Retrospective On The 2018 NFL Draft

I want to talk about the NFL Draft at the outset today – – but I promise that I am not going to pretend to be able to “grade” any team’s draft even before any one of their draft picks has reported to training camp.  I prefer to look back at the draft from a different perspective.

There was something new about the 2018 NFL Draft.  It was covered by ESPN and by FOX.  You had a choice this year regarding which football gurus you preferred to listen to as you were waiting for the next pick to be announced.  As I bounced back and forth between coverages, I noted these observations:

  • None of the experts on either channel was particularly adept at forecasting the upcoming pick.
  • On FOX, Joel Klatt and Troy Aikman were on-field quarterbacks.  I found their commentary about the plethora of QBs selected early in the first round to be more interesting than the commentary on ESPN at the same time.
  • Once the “QB-wave” had crested, Troy Aikman’s observations were pretty superficial.
  • According to all the “analysts”/”gurus” on these programs, every player picked is super-talented and could become an All-Pro player down the line.

It is that last observation that grinds my gears more than just a little bit.  History tells everyone who pays attention that somewhere between a third and a half of the players picked in the first two rounds of any draft do not amount to a drab of donkey dung in the NFL.  Just because they are picked high in the draft does not mean they will do anything meritorious in the NFL.  I would greatly prefer to hear the “analysts”/”gurus” be a tad more critical/discerning in their exultation of each and every pick.  The fact that all these guys say that every pick is a great one and that the guy taken is going to be really good is lazy and sycophantic.

I have another over-arching view of the draft as it pertains to the New England Patriots.  For at least the last month, all that I have heard about the Pats is that there is discord in the locker room and that they will have to find a way to draft Tom Brady’s replacement in this draft because Brady is the leader of the locker room rebellion.  Well, maybe Brady is and maybe he isn’t; in fact, maybe there is a locker room rebellion and maybe there isn’t.  Looking back however, here is what I see:

  1. The Pats were AFC Champions last year and played in the Super Bowl.
  2. They achieved that stature without much of a contribution from their draft picks last year.  They had no picks in the first two rounds and both of their third-round picks sat out the season on IR.  Both are expected back this year meaning that a team that was good enough to get to the Super Bowl is going to add two high draft picks from last year who contributed nothing to the team getting that far.  Derek Rivers is a DE – – a position identified as a team need this year – – and Antonio Garcia is an OT – – another position identified as a team need this year.
  3. In this year’s draft, the Pats added an offensive lineman from Georgia, a running back to replace Dion Lewis (lost to free agency), a highly regarded CB and as a result of a trade with the Niners, they landed Trent Brown who might be a long-term starter at OT.

[Aside:  I really like the Pats’ 7th round pick of Braxton Barrios from Miami.  I think he may be the next Julian Edelman/Wes Welker/Danny Amendola for the Pats.]

There are plenty of “ifs” and “maybes” and “projections” in the commentary above; nevertheless, for a team that is coming off a Super Bowl level of performance in 2017, I would say that the future is not nearly as foreboding as many pundits/rumor-mongers would have you believe.

The other story that relates to the NFL Draft only because of its timing is that Jason Witten will be leaving the Dallas Cowboys to take the job with ESPN as the color analyst for Monday Night Football.  Congratulations to ESPN for “breaking the mold” and putting someone behind the microphone who did something other than play QB in the league.  From listening to Witten speak in interview settings, he is articulate and bright; if he can find a way to work harmoniously with play-by-play guy, Joe Tessitore, he should be just fine on MNF.  And from my perspective, “just fine” will be a monumental improvement over the departed – but not lamented – Jon Gruden.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times interprets recent medical findings to the NFL here:

“Adults should average no more than one alcoholic drink per day according to a new international study.

“With the obvious exception, say, of Browns’ fans.”

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



Basketball And Baseball Today…

Yesterday, I wrote at length about the College Basketball Commission’s recommendations to the NCAA.  Obviously, there was a lot of commentary on that subject around the country yesterday and I am glad to see that most writers/analysts recognize the situation for what it is:

  1. There is widespread violation of the extant NCAA rules.
  2. The current enforcement mechanism is inadequate.
  3. Schools/teams have assessed that the risk of “capture” is worth taking.
  4. The NCAA as constructed cannot fix this by itself.

The reason I am glad to see this sort of widespread recognition is simple.  If there is a problem to be solved, one must first acknowledge that there is a problem and then one must identify the scope of the problem.  It seems as if we have done that with regard to many of the ills of college basketball; now, if there is to be progress toward some solutions, there are identified goals to be achieved.  Things may actually improve…

There was another “basketball related” bit of news from earlier this week.  Lavar Ball had been uncharacteristically quiet for several weeks but emerged from his cocoon in Lithuania to announce that he is pulling his two sons off their Lithuanian team with two games left in that team’s season.  Lavar Ball had gotten crosswise with the Lithuanian coach particularly about the playing time allotted to the youngest son, LaMelo, and said that the most important thing now was to get the middle son, LiAngelo, ready for the upcoming NBA Draft.

[Aside:  Please tell me you are not surprised that Lavar Ball got crosswise with the Lithuanian coach.  Anyone surprised by that circumstance would probably also be surprised to learn that you do not need a brain transplant to change your mind.]

There was, however, a small angle to this story that was buried in one of the middle paragraphs.  This Lithuanian team has two games left in its season and it is facing relegation.  Yes, in Lithuania, they have a tiered system of basketball leagues and teams can be relegated and promoted just as teams can in soccer in England.  So, the question that flashed into my mind here was this:

  • How is it possible that this team – with two future NBA stars on it – is anywhere near relegation in a secondary level Lithuanian league?

Forgetting the snarky remark, here is a serious thought about the Ball Family Odyssey.  It appears as if LiAngelo and LaMelo could run out of places to play basketball.  By playing for a pro team in Lithuania, neither will be eligible for NCAA competition; LaMelo is still in high school – nominally home-schooled – and his professional exposure would make him ineligible at that level too.  Reports say that LiAngelo is not highly regarded as an NBA prospect meaning that his future would be in the G-League or in another overseas venue.  However, the recent rupture with the Lithuanian team/coach might constrain the demand for the services of the Ball Brothers.

You may recall that Cubs’ infielder, Anthony Rizzo, made news recently by saying that there are too many MLB games and that there should be a shorter season which would mean pay cuts for the players.  If you look at the weather conditions that have impinged on MLB so far this season, you would probably agree that things could be improved.  After Rizzo’s remarks and the initial flurry of comments about his remarks had calmed down a bit, there was a thoughtful column at written by Bradford Doolittle about cutting the MLB season back to 154 games.  Here is the link to that column; I suggest you read it in its entirety.

It would seem as if reducing the schedule by 8 games would not do a lot to shorten the season – and presumably play baseball in better weather conditions.  However, the idea here is to mix in double-headers with the 154-game season to reduce the time from Opening Day until the end of the World Series.  [Currently, the MLB season could be as long as 187 days.]  Here is one of the important suggestions in this column:

“By shortening the regular season, and mixing in at least one doubleheader per team per month — always in advance of an off day — we could easily avoid these ultra-early starts at the beginning, and kill the specter of November baseball at the end.”

I must admit that until I read this column, I did not know of Bradford Doolittle or his work.  I am going to be alert for his byline in the future; he seems to be a passionate baseball fan who is also very analytical.

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

“Professional bowling, an ESPN staple since the network’s founding in 1979, is moving to Fox for a ‘multi-year, multi-platform’ deal beginning in 2019.

“Things got so quiet around the ESPN studios when the news was announced that you could’ve heard . . . nah, too easy.”

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



The College Basketball Commission Report

Last Fall when news broke of the FBI investigation of “criminality” in the college basketball recruiting world, the NCAA created an independent commission to be headed by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to come up with recommendations for reform.  Yesterday, that report and those recommendations hit the street.  Not surprisingly, the recommendations are a mixed bag; the problem is that too many of the recommendations cannot be implemented by the NCAA even if every person at every member institution favored them.

Before I dive into the recommendations themselves, let me reiterate my position that I do not share the FBI’s assertion that there were criminal acts uncovered by their investigation.  There were clear and blatant violations of NCAA recruiting and eligibility rules in what the FBI found, but to my mind that is not equivalent to criminality.

I was not surprised in the least to learn that the Commission thinks that the one-and-done rule is no good.  My guess is that one-and-done enjoys the same favorable ratings among basketball fans as does cannibalism; it takes a while to find someone who likes it and is willing to stand up and say that they do.  I hate the one-and-done situation but there are two things related to the current report that bother me:

  1. Secretary Rice mentioned in remarks yesterday that recruiting shenanigans increased after the creation of the one-and-done situation about 12 years ago.  I agree that we have seen more evidence of and more details surrounding the seamy side of recruiting in recent years, but I would need to see some proof that the situation got worse.  As far back as the glory days of UCLA basketball under John Wooden, there were some “irregularities” surrounding some of the athletes who played there.
  2. The NCAA did not create the one-and-done situation; the NBA and the NBPA did.  The NCAA can no more eliminate one-and-done than it can summon up the Tooth Fairy and use her to fund any of the other recommendations made here.  Until and unless the NBA and the NBPA alter their existing Collective Bargaining Agreement, one-and-done is here to stay.  The good news is that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seems to want to get rid of that CBA provision, but that still does not put any authority or power in the hands of the NCAA.

There is another problem with using one-and-done as a punching bag.  While it may feel good and it may get heads nodding in agreement, it is not the thread that when pulled will unravel the entire mess.  One of the central figures in the FBI investigation – Christian Dawkins – allegedly funneled money to high school recruits AND to upperclassmen.  By definition, upperclassmen are not “one-and-doners”.  The problems here are not simple nor are they easily localized.

A key element here is that top-shelf recruits have different values to different people and institutions.  For college administrators and educators, they have one value; for coaches they have a different value; for boosters yet another value and for apparel companies one more value.  That environment creates a “black market” where shady characters can effect transfers of value among the different institutions.  In such a situation, the deal goes under the table – or as an uncle of mine used to say, the money goes “down south”.

There are some good ideas offered up.  They are easier said than done, but the NCAA ought to make a serious effort to make them happen:

  • The Commission says that schools who are caught cheating should get sanctions that last 5 years and that they would not share in any of the revenues generated in those 5 years.  The NCAA’s “broadcast partners” are not going to be happy to learn that a school or two guaranteed to draw big ratings will be on the sidelines for March Madness for the next 5 years.  Does the NCAA have the fortitude to stand up to that?  I would like to think so, but …
  • The Commission suggests banning coaches for life if they are found guilty of major violations.  This resonates with folks who believe in retribution and who think that all stories should end with everyone living happily ever after.  The problem here is the meaning of “found guilty”.  By whom?  In what tribunal?  To what standard of proof?  This one could take a while – – maybe even a lifetime.
  • The Commission recommends that players be allowed to declare for the NBA Draft and to return to college as eligible players if they are not selected in the NBA Draft.  That makes a lot of sense – except to the coaches and assistant coaches who are doing the recruiting.  For them, this change will mean that they do not know if a player who declared will be back the next season until after the NBA Draft in June.  Frankly, I think that is a level of discomfort and inconvenience that coaches can tolerate given the annual salaries they are pulling down.

There are other recommendations from the Commission that are akin to the one about eliminating the one-and-done situation; they sound great, but one has to wonder how the NCAA is going to pull them off.

  • The Commission wants the NCAA, the NBA and US Basketball to wrest control of “summer basketball camps” from the AAU and make things pure.  First, the NCAA, the NBA and US Basketball would be an unholy alliance; second, this is going to cost a lot of money and it will provide little if any benefit to either the NBA or US Basketball; ergo …  The reality is that the shoe/apparel companies fund the AAU summer camps and as long as they choose to do that, the AAU summer camps will go forward.
  • The Commission also recommends that the NCAA demand more transparency and accountability from the shoe/apparel companies regarding their expenditures of promotional funds.  Secretary Rice said that CEOs and Chairmen of the Board for public companies ought to be on top of how such funds are dispersed.  That sounds so good and so simple that it makes me tingle.  I am afraid however that the two operative words here are “Not” and “Happening”
  • The Commission recommends that players be allowed to deal with agents without losing their eligibility.  If the NCAA could find ways to keep that process from spinning out of control that would be a good idea.  Then again, regulating what agents may and may not do or provide for regarding athletes seems like rewriting the recruiting rules which clearly have not worked all that well or the FBI would not be investigating.

The Commission suggested that the NCAA expand its Board of Governors to include outside/independent members who would be voting members of the Board.  I like the idea but wonder just how “independent” a new member might be given that he/she would be nominated and vetted by the NCAA and its Board of Governors before taking a seat.  I know that is a cynical stance and I need to stifle it because putting a few “outsiders” on the inside is a step in the right direction.  It may not be perfect, but it is better than what exists today.  After all, this works for public corporations and non-profits…

The Commission suggested that the NCAA create a robust and independent investigative and adjudicative entity to do serious enforcement of whatever rules are on the books.  Again, I wonder about the “independence” of such an entity if it ever were to come to pass given that its budget would have to come from the NCAA itself.  Also, without the ability to compel “testimony”, the robustness of such an entity is open to question.

The Commission recommended – and I think this is a great idea – that the schools create a fund that would guarantee any athlete who left school to turn pro after two or more years and who was a student in good standing at the time of his departure scholarship status to return to school and finish his degree.  Given the potential costs involved here, I doubt there will be a lot of schools rushing forward to make this happen, but it is a great idea.

Let me make a suggestion of my own here that departs from what the Commission recommended and would put a dent in the one-and-done world.  It will not cure the problem, but it might change some of the recruiting dynamics.  For me to be transparent about this, let me acknowledge that I have cribbed most of this idea from remarks made by Coach Bob Knight about 30 years ago.  Do not confuse the message here with the messenger.

  • Each school should have a fixed number of scholarships that they can issue at any given time.  They are all full scholarships; none of them can be sliced and diced and distributed to more than one player.
  • Once signed onto, that scholarship sticks to that player for 5 years – or fewer than 5 years if the player graduates from that college before the 5 years have expired.  If the player quits the team, he keeps the scholarship and the team cannot issue it to another player.  If he transfers and gets a scholarship from another school, he then has two scholarships stuck to him from two different institutions.
  • A player loses all eligibility if he transfers more than once.

A school that recruits a class consisting of 4 or 5 “one-and-done players” is going to be hamstrung when they leave because they will be down 4 or 5 scholarships for the next 4 years until the 5-year expiration date allows them to re-issue the scholarship.  That will possibly decrease demand for top players – or at least disperse them among the colleges.  It is not a perfect solution, but it is as good an idea as many of the Commission’s suggestions.

The biggest issue that the Commission failed to address is the hallowed NCAA concept of the “student-athlete”.  There may indeed have been a time in the idyllic past when people went to college to earn a degree and who also decided to play basketball for the school at the same time.  That may still happen in some corners of today’s game but do not fall for the rhapsodic pronouncements of the NCAA on this subject.  College basketball players are only amateurs because the NCAA demands that they appear to be so, and it is that demand that creates the black market that led to the need for this Commission in the first place.  I have no insight into any deliberations or any of the dynamics of the Commission; nevertheless, the fact that Mark Emmert – the head honcho of the NCAA – was a member of the Commission that reported out yesterday might lead one to wonder if his presence assured that “amateurism reform” was not part of the final recommendations.

Overall, the Commission did a good job.  They had a monumental task.  In the 12 Labors of Hercules, he was tasked to clean out the stables of King Augeus – a rich man with lots of cattle and livestock – in a single day.  The Commission had a huge mess on its hands and only about 6 months to come up with recommendations.  Hercules solved his problem by diverting the water from two rivers through the stables to clean them up.  The Commission did not have access to enough river water here.

To me, the things that could have the largest and most far reaching effects on the recruiting process are these:

  1. Create and fund the independent investigative and adjudicative body recommended by the Commission.  The members would have to accede to authorities granted to those bodies or suffer sanctions from the NCAA directly.
  2. Increase the penalties for getting caught cheating.  Maybe lifetime bans need to be reserved for those who behave like Dr. Larry Nassar or Jerry Sandusky or Dave Bliss but keeping a coach or an assistant off the coaching carousel for 10 years might just keep folks a bit more honest.

The NCAA takes in almost a billion dollars a year in television rights fees from college basketball.  That is not chump change; that is real money.  [Aside:  The amount of money here puts the lie to the notion that the players are “amateurs” and that college basketball is anything but a business enterprise for the NCAA.]  The independent investigative and adjudicative body will not come into existence cheaply nor will it ever be self-sustaining financially.  Whether the NCAA members step up to this “cost of doing business” will be a significant indicator of their seriousness in trying to clean up this mess.

This story is not over.  Stay tuned for further developments …

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



Sports Radio

A couple of days ago, the NY Post reported that Mike Francessa – of Mike and the Mad Dog fame – wants “desperately” to return to the radio and that a return to WFAN in NY is possible.  I have exactly no reason to doubt this report or to put any faith in it; I take it for what it says.

Mike Francessa and his former radio co-host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo are significant cultural figures.  WFAN was the first 24-hour all-sports radio station in the country; it hit the airwaves in 1987.  Imus in the Morning got good ratings for the station but the show that solidified the sports-radio identity for the station began in 1989 when Mike and the Mad Dog took over the afternoon programming.  Their success led to the overall success of WFAN and that spawned the myriad sports-radio stations that now populate just about every major market in the US.

Francessa and Russo had a messy split several years ago and Francessa retired last year after hosting the afternoon show as a solo act for several years.  In place of Mike and the Mad Dog – and later Francessa’s solo act – WFAN has a trio of hosts for the afternoon drive slot.  I have not been to NYC recently, but I have taken some time to tune into that program over the Internet just because I was curious to see how the new hosts would follow this iconic act.

  • Spoiler alert:  It is not pretty.

The new hosts are Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott.  The best thing I can say about this trio is that they minimize the time that they talk over one another on the air.  Here is my assessment based on listening for a total of 7 or 8 hours in bits and pieces:

  • Chris Carlin:  He is the adult in the room, but he does not seem to bring any personal passion to the program.  He is facile with stats and trends, but he does not come across as a guy who is on top of “sports stuff”.
  • Maggie Gray:  She is obviously an accomplished broadcaster, but I have no idea why she is part of this program team.  Other than the fact that she possesses a doubled-X set of chromosomes …
  • Bart Scott:  Let me channel the late Dick Enberg here; Oh my!  There is a style of radio known as “Easy Listening”; Bart Scott defines the genre of “Painful Listening”.  During one of my listening segments, I was starting to root for him to incur a virus that would bring on laryngitis.

Mike and the Mad Dog was vintage sports radio; it was appointment listening.  When Francessa went solo, the show was still good – – but not as good as when he and Russo were behind the microphone.  The current afternoon programming simply recalls the Biblical verse:

“How the mighty have fallen …”

The NFL Draft starts tomorrow night.  In this morning’s Washington Post, there is evidence that every story about the ramp-up to the draft has been written and there is no more to say.  On the front of the sports section, there is this headline:

“Redskins lay out plans as NFL draft approaches”

The sub-head for that article says:

“[Doug] Williams says selecting running back early, trading down on table”

I hope you agree that there is nothing in those headlines that would draw your interest at this late stage of draft prep.  Of course, the team is finalizing its plans; of course, the Skins would have to consider taking a running back; of course, they would consider trading down depending on the circumstances.  There is no indication of any “news” in this report.

Then, on page 3 of the sports section – after the jump – here is the next headline for that article:

“Williams says available players, other teams’ offers will dictate Redskins’ course”

And in an even semi-rational world, how might it be otherwise?

Fortunately, the draft is tomorrow night; and that means we can shift the focus from the now threadbare fabric of what teams will do in the future as the draft unfolds and begin the next meaningless exercise of giving grades to various teams’ draft hauls before any of the draftees ever sets foot on a practice field.

One quick note about the NBA Playoffs…  I watched most of the fourth game of the Jazz/Thunder series and have this to say:

  1. The Jazz are fun to watch.  They move the ball on offense and they play aggressively on defense.
  2. Donovan Mitchell has made the transition from college basketball to NBA basketball in his one-year in the league.
  3. Ricky Rubio still can’t shoot – – but he controls the offensive flow of the game for the Jazz.

Finally, since I mentioned the Utah Jazz above, let me close with an item from Brad Rock’s column, Rock On! in the Deseret News:

“International soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic is now with the L.A. Galaxy — and he wants everyone to appreciate it.

“The Swedish striker bought a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times that said: ‘Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome.’

“LeBron James is thinking, ‘Rats! Stole my line’.”

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



Football Today …

While sports fans everywhere are seeking refuge from the final stages of the Mock Draft Hysteria, the NFL calmly revealed its schedule for 2018 leading to a small eddy of listicles along the lines of “The Five Most Important Games For The Patriots In 2018”.  Obviously, no one can know that sort of thing in April, so I tend to relegate such commentary to the same bin as the Mock Drafts.  What I noticed was the array of international games that the NFL will display this year:

  • Mexico City will host a game again this year; it will be a Monday Night Football game featuring the Chiefs and the Rams on November 19.
  • London will host 3 games in 2018.  The Seahawks and the Raiders will play on October 14 in the new Tottenham Stadium.  A week later, the Titans and Chargers will meet in Wembley Stadium and a week after that the Eagles and Jags will face off in Wembley Stadium.

That is a solid menu of “overseas games”.  The Rams are currently co-favorites to win the NFC Championship according to and the Chiefs are going to contend in the AFC West.  The Seahawks and Raiders have a longstanding rivalry dating back to the time when Seattle was in the AFC West.  The Titans/Chargers matchup has one playoff team from last year; but, truth be told, it is the plain vanilla game on this menu.  And the Eagles/Jags game features the reigning Super Bowl champs against a division winner from last year; I do not recall a London Game of that magnitude in the past.

The other interesting thing for me is that the NFL will play in London on 3 consecutive weekends.  If the league were ever to consider putting a franchise there, they would need to be convinced that fan interest in London is sustainable.  By playing on 3 consecutive weekends, the NFL pooh-bahs can get an indication of such sustainability.

Since I mentioned MNF in passing above, ESPN seems to be taking its sweet time naming a color analyst to replace Jon Gruden for next year.  Reports say that Peyton Manning turned down the job and that Brett Favre “flunked” an audition.  Then, Kurt Warner’s name surfaced as a leading candidate.  I know that the NFL is a copycat league but do the networks that cover the NFL have to behave in the same way?  I know that the top-shelf color analyst on FOX is Troy Aikman and that Tony Romo was a big success for CBS last year, but does that mean that ESPN has to find a QB to fill their slot?

Having been an NFL QB does not mean the individual will be a great color analyst.  To make my point let me offer two words:

  • Joe … Theismann

I will now proceed to contradict myself and tell you whom I would want in that job.  I think that Steve Young – – already employed by ESPN don’t you know – – would be an excellent color analyst.  There is only one minor problem with my choice.  Steve Young has already said he is not interested in taking that job.  Too bad…

Last week, I mentioned an NCAA rule change that was a solution in search of a problem.  There is another rule change that has caused agita in a segment of college football fandom.  Here is what Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had to say about it:

“There’s already been bellyaching about the new college football kickoff rule. Players will be allowed to fair-catch kickoffs anywhere inside the 25-yard line and the ball will be placed at the 25 as if it were a touchback. It’s being done with safety in mind by trying to reduce the number of violent kickoff coverage collisions. Hardcore football fans will really hate this when it goes into effect. But so what? Whatever the rules, we’re still talking football. People can’t quit it.”

Professor Molinaro has it right.  It is not difficult to find college football fan sites where this bellyaching is loud and prominent, and it takes the predictable path asserting that the next rule change will dress up the players in tutus.  Notwithstanding the anger/disgust expressed there, this is bellyaching and nothing more.  Once the rule in in effect, people will focus on the games and the rivalries and merely note the new kickoff rule as the way the game is now played.

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, regarding some other NFL-related television programming:

“The Smithsonian Institute has petitioned CBS for the network’s library of ‘The NFL Today’ broadcasts for its ‘longest running worst programming’ exhibit at the National Museum of American History.”

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



Comeback Players For 2018…

I saw Michael Vick on one of the jillionteen chatterbox shows on sports TV recently.  He was talking about his comeback to the NFL and how important that was to him and how important it was for him to be able to own up to the actions that led to his banishment.  While I thought that message was potentially an important one for younger players who seem unable to avoid “off-field circumstances” that can adversely affect their NFL careers, it also got me thinking about some NFL players who need for the 2018 NFL season to reinvigorate their careers.

These important “comeback years” come in two flavors.  Let me first consider players who need to rebound from injury to reoccupy their high-level status in the NFL hierarchy.  [Aside:  This is off the top of my head; there are surely players of note that I have left out of this discussion; that is because I did not think of them immediately and for no other reason…]

  • Odell Beckham, Jr.:  He has lots of “scratchy” traits that can be accommodated in the locker room simply because of his greatness as a WR.  But if he comes back in a state that does not allow him to be great …
  • Eric Berry:  He is a top-shelf safety – – probably one of the three best in the league.  The Chiefs will be thrilled to have him back in their secondary.
  • Dalvin Cook:  It sure seemed as if the Vikes had a top-shelf running back on the roster until the injury gods intervened.
  • Julian Edelman:  No one is “irreplaceable”.  Nevertheless, he is important enough to the Pats’ offense that his return is very important to the team.
  • David Johnson:  He is one of the current “top 3 running backs” in the NFL.  Having him in the backfield has to enhance the Arizona Cards’ offense.
  • Andrew Luck:  The vector heading for the entirety of the Colts’ franchise depends on Luck’s ability to play QB the way he did in the first 3 seasons of his career.
  • Clay Matthews:  No offense, but even when healthy, he has been way over-hyped for the last two seasons.  Can/will he discard that statistical negativity and forge ahead with his career?
  • Aaron Rodgers:  If I need to explain to you why this entry is on this list, you probably ought not to be reading this rant.
  • Richard Sherman:  All eyes in NoCal and in Seattle will be on him to see how he does against the Seahawks twice this year.  The first direct confrontation will be on December 2nd when the Niners visit the Seahawks.  Should be interesting…
  • Deshaun Watson:  Even if you hate the Houston Texans, you must realize that his return to the field at anything near his level of competence from last year will be a huge boost for the Texans…
  • JJ Watt:  Everything I said above about Deshaun Watson and his value to the Texans applies to JJ Watt in spades…

At the same time, there are several NFL players who had down years in 2017 for reasons that have nothing to do with injury and who need to rebound their careers onto a positive vector heading for 2018:

  • Dez Bryant:  He no longer “gets separation” the way he used to and he is no longer the constant long-ball threat he was in the “Tony Romo Days” in Dallas.  Nevertheless, he can be a load-and-a-half to deal with inside the 10-yardliine for defensive coordinators.
  • Amari Cooper:  What happened here?  After 2016, some may have been ready to suggest that Amari Cooper might be the heir-apparent to Jerry Rice as the best WR of all time.  After 2017, no one who thought that would want to stand up and acknowledge the same…
  • Joe Flacco:  We are no longer debating if he is an “elite QB” because it is clear that he is not.  The question now is whether he can remain a viable starter in the NFL.
  • Marcus Mariotta:  Did the 2017 NFL season represent a misstep on his part or was 2017 the cap on his abilities as an NFL QB?  I think it is the former – but he needs to show me how wrong I would be to assert the latter.

Finally, here is a cogent comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Idle thought: I’m relatively curious about next week’s NFL draft, if only to find out where the best quarterbacks land. That doesn’t mean I still don’t see any reason to treat it like Easter Mass at the Vatican.”

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



MLB’s First Manager Fired Already

The Cincinnati Reds have been awful in the early going of the 2018 MLB season; they lost 15 of their first 18 games.  Then they fired their manager, Bryan Price, as if that is going to make the team into a winner; it will not.  The Reds find themselves on the wrong end of two very important baseball stats.  This is not new and advanced analytics; these stats go back to the beginnings of baseball:

  • Through 18 games, the Reds have scored 54 runs in 18 games; that is 3.0 runs per game.  Every team in the NL is averaging more runs scored per game than the Reds.
  • Meanwhile, the Reds have allowed 100 runs in those same 18 games.  No other team in the NL has allowed 100 runs for the season no matter how many games they have played to date.

When you consistently give up 2.5 runs per game more than you score per game, you are going to lose a whole lot of baseball games – – and that is just what the Reds have done so far.  I don’t know Bryan Price from The Price Is Right, but I am confident that he was not the reason the Reds began this season so pitifully.  Jim Riggleman will take over as the manager in Cincy; good luck to him.

Recently, I wrote about the attendance problems facing the Oakland A’s.  With the less-than-charismatic White Sox coming to town, the A’s decided to do something bold to get the attention of their fans.  The A’s played a game and offered free admission to those who showed up in time to get a seat.  Rather than the normal crowd of about 17,000 souls, this game between two teams with a combined record of 13-21 was played in front of 46,765 fans.  Local writers in the area are saying that this bold move is what the A’s needed to jumpstart interest in the team and that it would result in an attendance upswing.

Those pundits may be right, but I think they are looking at the situation through rose colored glasses.  Here is how I interpret what happened for that game:

  1. There is indeed “baseball interest” in Oakland and there are fans of the A’s as a local team.
  2. Those fans will come out and support the team when the price is right.  Currently, whatever the A’s charge for tickets is higher than what many fans consider the “right price”.
  3. Free games cannot work as a business model.  Whatever the current price of A’s tix may be, it is too high, and it will not work well as a business model either.  I agree it will work better than free games, but the current price-point is not really sustainable either.

The folks at NCAA HQs have come up with a new rule for college football.  It has nothing to do with actual games; it is another of the ancillary details of college football that the NCAA seeks to regulate.  Henceforth:

  • College football teams can no longer use former players to practice with the current team.

It seems that some schools have figured out that they can use former players as members of the “scout team” when those former players have a skill-set that is close to the skill-set that an upcoming opponent might present.  Somehow, that seemingly harmless practice has drawn sufficient wrath from the NCAA honchos that it is now forbidden.  When you figure out who or what is harmed by that practice, let me know…

Finally, at a time when concussion-awareness is front and center in football, this item from Dwight Perry’s column Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times just made me shake my head:

“Cheyenne, Wyo., is set to host the country’s first bare-knuckle boxing card since 1889 on June 2, using current professional boxers and former UFC and Bellator fighters.

“Which certainly doesn’t give any John L. Sullivan wannabes much time to grow their handlebar mustaches.”

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



RIP Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino died earlier this week.  Long ago when I watched pro ‘rassling on black-and-white television sets, Bruno Sammartino was the champ and the guy who beat up all the bad guys who were “terrorizing” the rest of the ‘rassling cast.  He was 82 years old.

Rest in peace, Bruno Sammartino. had a report yesterday saying that Cubs’ first-baseman, Anthony Rizzo, said on the local ESPN Radio station that he thinks the season is too long and there is too much baseball.  In a show of self-awareness and candor, he also said that he knows that would mean salary reductions for the players; yet, he thinks a shorter season makes sense.  He has obviously thought about this concept for more than a moment or so because he said that there would have to be a transition period from today’s environment to a shorter season to accommodate all the guaranteed contracts out there.

He is clearly not enamored with starting the season in Chicago in early-April.

“I think playing in the cold sucks … When you think of Cubs and Cardinals, you think of a beautiful Saturday at Wrigley Field.  You don’t think about playing in 20 degrees.”

He also said the season could be shortened on the calendar by scheduling double-headers prior to scheduled off-days.  I have advocated both shortening the season and adding double-headers to the schedule to fit the season into a more climatically-friendly part of the calendar.  I realize that my idea has little chance of happening – – and Anthony Rizzo agrees with me on that point too.

Even in a part of the country where bleak weather conditions are not threatening the health and questioning the sanity of local baseball fans, there are some “attendance issues”.  Recently, the Miami Marlins hosted the NY Mets on a weeknight and according to the Marlins drew fewer fans that night than did their AA affiliate, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.  Granted, it was the home opener for Jax; nonetheless, the Jumbo Shrimp drew 6960 fans while the Marlins drew 6150.

  • The AA team drew 13% more fans than the MLB team.

Let that sink in and recognize that the Marlins had a miserable year at the gate in 2017 drawing a meager 1.58M fans for the season.  This year – with new owners and a completely gutted roster, the Marlins are on track to draw only 1.07M fans and that is the lowest in MLB.  Even on Opening Day, the Marlins did not come close to selling out; they only drew 34,000 fans for that event.

For this year, the Marlins say that they are going to report attendance only as the number of tickets sold.  According to reporting by the Miami Herald, last year’s attendance figures of 1.58M fans included tickets that were given away and that the ‘paid attendance” for the Marlins season was less than 900K fans.  Logically, Miami should be a viable MLB market given the popularity of baseball in Caribbean nations and the large Hispanic community in the Miami area.  The fact is that has not been the case.  Previous owners – Wayne Huizenga and Jeffrey Loria – have been blamed for the Marlins’ “image issues”; now the new owners fronted by Derek Jeter are taking heat for dismantling the core of a good young team.  All in all, this viable baseball market seems to have been squandered…

One of the players the Marlins sent elsewhere was Giancarlo Stanton.  Stanton has not set the world afire in NY for the Yankees so far.  Consider:

  • In 16 games, he is hitting .197
  • He has 13 hits and 3 homeruns
  • His OPS is only .702
  • He has struck out 29 times.

It is the strike out stat that stands out to me.  He is averaging 1.8 strikeouts per game and that would project to 294 strikeouts for a season.  That is an outrageous number even when you temper your reaction to it based on the small sample and the large extrapolation.  When compared to another great Yankee outfielder, Joe DiMaggio, those strikeouts are even more alarming:

  • In the 1941 season – the year of the 56-game hitting streak – DiMaggio played in 139 games and had 622 plate appearances.  He struck out a total of 13 times.
  • In fact, DiMaggio had 7 seasons where he struck out 30 or fewer times.

DiMaggio struck out a total of 369 times in his 13 season in MLB.  Stanton has been in MLB for 8 years and a month and has already struck out 1169 times.  Wow…

Finally, Richie Incognito seemingly announced his retirement from the NFL – and then he rescinded that announcement – and then he said he would report to the Bills’ OTA – and then he said he wanted out of Buffalo – and then …  I have no idea if or where Richie Incognito will play football this year or in future years, but in the midst of all the announcements, Brad Dickson tweeted this comment:

“Richie Incognito is retiring. The NFL’s loss is dwarf tossing’s gain.”

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



Quick Notes Today

Today will have to be brief.  Yesterday we closed on our purchase of a new condo and we are in the process of listing/selling our townhouse.  That does not leave me a lot of time for research or typing.  Now, if anyone here would like to purchase a lovely townhome in Falls Church, Virginia which has been the site of Curmudgeon Central for the last ten-and-a-half years …

NFL free agent QB, Mark Sanchez, did not enhance his value when he flunked a drug test and incurred a 4-game suspension.  Predictably, he said that he had no idea how the stuff showed up in his system because he had made no changes in his diet or supplement regimen and he had passed lots of these tests in the past.  I guess that is standard operating procedure these days; no athlete who flunks a drug test ever has a clue how it could have possibly happened.

There is an irony here.  Sanchez is suspended for violation of the league’s Performance Enhancing Drug policy.  The juxtaposition of “Mark Sanchez” and “performance enhancing” is discordant.  Imagine how he might have performed without any enhancement…

Consider this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot from a couple of weeks ago:

“Grant Hill is the first Duke player to be voted into the Naismith College Basketball Hall of Fame. But for what it’s worth, Lefty Driesell, who joined Hill in this year’s hall class, also played for Duke before going on to a great coaching career.”

Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery made mention of this during the weekend of the Final Four and – frankly – I have a problem with this.  I do not begrudge Grant Hill’s induction in any way; he is fully deserving of recognition in the Hall of Fame.  My problem is that he is the “first Duke player” to be voted in.  Excuse me; how can Christian Laettner not be in the COLLEGE Basketball Hall of Fame?

There have been conflicting reports linking Rick Pitino to the open coaching job at Sienna.  I have no idea if there is any substance to these reports but – rightly or wrongly – Rick Pitino would be a punching bag in any college basketball coaching position.  The folks at the NCAA would go apoplectic – once they calmed down.  The media, which has already tried and convicted Pitino of nothing short of crimes against humanity would be merciless in their coverage.  So, riddle me this:

  • How about Rick Pitino to fill one of the openings in the NBA?

If he is hard over to continue in the coaching profession, I really think the NBA is the place for him to go.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald channeling Carnac the Magnificent:

Answer: I just saw that the UM men’s tennis team is ranked 46th in the nation.

Question: Do you think maybe they ‘re ranking too many teams?”

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



Tax Day USA

If you have not yet filed your 2018 US Income Tax Return, stop reading this immediately and go finish your filing.

If you have already completed that task, I feel your pain.

They say that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life.  If so, at least the IRS is willing to grant you an extension.

I had lunch yesterday with an old friend who is a college basketball junkie to an even greater extent than I am.  The reason I say that is that he follows rather closely women’s college basketball and I do not.  I check out some of the top matchups during the season; he is on top of what goes on there.  Naturally, college basketball involving both genders was a central part of our conversation over lunch.

His excitement extended beyond Villanova’s national championship.  Let me be clear; he watched and followed the men’s tournament as closely as anyone you will meet on the streets.  In addition to that, he paid close attention to the women’s tournament to a degree that surpasses anyone that I know.  What he wanted to discuss were his ideas about how to make the NCAA women’s tournament a much bigger deal than it is today.  He wants to see the women’s tournament grow in interest/following such that it might rival March Madness one of these days.

As I go through the concept(s) here, I want to be sure everyone understands the point from which I depart in this matter:

  • I find women’s basketball interesting to watch but not exciting to watch
  • I find women’s college basketball has a paucity of talent which is concentrated in about a half-dozen schools making for lots of uninteresting blow-out games.

I mention those biases of mine so that you can factor them into my commentary on my friend’s ideas and our discussion of them.  His premises boil down to these three things:

  1. Women’s college basketball is at a stage of development equivalent to men’s college basketball in the 1970s.
  2. Women’s college basketball is not the same game as men’s college basketball.
  3. Rather than emulating men’s college basketball, women’s college basketball would be better off defining itself as a different animal.

I might quibble with #1 above but only on the margins.  Like men’s basketball in the 60s and 70s, there was a concentration of talent in a small number of schools and the levels of competition were severely restricted.  That is not the case today.

I totally agree with #2 above.  Women’s college basketball – – and WNBA basketball – – is not the same game that men play.  Simplistically, men play above the rim and women play a more fundamental game below the rim.

I agree with #3 above – – but I had not thought about it sufficiently to suggest how the women’s tournament might differentiate itself from the men’s tournament until my friend offered up his ideas.  Here is the general idea:

  • Just as there were not 64 – – or 68 – – men’s teams worthy of being in a tournament in the 70s, there are not that many women’s teams worthy of it today.  So, the first order of business is to cut that number to 32 teams at most and probably to 16 teams if you want a quality product from start to finish.
  • Do not overlap the women’s tournament with March Madness; it is not now – – and is not going to be – – ready to survive that competition for at least a decade or so.  That is not a prejudicial statement; that is reality.

My friend’s idea is for the women’s tournament to consist of 16 teams and to take only 2 weeks to accomplish.  He would start the tournament on the Thursday after the men’s tournament final game so that there is no overlap/competition for attention among college basketball fans.  [Aside:  We part company on how much of a benefit that would be.  He thinks fans of March Madness will be drawn to a women’s tournament with the “best teams only” in the field after March Madness “sets the table”; I think the start of the MLB season and the final days of the NBA season will be stiff competition in that calendar slot.  You can take your own side here…]

My friend’s version of the women’s tournament would end sometime around mid-April – – right about now if his idea had been implemented for the 2017/2018 women’s college basketball season.  While I may disagree with his premise that there is a hole in the sports calendar in early April, I do have to admit that it would be a better time for a women’s tournament than the current schedule that has the women competing for attention with the men in March.

He said that UConn’s loss for the second year in a row in the Women’s Final Four would have been a much bigger deal – – and a greater boost to women’s college basketball – – if it had not happened while the men’s tournament was drawing to its close.  He is probably right on that point; in women’s basketball now, UConn occupies the same stature that UCLA did back in the late 60s and early 70s.  When UCLA lost, it was a BIG deal.  [Aside:  If I have counted correctly, UConn is 0-2 in the last two Final Four games and is 147-2 in its last 149 games.  Those two losses should indeed have been a bigger deal than they were.]

I asked my friend if his idea could possibly survive what I called a “Title IX Challenge”.  If colleges must have equity between men’s athletics and women’s athletics, wouldn’t his smaller tournament and different scheduling be considered a form of inequality.  His answer was short and simple – – and would not be acceptable in polite company.  Let’s just say that he thinks anyone who would promulgate such a challenge should do something to himself/herself that is anatomically impossible.

I don’t know if his “abbreviated women’s tournament” would succeed in bringing more attention to women’s college basketball – – but I doubt that it would hurt the game.  The early rounds of the women’s tournament are dominated by blowout games – – glorified scrimmages if you call them what they are.  No one wants to see them, and no one cares about them.  Losing the games that cut the field from 64 to 16 will not kill off interest in the tournament – – except for the fact that it will diminish interest in every Ivy League and Patriot League women’s basketball game during the regular season because if the field in only 16 teams, neither of the champs there is going to participate in the “abbreviated tournament”.

There is food for thought here.  This idea is not half-baked – – but I am not sure it is ready to serve either.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Mattel, saying it wants to provide better role models to inspire young girls, is launching 17 new Barbie dolls, including aviator Amelia Earhart, gymnast Gabby Douglas and snowboarder Chole Kim.

“What, no Tonya Harding action set complete with a lead-pipe Ken?”

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