Duke 68 Wisconsin 63 – A Great Game

Four Duke freshmen combined to score 60 of the team’s 68 points last night and that was a key element of Duke’s fifth NCAA basketball championship. Last night, it was two of the “little guys” – guards Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones – who led the way with the “big guys” chipping in as needed. The Dukies also played superior defense last night. Wisconsin is a good shooting team; when they get open shots they drain them. Last night the Badgers only shot 41% from the floor (and only 33% from 3-point range) because most of their shots were contested.

It is fashionable today to complain about college basketball games and to suggest reasons for its decay and means to rejuvenate the game. Please do not feel compelled to nit-pick the tournament games from the Elite-8 down to the Final Game; those games showed me that when you put two good teams on the same floor in a “win-or-go-home” proposition, you get good basketball.

And, by the way, as much as I would love to watch Duke and Wisconsin play again because both are good teams that are excellently coached, do not even suggest any change to the “win-or-go-home” format of the basketball tournament.

A couple of months ago, I wrote that the Cleveland Browns seemed to want to join the Jags, Raiders and Skins on the list of “most dysfunctional franchises” in the NFL. Recently, I ran across some data that is an indicator of dysfunctionality. The current owner of the franchise, Jimmy Haslam, bought the Browns in 2012. I do not have the exact date that the deal closed so let me estimate that he has owned the team for 30 months. Here is what the Browns have done in those 30 months:

    They have had 3 head coaches
    They have had 3 GMs
    They have started 7 different QBs
    They have an on-field record of 11-21.

Even Danny Boy Snyder would have to stop and catch his breath in that degree of turmoil…

The NFL has hired its first permanent regular-season female game official. Sarah Thomas has worked some NFL exhibition games as a line-judge and has done C-USA football games in the past. Now she gets to be a permanent NFL official. The NFL used a woman as part of an officiating crew several years ago when the NFL officials were on strike but none of those replacement refs were permanent hires. Ms. Thomas was also the first woman to officiate a college bowl game when she was part of the crew for the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl game between Ohio U and Marshall.

The ink on those reports was hardly dry when an NFL player announced to the world that this was a publicity stunt on the part of the league. Sen’Derrick Marks (DT Jags) said that the league hired Thomas for the same reason that one of the teams drafted Michael Sam in the last round of the 2014 Draft – publicity. Here is how Marks explained his conclusion:

“It’s just like the Michael Sam situation — if he wasn’t gay, he would have gone undrafted. Instead, the league drafts him because I think they are trying to monopolize every aspect of the world… the same thing with a female ref. For the league, it’s great publicity. The NFL is all about monopolizing every opportunity.”

Marks is walking a tight line here and it seems as if he has stayed out of a perilous place. Note that he did not say that Sarah Thomas is unqualified to be a game official – although he may be hinting at that with his off-handed dismissal of Michael Sam as even a 7th round draft pick. Had he gone there, he would be the target of significant scorn by now because – even if one believes that a woman cannot possibly be a good NFL official – one simply does not say such a thing out loud.

For the record, I have no issues about the chromosomal make-up of game officials. In my basketball officiating days, one of the best partners I ever did games with was a woman; she was an excellent official; she was better than I was.

Oh, two more “for the record” comments:

    1. The NFL is acutely aware of the value of good publicity and indeed misses few if any opportunities to generate some for itself.

    2. The NFL is also acutely aware that it has gotten itself some very bad publicity in the last year or so with regard to women and domestic violence matters. The best cure for bad publicity is some good publicity.

In case you have not heard enough about the upcoming NFL Draft already, here is how Greg Cote of the Miami Herald put all of that into perspective last week:

“Countdown: It is 25 days till the NFL Draft, and Mel Kiper Jr.’s 943 mock-draft versions (so far) indicate the Dolphins’ first-round pick could be anybody, at any position.”

Finally, an astute observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Baseball tradition: What makes me laugh? Stories that try to draw significance from who is named the starting pitcher for Opening Day. It’s one of 162, isn’t it?”

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

College Basketball Today

In the aftermath of the semi-final games on Saturday night, I think it was pretty clear that Michigan State was overmatched against Duke and that the Spartans deserve recognition for the degree to which they over-achieved in order to get to that game. Duke shot 52% from the field in the game; State just did not have any way to stop them.

    [Aside: In the first half, Jim Nantz referred to State guard, Lourawls Nairn Jr. as a “sharpshooter”. From what I saw in the tournament, Nairn has several positive attributes on a basketball court, but a great shooter he is not. In the game Saturday night, the “sharpshooter” went 0-3 from the floor.]

Wisconsin beat Kentucky by playing harder and smarter basketball on Saturday night. Unless you are a Wisconsin alum, you have to realize that Kentucky had more talent to put on the court in that game. What Wisconsin did was to play team basketball – minimizing, by the way, the number of blockheaded plays. If the contest would have been decided on the basis of a series of one-on-one contests, I do not think it would have been very close. But that is not the way the game is played.

With regard to that last point, perhaps I can go waaay out on a limb here and offer a bit of negativity with regard to one of the newest members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. John Calipari is a great recruiter and he has shown the ability to take a bunch of highly regarded recruits – all of whom have been told they are the best thing since the invention of sex for the last dozen years – and get those kids to accept one another and share playing time and share the basketball. I do not mean to minimize those two things; they are very important and not every college coach can do either or both outstandingly.

Having said that, I do not think John Calipari is a great coach in the sense of “developing players” – making them better players when they leave Kentucky than they were when they showed up – or in the sense of being a great sideline tactician within a game. For example:

    Willie Cauley-Stein has been at Kentucky for 3 seasons. He is a very good player and will likely enjoy a nice NBA career. Nonetheless, I do not think that he is significantly better than he was 3 years ago; the difference is that he has started now and was a back-up when he was a freshman.

    The Harrison twins are naturally gifted players but they are not highly accomplished guards. Even with two full seasons of tutelage, they each have two basic things they do on offense – they drive to the rim or they catch-and-shoot open jump shots. Neither has learned much about penetrate and pass.

I do not think that those players are incapable of developing new parts of their game; I just do not think that has been a priority for them as team members because it seems not to be important to the coach. I used to marvel at Lefty Driesell when he was at Maryland. Lefty got some top-shelf high school players to come to College Park and those kids had lots of talent. Back then, most players stayed 4 years in college and it seemed to me that most of the Maryland players left College Park playing about the same way they did on the day they arrived in College Park. They were bigger and stronger – but they just were not very different.

I do not expect many folks to agree with me on this point – particularly a long-term friend who is a Kentucky alum – but that is my feeling as of this morning.

Another highly accomplished and acclaimed college coach, Geno Auriemma, made the news last week for more than just having his UConn women destroy yet another opponent. Auriemma said aloud that he thinks the men’s game “is a joke”. As with just about every outrageous outburst, there is kernel of truth and fact at the core; but the full message is not correct. The thesis of his commentary is that basketball is entertainment and the game needs to be changed to increase scoring because that is what people will pay to see. He cites rules changes in football to favor the offense and the fact that new baseball parks have short fences and that MLB lowered the mound. [He conveniently neglects to mention that the mound lowering was more than 40 years ago and that scoring is down in baseball in recent years.]

In the extreme, he is correct. If there were no shot clock in basketball and lots of coaches played 4-Corners Offense any time they had a 5 point lead in the second half, people would tire of that style of play. A steady diet of college basketball games where the final score was 38-35 would blunt interest in the games. However, the problem with lack of scoring in men’s basketball now is that players are not great shooters anymore. Moreover, far too many players have seriously limited games. There are catch-and-shoot guys who cannot put the ball on the floor and there are guys who can only go to their right to get to the rim and who cannot hit an open jump shot. There are interior players who put up shots that come off the rims as violently as an errant 3-point shot but those players survive because loads of interior defenders have no idea what it means to “box-out the shooter”.

Players do not learn fundamentals the way they used to for whatever reasons exist in the high school and AAU levels of the sport. Therein lies the central part of the problem and changing the rules to aid the offense will not cure that central problem. In fact, those rule changes may make the problem worse. I suggested this before and I still think this is a good idea:

    Devalue the dunk. Make a dunk worth only 1 point.

    Make the alley-oop problematic. Any player grasping the rim for any reason gets an automatic technical foul.

Players need to learn a broader spectrum of offensive skills than dunking and “alley-ooping”. If/when they do, scoring will increase and by Geno Auriemma’s definition the game will be lots more fun to watch.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment over the weekend:

“The NFL suspended Browns’ general manager Ray Farmer four games for sending text messages to his sideline during games. Cannot confirm Farmer responded by sending out a sad-face emoji.”

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

Hear And Their…

Sports Curmudgeon 4/3/15

Shaka Smart will leave VCU to take over the head coaching job at Texas. I like Shaka Smart and the way he coaches, so please do not interpret my next statement as if it were coming from a “hater”.

    I am not sure that Texas is a better college basketball coaching job than VCU is.

I wish Shaka Smart well and hope he can bring his constant full-court pressure defense to the Big 12 successfully. More importantly, I hope the good folks at Texas will allow basketball to share just a small portion of the limelight with football.

Bonne chance, Shaka Smart.

Chris Jans was the head basketball coach at Bowling Green until yesterday. Jans had been there for only one season and the Falcons were 21-12 under Jans’ tutelage. He had a 5-year contract with the school but was fired subsequent to “an investigation into his recent public conduct.” A video has appeared – almost assuredly taken with a cell phone – of Jans in a bar inappropriately tapping at least one woman on her buttocks and then getting into a confrontation with another woman after what looks like another “touching incident”.

You can argue whether or not the firing here is an over-reaction by the school or whatever. I think there is another reality that has to be recognized here. The likelihood of a recognizable person – such as the head basketball coach of a local college – being able to do something like that undetected in a public place is not great. I understand that on one level a man should not be “tapping women on the butt” in some sort of random fashion simply because it is wrong to do so. On another level, if you are a “recognizable figure” and you are in a public place such as a bar, you should consider that you are “on camera” at all times making any “butt touching” doubly inappropriate.

    Keep your hands to yourself!

I mentioned in a rant long ago that Daniel Snyder had started a charitable foundation – the Original Americans Foundation (OAF) – to help Native Americans and tribes around the country. Helping people in need is a good thing even if it is done with some ulterior and not explicit motive to get some of the folks being helped to support Snyder’s decision to retain the name of the Washington Redskins. I am no fan of Danny Boy Snyder by any measure; nevertheless, if he uses a small fraction of his net worth to help out some folks who really do need help, then good on him!

In a malevolent universe, no good deed goes unpunished – and it seems as if OAF exists in a malevolent universe this morning. [Aside: I sure hope Danny Boy did not pay a PR firm lots of money to come up with a name for his foundation that yields the acronym “OAF”. I promise I could have done better for the price of cup of coffee.] Last year, the foundation flew the chief of a tribe in Utah to Washington DC to see a Skins’ game and put the chief and her family up in a hotel and had them meet with team officials – and you get the point. OAF also provided the tribe with an 8-passenger 4-wheel drive van for use in traversing its reservation in Utah and then subsequently another van.

Some in that tribe see the van(s) as a form of bribery to keep the tribe from being part of the group(s) that are protesting the team name. They say the van(s) come with strings attached and that “the strings attached are [one’s] dignity.” The tribal council has charged the chief with six “counts” of wrongdoing and three of those “counts” are directly involved with her dealings with OAF. There is an attempt to remove her from her position as tribal chief.

As of this morning, the NY Knicks record stands at 14-61 with 7 games left to play. It is the first time in franchise history that the team has lost 60 games in a season; the Knicks are two full games worse than the Timberwolves and 3.5 games worse than the Sixers. They are the worst of the worst; but more importantly for the NBA, is the Eastern Conference is a mess.

Look at the teams fighting for the playoffs in the East:

    #6 Milwaukee Bucks 37-38
    #7 Brooklyn Nets 34-40
    #8 Boston Celtics 34-41
    #9 Miami Heat 34-41
    #10 Charlotte Hornets 32-42
    #11 Indiana Pacers 32-43

Three of those teams will make the playoffs in the East and none of the six is particularly interesting to watch unless you live in the city where the team plays. Now consider the same playoff struggle in the West:

    #7 Dallas Mavericks 46-30
    #8 Oklahoma City Thunder 42-33
    #9 New Orleans Pelicans 40-34
    #10 Phoenix Suns 38-38

Two of those teams are going to miss the playoffs this year. The NBA Playoffs are going to be significantly out-of-balance again this year because the teams in the Eastern Conference are simply not on a par with the teams in the Western Conference. By the way, this is not something brand new for the NBA. Last year, the Suns were 48-34 and did not make the playoffs in the West while the Atlanta Hawks finished at 38-44 and were the eighth-seed in the East. There is no “simple fix” here that has a prayer of becoming reality because none of the teams in the “Weak East” is going to agree to having only the 16 best records participate in the playoffs because – even for the really bad teams in the East – the playoff threshold is only about 36-38 wins under the current structure. Playoff dates are revenue streams for teams and those in the East will not be anxious to put them in more jeopardy next year than they are this year.

The NBA – like the other major sports in the US – is built on the “division/conference model” where the idea is to have many “titles” under contention and a structure where natural rivalries come into play. That model works but the downside is that it can become significantly imbalanced and that is what has happened to the NBA for the past several years – and is what happened to the NFL this year when the NFC South as a division was populated with 4 bad teams. That is the price of the “division/conference model”; realignment will only be a temporary fix even if owners would agree to it which is unlikely.

The bottom line for this year is that the early rounds of the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference are pretty much meaningless and that is not a good thing for the NBA.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times looked at the Knicks’ record and found something positive to say about it:

“President Obama says he isn’t getting enough sleep.

“Advised his doctor: Just take these two Knicks tickets and call me in the morning.”

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

International Football…

About 6 weeks ago – whilst the website was dormant – I wrote that I found it strange that Michael Sam was going to be a participant in Dancing With The Stars when he could be working to improve his pass rush and line backing skills. I assume that he still wants to play professional football in the NFL and the normal way one progresses from “practice squad player” to “roster spot player” is by training and working on football skills and football conditioning. Nonetheless, he has decided that Dancing With The Stars is a way station towards whatever his goal may be.

Yesterday, there were reports that the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL were extending an offer to Michael Sam and the GM of the Alouettes indicated that he thought there was a 50/50 chance that Sam would be in uniform in Montreal this year. Sam did go to the NFL Veteran Combine in late March but the reports coming from there did not provide much incentive for NFL teams to line up and bid for his services. Reportedly, he had “more muscle mass” than he did at the College Combine last year; that is a good thing for NFL linebackers. However, his time in the 40-yard dash was slower by 0.2 seconds than it was last year; that is not a good thing for NFL linebackers.

There are historical examples of players going North to play in the CFL and then returning to play well in the NFL. Warren Moon would have to be the poster child for that career arc. There also have been players for whom the Canadian version of pro football is better suited to their skill set than the NFL version. Should Michael Sam choose to “go North” for next year, we may anticipate that he will try again to make an NFL roster and we will have another datum with regard to the success of players moving from one league to the other.

Speaking obliquely of the NFL, the league continues to focus on global expansion of the brand. We already have 3 games in London next year and reports say that ticket sales have been impressive even this far in advance of the games. I saw one “league official” who is involved with the “international expansion efforts” quoted as saying that the objective would be to have a team full-time in London by 2022. Oh, but that is not all…

    The Pro Bowl will be going to Brazil in February 2017. There are 200 million folks in Brazil; that is far too large a potential market for the NFL to ignore. After all, the population of Great Britain is only 65 million.

    The league reportedly has its eye on Germany as another potential market. Recall that in the days of NFL Europe, there were 5 different teams playing in Germany. In fact, in the last year of NFL Europa (2007), there were 6 teams in the league and only the Amsterdam Admirals played outside of Germany.

    The NFL wants to play at least one exhibition game in Mexico – preferably Mexico City – in the near future and preliminary steps to achieve that end are underway.

    Most of all, do not forget China. According to reports, an important part of any move into China for the NFL is acquisition of media rights and in particular the league wants to consider digital delivery of the product over the Internet. Note how that desire dovetails with the NFL saying that one of its Thursday Night Games this year will be on a digital platform.

Regarding those 3 London Games this year, the NFL would have liked to put 4 games there this year but the Rugby World Cup will happen this year and made the scheduling impossible. I read one report that said that 40,000 fans have already bought tickets to all three of the games in London and that the NFL sees this as a fan base of potential season-ticket buyers should there be a London team down the road. While millions of words will be written regarding the NFL moving back into LA, there will be less attention paid to international extension of the league. Nevertheless, internationalization is coming and the NFL has plainly made that known to the teams:

    Any team that relocates within the US must give up one home game in each of their “transitional years” to play in London – or potentially elsewhere overseas. The “transitional years” are the seasons between the announcement of the relocation and the actual move into the new stadium in the new city. Considering that 3 teams are reportedly interested in moving to LA, that makes a few teams eligible for playing in London in future years.

    Any team that gets a Super Bowl game in its stadium will have to give up a home game to a London/international venue during a 5-year window as part of the deal.

In 2015, the NFL will have back-to-back games in London for the first time and supposedly plans to put a December game in London in 2016. [The “December game” is still in the planning stage, but several people say it is highly likely.]

As I said above, millions of words will be written about the NFL efforts to move back to LA but here are a couple of things that you will have to go looking for:

    If the NFL does not like empty seats in its stadia that stand out like a sore thumb on its telecasts, LA might not be the best destination for a team. Folks there notoriously arrive late for games and leave early. And, even though there are about 16 million folks in the Greater LA area, the Rams and the Raiders rarely sold out their games when they were there.

    I have said many times that Washington sports fans are front-running bandwagoners who will abandon a losing team as fast as a prom dress can hit the floor. Well, so too are LA fans. Check out attendance figures and trends for teams that are winners and ones that are losers. Oh, and compare attendance for the same team in winning years and losing years…

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

“Baltimore Ravens behemoth John Urschel co-wrote a paper, published in the Journal of Computational Mathematics, titled ‘A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians.’

“And to think, some of his O-line brethren can’t even remember the snap count.”

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

Back on the Air.

No, this is not an April Fool rant. This is just me in my normal cranky mode…

The women are having their version of March Madness in a parallel universe to the men’s tournament. If you would like to contemplate the depth of the competition in women’s college basketball this season consider that the Women’s Final Four consists of all four #1 seeds in each of the regional brackets. Can you spell “CHALK”?

Chris Mullin is the new head coach at St. John’s. Fifty years ago, St. John’s was one of the 20 most important college basketball programs in the US; twenty-five years ago, St. John’s was “a contender”; for the last decade or so, St. John’s is an after-thought when the topic of discussion is collegiate basketball. Chris Mullin is – arguably – the best player ever to come out of St. John’s and the school is betting that he can translate his NBA Front Office experiences to the recruiting trail so that he can get athletes who will make St. John’s relevant again. Oh, and then, he has to “coach those athletes up” and – not to put too fine a point on it – he has never coached before. I liked Chris Mullin as a player and he seems to be an interesting person when you hear him interviewed. Nonetheless, I think he may be in over his head here trying to resurrect a program that has been left to decay for too long.

In NFL news, the league announced the punishments for the Falcons and the Browns regarding rules’ violations in the last year or two.

    The Falcons admitted they piped in recorded/amplified crowd noise for home games in Atlanta. For this the NFL fined the team $350K; suspended former marketing director, Roddy White, 8 games and suspended GM Rich McKay for 4 months even though he is the on the Competition Committee which has to present a potential rule change for this upcoming year during the course of his suspension. Oh, and the team lost a 5th round draft pick too.

    The NFL suspended Browns’ GM, Ray Farmer, for 4 games without pay for texting with a Browns’ assistant coach during a game.

I understand why piping in extra noise is a violation of the rules because it could provide an on-field advantage to the Falcons at home. However, unless the league can demonstrate that the GM either ordered that behavior or knew about it and condoned it, I do not see why the GM gets punished here. Moreover, it seems as if the league is cutting off its nose to spite its face because McKay is a key member of the Competition Committee and they have some serious work to do if they are to come up with a proposed change to the PAT rule for 2015 by mid-May. I just do not get this punishment…

I do not even understand why there is a rule against the GM texting with an assistant coach during a game. Obviously, therefore, I do not understand the severity of the penalty levied against Ray Farmer. Imagine for a moment that I had the phone number of one of the Brown’s assistant coaches and knew that he would have his phone with him during a game. If I texted him a question such as “Why don’t you throw deep against this defense?” That would not be a violation. So, why is it a violation of the GM texts anything similar to that?

In the last week, we learned that Nebraska DE, Randy Gregory, tested positive for drugs at the NFL Combine. In a public statement, he said that the positive test resulted from some stuff he smoked in December and it was still in his system but that he had not smoked anything since. I will assume he is telling the whole truth here and I will simultaneously proclaim that he also tested positive for STUPIDITY. Look folks, the NFL tests everyone who comes to the Combine for drugs; I know that; agents know that; players know that; my grandmother probably knows that and she has been dead for about 40 years. If a potential high draft pick tests positive at the Combine when they know months in advance of the date and time of the “sampling”, then that potential high draft pick is dumber than soup.

The former CEO of Chiquita Brands International – think Chiquita Banana – has purchased a minor league baseball team. Fernando Aguirre now owns the Erie Sea Wolves of the AA Eastern League. The Sea Wolves are the AA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers and Aguirre is currently a minority owner of the Cincinnati Reds. That gives the “appearance of a conflict of interest” if not an actual “conflict of interest” but I have not been able to find anything that says that MLB is concerned about this or has any action in mind to obviate that “apparent conflict of interest.” According to one report I read, Aguirre is also a minority owner of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans which is the A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs in the Carolina League. So maybe MLB does not see this multiple ownership situation as any kind of a conflict of interest?

In any event, I wonder how long it might be until some kind of “Special Banana Split” becomes a food offering at Erie Sea Wolves’ games…

Regarding the brouhaha over Indiana’s religious freedom law, I have already tired of the calls to sports radio stations and pronouncements from folks on either side of this debate. In simple terms, here are some declarative statements:

    No, it would not be feasible to move the Final Four to another state on 5 days’ notice.

    No, the NFL and the NBA are not going to revoke those franchises in Indiana and their failure to do so does not indicate in any way that they condone this new law or oppose it.

    Yes, it was abjectly stupid of the Indiana Governor to sign the bill when he did and even more stupid for him to weasel-word every answer to every question about what the new law would and would not cover.

    Grandstanding pronouncements from “celebrities” who do not live or work in Indiana are nothing more than “Hey, look at me!” actions.

    For all the “holier than thou” folks out there saying that each and every form of discrimination is evil, let me say unequivocally that if I owned a business I would absolutely discriminate against doing business with certain types of people such as:

      People with outrageous B.O.

    The edict of the Governor of Connecticut forbidding any employees of the State of Connecticut from traveling to Indiana – thus the UConn coaches cannot attend the NABC meetings there this week – is another grandstanding play. I wonder what would happen if one of those coaches decided to go and pay for it himself without using state funds. Seems to me that if he wanted to do that and the governor tried to stop him, that might be seen as a form of involuntary incarceration.

Finally, here are two comments from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“The Fort Lauderdale Strikers open their new season in six days. If you know the coach’s name is Marcelo Neveleff, you’re probably playing for him.”


“The International Game Fish Association Museum in Dania Beach is closing, verifying that the only thing more boring than fishing is visiting a fishing museum.”

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

The ACLU Changes The Game?

As you know, there is a court challenge pending regarding the US Patent and Trademark Office allowing the “Washington Professional Football Team” to have trademark protection when it uses the name “Washington Redskins”. The challenge to that trademark is based on something called the Lanham Act which prohibits the registration of “scandalous”, “disparaging” or “immoral” trademarks. I am not a lawyer, so fear not; I am not about to go into some kind of history of the Lanham Act and how it has been applied. Rather, I want to focus on how the case may have taken a slight change in vector heading recently.

As the case made its way through the judiciary, I figured that it would be decided on the degree of “scandalous” and/or the level of “disparaging” became associated with the team name as the proceedings moved along. It is a case that seemed to me to have some elements related to a previous Supreme Court case that caused Justice Potter Stewart to say about hard-core pornography:

“I know it when I see it.”

However, recently the ACLU jumped into the fray with an amicus curiae brief urging the court to strike down those parts of the Lanham Act on the basis that they violate the First Amendment. I think I understand the basis of the argument to be that since the Patent and Trademark Office is a government entity, any time they apply the Lanham Act in a negative way it is a form of the government regulating speech/expression.

I am not going to try to offer an opinion on the ACLU position or on the case itself because I assert that the judge in this matter would have to be in a coma and on life-support not to have a more fundamental understanding of the matter than I do. However, one thing does confuse me about the ACLU position and perhaps someone who has been to law school might help me out here:

    It seems to me that every trademark ever issued puts limitations on “speech”/”expression” by forbidding me – for example – from putting the NFL logo on a T-shirt and just giving it away. The whole idea of “property rights” seems to crash head-on into “expression rights” in a ton of circumstances. It seems to me as if the Napster case violated “free expression” as much as this case might.

We shall see how all of this plays out…

Whilst we have a brief respite in the NCAA tournament until the games next Saturday evening, take just a moment to juxtapose in your mind the idea that the NCAA will likely exceed $1B in revenue this year while it continues to maintain that it oversees amateur sports played by student-athletes. If the NCAA ever hinted that the concept of amateurism and amateur athletes was not the foundation piece for its games, the NCAA would have no reason to exist. Lest you think I am putting words in the NCAA’s figurative mouth, here is a paragraph from the NCAA website:

“Amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority. In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.”

Let me be clear. I can believe that paragraph in its entirety when it applies to Division III teams such as Linfield College football or Division II teams such as Philadelphia University basketball or even to Division I schools in places like the Ivy League or in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. I cannot swallow the piety of that paragraph when it comes to the big-time schools that are participating in the basketball tournament for real especially in light of the recent revelations of academic shenanigans at Syracuse and UNC. Make no mistake, those were not actions taken by “deranged boosters” or some “rogue recruiter”; the events at Syracuse and UNC were genuine academic fraud perpetrated by or condoned by coaches, players, athletic departments and faculty.

The NCAA cannot maintain that amateurism is a “bedrock principle” and that in the “collegiate model” the athletes are “students first” so long as those kinds of activities are not crushed when they are discovered. The hypocrisy level in that statement is so great that it immediately brings to mind a quote from William F. Buckley, Jr.:

“I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.”

It would seem as if the NCAA continues to live with one abiding hope in terms of continuing to play the smoke-and-mirrors game with the American public. That one abiding hope was expressed by Noel Coward:

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

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

Tournament Notes

Here are notes and comments on the weekend basketball tournament games:

    Overall, the games on Thursday and Friday were mediocre while the games on Saturday and Sunday were all very good.

    Louisville/North Carolina State was an ugly game particularly in the first half when “neither team can hit ANYTHING.”

    North Carolina State got into the 60s; when teams do that to Louisville, they often win. Not here…

    Bob Molinaro posed this question regarding NC State in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

    “Which way is it? After eviscerating Villanova, N.C. State is classified as an overachiever. But couldn’t you make the case that a team good enough to beat a No. 1 seed was guilty of underachievement by finishing only 10-8 in the ACC?”

    Neither UCLA nor Gonzaga is proficient in offensive rebounding; “this is a one-and-done contest.” Gonzaga’s big men are not rim protectors.

    Bryce Alford hit nine 3-pointers to win a game for UCLA in early round of the tournament; he hit his first 3-pointer with 2:21 to play in this game with UCLA down by 19 at that point.

    The Kentucky/Notre Dame game was a GREAT basketball game. Period. “The only thing it lacked was overtime.”

    Michigan St/Oklahoma was another ugly game; both teams missed open shots for the whole first half; neither team scored for a 5 minute stretch of the second half. All those missed shots clang off the rims as if they were boulders.

    Duke/Utah was not pretty either. Let me reiterate something I said earlier:

      Justise Winslow is REALLY GOOD !!

    Louisville/Michigan State gave us extra time in a game that was tight from the start. Hard to ask for much more.

The Duke/Gonzaga game was a game of momentum swings; Duke’s win by 14 points is an example of a momentum swing. With 5 minutes left in the game, Duke led by 2 points and then the momentum swung… I think Damontas Sabonis played excellently and demonstrated the power of genetics; he is only a freshman and will not turn 19 for another month; he is going to be a really good NBA player. And now I am going to say something heretical:

    Jahlil Okafor needs to return to school for another year instead of going to the NBA. His game is not ready for the NBA; his body is not ready for the NBA.

Please note that I did not say Okafor is not a good player; he is a very good player. The issue is that he is “a big” meaning he will have to bang bodies with centers and power forwards in the NBA and he is not yet ready to do that. He also does not pass well out of double-teams and his footwork on defense needs polishing too. Another year playing NCAA basketball will do him a lot of good.

Three ads that assaulted my consciousness over the weekend need comment:

    Two people pull up to the dilapidated hotel with the crazy lady on the porch and use their in-car communication system to get out of there. They ask to be booked at the “furthest 5-star hotel”. Not a good idea because that might be in Beijing or Perth and their car isn’t going to get them there.

    Game of War is clearly a computer game that I know nothing about. However, if you can “play for free”, how does the owner of the game find the money to pay for the advertisement and for the time slots in these games? I do not understand the business model here…

    A “new show” on CBS will be The Odd Couple. Seriously now, hasn’t that been done to death yet?

Finally, here is another commentary from Bob Molinaro. I was fortunate not to have to listen to any of the radio broadcasts of any tournament games this year, so I did not have the same experience that he did. Nonetheless, he is definitely correct in his commentary:

“Too much static: Out and about in the car, I listened to parts of three NCAA tournament games last weekend, which means I heard a lot of screaming, yelping, screeching, wailing and howling from hysterical play-by-play men. And this was during the first half. When did so much caterwauling – to a supposedly neutral audience – become fashionable?”

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

NFL Excesses

Sports Curmudgeon 3/26/15

When you are the NFL and you are the 800-lb gorilla in the sports world in the US, you can do whatever you bleeping feel like doing. What the NFL has done regarding the Super Bowl next year fits the lifestyle of a good friend of mine about whom all of his friends say:

    His motto in life is that nothing exceeds like excess.

At the end of this season – in February 2016 – the NFL will stage the 50th Super Bowl game ever played. That is a fact; you can go back and count the games. The NFL will “honor” this game by making everything imaginable connected to this season and to that game “golden” because of course people celebrate their 50th anniversary as their Golden Anniversary. For the record, my long-suffering wife and I will celebrate our 50th – our golden – anniversary in 2016 too unless, of course, she finally decides to dispatch me by planting a fire-ax between my eyebrows. I understand well the concept of a Golden Anniversary and look forward to celebrating one next year.

What the NFL is doing here is a fraud wrapped up in a sham encased in a Nigerian e-mail scheme. The first Super Bowl game was played in LA in January 1967; I tuned in to watch that game and have seen every one of the games since that one. The 50th Super Bowl game will happen in February 2016 and that is the 49th anniversary of the first game, not the 50th anniversary. Having celebrated a 49th anniversary only about 9 months ago, let me assure everyone that it is not one’s Golden Anniversary. The marketing and PR folks associated with the NFL should be boiled in oil for this fraud and by the end of the season most of you are going to agree with me.

Here are some of the things that the marketing/PR trolls are going to make happen:

    The 50-yardline on every field for every game will have the numerals painted in gold on the field.

    All of the logos for things like the Draft in May 2015 and the playoffs that start in January 2016 will be lettered in gold.

    The NFL Shield this year will be in gold.

    Many of the team hats/shirts/whatever sold in this celebratory year will have team logos outlined in gold. Or, of course, you can also buy the “traditional” gear if you prefer – or you could also buy both…

    The winner of Super Bowl 50 – next February – will not only hoist the Lombardi Trophy but will also get the “Golden 50”. What might you ask is the “Golden 50”?

      It will be the numerals “5” and “0” that have been bronzed and plated in 18-karat gold and of a size that each numeral will weigh between 30 and 35 lbs.

    The only thing that can put this whole excessive nonsense over the top would be for the MVP in the Super Bowl Game to be – – wait for it – – Golden Tate.

A few days ago, I talked about the retirement of Chris Borland from the NFL because of his concern for his mental health in his later years. This week Borland announced that he would return a pro-rate share of his signing bonus to the Niners since he chose not to play out his contract. That means he is returning about $460K to the Niners. I have no idea how that affects their salary cap but it would be interesting to look at the books and see what the folks on mahogany row did with that $460K windfall…

Every year when the NFL holds its Spring Meetings, one of the agenda items is always proposed rule changes for the upcoming year(s). One change this year tries to clarify what is a catch for a forward pass in response to the “Dez Bryant Incident” in the playoffs and to the infamous “Calvin Johnson non-TD catch” from about 5 years ago. The sad thing is that the new wording in the rule does not clarify much of anything at all. More controversy to follow…

However, Dan Daly, on his fantastic blog Profootballdaly.com, has compiled a history of rule change proposals that the NFL owners have considered and subsequently rejected in their Spring Meetings over the history of the league. Please go and read this blog entry in its entirety; it is definitely worth your time. One of the rule changes that was rejected – in 1944 – was to award one point to the team kicking off if the kickoff went through the uprights.

All 32 NFL coaches showed up for a “photo-shoot” at the Spring Meetings. This is news because more often than not at least one of the coaches does not make an appearance and most often the absentee is Bill Belichick. I did not see any reports if he showed up wearing a hoodie – after all this was in Phoenix and not in Lower Kalskag, Alaska (population 294) – but there was a report that said Andy Reid showed up for the photo wearing flip-flops, shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. If the Hawaiian shirt fit Andy Reid, it might be a map of the Hawaiian Islands with a scale of 1:1…

Finally, here is a perspective offered up by Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald showing the status of sports in US society:

“Prince Charles’ U.S. tour has ended. It was similar to Derek Jeter’s retirement tour, only with 10,000-times less public interest.”

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

The Boston Olympics Redux…

It snowed a whole lot in the Boston area this winter. I suspect that lots of people there had more than a few moments tucked inside their homes with no real prospects of going anywhere and some used those moments to reflect on matters of import. I suspect some folks resolved their feelings for others in those moments; others may have pondered some of the big social/political issues of the day; others may have taken the time to completely restructure their finances. It would appear to me that some of the folks who are involved with Boston 2024 – the group behind Boston’s bid to get the Summer Olympics to that city – used that contemplative time pondering this question:

    Is this REALLY a good idea?

According to reports, the Chairman of Boston 2024 told area business leaders that the organization is going to get signatures on a petition to put a question on the 2016 ballot in Massachusetts asking if Boston 2024 should really make a final bid for the Games. Boston 2024 is a privately funded entity so no one involved there would run afoul of Boston mayor, Marty Walsh, and his edict that no city employee can speak ill of the Olympics, the IOC, the USOC or Boston’s bid for the games. Chairman John Fish reportedly told the business leaders that if the ballot referendum is not supported by a majority of the voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Boston 2024 will cease and desist with its efforts to pull together the final bid.

I read several accounts of Fish’s remarks and one of them said that he also indicated that Boston 2024 would stand down even with a majority in that referendum if the question did not also get a majority vote in the City of Boston. That added stipulation is not included in all of the reporting so I wonder about its validity. Nevertheless, what started out in a state of euphoria with Mayor Walsh approaching Nirvana in his joy seems to be coming into focus with reality. There is plenty of time between now and November 2016 when the referendum question will be on the ballot for politicking and deal-making; however, as a starting point, consider this:

    A local radio station – WBUR-FM – conducted a poll of 500 Boston residents and found only 36% of the people polled supported the idea of Boston bidding for the Games.

It is not as if Boston politicians have never faced the problem of selling an unpopular idea to the voters. However, this may not be the slam-dunk that Mayor Walsh envisioned in his euphoric state a couple of months ago. Time to put the political operatives out on the streets…

Arizona State fired basketball coach, Herb Sendek, earlier this week. Sendek had been at ASU for 9 seasons; in that time his record there was 155-133 but his PAC-12 conference record was only 68-86. His teams had been to the NCAA tournament twice and to the NIT four times in those 9 seasons. I bring this up not because I think Herb Sendek got a raw deal; I bring this up because it reminded me to go and look for some other data.

Two years ago, Florida Gulf Coast University made a Cinderella run in the NCAA tournament making the Sweet 16 despite being seeded 15th in their region. They ran the court and dunked the ball and their coach, Andy Enfield had 15 minutes of fame. He bolted that job at the first opportunity to take the job at USC – another PAC-12 school. He has been there for 2 seasons and here is the USC record:

    Overall record is 23-41
    PAC -12 record is 5-31

    USC has finished 12th in the PAC-12 in both seasons. Finishing 12th in a 12 team conference means they finished dead last.

Two points here:

    1. Herb Sendek’s record does not look so bad in juxtaposition.

    2. A coaching system that works against opponents such as Ave Maria, Florida Tech and Stetson does not always work as well against better competition.

As I was watching the tournament games, I had to notice that every announcing team had a “sideline announcer” appended to it. Those folks demonstrated yet again that sideline reporting and interviews with coaches at halftime represents very low grade ore. Other than the time when Richard Sherman called out Michael Crabtree right after the NFC Championship Game when interviewed on the field, I am hard-pressed to recall a sideline interview that contained anything bordering on informative – let alone newsworthy. The only good thing I would say about the sideline reporters for this year’s tournament is that I never saw one of them go into the stands and stick a microphone in front of a parent or other family member of a player or coach and ask something inane such as:

How does it feel to [fill in the blank]…?

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this observation about athletes seeking trademarks:

“Jameis Winston’s marketing agency is attempting to trademark his college nickname, Famous Jameis,’ to protect his ‘intellectual property.’ Legal experts say this would be the least-intellectual intellectual property since ‘Kiss my grits.’

“ ‘This better not be about cookies,’ said Famous Amos.”

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

A “Global Plea Agreement”…

There seems to be resolution in the Darren Sharper matter where he has been accused of drugging and then raping women in four different states. According to a report in the New Orleans Advocate yesterday, Sharper, his attorneys reached a “global plea agreement” with prosecutors in four states and Federal prosecutors (because there were drug charges involved here too) to resolve all of the cases. In yesterday’s report, the details of the plea agreement were not revealed. However, for a full synopsis of this wide-ranging set of circumstances, the report from yesterday is most useful. Here is the link:

Now today, the plea agreement details have begun to emerge. According to CBSSports.com this morning, Sharper will get 9 years in prison and lifetime probation for the guilty pleas. According to the report, this resolves the charges that he first drugged and then raped at least 9 women in 4 states. Now to me, that seems like a very generous plea arrangement from the prosecutors. Ignoring the Federal drug charges for a moment, the math here is that he gets 1 year per rape and that seems a tad light.

Given all the negative attention that has surrounded recent events involving NFL players – Sharper was in the NFL for 14 years – and violence against women, I would have thought that prosecutors would have been a bit more hard-nosed in this situation. Well, at least we can be spared the drama of Roger Goodell and the NFL imposing some kind of suspension on top of this deal and the subsequent outrage from people who are convinced that neither Roger Goodell nor the NFL can ever get anything right.

In other NFL news, the league has lifted the blackout rule for the 2015 season. That means that fans in cities such as San Diego, Oakland and Tampa – where games routinely do not sell out – may get to see their home games on network TV. I am not completely certain this is an unfettered blessing for some fans such as the ones in Oakland who will now see the Raiders 16 times instead of only 8. Given the way the Raiders have played for the last 10 years or so, fans there may have developed a fondness for those weeks of home games so that fans could stay home and watch good teams play. This is the mirror-image of the adage that every cloud has a silver lining. In this case the silver lining has a cloud around it.

In any event, the NFL will go without the blackout rules for a year and then “evaluate the impact” after the season is over. Let me tell you what the impact is most likely to be:

    Attendance in cities that sell out every game will be unaffected.

    Attendance in cities that do not sell out every game will decrease slightly – particularly in bad weather circumstances where there will be almost no “walk-up traffic”.

    Some season ticket holders in the cities that do not sell out will also stay home in bad weather situations or for some meaningless end-of-season games.

    Therefore, revenue for teams that do not sell out every game will go down very slightly.

    The fact that television rights provide the largest share of team revenue will be proven once again as no team will operate in the red.

If the NFL would like to name a committee to begin to evaluate the impact of the above, I will be happy to flesh out those 5 points for the committee members to give them a running start…

The league has another idea percolating with regard to telecasts for next year too. One of the London Games – the one in Week 7 between the Bills and Jags – will not be shown on standard TV and will not be part of the NFL Sunday Ticket package on DirecTV. The NFL wants the game to be on a “full digital platform” that can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection and/or by streaming. Stand by for more news about that initiative between now and October…

With the NCAA Basketball Tournament in full bloom, there is a little story in college basketball that has gotten about no attention. Let me do a reset for you here…

Geno Ford was the head coach at Kent State from 2008 – 2011. After that season he left Kent State to take the head coaching job at Bradley. The State of Ohio sued Ford for breach of contract and Ohio won a $1.2M judgment against Ford. That is unusual by itself but then Kent State moved to sue Bradley University for “tortuous interference” in the matter but then the Kent State side dropped the suit entirely about two weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin. So, the arrival of Geno Ford in Peoria to assume the role of head basketball coach at Bradley was a little out of the ordinary.

Now jump forward to 2015 when the college basketball season is over for all but the teams remaining in the various tournaments that are ongoing. Bradley University announced that it has fired Geno Ford as the head basketball coach. So what did Bradley get from Ford in his tenure there:

    Overall record was 46-86
    Missouri Valley Conference record was 19-53
    Record in 2014/15 was 9-24
    Missouri Valley Conference record in 2014/15 was 3-15.

So, is it just possible that one reason Kent State dropped its suit against Bradley was that it realized that one outcome might be that they would have had to take Ford back as their basketball coach and they did not really want him there in the first place? Just asking…

Finally, a note from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Cue laugh track: Darrelle Revis insists that it wasn’t the fully guaranteed $39 million that lured him away from the Patriots, but he returned to the Jets because, ‘This is where my heart is.’ They just don’t write lines like that anymore.”

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