggest some things to keep an eye on as the season evolves not necessarily because they will change the division winners but because they could be very interesting.

  • NL West:  The Dodgers should win this division in a walk.
  • NL Central:  The Cubs return to the playoffs and revert to 2016 form.
  • NL East:  The Nats win here absent a curse from an evil spirit.
  • AL West:  The Astros win despite suffering a touch of World Series Hangover.
  • AL Central:  The Indians appear to be the best of this division by a mile.

The only race that might be “in dispute” is in the AL East where the Yankees and the Red Sox have the makings of a championship roster.  The Yankees clearly have the edge in terms of power hitting; the Sox have the edge on the mound.  That race could be in doubt in the final week of the season and both teams will make the AL playoffs.  For the sake of completeness here, I will pick the Red Sox to win the AL East just because everyone and his maternal grand-aunt are picking the Yankees.  I have to go against the grain somewhere…

Here are two Opening Day facts you can file under FNWR – Facts Not Worth Remembering:

  1. March 29, 2018 will be the earliest Opening Day in the history of MLB.
  2. March 29, 2018 will be the first time in 50 seasons that every team in MLB will open on the same day.

Here is another Opening Day fact that might be worth recalling because it could play into another storyline down the road in a couple of years:

  • Tomorrow will mark the 13th consecutive Opening Day sell-out for the Tampa Bay Rays.  They play the Red Sox and 42,735 tix have been sold.  Remember that the Rays usually rank in the bottom 3 in MLB attendance but the folks there do turn out for Opening Day.  The Rays want to move to a new stadium site in the Tampa/St. Pete area so attendance figures for the Rays are interesting if not vitally important.

The SF Giants were aggressive in the offseason after a miserable year in 2017.  However, the first robin of spring to arrive in the Giants’ training facility was apparently a turkey vulture.  Madison Bumgarner suffered a broken metatarsal in his pitching hand when hit by a line drive; he will miss 6 weeks at least.  That injury came on the heels of a pectoral muscle injury to Jeff Samardzija; he will be out at least a month.  The Giants were not deep in starting pitching, now they will try to make it until the middle of May with Manny, Moe and Jack on the mound.  There are not a lot of free agent pitchers out there to be had.  The only ones I could find were Matt Garza, John Lackey and Ricky Nolasco.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle surveyed the Giants’ plight and then looked across the bay at the state of the A’s and had this comment:

“The theme for the 2018 baseball season in the Bay Area: ‘Fifty guys who won’t be around three years from now’.”

Here are eight things to watch for in 2018:

  1. How do the mega-free agents for next winter perform?  The free agent market this year was about as exciting as installing a new washing machine; next year’s market will generate plenty of heat and light.
  2. Is Shohei Ohtani a pitcher or a position player or a DH – – or all the above?
  3. Will the Astros’ World Series Hangover last as long in 2018 as the Cubs’ Hangover did in 2017?  It wasn’t until the middle of June when the Cubs looked like the Cubs.
  4. Was Miguel Cabrera’s miserable year in 2017 at age 34 a sign that his career arc is in decline or will he have a bounce-back season in 2018?  By the way, even if he is the Comeback Player of the Year, the Tigers are going nowhere…
  5. What happens in the second-tier of the NL East?  If the Mets say healthy, how good are they?  Are the Phillies on the verge of being good again?  Are the Braves on the verge of being good again?  Which of those three will finish second in the division about 18 games behind the Nats?
  6. How will Manny Machado adjust to playing shortstop instead of third-base?
  7. Do the Dodgers have a rookie who is good enough to win Rookie of the Year?  If so, that will be three years in a row a Dodger has done that.
  8. When the Marlins lose 105 games – or more – this year, will Don Mattingly still be able to smile at the end of the year?  Follow-up question would be can Mattingly survive as manager if the Marlins lose 105 games this year given the roster he was presented with?

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, about the Angels’ accommodation to Shohei Ohtani as a pitcher and a DH:

“Probably the most successful six-man rotation of all time was the rock band, Foreigner.  The Trump White House has also experimented with it among its senior advisors.”

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



A Blast From The Past

When I was a kid, I would listen to the local rock station on the radio.  Often when the DJ was about to play an oldie, he would introduce it by saying:

  • “Here’s a blast for the past …”

Today, I can make the same introduction because Albert Belle is back in the news.  Belle has been out of baseball for almost 20 years now; to say that he had a few “episodes of antisocial behavior” while he was in baseball would be most polite.  You can read a summation of those behaviors on Wikipedia here.

Albert Belle is not going to threaten to make a comeback at age 51; that is not why he is in the news today.  The reason is that he was arrested and charged with DUI and indecent exposure.  Compounding the problem here, the alleged indecent exposure involved other adults and children.  Seriously, now…

  • Memo to Albert Belle:  Indecent exposure is the sort of thing that results from young males’ inability to deal with unfamiliar high levels of testosterone.  You are 51 years old.  C’mon man…

The other topic for the day is an interesting turn of events in the NCAA Tournament.  After all the hype and hysteria a year ago about where various 5-star recruits who were sure to be “one-and-dones” would play out their year of college ball, none of them are in the Final Four.  Arizona, Duke, Kentucky and Missouri were all the focus of “recruiting stories and analysis” a year ago.  When the Final Four convenes in San Antonio this weekend, the parents of those 5-star players will need to buy a ticket to get into the games.

I heard someone on a sports radio show yesterday driving home from the dentist say that these results may slow down the number of “one-and-dones” in college basketball.  I wish that were true; I doubt it.  One of the reasons that I doubt it has nothing to do with the competitiveness of college coaches and assistant coaches out there on the recruiting trail.  In addition to those guys continuing to want the upper hand on all the other guys, there is another reason why “one-and-dones” will continue to be hounded.

  • The sports media will not let this set of storylines die.

Face it; an entire sub-culture of college basketball has evolved in the past decade.  You have “services” out there who put ratings on high school – and even junior high school – players.  No one ever seems to audit the methodology by which these “services” ascertain that Joe Flabeetz is a 5-star guy while Sam Glotz is only a 4-star guy.  Nonetheless, the reporters take those ratings as Divinely inspired pronouncements and then breathlessly report on anything and everything related to the recruitment of both Joe and Sam.

  • [Aside:  The sports media routinely decries the way that colleges and the NCAA make money off the efforts of non-paid college athletes.  The fact is that the sports media – and the rating services – also make money off these same unpaid players except they make their money off the players before they get to college.  Somehow, that is not such a venal circumstance…]

There are several ways to look at the absence of all those 5-star freshmen from San Antonio this week:

  1. Maybe, just maybe, the rating services and their rating system(s) are merely hit-or-miss guesses.
  2. If you want to be hyper-conspiratorial, you might think that someone at the rating services could be taking some money from the shoe companies to put a high rating on a high school player because the shoe company already has the player in their pocket.
  3. Maybe basketball is enough of a team game that a group of very good but not spectacular players who have played together for a while is superior to a bunch of 5-stars who barely know one another.

I lean toward the first explanation above.  As I watched some of the players who were the subject of massive recruiting coverage a year ago, the thing that kept coming to my mind is this:

  • Is this guy REALLY ready to play in the NBA?  Other than DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), do any of the others have bodies ready to bang around with the adults playing NBA basketball?

I am not saying that none of these “one-and-dones” is any good; they are all excellent players.  However, except for Ayton, I believe they could all do with another year in college to add muscle to their frame with another year of supervised weight room activities and another year of instruction by competent college coaches regarding basketball technique and IQ.  Will all of them follow that path?  Yeah …  no!

If you believe they will all stay in school another year, you probably also believe they are all back on campus in the library studying for their final exams that will be coming up in about 6 weeks.  Yeah … no!

Finally, the hit-or-miss nature of evaluating high school athletes seems not to be limited to basketball.  Consider this item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times from a few weeks ago:

“For those of you getting your chest all puffed out about State U’s latest football-recruiting haul, consider this:

“Six starters in Super Bowl LII received zero stars coming out of high school from the recruiting wags, according to

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



Lots Of Balls In The Air Around Here …

Things are likely to depart from the norm in this obscure corner of the Internet for the next several months.  My long-suffering wife and I have signed a contract to purchase a new home; at the moment, we are in the throes of convincing a loan company to lend us the money to close on the purchase until such time as we sell our current abode which should over the cost of the new place.  Anyone who has ever moved from one place to another knows that any sort of “regular scheduling” can be kicked to the curb considering these sorts of moving/contract closing events.  Add to that degree of uncertainty the fact that my long-suffering wife and I will be taking 2 overseas trips between now and the middle of June.

The routine around here is – and has been for a while – that I write about 1000 words about 5 days a week.  If interrupted by “life-events” that could mean shorter rants or less than 5 rants per week until the whole schmegegge can be written in the past tense.

Today, I will take the opportunity to be brief – and to let the comments of others form the skeletal structure of this offering.  Let me begin by linking here to a column by Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle a couple of weeks ago – just after the Niners signed free agent Richard Sherman.  Much of the commentary at the time focused on Sherman’s needing to rehab from a serious injury in the middle of last season and/or on his age and how corner backs’ careers often go into terminal nose-dives proximal to his time on the planet.  As usual, Professor Ostler took his commentary onto a different vector

I suggest you read the column in its entirety at the link above; the main thrust is that Jimmy Garoppolo – as the image of the Niners’ offense – and Richard Sherman – now as the image of the Niners’ defense – might just be the opposites that turn the Niners from also-rans into contenders.  Even if none of the projections comes to pass, it is a Scott Ostler column and that makes it worth reading all by itself.

While I am piggy-backing on the exposition of Scott Ostler, here is a recent comment by him regarding a current news item and a TV show from about 15 years ago:

“I don’t know who would win a fistfight between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, but their verbal sparring makes you wish for the return of the old Fox TV program, ‘Celebrity Boxing.’ Instant classic: Jivin’ Joe vs. Manos Pequenos.”

My only quibble with Professor Ostler here is that the fight he envisions would have to be on a spin-off version of Celebrity Boxing possibly titled Geezer Fightin’.

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this observation about the upcoming NFL owners meeting:

“The NFL winter meetings start Sunday in Orlando. This is where a bunch of rich guys get together, wring hands and do very little. It’s a little like politics, in that way.”

My reaction differs from Professor Cote’s in one aspect.  Indeed, it is a “little like politics” but there is a large and fundamental difference.  Almost nothing that happens at the NFL winter meetings will have a direct and deleterious effect on the US citizenry at large; would that were true about the political realm…

Whilst piggy-backing on the exposition of Greg Cote, here is a comment from his column last weekend regarding the “unconventional” off-season to date of the Miami Dolphins:

“The Dolphins’ offseason is getting ‘curiouser and curiouser,’ as Lewis Carroll’s Alice might say. This week the team signed former Hurricanes star Frank Gore and then quarterback Brock Osweiler, which might not be too bad except that one is a soon-to-be 35-year-old running back and the other is Brock Osweiler.”

As of this morning, the Dolphins have 3 QBs on their roster:

  1. Ryan Tannehill
  2. Brock Osweiler
  3. Brandon Doughty

Before anyone asks, Brandon Doughty was a 7th round pick by the Dolphins in 2016 out of W. Kentucky.  He has been on the practice squad for the team since then; that is why you have never heard of him regarding NFL action.  That means the Dolphins roster as of today has:

  1. A QB who has shown flashes of competence and flashes of mediocrity for the entirety of his career with the Dolphins since 2012.
  2. A QB who signed a HUGE deal with the Texans and who performed so badly that the team traded him to the Browns AND tossed in some money and a draft pick so the Browns would take him.
  3. A QB who has never seen the field in a real NFL game.

Dolphins’ fans need to go to church and light candles as offerings to assure that Ryan Tannehill can play all 16 games this year.  He may not be a Hall of Fame QB, but he has to be a better option than the other two guys…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding the 2018 Iditarod sled dog race:

“A Norwegian musher, Joar Ulsom just won this year’s Iditarod.

“In other words, they scheduled a sled-dog race and the 2018 Winter Olympics broke out again.”

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



Rick Pitino And The Basketball Hall Of Fame

Last night’s NCAA Tournament action provided fans with exciting finishes and the prospect of two regional final games between low-seeded teams.  Michigan was the only higher-seeded team to win last night and they did so in a blowout win over Texas A&M which was so stunning that it was interesting to watch despite the outcome being determined by the middle of the first half.  Normally, I would spend time here going through each game; but today, I want to focus on something else.

In yesterday’s Washington Post there was an article by Will Hobson that you can find here.  Hobson’s work on the sports beat focuses on scandals and investigations involving sports figures or institutions.  In the past, he has reported on the FBI probe into college basketball recruiting, the Dr. Larry Nassar atrocity, allegations of sexual abuse on the US Swim Team; doping at the Winter Games in Sochi, Jerry Sandusky and – – you get the idea.  He is not someone whose work is in the paper every day; but when it is, I always give it my attention.

Yesterday, Hobson provided a long piece based on interviews with Rick Pitino where Hobson provided Pitino’s side of the story regarding his being accused in the FBI probe of college basketball recruiting that led to his firing at Louisville.  As you must suspect, Pitino claims he is innocent of any wrongdoing and offers – via his attorney – evidence that supports that claim.  Here is one paragraph from Hobson’s report where Pitino stakes out his ground:

“ ‘I’m not on any wiretap. There’s not a shred of evidence that I did anything wrong. . . . They basically blew up my life . . . for one reason: publicity,’ Pitino said. ‘I have my faults, like we all do . . . but I’ve never cheated to get a player’.”

You can and should read Hobson’s report in its entirety at the link above.  It is long; it is good reporting; it is well written; I found it more than worthwhile.  What caught my attention was Pitino’s claim that he was named as a perpetrator here because of the publicity that would attract to the case.  I have no idea if that dimension ever entered the minds of those in the US Attorney’s Office handling the matter, but it would not shock me to learn that it did.  Consider:

  • Pitino’s accuser also said that Miami coach, Jim Laranega, was involved in under-the-table payments to get players.  Laranega has categorically denied those allegations but he has not been charged by the same folks who charged Pitino.  Was Pitino’s greater public recognition part of that apparent disparity?
  • Pitino says he is “not on any wiretap”.  We know there were wiretap warrants issued in this case; so, if Pitino’s phones/e-mails were not part of the collection of evidence, that would be surprising all by itself.
  • What is not surprising here is that the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office chose not to comment for Hobson’s report yesterday.  What is also not surprising is that Federal officials made a grand show of accusing a high-profile figure in the middle phase of an investigation.  There are lots of examples of Wall Street execs who “took the perp walk” in handcuffs drawing attention to whatever investigation was ongoing.

Rick Pitino would have us believe that he was targeted here because he is famous as a college basketball coach.  Indeed he is; he is the only coach to win national championships at two different schools and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.  No one else who has been named in the investigation comes even close to those levels of achievement and recognition in the sport.  There is no way to resolve that question now; perhaps we will be able to come to a conclusion about it down the line as more information becomes public.  What strikes me is that the Basketball Hall of Fame induction MIGHT be part of the issue here.  Normally, when someone is recognized by induction into any sort of Hall of Fame, the predominant atmosphere surrounding that honor is completely positive.

That possibility leads me to wonder about two things:

  1. Should coaches who are still active on the bench be eligible for Hall of Fame induction?  Active players are not eligible…
  2. For college coaches, should proven violations of major NCAA rules be reason enough to remove them from the Hall of Fame?

Rick Pitino is not the only person in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach who has had scandal attached to his name.  I can think of four other coaches with similar blemishes on their résumés:

  • Jim Boeheim
  • Larry Brown
  • Jim Calhoun
  • John Calipari

I realize that holding off until retirement does not guarantee “sanctity” in the population of Hall of Famers.  The “OJ Simpson Matter” puts that to rest.  I have always wondered if the Halls of Fame as institutions would be better served with “better people” as their inductees and if there ought to be a way to expel inductees who subsequently proved to be bad apples.  Now, with Rick Pitino’s assertion that his fame was used against him in this probe, I wonder if waiting to honor a coach would not be beneficial to the coach himself/herself.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times about a different person who may someday be inducted into a different Hall of Fame:

“The San Francisco Giants announced plans to retire flaxseed-oil connoisseur Barry Bonds’ No.25 this season.

“His was the only jersey you had to wash in cold water just to keep the number from increasing to 26.”

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



Back To Tournament Games Today…

The NCAA tournament “reconvenes” today and we will complete the process of winnowing the field to the Final Four by Sunday night.  As I have said here many times, college basketball in March is my favorite sporting event; nonetheless, I have to offer a critical observation here:

  • MLB is rightfully concerned with issues surrounding “pace of play” and is considering ways to increase it.  The “pace of play” in college basketball is just fine until the last three or four minutes of a close game; then it downshifts into a “glacial pace”.
  • The reasons for that are not mysterious.  Teams usually have 2 or 3 timeouts apiece in their pockets and when the game is close they will use all of them.  Teams will extend the time it takes to administer fouls shots with multiple substitutions in each situation.  AND, particularly in close games, there will be at least a couple of times when the officials “go to the monitor” to review a call or to put a tenth of a second or two back on the clock.
  • The final three minutes of a close game – especially in the NCAA Tournament – can take twenty minutes to play.

The NCAA rules mavens could address all three of those root causes for glacial pace of play if they wanted to; there may be no perfect solution here that would garner universal acclaim but finding ways to improve this “pace of play” issue is not like acing a course in differential topology.

If the NCAA needs some motivation to get working on this issue, let me offer up this one:

  • If the games moved along more quickly in the final minutes, all of those student-athletes would have to stand around doing nothing; they could all be back in the library studying to become school alumni.

I want to mention a couple of the broadcast teams for the tournament based on what I heard/saw last weekend:

  1. Brian Anderson/Chris Webber:  Last year, these two were abysmal; it was painful to hear the contorted logic Chris Webber would use to try to explain things that needed no explanation.  This year, there is significant improvement; this tandem is still not close to being the best announcing team to do the tournament games, but they are no longer the broadcast equivalent of a root canal.
  2. Jim Nantz/ Bruce Raftery/ Grant Hill:  These guys are really good.  The best 3-man announcing team ever was Dick Enberg/Al McGuire/Billy Packer back in the 80s.  The current group is not that far behind.
  3. Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner:  Miller and Bonner do a good job with color/analysis.  If Harlan could tone down his play-by-play just a bit below the intensity of “hair-on-fire”, it would be a major improvement.
  4. Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel:  For reasons that were always mysterious to me, CBS had this tandem together and then split them up a couple years ago.  Now they are back together, and they have regained the same easy delivery that makes them easy to listen to.

Pitt basketball was the pits this year.  [I apologize; that was too easy.]  Back in the days when Pitt was part of the Big East in that conference’s original incarnation, Pitt was a contender and an annual invitee to the NCAA Tournament.  In the process of imploding the original big East, Pitt moved to the ACC and changed coaches; that has not exactly worked out well for Pitt.  This year in ACC Conference games, Pitt’s record was 0-19 – including a quick exit from the ACC Conference Tournament.  As a result, Pitt fired coach, Ken Stallings and is hunting for a replacement.

I wonder just how appealing the job at Pitt is.  On one hand, a coach who takes the job and makes Pitt competitive/relevant in the ACC would be a hero in Pittsburgh and it would make said coach very much in demand 5 or 6 years down the road.  On the other hand, Pitt may just be destined to be a bottom-feeder in the world of ACC basketball and the coach that takes the job there will pocket a nice chunk of change and take his career down to the mid-major level after that.  Tom Crean is an excellent coach; he was looking for a job and interviewed at Pitt; Tom Crean took the job at Georgia not Pitt.  Nate Oats was a “hot rumor” to take the Pitt job but he chose to stay at Buffalo and signed a contract extension there.  Those situations are telling:

  • It appears as if there is “word on the street” in and around the coaching community that the Pitt job is not a great one.  Pitt will get a coach and it may even get a coach you have heard of before.  The thing you can be sure of is that the boosters at Pitt are going to have to dig deep into their pockets to come up with a fat contract offer to lure that new coach.

Finally, here are some pertinent comments from folks who do not take the NCAA Tournament as a life-and-death situation:

“How bad is my bracket doing? I’ve just learned that two of the schools in my Final Four dropped basketball 10 years ago.

“No. 1 overall seed Virginia was upset by UMBC, which I’m pretty sure is a credit union.”  [Brad Dickson, formerly with the Omaha World-Herald]

And …

“The PAC-12 Conference – which just went 1-8 in football bowl games last season – followed up with an 0-3 showing in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.

“And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, now the Washington Generals are threatening to sue for trademark infringement.”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

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



Baseball Stuff Today …

About a week ago, Buster Olney wrote this interesting piece for about the apparent crash of the MLB free agent market over the winter.  This is part of the second paragraph of Olney’s article:

“ … it became apparent that Scott Boras — baseball’s most prominent agent, someone with a long history of late-winter negotiation victories — lost to the market, in a rout.

The column points out that the current CBA does not contain any significant provisions to minimize the number of “tanking teams” and when there are “tanking teams” that means less competition for the services of free agents who are seeking major deals.  Moreover, the current CBA punishes the normally “big-spending teams” with a significant luxury tax meaning that even teams who have access to plenty of revenue can think twice before throwing money at “the best player left on the board”.

As with almost all of Buster Olney’s writings, there is plenty of info and insight contained here.  I think that the emergence and almost universal acceptance of advanced analytics in MLB also hurt many of the free agents this year.  When GMs look back on some of the huge deals done with star players who were 30 and older, the landscape is not a pretty one.

  • Albert Pujols has never lived up to his mega-deal and there are still plenty of years to go on that deal.
  • Troy Tulowitzki got a lucrative long-term deal but his body fell apart.
  • Alfonso Soriano signed a long-term deal with the Cubs that turned out to be an albatross around the neck of that franchise for its duration.
  • Josh Hamilton got a huge deal and then the Angels had to eat more than $50M of that deal just to trade him away.

Those examples are from memory; the field is littered with other bad deals.  And the list above does not even begin to consider the big contracts given to pitchers whose careers had peaked.  The point here is that teams are becoming far more interested in young players in their prime production years and less interested in obtaining players on contracts that have an element of “lifetime achievement award” in there.

While MLB flaps around trying to deal with “pace of play” issues, the folks who run minor league baseball have put some new rules in place to see how they can speed up games.  As with any set of changes, there are some good ideas and some bad ones.

  1. In Double-A and in Triple-A games, there will be a 15-second pitch clock whenever there are no men on base.
  2. There will be limits on the number of visits to the mound that can happen in each game.  Here are the team limits:  Triple-A clubs will be allowed six visits per team; Double-A clubs will be allowed eight visits per team; Single-A clubs will be allowed 10 visits per team; there will not be a limit on mound visits for Short Season and Rookie-level clubs.  “Mound visits” will include any conference with a manager, coach or other position player even if the pitcher leaves the mound to go and talk to the player.
  3. In an attempt to shorten the length of extra inning games, each extra inning will begin with a runner on second base.  The “designated baserunner” will be the player in the batting order one ahead of the player due up first in the extra inning.  [Of course, the manager can elect to put in a pinch-runner for the “designated baserunner” and the normal rules for a pinch-runner would apply.]

I have no problem whatsoever with the limitations imposed by a pitch clock nor any limits on mound visits in a game.  The third rule change related to extra innings is the most controversial of the bunch and I have to admit that my first reaction was that this is too fundamental a change to the rules that got the teams to the point where extra innings became necessary.  Let me explain that last statement a bit.

Think about international soccer as my counter example.  In final tournament competition, teams play 90 minutes of soccer under a set of rules and then play another 30 minutes under the same set of rules.  If the game is still tied after all that, the winner is decided on penalty kicks.  [The NHL does the same sort of thing.]  The ultimate winner of the game/tournament is decided under a totally different set of rules and circumstances from the ones that produced the tie game.  I do not like that circumstance.

Baseball and basketball have extra innings/overtimes where the teams simply continue to play baseball/basketball until there is a winner.  If there is a tie at the end of a PGA Tour event, the players decide the winner by playing golf – they do not determine the winner for example by going to the driving range and seeing who can drive a ball the furthest.  I prefer that way to break ties.  So, my first inclination is to oppose the idea of starting every extra inning with a man on second base.

At the same time, I do not want to sound like an old geezer telling the kids to get off my lawn.  So, I am going to reserve judgement on this until there is some data to say how it works out on the field.  I will need to be convinced that this is a positive change – but I am willing to be convinced.

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this comment recently regarding an aspect of baseball that has changed over the years:

“Not everything was better in the old days, but this was: You were not a feared hitter unless you strode to the plate swinging three bats, then discarded two.”

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



NFL Rule Changes Coming?

I plan to take a break today from commentary about the NCAA Tournament simply because I know that I will be back to that topic in a couple of days.  So, let me mention first that the NFL’s Competition Committee has been in session to consider making rule changes to the game to make it better in 2018.  They do this every year; so, don’t get your hopes up too high.  Of course, the rule that everyone wants to have “adjusted” is the one that defines what is a catch and what is not a catch.  According to reports, the Committee is indeed looking into that one.

However, there are reports about another rule change that will be proposed to the owners for a vote.  [Aside:  It takes an affirmative vote of 24 owners to put a rule change into effect, so the Committee only makes rule-change recommendations.]  This other rule-change could provide as many controversies as the confusion of the “catch/no-catch” rule interpretation has.  According to reports, the Committee will recommend that the replay officials in NY – the ones that have the final say on coaches’ challenges and “instant” replays – should also have the authority to eject players from games for “egregious non-football acts”.

There were two “incidents” in games last year that did not lead to ejections but did lead to the perpetrators sitting out a full game on a suspension.  Those were:

  1. Mike Evans (Bucs’ WR) assaulting Marshon Lattimore (Saints’ CB) from behind when Lattimore and Jameis Winston were in the midst of a “disagreement” on the sidelines.
  2. Rob Gronkowski (Pats’ TE) clocking Tre’Davious White (Bills’ CB) in the back of the head after a play was over.

I agree that both of those acts were “egregious” and were certainly not “football-acts”.  However, this rule change opens up a huge can of worms.  Remember years ago, when Terrell Owens was with the Niners and scored a TD and then ran to the Cowboys’ star logo at midfield and posed?  Was that “egregious”?  It surely was not a “football-act”.

I am all in favor of ejecting players who do things such as those perpetrated by Gronk and Evans.  I would not object to officials ejecting players who get into shoving matches that stop short of punches being thrown.  [Aside:  A great use of replay footage would be to identify the players who instigate fights/altercations on the field so that the instigators would be punished in addition to the responders.]  It would not bother me to see a player ejected for his second unnecessary roughing penalty or spearing penalty or things like that.  I am not worried at all about the “ejection” part of this rule.  Here is what worries me:

  1. I am not 100% confident that the “guys in NY” will get it right as often as not.  That lack of confidence comes from watching the same replay reviews that they do and reaching different conclusions about what the call must be.
  2. I need a lot more clarity around what “egregious” means and where the boundary is between a “football act” and a “random act of violence”.
  3. I believe that the upshot of this rule will be for the game officials to ignore completely any thoughts of player ejection(s) because they will know that the “guys in NY” can handle all of that.  This is an extension of what has happened with the instant replay rules; officials now realize that calls can be “made right” so there is less compulsion to get every one of them right in the first place.

This rule-change will be considered by the owners at their Spring Meeting in Orlando later this month…

Last week, a group of Jets’ fans sued the team.  Often when fans sue teams, the claims are only marginally above the “frivolous line” and sometimes do not even attain that lofty status.  This lawsuit seems to me to have a tad more meat on its bones.

Recently, the Jets decided to allow season tickets to be purchased in the mezzanine sections without the prior purchase of a PSL.  Up until that decision, the only way someone could be eligible to buy a season ticket to the Jets’ games was to first purchase a Personal Seat License; the current holders of those PSLs who also buy season tickets over and above the costs of those PSLs are now suing the Jets claiming that this decision renders their “investment” in their PSLs worthless.

On the other side of this argument, the Jets say that PSL holders would get benefits not available to the folks who buy their season tickets without the PSL “investment”.  These benefits would include:

  • Special access to exclusive team events
  • Discounts to team and stadium events
  • Ability to upgrade their seats to lower levels at “no additional fee”.

Given that the PSLs cost multiple thousands of dollars, those benefits seem like pretty thin gruel to me.  The concept that PSLs are some sort of “investment” is also pretty tenuous in my view.  I would categorize PSLs closer to “extortion” than to “investment grade” but that is just me.  I am glad not to be in the geographic area where potential jurors might be summoned to hear this case…

One final NFL note today is an addendum to the reports about some of the truly stupid questions that NFL teams ask of potential draftees at the NFL Combine.  Just about every year, there are reports of truly offensive – and borderline illegal – questions put to the young players at the Combine such as “Is your mother a prostitute?”  This year, one of the questions supposedly posed to Da’Shawn Hand (DL, Alabama) was:

  • “Do you like llamas?”

My answer to that question would have to be:

  • I love llamas.  I have two of them at home.  I named them “Dolly” and “Como se”.

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this analysis of a recent NFL free agent signing:

“Derek Carr picks up Jordy Nelson at the airport and drives him around, showing him the sights. Because Nelson signed with the Raiders, I assume Carr didn’t show him the Coliseum.”

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



Cutting The Field To The Sweet Sixteen

As you may imagine, my weekend was dominated by NCAA Tournament games.  What follows are the notes I took while watching and flipping from channel to channel starting with the Friday games:

  • Providence/Texas A&M:  Aggies first field goal was at 12:30 of the first half; they get lots of shots because they hit the offensive boards hard.  Providence controls tempo with deliberate offense and aggressive defense – no uncontested shots.  Game was close to the end and the Aggies move on.
  • Cal State-Fullerton/Purdue:  Early part of the game shows Tournament jitters with both teams shooting bricks.  Purdue leads by 9 at the half but looks like much the better team here.  Second half looks like Purdue is playing a JV squad in a scrimmage.
  • Marshall/Wichita St.:  In the first half, Marshall indeed looks like the higher seeded team, but they rallied and tied the game with about 9 minutes to play in the second half.  Marshall got hot late in the game and won its first NCAA Tournament game ever.
  • Cincy/Georgia St.:  Cincy is A LOT BIGGER than Ga St.  The game was close early because Ga St. was hot from the field, but Cincy dominated the rebounding at either end.  DeMarcus Simonds is a one-man team for Ga St., but Cincy was too much for him alone.  Game was closer than the 15-point margin indicates.
  • UNC/Lipscomb:  Racehorse game early.  UNC leads by 9 at the half but it is not that close.  Second half not all that interesting; game is not in doubt.
  • Arkansas/Butler:  Butler dominates early (they led 21-2 at one point) but Arkansas hangs in and leads 29-27 with about 4 minutes in the first half.  Arkansas does not play disciplined basketball.  Butler’s Kemar Baldwin had an excellent game leading 10-seed Butler to a win.
  • West Virginia/Murray State:  With 12:15 to go in the first half, the score was 8-6; there have been lots of bricks and lots of turnovers so far.  Not surprisingly, WVU plays defense better than offense.
  • Texas/Nevada:  Texas is not a “Shaka Smart team”; they play much more efficiently on offense than his teams at VCU ever did and play not nearly as frenetically on defense.  Nevada closed a 14-point deficit late in the game and won in OT.

[Aside:  Jerry Rice does a promo spot for the NCAA lauding athletes who will succeed in life outside athletics.  Fine.  Here is the what the NCAA put on the screen at the end, “Prioritizing academics, well-being, fairness”.  Takes chutzpah for the NCAA to put “academics” in the lead there, no?]

  • Michigan St. Bucknell:  Officials let this game get a lot “chippier” than I prefer.  Final score was a 4-point win for Michigan St., but the game was not really that close.
  • K-State/Creighton:  These schools probably compete with one another for “local recruits”.  K-State won this one comfortably.
  • Charleston/Auburn:  Close game pretty much all the way; score is tied with 2:00 to play.  Auburn survives an “overall sloppy game”.
  • Xavier/Texas Southern:  Never really a contest.
  • Virginia/UMBC:  This was a vintage game for Virginia.  They held the opponent in check with good defense, but they do not score a lot of points themselves.  AT halftime the score was 21-21.  UMBC is hot in the second half and leads by 16 with 11:30 to play; UVa not built to come back from this sort of thing.  In the end, UVa tries to catch up by shooting 3-point shots; that’s not gonna work.

[Aside:  College basketball fans should give thanks for UMBC.  Finally, a 16-seed has beaten a 1-seed; and going forward, we can put to rest all of those cookie-cutter reports about “when will it happen”.  UMBC scored 74 points in their win.  That is the most points allowed by Virginia this season; in 11 games this year, Virginia had held opponents to 50 points or less.  This game was a big deal.]

  • Syracuse/TCU:  The Syracuse zone clearly frustrates TCU, but they managed to lead by a point at the half because Syracuse’s offense is bland.  Both teams are relying on defense in the second half; the game is close all the way meaning it is an interesting game.
  • Florida State/Missouri:  The game is a blowout early.  Pay attention to UMBC/UVa and Syracuse/TCU instead of this one.
  • New Mexico St./Clemson:  See Florida State/Missouri comment above…

After a good night’s sleep and some early morning chores, I returned to my comfy chair, my notepad and plenty of coffee for Saturday’s fare.

  • Alabama/Villanova:  Bama’s defense held Nova to a low score and a low shooting percentage in the 1st half.  Don’t know what Jay Wright said to Nova at halftime but it worked.  Nova was a different team at both ends of the court in the second half with a 15-0 run in the first four minutes.
  • Duke/Rhode Island:  Neither team shooting well early on.  Duke put on a run in a 5-minute span to lead by 17 putting the game on ice.

[Aside:  It is “fashionable” to hate Grayson Allen.  Nevertheless, you have to acknowledge that he is not a prima donna; he does all the “hustle stuff” you want from a player.  And he is a meathead.]

  • Kentucky/Buffalo:  This game was never in doubt…
  • Tennessee/Loyola-Chicago:  In the one bracket I filled out, I had Tennessee going to the Elite 8; at the same time, I wanted Loyola to do well for “nostalgia” reasons I mentioned last week.  Loyola advances on a buzzer-beater for the second time in this tournament.

[Tennessee/Loyola had a “military flavor” to it.  Tennessee featured a forward named Admiral Schofield and Loyola featured a guard named Clayton Custer.  Last Saturday was not Clayton Custer’s last stand…]

  • Gonzaga/Ohio St.:  Zags build up a big lead and then miss plenty of easy shots to make a game of it.  Ohio St. leads with 8:00 to play in the game.  Gonzaga wins a close one here.
  • Kansas/Seton Hall:  I love the grit/intensity Seton Hall plays with.  The final score shows a 4-point difference but every time I tuned in to watch for a few minutes, it never seemed to me that Seton Hall was going to win.
  • Florida/Texas Tech:  This is a helter-skelter game by both teams with tons of sloppy plays.  Even though it was a close game, I do not find it fun to watch.
  • Houston/Michigan: [This note was written late in the first half of this game] The team that makes the last mistake is gonna lose this game.  That would be Houston who did not guard the inbounding player in the final seconds leading to a miracle 3-point shot by Michigan as time expired.

Sunday’s fare consisted of 8 more games that would cut the field from 64 teams on Thursday afternoon to 16 teams as of Monday morning.  That makes 48 games in 4 days; how great is that?

  • Butler/Purdue:  This game went back and forth for the whole first half.  Butler “looks like a damned good 10-seed”.  Purdue was hot early in the second half and held on to win by 3 points.
  • Michigan St./Syracuse:  Michigan St. was my pick to win it all in the one bracket I filled out.  C’est la guerre!  Both teams played tough defense leading to 3 shot-clock violations in the first half.  Michigan St. missed 13 consecutive shots from the field at the end putting them behind by 3 with 7 seconds to play.  When they missed a buzzer-beater, Syracuse won 55-53.
  • Texas A&M/UNC:  UNC led 20-13 early in the first half and then trailed 42-28 at halftime.  The Aggies dominated every facet of the game for the last 30 minutes.
  • Cincy/Nevada:  Cincy is a 2-seed playing a 7-seed and at halftime, it looks just the way you would expect; Cincy leads by 12 and is in control.  In the second half, Nevada completely flipped the script and won the game with another late rally.
  • Clemson/Auburn:  A total blowout.  I watched this game only when all the others were in commercial breaks.
  • UMBC/K-State:  When UMBC was down only 5 points at half, I noted “A second-half run like on Friday night will put a 16-seed in the Sweet 16.  An omen?”  Actually, that was getting ahead of myself.  On Friday, UMBC was the “giant killer”; on Sunday, K-State was the “Cinderella killer”.
  • Florida St./Xavier:  Xavier is methodical but Florida St. keeping it close with the 1-seed in this bracket.  In the final 5 minutes of the game, Xavier was either bad or dumb – – or perhaps both – – and Florida St. advances
  • Marshall/West Virginia:  A game of runs early on but W. Virginia is faster and quicker than Marshall at every position.  By halftime, this game was over.

As I noted last week, one coaching matchup next week will be Jay Wright and Bob Huggins.  If the game were to be scored by fashion writers, there would be no reason for W. Virginia to leave Morgantown.

Thursday evening, there will be 4 games on tap.  Of the 8 teams participating, the highest remaining seed is Michigan who was a 3-seed.  There will be a pair of 7-seeds, a pair of 9-seeds and one 11-seed on display.

Friday night will be the “chalky games”.  There will be a pair of 1-seeds, a pair of 2-seeds and a 3-seed in action on Friday.

Finally, apropos of nothing in particular, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A hunter in Maryland was knocked unconscious when a mortally wounded Canada goose — which typically weighs in at 10-15 pounds — fell out of the sky and conked him.

“In other words: ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’ … meet ‘Goose, Goose, Duck’!”

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