The NCAA Transfer Portal

The NCAA loosened its transfer rule. Starting next season major college football and basketball players may transfer one time before graduating without being required to sit out a year of competition.  I have read reports that say there are 1500 student-athletes who have either entered the transfer portal or who have made a preliminary application to transfer.  I have no problem with this version of “collegiate free agency” unless – make that until – someone suggests that this need not be limited to a “one-time occurrence”.

I get all the rhetorical arguments about how coaches can pick up and move without having to sit out a year, but players cannot.  That is true; that is also a distinction based on a fundamental difference; players are not coaches and coaches are not players.  Oh, and coaches are not students either.

So, give the players a one-time pass to transfer without penalty; consider that an homage to the adage that “everyone makes mistakes”.  However Mr. or Ms. Student-Athlete, choose wisely in that free transfer because there should not be any others coming your way.  Remember, the people making those “transfer decisions” are adults; they are eligible to vote; if they make a bad life choice, they do not deserve an unending supply of “get out of jail free cards”.

Bob Molinaro had this comment on the subject in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot a couple of weeks ago:

Fastbreak: Can’t resist touching again on the havoc created by the NCAA’s new, liberal transfer policy. Not when the Syracuse women’s basketball team just lost 12 players to the portal.”

I am confident that Syracuse – and other schools – will figure out ways to navigate these new waters and fill out team rosters.  Here is what I find most interesting:

  • If Joe Flabeetz is a chemistry major and decides to transfer from School A to School B after three semesters, Joe often finds that he cannot transfer all his credits to School B.  Remembering that the NCAA model is the “student-athlete”, I wonder how many transferring student-athletes find that they cannot transfer credits and that lack of standing makes them ineligible not by NCAA rules but by School B’s rules.
  • The answer is obviously zero – – because the student-athlete would not transfer to a school where he/she was academically ineligible.  Some student-athletes may not be anywhere near ready for college education, but they cannot possibly be that stupid.  Right?
  • Nonetheless, isn’t that a convenient circumstance for those reported 1500 “student-athletes”?

Yesterday, I mentioned that one of the NFL games that could have a beaten-to-death storyline was the Niners at the Bears on Halloween.  The Niners made a major trade to move up to the #3 position in the Draft giving them access to the QB they wanted in the Draft once the first two QBs were off the board.  They selected Trey Lance with that pick; obviously, he is the player they wanted; there had been hundreds of speculative articles and comments about who they would take even up until moments before the pick was announced.

One of the prominent alternative names in those speculations was Justin Fields who was taken by the Bears later in the Draft after the Bears made a trade to move up to get him.  It is not a guarantee that Lance and Fields will be the starters in that game; both the Niners and the Bears have QBs on their rosters who could be “placeholder QBs” for some/all of the 2021 season as Messrs. Lance and Fields “learn the trade”.  However, if they do face each other, it might be interesting to note what it cost each team in terms of draft capital to make the selection that they did.

Here is the Niners’ trade:

  • Niners get: The #3 pick in the 2021 Draft which they used to select Lance.
  • Dolphins get:  The #12 pick in the 2021 Draft (later traded to the Eagles) plus the Niners’ first and third round picks in 2022 and the Niners first round pick in 2023.

Here is the Bears’ trade:

  • Bears get:  The # 11 pick in the 2021 Draft which they used to select Fields.
  • Giants get:  The #20 pick in the 2021 Draft plus a fifth-round pick in the 2021 Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 Draft.

Both teams traded up 9 slots in the Draft – – albeit the Niners traded to get a much more advantageous position.  However, the “investment” made by the two teams in terms of “draft capital” to acquire the rookie QB they selected is huge.

Speaking of these two QBs taken in the first round of this year’s Draft, there were 5 QBs taken in the first round including 3 QBs taken in the first three picks and all 5 QBs going in the first 15 selections.  Only the 1983 NFL Draft saw more QBs taken in the first round; and in 1983, there were only 28 teams selecting players in the first round.  To refresh your memory here are the QBs from the “Class of 1983”:

  1. John Elway – taken first overall, won 2 Super Bowls, made the Hall of Fame.
  2. Todd Blackledge – taken #7, played in all or part of 7 seasons without distinction.
  3. Jim Kelly – taken #14, appeared in 4 Super Bowls, made the Hall of Fame.
  4. Tony Eason – taken #15, appeared in a Super Bowl game, played in all or part of 8 seasons.
  5. Ken O’Brien – taken #24, played in all or part of 10 seasons without distinction.
  6. Dan Marino – taken #27, played in 1 Super Bowl, made the Hall of Fame.

Finally, here is an NFL Draft related comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Falcons signed undrafted Jack Batho IV, a 6-foot-7, 315-pound tackle from South Dakota School of the Mines.

“Hey, if a guy from there can’t open a hole, who can?”

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



Oakland Goes For The Hat Trick?

In the modern baseball era, the now-Oakland A’s are the most peripatetic team.  They began their existence as the Philadelphia A’s owned and managed by Connie Mack for about 50 years; then they pulled up stakes and moved to Kansas City in the mid-50s and stayed there for about 15 years before moving to Oakland in the late 60s.  According to recent reports, it is possible that the A’s might be on the move once again.

The A’s play their home games in whatever they are calling the Oakland Coliseum these days.  That stadium changes names the way most people change socks, so it is hard to stay on top of it.  The A’s – – and the NFL Raiders when that team used the stadium – – wanted a new place to play and no funding/cooperation was forthcoming from the city.  To be fair, Oakland lavished taxpayer funds on the stadium for the Raiders in the past – – and it never quite paid for itself; once burned means twice shy.  However, the facility is simply a mess, and something must be done.

The current owner has “a plan” where he will build a stadium as part of a massive development effort at a waterfront site in downtown Oakland.  This plan includes housing and retail space and a hotel.  So, if there is this plan in place, what is the problem?

Well, it takes a lot of infrastructure investment on the part of the city of Oakland to accommodate all that development.  For the moment, this is a shipping terminal site that does not have nearly the road access necessary, nor the drainage required.  Some folks have “guesstimated” that the necessary infrastructure investment could go north of $1B.  With that number floating around in the air, the city fathers in Oakland are loath to go full throttle on this project.

Probably motivated to put some pressure on the city fathers, MLB has told the A’s to proceed with their plans for a new stadium because the clock is winding down on MLB’s tolerance of the Oakland Coliseum.  Here is the kicker:

  • MLB told the A’s to start looking for a place to move if they cannot get things moving in Oakland.

The A’s owner, John Fisher, had this to say earlier this week:

“The future success of the A’s depends on a new ballpark.  Oakland is a great baseball town, and we will continue to pursue our waterfront ballpark project. We will also follow MLB’s direction to explore other markets.”

Oakland  used to have an NBA franchise; the Warriors have decamped to play across the Bay in San Francisco.  Oakland used to have an NFL franchise; the Raiders now reside in Las Vegas.  Oakland has shown in recent times that it knows how to lose professional sports teams; the question now is will they “go for the hat trick” so to speak.

I never like the idea of taxpayer money being used to build playpens for billionaires.  I would not like to be part of the city government in Oakland about now.  Instead of trying to figure a way out of the conundrum in Oakland, I prefer to think about where the A’s might move to in the event of a stalemate in Oakland.

Since MLB would have to approve any move by the A’s, I think one major issue is MLB’s willingness to allow the A’s to move out of the geographical western part of the US.  If the A’s would be allowed to move anywhere such that there might need to be some realignment of divisions, these areas come to mind:

  1. Charlotte/Research Triangle in NC:  Plenty of population with disposable income and potential rivalries with the Nats and Braves.
  2. Montreal, Quebec:  Immediate rivalry situation with the Blue Jays.

I suspect that MLB will not want to go through the seismic changes that moving the A’s from the AL West would engender.  Therefore, let me propose three landing spots that would keep the A’s in the AL West:

  1. Las Vegas:  Two barriers here are the fact that the city just spent about $750M on a stadium and improvements for the Raiders and the climate in Las Vegas in the summer.  For baseball, there may need to be a domed stadium there and domes do not come cheap.
  2. Portland:  This is a growing area where there is lots more disposable income than there is in Oakland.  One problem here is that Portland has been in the news over the past year or so in a not-so-positive way.
  3. San Antonio:  If there is a stadium plan there, this is the city I would choose.  It is prosperous and growing AND it would immediately set up a rivalry triangle with the Astros and Rangers in Texas.

Moving on …  The NFL released its 2021 schedule and the sportsbooks immediately released betting lines for all the Week 1 games.  I have not studied the schedule carefully, but a scanning of the schedule points out several games that are going to command storylines that go beyond what might happen on the field.  Consider:

  • Week 4 Bucs vs Pats:  Brady vs Belichick.  Will they shake hands before the game?  After the game?  Let me set the Over/Under for the number of times this will be called a “showdown” at 2,643,320…
  • Week 7 Rams vs Lions:  Matthew Stafford vs Jared Goff.  This will show which team got the better of that trade, right?
  • Week 8 Niners vs Bears:  By then, these teams might be starting their first round QBs from this year’s draft so it could be Trey Lance vs Justin Fields.
  • Week 9 Pats vs Panthers:  Cam Newton returns to Charlotte…
  • Week 11 WTFs vs Panthers:  Ron Rivera returns to Charlotte…
  • Week 16  Jets vs Jags:  By then, both teams would be in the “relegation zone” if the NFL had one – – but this will match the Overall #1 pick (Trevor Lawrence) against the Overall #2 pick (Zach Wilson) in NYC on the day after Christmas.  The wordsmiths’ hearts are already picking up the pace…

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle went to an A’s home game in Oakland earlier this season.  Here is part of his description of the evening:

“At the A’s ballpark, I interviewed one of those cardboard fans, the only one that was not smiling. Said the fan, ‘I wasn’t cut out for this.’”

BaDaBing!  BaDaBoom!!!

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



Enough Already

Several times here, I have complained about the length of time it takes to play the final two minutes of a college basketball game.  I have even suggested rule changes that would seek to shorten some of those never-ending foul fests.  Notwithstanding the frustration I might feel watching some of those games, I just ran across a report of something much – MUCH – worse.

  • A girls’ high school softball game took almost 5 hours to play, and the final score was 46-45.

Do I hear someone suggesting that it might have been fun to watch such an offensive explosion and that the game was close so it must have been interesting?  Well, let me add a few other facts to the story here:

  1. The winning team had 46 runs on 15 hits with 8 errors.
  2. The losing team had 45 runs on 5 hits with 6 errors.
  3. There were 65 walks in the game.  [None of the pitchers could find home plate with a radar.]
  4. There were 29 batters hit by pitches in the game.
  5. One player had 8 plate appearances; she drew 5 walks and was hit by a pitch the other three times she came up.

Just thinking about the account of that game makes me question if I ever want to see another softball game in my lifetime…

And while I am thinking about tiresome things related to sports, I want to go on record now and say that I have heard more than enough about two subjects – – and I know that there is a ton more that will be said on those two subjects over the next several weeks/months.  They are:

  1. Aaron Rodgers and his unhappiness with the Green Bay Packers.
  2. Tim Tebow signing with the Jags as a tight end.

Just as I would have wanted to say, “Wake me when it’s over,” had I been watching that girls’ softball game, there are a finite number of ways to say that Aaron Rodgers and the management in Green Bay are not “besties” right now.  That finite number of expressions was attained weeks ago and then the repetition began.  Enough already; save whatever scraps of information anyone may have on this matter for an introduction to a report/explanation of what actually happened as a result of Rodgers’ frustration.  One does not contribute to understanding by beating a dead horse or by assaulting an expired equine or … you get the idea.

Tim Tebow – for reasons I do not pretend to understand – fascinates sportswriters and commentators.  Tebow was an excellent college QB; he won the Heisman Trophy; he got a huge amount of coverage for that success.  He was mediocre at best as an NFL QB; he got a huge amount of coverage for that lack of success.  He was a minor league baseball player for about 5 years with a career minor league batting average of .222; he got a huge amount of coverage for that mediocrity.  Now, at age 33, he is going to try to become a tight end at the NFL level and is getting a huge amount of coverage for signing on to try to do something.  Enough already; if he makes the Jags as a tight end, we can read/hear about that after the fact.

I am not alone in being tired of repetitious reporting on things that simply do not matter.  I offer as evidence this comment by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

Asked and answered: Is anyone’s enjoyment of a baseball game enhanced after being told the exit velocity of a batted ball?  Of course not.”

Since I mentioned beating a dead horse above, that reminds me that the Preakness officials have cleared Medina Spirit to run in the Preakness this weekend.  I never really doubted they would bar the horse, but I am surprised at the justification they have offered for making that decision.  According to reports, the Preakness people got trainer Bob Baffert to submit Medina Spirit and two other stablemates slated to run in stakes races this weekend to “enhanced blood-testing and medical monitoring”.

  • The three horses were blood tested when they arrived at Pimlico on Monday and then again on Tuesday.
  • The results are to be available on Friday with the Preakness taking place on Saturday.
  • Preakness folks say this “will ensure us that if there is or was any betamethasone or any other medications … in the horse we would know about them before the race.”

Sounds good – – except…  The test that Medina Spirit failed after winning the Derby took 8 days to come back and the testing for the split sample from Churchill Downs – – to confirm or confuse the results already in – – is expected to take several weeks.  The Pimlico samples will be analyzed and reported in two to three days and that provides “assurance”?

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen tossed a seven-inning one-hitter against the Braves in the opener and Madison Bumgarner tossed a no-no in the nightcap.

“In other words, they scheduled an MLB doubleheader and fastpitch softball broke out.”

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



New Rules For College Basketball

Last week, I wrote here about the college basketball rules mavens considering a long list of rule changes for 2021 and beyond.  Fortunately, they steered clear of some of the worst of those suggestions – – but I am not sure they did much to make the game “better”.  Perhaps that is too high a standard; maybe I should expect less.  So, let me go over what changes are going to be implemented this year and use the Hippocratic Oath as a standard:

  • First, do no harm…

There will be 5 changes – one being used only in the NIT on an experimental basis – next Fall.  Only that “experimental rule” would be a major change; the other four are pretty bland stuff.  The first rule change addresses an ongoing problem in college basketball but does not go nearly far enough.

  • Change #1:  Flopping can result in a technical foul.  Flopping is a problem, and previous attempts to “eradicate it” from the game by issuing points of emphasis have been feckless.  This rule change seeks to “up the ante” here by making it a technical foul when a “fake-being-fouled” situation is “clear and obvious”.  However, do not get the idea that the rules mavens are really serious here because this flavor of technical foul would result in one foul shot by the opposing team plus possession and the player doing the flopping would NOT also accumulate a personal foul from the flop.

My guess is that this rule will fade into obscurity unless officials call it early and often in the upcoming regular season.  However, it does no obvious harm…

  • Change #2:  Coaches can use technology for live stats and video for coaching on the bench.  Even if this were to be implemented as stated here, this is a change that would be transparent to fans.  However, the rules mavens would not go even that far.  This change simply allows conferences to make their own rules on this matter and apply those rules only to conference games.  The rule would not be in effect for interconference games or for the NCAA Tournament.

I suspect that this change will be important for a reason that has exactly nothing to do with the game of college basketball; it has important economic potential.  This will allow each conference to strike a deal with Apple or Microsoft or Samsung to have one of those tech companies be “The Official Bench Technology Partner” for a specific conference.  That can benefit Athletic Departments’ profit and loss statement, but that is about all.  Moreover, it does no obvious harm…

  • Change #3:  Schools can install shot clocks that display tenths of a second.  Be still my fluttering heart…  Schools are not required to do this, but they may do it if they want to.

I certainly hope the rules mavens did not spend more than a few tenths of a second pondering the cosmic significance of such a change – – because there is no significance here.  However, it does no obvious harm…

  • Change #4:  When a team calls a timeout, that interruption of play will also serve as the upcoming TV timeout.  This is a significant rule change in terms of maintaining pace of play.  It does not quite address the “interminable final two minutes” issue, but it is a start.  Here is how it will work.  If a team calls a timeout with 14 minutes to play in the first half, that timeout will serve as the TV timeout that would have happened at 12 minutes.  Instead of stopping the game for a timeout after the first dead ball at 12 minutes, the game would continue until the 8-minute mark for the next TV timeout – – unless of course a team calls yet another team timeout.

This change seeks to keep the games inside a reasonable 2-hour time window for television programming purposes.  It is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.  In this case, the rule change is better than “not doing harm”, this one looks like an improvement for the game.

  • Change #5 (Experimental in the NIT only):  Players will be allowed 6 fouls before disqualification unless four of those fouls occur in one half.  Since the rules mavens for college basketball only meet every other year, this rule will likely get two years of exposure in NIT games.  That means there will be 62 games by which the rules mavens can come to some conclusion as to the worthiness of this rule.  That is not much of a sample size considering the number of college basketball contests that will be played under the current “5-fouls-and-you’re-gone” rule.  [Aside:  If you assume there are 350 Division 1 basketball schools and each team plays 30 games in a season, that results in 10,500 games with the “5-foul rule” and 62 games in 2 NIT tournaments with the “6-foul rule” until the next meeting of the rules mavens.]

The rules mavens frame this experimental change as an attempt to “keep the most talented players on the floor for the longest amount of time”.  While that is a noble pursuit, it seems to ignore the fact that one of the talents exhibited by the best players is the ability to avoid committing 5 personal fouls.  Also, please recall that a “6-foul rule” existed in the old Big East Conference in the 1990s, but it did not last more than a couple of years.  It did not make the games significantly better – – but it did make them more physical.  I do not like this rule – experimental or not.  I do not think it makes the game better and I think it does harm to college basketball.  Figuratively speaking, I would prefer for someone to drive a wooden stake through the heart of this experimental rule.

Finally, since today has been all about rules – and proposed rule changes – let me close with an observation from Henry David Thoreau:

“Any fool can make a rule.  And any fool will mind it.”

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



Bouncing Around today …

Last week, I said that Ernie Banks was the best shortstop in baseball history.  That conclusion came after mulling over in my mind all the shortstops I had seen going back to the 1950s.  I should have known better.  The reader in Houston reminded me – ever so gently – about the existence of Honus Wagner who was also a shortstop and who was even better than Ernie Banks.  I stand corrected…

The Angels released Albert Pujols in the final year of his 10-year contract worth $253M.  The fact is that Pujols had been in a serious state of decline for at least the last two seasons; the last time his batting average was over .250 was back in 2016.  That is why I was a bit surprised to read about his release; if the Angels were willing to keep him around for the last two or three years, I would have thought that he might have hung around until his contract expired in October.

Pujols has been in the major leagues for all or part of 21 seasons – 11 with the Cardinals and 10 with the Angels.  Here is one comparison to show how far from “living up to his billing” he has been with the Angels:

  • OPS with Cards for 11 seasons = 1.037.  That is excellent.
  • OPS with Angels for 10 seasons = .758.  That is mediocre.

If you look up Pujols’ career stats you will find one stat where he leads the major leagues for a career – – and it is one I am sure he would prefer not to acknowledge:

  • Albert Pujols grounded into 403 double plays in his career – – more than anyone else in baseball history.

As the NBA regular season is drawing to a close, here are my picks for various season awards around the league:

  • MVP:  My vote goes to Chris Paul.  The Suns have been worse than an also-ran in the NBA West for the last several seasons; they added Paul to the team, and they are going to finish in the top half of the playoff seedings.
  • Rookie of the Year:  I think LaMelo Ball earned this honor.  Yes, he was hurt and missed time in the middle of the year, but he is a major part of the reason that the Hornets are likely to be part of the playoffs in 2021.
  • Most Improved Player:  I think Julius Randle runs away with this award.  He is the leader and leading scorer for the Knicks who are 7 games over .500 this late in the season.  It has been a while since that has been the case in NYC.
  • Coach of the Year:  This is a tough call for me.  Quin Snyder has led the Jazz to the league’s best record at this point; that is quite an item to have on one’s résumé.  Meanwhile, Tom Thibodeau has changed the Knicks from a doormat to a playoff team in the East.  If I had a vote here – which I do not – I would toss a coin here because both coaches deserve this honor.

Next up is a story about shooting oneself in the foot …  The sport of horseracing is moribund; notwithstanding the upbeat story about Medina Spirit completing a rags-to-riches story by going from a foal who was sold at auction for the minimum price of $1000 to winning the Kentucky Derby by going wire-to-wire, the sport of horseracing has found a way to put a downer on that story.  Over the weekend, we learned that Medina Spirit tested positive for excessive amounts of betamethasone in its blood after the race.  As I understand it, betamethasone is a steroid that is administered by injection into joints to alleviate joint inflammation and pain.

According to reports, the concentration of betamethasone was 21 picograms per milliliter which is double the acceptable concentration.  [Aside:  If you are not familiar with “picograms”, 1 million picograms = 1 microgram and 1 million micrograms = 1 gram.]  You might be tempted to dismiss this as much ado about nothing since the amounts here are so small but there are some disturbing elements:

  • Betamethasone is the same substance that was found to be in excessive concentration in the Kentucky Oaks winner last year.  That horse, Gamine, was trained by Bob Baffert who is also the trainer of Medina Spirit.
  • Justify won the Triple Crown in 2018.  He too failed a drug test, and he too was trained by Bob Baffert.  The “investigation” there was dropped when it was suggested that Justify may have eaten some contaminated feed thereby explaining the failed drug test.
  • Last year, the NY Times reported that two of Baffert’s horses tested positive for lidocaine in Arkansas.  Faced with the investigation, Baffert argued that the stewards in Arkansas did not follow their own rules which would have kept the matter completely confidential.

Regarding the positive test for Medina Spirit, Baffert has vowed to “fight the case tooth and nail” because he says he never treated the horse with that substance at all – – let alone to a point where it would appear at twice the legal limit for the drug.  He also indicated that he is beginning to wonder if he – Baffert – is the target of wrongdoing:

”I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I know everybody’s not out to get me, but there’s definitely something wrong. Why is it happening to me? There’s problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.”

What should have been a positive week for horseracing looking forward to the second leg of the Triple Crown with a storyline that echoed the one surrounding Seabiscuit more than 70 years ago has turned into a week with a sordid mess hanging over the head of horseracing.  And it may not stop there.  Baffert announced that Medina Spirit would be traveling by van to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes later this week while there are voices out there saying the horse should not be allowed to run anywhere until all of this is cleared up – – which might take months.

Finally, let me close with an item from Bob Molinaro in his column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot related to the Kentucky Derby:

TV timeout: A reported audience of 14.5 million watched the Kentucky Derby — ‘the most exciting two minutes in sports.’ Meanwhile, 12.6 million watched the first night of the NFL draft — three hours of reading out the names of other people’s children.”

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



College Basketball Rule Change Proposals

I really like college basketball.  I went to college in Philadelphia in the 1960s when all of Philly’s Big Five – LaSalle, Penn, St. Joe’s, Temple and Villanova – played 99% of their home games at The Palestra.  That meant double headers every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday – – and sometimes another one on Wednesday.  In my four undergraduate years, I missed a total of 4 games at The Palestra.  I really like college basketball and have liked it for a long time.

I have also mentioned here before that I officiated basketball for 37 years – – albeit never at the collegiate or professional level.  I never kept a count on the number of games that I did, but my guess is somewhere in the vicinity of 2500 games.

The preceding paragraphs are there to frame what is to follow here – – commentary on a report that the college basketball rules mavens are about to embark on a discission about 13 different rule changes.  My reaction to these “proposals”/”thought experiments” varies widely; so, let me get to the list.

One proposed rule change would allow the use of laptop computers or tablets on the bench during games “for coaching purposes only”.

  • I do not know why this is a necessary addition to the game; college basketball has survived for about 100 years without computers on the bench.  However, I do not see any huge downside here either – – so I will just say “ho-hum” to this change.

Another proposal would loosen the rule on traveling and specifically allow the so-called “Euro-step” and the step back for a jump shot.

  • I hate this idea.  If the traveling rule needs modification, it needs to be modified into a tighter rule not an expanded one.

A third proposed rule change would award possession of the ball to the defense every time there is a held ball.  This would eliminate the possession arrow.

  • I always like a rule change that favors the defense simply because almost all of them favor the offense.  I would like to see this one happen.

Someone wants to change the rules to eliminate the 10-second back-court rule.

  • This is a rule that would favor the offense and penalize a pressing defense.  I do not like that – – but it does remove one responsibility from game officials to maintain a 10-second count.  I prefer to keep the 10-second back-court rule in place.

Similarly, another rule change proposal is to eliminate the 5-second closely guarded rule.

  • This proposal favors the offense again ever so slightly.  Since the violation is called about once a month on a national basis, this is not a big deal but why do the offensive players need yet another rule change in their favor?

On the table is a suggested rule change that would widen the foul lane from 12 feet to 16 feet.

  • This may look as if it favors the defenders except for two factors.  First, 3-second violations are called about as frequently  as 5-second closely guarded violations are called, so It really does not matter all that much.  Second, this will enforce more spreading of the court by offensive players and that is a defensive challenge not a benefit.  Widen the lane if you must – – and then make 3-second violations a point of emphasis to get folks out of the paint!

The camel’s nose is already inside the tent so this rule change would get the beast’s entire head in there too.  They want to consider allowing “instant” replay to apply to shot-clock violations on missed shot attempts in the final two minutes and/or overtime situations.

  • Oh swell, yet another way for “instant” replay to gobble up time in the waning moments of a game.  We need this as much as Olympic swimming events need lifeguards.

But wait; there’s more…  The camel’s intrusion into the tent could get its entire neck in there with another proposed change.  This other one would allow “instant” replay on basket interference and/or goaltending calls – but only after an official calls the violation in the first place.

  • This will consume a lot of time in college basketball games and – most importantly – the use of “instant’ replay here will NOT assure that the officials “get it right”.  Such a bad idea…

Here is a solid proposal.  This rule change would allow a team in the final two minutes to turn down free throws and take possession of the ball on a throw-in.

  • This change would probably accomplish two things.  First it will speed up the ends of games because setting up for throw-ins takes less time than setting up and administering free throws.  Second, it should make even more obvious the intentional fouling that is going on to the point that MAYBE there will be a few intentional foul calls made where they are sorely needed.

Next up is a step in the right direction but one that does not go quite far enough.  The proposal is to limit teams to two timeouts in the final two minutes of regulation play and throughout all of overtime periods.

  • Good idea – – but a better one would be to limit teams to one timeout in the final three minutes of regulation time and to give teams two timeouts in overtime but only one of them can be used in the final minute of overtime.

The last three proposed rule changes are all bad ones, in my opinion.  I shall try to save the worst for last, but that might be difficult since all three of these are stinkers as far as I am concerned.  The “least worst” of the three is one that would change the disqualification rule of five personal fouls by a player.  The proposal would allow a player to commit 3 fouls per half giving him a total of 6 fouls before disqualification except he would be disqualified if he committed 4 fouls in either half.

  • Five fouls before disqualification are sufficient.  There is no reason to reward a player for playing defense poorly enough to commit 6 fouls in a game.

Here is another bad idea.  Break the games into “imaginary quarters” for the purpose of counting team fouls.  The proposal here would “reset” the team fouls to zero at the 10-minute mark of both halves and would have the double-bonus begin with the fifth team foul in any of the “imaginary quarters”.  The one-and-one foul situation would cease to exist.

  • Great!  Another element where timing can become controversial so that we can expect to have another rule change in two years to use “instant replay” to find out if a foul call was just before or just after the 10-minute mark.  Also, what is wrong with one-and-one situations – – unless you are a player who just cannot shoot free throws?

This is the rule change proposal I like the least.  The proposal would eliminate offensive goaltending by defining the ball as alive after it has touched the rim on a shot attempt.

  • Please note: this rule change proposal does NOT seek to allow a defender to swat a ball away after it touches the rim or is “in the cylinder”; the change only seeks to eliminate offensive goaltending.  Why is that a good idea?

To recap, there are 13 rule change proposals that will be considered by the rules mavens over this weekend at NCAA HQS.  For me, the breakdown goes like this:

  • Four of the proposals are GOOD.
  • Two of the proposals are UNNECESSARY.
  • Two of the proposals are BAD.
  • Five of the proposals are UGLY.

Finally, the folks proposing these rule changes can be viewed as missionaries trying to spread a good word to poor heathens wherever they may be.  Oscar Wilde had this to say about missionaries:

“Missionaries are going to reform the world whether it wants it or not.”

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



This Seems Different …

Cal State Northridge plays basketball in the Big West Conference along with schools such as Hawaii, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.  Cal State announced in the last several days that it has suspended its head basketball coach, Mark Gottfried and the other members of his coaching staff with pay pending an investigation into NCAA rules violations.  Here is some of what the Athletic Director said in announcing this action:

“Upon learning of potential rules violations within our men’s basketball program, I directed an immediate review and have placed our men’s basketball coaching staff on paid administrative leave while we complete this internal review.  Our focus will be on the welfare of our student-athletes and ensuring their academic, athletic and personal success. CSUN does not comment on specific employee issues and cannot elaborate further about the nature of the potential violations while the review is underway. However, CSUN is committed to ensuring full compliance with all university and NCAA regulations while maintaining the highest standards of integrity and institutional responsibility.”

This action and announcement caught my intention for two reasons:

  1. It is not just one coach who is on suspension, it is the entire coaching staff.
  2. Mark Gottfried is involved.

In most circumstances when a school learns of potential NCAA rules violations, the school suspends or fires a coach or maybe two coaches and speaks about righting the wrongs and moving forward.  This announcement is different; since the entire staff is suspended, does that mean that the entire staff was part of an organized cabal to violate NCAA rules?  Or might it mean that the school is confident there were violations but has not yet gathered enough information to know who is responsible?  That is the first unusual aspect of this announcement.

In addition, the Athletic Director here said specifically that the focus will be “on the welfare of our student-athletes”.  Let me channel Keith Jackson here and say, “Whoa, Nellie!”  Is that just a rhetorical flourish or is this some sort of NCAA rules violation that goes beyond players receiving “improper benefits”?

  • [Aside: The business here about “not commenting on specific employee issues” is a convenient dodge.  When/if the school hires or fires a coach or gives him a raise, that is a specific employee issue; and they announce it loudly.]

Let me be clear; I know nothing more specific about this matter except that it seems quite different from other similar situations where schools find themselves on the wrong side of the NCAA rule book.  And, this situation involved Mark Gottfried who has a previous presence in another matter that involved NCAA rules violations and a school announcing that it could not comment on an investigation because of privacy policies.  Let me turn back the clock…

About 5 years ago, the FBI ran a sting operation and discovered that shoe companies were funneling under-the-table money to high school basketball recruits to choose to play at schools that wore that shoe company’s brand.  The DoJ got convictions in this matter for several of the people involved on the theory that the schools were being defrauded somehow.  Mark Gottfried was the head coach at NC State then and the NCAA cited him for failing to maintain oversight in his program when one of his assistants was somehow involved in getting some “Adidas money” from the company to a recruit who spent a year on the NC State basketball team.

Mark Gottfried has been a successful college basketball coach at Murray State, Alabama and NC State prior to his current gig at Cal State Northridge.  When he arrived there, his overall record was 401-240; that will not make anyone forget the coaching achievements of John Wooden, but it is more than a respectable record.  His teams had been in either the NIT or the NCAA tournament 15 times in 20 seasons.  In the last three seasons at Cal State Northridge, things have not been nearly so successful.  His record is 37-51 and the Matadors have only been in post-season play in the CBI Tournament which is clearly a step down from the NCAA Tournament and/or the NIT.

Clearly, there is more to come on this matter – – even if only to announce that the investigation showed only the most minor of  “rule violations” and that everyone on the coaching staff has been cleared of any wrongdoing.  But there is enough about the matter that is “off-center” to warrant paying attention…

Switching gears …  Yesterday, I urged folks to look at Mike Trout’s stats for the first month of the 2021 season.  They are eye-popping, indeed.  Those comments got me an email from a former colleague and long-term reader who is a Dodgers’ fan and not an Angels’ fan.  He said that while Trout was having an amazing season the Angels were – once again – under .500 in the standings and that Trout was saddled again to be on a bad baseball team.  He said:

  • Mike Trout is the AL version of Ernie Banks.

I assert that Mike Trout is the best player in the game today and for the past 5 years or so.  Ernie Banks never achieved that status simply because he was a contemporary of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax to name a few.  Having said that, I am perfectly willing to entertain a motion from the floor to say that Ernie Banks was the best shortstop ever to play MLB.  [I know that may take the breath away from fans around 40 years old who have come to believe that Derek Jeter had no peers at that position, but such is the case…]  Let me list some of Banks’ achievements:

  • He was in the major leagues for 19 seasons – – all of them with the Cubs.
  • He was an All-Star 14 times.
  • He was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.
  • He was the MVP in consecutive seasons (1958-59) an achievement matched by less than a dozen players in baseball history.
  • He was durable – he led the league in games played in 6 seasons.
  • He led the league in intentional walks twice.

And with all those achievements, Ernie Banks never played in a post-season game in 19 years with the Cubs.  The analogy by my former colleague is an apt one…

Finally, since today’s rant involved the potential breaking of rules and major league baseball, this item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times seems to be a perfect closing:

“Major League Baseball has hired former WWE ‘sizzle planner’ Brian Stedman as its executive vice president of strategy and development.

“Pitchers immediately demanded to know: Are pine tar and Vaseline considered foreign objects?”

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



Baseball And the Olympics Today…

Back in February when the Rockies traded Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals for a bag of beans, I thought that the Cards’ GM who pulled ithe deal off must have had a mask on his face and a gun in his hand. It was close to being a criminal act.  The Cards walked off with one of the – if not the – best third basemen in the game in exchange for pitcher Austin Gomber (ERA of 5.90 in 29 innings this year) and a couple minor league prospects.  Then, to show how serious the Rockies were about giving away Arenado, they tossed in $50M so that the Cards would not be “saddled” with Arenado’s salary.

The Rockies seem to have come to the realization that they have been fleeced because they canned their GM who negotiated that deal.  That action may come too late, and the Rockies may be in for some down times in the NL West.

  • Back in 2019, the Rockies lost second baseman, DJ LeMahieu to free agency.  Ignoring the truncated 2020 season, all he has done in two seasons with the Yankees since signing on there is to make the All-Star team, win two silver sluggers and finish in the Top 5 in MVP voting twice.
  • The Rockies gave away third baseman Nolan Arenado – – see above.
  • The Rockies have an outstanding young shortstop – Trevor Story – who is about to become a free agent and who has shown no interest or intention to sign on with the Rockies.

The Rockies had three “All-Star Quality” infielders in their system and could not figure out a way to build around them to be a contender and/or a way to keep those parts together as a functioning unit.  When LeMahieu left after the 2018 season, the Rockies were a 90-win team; in the same division with the Dodgers, that was not enough; but it was a foundation to build on.  As of this morning, the Rockies project to be sub-70 in wins this year.  Is that organizational malfeasance or non-feasance?  You make the call…

I was not the least bit surprised to read about the firing in Colorado but another baseball firing earlier this week did surprise me.  The Mets as a team – and Francisco Lindor specifically – have been struggling at the plate.  Demonstrating all the patience and equanimity that NYC teams and fans are noted for, the Mets fired their batting coach, Chili Davis, and replaced him with Hugh Quattlebaum.  [Aside:  When I first read the report, my brain “transliterated” that name to Hugo Quackenbush – Groucho Marx’ character in “A Day at the Races”.]

I do not want to make Chili Davis out to be an all-time great player in MLB history, but he did play in the major leagues in 19 seasons, made the All-Star team 3 times, had a career batting average of .274 and a career OPS of .811.  I consider that sufficient “street cred”…

Hugh Quattlebaum spent 5 years in the minor leagues and in those 5 years he played exactly 3 games above A-level baseball.  His minor league career produced a batting average of .241 and an OPS of .676 at that level.

Looking at the last two paragraphs in juxtaposition, the line from George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman comes to mind:

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

And speaking of hitting, let me point you the 2021 stats for Mike Trout.  He has been the best player in MLB for a while now and his start to the 2021 season indicates that he may be having his best year ever.  I know; the season has hardly begun to unfold.  Nevertheless, please consider these numbers:

  • Trout has been to the plate 105 times; he has reached base via base hit or walk 53 times.  His OBP is .514.
  • His batting average is .407.
  • His slugging average is .779 and his OPS is a stratospheric 1.293.

Mike Trout is not going to end the season with those numbers intact; but those numbers represent an amazing way for a player to perform in the first 25 games of an MLB season.

Switching gears …  I have been trying here to stay abreast of the challenges facing the folks in Tokyo who are organizing the Olympic Games there.  Moreover, I have over the years been universally critical of the IOC and its less-than-fully-honest ways of doing business.  However, today I am more than willing to take a back seat to Sally Jenkins whose column today in the Washington Post runs under this headline:

“Japan should cut its losses and tell the IOC to take its Olympic pillage somewhere else”

Just in case you might think that the headline writer went overboard with that verbiage, here is Ms. Jenkins’ lead paragraph:

“Somewhere along the line Baron Von Ripper-off and the other gold-plated pretenders at the International Olympic Committee decided to treat Japan as their footstool. But Japan didn’t surrender its sovereignty when it agreed to host the Olympics. If the Tokyo Summer Games have become a threat to the national interest, Japan’s leaders should tell the IOC to go find another duchy to plunder. A cancellation would be hard — but it would also be a cure.”

Please take about 3 minutes to follow the link above and read this column.  Not only is it brilliantly written, but it is also illuminating.

Finally, since I referred to George Bernard Shaw above, let me close with one of his observations about governments:

“Alcohol is a very necessary article.  It enables Parliament to do things at eleven at night that no sane person would do at eleven in the morning.”

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



Baseball Oddities today …

About 20% of the MLB regular season is in the rear-view mirror and there are more than a few oddities when you look at the standings.

  • The NL East is led by the Nats with a record of 12-12.  The Nats have a run differential of minus-14.
  • In fact, in that NL East division, only one team out of the five – – the Marlins – – has a positive run differential and the Marlins are in last place in the division.
  • In the NL Central, the Brewers are tied for first place with the Cardinals at 17-12.  However, the Brewers’ run differential is minus-2 while the Cards’ is +20.
  • In the NL West, the Giants lead the Dodgers by a half-game.  The Giants’ run differential is +25 but the Dodgers’ run differential is +45.  [Aside: The Dodgers have the highest run differential in MLB now by a wide margin.]
  • In the AL Central, the Royals lead the White Sox by a game.  Nevertheless, the Royals’ run differential is minus-5 while the White Sox’ run differential is +28.
  • In the AL West, only the Astros have a positive run differential at +32; the Astros are only in second place in the division; the A’s lead the division with a run differential of minus-5.
  • The worst run differential as of this morning belongs to the Tigers in the AL Central.  It stands at minus-62 after only 29 games.  The Tigers have lost by an average of just over 2 runs per game so far in 2021.  Yowza!

The season still has a long way to go, and some of these trends might be interesting to track.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, we focus on the negative trends more than most folks do.  So, considering the Tigers’ record of losing games by a little over two runs per game consider this yardstick:

  • The last MLB team to lose by an average of just over 2 runs per game were the Detroit Tigers in 2003.  [Clearly, Detroit fans are not looking for an encore here.]  The 2003 Tigers’ season record was 43-119.
  • The worst record in MLB since the days of the Cleveland Spiders was 40-120 by the 1962 NY Mets – an expansion team.

As I said, it is still early in the season – – but there is potential for high ignominy here…

If the numbers above seem a tad confusing, let me say that there is another baseball story that might cause you some bemusement if not bewilderment.  Last week, Roberto Alomar was fired as a consultant to MLB and placed on baseball’s ineligible list by Commissioner Rob Manfred.  That means Alomar is banned from baseball for life; he cannot work for any entity associated with MLB unless Manfred or a future Commish removes him from the list.

This action came as a result of an investigation by a legal firm hired by MLB to look into allegations made by an employee of MLB about sexual misconduct on the part of Alomar in 2014.  MLB said they would not be releasing the report to protect the identity of the person who came forward, but the findings of the investigative report must have been pretty damning given the action taken by MLB and the lack of an outcry from Alomar and/or a threat from him about legal action on his behalf.  Just to be clear, I do not even know what allegation(s) may have involved here let alone any details of the investigation; I am engaging in deductive reasoning and nothing more…

Moreover, the story has another wrinkle…  Roberto Alomar served on the Board of Directors for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY and he was elected to be in that Hall of Fame based on his career in MLB; he was inducted in 2011.  Alomar sent a resignation letter to the Board of Directors as this saga unfolded but – interestingly – the Chairperson of the Board, Jane Forbes Clark, announced that Alomar’s bust and plaque would remain in the Hall of Fame because:

“… his enshrinement reflects his eligibility and the perspective of the BBWAA voters at that time.”

Well, isn’t that special?  Alomar can be banned from baseball for life but can be in the Hall of Fame because his misdeed(s) took place after he was inducted and/or because any such disqualifying behaviors were not known at the time the BBWA did their voting.  However, if a player did something in a time period where his misbehavior was known to the voters, that player should not be in the Hall of Fame notwithstanding accomplishments on the field.  It is that sort of moral tightrope walking that creates the following situation for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:

  • The player with the most base hits in MLB is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
  • The player with the most home runs in MLB is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
  • Roberto Alomar joins a cast of other ne’er-do-wells who got into the Hall of Fame before some of their infamous acts came to light so it is OK for them to remain.

Just imagine if the so-called “cancel culture” ever comes to Cooperstown, NY…

Finally, having dealt with the “morality” of Roberto Alomar remaining in the Hall of Fame, let me once again let H. L. Mencken close out this rant:

“Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 percent of them are wrong.”

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



There’s An App For That…

These days, there is an app for just about everything.  And if there is no app available, there is probably a database on the web somewhere containing finely sliced-and-diced information about anything.  A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in passing the number of players on baseball’s Injured List – – formerly the Disabled List but that has become a politically incorrect term in 2021 – – and what it costs baseball teams in terms of salary to maintain those players on the roster.  That got a response from “the reader in Houston” who provided me with a link that gives you every player on the IL, how long he has been there and how much he has made on his contract while there.  Of course, there is such a database out there – – and doubly of course, the reader in Houston knows exactly where it is.

MLB began its season on 1 April; so, on 1 May I went to the database and found the following:

  • 191 players have been listed – or are still listed – on the IL.
  • 129 of those players are pitchers.
  • The total number of “player-days” accumulated on the IL is 4247.
  • The total salary collected by those 191 players is – rounded off – $80.5M.
  • The player who earned the most while on the IL is Justin Verlander who earned $5.85M.

The season will run for 6 months; I will try to remember to check that database on the first of every month just for the halibut…

A lead story in today’s sports section of the Washington Post indicates that the IOC is moving ahead confidently to stage the Olympic Games in Tokyo starting in about 10 weeks.  Over the weekend, they announced updated plans for staging the games using typically bold and optimistic language regarding the “promise to ensure the safety of the athletes taking part but also of the Japanese public during a global pandemic.”  If that is not sufficiently uplifting, here is another part of the IOC announcement:

“The Japanese people have demonstrated their perseverance throughout history and it’s only because of this ability of the Japanese people to overcome adversity that these Olympic Games under these very difficult circumstances are possible.”

I hope the IOC is right and that the Games go off as scheduled with no “COVID Consequences”.  At the same time, I recognize that the coronavirus has shown its own ability to “persevere” and to continue to spread even under circumstances where medical science and political leaders have tried to squash it.  I am in a position where I will just wait and see how all this unfolds.

However, there was a story from a week or so ago related to the IOC that was not nearly as positive or as uplifting as this one.  Olympic officials announced that “Rule 50” which condemns any form of “demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda” in Olympic venues will be enforced.  Athletes who decide to do something as outrageous as “take a knee” or possibly to “raise a fist” will be punished.  Such demonstrations are to be banned inside the stadium, at ceremonies and at the podium during the Games.

The IOC asserted that it came to the conclusion to enforce “Rule 50” after a survey of more than 3500 Olympic athletes past and present where “more than 70%” of the athletes surveyed favored enforcement of “Rule 50”.  Obviously, that is like waving a red flag in front of a bull; athletes – – and associations of athletes – – condemned that announcement and proclaimed their support for protesting athletes assuring them “legal assistance” if they suffered any punishment by the IOC.

Let me take a contrarian stance here…  The fact that the IOC intends to enforce ‘Rule 50” and intends to “punish” demonstrating athletes or other sorts of national officials involved in the Games is vital to the protestors.  If the IOC were to say that “Rule 50” is hereby null and void and that the Olympic officials welcomed and encouraged knee-taking or fist-raising or audience-mooning as protests against any and all things that might be an affront to any athlete anywhere, there would be no protest.  After all, how can you protest someone or something that agrees with you.

The IOC announcement that “Rule 50” will be enforced is more than merely “necessary and sufficient” for protests by athletes in Tokyo; the real or imagined strict enforcement of “Rule 50” is a sine qua non for there to be a protest.  Absent “Rule 50”, any gesture by the athletes is merely a demonstration and not a protest.  Therefore, the most important thing for athletes who might be contemplating a protest at the Games this year to do is to complain loudly about the unfairness of ‘Rule 50” without being sufficiently convincing to make the IOC change its stance.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised a fist with a black glove as a protest at the 1968 Olympic Games; it is remembered today because it was an affrontery to the rules and to the authorities that made and enforced those rules.  I suggest that the world would not recall that moment in Olympic history nearly as vividly had all the Olympic officials joined in the “protest” and raised fists and patted John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the back for their action(s).  Protests require opposition to have meaning; “Rule 50” and its threatened enforcement is that sort of opposition.

Finally, let me close today with an observation by a curmudgeon who would certainly be in the Hall of Fame of curmudgeons should there ever be such an institution – – H. L. Mencken:

“Democracy is grounded on so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even half-wits would argue it to pieces.  Its first concern must thus be to penalize the free play of ideas.”

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