Hither, Thither & Yon

Sometimes you have to just shake your head in amazement and wonder if indeed the fall of civilization as we know it is imminent. Recent events in the sporting world might bring such puzzlement to the front of one’s awareness. Consider:

    The NFL schedule was announced to the sheep – er, the public – last night. NFL Network had a 3-hour special on it. Ever since the last day of last season, anyone who understood the NFL scheduling algorithm knew which teams would play which other teams next year. What we got yesterday was when and where each game would be played. If such a revelation is worth 3 hours of your life, you might want to consider assisted suicide; there is not a lot of hope for you.

    Rosie Ruiz is alive and well and racing in St. Louis – or at least a latter-day cheat who pulled the same kind of stunt as Rosie Ruiz. A runner in the GO! St. Louis marathon finished third last year and won the race this year. Not so unusual except that this runner did not run the full 26.2 miles either last year or this year.

      Memo to Marathon Cheaters Everywhere: If you want “marathon cred” you can get it by finishing third and fourth in races. They will scrutinize winners a whole lot more than third or fourth place finishers. Don’t get greedy and – while you are at it – don’t be a cheating a$$hole.

    Jay Feely felt it necessary to declare publicly in front of people who recorded his public statement that Tim Tebow is the worst QB he ever saw. I may be kind here for a moment and point out that Jay Feely never had to watch Jay Feely play QB and that might limit the scope of his knowledge… My problem with the reporting on this story is simple. After his pronouncement, why did no one ask him this simple question:

      Who asked you and who gives a fig what you think?

Given all the hoopla regarding the potential move of the Chargers and the Raiders to a new stadium in Carson CA, I have a friend who lives in So. Cal. and he sent me an e-mail with his views on the subject. Here are the salient points:

“I’ve never been to the stadium in Oakland but I’ve read about sewage plugs there enough times to get why the Raiders want out … I’ve been to Qualcomm as recently as 2012 to see the Chargers and it is not a bright and upbeat place. However, both those teams must really want out of where they are if they are seriously considering a move to Carson which is a dump.

“PS Ironically, the last time I was at Qualcomm Stadium it was to see the Chargers and Raiders.”

I do not know that I have ever been to Carson CA; in a former stage of my professional career, I did spend a lot of time in So. Cal., but Carson rings no bells in my memory. Therefore, I cannot really confirm or contradict my friend’s assessment of the town. I can understand why any team might want to leave Oakland and the sewage-challenged environment of the stadium there; while I have no first-hand experience at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, there are too many folks who say it has seen its better days and needs to have a wrecking ball come for a visit to wax poetically about its glories. However, what if my friend is correct and the Carson truly is “a dump”? Moving from Oakland to “a dump” is what The Peter Principle defines as a “lateral arabesque”; moving from San Diego to “a dump” is a giant step backward.

Speaking obliquely of the Raiders, they signed Michael Crabtree to a 1-year deal worth anywhere between $3-5M depending on incentives attained. If anyone asked Richard Sherman what he thought of the contract, I did not see it. Moving “across the bay” so to speak, seems to indicate a couple of things:

    1. Crabtree did not think that he would be a featured option in the Niners’ offense under Jim Tomsula.

    2. Crabtree thinks Derek Carr is at least as good – if not better – than Colin Kaepernick when it comes to getting the ball to WRs down the field.

    3. The Raiders do not have to play the Seahawks twice next year and that is a plus to Crabtree.

Here is my bottom-line on that Bay Area kerfuffle:

    I doubt that either team will make the playoffs. Therefore, this “transaction” is about as important as the breakfast menu on the Titanic for “tomorrow morning”…

Finally, if you want to be shocked an amazed by the abject asininity of an athlete in the midst of completion, please consider these words from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:

“Middleweight fighter Marvin Jones’ fight in Florida was delayed momentarily when his cell phone fell out of his trunks.

“He was later kayoed by Ramon Luis Nicholas — proving beyond doubt Jones doesn’t carry a smart phone.”

Seriously, the guy was carrying his cell phone in the midst of a boxing match. Many is the time that a pro ‘rassler has won a match by using a “foreign object” to his advantage but two things need consideration here:

    1. This is boxing and not pro ‘rassling.

    2. How might he have “taken a call” or “texted a friend” or “posted a selfie to a social media site” while wearing boxing – damned – gloves?

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

Adam Silver = The Anti-David Stern

I wonder if Adam Silver is intentionally working to make himself the obverse of his predecessor, David Stern, or if they are just wired differently. David Stern seemed always in dire need to demonstrate that he was the smartest person not only in the room but in the entire zip code. Silver is clearly smarter than the average bear (H/T to Hanna- Barbera), but he seems to be able to blend his intellect with the reality of common sense. David Stern could not allow himself to demonstrate common sense because if he did, that might detract from the hugeness of his intellect.

Recently, Adam Silver went on the Boomer and Carton show on WFAN in NY. I am anything but a fan of Boomer and Carton; I doubt that I have ever been able to stay tuned to their program for more than 20 minutes in a stretch. Nonetheless, Boomer and Carton spoke with the NBA Commish on the topic of gambling on NBA games – and other pro sporting events and elicited these remarks:

    After speaking about international soccer and European basketball where gambling is widely available and practiced, Silver said:

    “Because they have all that data, they’re able to monitor [game fixing activities] … And if there’s any irregular activity whatsoever, it’s like tracking insider trading on the New York Stock Exchange. If there’s a blip, if there’s unusual activity, they know to investigate. So first the issue for us is if all this betting is going to go on anyway, we should be able to monitor it. And then, No. 2, if all this betting activity is going to go on anyway, make it legal.”

    Later, the Commish said:

    “It’s good for business, I don’t want to hide from that. Putting aside whether or not we’re actually actively involved in any of the betting, it creates more engagement. We all know as fans if you have, even like a gentleman’s bet or a $5 bet with your friend on a game, all of a sudden you’re a lot more interested.”

What Silver did not say is that the NBA is indeed in a financial arrangement with one of those fantasy sports sites that offers “one-day games” and so the NBA is already directly involved with – and benefiting from – gambling activities involving NBA players and NBA games.

The other recent Adam Silver event that demonstrated that he is cut from different cloth than his predecessor was his press conference after the annual NBA board of Governors’ Meeting last week. He simply presented the outcome of the meeting in simple terms and admitted that there were some issues for which there is no obvious workable solution at the moment. I have trouble imagining David Stern verbalizing in that way. Here are two conundrums that Adam Silver and the NBA mavens have not yet figured a way out of:

    1. Tanking: The lottery was instituted to prevent tanking because 30+ years ago it was being done in spades to acquire the guaranteed #1 pick in the Draft. The problem now is that teams are about to be flush with cash and with oodles of salary cap headroom meaning that free agency will be a goat rodeo over the next year or two. Here is what Commish Silver had to say:

    “So what the basketball people pointed out – and they’re right – is that of course the draft lottery and the draft are just one component of team building. There’s also free agency and then there are trades, and that it’s very difficult then to look at that one aspect in the abstract. So my sense where we were coming out is that there’s still a sense that we need to make a change, but until we see what the team behavior is going to be with all this new cap room, we should hold it and wait and then look holistically at the whole system. This one again on the draft lottery, we agreed to continue looking at it, but it seems highly unlikely at this point that we’re going to make a change for next season.”

    Let me translate that for you:

      We haven’t the faintest idea how to attack this problem now and the cap room changes only make it more complicated. So, we are kicking the can down the road…

    2. Playoff entrants and seeding: Look at the Eastern teams in the playoffs vis-à-vis the teams who just missed the playoffs in the West. If you do not see the fundamental issue here by looking at those records, you are clearly a fan of the Brooklyn Nets. However, there is no agreement on how to fix this and here is how the Commish explained it:

    “When we presented all the data to the teams, what becomes clear is that there is no obvious solution because we play, for example, an unbalanced schedule in terms of you play your division members more than you do other divisions; you play in your conference more than you do the other conference. And I’ve said in the past, one of the competing issues is do we reduce the number of back-to-backs, reducing the amount travel for our teams. Of course, if we have a fully balanced schedule, that will increase the amount of travel.”

    Let me translate that for you:

      Teams in the East like the idea of playing other lesser competition in the East Conference more than teams in the West and have figured out that travel times to the West Coast are much longer than they are in the I-95 corridor and are using that as an argument to leave things as they are. Oh, and since changes to alignment or playoff eligibility require an affirmative vote of 2/3 of the teams, the chances of getting a bunch of Eastern teams to sign up for such change are zero. So we are punting…

Twins’ pitcher Ervin Santana is one of several MLB players on lengthy suspension for failing a PED drug test. Santana tested positive for Stanozolol which is the same thing that cost Ben Johnson his Olympic Gold Medals all the way back in 1988. Folks, this is hardly one of those so-called “designer steroids”… The interesting part of this story is that when Santana addressed his suspension, he said that he could not pinpoint how this stuff found its way into his bloodstream.

    Memo to Ervin Santana: When discussing the origins of how you wound up being suspended from MLB for failing a steroid test, you might not want to use the word, “pinpoint”. Just saying…

Finally, a cogent observation from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“Tough break for the San Jose Earthquakes with one-named midfielder, Innocent, being suspended one game for throwing an elbow.

“It’s also a whiff for Bay Area headline writers, who missed: ‘Innocent Guilty.’ “

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

Pete Rose On TV?

FOX Sports has hired Pete Rose as a studio analyst. Some folks see this as a harbinger of Rose’s ultimate reinstatement to MLB’s good graces. I think it is far too soon to jump to that conclusion. Regular readers here know that I favor Rose’s reinstatement and his induction into the Hall of Fame, but I am not going to celebrate just yet. Yes, this job puts Rose into a very public and very direct involvement with MLB; no, this does not guarantee his reinstatement.

    Memo to Pete Rose: Try never to start one of your analyses with the phrase, “I bet you…”

Yesterday, the Las Vegas 51’s played the Fresno Grizzlies and the day was set aside to honor Jerry Tarkanian in his passing. Dwight Perry anticipated this celebration with this comment in the Seattle Times:

“The minor-league Las Vegas 51s and Fresno Grizzlies will wear Jerry Tarkanian-themed jerseys April 19 to honor the late hoops-coaching great, then sell them for charity.

“What, no game-chewed towels?”

Johnny Manziel emerged from rehab after about 10 weeks. Many athletes who have gone to rehab for drugs and/or alcohol addiction come out after 4 weeks so the duration of his stay stands out for me.

    Does the added time indicate that he had a problem 2.5 times greater than other athletes?

    Does the added time indicate that he is 2.5 times more committed to resolving his problem than other athletes?

Obviously, the reason(s) for his more lengthy stay in a counseling environment are private matters and any reporting you may see regarding those reasons is most likely to be pure speculation. Manziel’s statement after leaving rehab touched on all the right points; and if he is committed to living up to what he said in that statement, he will be a better person for doing so.

Manziel’s rookie season experience with the Browns was inauspicious to say the least. Obviously, whatever issues he had to deal with in 10 weeks of counseling/therapy had to play a part in his on-field shortcomings. With those behind him – presumably – he may have the opportunity to re-start his NFL career. However, it may not be in Cleveland because there are persistent reports that the Browns may be looking to draft another QB this year and the team has already signed Josh McCown to compete for the starting job even if they do not take another QB in the draft.

Speaking of QBs who are in need of a career re-start, there are reports that the Eagles will sign Tim Tebow later today. Let us just say that the Eagles’ QB position is “crowded”:

    Sam Bradford arrived in a trade for Nick Foles
    Mark Sanchez re-signed during the off-season.
    Matt Barkley is still on the roster – – but should rent not buy.
    Tim Tebow is about to join the parade.
    Rumors persist that the Eagles want to trade up to draft Marcus Mariota.

Tebow has not played in an NFL game since 2012 when he was a “change of pace” player at QB for the Jets. His career stat line is unimpressive – the most glaring stat being that he only completed 48% of his passes at a time when starting QBs are expected to complete 60-70% of the throws. Nonetheless, Tebow is a good athlete and a smart guy; if Chip Kelly thinks his abilities fit with the Eagles’ offense and if Tebow’s QB mechanics have been improved by coaching and practice, this is not a signing that will present grave danger(s) to the Eagles’ franchise.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have some roster alterations to make this summer. Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor have been fixtures in the Steelers’ secondary for about a decade or so. Both of them have retired in the past couple of weeks and that should present a challenge to the Steelers’ defensive coaches.

Aaron Hernandez will not be playing in the NFL again either – for completely different reasons. You had to know that it would not take long for the late night comedians to comment on that jury verdict. Here is what Conan O’Brien had to say:

“Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez has been convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. His lawyer plans to appeal. He’s trying to get the sentence reduced down to two seasons with the New York Jets.”

MLB set a new record for attendance at Spring Training games this year. [Aside: I am happy to have provided MLB some assistance in achieving this milestone.] Total attendance for 481 Spring Training games was 4,034,708 (almost 8400 per game). The previous record for Spring Training attendance was in 2013 at 3.8M fans so the increase this year is 5% higher than the previous record. Granted it is far too early to spot any trend here, but the early results for MLB attendance at regular season games is up an average of 1,226 fans per game after 184 regular season games as compared to last year.

Finally, here are two perspectives on college basketball’s “one-and-done” situation for this year:

“Perspective: Maybe like you, I only recently discovered that 21-year-old Masters champ Jordan Spieth was one-and-done at Texas. Led the Longhorns to the NCAA title and then split, same as Mike Krzyzewski’s three best players just did for Duke. Funny, isn’t it, how media and public hand-wringing are reserved only for basketball one-and-doners.” [Bob Molinaro, Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot]


“CNN.com reports the University of Phoenix has lost about half its students.

“Enrollment has dropped from 460,000 to 213,000 — making it second only to Kentucky in number of people leaving early for the NBA Draft.” [Brad Rock, Deseret News]

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

Home Again…

I am back from my visit to Dublin to see family there and back to a land where the sporting landscape extends beyond futbol and rugby. In case you have forgotten a significant portion of your World History class from high school, the English and the Irish peoples have had their “differences” in the past. Every once in a while, those “differences” led to confrontations that were far beyond verbal exchanges. Well, you might have a hard time recalling those times if you merely surveyed the folks in Dublin pubs watching sports these days. THE focus is on the English Premier League – the UAEFA Champions League games are relegated to the small screens over on the side walls of the pubs and usually have about 2 people watching them.

In the part of Dublin where we spent most of our time, it would seem that Liverpool and Manchester United have the largest following – although there were some folks sporting Chelsea gear walking about too. Last weekend, Manchester United beat Manchester City opening a door for Liverpool to gain ground on Man City in “the table” – or the standings as we might call it. When Liverpool won its game last weekend that put Liverpool in 5th place in the table only 4 points behind Man City in fourth place. Why might that be a vital issue that would cause Liverpool fans to approach a state of euphoria?

    The top four teams at the end of this season get to play in the European Champions League next year; the fifth place team is not invited.

With 6 games left to play this year, there is only a 12-point span between second place in the table (currently Arsenal) and seventh place in the table (currently Tottenham). It looks like there will be plenty of reasons for the Dubliners who follow the Premier League to get themselves to pubs to watch games between now and end of May.

Catching up on other stuff – in no particular order other than the order in which they come to mind:

    1. I am a bit surprised at the Aaron Hernandez verdict. I am not surprised because I think Hernandez is innocent; I am surprised that his legal team could not get at least a hung jury. While Hernandez’ actions do not enhance the image of the NFL in any way, there is some solace here for the league and for the union that his punishment will be handled by a party other than one constrained by the details of the current CBA.

    2. Some folks have cited Hernandez as proof that the Patriots’ touting of “The Patriot Way” for building a team that win on the field and builds character in its players as poppycock. Actually, I believe the Hernandez case demonstrates the value of “The Patriot Way”. When the team learned of the arrest and the charges and some of the evidence early on, the Patriots did not take the passive route and say that Hernandez was “one of them” until the legal process played itself out; rather, the Patriots released him and disassociated themselves from him.

    3. A former NFL player whose anti-social credentials are well-known made the news again last week. Lawrence Phillips is suspected of killing his cellmate in a California prison. Phillips is serving about 30 years in prison; among his prior malevolent behaviors, he was convicted of choking his girlfriend on at least two different occasions and then he drove his car into a group of kids in the aftermath of a pickup football game. Make no mistake, Lawrence Phillips is not a great humanitarian. In this case, the deceased cellmate is a person serving a sentence of “82 years to life” for first degree murder. It is not easy to pick a side here to root for…

    4. Three freshman players from Duke’s championship team have declared themselves eligible for the NBA Draft later this year. I have already said that I believe Jahlil Okafor should stay in college at least one more year to learn to play much better defense and to rebound in traffic. I love Justise Winslow’s game and I think it meshes with the NBA game better than any of the other duke players. Put simply, I really do not know what to think about Tyus Jones. His speed and his quickness are “NBA-ready”; his passing is very good but his shooting is sporadic and I seriously doubt that he can now defend against a real NBA point guard. All will go in the draft in the first 15-20 picks. I believe that only Winslow will have a serious impact next year on the team that takes him.

The NFL has “cleared” Adrian Peterson to play in the league once again; according to reports, Roger Goodell sent Peterson a letter informing him of his reinstatement to the league with two conditions attached. Peterson reached a plea deal in his trial in Texas involving child abuse that reduced the charges from a felony to a misdemeanor. In return for that reduction in charges, the court said that Peterson had to fulfill certain obligations; Goodell informed Peterson that his reinstatement to the league was contingent on Peterson continuing to follow those court-ordered directives. In addition, Goodell notified Peterson of the new NFL policies on personal conduct making it clear – at least to me – that if Peterson violates any of those policies he will be back on the “not welcome here list”.

Peterson’s agent has said that Peterson does not want to play for the Vikings anymore and wants to be traded. That is nice; but frankly, I have heard that song sung too many times before to bother myself with it for more than a nanosecond. Recall that Bears’ linebacker, Lance Briggs once held out and swore he would never again play in a Bears’ uniform – and then proceeded to play there for about the next 5 or 6 years. When the agent states – as he surely will at some time – that this is “not about the money”, here is what he means:

    It is not about the money – until of course playing in Minnesota is the only place where there is any money for playing football. If it comes down to “money here” or “no money somewhere else”, we will choose “money here”.

Finally, Greg Cote explained this piece of sports history in the Miami Herald recently:

“By the way, ever wonder how the tradition of cutting down the nets began in basketball? Turns out it was started by the American Association of People Who Sell Basketball Nets.”

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

A Brief Hiatus…

I will be off the air for about a week as my long-suffering wife and I visit our grandson – and his parents too – in Dublin, Ireland.

I hope to be back late next week – either the 16th or 17th of April. Please check back then.

Stay well, all…

Strange Doings Here…

Over the winter, the Chicago Cubs’ organization set upon a renovation/update for Wrigley Field. Lord knows; it was long overdue. Let me just say that it would seem as if the folks in the Cubs’ organization who are in charge of overseeing all of this work are about as adept at that task as the Cubs’ teams have been on the field for the last century or so. It was evident from back around New Year’s Day that the new “Jumbotron” – or whatever they will call it in Chicago – would not be in place quickly enough to assure that the bleachers could be rebuilt around it. Indeed, that work continues. However, that is the good news…

On Opening Day, the Cubbies drew a capacity crowd for a game against the Cardinals; no surprise there. What was a surprise for the fans was that there were not enough rest rooms to accommodate that many folks in the stadium. Reports had it that fans had to wait in excess of 30 minutes in line to use the bathrooms that were functional. Reports also had it that patrons were urinating in empty beer cups and leaving the cups “around and about”.

Look, one of the reasons that the Cubs felt it was finally time to do this renovation/update is that Wrigley Field has always been short on the number of “relief facilities” available. To go with a renovation plan that would allow the stadium to open with even fewer “seats available” than were there before the renovation is purely stupid. How will the Cubbies resolve this problem?

    They will put porta-potties out in the left field concourse.

    They will have real toilets installed and functioning by “late May” according to Crane Kenney, the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations.

Just in case you do not realize, “late May” is approximately 25% of the way through the season; the Cubs will not have sufficient bathroom facilities for its fans for that period of time. In fact, by the time 31 May rolls around – that is “late May” indeed – the Cubs will have played 28 home games out of 81 for the season. In case the batteries in your calculator are dead, that represents 35% of the Cubs’ home games for the season. Here is a link to a report on this mess and a copy of the letter sent by the Cubs to their season ticket holders.

A headline on CBSSports.com yesterday caught my eye because it indicated that Dave Bliss was going to be coaching college basketball once again. Frankly, I could not believe that was really going to happen, but according to the report under the headline, Southwestern Christian University (an NAIA school) has hired him. If you do not recall Dave Bliss and his “fall from grace”, let me do a short reset:

    At Baylor, he had several players there who were having their expenses paid for but were not on scholarship.

    One of those players – one that Bliss had explicitly brought with him to Baylor from a previous coaching stop – was murdered. Much later a teammate was convicted of that murder.

    Bliss organized and orchestrated an intentional cover-up of the scholarship improprieties and scripted interviews to be given to police and investigators. Even less classy than that, he promulgated a completely fallacious story that the murder victim was involved with drugs and that his murder was a “drug crime”.

That all happened in 2003. Just to show that I have not just now manufactured these feelings of outrage, I found what I wrote about this subject in a Topical Rant way back then. I have posted it here in case you would like to see more about this sordid mess.

Yes, I do believe in redemption and I do believe that some people do turn the vector heading of their life around significantly. Yes, I believe that may indeed be the case here. And yes, I am skeptical and will need to see evidence of the change in vector heading. What he did – and what some of his assistant coaches did under his tutelage – back then was simply despicable.

The NFL is in the process of devising a rule change that will affect the PAT and the intent is to have that new rule in place for the 2015 season. There is a meeting scheduled in late May where the Competition Committee will make its recommendation to the owners.

    [Aside: I am confident that the NFL owners will meet in a venue in late May that has sufficient toilet facilities in place so that they need not use porta-potties. Just saying…]

Dan Daly posted a history of the NFL’s dealings with the PAT issue on his blog, ProfootballDaly.com. It turns out that at least one former Commissioner of the NFL hated the PAT and tried to have it removed from the game for more than a decade. Moreover, Professor Daly presents an argument as to why the league should not want to make the PAT significantly more difficult to convert. I think this a piece you should read in its entirety.

Finally, here is a suggestion from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“The Sacramento Kings signed Sim Bhullar to a 10-day contract, and the 7-foot-5, 360-pound center is the first NBA player of Indian descent. So can we call him Mahatma Grande?”

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

Duke 68 Wisconsin 63 – A Great Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, two more “for the record” comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Basketball Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear And Their…

Sports Curmudgeon 4/3/15

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

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

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

Bonne chance, Shaka Smart.

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

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

    Keep your hands to yourself!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Football…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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