Yesterday, I said that the March Madness games for this weekend will be great for fan enjoyment. Well, unless your favorite team lost last night – – or if the team you hate the most won last night – – the first four games of Sweet Sixteen Weekend did not disappoint. Two number one seeds lost yesterday leaving only Kansas from the top line of the seedings left on the court.
Both Gonzaga and Arizona achieved their status as 1-seeds this year by demonstrating high octane offense with which opponents could not keep up. Last night both teams were kept in second gear by relentlessly swarming defenses presented by Arkansas and Houston respectively. The Zags scored an average of almost 88 points per game this season; last night they only managed to put 68 on the scoreboard. Arizona could not even manage that total losing to Houston 72-60.
In the other two games last night, both teams seeded #2 in their bracket advanced. Duke shot 71% from the floor in the second half – – against an excellent defensive team I might add – – to pull out a win over Texas Tech by 5 points. In the other game, Villanova used good outside shooting and constant motion on offense and defense to wear down the much larger Michigan Wolverines.
Tonight’s games have a high standard to match…
Before moving on, here is an item related to college basketball from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times last weekend:
“David Whitley of the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, on LSU waiting three years since the incriminating FBI wiretaps to finally fire basketball coach Will Wade: ‘In related news, LSU announced it was suspending Pete Maravich for selling autographs during the 1968-69 season.’”
Once the tournament is over, lots of attention will focus on The Masters. Then, between the end of The Masters and post-time for the Kentucky Derby, USFL 2.0 will make its debut. I think there is an interesting angle here that has not been given sufficient attention:
- Unlike previous incarnations of “Spring Professional Football”, the NFL seems to be positively engaged with both USFL 2.0 and XFL 3.0 which will return to life next spring.
Previously, the NFL has been hostile toward Spring Pro Football endeavors, or they have totally ignored them. But this time, the NFL appears not only to accept/acknowledge their existence; the NFL appears to be supportive of their undertakings.
Recall in the pregame of the Super Bowl about 6 weeks ago, the NFL had “The Rock” deliver a promotion for XFL 3.0 which would not have a single on-field activity for about a year. Remember, a 30-second spot on TV for that game cost advertisers about $5M; “The Rock” got at least 30 seconds – and probably closer to a minute – of airtime gratis.
Yesterday, I read reports that the NFL and USFL 2.0 are working together on officiating. It seems that USFL 2.0 will use 32 officials who are in the NFL’s developmental program for game officials. All 32 of them have college football experience; most of them come from college football’s Power 5 Conferences; four of those officials in the pipeline are women. Mike Pereira is the head of officiating for USFL 2.0 and formerly held the analogous position with the NFL. Granted, his statement here has been massaged by PR folks, but there is an interesting kernel of fact here and it shows cooperation between the leagues:
“The USFL will have the best officials not currently in the NFL. Our association with the NFL officiating department clearly serves the USFL by supplying officials who are ready to call games at the highest level, and it also benefits the NFL by providing professional game experience for those who are just a step away from working Sundays in the fall. In fact, I expect several officials calling USFL games this spring to officiate in the NFL later this year.”
Another sign of cooperation here lies in the fact that the NFL will hold and direct an officiating clinic for all USFL 2.0 officials in two weeks. The leagues are working together here.
Another aspect of USFL 2.0 that might be grounds for cooperation is that USFL 2.0 can be a testing ground for rules innovations that the NFL might consider down the road. Here are four USFL 2.0 rules that will make its game different from the NFL – – and maybe that difference is something that the NFL might adopt one of these days:
- After scoring a TD, USFL 2.0 teams can opt for a 1-point, 2-point or 3-point PATs. For one point, a team can kick the ball after lining up at the 15-yardline; for two points, it can try to score from the 2-yardline; for 3 points it can try to score from the 10-yardline.
- In the final two minutes of both halves, the clock will stop after each first down as is the case in college football. The intent here is to allow for more plays in those two-minute drill times thereby adding excitement.
- USFL 2.0 will employ what it calls an “Overtime Shootout”. Each offense will get the ball at the opponents’ 2-yardline and have one chance to score. If after each team has had three such attempts and if the score is still tied, then the teams will play “sudden death” to determine the game winner.
- Teams will still have the option of attempting an onside kick; but in addition, a team can try to convert a 4th down and 12 from their 33-yardline. If they succeed, they keep the ball; if not, the ball goes over to the defense.
Obviously, I will have to see how these rules affect the games before making a final decision on their value or lack of value. However, I am inclined to like the 4th rule change listed above more than the other three. But we shall see…
Finally, in the aftermath of the Deshaun Watson trade to the Browns after a grand jury in Texas chose not to indict Watson on criminal charges involving sexual assault, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this pithy observation:
“Watson did not rub Browns and NFL the wrong way. But 22 women. . .”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………