Young NFL QBs

This year, there is an abundance of young QBs getting a lot of playing time for NFL teams.  This week’s starters could include:

  1. Brandon Allen
  2. Josh Allen
  3. Kyle Allen
  4. Jacoby Brisset – – maybe
  5. Sam Darnold
  6. Jared Goff
  7. Dwayne Haskins – – Skins are on BYE Week
  8. Lamar Jackson
  9. Daniel Jones
  10. Patrick Mahomes – – maybe
  11. Baker Mayfield
  12. Gardner Minshew – – maybe
  13. Kyler Murray
  14. Dak Prescott
  15. Mason Rudolph
  16. Mitchell Trubisky
  17. Deshaun Watson
  18. Carson Wentz – – Eagles are on BYE Week

That means more than half of the NFL teams will be starting a QB who is under 26 years old and 10 of these young QBs entered the league in either 2018 or 2019.  The four “old hands” on the list above – Brisset, Goff, Prescott and Wentz – have shown me enough to say that they should provide their teams with lots of serviceable years down the road.  As for the others, I’ll anoint Jackson, Mahomes and Watson as three more NFL lifers barring injuries despite a smallish sample from which to make such a judgment.  As for the others…?

When I think about what distinguishes a “franchise QB” from a “flash in the pan”, there are more dimensions to consider beyond physical skills.  Of course, a successful NFL QB must have physical talents in sufficient measure to make the athletic moves needed in the job.  Those are the things that one can measure; those are the things that I look at when I see college QBs who aspire to “move up”.  However, those skills are insufficient to make a “QB” into a “franchise QB”.  There is a mental, an emotional, a prudent and a dedicated axis on which a young QB must reach a minimum score to make that jump.

A successful NFL QB  has to be intelligent enough to know the playbook and know the game plan; if that level of mental gymnastics is too difficult, it does not matter if the guy can throw the ball 75 yards in the air and drop it into a rain barrel.  Moreover, a successful NFL QB must be analytical to the point that he can see one thing happening in front of him and recognize what is the most likely thing to happen next.  That analytical thinking is referred to as

  • Being on the same page as his receiver – – or – –
  • Reading the defense – – or – –
  • Having the game slow down for him.

Predicting a young QBs “score” on that dimension is not much more than guesswork; I need to see live action on a field to begin to sense the capability – or the limitation – here.  I believe that if you gave truth serum to coaches, they would say the same thing.

A successful NFL QB must have his emotions in check.  Everyone deals with emotions in a personal way and some folks allow their emotions to dictate their behaviors in ways that are not constructive.  An NFL QB will experience emotional highs and lows during the progress of a game and a season.  He has to be able to prevent the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low.  When a receiver drops a pass that hits him in both hands when the receiver is in the end zone with no defender closer than 10 yards, the QB cannot sink into depression or get so angry that the anger becomes destructive.

It is perfectly OK for a QB to “wear his emotions on his sleeve” if that is part of his persona all the time.  The key element there is that he has a governor on those emotions to assure that the swings do not wander off into areas of dysfunction.  Often I hear analysts talk about the leadership skills of franchise QBs; I believe that one of the important elements of those intangible leadership skills is the emotional control that the QB has on himself such that he can project a constructive level of emotion onto those around him.

The “prudence dimension” involves things that do not happen on the field.  Sixty years ago, a very successful NFL QB named Bobby Layne reportedly showed up at game time hung over from the night before on a semi-regular basis.  The game was different then; that sort of behavior will not work for an NFL QB in 2019.  Joe Namath cultivated a playboy persona 50 years ago; it worked for him, but it is not likely to work for many other young QBs.

Notwithstanding the potential negativity involved in such off-field behaviors – – things that breed those dreadful distractions, don’t you know – – young QBs have free time, plenty of money and are recognizable.  Call it “common sense” or call it “maturation” or call it whatever you want; a young QB who aspires to be a franchise QB has to be able to deal with that sort of tempting environment in a way that does not become destructive.

The “dedicated dimension” is another one that has changed over the years.  Sixty years ago, a less than physically fit QB named Sonny Jurgensen played well enough to get him into the Hall of Fame.  When Vince Lombardi arrived in Washington as his coach, Jurgensen said it was the only time he played without his gut spilling over his uniform.  Those days are long gone; successful NFL QBs today need not be bodybuilders or fitness fanatics, but they must stay in condition 12 months of the year and prepare their bodies for the rigors of a 16-game regular season all during the off-season.

I said above that there are 7 of the young QBs on this week’s “starters list” I am confident will make the grade as franchise QBs over the long term.  All of them have shown basic physical skills on the field and all of them appear to score well on the four dimensions discussed here.  Their actions and behaviors cause their teams to win games as opposed to a situation where the team wins games with the QB merely along for the ride.

As for the other 11 young starters on this week’s list, I would make no judgment regarding 8 of them simply because they have not been in enough situations to allow for any sort of rational judgment.  I will say, however, that 3 of this week’s young starters have some visible red flags.

  1. Sam Darnold:  He is not as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  It does not seem as if the “game is slowing down for him”.  He is showing his emotional down cycles during the games.  This is a new offensive system for him in his second year in the NFL with new coaches.  Are those changes significant factors in his regression?
  2. Baker Mayfield:  He is not nearly as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  His ‘analytical” skills seem not to have advanced; and in terms of dedication, he appears to be as dedicated to developing his brand and appearing in commercials as he is to developing as a QB.  As a cautionary note here, that is a similar behavioral path to the one taken by the young RG3…
  3. Mitchell Trubisky:  He is not as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  It appears as if the game is “speeding up for him” instead of slowing down and even his coach has criticized his “body language” during the game – a potential detriment to his leadership skill.

Finally, in keeping with today’s theme of young QBs who may or may not ripen into franchise QBs, I want to be sure that this news item does not pass you by.  It did not make banner headlines; you may have missed it; it is relevant to the topic of the day:

  • Brock Osweiler retired from the NFL after a 7-year career.

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

The Integrity Of The Games

By now, you must have heard about and seen the replays of the highly controversial calls made and not made by the officials in the Packers/Lions game on Monday night.  I do not care to rehash the purported importance of those calls on the outcome of the game; those sorts of issues have been litigated to death on sports radio and on the talking-head TV shows.  I want to go in a slightly different direction with this issue.

  • The NFL is flirting with a situation where people can begin to doubt the integrity of the games on the field.

I am not accusing anyone in the league offices or any of the officials in Monday’s game of any nefarious behavior(s), but we should acknowledge that we live in society that does more than tolerate conspiracy theories.  And the NFL can allow creative thinkers to cast some conspiracy nets very broadly these days.

Ironically, the last time a Monday game ended with such an influence from the officials was the infamous “Replacement Refs Game” and the Packers were in that game too but came out as the “victims” of the bad call instead of the being the “beneficiaries” of the bad calls.  The problem is not who benefits from or who loses as a result of the actions; it is the atmosphere around the actions.

The league has to make decisions which may benefit one team or not.  The NFL suspended Tom Brady for 4 games a few years ago; that “hurt” the Pats and “helped” their 4 opponents in those games.  That sort of thing is unavoidable.  What the NFL should not allow to happen is for its officials to be seen as bumbling fools as is the case in the WWE.  Thousands of people in the stadium see what happened on the field and then see the replays; millions at home also see this; the officials saw it in real time and then see it in super slow motion on replay.  After all of that, the officials don’t see what everyone else sees.  [Aside:  That is a standard “script” for a lot of rassling matches where the “bad guy” has a “foreign object” hidden in his trunks or is slipped a “foreign object” by an outside assistant.  Everyone sees it and recognizes it – – except the referee.]

The popularity of NFL football in the US has several pillars holding it in place; one of those pillars is that millions of people wager millions of dollars on NFL games meaning that those millions of people:

  • Care about the outcome of the games
  • Care about the honesty of the processes that lead to the outcome of the games

That “caring” must not be abused lest those people stop wagering on NFL games which will weaken an important pillar of NFL popularity.  The revenue streams for the NFL and the franchise values for the teams cannot be maintained if too many people stop betting on the games.  Gambling is not the sole reason for NFL popularity, but it is a critical one.

I drew a comparison to professional wrestling above.  Let me continue with it for a moment.  Lots of people watch pro wrestling – but gambling on pro wrestling is minuscule.  People watch it to see the unfolding of a soap opera style plot along with plenty of athleticism and acrobatics.  Maybe the NFL could morph into something akin to that which would hold a fanbase’s interest, but I cannot imagine that it would be able to maintain the numbers it now enjoys.  Ergo, there is ditch along the side of the road on which the NFL is traveling and the vehicle careening down that road is edging its way toward that ditch.

During the Monday night game, former Lions’ star, Barry Sanders, Tweeted that the NFL

“… needs to look at a way to prevent that [blundered calls] from happening.”

It would be hard to argue that Sanders is wrong there.  The problem is that if the root cause of the bad calls is human error, then there is no way to prevent “that” from happening.  What the league needs to do is to try to repair any other aspects of the game that allow “that” to happen.

Part of the problem is technology and replay.  Technology allows millions of fans to have a reason to question – maybe even doubt – the competence of the officials on the field.  If they can question a set of officials enough times, then they can cross into a space where they begin to wonder if those officials might be failing to make proper decisions on the field for some reason that is not generally known.  When instant replay became feasible, the NFL adopted it as part of the game with the stated intent of

  • Getting it right.

Hey, if I were in the position of explaining why this new tool was being added to the game, I would surely use that as a justification.  I would never tout this new tool as something that would enable the officials to “get it wrong”.  Channeling Hamlet here:

“Aye, there’s the rub…”

Far too often, replay lets lots of fans see that the call on the field was wrong, but it will stand as called (wrong) for some reason that the official never explains.  That can be fertile soil to sprout some conspiracy theories.  If any of those sorts of things begin to fix themselves in the minds of fans, the slogan “On any given Sunday …” can take on an entirely new meaning on an orthogonal axis to where the league wants to go.

For the record, I am not advocating the removal of instant replay.  The toothpaste is out of the tube on that one and it is not going back in.  However, the league need not expand its purview any wider than it is now until and unless they come up with an efficient and effective way to make changes when those changes are obviously necessary.

Oh, but there is more to the “integrity of the game” issue in 2019.  Every year, there is a team in the league that is the doormat.  The NFL – knowing that competitive balance is a good thing for the league – seeks to assist that team’s efforts to become more competitive/competent through the NFL Draft.  I have argued before that the Draft may not be as great a tool for “leveling the playing field” as it is made out to be, but the intent behind the draft is noble indeed.  This year, there are a handful of “bad teams”; with almost 40% of the season in the rear-view mirror, there are two teams that have not won a game yet and three others with only one win to their credit.  [Aside: The Skins have only 1 win this year and it came at the expense of the Dolphins who have not won any games so far this year.]

And since I just mentioned the Dolphins, let me say that they are an assault on the integrity of the game for the NFL.  The NFL Draft is supposed to “alleviate the suffering” for the worst teams in the league in each season; the NFL Draft is not supposed to be a reward for winning the race to the bottom.  The Miami Dolphins in 2019 are an inept bunch – but their ineptitude feels different.  They give every indication that they are trying to lose so that they can rebuild via the draft.  That is what the Sixers did in the NBA over about a 4-year period of tanking; that surely seems to be what the Dolphins are doing now in the NFL as they have traded away their good players for future draft picks and put a mighty inferior product on the field for games this year.

Tanking in pro football – or basketball or baseball – does not protect the integrity of the game.  Intending to lose – and/or losing intentionally – is what happens in professional wrestling where few if any people identify “integrity of the game” as a vital element of the competition.  If you look at the Dolphins season in 2019, they do not seem to be trying very hard to win games.  Their first four losses were by margins of 49 points, 43 points, 25 points and 20 points.  If you look at that sequence and see it as “progress”, then you are like the little kid who is in a room up to his neck in horseshit and goes digging around in the muck to find the pony that has to be there somewhere.

In the last 10 years or so, the NFL has seen some monumentally bad teams play out a season.  However, the Lions under Rod Marinelli played to win games; they were just not good enough to do so and went 0-16.  The Browns under Hue Jackson had a pair of seasons with a cumulative record of 1-31, but they tried to win games.  The 2019 Dolphins need to do a better job of looking like they want to win a game or two.  Any objective look at their roster will tell an observer that this team is not capable of ‘breaking even” for the season – but losing their 5 games to date by an average of 27.6 points per game hints at a less than robust effort to build a competitive roster for the year.

The NFL is still the 800-lb gorilla for sports in the US and it is going to remain in that position for a long time – – unless it shoots itself in the foot.  Giving fans even a spark of a reason to question the integrity of their games is the figurative equivalent of the league not only shooting itself in the foot but also taking careful aim to assure that the bullet does the most damage possible to the bones and tendons in the foot.

Finally, since today’s rant is about football – with occasional nods toward professional wrestling – let me turn to The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm for definitions of those activities:

Football:  An American sport in which men try to get a teardrop-shaped ball from one end of a big field to another while grunting, piling on top of one another, and giddily jumping up and down when they succeed.  Homoerotic? You decide.

And …

Wrestling:  Boxing with hair.

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

 

 

NFL Season Preedictions – 2019

For those who have joined in this madness over the last year, this is an annual event here in Curmudgeon Central.  Demonstrating my inexhaustible capacity to absorb embarrassment, I try to make season-long predictions for the NFL.  Oh, but I do not build in some cover when I do that by sticking to generalized predictions; rather, I will set out here NFL coaches I think are on the hot seat and could be coaching for their job this year and – in an even more reckless endeavor – I will predict the final record for all 32 teams in the NFL.

This would be fun if I just waited until about December 15th and then quietly took down all evidence of these predictions such that there could be no “day of reckoning” once the 2019 regular season ends on 29 December 2019.  However, I do not take down the predictions; in fact, I will come back and give them grades once the regular season is over.  Believe it or not, this is what I call fun and games…

One more bit of boilerplate needs explanation now.  I do not love or hate any NFL team to the exclusion of any other team.  There is no deep-seated hatred to be found in these predictions.  When I inevitably underestimate one team’s record for 2019, that was not based on a longstanding grudge I have with that team or that city or the colors of its uniforms.  I do not owe the team or its fans any apologies; what I owe them – and everyone – is the admission that I was wrong in my prediction(s).  And, I shall do that…

I will begin with my list of NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat.  Last year, I mentioned 8 coaches.  I said one of them would be on a hot seat but ought not to be.  He was fired anyway.  Of the other 7 on my list, 5 lost their jobs.  Am I a hex on the NFL coaches who make it to this list?  If I were given to self-flattery, I might claim such a connection.

Anyway, here is my 2019 list of 8 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2019 – presented in alphabetical order lest someone infer much more to this screed that is intended:

  1. Jason Garrett (Cowboys):  He was on the list last year; when the Cowboys went 10-6 and won the NFC East, his job was saved – – but he did not get a contract extension and his deal is finished at the end of this year.  Garrett has been the Cowboys’ Head Coach since the middle of the 2010 season; over that period, his coaching record is 77-59.  Here’s the rub; he has been the head coach for 8 full seasons; he has only made the playoffs 3 times and his playoff record is 2-3.
  2. Jay Gruden (Skins):  Like Garrett, he too was on last year’s list and managed to survive despite failing to make the playoffs.  Who knows; did the catastrophic leg injury to Alex Smith save his job?  Gruden is on thinner ice that Garrett.  He has been the head Coach of the Skins for 5 seasons; his cumulative record is 35-44-1; last season the Skins were 4-12; Gruden’s teams made the playoffs only one time and the playoff record is 0-1.  I suspect that Jay Gruden needs to make the playoffs to keep his job at the end of this season.
  3. Doug Marrone (Jags):  After the 2017 season, the Jags had the Patriots on the ropes in the 4th quarter of a playoff game; what happened was another miracle comeback by Tom Brady and the Jags went into a funk that lasted through all of 2018.  After missing out on a real shot to play in the Super Bowl, the Jags laid a giant egg last year going 5-11.
  4. Bill O’Brien (Texans):  He has made the playoffs in 3 of his 5 seasons in Houston but his playoff record is 1-3.  Moreover, his overall regular season record is a not-so-hot 42-38.  He could become a target of fans in Houston if the team is mediocre again in 2019.
  5. Matt Patricia (Lions):  Year One in Detroit was an uninspiring 6-10.  The Lions spent some serious money in the free agency market this offseason, so I suspect the expectation for Patricia – – and to a lesser degree for Matt Stafford – – is a playoff appearance and at least a competitive effort in the playoffs.  That expectation is not likely to be fulfilled for the simple reason that the Lions are in a division with three teams with better rosters than the one in Detroit.
  6. Ron Rivera (Panthers):  I put him here because the Panthers have a new owner and the new owner inherited Rivera; he did not select Rivera himself.  Rivera has taken the Panthers to the Super Bowl – losing there to the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning – but in the “what have you done for me lately” atmosphere of the NFL, his Panthers have been 13-19 in the last two seasons.
  7. Dan Quinn (Falcons):  His team underwhelmed last year missing the playoffs and going 7-9 for the season.  This year, Quinn has a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator (Quinn will call the defensive plays himself to start the season).  He also changed out the special teams’ coach meaning that he is the last man standing in the coaching hierarchy.  If that change produces another 7-9 season, look for the next obvious change to be made and for Quinn to be looking for work elsewhere.
  8. Mike Zimmer (Vikes):  He is working on the final year of his contract and no extension was offered.  The Vikes went 13-3 in 2017 and then spent big bucks to sign Kirk Cousins as their QB only to go 8-7-1 in 2018 and miss the playoffs.  If anything like that happens again in 2019, Zimmer will be looking for work.

But that coaching stuff is merely the appetizer course here.  From here on out things will stray from logic to wild extrapolation.  It is time to go division-by-division through the NFL and to predict the exact record for every team.  For no particular reason, I shall start with the AFC West.  Based on my admittedly – – and proven over the long-term – – hazy crystal ball, this will be the best division in the NFL.  I believe the cumulative record for the 4 teams here will be 35-29.  Last year, the Chiefs and Chargers went toe-to-toe in the division until late December; both teams are back for this year with formidable talent.  I think the most interesting part of this division is what the “other two teams” – – the Raiders and the Broncos – – do in 2019.

  • I like the Chiefs to win the AFC West with a record of 13-3.  I know that it is fashionable to pick division winners to “take a step back” or to “come back to the pack” in the next season; nonetheless, I don’t think the Chiefs are going to do that sort of thing.  I say that while acknowledging that it is unreasonable to expect Patrick Mahomes to throw 50 TD passes again in 2019.  Their Achilles Heel last year was the defense; they have made changes on that side of the ball – – and presumably they know what they are doing.  Look … in their losses last year, the Chiefs scored an average of 39.7 points; NFL teams are not supposed to lose ANY games when they score that many points.  Frank Clark and Tyrann Matthieu are in KC to see that no such thing happens again this year.
  • I like the Chargers to finish second here with a record of 11-5.  Last year, the Chiefs and the Chargers fought it out to the end of the season – – and that could happen again.  I like the Chargers, but I am not thrilled by their WR corps.  In addition, their “situation”/”relationship” with Melvyn Gordon is sub-optimal to say the least.  Learning that Russel Okung will miss the first 6 weeks of the season – – at least – – is not a plus either.  The Chargers very well may have been able to sneak up on a couple of opponents last year and should not have that luxury this year.  I think they will take a minor step back this year and finish 11-5.
  • I like the Raiders to finish 6-10.  Before I am designated as persona non grata in the Black Hole – – where I would never choose to watch a game in the first place – – may I point out that this prediction represents a 50% improvement over last year’s 4-12 record.  If the Raiders are to be even more improved than my 50% estimate they will need to upgrade significantly their pass rush and their OL.  Adding Antonio Brown and Josh Jacobs to the offense is a help – – but neither addition addresses either of those two glaring needs and that assumes that Antonio Brown does not go “’round the bend” between now and December 1.  The Raiders host the Cincy Bengals in Week 11; that will allow Vontaze Burfict to renew acquaintances with his former teammates with Black Hole denizens looking on.  Let the good times roll…
  • I like the Broncos to bring up the rear in this division with a record of 5-11.  John Elway may indeed be the best all-around QB ever in the NFL; nevertheless, his ability to look at other QBs and figure out which one(s) might also be semi-great is totally suspect.  This year the Broncos will go with Joe Flacco at QB; Flacco is a Super Bowl winner whose career has been on a downslope since that victory in February 2013.  Bradley Chubb and Von Miller give the defense elite pass rushers as bookends on the defensive line.  Vic Fangio was a critical part of the top-rated Bears’ defense last year and he has some pieces to work with here in Denver…  I think a most important element here is the ability of WR Emmanuel Sanders to return from his injury and play at full speed.  If he cannot, I don’t know who will catch Joe Flacco’s throws.

For the AFC North, I project a weak showing in 2019.  I think the division’s overall record will be 29-35 making then tied with the AFC South as the worst division in the NFL.  Lots of folks are picking the Browns to win this division in 2019; for the record, the last time the Browns did such a thing was in 1989; and back then, there was no such thing as the AFC North.  Oh, and by the way, the team that did that back in 1989 is now known as the Baltimore Ravens…

  • I like the Steelers to win the division with a record of 10-6.  I think the Steelers will benefit from the lowered level of drama enveloping the team now that Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell are elsewhere.  Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin are the “Steel City Survivors” of the controversy from the past year; if things do not quiet down, either or both might the next one with a ticket to “Anywhere Else, USA”.  The Steelers were not a bad team last year; they simply underperformed to “Steelers-standards”.  Yes, they limped home with a 9-7-1 record, but remember that they were also 7-2-1 in November last season.  I do not do Fantasy Football; I do not like Fantasy Football.  Nonetheless, if I were playing Fantasy Football, I would definitely want to have JuJu Smith-Shuster on my team this year.
  • I like the Ravens to finish 8-8.  For the first time in next to forever, the defense in Baltimore is something to question.  Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosely, Eric Weddle and ZaDarious Smith are all missing from the Ravens’ defense in 2019.  Make no mistake, none of those guys are youngsters; make no mistake, none of those guys are stumblebums either.  The Ravens’ offense will be totally different this year with Lamar Jackson at the helm in place of Joe Flacco.  Casting no aspersions on either QB, it might be difficult to identify two more different QBs in terms of style and versatility.  Adding Mark Ingram cannot hurt the offense; adding Earl Thomas has to help the defense.  Oh, by the way, in Week 7 on Sunday Night Football you can see Earl Thomas going against his former teammates and his former coach – – the folks he flipped off as he was motored off the field on a cart last season.  Good times…
  • I like the Browns to finish 8-8.  I know that everyone has the Browns as their “bold pick” for the AFC representative in the Super Bowl next February.  I do not share that euphoria.  Yes, the Browns were significantly improved in 2018 with a final record of 7-8-1.  However, recognize that the Browns were playing a “last-place schedule in 2018 and those 7 wins did not come against any of the NFL powerhouses.  This year the schedule is more difficult; while I believe the team will improve over last year, I don’t think the record will improve significantly.  The Browns’ defense gave up 5 yards per carry against the run last year; if that does not improve significantly, it will not matter how much the offense has improved.  The team has more talent on offense than it did last year; the team added help on the DL (Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson).  If it all blends seamlessly, the Browns may surprise me and win this division; if all those egos bubble to the top and rookie coach Freddie Kitchens is not able to tamp them down, the Browns could fall back to 5-11.  We shall see…
  • I like the Bengals to take up the rear in this division with a record of 3-13.  I would say the offense here is “OK” with a fully functional AJ Green; if he is even 10% hobbled, the Bengals’ offense could be “scoring challenged”.  The Bengals have a new head coach – Zac Taylor – and he has inherited a mess.  The good news for Bengals’ fans is that their very high draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will be worth a lot to some team that thinks it is a player or so away from playoff glory.

Next up, I’ll tackle the AFC South.  This division prediction underwent a complete re-evaluation last week when Andrew Luck announced his retirement from the NFL.  Until that moment, I blithely figured that his calf injury that then morphed into a bone/ankle injury was just an excuse to hold him out of harm’s way in the Exhibition Season and the early practice sessions.  Perhaps that will give you an insight as to why Pollyanna is not a welcome visitor to Curmudgeon Central.  As noted above, I think the overall record for this division will be 29-35.

  • I like the Texans to win this division with a record of 10-6.  No team in the NFL was happier to hear the Andrew Luck retirement announcement than the Houston Texans. Last year, the Texans’ OL surrendered 62 sacks; that must improve in 2019 for my prediction to come true and for Deshaun Watson to remain ambulatory and – perhaps – for Bill O’Brien to keep his job.  The fact that they drafted two offensive tackles tells me that they recognize that they have a problem there.  The Texans will also take the path less traveled this year by doing without a GM; they will do this by committee and wing it.  The owner says this will be a leaner and flatter organization; 31 other NFL teams seem not to agree.  Somehow, that “leaner and flatter organization” was not able to come to terms with Jadevon Clowney over the past six months and that is an indictment on that “leaner and flatter organization”; shipping him off to Seattle in late August meant they got pennies on the dollar for Clowney.  Maybe the Front Office redeemed itself making a late trade to acquire Laremy Tunsil to play left tackle and – hopefully – provide some time and protection for DeShaun Watson.  Lamar Miller is out for the year; it might be interesting to see how this “leaner and flatter organization” deals with that.  The early schedule for the Texans is not going to be easy; they begin with at Saints, Jags, at Chargers, Panthers, Falcons, at Chiefs, at Colts.  And that just gets them to Halloween…
  • I like the Colts to finish second in the division with a 9-7 record.  Before Andrew Luck retired, I had the Colts winning this division handily at 12-4.  Since I have them only a game behind the Texans, they might still win the AFC South if they can sweep the two games with the Texans.  [Those games are October 20 and November 21.]  As they say on the TV show, The Price Is Right, Jacoby Brisset … come on down!
  • I like the Titans to finish third in the division with a record of 6-10.  I think we have come to the time when we need to ask a simple question.  Is Marcus Mariota a franchise QB or not?  Another burning question for the Titans as a team is this one.  Why is it that they can rise-up and beat just about anyone on one week and then turn around and lose to a certified bottom-feeder the next week?  New additions to the roster include Adam Humphries, Ryan Tannehill and Cameron Wake; they will certainly not hurt the team, but I doubt they are the engine that propels the Titans to playoff contention in 2019.
  • I like the Jags to bring up the rear in the division with a record of 4-12.  I have no doubt that Nick Foles will be an upgrade at QB over Blake Bortles, but I do not think that Nick Foles can carry a team by himself and the WR corps in Jax is not going to scare many defensive coordinators.  I know that the Jags have Leonard Fournette as a featured RB and that Fournette is plenty talented, but he is also one of the biggest meatheads in the league.  I would not be surprised to learn that his nickname within the organization is “WTF”.  The calling card for the Jags remains their defense which will be strong again in 2019.

[Aside:  Bortles in with the Rams this year.  Imagine if Jared Goff is injured and Bortles blossoms in Sean McVay’s “system”.  That would make the Jags’ coaches look like the dunces of the western world and would elevate the perception of Sean McVay’s football acumen to the level of Bill Belichick, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi and Don Shula.]

Last in the AFC, will be the AFC East.  This division has been anything but inscrutable for the last decade-and-a-half.  The Patriots have won the AFC East in the last 10 consecutive seasons and have won it 15 of the last 16 years.  Last year, the Pats were 11-5 which was their worst record in 9 years – – and yet they managed to go on and win the Super Bowl.  I think the cumulative record for this division will be 31-33.

  • Absent a major disaster striking Foxboro MA, I like the Patriots to win the division with a record of 12-4.  Tom Brady embodies this team in a way that transcends his leadership and QB play.  Like the team itself, Brady is like Old Man River; he and the Pats don’t say nothing, they just keep rolling along.  The only question mark for this year in my mind is the receiving corps for the Pats.  Yes, they signed Julian Edelman to a contract extension and that is a good thing.  However, after that, there are good players with question marks all over them.  Is rookie N’Keal Harry the real deal?  Can Philip Dorsett do anything other than run fly patterns?  How long until Josh Gordon is suspended yet one more time?  Notwithstanding all those questions, the Pats will have the answers they need to win the AFC East once again.  Maybe the biggest question they will have to resolve is the sub for center David Andrews who will miss some/most/all of the season with blood clots in his lung.
  • I like the Bills to finish second in the division with a record of 9-7.  The Bills tried to upgrade their WRs in the offseason acquiring Cole Beasley and John Brown.  The team would have had the oldest tandem of RBs in NFL history with LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore sharing touches as the lead RBs.  Their combined age is 67 as of this morning.  However, McCoy’s advancing age in conjunction with his $6.3M pricetag for the year led the Bills to release him just last weekend.  I expect QB Josh Allen to show improvement in Year 2 of his career as he learns to play QB in ways other than relying on his natural athletic abilities.
  •  I like the Jets to finish third in the division with a record of 8-8.  I like what the Jets did by signing LeVeon Bell to take some of the pressure off Sam Darnold as he enters his second year as an NFL QB.  Equally important, I think the addition of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator is a step in the right direction.  Adam Gase and his staff need to clear the air in the organization; I believe the Jets are the only team in the NFL to lose 11 games in each of the last 3 seasons; that is a toxic atmosphere.  I am counting on a significant change in the approach that the Jets have to the season because I think they will double their win total from last year to this year.  Circle the Jets/Steelers game in Week 16 as an interesting one as LeVeon Bell and his former teammates get together…

[Aside:  I believe the longest road trip for the Jets in 2019 will be to Jax and to Miami in successive weeks in late October/early November.  The Jets never leave the Eastern Time Zone this year.]

  • I like the Dolphins to bring up the rear in the division with a 2-14 record.  With a QB tandem of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen – in whatever order you prefer – the Dolphins will probably lead the NFL in IQ points at the QB position.  Unfortunately for Dolphins’ fans, IQ points do not equate to scoreboard points.  Fans need to resist the temptation to look at the world through “Rosen-colored glasses”; he must show that he can produce wins in whatever system Brian Flores installs for the team. The new coach in Miami, Brian Flores, exudes energy and optimism; I doubt he will have the same bearing come December.  Yes, the Dolphins will be on the clock starting in early January 2020 with the overall #1 pick in the NFL Draft.  Moreover, they will be dominating in the draft for the next year or two having acquired multiple first round picks and a second round pick from the Texans in the trade for Laremy Tunsil.  [Aside:  With that trade, the Dolphins have given up any pretense that they are doing anything other than tanking 2019…]

To recap the AFC, here is my playoff picture:

  • Chiefs – – BYE week and home field advantage in the playoffs
  • Pats – – BYE week
  • Steelers/Texans – – depends on tie breakers; they do not play each other in 2019
  • Texans/Steelers – – depends on tie breakers … Is there an echo in here?
  • Chargers – – first AFC wildcard team
  • Colts/Bills – – depends on tie breakers; they do not play each other in 2019.

Moving over to the NFC, I will maintain geographic parallelism and begin with the NFC West.  I think the total record for this division will be 33-31.  There are two “new QBs” in the division this year if you count the returning Jimmy Garoppolo as a “newbie” since his tenure there last year was so short.  The teams at the top of the division have a lot more “certainty” going for them under center.

  • I like the Rams to win the division with a record of 12-4.  I don’t care what the Rams say or what the Rams’ doctors say or even what Todd Gurley says, but Gurley was injured to the point where he was a liability not an asset at the end of last season.  The Rams want/need him back to being Todd Gurley again and until he shows that in a real game, that is a significant question mark for the team.  One other thing from last year is that the Rams missed Cooper Kupp as their possession receiver a whole lot after he went down.  Presumably, he is back and ready to play at his normal level.  I am not an advocate for the “Super Bowl Hangover” theories, but the fact is that the Pats de-pantsed the Rams in that game last February.  If there is such a “curse”, it might take hold here…  The additions of Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews in the off season will provide veteran leadership to the defense.
  • I like the Seahawks to finish second in the division with a record of 10-6.  With the dissolution of the Legion of Boom, there were some questions on defense for the Seahawks including who will provide their pass rush [Answer:  Jadevon Clowney acquired from the Texans at the 11th hour.]  and who will be their shut-down cornerback [Still TBD…].  On the plus side, it appears that the team has assembled a competent OL after years of chaos there.  If that is the case and the Seahawks can run the ball a bit and Russell Wilson can play without fearing for his life every third play, the Seahawks will be a tough out in 2019.
  • I like the Niners to finish third in the division with a record of 7-9.  The Niners will get Jimmy G back from injury and RB, Jerrick McKinnon back from injury this year; those are two big plusses for the offense.  However, name the top 3 receivers on the team.  OK, name 2 receivers on the team.  How about any pass catchers?  Therein lies the problem for the Niners.  On defense, the team has clearly decided to focus on edge rushers trading for Dee Ford and drafting Nick Bosa.  The Niners won only 4 games in 2018; I think they make a big improvement in 2019.
  • I like the Cardinals to end up looking up at the rest of the division with a 4-12 record.  There is a chance that Kliff Kingsbury’s offense rattles NFL defensive coordinators for the first year the same way Chip Kelly’s unusual offense did.  However, I don’t know that the Cards have the same talent level that Kelly’s Eagles did.  With Patrick Peterson suspended for 6 games, you can add “defensive backfield” to the list of weaknesses for this team.  That is a bad thing because last year the Cards gave up an NFL high of 154.9 yards per game on the ground.  Lest anyone think I am banging on the Cardinals unnecessarily, please note that I project them to have more wins this year (4) than they did last year (3).

[Aside:  The Cards spent a lot of draft capital to get Josh Rosen last year and then jettisoned him for dimes on the dollar to take Kyler Murray this year.  If that works the Cards’ braintrust will be “NFL made men” for a decade or so; if it sinks like a lead turd, they will be looking for new jobs at a local Applebee’s.  Stay tuned…]

In the NFC North, the Bears are the defending champions and they relied heavily on an inordinate number of takeaways last year to propel them to that division title.  The tendency is for teams that stand out like that in a single season to regress to the mean in the next year.  Two other teams have significant question marks – – and then there are the Lions.  This was a most difficult division to analyze; I project its cumulative record to be 34-30.

  • I like the Bears to repeat as division champs with an 11-5 record.  I mentioned above how important takeaways were to the Bears last year.  They had 36 of them; most teams were in the low to mid-20s.  The Bears have a new defensive coordinator as Vic Fangio took over the top job in Denver; Chuck Pagano has been a successful DC before…  The Bears do have a “kicking problem”.  Their season ended in the playoffs against the Eagles on the famous “double-doink” field goal try.  The Bears had 8 kickers in camp at one point trying to find a new one.  It’s too easy to rain on the Bears for that “problem” but when that is a team’s biggest problem in August, that means things are looking pretty good.  Here is another geeky stat to think about …  In 2018, the Bears never trailed in 9 of their 16 games.  It is much more difficult to “play from behind” and the Bears and Mitch Trubisky rarely had to do that.  Can that sort of situation continue to obtain in 2019?
  • I like the Packers to finish “second” in the division with a 9-7 record.  There will be serious scrutiny on the Matt LaFleur/Aaron Rodgers “relationship” as the season unfolds.  Based on last year’s results, the Packers’ defense needed a whole lot more pass rushing so they went out and acquired “the Smith Brothers” – Preston and ZaDarius – in addition to drafting Rashan Gary with their first-round pick.  Hopefully, that will produce some positive results there.  The team lost two of its long-term assets in Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb in the offseason.  With Matthews and Cobb gone, Aaron Rodgers will need to find new partners for his State Farm commercials…
  • I like the Vikings to finish “third” in the division with a 9-7 record.  The Vikes and the Packers play each other twice; if one team sweeps that series, that team will finish “second in this division”.  If it is a split, then the tiebreakers get way too difficult to forecast.  This should be a put-up-or-shut-up season for Kirk Cousins, and it will lean toward the “put-up” side of that scale if Dalvin Cook can stay healthy for the entirety of the 2019 season.
  • I like the Lions to chase the rest of the division across the finish line in 2019 with a 5-11 record.  I said this was the most difficult division to analyze.  There is one thing that is reliably consistent here from year to year: The Lions will be … the Lions.  Believe it or not, this will be Matthew Stafford’s 10th year in the NFL; he has had the Lions in the playoffs 3 times in that span and the Lions have exited the playoffs in their first game all 3 times.  Notwithstanding Coach Matt Patricia’s defensive pedigree, the Lions defense was hugely inconsistent last year, and it does not look a whole lot better to me this year.  That defensive pedigree comes from Patricia’s time with the Patriots; but historically, time with the Pats as a coordinator has not translated into success as a head coach.  See Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Charlie Weiss …

Before moving on to the next set of predictions, the 2019 NFL season – – the 100th such regular season – – will start with a classic NFC North match-up.  The Bears and Packers have played each other 198 times over the past 99 seasons; the Packers lead the overall series 97-95-6.  The teams split their games last year.  This is a fitting way for the NFL to start its centennial season.

Moving on to the NFC South, both the Falcons and the Panthers were bitten badly by the injury bugs last season and both waddled to the finish line with 7-9 records.  Surely, the football gods will not inflict the same plague on these teams again in 2019 – – right?  I have the cumulative record for this division at 34-30.

  • I like the Saints to win the division with a 12-4 record.  People talk about Super Bowl Hangovers for teams that lost in that game but if there is going to be any “hangover” team in the NFC, it would have to be the Saints who were the victims of such a bad call by the officials that the single play caused a massive rule change for the entire league.  Actually, the Saints have been eliminated from the playoffs for 2 years in a row on bizarre plays; remember in 2017 it was the “Minneapolis Miracle” that sent the Saints home.  Even with Mark Ingram gone in free agency, the Saints have what they need to have on offense; if the defense plays well, this is a team to fear in January.
  • I like the Falcons to finish second in the division with a 10-6 record.  The Falcons must improve their pass rush; they allowed QBs last year to sit in the picket and pick apart the secondary to the tune of 259.6 yards per game.  The Falcons have a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator and Dan Quinn is squarely on the hot seat this year.  Let me say here that I think Calvin Ridley is a top-shelf WR who is overlooked to some extent because Julio Jones is on the same team.  I think the Falcons home game on October 27 (Week 8) is a critical game for them.  That game will welcome the Seattle Seahawks to Atlanta, and I have both teams pegged at 10-6 for the season and – a tad of foreshadowing here – I think 10-6 is the record for the 2nd and final NFC wildcard slot.  So, the winner of that game in October will have the tiebreaker…
  • I like the Panthers to finish third in the division with an 8-8 record.  Cam Newton’s shoulder must be better than it was at the end of last year when he could not throw the ball more than about 35 yards in the air; that alone is a big improvement for the team.  With Norv Turner designing and running the offense, the QB must be able to throw the ball downfield; that is a major feature of Turner’s offensive philosophy.  The question for the big thinkers in Carolina is this:  Has Cam Newton reached – or even passed – the peak of his prime?  In addition, the team now needs to find some pass rush pressure from their defensive linemen…  Head coach Ron Rivera will take over the defensive play-calling duties this year.
  • I think the Bucs will finish last in the division with a 4-12 record.  Bruce Arians may have tired quickly of his color analyst job on TV last year but with this team to coach, he may want to rethink his re-entry into NFL coaching.  [Aside:  I hope he stays where he is because I thought he was miserable as a color analyst; but that’s just me…]  The burning question in Tampa is the same one that is smoldering in Tennessee:  Is Jameis Winston an NFL franchise QB?  He has been around since 2015; last year was his best year statistically and yet the Bucs went 5-11.  Bruce Arians has helped more than a few NFL QBs move their games up to much higher planes of existence in the past so, can he be the guy to make Jameis Winston look like a bona fide overall #1 pick in the draft?

Last but not least, here is the skinny on the NFC East.  The four teams here split nicely into two “Haves” and two “Have-Nots”.  Overall, I think this division’s total record will be 31-33.  I think the Cowboys and the Eagles will dominate the division and will both finish with the same record.  They will meet twice (Week 7 in Dallas on Sunday Night Football and then again in Week 16 in Philly).  Those will be the two most important games on the calendar for both teams; a sweep by either one will make them the division champ and relegate the other one to the #1 wildcard slot.

  • I pick the Eagles to win the AFC East via a tiebreaker with a record of 11-5.  I think the Eagles and Cowboys will split their games head-to-head meaning that the tiebreaker will have to get down to scheduling minutiae.  Looking at the schedules for the Eagles and the Cowboys, I think the Eagles have an easier one, so I’ll give them the tiebreaker somewhere down the line – – like Conference record.  [Aside: The early schedule with road games at the Vikes, Packers and Falcons is not a piece of cake!]  The Eagles must have Carson Wentz stay healthy and play the whole season – something he has not done for the last 2 seasons.  The addition of DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles a viable downfield threat – – something they have not had for a while.  I think the addition of Malik Jackson to the defensive line was a positive move for the team.
  • I like the Cowboys to finish second in the AFC East via a tiebreaker with a record of 11-5.  Obviously, this gaze into the crystal ball assumes that Ezekiel Elliott will be in a Cowboys’ uniform for most if not all the games in 2019; Zeke is the key to that offense not the QB or any of the pass catchers.  The weak link in the Cowboys roster last year seemed to be the defensive backfield and whatever changes were made there over this offseason seem to me to be cosmetic as opposed to transformational.  The late schedule for the Cowboys is no picnic.  After the Pats come to town on Thanksgiving Day, the schedule reads Bills, at Bears, Rams, at Eagles.  If my vision for the Bills is accurate, this schedule could evoke a comment along the lines of “Great googly-moogly, get me outta here…”  [h/t Stranded in the Jungle by the Jay Hawks]
  • I think the Skins are the better of the two “Have Not” teams and will finish third in the NFC East with a record of 6-10.  The absence of Trent Williams at left tackle on offense is more important than it might be to the casual observer.  The fact is that Trent Williams was the single best player on the team simply because he is one of the five or six best offensive left tackles in the NFL – – and no other member of the Skins’ roster can even pretend to make that claim.  We now know that the Skins will go with Case Keenum as the starting QB at the beginning of the season.  That is the rational decision meaning that it was probably taken over the objection of Danny Boy Snyder who has seemingly attached his lips to the buttocks of Dwayne Haskins as the QB of the future for this franchise.  The Skins have a ton of question marks in addition to the ones implied above to include…  Is Darius Guice for real?  He was out for all last year and the Skins relied on 34-year old Adrian Peterson to be the lead back.  Before the 2019 season even starts, Peterson already has 2825 carries in his NFL career.  Who is going to catch the passes thrown by Case Keenum and/or Dwayne Haskins and/or Joe Flabeetz?  Jordan Reed is injured again in the exhibition season; the Skins were trying to trade Josh Doctson and when that did not work they cut him; Jameson Crowder left in free agency…

[Aside:  Skins’ and Vikes’ fans need to circle Week 8 on their calendars.  That is when the Skins go to Minnesota for a game that will feature former Skins’ QB – – Kirk Cousins – – against former Vikes’ QB – – Case Keenum.  My suspicion is that neither fanbase will be happy with their incumbent QB by that time in the 2019 NFL season.]

  • I think the Giants will be in the caboose of the division with a record of 3-13.  This team needs upgrades no matter where you look – – except for running back where Saquon Barkley is an unusual talent.  The Giants had two high draft picks in this year’s NFL Draft; they are going to get another one next year; they need to make sure all those high draft picks turn into impact players sooner than later.  The Giants traded Odell Beckham, Jr. in the off season and are probably happy to be relieved of his “drama”.  Their problem is that they cannot be happy to be relieved of his talent.  Sterling Shepard broke his thumb in training camp; Golden Tate will serve a 4-game suspension; Corey Coleman will miss the entire year with an ACL injury.  The healthy WR roster is mediocre at best.  The early schedule for the Giants is not so horrific, but in November the schedule reads Cowboys, at Jets, BYE WEEK, at Bears, Packers, at Eagles.  Ouch!

So, here is my playoff prediction picture for the NFC:

  • Saints/Rams – – tie breaker determined by the winner of the head-to-head game on Sept 15.  Winner gets a BYE week and home field advantage throughout the playoffs
  • Rams/Saints – – tie breaker determined by the loser of the head-to head game on Sept 15.  Loser gets a BYE week in the playoffs.
  • Bears – – tie breaker over Eagles
  • Eagles – – loser of tie breaker to Bears
  • Cowboys
  • Falcons/Seahawks – – winner of the head-to head game on October 27.

So, there you have it.  That is how the NFL season will unfold between now and January 2020.  If you fall into a coma tomorrow, you can rely – – sort of – – on these projections to get you up to speed quickly once you wake up on New Year’s Day.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times a few weeks ago that seems pertinent to the upcoming NFL season in 2019:

“Students in Oregon can now take ‘mental health days’ as excused absences, just like sick days.

“Arizonans had something similar last year — better known as the Mondays following Cardinals games.”

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

 

 

Pre-Season Look At College Football For 2019

I am going to try something new this year – – a pre-season look at college football.  I have been doing an NFL prognostication for more than 15 years now but never did one for college football.  The reason I stayed away from college football is that I was locked into the model that I used for the NFL where I – ridiculously – try to pick the final record for every team in the league.

Being stuck in that mindset, I realized that was an impossibility for college football where there are about 130 teams and where I really do not care much about 75% of them.  But it did seem as if there was something to be done on the subject; and so, I decided to try and look at college football from a pre-season perspective a bit differently from the way I look at the NFL.  If I like the outcome, I’ll make this an annual feature.  If I don’t like the outcome, I’ll try to think of modifications to make it so that I like it next year.  If I hate the outcome, this will be a “one-and-done”.

From the outset, let me say that I cannot even pretend to know much about the roster details of any college football team.  That is a subject I will learn about as I watch college football games and read what local writers have to say about the best and worst teams in the country.  The content here is going to be much more abstract than team-by-team analysis.

Bob Molinaro had this comment recently in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot; it is almost as if he knew what I was going to write here before the first keystroke was struck:

“Quick hit: Speaking of college football, here is all the preseason blather you need in a nutshell: Every team promises to do better. Rinse and repeat.”

With all that as preamble, let me start by talking about coaching changes in college football for this season.  If you assume that 25% of the head coaches get replaced every year, that means there will be between 30 and 35 new head coaches on the sidelines this year.  I don’t care enough about a coaching change at Disco Tech to check the bios and credentials of the coach leaving the job or the new guy coming in.  But there are changes at eight major schools to keep an eye on.

  1. Colorado:  Mike Macintyre is out, and Mel Tucker takes over.  Colorado started out last year on a roll winning the first 5 games of the season including wins over Nebraska, Arizona St., UCLA and rival Colorado St.  Then the wheels came off the wagon and Colorado lost the final 7 games of the season – including a loss at home to a woeful Oregon St. team.
  2. Georgia Tech:  Paul Johnson is out, and Geoff Collins takes over.  Johnson was not fired; he surprisingly resigned his position to be with his family after a lifetime in football.  Collins comes there off two winning seasons at Temple; make no mistake, Georgia Tech is a significant step up the coaching ladder from Temple.  This could be an interesting situation to watch…
  3. Kansas:  David Beaty is out, and Les Miles takes over.  Beaty was the head coach at Kansas for 4 seasons; his teams won a total of 6 games in those 4 seasons.  Miles’ previous college jobs have been at Oklahoma St. and LSU; Kansas is MUCH lower on the food chain than either of those schools.  Notwithstanding that fact, Kansas football has exactly nowhere to go but up.  The last winning season for Kansas was in 2008; since the 2000 season the cumulative record for the Jayhawks has been 75-153.  If Les Miles wins 5 games this year, he will be seen as a miracle worker; it his team wins only twice in 2019, he will be viewed as an overpaid has-been who needs to be run out of town on a rail.
  4. Kansas St.:  Bill Snyder is out, and Chris Klieman takes over.  Snyder is an icon at K-State; his departure is a retirement and nothing else.  It would be an understatement to say that Snyder was the “face of K-State football”; he was the “soul of K-State football”.  Kleiman has the unenviable task of replacing a “legend”; Klieman comes to K-State from North Dakota State which has been a Division 1-AA powerhouse for the last 7 or 8 years.
  5. Maryland:  DJ Durkin is out, and Mike Locksley takes over.  The football program – and the entire athletic department – at Maryland was a hot mess last year.  Locksley was the OC at Alabama last year; his only head coaching gig was at New Mexico where his teams went 2-26 – – and there was more than a little off-field nonsense going on too.  This could be interesting to watch too…
  6. North Carolina:  Larry “The Hat” Fedora is out, and Mack Brown takes over.  UNC was awful last year; the overall record was 2-9. Brown returns to Chapel Hill having been the head coach there from 1988 to 1997; Brown leaves a cushy spot at ESPN to return to the coaching ranks.
  7. Ohio St.:  Urban Meyer is out, and Ryan Day takes over.  Meyer has “retired” once again; if you look at leaving a job as a head coach in college football as akin to divorce, then Meyer is the Za Za Gabor of the Gridiron.  Day coached the Buckeyes to a 4-0 record while Meyer was on “administrative leave” last season.
  8. Texas Tech:  Klif Kingsbury is out, and Matt Wells takes over.  Tech has been known for its prolific offense in recent years, but that has not produced much in terms of winning seasons. In 6 years under Kliff Kingsbury, Tech has only had two winning seasons. Matt Wells was hired to change that status and he will bring a more balanced offense to the field.  How well that might work with a team recruited to play in a different system remains to be seen.

I want to mention only one coaching change at the Division 1-AA level:

  • William and Mary:  Jimmye Laycock is out, and Mike London takes over.  Jimmye Laycock has been the head coach at William and Mary since 1980.  In his 38 seasons there, his teams have gone 249-194-2.  Moreover, 3 people from his program are currently NFL head coaches.  Sean McDermott (Buffalo) and Dan Quinn (Atlanta) were assistants under Laycock; Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh) played for Laycock.  London played for Laycock and has been the head coach at Richmond, UVa and Howard before taking this job.

The 2018 season saw its share of changes in head coaches around the country.  Some of the new hires made a decent impression while others were “disappointing”.  I think there are six second-year coaches that will be interesting to keep an eye on.  I am listing them alphabetically lest anyone try to read some meaning into the order that is unintended.

  1. Herm Edwards (Arizona St.):  People scoffed when Arizona St. hired him away from ESPN, but Edwards and his staff led the Sun Devils to a bowl game and a 7-6 record.  [Aside:  The Las Vegas line for total wins for Ariz St. last year was 5.]  Edwards is not a prototypical head coach for a college team; if his system continues to work, things will be just fine in Tempe; if the system sputters …
  2. Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M):  His first season in College Station was 9-4 and the Aggies only lost to Clemson by 2 points.  Every other coach on this list would be thrilled to have had an opening season like that; but that is not what the Aggie boosters opened their wallets to see.  Fisher has a 10-year deal worth $75M to coach at Texas A&M; those folks bankrolling that job expect a lot in return.
  3. Scott Frost (Nebraska):  He was hailed as a savior when he returned to his alma mater as the head coach last year.  Then the team started off 0-6; all was not peaches and cream in Lincoln, NE.  However, the team rallied and went 4-2 in its final 6 games leading Husker fans to think very positively about the 2019 season.  I don’t think another 4-8 season will make Nebraska a “happy place”; there is some pressure here…
  4. Chip Kelly (UCLA):  The Bruins were 3-9 last year and were blown out in 5 of those losses.  If you want to explain that away, you can say that Kelly has his own system for offensive football and that he inherited a squad not recruited to play his style of football.  If you want to be less kind, you can say that Kelly is more stubborn than a mule.  That record needs to improve this year – particularly avoiding losses to out of conference opponents from the All-American Conference and the Mountain West Conference.
  5. Dan Mullen (Florida):  He had Florida in the hunt for the SEC East berth in the SEC Championship Game last year; that slot went to Georgia.  Florida fans expect the same sort of meaningful football again this year.
  6. Willie Taggert (Florida St.):  His first year in Tallahassee was “unacceptable” to Seminole fans.  The team finished 5-7 and did not make a bowl game for the first time in next to forever (1982); moreover, the team looked overmatched in many of its losses six of which were by 19 points or more.  If Florida St. does not make it to bowl eligibility again this year, Taggert may be looking for work elsewhere.

One thing that must be part of any pre-season future cast is the section on “Coaches on a Hot Seat”.  I am going to put a couple of coaches here who are not on a hot seat in the sense that they are likely to be fired at the end of this season; they are here because there are certain expectations for their teams that have not been close to fulfilled so far despite overall success.

  • Chris Ash (Rutgers):  Look, no one with the brains of rutabaga expects Rutgers to be a Top 25 football program.  However, Ash has been on the job at Rutgers for 3 years and his record there is 7-29; last year the Scarlet Knights were 1-11.  The poohbahs at Rutgers may delude themselves into thinking they might actually be able to hire a good coach to come to Rutgers; and then, they might use that delusion to fire Chris Ash.
  • Randy Edsall (UConn):  On one hand his job is very safe because UConn has opted out of its conference and faces the choice of making a go of it as in Independent or dropping down to Division 1-AA – – neither of which would be an attractive lure for a competent coach.  On the other hand, his team last year was historically bad on defense allowing just over 50 points per game and about 9 yards per play to opposing offenses.  Not surprisingly, UConn was 1-11 last year…
  • Jim Harbaugh (Michigan):  He will not be fired by the folks in Ann Arbor, but the fact is that he has not achieved what Michigan fans expected when he was hired 4 years ago.
  • Clay Helton (USC):  He was 5-7 with USC last year; the last time the Trojans had a record that bad was in 2000; the last time they had a worse record than that was in 1991.  Need I say more…?
  • Lovie Smith (Illinois):  The school gave him a 2-year contract extension in this off-season so he may be safe for this year.  But here is the rub; he has been at Illinois for 3 years and his teams have gone 9-27.

The one thing that I do not like about college football is that too many top-shelf teams go out of their way to avoid playing any reasonably competitive games out-of-conference.  There will be mismatches dictated by conference alignments; when Ohio St hosts Rutgers, that is not a scheduling choice that either school has made.  However, some of the very good teams make a mockery of their out-of-conference scheduling decisions.  Here are seven (again in alphabetical order) that deserve a healthy measure of opprobrium:

  1. Alabama: Duke, New Mexico St. So. Mississippi and Western Carolina.  Duke is at a neutral site; the other three games are home games for Alabama. Really …
  2. Florida St.:  Boise St., La-Monroe, Alabama St and Florida.  Florida is a traditional game; the other three games are embarrassing choices.
  3. Ohio St.:  Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Miami (OH).  Surprise, all those games are in Columbus, OH…
  4. Oklahoma St.:  Oregon St., McNeese St. Tulsa.  A smidgen of good news here is that only the McNeese St. game is a home game for the Cowboys.
  5. Penn St.:  Idaho, Buffalo, Pitt.  All are home games; the game against Pitt is the reincarnation of what used to be a big rivalry, but still …
  6. Texas A&M:  Yes, they play Clemson out of conference.  They also chose to schedule Texas St., Lamar and Texas-San Antonio.  Please…
  7. Va Tech:  Yes, they play Notre Dame out of conference.  They also chose to schedule Old Dominion, Furman and Rhode Island.  Seriously …

Compare those out-of-conference choices with just one other team that should compete for the National Championship this year:

  • Clemson:  They play Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Syracuse and UNC-Charlotte.

Also, compare some of that cupcake scheduling against independents such as Notre Dame and BYU.  Yes, I know that Notre Dame can schedule just about anyone that it wants because it will result in a nice payday for both schools.  Nonetheless, Notre Dame could opt to schedule the Little Sisters of the Poor and Our Lady of the Amputees; the fact is that they do not, and you know they do not.  You may not be nearly as familiar with the independent schedule that BYU has assembled for itself:

  • The first four games are:  Utah, Tennessee, USC, Washington
  • It gets a tad easier after that with games against Liberty and Idaho State.

Looking over the schedules for some of the teams that appear to be “top teams” for 2019, I have identified six games in the first month of the season that should be fun to watch as well as instructive as to what may come later in the season:

  1. Oregon/Auburn (31 August):  Auburn is a competitive SEC West team and the SEC West is the best division in the best conference in the US.  Oregon has QB, Justin Herbert, returning for his senior year; he could have declared for the NFL Draft in April and might have been the first QB selected.  This is a neutral site game (Arlington, TX).
  2. LSU at Texas (September 7):  Both teams – and many of their fans – consider the Tigers and the Longhorns as serious contenders for the national championship.  I don’t agree – – but this will be an interesting game to watch just to get a yardstick on these teams.
  3. Texas A&M at Clemson (September 7):  Last year’s game was a 2-point win for Clemson.  I would not be surprised to see this game end as a “one-possession game”.  Two of the best college QBs will be on display here – – Kellen Mond for the Aggies and Trevor Lawrence for the Tigers.
  4. Washington St. at Houston (September 13):  I predict the Total Line for this game will be at least 80 points.  If you like tight defensive battles, just avert your eyes…
  5. Texas Tech at Arizona (September 14):  This should be another offensive explosion driven by the two QBs – Alan Bowman (Tech) and Khalil Tate (Arizona).
  6. Notre Dame at Georgia (September 21):  The Irish were undefeated in the regular season last year; Georgia lost twice  – once to LSU and another time to Alabama; neither loss was embarrassing.  Both teams hope to be part of the national championship conversation in November/December.

I do need to make some observations about specific teams and their prospects for the upcoming season just to prove that I can embarrass myself at the college football level as well as I do at the NFL.  So, here are five generalized team predictions (in alphabetical order) for some teams in 2019:

  1. Arizona:  The Wildcats were 5-7 last year but – presumably – they will have a healthy Khalil Tate this year.  They have a relatively soft out-of-conference lineup and the PAC-12 South is not the toughest division in the country.  I think Arizona will be a winning team in 2019.
  2. Duke:  The Blue Devils were 8-5 last year using a QB who was drafted #6 overall in this year’s NFL Draft.  Coach Cutcliffe is reputed to be a QB-whisperer; unless he has a willing and talented listener for this year’s squad, it may be a stretch to see Duke winning 8 games again this year.
  3. Kentucky:  The Wildcats were 10-3 last year and two of the three losses were to very good teams (Texas A&M and Georgia); they finished 12th in the final poll for the season.  They won playing tough defense and using a grinding offense featuring Benny Snell.  The defense may continue to be tough, but Snell and his 16 TDs are gone.  I will be surprised if Kentucky comes close to winning 10 games again this year.
  4. Nebraska:  The Huskers were 4-8 last year but they were 4-2 in the final half of their season.  Adrian Martinez developed nicely as a true freshman at QB toward the end of last year and the schedule sets up favorably in terms of home and away games.  Nebraska should be bowl eligible and may win 8 games in 2019.
  5. Tennessee:  The Vols were 5-7 last year with a new head coach and a new system.  They have a soft out-of-conference schedule that should provide 4 wins.  Their SEC schedule is difficult, but Tennessee ought to be able to win 7 games this year.

I need to mention here a specific player and program.  Jalen Hurts will be the Oklahoma starting QB after transferring there from Alabama.  Two years ago, Baker Mayfield was the starting QB there; he won the Heisman Trophy and was the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.  Last year, Kyler Murray was the starting QB there; he won the Heisman Trophy and was the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.  No pressure on Jalen Hurts this year … right …?

I need to mention here that Division III Linfield College will enter the 2019 season riding a 63-year streak of winning seasons in football dating back to 1956.  I will be keeping you abreast of their progress toward another such season in “Football Fridays” again this year.  If there is a longer streak of seasonal success in a team sport in the US, I am not aware of it.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding college football – – and one of its more colorful characters:

“Washington State football coach Mike Leach, to ESPN, when asked how he’d like to be remembered when his obituary is written: ‘Well, that’s their problem … What do I care? I’m dead.’”

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

 

 

The Tampa-Montreal X-Rays?

Late last week, press reports said that the geniuses who run MLB agreed to allow the folks who own and run the Tampa Bay Rays to explore the possibility of having the team split its home games between two cities – Tampa and Montreal – starting sometime in the next 5 years or so.  [Aside:  If there were ever to be a Tampa-Montreal team, then to pay homage to the old Montreal Expos, the new team should definitely be called the Montreal-Tampa X-Rays or even the Montreal-Tampa Ex-Rays.]  Lest anyone be unclear at this point regarding my position on this idea, let me be as candid as I can:

  • In the Pantheon of Stupid Ideas related even tangentially to baseball, this belongs right next to the idea of naming José Canseco the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
  • If I were to challenge you to come up with a dumber idea than this one, you might need 72 hours of sleep deprivation to meet that challenge.

This idea is so lame that I have to think that it is out there merely as a stalking horse for some other concept that will – at some future point – emerge as an alternate to this split-city entity and will necessarily seem to be a significantly better idea.  After all, MLB is a gigantic commercial enterprise with annual revenues in the range of $9-10B; the people who run that sort of enterprise cannot be such dolts lest the enterprise be in danger of imminent collapse.

I have no difficulty at all understanding why the Rays’ owners want to have some elasticity in the locale of their franchise; the fact remains that the Rays’ home attendance is embarrassingly small when the team is good and vanishingly small when the team is not so good.  The Rays suffer from a double-whammy here:

  1. Tampa/St. Petersburg is a small market to begin with.
  2. Within that small market, there are not a lot of dedicated fans who show up regularly to see the team play.

The reality is that the Rays home attendance this year is smaller than the average attendance for 28 of the 30 NBA teams last year.  That is what I mean by home attendance being “embarrassingly small”.  Remember, the Rays won 90 games last year and are in second place in the AL East at this very moment.

I understand the ownership’s motivation and I even agree with it.  I have said here before that I think MLB should abandon the Tampa/St. Petersburg market – along with the Miami market but that is another story – and relocate the Rays.  However, the idea of two home cities is not the answer.  [Foreshadowing: I will provide my answer to this situation later in this piece.]

Let me try to unwrap some of the issues/challenges here:

  • Some people say the Rays cannot draw crowds because their stadium is either poorly located or is a dump – – or both.  I have never been inside Tropicana Field so I will not pretend to know the conditions there.  I have driven by the facility on the Interstate and I can say that it has easy access from that Interstate but is – by no means – located in a population center where folks can “walk to the ballpark”.
  • My personal opinion is that the reason there is a franchise in that area at all is that putting a team there precluded a lawsuit against MLB.  At one point in history, the White Sox flirted with the good folks on the Gulf Coast of Florida and then jilted those folks when new stadium money became available in Chicago.  Folks in Tampa threatened a lawsuit; MLB responded with a search for expansion franchise locations and – SURPRISE – Tampa won one of those expansion franchises.  The fact is that the franchise was crippled by its home venue from day one.
  • In addition to being a small market to begin with, Tampa/St. Petersburg is not a part of the country where there is a concentration of wealth or a concentration of commercial interests that can support a baseball team by attaching to it.  Ironically, that is a similar situation to the one that existed in Montreal where the Expos existed off the largess of the Bronfman family until they lost interest leaving the team in a situation where it was abandoned and run by MLB itself.  The big difference between the Montreal small market and the Tampa small market is that the Expos were able to draw crowds until such time as the facility there became “alienating”.

Until recently, the Tampa owners were trying to work with the politicos in Tampa/St Petersburg to get a new stadium built in “downtown Tampa”.  Earlier this year, they announced that they had abandoned that idea.  Might this trial balloon be a way to re-ignite such an effort?  I would not be surprised if that were the case.  I would also not be surprised if the folks who run the cities and counties that comprise the Tampa/St. Petersburg area do not fall all over themselves to find public monies to build a new playpen for the Rays.

And that would seem to go double for the good folks in Montreal.  Those folks in Quebec spent 30 years paying off the bonds they floated to host the 1976 Olympic Games and saw first-hand that the purported long-term benefits of spending tax dollars on sports facilities do not come close to what proponents suggest they will be.  Olympic Stadium turned into the home field for the Montreal Expos and the facility was a mess during the last decade or so that the Expos used it up to the time when they decamped for Washington DC.  That was at the end of 2004; only in some fairy tale world would that stadium have improved in the intervening years with the benign neglect that it has received.  It would likely take a couple hundred million dollars to upgrade that facility and I just cannot see the people in Quebec and/or Montreal jumping at the chance to get themselves back into debt to acquire a part-time baseball team.

There is another issue to consider here and that is the effect such a split-season existence might have on the team itself.  Tampa – because of its small market status – is not one of the spendthrift teams in MLB.  According to spotrac.com, the Rays had the lowest Opening Day payroll in MLB this year at $48M for 25 players.  Obviously, the team has not been “a player” when it comes to courting any of the top-shelf free agents over the past few years.  Nonetheless, a split-season would have to make signing free agents even more difficult for the team:

  • Players with families would need two residences – or have a single residence in one venue with a rental in the other.  Players’ wives do not have a union to represent their interests here, but wives everywhere do have ways to let their husbands know what is a good living situation, and what is not a good living situation.
  • The currently situated Rays do have one nice advantage to hold out in any sort of free agent discussions.  The State of Florida has no state level income tax; that means players can keep more of their contract dollars in their pockets.  Montreal has an income tax.  Therefore, whatever portion of players’ salaries that are earned there will be taxed there; that means players will keep less of their contract dollars in their pockets.

[Aside:  The choice of Montreal as the theoretical co-home for the Rays is ironic.  In the last couple of years of the Expos’ existence, the team there tried something similar playing a couple dozen games in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  That did not work either…]

Earlier on, I promised that I would offer up a solution to this problem.  I believe that the Rays are contractually obligated to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg until 2027.  As of that date, the Rays can and should move away from that area and just admit that it was a bad place for an MLB team from the get-go.  MLB should make it clear that this team is ready to negotiate its long-term future with other venues in the US that would like MLB to be part of the community.  And here is the first locale that I would contact and the one that I would focus my greatest effort on:

  • The Research Triangle Area in North Carolina

Here are some of the reasons that would be my new home for the Rays:

  • Yes, it is a small market as compared to places like Atlanta and Charlotte in the same general vicinity, but it is an area where people do have disposable income and have an interest in sports and their teams.
  • It is far enough away from both Atlanta to the south and from Washington DC to the north to have a minimal impact on team support for either the Braves or the Nats.
  • Corporate/commercial interests in the Research Triangle Area are in place and may be enticed to align with and support the Rays in that area.
  • Minor league baseball has been a staple in the sports calendar for people in North Carolina for decades.

The Rays are – barring some sort of Divine intervention – going to be in Tampa/St. Petersburg for the next 8.5 seasons.  That should be plenty of time to work out the details of where they will move and how they will finance the construction of a new stadium wherever that is.  The NFL has a “building fund”; if MLB does not have one, they ought to move quickly to establish one and finding a new home for the Rays should be its big priority.

Finally, the governance and the strategic thinking for MLB is obviously a male-dominated situation.  That fact juxtaposed with the existence of this latest “new idea” on how to resolve the Rays’ attendance woes brings to mind a statement made by Julie Foudy, former star on the US Women’s’ National Soccer Team.  This is a paraphrase because I cannot find a link to the exact statement:

“Girls are willing to admit that they can’t do something and then don’t try to do it.  Boys, on the other hand, tend to go for it – even when it is probably a bad idea.”

Vive la difference!

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

 

 

The Jockocracy In 2019

I really try not to do what have come to be known as “listicles” – – “articles” that are put on the Internet as lists of things labeled as “The Ten Best Things of This Kind” or “The Worst Sports Decisions Known to Man”.  The reasons I try to avoid them as much as possible are that everyone and his/her maternal grand-aunt does them and because most of them are nothing more than contrived clickbait.  Having said that, I am now about to do a “listicle” because it came to my mind that I could make some potentially relevant comments relative to the list.  This came to my mind as a result of Jason Witten resigning his positon with ESPN and returning to  the Dallas Cowboys and subsequently reporting to one of the team’s OTAs where he received universally positive reviews for his drills as a tight end.

The fact of the matter is that I was very VERY wrong about Jason Witten as a color analyst on MNF.  Early on, I thought that he had insight to reveal to the audience and that he would ooze his way into a broadcasting style that would allow for him to transmit that insight.  Granted, one year of time in the MNF booth is not a huge sample size; nonetheless, Jason Witten was not significantly better at the end of the 2018 season than he was on Day One.  My conclusion at the end of that 1-year tour of duty is that Jason Witten is not cut out to be a TV color analyst.

Upon reflection, he got the job offer because he was a logical invitee into the fraternity of retired football players who enter the broadcasting booth because of their fame/recognition on the field.  Howard Cosell railed against this fraternity as long as 45 years ago; Cosell called it the “Jockocracy”; we the audience were subjected to the verbal stylings of former jocks without regard to their ability to communicate whatever knowledge they may have had.  And so, I began to think about the current former jocks who inhabit positions behind microphones in various sports.  [Not to worry; I am not about to regale you with how good Dandy Don Meredith or Tom Brookshier used to be or how Dan Dierdorf paired well with Al Michaels.]  This is not an exhaustive list; these are the ones that have come to mind over a period of about 24 hours – – and this is what I think of them.

Let me break the list down by sport – and let me do football first:

  • Troy Aikman – He works with Joe Buck and the two of them are greater than the sum of their parts.  I think Aikman might have a short shelf life if he had to change broadcast partners.  As things stand with FOX, Aikman is more than adequate as a color analyst.
  • Cris Colinsworth – – He and Tony Romo are today’s gold standard for TV color analysts.  And no; he does not hate your favorite team whichever team that may be.  When he criticizes them, they almost always deserve it – – and more.
  • Dan Fouts – He was a HoF level QB and he turned himself into a solid color analyst over time with hard work.
  • Trent Green – I like his work, but last year, he was paired with Bruce Arians and a play-by-play guy that I do not remember.  Problem was that I found Arians to be annoying to the max.  Neither Green – nor any other analyst will have to put up with the burden of having Arians in their booth this year since Arians is back into coaching in the NFL.
  • Tony Romo – He took to the broadcasting booth as fast as a kid learns to play the card game, War.  He and Jim Nantz have only been working together for a couple of years, but their interactions and banter makes it seem as if they have been partners forever.  It was probably Romo’s “instant success” that led to the idea of throwing Jason Witten into the deep end of the pool on MNF so quickly.
  • Mark Schlereth – If FOX gives him exposure, I think he can capture audience attention.  Problem is that he has been relegated to low-exposure games most of the time.

I neither like nor dislike Ronde Barber and Chris Spielmann in the booth.  When they are on, I do not sit up and take notice of their comments nor do I reach for the mute button.

Moving along to baseball:

  • Ron Darling – He must be an acquired taste.  Several friends think he is the “best in the business” and they love his candor.  I think he is OK – – and nothing more.  To each his own…
  • John Kruk – I like him because I never know what he might say/do next – – and that is entertaining even if the game he is doing is 11-1 after 7 innings.
  • Alex Rodriguez – He knows the game and he is articulate.  He is also hugely unlikable AND he will take a small thing and beat it to death over the course of a game.  There is talent there if he can develop it and/or if broadcasting mentors can get him to change.
  • Frank Thomas – When he points out something a player is doing well – or poorly – at the plate, you should pay attention.  The man was a great hitter and he understands what hitting is about.  Usually, whatever observation he might make about a hitter is reinforced by visual evidence later in the game.
  • Bob Uecker – Yes, he does play-by-play more than analysis, but here’s the deal.  If you can listen to an entire Brewers game done by Uecker without enjoying the experience, you are an irretrievable grouch.

And now for the basketball analysts…

  • Charles Barkley – I love Sir Charles; I think he is funny, and I like the way he is perfectly willing to put himself out there on the island of his own opinion.  Since he always picks against the Golden State Warriors, I can understand why fans in the Bay Area may not have the same opinion that I have.  Your mileage may vary …
  • Jay Bilas – A former colleague hates Bilas because he thinks Bilas “talks down to me” and because Bilas “always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the building”.  Since I believe that both of those statements are possibly true, that is why I like Jay Bilas.
  • Reggie Miller – If you can laugh at his malaprops – – like the time he compared LeBron James to a fullback with a full steam of head – – he is interesting to listen to.
  • Jalen Rose – Once I got used to his voice, I grew to like him more and more.  He is insightful and he is very direct in his analytical comments about what is happening on the floor.  He is even better in a studio setting.
  • Bill Walton – He is the worst; I would rather gargle with razor blades than listen to him do an entire basketball game.  He is the reason that God invented the mute button…
  • Chris Webber – I think he is awful; I have several friends who think he is brilliant.  You can take him for whatever you think he is so long as you do not demand that I listen to him for any protracted period of time.

I am sure I have left out some analysts that you enjoy hearing.  There was little to no “research” done to compile these 3 lists; these are people who came to mind as I was setting out to fill out the lists and these are my reactions alone.

Finally, let me close with this observation from the Twitter account of Brad Dickson:

“The U.S. Postal Service is experimenting with self-driving mail trucks. What could go wrong? The challenge is programming the trucks to deliver the mail 3 days later to the wrong address.”

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

 

 

Leinster Vs Toulouse Rugby Cup

Today is a major change of focus for Sports Curmudgeon rants.  Yesterday I attended the Heineken European Rugby Champions Cup semi-final match at the Aviva stadium in Dublin.  My grandson (who served as my tutor and who answered my questions during the match), his parents and my long-suffering wife joined me in the event.  Today is reporting on my first live rugby match.

At the beginning of the weekend, there were two Irish teams on opposite sides of the bracket draw; it was possible for the weekend to end with the reality of an all-Irish final game.  Moreover, the final game could have been Munster versus Leinster.

  • [Aside:  To give you an idea of the rivalry that exists between Leinster and Munster let me tell you a story from about ten years ago when my wife and I were touring around Ireland.  We were in Dublin one weekend and happened into a pub in the afternoon when Leinster was playing Northumberland (an English team) for the European Championship.  Leinster won the game and the locals in the pub were most happy.
  • The next weekend we were somewhere in the southern part of Ireland and once again happened into a pub while Leinster was playing Munster in an Irish League game.  The score was tied at halftime and I mentioned to one of the locals there who was a Munster supporter that he must have been happy the week before when Leinster beat the English side in the championship game.  The man said very simply that he could never pull for those devils in blue (Leinster’s colors are blue and white) and that he had been pulling for Northumberland.
  • Given the history between the English and the Irish, recognize that this gentleman wanted an English team to beat an Irish team based in the rivalry between that particular Irish team and his favorite team.  Fan loyalty runs deep in Ireland…]

Munster ended any hopes for an all-Irish final on Saturday losing to Saracens (a London-based team) in the semi-finals.  So, on Sunday, there were no “distractions” for Leinster fans in terms of looking ahead to another match against Munster; just about all the 43,000 folks who made their way into the Aviva Stadium were focused on Leinster winning that day’s game against Toulouse.  I say “just about all” of the fans because there was a smattering of Toulouse supporters in attendance.

The sides were introduced to grandeur and fanfare in the form of symphonic music; the fans responded with chants of “Leinster, Leinster” [pronounced Len-ster] with the same intonation that US basketball fans use to chant “Air-Ball, Air-Ball” at basketball games.  That chant made many reappearances during the match; it was used as a way to try to exhort the team on the field to “hold the line” or to express pleasure at a long-gaining play.

With apologies to those readers here who know far more about rugby than I – and those who have played the sport while I have not – let me describe the players on the two sides from yesterday.  There seemed to be 3 categories of players:

  1. If Keith Jackson were broadcasting a rugby game, he would probably identify three players on each side as “The Big Uglies”.  These guys look like they are close to 6 feet tall and about 5 feet wide at the shoulders.  Oh, and they do not appear to have anything resembling a neck.
  2. Each side had two players who looked to me as if they were moonlighting here from their “day-jobs” as power forwards in various European Basketball Leagues.  The two players on each side who fit this description demonstrated a disposition on the pitch that would make them very effective as “enforcers” in a basketball setting.
  3. The rest of the players appear from afar like normal human athletes and all seem to possess well-above-average speed.  That footspeed is important on offense and on defense because just about every player of this description seemed adept at open-field tackling.

Toulouse seemed to dominate the action for the first 7 or 8 minutes; they held the ball for almost that entire time – – but the only scoring they accomplished was a penalty kick for a 3-0 lead.  From that point on, it certainly seemed to me that Leinster was in charge of the game.  The difference in the game to these uninitiated eyes came as a result of:

  • Leinster was the better team at open-field tackling.  More Toulouse attempts to gain ground by running to the edge of the pitch resulted in loss of ground than happened to Leinster when they tried the same thing.
  • Toulouse turned the ball over more often than Leinster did.  I don’t know the proper term of art here, but I counted 4 recovered fumbles for Leinster and only 1 for Toulouse.  More importantly, Toulouse had the ball about two yards from the Leinster goal line and tried a wide lateral pass to score the try; that pass was intercepted by a Leinster defender who ran the ball out about 30 meters before being tackled.  That ended Toulouse’s best opportunity for a try in the game.
  • Midway through the first half, Leinster “punted” to acquire field position; the Toulouse player received the punt and attempted to “punt it back” to Leinster for field position.  A Leinster player came off the wing and blocked the punt off the foot of the Toulouse player and Leinster recovered it about 10 miters from the goal line leading to a try.  My grandson in his tutorial role and other fans sitting around us in the stadium confirmed my suspicion that blocked punts of that ilk are not commonplace.

Rugby uses a video referee to confirm calls made on the field.  The time delay for such review is minimal and the fans in the stadium get to see on the stadium video board the same replay shots that the video referee(s) see.  The video referee negated a try scored by Leinster late in the first half; obviously, that was not a popular decision but with the replay on the stadium screen, the fans’ displeasure was very short-lived as it became totally obvious that a Leinster player had blocked an opponent who was attempting to tackle the ball carrier.  That is a no-no in rugby…

There was another interesting thing I noted in the match.  Whenever a team lined up to kick the ball through the uprights – – as a result of a penalty or as a conversion attempt after a try – – the video board would flash a message:

  • “Respect The Kicker”

At that point the stadium would fall silent – you could hear yourself breathe – and it would remain that way until the kick was well on its way toward the goal.  That was a distinct culture-shock for an American used to plenty of noise and raucous behavior as an attempt to distract a placekicker.

Leinster won the game handily by a score of 30-12; they were the better team yesterday.  Leinster will play Saracens in Newcastle Upon Tyne (England) on May 11 for the Champions Cup.  I shall ask my grandson for his thoughts on that game.

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

 

 

Instant Replay And Basketball Officiating

Yes, it is April Fool’s Day.

No, there will be no “Gotcha” moments in today’s rant.  You will have to find that sort of thing elsewhere if you have a craving for such…

The events in the final moments of the Texas Tech win over Gonzaga last weekend have been recounted in dozens of places.  If you did not see the game – or if you have not read an account of the late stages of that game yet – here is one report that is as good as any of the ones I saw.

https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/ncaa-tournament-2019-gonzaga-texas-tech-benefit-from-wonky-officiating-late-in-elite-eight-showdown/

There are two very distinct categories of controversial calls by the officials that are contained here.  The first category represents what surely appears to be missed calls by the officials:

  • There was a play that looked an awful lot like a kicked ball that was not called.
  • There was a ball saved from out of bounds where the player making the save stepped on the boundary line prior to making the save and that was not called.

In both cases, the replay rules would not permit officials to go back and “get it right” – which seems to fly in the face of the fundamental selling point for instant replay.  But hold that thought; I think there is a bigger point to make regarding instant replay and those two “missed calls” that I will try to make after I talk about the other controversial call.

The second category of controversy comes from a call that one sees about once every other year in all of college basketball.  [Aside:  And I cannot ever recall seeing this generate a whistle in an NBA game.]  Basically, what happened was that the defender on an inbounds pass reached across the plane of the boundary line and touched the ball before it crossed that plane.  In the rule book, that is a technical foul; in the real world, that happens every once in a while, but it is usually called as an out-of-bounds play and the team throwing in the ball is awarded another chance to do so.  [Aside:  This rule has been “on the books” for as long as I can remember from my basketball officiating days that spanned the 60s through the mid-90s.  It has not been called often but it is not a “new rule”.]

Given what happened Saturday night vis á vis what is usually called on these sorts of plays, you may choose to praise the game officials for “getting it right” or you may choose to say that they were showing off their rule-book knowledge and making a call that really only pertains to the rules’ exams that all officials must take and pass every year.  From my perspective, there is a little of both choices at play here; I have to say that were I confronted with the situation and I had a whistle in my hand, I too would have called the technical foul.  And at the same time, I acknowledge that officials far more competent than I ever was would not make that same call.  Your mileage may vary…

Here is what I think is an overarching point that seems not be getting sufficient attention:

  • Instant replay is not an unalloyed benefit for the college basketball.

Moreover, the problems associated with instant replay for basketball transcend the idea of “getting it right”.  Let me state the obvious just to get it out of the way:

  • Every fan of college basketball wants to see the officials get every call right; no one is in favor of incorrect decisions by officials during a game.

There was a time in my life when I was in charge of the officials for a local recreation league; and at that time, we used adult volunteers and high school/college students to officiate our games.  That meant that I had to run “classes”/”clinics” to teach some of them how to officiate because some of them had never done it before.  The following is the statement that I made as the opening remark in the first “class” for new officials every year:

  • If you think you are going to get every call right in every game that you do, you are going to be very disappointed.  There are two kinds of referees; those who have made mistakes and those who are about to make mistakes.  Your biggest challenges are to make as few mistakes as you possibly can and to avoid trying to “make-up” for your mistake once you realize you made one.  “Make-up calls” simply turn one mistake into two mistakes…

Instant replay takes the reality of officials’ mistakes and turns them into something much more than an error.  There are 3 officials on the court; how could it be that none of them saw that “kicked ball”?  There was an official in good position to see that foot on the boundary line, so why did he not blow the whistle and “get it right”?  [Aside:  There was another “foot-on-the-line call” that was “missed” with an official in perfect position to make that call in the final 5 seconds of the Duke/Va Tech game.  Since that “missed call” did not affect the outcome of that game, this error received little to no post-game attention.]  What happened in all these instances is that a highly competent official fell victim to “human error”.

  • If you believe that it is possible to eliminate “human error” from any human endeavor, you are probably someone who would have believed that no one would produce or consume alcohol during Prohibition because it was against the law.

When TV commentators choose to criticize officials for “ticky-tack calls” or for “the right call but not the correct call” on TV shows that can only survive with a progression of “hot takes”, they often resort to the old saw:

  • No one paid their admission – or tuned in – to see the officials put themselves in the spotlight.

That is anything but a constructive comment – unless the commentator can provide some sort of additional evidence that the official did whatever he did with that sort of motive in mind.  Moreover, that “insight” from “hot take analysts” ignores a very important feature of officiating that seems never to be articulated:

  • Maybe no one paid admission to see the officials, but if there were no officials there would be no game to pay admission to see.
  • Think about it; any player or any coach or any trainer or any pep band member can be removed from the arena and the game will go on.  If the officials leave the arena …
  • The officials are not perfect; they will never be perfect; they are not and should not be the focal point of the game; AND they are indispensable.

Instant replay shows the world the fallibility of the best of the basketball officials.  It is not a huge leap of logic for fans to conclude that less competent officials will make even more mistakes than the top-shelf ones do.  And so, when those fans attend a high school game to see their kids and/or their kids’ best friends play, they bring heightened suspicion to the gym regarding the correctness of the officials’ calls that evening.  Now, if you think I am being too defensive here, consider that the ranks of high school officials are the incubators for the officials that will replace the current “top-shelf officials” when Father Time eventually sends today’s officials to the sidelines.

Let me provide two data points:

  1. About 30 years ago, there was a sticky point for high school basketball officials here in Northern Virginia.  Schools and leagues wanted to put 3 officials on the court for all their games; it stretched the numbers of “certified referees” beyond the breaking point for a year and they had to postpone expansion from 2 officials per game to 3 officials per game for a year.  There are lots more officials doing games at the high school – and recreation league – levels than there are doing Power 5 conference games in college; but there is not a huge over-abundance.
  2. Today, the numbers of officials at the high school level are decreasing.  In Florida, the high school athletics oversight folks at the state level reported that the number of officials (in all high school sports) dropped from 8,352 in 2014-15 to 7,792 in 2017-18.  That is about a 7% drop in 3 years and there was an even more ominous note in their report.  Of the young officials who start out on this “career path”, 80% of them give it up in the first two years of experience AND the most often cited reason for giving it up is “adult behavior”.

The “adult behavior” here is the abuse and vitriol directed at the officials in those high school contests.  That sort of “stuff” predates instant replay to be sure; I heard more than plenty of it long before there were daydreams – let alone thoughts – about instant replay being used in the course of a game.  However, it seems as if the level of vitriol has spiked recently; and while I cannot prove it, I believe that some measure of that spike in vitriol is due to the prevalence of replay demonstrating the constant presence of human error and to the TV commentators using the officials as a foil for the “hot takes” that allow them to continue to earn their paychecks.

I started this by saying that instant replay is not an unalloyed success.  It is not; nor is it an unmitigated disaster.  It has provided plenty of value in those circumstances where the “replay rules” allow the officials to review and correct calls that were clearly incorrect.  It is – like every other human endeavor – less than perfect.  Lest anyone misinterpret, I am not suggesting that we ditch instant replay; that would throw the baby out with the bath water.  What I think needs to be done is to:

  • Examine the rules regarding when instant replay can be used to “get it right” for what categories of calls as often as possible.
  • Amend the tone and tenor of the commentary regarding missed calls when they happen.

It would be heaven-sent if officials walked into basketball venues where all the players coaches and fans began the game with a stipulation that the officials are both competent and people of good will.  That is not gonna happen in my lifetime … so maybe the best I can hope for is that players, coaches and fans will stipulate the good will of the officials prior to tip-off?

So, maybe that actually is today’s April Fool’s “Gotcha” moment.

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, Dan Jenkins

Dan Jenkins died late last week of congestive heart failure.  He was the last living member of my personal Mount Rushmore of sportswriters/columnists from my youth.  Those four are now somewhere in the cosmos assessing who among the current crop of writers might someday be considered to have similar stature.  My personal Mount Rushmore – – in alphabetical order because I really do not want to have to rank these four gentlemen:

  • Frank Deford
  • Sandy Grady
  • Dan Jenkins
  • Jim Murray

I never met Dan Jenkins; I wish I had been so privileged.  Dan Jenkins was more than a great sportswriter who was informative and entertaining simultaneously; Dan Jenkins was a great writer – – period – – and exclamation point.  He was part of the “glory days” of Sports Illustrated and his coverage of college football in SI back in the 60s and 70s was must read material whenever it appeared in the magazine.  However, his writings on golf were even better.

Please understand… I do not play golf; I do not follow golf; I do not have much interest in watching golf on television except for the occasional major tournament.  [Aside:  Dan Jenkins is the person who came up with the word “majors” to describe the 4 annual tournaments that are covered by that word.  Technically, Bobby Jones never won a “major” because Dan Jenkins had not yet designated any tournaments as such.]  Notwithstanding my “who gives a rat’s ass” feelings about golf, Dan Jenkins’ writings on golf were mesmerizing and commanded my interest.  He was a scratch golfer who was captain of his college golf team and he played practice rounds with Ben Hogan in Texas back in the 40s and 50s.  When he wrote about golf, his words came from someone who knew the game; but the words were more than that.

When he wrote about golf, his words generated interest – maybe even excitement – about the subject in at least one mind that otherwise did not care about golf.  His golf novels e.g. The Franchise Babe and Dead Solid Perfect were entertaining because of the implausible plot and Jenkins’ signature style which was utterly PC-bashing.  [Aside:  Dan Jenkins was anti-PC long before political correctness advanced to its current hugely annoying state.]  But it went beyond that.  One of his books was a compendium of golf columns he had written for Sports Illustrated and for Golf Digest.  He called this compilation, Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate.  This non-golfer read it end-to-end over a rainy long weekend and loved every word of it.

That last sentence leads me to suggest to every reader here that having a few paperback copies of Jenkins’ novels on hand for the occurrence of rainy three-day weekends would be a great idea.  Every one of those novels can be consumed in such a timeframe and every one of them will brighten up such a weekend.  His first novel was Semi-Tough; it was an instant success and was eventually made into a movie.  [Aside:  In his memoir, Frank Deford said that Dan Jenkins took a leave of absence to write Semi-Tough and that he wrote the novel in three weeks; the editing took longer than the writing.  That is beyond amazing.]   Many of the characters in Semi-Tough appear in subsequent novels; Jenkins creates a fictional world involving sports in general and these characters float about in that world.  Semi-Tough inspired a sequel titled Life Its Ownself.  Most sequels do not come close to living up to the work that inspired the sequel in the first place; Life Its Ownself toes that mark; it can stand on its own as a great read depending on Semi-Tough mainly for the backgrounds of many of its characters.

My personal favorite novel was You Gotta Play Hurt which is a recounting of a year in the life of an experienced and irreverent sports columnist who travels the world to cover specific events and write about them.  The protagonist is named Jim Tom Pinch; it is not difficult to figure out who the real-world inspiration for Jim Tom Pinch might be.

There is a scene in Semi-Tough that stands out in my mind.  Every year when the Super Bowl rolls around, I think of this scene.  It was written in 1972 when the pageantry of the Super Bowl was in ascension and it intended to satirize what all of that might become.  The setting for the scene is a Super Bowl game in the future between the NY Giants and the “dog-assed NY Jets”.  In the scene, the Giants’ coach, Shoat Cooper, is explaining to the Giants’ players that the timing of the Super Bowl game will be different from regular games because of the pageantry – and because there had been a major earthquake in China which could cause the network to cut in and do some news broadcasting simultaneous with the telecast of the game.

I want to present here that scene in its entirety.  Remember, this hyperbole intended to satirize what the Super Bowl pageantry might become from the point of view of 1972; it was not far off the mark for what would become Super Bowl reality.

  • [WARNING:  There is politically incorrect text to follow and some words/phrases that were much more commonplace and acceptable in 1972 than they are today.  If you are easily offended by such language, stop reading here.  In fact, if you are easily offended by such language, you probably should not be reading many of the rants posted here.]

            “In the serious part of the squad meeting, Shoat Cooper explained to us what the drill would be for Sunday, in terms of what time everything would occur.

“Shoat said we would start getting our ankles taped at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.  Those that needed special braces and pads taped on, he said, ought to get to the taping room thirty minutes earlier.

“He said he hoped everybody on the team could have breakfast together at nine in the Señor Sombrero Café on the second floor.

“He said we would leave for the Los Angeles Coliseum about ten-thirty.  It would be about eleven-fifteen when we got there, he said, and that would give us plenty of time.  ‘To get frisky for them piss ants,’ he said.

“The kickoff wasn’t until one-fifteen, he pointed out.  It had been set back fifteen minutes by CBS, he said in order for the network to finish up a news special it was doing on some kind of earthquake that wiped out several thousand chinks somewhere yesterday…

”… Shoat said that both the offense and the defense would be introduced, on both teams, for television before the game.  He said we should line up under the goal post that would be appointed to us and carry our hats under our arms when we trotted out to our own forty-five yard line and faced the dog-assed Jets for the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.

“That would be the last thing we would do before the kickoff, Shoat said.  Therefore, he said this would come after we had warmed up and then gone back into the dressing room and crapped and peed and drank some more Dexi-coffee.  Them what needed it like the interior linemen.

“’A little spiked coffee never hurt nobody’s incentive,’ Shoat said.  ‘Especially them lard butts who have to play down in that trench where the men are.’

“Shoat said we might have a long time to lay around the dressing room after we warmed up because the National Football League had a fairly lavish pregame show planned.

“Shoat said he understood that the both the pregame show and the halftime show would have a patriotic flavor.

“’That can’t be anything but good for football,’ he said.

“According to Shoat, here’s what was going to happen before the game:

“Several hundred trained birds – all painted red white and blue – would be released from cages somewhere and they would fly over the Coliseum in the formation of an American flag.

“As the red, white and blue birds flew over, Boke Kellum, the Western TV star, would recite the Declaration of Independence.

“Next would be somebody dressed up like Mickey Mouse and somebody else dressed up like Donald Duck joining the actress Camille Virl in singing ‘God Bless America.’

“And right in the middle of the singing, here would come this Air Force cargo plane to let loose 50 sky divers who would come dropping into the coliseum.

“Each skydiver would be dressed up in the regional costume of a state, and he would land in the coliseum in the order in when his state became a United State.

“When all this got cleaned up, Shoat said, United States Senator Pete Rozelle, the ex-commissioner of the NFL who invented the Super Bowl, would be driven around the stadium in the car that won last year’s Indianapolis 500.  At the wheel would be Lt. Commander Flip Slammer, the fifteenth astronaut to walk on the moon.

“Riding along behind the Indy car, Shoat said, would be two men on horses.  One would be Commissioner Bob Cameron on Lurking Funk, the thoroughbred which won last year’s Kentucky Derby.  And on the other horse, Podna (the horse Boke Kellum pretends to ride in his TV series) would be the current president of CBS, a guy named Woody Snider.

“Finally, Shoat said, the teams would be introduced and two thousand crippled and maimed soldiers on crutches and in wheel chairs and on stretchers would render the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’

“Shoat told us the halftime was like to run forty-five minutes.  It would be a long one at any rate, “which might be a good thing if we got some scabs to heal up,” he said.

“The length of the halftime, Shoat said, would depend on whether CBS would decide to interrupt the Super Bowl telecast with a special news report on the earthquake which might still be killing chinks with its fires and floods and tidal waves.

“’I never knowed a dead chink, more or less, to be more important than a football game,’ Shoat said.  ‘But maybe if a whole gunnysack of ‘em got wiped out, it’s news.’

“Shoat said it was too bad we would all have to miss it but the Super Bowl halftime show was going to be even more spectacular than the pregame show.

“He said there would be a water ballet in the world’s largest inflatable swimming pool, a Spanish fiesta, a Hawaiian luau, a parade stressing the history of the armored tank, a sing-off between the glee clubs of all the military academies and an actual World War I dogfight in the sky with the Red Baron’s plane getting blown to pieces.

“The final event of the halftime, he said, would be an induction into the pro football Hall of Fame of about twenty stud hosses out of the past including our own Tucker Frederickson, the vice president of DDD and F.  United States Senator Pete Rozelle would preside, Shoat said, along with Camille Virl, the actress, and Jack Whitaker, the CBS announcer.  When the induction ceremony was over, Shoat said, Rozelle, Whitaker and Camille Virl would lead the inductees in singing a parody on the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ which was written by somebody in the league office.  The title of it, he said, was “The Game Goes Marching On,’ and he understood it might make some people cry.

“Shoat said CBS hoped the whole stadium would join in the singing since all 92,000 people would have been given a printed copy of the lyrics.

“The last thing in the halftime would be some more birds.  While the stadium was singing this song, Shoat said, several thousand more painted-up birds would be released and they would fly in such a way overhead that the likeness of Vince Lombardi, the great old coach, would appear.

“That was all that was discussed at the meeting.”

I have read that passage at least a dozen times in the past and it still brought a smile to my face as I typed the words here.  I really hope you similarly enjoyed it

Finally, let me close with a couple of memorable quips/observations attributed to Dan Jenkins:

“Here’s all I know about Dubai: It’s one of those somewhere-over-there places where they make sand.”

And …

“I quickly discovered that trying to go play golf while living in Manhattan was about as easy as trying to grab a taxi while standing out in front of Saks Fifth Avenue in the freezing rain on the last shopping day before Christmas.”

And …

“The golf ball has no sense at all, which is why it has to be given stern lectures constantly, especially during the act of putting.”

Rest in peace – – and Godspeed – – Dan Jenkins…

 

Robert Kraft And Solicitation Of Prostitution

The news that New England Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft, will be charged with solicitation of prostitution serves as an opportunity to survey one aspect of current US society.  We have become far too interested in “off center” stories at the expense of rational consideration of real and current issues.  Moreover, the focus on those “off center” stories is all consuming – – until the next “off center” story comes along.  And so, to some extent:

  • Robert Kraft is the best thing that could have happened to Jussie Smollet.
  • Jussie Smollett was the best thing that could have happened to Ralph Northam
  • Ralph Northam was the best thing that could have happened to the President and the Congress during the time of the government shutdown.
  • The shutdown was the best thing that could have happened to Elizabeth Warren and her DNA test.
  • See a pattern here …?

Before I project what might be the ultimate outcome here, let me make one simple observation:

  • Something called the Bloomberg Billionaire Index says that Robert Kraft’s net worth is $4.36B.  Forbes says he is worth $6.6B.  Let’s just agree that Robert Kraft has loads of money, OK?

[Aside:  In that circumstance, I do not understand why he would not “order in” as opposed to paying a visit to a day spa.  But that’s just me…]

Lots of hot takes emanated from this breaking news with two rather extreme suggestions regarding the punishment for Robert Kraft.  Once again, we need to pay attention to the fact that Robert Kraft has been charged in this matter but has not plead guilty nor has he been convicted of anything.  Everyone who has proposed any sort of punishment here has already jumped the gun.

Bart Scott does sports-talk radio in NYC.  I read that he proposed that the NFL strip the Patriots of an entire draft class; they would get no draft picks for one year.  Given the minor nature of the charges here – they are indeed misdemeanor charges not felonies – that seems overly harsh unless of course you are a former NY Jet like Bart Scott.  The reason I think this proposal is over the top is this:

  • Imagine if the celebrity chef who owns and runs a famous restaurant were charged – even convicted if you want – of soliciting prostitution.  Would it make sense to deny the restaurant the ability to purchase any vegetables of any kind for a year?  Who is being punished there?  The workers in the restaurant who did nothing – or the diners who would not be able to eat there?  Makes no sense…

Various other folks have wondered if the NFL could force Robert Kraft to sell the Patriots.  I will not pretend to be an expert regarding the NFL Bylaws, but I assume there is a mechanism in there to rid the league of a “bad apple” owner.  However, I suspect that 31 other owners would not like to see the bar for such a “forced sale” set as low as solicitation of prostitution charges.  My hunch is that there would be some sweaty palms in owners’ boxes around the league should that suggestion surface…

I can only think of one instance in the NFL where an owner was separated from his team but was not forced to sell.  Eddie DeBartolo had to step down and hand over the team control to his sister back in the 90s.  DeBartolo was convicted of bribery in a case involving the acquisition of some sort of casino/gambling license in Louisiana.  That was a felony; he served real jail time for it.  It is important to note that he was removed from the team, but no sale was required.

Jerry Richardson sold the Panthers proximal to reports of sexual and racial harassment in the workplace.  Maybe the NFL encouraged him to get the deal done as quickly as possible, but they did not force the sale.  Richardson had the team on the market prior to the allegations which were settled privately.

Leonard Tose owned the Eagles in the 70s and 80s.  He had gambling and alcohol issues and got VERY deeply in debt to casinos in Atlantic City.  He sold the team to Norman Braman to pay off those debts; I do not recall that the NFL mandated that sale.

In the NBA, Donald Sterling had to sell the Clippers – but the reason the NBA forced that sale was that Sterling’s behaviors were damaging to the league itself.  His more than merely insensitive racial comments did not make for any sort of positive marketing strategy.

In MLB, Phillies’ owner William Cox was forced to sell the team in 1943 because it was determined that he was betting on baseball while he owned the team.  Since that act earned him a lifetime banishment from baseball from Commissioner Kennesaw “Mountain” Landis, selling the team was a consequence of that designation.  [Aside:  George Steinbrenner was also banned from baseball temporarily in the 90s but did not have to sell the Yankees.]

I cannot think of any other forced sales due to improper behavior in the major US sports.  Nonetheless, the NFL will have to hand down some sort of punishment here to demonstrate that the League’s personal conduct policy applies to everyone associated with the league.  So, what is the precedent for sanctions on owners:

  • Jim Irsay had a DUI situation.  He went into rehab and cleaned his act up.  He was fined $500K and suspended for 6 games.
  • Steve Keim (a GM not an owner) also had a DUI situation.  He was fined $200K and suspended for 5 weeks.
  • Jimmy Haslam’s company – Flying J – had an ongoing rebate fraud scheme and company execs eventually plead guilty to some charges related to that.  Haslam oversaw the company but was never charged in this mess.  The NFL has not sanctioned him at all.

To me, there is no real punishment the NFL could logically impose here that would matter to Robert Kraft.  Even if the league fined him $5M – – an order of magnitude greater than the fine on Jim Irsay for DUI which I assert is a more severe offense than solicitation of prostitution – – that fine would not do much damage to someone with a net worth in the neighborhood of $5B depending on which estimate one chooses to believe.  If the NFL “suspends” him for any length of time, that only means he cannot be at the game in the owners’ box; he is not the starting inside linebacker after all.  Oh, yes; he would also have to stay away from the team headquarters meaning that he would be isolated from team decisions for some period.  [I actually keyed those words with a straight face…]

So, here is my bottom line on this situation.  It is not particularly outrageous; so, it does not fit well with the hyperbolic protestations of righteousness that are so prevalent:

  • The authorities allege that the women involved in the prostitution at the day spa were victims of human trafficking and were forced into this life of prostitution.  If that is proven to be true, I would not object to putting everyone responsible for said human trafficking under the local jail.
  • The NFL will impose a “significant fine”.  It will be a big enough number that players will notice the amount and grudgingly admit that an owner is being punished to an extent that they would not like to be punished.  I’ll toss out a figure here of $2M – – even though I know that would not be damaging in any way to Robert Kraft and his lifestyle.
  • The NFL will impose a suspension too – – probably on the order of 6-8 games.  This is no big deal.
  • The NFL might dock the Patriots a draft choice somewhere down the line.  I think that penalty would be misguided and irrelevant – – but that has never stopped the NFL in the past.

George Carlin used to say in some of his standup routines – I am going to clean up the language here – that “selling” is legal and “screwing” is legal, but “selling screwing is illegal”.  How can that be?  Good question, good sir…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this bottom line on this matter in the Seattle Times over the weekend:

“Marshawn Lynch should have run.

“Robert Kraft should have passed.”

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