SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Credo to Think About

I spent a good part of today working on kid-related activities. Early this morning, I went with my son to a "field clean-up" day for his Little League. This activity amounted to dozens of dads with gardening tools and a few with tillers churning the fields and trying to smooth them out to make them more playable. Many dads came without kids (I came without tools, but there were plenty to borrow), and my son was one of the few kids who picked up a Bowman's rake and started working without prompting. Many of his peers opted to hang out on the nearby playground.

We all worked for a while, doing the best we could, and many of us laughed at the observation that the work reminded us of some of the legendary scenes in "Cool Hand Luke." Still, after about 1 1/2 hours, we took some satisfaction in turning an overgrown infield into a relatively smooth field ready for play in a week's time. I was proud of my son for helping out and not complaining. He came to this after swimming for a while, and while tired he made a nice contribution. It was chilly and windy, and we worked reasonably hard and without the benefit of work gloves.

Later this morning I took my daughter to her softball practice, and I worked with a subset of the girls on catching flyballs. One of the girls, a fifth-grade who is a national talent in a different sport, is playing softball for the first time. Unfortunately, a popup deflected off her glove and hit her on her upper lip. She started to cry at the pain and then cried loudly once she saw blood coming from her month. A confluence of events gave her great comfort within about 10 minutes -- a dentist dad had a coldback in his car, I had a first-aid kit, and the girls' mom came to take her home. It turned out that the ball hit her on the upper lip above her top two front teeth, and she has a dentist's appointment on Monday morning. I called the family later, and she's doing just fine.

The skills sets of the girls are varied. Most have some of the basics down. Some aren't great at judging pop ups yet, others thrown the ball with too elaborate a motion, and some are stiff-legged in their batting approach and haven't embraced the concept of striding and watching the ball hit the bat. Still, they are nice kids, willing to work hard, and willing to learn. A few need some more encouragement, and I took them aside, told them that they can do whatever they wish if they practice and believe that they can, and gave a few some batting pointers that helped them make contact during an intrasquad game.

The reward was the smiles that I got back from the kids. Some looked less self-assured than others, and a few had parents shouting well-meaning encouragement (but encouragement that, in their minds, drew too much attention to them and wasn't helpful). By taking them aside and working with them one on one, I could sense the gratitude that someone was showing them something as opposed to telling them how to do it. It was a fun practice.

And that got me to thinking: what if each of us woke up and said to ourselves, "what am I going to do to make two people smile today?" If everyone did that, wouldn't your world be a better place? How much effort does that take? Does that mean that you take extra time to wave to the crossing guard at your child's school and thank her for being diligent about the kids' safety? Does it mean that you chat up the barrista at your local Starbucks and tell them it's great that she can be so accommodating so early in the morning? Does it mean that you tell the receptionist at your job that you appreciate how cheerful she is because she's the front door to the company and she'll be the first person at your company that all visitors deal with (and therefore she helps create the first impression)? Can you say something nice to your boss, your dentist, your service manager at the car dealership? Can you do that? It doesn't take much effort, but what you're doing is letting people in your world know how much they make a difference, and they'll appreciate it (of course, be sincere, because most folks have a great "smarminess" radar).

I try to be that way on most days, and, yes, we all have our moments when we can't be like that. We don't get enough sleep, we have sick family members, a busy or tough stretch at work, you name it, but on most days trying to make this a priority. You'll be giving confidence and appreciation to those who deserve it, and you'll be making yourself feel better about yourself too.

It's called being a good neighbor, a good citizen, a good parent, a good sibling, a good colleague, you name it.

So, after you read this, let someone you see frequently know that they make a difference in your life.

You'll be glad you did.

Defending Charlie Manuel

Yes, I'm a die-hard Phillies fan, and unlike many I'm not as wont to bash manager Charlie Manuel. The reasons are simple: first, I think that some Philadelphians judge the skipper based upon his Beverly Hillbillies-type of twang, which isn't fair, because it isn't as though South Philly speak (read: if you go to Pat's or Geno's in South Philly near 9th and Passyunk (which the locals pronounces "Pash-yunk") and know what they mean when you order a steak and they ask "with or without") reflects the most advanced dialect of American English; and, second, I think that Charlie got a bad rap regarding his handling of the Phillies' pitching staff last year.

The big knock on the skipper was that he wore out the bullpen early to the point where, by season's end, only rubber-armed Geoff Geary didn't go on the shelf with arm problems. Arthur Rhodes got hurt, as did Flash Gordon, as did Aaron Rhodes. Fair enough, but there was an explanation, and while GM Pat Gillick took some responsibility for the overall problem, he didn't take total responsibility and he didn't defend his manager. If anything, Manuel should have been commended for doing the best with what he had and for not throwing the front office under a belly-flopping Phillie Phanatic.

Put simply, the front office gave Manuel a substandard starting rotation to start the season. Gavin Floyd was in over his head, and Ryan Madson wasn't ready to be a starter. Then, when Jon Lieber went down to a groin injury, Gillick called up a promising rookie from AA named Scott Mathieson. He didn't distinguish himself, either, with the result that 60% of the starting pitching staff couldn't really get through the opposition's order twice without getting rocked. And then, to put the cherry atop this rocky road of a pitching Sunday, the so-called stopper, Brett Myers, acted like a WWE performer in Beantown with his wife and had to take a leave of absence at mid-season. Which meant, of course, even more work for a beleaguered 'pen.

Floyd wasn't read, Madson proved he wasn't a starter, and Mathieson needed more seasoning (and then he got hurt). Gillick admitted in a post-season interview that he stayed with the young starters too long, but I don't recall that he defended Manuel's handling of pitchers and, particularly, the deployment of the relievers. He should have. What was Manuel supposed to do -- let the starters get hit so hard that all infielders would have had to wear cups and let the other team score so many runs in consecutive games that the Rules Committee might have considered a Mercy Rule for Major League Baseball? No, he had to go to his bullpen.

And he did, and the results were good for a while, as during the early months in the season the Phils had one of the most effective bullpens in baseball. Then, they wore down, as the ineptitude of the starters continued for too long. By mid-season, many had written off the Phillies, but Manuel somehow did manage to keep the team together before the July 31 trading deadline. The team performed poorly in the weeks leading up to the deadline, perhaps because the starting staff was tired, the bullpen was starting to act creaky, and because the position players were wondering where they would end up after the deadline.

Thereafter, the team transformed itself. Manuel did a good job of keeping the team focused (you have to give him credit, especially if you lambaste him for things like an occasional failure to do a double switch), and he did a good job with some folks on their hitting, most notably Jimmy Rollins, who had a monster second half (and there was one vignette on a TV broadcast of a Phillies-Marlins game where for a long time the camera showed a relaxed Rollins talking hitting with Skipper Manuel). Milt Thompson, the hitting coach, has to get some credit, too, for making Rollins a more patient hitter, but the team led the NL in runs scored, and if you have a manager who is an excellent teacher of hitting, he probably deserves some credit for that. But it's the tradition in Philadelphia to trash the skipper, and Manuel gets more than his fair share of oral grafitti.

In the end, the bullpen had no gas left in it, and there was a time where everyone but Chase Utley was hitting and then, when Utley started to hit (and very hotly at season's end), no one else did and Ryan Howard saw more walks than Barry Bonds. Manuel got blamed for wearing out the bullpen, but I don't think that the blame is fair. He should get credit for rallying the team to an amazing finish that was fun to watch and for helping turn Jimmy Rollins into a more patient hitter. Instead, he gets criticized for his handling of pitchers and for the sphinx that is Pat Burrell.

How will he fare this season? The bullpen remains iffy, and a few starters start the season hurt. But Madson is settled in his role as the set-up man, and now that he's settled (i.e., he's figured out he's no starter), he might just have a breakout year. Gordon seems healthy, and Geary returns. The rest of the bullpen is iffy, but it could well be that Manuel won't have to rely upon his 'pen as much early in the season this year as he did last year. If that's the case, the 'pen should have enough gas down the home stretch.

In any event, the Phillies should have an exciting team this year. The pressure will be on Manuel to get the team off to a good start, but I'm not sure it would be fair to can him in June if the Phillies are playing a few games below .500. Remember, the fans who trash Manuel are the same fans who wanted Larry Bowa, and while Bowa forever will remain dear to the hearts of the faithful, he was not successful in his stint with the hometown nine. Manuel has created a more relaxed atmosphere. Whether his approach will get the Phillies to their first post-season berth in 14 years remains to be seen.

Now it's time for you to post your comments and let me know what you think. I'm sure that many of you who are Phillies' fans will want to let me have it.

Baseball Prospectus

If you're a baseball fan, you have to buy this book. About 15 statheads, you know, the types you might not have known in college or, if you knew who they were, you might not have hung out with them because, well, they were a whole lot smarter than you, combine to write a great analysis of Major League Baseball and tons of players. Their stats are great, and they pull no punches with their commentary. I read some pieces aloud during my Fantasy Draft (the 19th year of the league and the 19th year in a row where everyone has sat in the same place in the same room), and we all howled.

If you're from the Joe Morgan school of "manufacturing runs", boning bats and sleeping with your glove under your pillow, you might not buy into their way of thinking. But their way of thinking is pretty much "spot on" as those across the pound in the U.K. might say in their dialect of English. So check out what PECOTA, VORP and WXRL mean and then enjoy it.

Billy Packer

Is it me, am I losing my edge, or has Billy Packer actually been tolerable this March Madness season?

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Son-in-Law Business

I grew up in a town where people's parents grew up with each other's parents, the grandparents knew each other from old neighborhoods if not the old country, and, well, everyone knew everyone else or was one or two phone calls away from someone who knew someone who you might have needed to or wanted to talk to about something important.

A friend of mine's father was a doctor who played golf with a bunch of different people at the club to which they belonged. Invariably, he would remark that some of the people he knew were in the "son-in-law" business. I had no clue one day as to what he was talking about, so I asked my father. I was a teenager at the time.

Dad laughed.

"He means that the person was either smart enough or lucky enough to marry a woman whose family owned a successful business, and he worked in the business in some capacity."

And that got me to thinking.

"It doesn't sound like a compliment, though, does it?"

Dad smiled (perhaps because I was displaying some cognitive ability after a long night playing Strat-o-Matic).

"It isn't."

I looked at him quizzically.

"What he's basically saying is that the guy in question is lucky enough to be in the position he's in, because he's not too energetic, too bright, too nice, or a combination of all of them. Therefore, he's in the son-in-law business."

Occasionally, there were those sons-in-law who helped grow the business when less-than-competent sons otherwise had the ability to run it into a day-glo green iceberg in broad daylight with alarm bells emanating from the berg from 30 miles away. But those seemingly were the exceptions.

Fast forward to the present time, and the linked article.

George Steinbrenner's son-in-law and heir apparent to run the Yankees, Steve Swindal, is divorcing Steinbrenner's daughter after 23 years of marriage. Which means that when you divorce the wife, you divorce the family business. That's obviously tough and bad for Swindal, and it could be bad for the Yankees. Many (including ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg) have attributed to the Yankees' refusal to trade hot prospects such as Phil Hughes because Swindal refused to continue to mortgage the future. Without Swindal, the concern will be that because The Boss, who is in his mid-70's, wants to win one more World Series, he might not continue to have the patience that apparently Swindal enforced during his tenure.

While I wrote about the originals of the term "son-in-law" business, by all accounts Swindal wasn't in it. He might have gotten the job because of his connections, but during his tenure the Yankees did not fall off the table. True, they didn't win a World Series, but they were a formidable team. Now the open question is who will take over once Swindal is gone, unless, of course, by some miracle Swindal will remain even after the divorce. The speculation I've heard is that he won't.

Many of us would consider running a baseball team to be our dream job. Many of us would consider working for our fathers-in-law a nightmare, almost tantamount to consignment one's soul, if not one's self, into a perpetual form of indentured servitude (which the father-in-law could lord over you, especially emotionally, as he saw fit). How far would you go to run a baseball team? Would that type of pressure and tension (and it would exist in some fashion) be worth it? Is it optimal to let your world's collide like that? Is it possible not to take the job home with you after a hard day? How do you complain to your spouse that her father is unreasonable? The questions abound, and the stakes are high (lose the marriage, lose the job, and worry about your job prospects). Especially if you signed a non-compete.

As much as I love sports, were that type of opportunity presented, my guess is that I would have passed. No offense to anyone, but certain forms of separation are appropriate so as not to lead to the type of separation that Swindal and his wife currently are facing.

The Yankees now bear watching. With the Boss likely to become more involved on a day-to-day basis, the circus could well be back in town.

Pete Carril on the Princeton Offense

Wisdom from the Old Master.

Thanks to Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News for venturing out of the five-county Philadelphia area, across the Delaware River and to the Princetonian Diner on Route 1 to talk to the retired Princeton coach.

Read the whole thing. You'll learn about the origins of the offense, Coach Carril's feelings about it, and, interestingly, Coach Carril's feelings on the moniker "Princeton Offense."

The Kentucky Coaching Job

Apparently getting the right coach for your legendary program has no upper limits, or, at least, no realistic ceiling. Click here to read the latest article from espn.com on what Kentucky is prepared to offer Florida's Billy Donovan.

A king's ransom, that's what. (And long-time readers know my feelings on the particular topic of the salaries of coaches, the numbers of assistant coaches, and the facilities dedicated to athletes who play revenue sports).

Let's visit the issue of the most desirable jobs in college hoops (and I'll rattle off, say, the top 10 or so jobs):

Duke
North Carolina
Kentucky
Kansas
Indiana
UCLA
Ohio State
Illinois
Louisville
Syracuse
Florida (and, here, only because Billy Donovan is the head coach now, and, yes, I named 11 programs, not 10). (As an aside, I have always thought it would be great to promote a start-of-the-season tournament featuring the Top 16 programs in all-time wins; full disclosure: as a native Philadelphian, this tourney would include 2-3 Philadelphia-area teams, I believe -- Temple, Penn and possibly St. Joe's or Villanova).

At any rate, those are very prestigious jobs, and I've added Florida only because of the lustre that Billy Donovan has brought to the program. Prior to the arrival of Donovan, there's no way you would have put the Florida job among the Top 40 in college hoops (sorry, Gator fans, but why would you have?). So, if you do the analysis on the surface, you'd ask, "why on earth would Donovan leave Gainesville, he virtually owns the place and he coaches at one of the top 10 programs in the country." Actually, the way he's coached, his is a Top 5 program, but, historically, Florida hasn't been a top program, and Kentucky has.

Still, that's a great question, why would Donovan leave. The only reason I can think of is that Kentucky is a basketball school whose football program is not likely to eclipses the basketball program, while Florida is a football school whose football program has eclipsed the basketball program. Translated into an English that non-sports fans speak, that means that Billy Donovan isn't the first toast of the town in Gainesville, Urban Meyer, the football coach for the Gators, is. And, believe it or not, that fact matters to those who coache in the rarified air. They like to be the biggest dog in the yard.

But I just don't see Donovan's leaving. Yes, were he to leave Gainesville Kentucky's prospects would surge greatly and Florida's would drop, because it's unlikely that the Gators would be able to hire the next great coach two times in a row. But, guys named Rupp, Pitino and Smith (for Tubby won a national title in Lexington) already have marked the Kentucky program indelibly. At Florida, it's been totally the Billy Donovan Show the way, after 16 years of tinkering, John Wooden turned UCLA hoops into the John Wooden Show. I just have trouble believing that such a successful coach would want to return to a more legendary program when he's on the verge of building a dynasty in Gainesville.

I don't blame the Wildcats for pursuing Donovan hard and for putting out feelers for John Calipari (if that's what happened). But somehow I don't see Donovan leaving for Kentucky or any other SEC school. I might be wrong about this, but the bet here is that Florida tears up Coach Donovan's contract, makes him one of the most highly paid college hoops coaches and watches him remain one of the game's preeminent coaches until he retires.

Unless, of course, he hates football.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Race and the Princeton Offense

This headline ought to draw some interesting posts, but here's a recent story on Georgetown from Time.com. Read the whole thing and see what you think.

There is a line of thought out there that the Princeton Offense is stultifying, that it stunts creativity, that it's hackneyed, that it's been reverse engineered so much that it's easy to defend, and that good players won't play it because they don't need to. You can read comments to various posts of mine addressing the issue of the alleged demise of "the system," and even I have wondered aloud whether Darwinism has caught up to this venerated system and it has become easy to defend (it's hard not to wonder when you're beloved team has its worst-ever league season in 51 years of league play).

During the later days of Pete Carril (for, during the early days, when the school wasn't so expensive and big-time basketball hadn't proliferated to 300+ DI schools), some people wondered whether the Princeton offense would work at a big-time program. There were doubters, of course, for a couple of reasons. One, people entangled the program with Coach Carril, a brilliant coach but one who wasn't for everyone (translated: some kids would have found him too tough). So, some of his former players told me that at the big-time schools the system wouldn't work because the players wouldn't want to/wouldn't have to listen to Coach Carril. Fair enough, but that answer begged the question about the Princeton Offense and whether it would work. Two, there were those who wondered, especially in days after the NIT Championship team of 1975 and before the shot clock, whether the offense was too deliberate and, yes, too restrictive on talented players. Former players contended, however, that most of the time it was opponents who held the ball on the Tigers because of their good defense as opposed to the Tigers' holding the ball (even Joe Scott was unfairly maligned on this point; yes, his teams did wait to shoot until 2-3 seconds to go on the shot clock too many times this year, but that wasn't because of Coach Scott, who was often quoted as saying that he had urged some of his kids to shoot more). There is truth to that, and I don't recall Princeton's holding the ball the way a) Dean Smith's teams used to in the "4 Corners" offense or b) Harry Litwack's teams did at Temple in the late 60's and early 70's (where, I think, the Owls once lost to Tennessee in Knoxville by a score of 13-8). I know I won't win this particular point with some of you, but I'm repeating what I heard and reflecting upon some of what I saw.

Don't forget, Pete Carril didn't derive this offense from whole cloth. Like any other innovator, he pulled from the references that were out there, most notably the brilliance of Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics. Many old-timers recall Coach Carril's diagramming the plays of the Celtics and modifying them to fit his vision of the game. All of us will recall that the Celtics were a racially balanced team, featuring Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, John Havlicek and Bob Cousy, among others. Those were great teams, and it made perfect sense for a coach who played to win on every occasion to try to derive from the best. I don't think that trying to emulate the plays of an early-day version of the Los Angeles Clippers would have put any coach in good stead or predicted a long, successful career for him.

At the end of the day, the formula for success in hoops is pretty simple. Get the most talented players as possible, and then mold them into a team that plays aggressively and unselfishly, that moves without the ball, finds the open man, defends as if their lives depended on it, hits the boards and dives for the loose balls. The Celtics are a shining examples of that formula, but the history of both professional and college hoops is littered with wrecks of talented teams that somehow couldn't transcend individual talent and the idiosyncrasies that can accompany it and that crashed and burned before reaching the heights predicted for them.

So, the question remains, can the Princeton offense work at a big-time program? The linked article says "yes", and so do I (and, quite frankly, it has worked at Georgetown). Now, there are variations on any system, so, perhaps, the JTIII system isn't the "classic" Princeton offense, but it's a variation on the theme.

And that's good enough for me.

And Jeff Green and the Georgetown Hoyas.

Hoya Saxa, indeed.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Few Observations about the Final Four

First, what exactly is a "student-athlete"? The NCAA insists that everyone involved with March Madness refers to the players as "student-athletes," but what exactly is meant by the term. Take Greg Oden, for example. I want to preface this by saying that everything I've read about Oden has been positive, that he sounds like a neat kid with a curiosity to learn and a good work ethic.

In SI's recent piece about The Ohio State University (I couldn't tell whether it was a puff piece or not, but it depends on where you sit), it featured Oden as an elite athlete (it also featured many other people in TOSU's athletic universe). Fair enough, but his accommodations don't resemble those of the average TOSU student and his academic load makes you wonder how low the bar has dropped for "student-athletes." The past semester Oden took Sociology 101, The History of Rock 'N Roll and got a few credits for playing basketball (which is permissible under NCAA rules, up to a cap of, I think 12 total credits during a scholar-athlete's eligibility). The article did point out that Oden had considered majoring in Business Administration, but an academic advisor had talked him out of it (but there's no controversy here the way there was when then-RB Robert Smith, who was pre-med, clashed with then-Offensive Coordinator Elliott Uzelac regarding his course load). Still. . . that makes a student-athlete?

For all of the publicity the NCAA puts forth during tournament time (such as the ads that say that most of the 300,000+ student-athletes go pro in something other than their sports), the governing body can't gloss over the fact that some kids are on campus just to play their sport. If I were Greg Oden, I would be, because it's clear that I'm going to play for (a great deal of) money very quickly after my matriculation. Whether that makes guys like student-athletes, though, is another story. And why the NCAA should go to great lengths to stress its academic mission for kids who play revenue-generating sports is beyond me. It seems like the governing body care a whole lot more about the image of its member schools than the member schools do.

Also, what's with "The Ohio State University"? Are those who went to or go to the school in Columbus, Ohio concerned that there are bad imitations out there, such as an Ohio State that is in its formative years in Duluth and a cut-rate mail order Ohio State that's based in Bayonne, New Jersey or an Ohio State that's based in Bangalore? I just don't get it. Why add the "The"? Is it really necessary?

Funny, too, because at some point in middle-school grammar teachers discuss when to use definite and indefinite articles, and it seems that the definite article is misplaced before "Ohio State University." It doesn't belong there, and it wasn't needed when Bob Knight hooped for Fred Taylor and when Woody Hayes coached Rex Kern and Archie Griffin.

But a student-athlete playing in the Final Four would know that, wouldn't he?

Then again, with all the money some of the players on each of the teams will make pretty quickly, they can pay the kids at their schools who drive ten year-old cars, live in dorms and work a job to help pay tuition and will become junior executives in training programs upon graduation to help them with those grammatical distinctions should they need to make them later in life.

And, odds are, they probably won't.

So what's the point?

Heck if I know, except I wish the NCAA would go lighter on the p.r. machine. After all, four outstanding teams have made the Final Four, and even Billy Packer has been tolerable.

March Madness?

Only so far as student-athletes are concerned.

Who Says the Princeton Offense is Dead?

Some of you who have posted comments to various posts on Princeton basketball and to Princeton's selection of a successor to Joe Scott have suggested that the Princeton administration has stuck to the Princeton family of coaches too long and to the Princeton Offense too long. They argue, quite forcefully and somewhat effectively, that the rest of the Ivies have learned the system, that it's easy to defend, and that Princeton has stubbornly stuck to the Cappon line of coaches and might do better looking for alternatives. Those of you who have practiced bankruptcy law know all too well that many a company ends up in Chapter 11 when a generation of the family line proves that it can't handle what its predecessors have built. Put the two together, and the constructive critics (because the debate about the merits of Joe Scott was relatively tame) contended that with Joe Scott, the Princeton line, perhaps, had run dry.

A key fact was on their side. After all, Scott, the savior of Air Force Academy hoops (and those of you who aren't Dean Smith fans don't remember that Smith's first coaching job was as an assistant at Air Force and one of his key mentors was his boss, whose name escapes me at this time), coached the Tigers to its first-ever last-place finish in the Ivies -- a 2-12 record. QED, they would argue, the program is facing an abyss and needs a change of direction.

Point taken. Hard comments for Princetonians to hear. Especially in the past week.

Fast forward to this afternoon. The Georgetown Hoyas went on a 31-9 run at the end of their regional final against North Carolina (and, remember, outside the Tigers and Temple, my two favorite programs are Carolina, because of their great legacy, and Georgetown, because John Thompson III is a Princeton alum, did a fine job at Princeton, and they play good hoops down in D.C.) to win the game in a stunning come-from-behind victory in overtime. Is the Princeton Offense dead? No way. You have a center who can put the ball on the floor (Roy Hibbert), a versatile forward who's a gifted passer (Jeff Green, who looks to have a huge upside at the next level) and who threw a nifty back-door pass to PG Jonathan Wallace (more on him later) for a layup to start the OT session. Passing, three-point shooting, back-door cuts -- they were all there.

Now, the differences between Georgetown and Princeton are stark. The former is an elite program that recruits great players and competes at the highest level. The latter is a low-end DI program in a bottom-third DI league that doesn't give athletic scholarships. Get great athletes to run any offense, and odds are that with proper teaching and coaching they will win many more games than they lose. The fact is, though, that the Hoyas run a souped-up version of the Princeton Offense and excel at it. So, before anyone writes off the Princeton Offense at Princeton, remember that if the Tigers could recruit a few "light bulbs" as Pete Carril used to call them, they could be back in business -- with the system -- in no time flat. Yes, the other Ivies have seen it and are pretty good at defending it, but the Tigers' talent level in the Ivies hasn't been all that good over the past 3 years.

As for Jonathan Wallace, well, JTIII actually had recruited him for Princeton, and he was going to enroll at Old Nassau three years back before JTIII announced he was leaving for Georgetown. Wallace then opted to follow Thompson to Georgetown. Put Wallace in a Tigers' uniform and you'd not only be talking about Penn guard Ibby Jaaber as a player-of-the-year candidate, you'd also be talking about Wallace. Needless to say, the Tigers would have been much more talented and perhaps better able to run their fabled offense.

So, no, the reports that the Princeton Offense is dead are a bit exaggerated. It's alive and well in Georgetown, as is a "never-say-quit" spirit that a very able member of the Princeton family line -- John Thompson III -- has instilled in his team, the type of "play to win" philosophy that Pete Carril taught every single day of his coaching career. Will that offense revive itself in Princeton? Perhaps, if the Tigers get the right coach and the right talent. Stranger things have happened in Tigertown before (such as going 2-12 in league play this year).

I posted the other day as to who I thought would be the favorite for the position, and now I'd contend that Sydney Johnson, one of JTIII's assistants, has to be a leading contender. Johnson's in his early 30's, was beloved at Princeton, and is part of a Final 4 program. He was a great leader as a player, and, now might be ready for a head-coaching position. Georgetown's play -- both its system and its heart -- provide great recommendations for all of its assistants to become head coaches.

Even in Princeton.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Who is Gary Walters Calling?

I can't say whether Penn's and Temple's searches for head basketball coaches last season were done the same way, and my guess is that they were not. I thought that Temple fared better than Penn, as Fran Dunphy had proven himself more in the national arena than Brown's Glen Miller, although Miller did a good job at Penn this season. Ironically, of course, it was Miller who went to the NCAA tournament this year (albeit with all of Dunphy's recruits, even the frosh) while Dunphy is in the process of rebuilding at Temple (and the Owls weren't invited anywhere).

Temple AD Bill Bradshaw gave more visibility to his process than Penn AD Steve Bilsky did to his. Bradshaw admitted that he telephoned many different head coaches and authorities in the game and asked them their opinions as to who he should hire. He spoke with, among others, Coach K, and Coach K quickly surfaced Fran Dunphy's name (for what it was worth, so did I, as Dunphy was the logical choice for Temple). It seemed like Bradshaw spoke with dozens of people, and he kept on coming back to Dunphy. When you reach out and build that type of consensus, your decision almost makes itself.

So, if Princeton AD Gary Walters were to embark upon such a process, who should he call? I would suggest calling Coach K, Roy Williams, D John Thompson III, Bill Carmody, Dave Leitao (UVA), Dave Odom (South Carolina), Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt), Trent Johnson (Stanford), Bob Knight and many others who seem to be able to balance academics and athletics the way the Ivies do. Talk with them about your vision for the qualities this coach should contain, refine your vision if necessary, and then ask them about possible candidates. Be upfront about the difficulties a head coach can face in the Ivies (read: recruiting and financial aid) and then build your pool. See if you hear several names on a repeat basis. His task certainly won't be as easy as Bill Bradshaw's (he was looking for established head coaches primarily), but it will be interesting as to what he would find out. Perhaps a rising star.

Would he hear the name Chris Collins, one of Coach K's assistants at Duke? Would he hear Sydney Johnson, one of JTIII' s assistants and Georgetown? These conversations would be most helpful, and the responses invaluable.

As with any industry or profession, people trade names and notes all the time. People run into each other at conferences and meetings, the same way coaches run into each other on the recruiting trail, at talent showcases and at coaching conventions and clinics. Invariably, up-and-comers build reputations, and head coaches form impressions and file names away for future reference. If you read "Blue Ribbon", you'll notice that assistant coaches and head coaches come from a wide variety of schools, so if you see that a head coach went to North Dakota State and the top assistant went to Long Beach State, they probably met somewhere at a tournament or at a prior employer and struck up a relationship.

Phil Collins (during the time he was with Genesis) once sang that "I know what I like, and I like what I know." This saying holds true for most of us, and it probably holds true for Gary Walters. What we don't know is whether what AD Walters knows and likes goes beyond his comfort zone of Princeton family members, and whether his days on the NCAA DI Men's Basketball Selection Committee have given him insight that goes beyond the Princeton hoops family tree. He is bright, and he has insight, and I'm pretty sure he's built up a (very) strong list of contacts. The question remains how deeply he'll tap into them to fill this position.

More on the Family Business

USA Today writes about family ties at Georgetown, both within the Thompson and Ewing families. Read the whole thing here.

Lots of consanguineity in college hoops and lots of adopted families too. There are 11 brother combinations coaching in college hoops today and 19 coaches whose fathers coached (or are still coaching) in DI. The article doesn't contain a list, but in recent years Sean Sutton has succeeded his father, Eddie, at Oklahoma State, while Keno Davis will succeed his father, Dr. Tom (a mentor to Gary Williams and Bruce Pearl, among others) starting now and Pat Knight will succeed dad Bob at Texas Tech whenever "The General" decides to put away his sweater collection in Lubbock. All must be interesting stories to say the least. College hoop coaches have to have authoritative personalities, and to succeed you have to run a tough meritocracy -- the best players play and the best assistants get the jobs. Translated, it can't be easy working for your father in these settings, because he'll be as tough and unforgiving with you as he has to be with everyone else.

The other issue, of course, is succession planning. No family has a divine right to positions at any company, meaning that I'll question whether it's totally fair for the younger Sutton, Davis and Knight to get the jobs virtually in advance of their father's retirements. Do they get the jobs purely on merit or partially/totally because if the dad's employers don't acquiesce, dad will bolt and leave the program worse off? The dad coaches might not like to hear this point raised, but it's not unfair to raise it. If the sons become Hall of Fame coaches, fine, but if they don't, then obviously the universities who anointed them without doing full searches will have failed their athletic programs. Forgive me for sounding harsh here, but I'm not sure I agree with anointing a son at a major program (or a minor one for that matter). Perhaps long-time son assistants should prove their mettle elsewhere before getting the nod to succeed dad, the way John Thompson III did at Princeton before moving to Georgetown. Sure, his family ties were a plus for the Hoyas, but JTIII proved himself on his own.

What's more likely -- that a program preordains a son or preordains that a top assistant will take over after a retirement? I can think of only one DI school who hired an assistant (unrelated to the head coach) who was designated as a successor to a legendary head coach. That was several years ago, when Purdue lured Matt Painter back to West Lafayette to spend a season at Gene Keady's side before taking over. Right now, that move looks to have been a wise one. In contrast, years ago Temple coach John Chaney tried to exact a promise from his school's administration to anoint one of his assistants (Dean Demopolous) to be his successor, only to find that the administration didn't agree. The assistant left the university shortly thereafter. To me, that type of succession planning is appropriate and is what helps distinguish outstanding institutions in our country, whether they're businesses, the military, universities, etc. It doesn't seem, though, that succession planning is prevalent among DI hoops because there's an abundance of outstanding talent that comes through the ranks every year. If you think about it, hiring from outside -- say a Bruce Pearl who excelled at Wisconsin-Milwaukee -- gives you a better chance to find an outstanding coach than anointing a relative.

I have nothing against sons or against the coaches whose sons have succeeded them, as all of those head coaches were/are outstanding. What's intriguing to me is the selection process, and it would be great if John Feinstein or Andy Katz could get a box seat to an AD at a big-time school and how he proceeds to build his applicant pool, those to whom he speaks, those he decides to interview and how he selects his coach.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting dynamic at Georgetown worth watching. Can a Thompson and Ewing help lead the Hoyas to another national title?

Why Does It Matter?

For those of you who have doubted my staying power, I arise well before sunrise each week day to workout (spin bike, stretches, medicine ball work and push-ups). While exercising, I watch ESPN's "Sports Center" (I believe it's a tape of the latest show from the night before). Anyway, this morning one of the lead stories was that Kobe Bryant scored 60 in a game last night and that it was the third straight game in which he'd scored over 50 points and that very few players (perhaps none who weren't named Wilt Chamberlain) put together four consecutive games having scored 50 or more points.

Fine, but where are the Lakers in the standings?

Fine, but is their offense really anything more than clearouts for Kobe when he does this?

Fine, but do others set picks for Kobe's man to set up Kobe for open looks after getting good passes from players named Luke and Smush?

Fine, but do other Lakers do anything more than stand around on offense?

Last night four Sweet 16 games were played and Tubby Smith announced he was leaving Kentucky for the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Isn't the first subset worthy of much more attention than Kobe's points?

Sports Center's attention to Kobe compels a question for all to ask the NBA: what's the point?

Points?

Or teams like Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio and Detroit?

Or making Sports Center's Top 10 "Plays of the Day" list?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Potential Successors to Joe Scott at Princeton

In the quest for speed, I won't be linking to any of these guys' bios, but here goes, and, yes, this is in the order of how I'm handicapping the race to succeed Joe Scott:

1. Craig Robinson. What's not to like? He is a Princeton alum, two-time Ivy Player of the Year, former Northwestern assistant, current Brown head coach and brother-in-law to Presidential wannabe Barack Obama (great line on article about Craig in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the eve of Penn's home game against Brown, where he talked about his then-brother-in-law to be and said that Obama told him he was interested in being President some day and Craig responded, "President of what?" Naturally, the Obama tie is a nice add-on, but it's meaningless in terms of credentials, although Obama's cache could help in recruiting). Nice guy, coached well this year, and my Penn friends said he did a great job coaching against Penn (and perhaps the best coaching job of any Ivy opposing coach at the Palestra this year). Downside: he's only been at Brown for a year, only been a head coach for a year, and might not move after one year. I don't think that the first two factors matter much, as many programs hire long-time assistants for head coaching jobs who didn't have head coaching experience prior to getting that job. Robinson has, and he's the favorite on the board. I don't think Princeton would care to poach Robinson from Brown, and the Princeton job presents a unique opportunity for Robinson that wouldn't likely arise again.

2 (tie) Mitch Henderson and Sydney Johnson. Both are young, both haven't been head coaches, both are Princeton alums, and Henderson has spent the past 6 years assisting (one-time Princeton head coach) Bill Carmody at Northwestern while Johnson played in Europe for a while and has spent the past several years assisting (one-time Princeton head coach) John Thompson III at Georgetown. Henderson was lightly recruited and made himself into an outstanding point guard, so much so that former Penn coach (now Temple coach) Fran Dunphy once said that he had nightmares of Henderson breaking his team's press. Johnson was a big recruit who, like Robinson, once was Ivy Player of the Year and was beloved on campus. After a Princeton loss against Indiana his senior year, then Indiana coach (now at Texas Tech) Bob Knight took Johnson aside for several minutes after the game and complimented him on the way he played the game. Both are young, both are untested, and both have great potential. Whether Princeton wants to go with an untested coach at this time is uncertain.

3. Chris Mooney. Princeton alum and two-time first-team all-Ivy player in the mid-1990's, Mooney was Joe Scott's top assistant during the "Miracle at Air Force." When Scott left for Princeton three seasons ago, Mooney became head coach and led the team to an 18-14 record (I think that's it, I'm writing from memory). After that season, Mooney moved to Richmond, where he's had two losing seasons in a row. (Former Nuggets' head coach Jeff Bzdelik took over from Mooney and has done at excellent job in Colorado Springs over the past 2 seasons). Mooney has three years of head-coaching experience and is part of the Princeton family, but the guess here is that he's too closely aligned with memories of Joe Scott and won't get the call. Had he had two good-to-outstanding seasons at Richmond, things might be different.

4. Rob Burke. Burke is a former teammate of John Thompson III's in high school (Gonzaga in DC) and was Thompson's top assistant at Princeton. Currently, he's Thompson's top assistant at Georgetown, and the Hoyas are a red-hot team. The pros to Burke is that he's helped assist a proven winner in a ramped-up and evolved version of the Princeton system and that he's known to Princeton. The con, perhaps, or at least perhaps to A.D. Gary Walters, is that Burke isn't part of the "Cappon Line" that I wrote about the other day. I don't know whether the absence of a more pure Princeton connection will hurt Burke (it wouldn't if I were A.D.), but my guess is that Burke wouldn't be interested. Truth be told, he could get a better job -- in the CAA or the A-10, to name a few conferences. Why settle for the Ivies if you can go to a place where recruiting is easier and where, if you succeed, you could end up getting a head coaching job in one of the top 8 conferences?

5. tie, current assistants Mike Brennan and Howie Levy. My guess is that Brennan will be a head coach somewhere some day, and even if he's viewed as a rising star it would be difficult for Walters to sell his elevation on the heels of a 2-12 Ivy season. Levy's been a perennial assistant and seems happy in that role.

6. Who else? The question is whether the Tigers will think outside the Cappon Line box and look elsewhere. I harken back to Duke in the early 1980's, a heralded ACC program whose coach, Bill Foster, left for Northwestern of all places after reaching the NCAA Final Game with Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel and Gene Banks. Did Duke take a head coach from a major program? No, they took a head coach from a service academy who barely had a winning record in his 6-7 seasons there and who would have gone to Iowa State had he not gotten the Duke job. The guy's name is Krzyzewski and he's a Hall of Famer. Now, there could be a great DIII head coach or an outstanding DI assistant out there with no real ties to the school but with great energy, an understanding of the Ivies' mission and the ability to innovate and win. I'm not so sure how easy it might be to find this coach, but there are plenty of possibilities out there. That would be daring. One thought would be to lure Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon, a well-respected and innovative coach, to Tigertown. Penn approached him last year to replace his good friend Fran Dunphy, and O'Hanlon declined. My guess is that if O'Hanlon decided not to return to his native Philadelphia, he won't leave Easton for Princeton, either.

What does Princeton need? Someone who can turn the program around and make it a perennial title contender again. That's the job description, short and sweet.

As for Joe Scott, I wish him well, admire his knowledge of the game and his passion for it. His zeal might have been misplaced at times, but he did his best, made some mistakes and meant well. Some Princeton fans are frustrated or angry that he's leaving for Denver and leaving the program in the state it's in. But can you blame him? He doesn't have the best job security in central New Jersey, his family lived in Colorado before and liked it, the Denver job offers (much) better job security and he's viewed as a coaching demigod in the Mountain States. How could he really pass that up, and, if given the chance and put in his shoes, would you? I'm not sure that I would have taken the Princeton job when Scott did, if only because he excelled at a higher level and, to me, the Princeton job, regardless of his ties to Tigertown, was a step down. I'm sure that Coach Scott didn't expect his return to Princeton to be easy, especially with Fran Dunphy at Penn, but I'm equally sure that he didn't expect the path to be this difficult.

Expect Princeton to move quickly. There are recruits to be dealt with and existing players to be kept in the fold. Princeton lost out on Jonathan Wallace when JTIII bolted for Georgetown (he was headed for Princeton, and what a difference would have have made), and you'd hate to see recruits lose interest or existing players transfer because of an uneasy transition.

What do you think? What have you heard?

Stay tuned, and please keep me posted.

Question Answered: Joe Scott Leaving for Denver

Click here and read all about it.

Will there be a national search committee at Princeton?

Or will the A.D., Gary Walters, try to move quickly to annoint one of the obvious candidates: Brown coach Craig Robinson, Northwestern assistant Mitch Henderson, Princeton's top assistant Mike Brennan, Georgetown's top assistant Robert Burke or Richmond head coach Chris Mooney. No doubt, I'm missing others, but these are the first names that come to mind.

Huge decision to make at Princeton, and it's surprising to see Joe Scott leave. He must have had some interesting conversations with Walters during the season and promptly following it.

What this will do for recruiting and to the players in the program remains to be seen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Life is Demographics

One of you knows that this is one of my favorite sayings, reflective of the fact that societal tides can depend, to a certain degree, on the amount of population and the age of that population at a given time. For example, those of you born at the tail end of the Baby Boom know that early in your careers advancement wasn't all that easy, because you were caught behind relatively young front-end Boomers (i.e., those born after World War II in the late 1940's). Put differently, when you were in your mid-20's, they were about 40, with many years to go in their careers. While some have argued that Baby Boomers have enjoyed quite the gravy train career-wise, I would make an exception for back-end Boomers (i.e., those born between 1960-1964), many of whom had to more than wait their turn. Being a back-end Boomer, then, was like being the guy in the parade who carried the shovel behind the horse. Or, at least at times, so it seemed. The front-end Boomers, of course, encouraged your patience by emphasizing that at least you were in the parade.

Which got me to thinking the other day about the fact that many front-end Boomers will be retiring soon, either because they've decided too or they've been pushed into it (perhaps because they've grown too expensive for the jobs they currently hold and either have been asked to take a pay cut and refused or were lopped off in less ceremonious fashion (with the use of the word "lop" intended to connote horrible enemy practices in the Far Eastern Theatre of war during World War II). At any rate, some of these folks will have plenty of time on their hands and some money to spend. The question, then, is what will they do with it.

My prediction is that you'll see the fiercest competition ever for volunteer positions. I know of some senior citizens in their 70's who are docents at various museums. A docent, to the best of my knowledge, is a tour guide/teacher required to undergo somewhat vigorous training to tell groups about the art and artifacts that the museums where they volunteer hold. They take courses and get tested and then get anoninted if they qualify. The only problem, as I see it, is that the number of museums and docent positions cannot possibly grow by the same factor that these front-end Boomers will be joining the ranks of retirees. Since there will be much more supply than demand, the competition will intensify.

So, imagine the entrepeneurial activities that could emerge from this imbalance. In the same way that enterprising personal trainers formed an athlete performance center in Arizona to train would-be high-round NFL draft picks in ways to make them perform better at the NFL's Scouting Combine and thereby make themselves more attractive to teams, you could start a Volunteer Enhancement Performance Center. You'd attract some big-bucks front-end Boomers and whip them into shape, literally and figuratively. I think that people would pay big bucks for that.

Suppose you're about 20 pounds overweight, not tuned into docent fashion, do Sudoku books on the beach and only read novels that they sell at BJ's Wholesale Club. Perhaps you've worked hard enough to have missed the last 10+ years of popular television, and you're not strong on the arts and music. You want to make yourself presentable for a variety of volunteer opportunities, and the competition is tough. Go to our location in Arizona, and, as is popular in America, re-make yourself.

Shed those intimidating wide pinstripe suits and $100 ties for a tweedy look. Get rid of the funky haircut, shed the jewelry and make your appearance look humble. The center's wardrobe and personal appearance specialists will help you do just that -- and at any budget. The center's cultural consultants will prep you on hot conversational topics that those who interview candidates for the docent program should be able to speak about. The center's nutritionists will put you on a diet that will elevate your energy and help reduce your body fat (and even dare you to wear sleeveless Under Armour shirts durign your workouts!). Next, the center's fitness trainers will help you start an exercise program designed to lengthen your life and deny your heirs their rightful share of your amassed wealth -- the portion that they have earned by putting up with you. Finally, we'll give you training on how to write your application and how to cultivate the top civic leaders for recommendations (because, believe it or not, getting these posts will be tougher than getting your kid into the right pre-school in New York City). When you emerge, you'll look like the volunteer world's equivalent of JaMarcus Russell after he shed 10+ pounds for his personal workout at LSU -- a veritable #1 pick overall.

The competition is fierce, after all, and you don't want to be left doing the "B" list volunteer stuff, do you, because that's not what high-end white-collar front-end Baby Boomer retirees will settle for. After all, you'd rather not go to the beach at the New Jersey shore at all, for example, than go to a shore town where your former assistants hang out, would you, the types with the bars with the neon martini glasses and high school kids whose underwear shows cruising the streets at 2 a.m.? So why settle for anything but the best and then be in volunteer hell?

Where nobody notices you. Where your neighbors won't nod with approval that your working at an art museum or university museum, because you're only visiting with sick ninety year-olds at a state-run nursing home, giving them comfort because they've outlived their relatives or their closest family can't afford to visit that frequently from their homes in Dubuque and Peoria. You wouldn't want that, would you? Where's the cache, man?

Then again, what ways could front-end Boomers try to make more room for themselves. Perhaps when they populate some of these positions they'll start requiring annual fitness tests for the septagenarians and octagenarians on the roster and even require them to partake in a "Senior Docents Track Meet." That's surely one way to trim the docent population of the fat, isn't it? The philosophers among them will relish the fact that they've thought of a Malthusian solution, a convenient way short of Shirley Jackson's "Lottery" to make room for potentially more robust docents.

So, as the world braces for the retirement of front-end Boomers, watch the volunteer world closely. It could be a better sport than watching Pro Wrestling in the Hulk Hogan era or an NHL game featuring Ottawa and Buffalo (where the goalies actually took off the gloves!). After all, just because you're retiring from your job doesn't mean that you're retiring from life. There's more status to be gained, but you must think carefully and plan ahead. As has been said many times, you do need something to retire to.

So look for my performance center for potential prestigious volunteers some day soon.

You'll be glad you did.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sport or Entertainment?

Today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required; click here for a link to a preview of the article) has an interesting article about how major sports teams are hiring concierges and hospitality sales people to build relationships with season-ticket holders (even in non-luxury box settings) to keep them in tow. The premise: that there are many alternatives for a fan to spend his entertainment dollars, and the home teams want to have their fans renew their season ticket subscriptions.

I think that the premise is particularly true for the NBA, NHL and even for some Major League baseball teams. The article cites extensive efforts that the Philadelphia Eagles have made for what appear to be premium customers, but the bet here is that if those customers elected not to renew, there are many standing in line to take their place (I just joined the Eagles' waiting list and hope that I won't be eligible for Social Security by the time I get offered to purchase tickets). Yes, the NFL is that different.

I wish that I could link to the entire article, but it's clear that fans want additional amenities (for me, more nutritious food choices and cheaper beer would be atop the list, plus the availability of a few players to sign autographs for the kids before a game) and, yes, better play. I think the latter, of course, is the tricky part. Years ago, when there were 3 UHF channels, 3 VHF channels, 1 channel for public television and fewer games on TV, the record of the team didn't matter as much because the alternatives were fewer and farther between, although fans still didn't go to watch abysmal teams (read: the St. Louis Browns, bad Phillies teams in the late 1960's, etc.). Today, the abundance of options (indoor soccer, Arena Football, indoor lacrosse, to name a few) and the high price of tickets in the four "major" sports probably makes many a fan think twice about upping for a season ticket to a team that will play at .500 or below (especially the NBA and NHL).

Would a concierge make your decision easier? Would a personal salesperson who shmoozes you and builds a relationship make it harder to say no?

In the late 1980's the Phillies weren't very good, and they had a shortstop name Steve Jeltz, a light-hitting switch hitter whose main distinction was that he was born in France. At any rate, Jeltz wasn't a championship shortstop, and he started for a few seasons in a row (his career batting average was .210, although he once hit a home run from each side of the plate in a game). He was one of the main symbols of a bad team, and it was frustrating that the Phillies were trotting him out as their starting shortstop.

I had delayed renewing my partial season ticket plan after the 1988 season, because a) the team was bad, b) I thought that the Bill Giles-led ownership team was lame (it was Giles, after all, who labeled Philadelphia a "small market" town), and c) because, well, among other things Jeltz was the returning shortstop. In the winter time, a representative from the ticket office called me to see if I was interested in renewing my tickets. I told him that I wasn't sure, but that it would be a big help if the Phillies could do something to replace Steve Jeltz at shortstop. The ticket representative was good-natured about it, and I told him that I loved baseball and the Phillies but wasn't sure about renewing. The call then ended.

A few days later, the Phillies announced that they acquired Dickie Thon, also a shortstop (and definitely an upgrade) from the Houston Astros. That deal was good news for Phillies' fans.

The next day the same ticket representative called me back.

"Hey," he said, "I listened to you and we got Dickie Thon. What do you say now?"

Of course I renewed. I mean, how could you say no to a telephone call like that?

People like to feel wanted and needed, and, in the case of the NBA and NHL, they want to have a feeling that their dollars make a difference. What the teams are doing makes good business sense, but to me it will work in the short term only. While the NBA teams may be borrowing from the Four Seasons and Disney, there is a fundamental difference between the hotel chain and entertainment empire on the one hand and pro hoops and hockey on the other that keeps people coming back. Go to a Four Seasons, and you're always treated like royalty. Go to Disney, your family almost always will have a good time. Go to the Philadelphia 76ers last night and see your team get blasted by 50 (that's not a typo), and, well, the product is inconsistent at best and bad at worst. There's no getting around that no matter how much you dress up a mediocre product, the fans ultimate will peel away the veneer and go elsewhere.

The resort to personal sales people and concierges is good business to a degree, but it won't change a fan's experience the way a 20% increase in a team's amount of wins would. And, with bad teams, it might be a signal as to how desperate some of their situations have become.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Thoughts on Princeton Basketball

Forgive me, hoops gods, as I hope that I am not violating the Eleventh Amendment that though shall not speak badly of fellow Princetonians. . . and I hope that I'll be speaking constructively in the process.

Here are a few points by way of background:

1. The Princeton men finished last in the Ivies, which, to my knowledge, is the first time that they finished last since the Ivies began play formally as a conference in the mid-1950's (You can look it up here).

2. The Princeton men lost to Dartmouth twice in one season for the first time in about 60 years. Dartmouth is the hockey and skiing school located somewhere just south of Canada.

3. Joe Scott, the Princeton coach, takes some solace in the fact that the Tigers finished 19-8 during 2006, which consists of the 2006 Ivy season and the fall of this past season (but not the spring of 2007). Scott also cited injuries to some key players as a cause for the team's problems in the Ivies.

4. The Princeton program is optimistic about the potential of three freshmen, center Zach Finley and guards Marcus Schroeder and Lincoln Gunn.

5. Big-time recruit Jeff Peterson of DeMatha Catholic re-opened his recruiting after being admitted early to Princeton this past fall. Normally, that early admission constitutes a requirement that the player attend Princeton. The other Ivies, I believe, would honor this and stay away from Peterson, but the scholarship schools will not (by the same token, the Ivies don't recognize letters of intent and would happily take a player who had signed one to a superior program if the opportunity arose). That Peterson is a PG (as is Schroeder) might have something to do with it, but the Tigers' overall record also might have something to do with it (I saw on ESPN the Insider's recruiting web page that Peterson is considering, among others, American, with Penn fifth on his list, but I can't see how Peterson could enroll at Penn next fall given that he was admitted early to Princeton this year).

6. Princeton was not in need of rebuilding when Joe Scott arrived three years ago. He inherited a Tiger team that had won an Ivy title and had two returning first-team all-Ivy players in Judson Wallace and Will Venable. He proceeded to coach the Tigers to their first-ever losing season in league play. While John Thompson III loosened up the dictates of the classic "Princeton system" in coaching his teams, Scott returned to the orthodox version -- with bad results. To say that the program was in need of rebuilding at that time dishonors Thompson, who has demonstrated at Georgetown what an excellent coach he is. In one of the linked articles, Scott is quoted as saying that it took him four years to build what he did at Air Force, and it will take some time at Princeton (in three seasons, he's 18-20 in Ivy play and 38-45 overall). You'll recall that I was one of those who had urged patience with Joe Scott, as "conversions to orthodoxy take time."

7. The rest of the Ivies, excluding Penn, have not gotten better and "caught up with Princeton." Yes, the RPI this season was 18, but Penn was a #14 seed and unlike in prior seasons (when Princeton had Steve Goodrich et al. and Penn had Ugonna Onyekwe et al.) fans held out little hope that the most recent vintage of Quaker squads had a shot to be a dragon-slayer. I'd submit that while various opponents have had their fits and starts (Yale in the early years under James Jones and Brown under Glen Miller), overall it's the Tigers who have changed more than the opposition.

8. Princeton AD Gary Walters, busy in the past months as a member of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, to the best of my knowledge, citing university policy, has been publicly demure on Scott, other than saying he's a coach in good standing (which, depending on how you read it, could be akin to a star athlete's getting a grade of "present" in a core course at his university). Walters has a classic, almost biblical, dilemma. On the one hand, Walters and his contemporaries in the mid-1960's helped make the Princeton hoops brand what it is. Walters is in his early 60's, and he won't be AD forever. When he retires, what shape will he leave the men's hoops program, arguably the signature program in Princeton's athletic department? What will his contemporaries say? How will history judge him?

9. Penn is having another good recruiting year, with four recruits signed (none of whom is bigger than 6'7" and none of whom appears to be a center, although two are power forwards, this again, according to ESPN the Insider). I invite the Baskeball U cognoscenti to weigh in about Princeton, because the ESPN site indicates that the Tigers have a commitment from a two guard from Long Island and are in the hunt for a 6'9" center from Texas. Advantage, seemingly, to Penn in this important area.

10. Some Princeton students have started a "Fire Joe Scott" website. Somewhat predictably, Scott's players have jumped in to defend him. At a place where hardcourt excellence is as expected as the free space on the bingo card, coaching a team to a 2-12 record in league play unfortunately will draw this type of rival choruses.

Now, as to what could be going on. . .

To consider how solid the ground Coach Scott is on, you have to consider the "Cappy Cappon" line of coaches. You all know the story by now -- Cappon coached Butch van Breda Kolff, who coached Pete Carril when Coach Carril played at Lafayette. When van Breda Kolff bolted Princeton in the mid-to-late 1960's for the Lakers, he recommend his former player to coach the Tigers. Carril coached Walters in high school. After Princeton, Walters coached at Union College, where he coached a point guard named Bill Carmody. When Carril retired, his long-time assistant, Carmody, became the coach, and two of his assistants were former Carril players, Joe Scott and John Thompson III. When Carmody left several seasons later for Northwestern and Scott for Air Force in the same year, Thompson was elevated to head coach. Several years ago, when Thompson left for Georgetown, Scott returned to Princeton. It's the Princeton version of the North Carolina family, and both families are very supportive and very loyal to each other. To use an Arbor Day analogy, the family tree of Tiger hoops coaches has some deep roots.

But while there are similarities, there also are differences.

You'll recall that after Dean Smith retired at North Carolina he paved the way for his long-time assistant, Bill Guthridge, to coach the Tar Heels. Guthridge coached for four seasons and took the team to 2 Final Fours, and the assumption was that former Smith top assistant and then-Kansas head coach Roy Williams (a Carolina alum) would return home, as it were, upon Guthridge's retirement (Guthridge took over the Carolina helm when he was in his early 60's). Except for one thing -- Williams thought that he had unfinished business at Kansas. So the Heels turned to one-time Williams assistant Matt Doherty, a Carolina alum and teammate of Michael Jordan who at the time had one year under his belt at Notre Dame. Doherty inherited a solid program, but he ticked off the powers that be with a few moves -- a) he fired all of the historic Smith/Guthridge assistants, preferring to keep his ND staff intact (in fairness to his side of the story, he didn't want to see them unemployed after only one year in South Bend), b) he seemingly ticked off Smith with that move and with becoming a control freak, and c) he lost command of his team (sounded like he, too, was intense and a shouter). He recruited well, but in his last season the team underachieved and Carolina had to make a move.

This time (four years ago) Williams was ready to return, and last season he took players that Doherty recruited (Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants) to a national championship. All's well that ends well, and the Tar Heels had a good year last season after losing their top 7 players (who accounted for over 80 ppg).

In contrast, Scott did nothing to anger anyone at Princeton. He didn't jettison long-time assistants, and he didn't try to de-Carrilize the place. He honors tradition, perhaps to a fault, by running the orthodox Princeton system. He does seem to be intense, and questions have arisen whether this approach works with the contemporary Ivy athlete (who, while very competitive, will not play hoops after graduation -- or, at least a majority won't do so for money). That said, he hasn't been successful thus far, and it's not clear how well he has recruited. Usually poor records connote poor talent, and it's not right to chalk up the Tigers' failures this year solely to the injuries to upperclassmen, including junior forward Kyle Koncz (as one of the linked articles suggests). Still, it doesn't appear that the Tigers have, as Penn did in Ibby Jaaber and Mark Zoller a few star players who are able, night in and night out, to put up 15 points a game (and the jury's still out whether they have those young men in the pipeline, although they might). You need those guys to win an Ivy title. That's not to say the Tigers don't have guys who are capable of scoring in double figures every now and then. They do, but it's not clear who is able to do so every night. In contrast, the 1997-1998 team that was ranked as highly as eighth in the country had 5 guys who could do so if need be -- Steve Goodrich, Gabe Lewullis, James Mastaglio, Brian Earl and Mitch Henderson.

The other differences between the Tigers and Carolina (okay, other than the patently obvious, which is that the Tigers don't get McDonald's All-Americans and aren't a perennial Sweet 16 team) is that the Ivies (unlike the high majors) traditionally don't fire coaches -- they might let contracts expire, but it seems that firings mid-contract are rare (or, if they are more frequent, they get little publicity). Another difference is that the Tigers don't have a logical "savior" waiting in the wings the way Carolina did. Finally, even if the Tigers did, they don't have the Ivy equivalent of Messrs. May, Felton and McCants (among others) waiting for that coach to lead them to an NCAA tournament appearance.

So, there are many factors working at Princeton. In no particular order, there's the loyalty to the Carril line, the length of Scott's contract, the different views of his performance (whether or not he's really on a rebuilding mission), and the fact that there's no logical successor waiting in the wings.

Let's examine the latter point. Bill Carmody probably isn't leaving Northwestern, but in his tenure there he's basically had a .500 team that hasn't gotten an NIT berth, let alone an NCAA berth. He excelled at Princeton, but his possible return would be a long shot unless Northwestern were to give him the boot. Chris Mooney, a former all-Ivy Princeton player, was Scott's top assistant at Air Force, was head coach there for one year, and has been at Richmond for the past 2. He's not a logical successor, really, because he's struggled at Richmond and because if you're going to make a change away from Joe Scott, would your first choice be someone so closely identified with him? Rob Burke was John Thompson III's top assistant when JTIII coached in Tigertown. He's not a Princeton alum (and therefore not solidly in the "Cappon Line"), and my guess is that he'll be able to get a higher profile head coaching job than Princeton were he to seek one out (given how successful Georgetown has been). I'd look for Burke in the CAA or A-10 before the Ivies, but the Harvard job could be tempting. Craig Robinson would be an attractive pick, but he's only been at Brown for a year. Still, he beat the Tigers twice this season, and one of my loyal readers who's a Penn season-ticket holder applauded Robinson's coaching effort against the Quakers as the best opposing coaching job by an Ivy coach against Penn this season. And then there's Carmody assistant, Mitch Henderson, a former Princeton PG who's assisted Carmody for the past 6 seasons. He could well coach the Tigers some day, and my guess is that he'll be a head coach somewhere in the not-too-distant future. Typically, you don't want to make a move unless you're sure you'll hire someone better.

So what's the verdict on Joe Scott? It's clear that he's not as great a coach as all thought when he worked the Air Force miracle and it's also the case that he's not as bad a coach as some frustrated Princeton fans are saying now. That said, the Princeton insiders had better be careful that they're looking at Scott's coaching through an objective prism and not through the lens that he once was a beloved player of Pete Carril. They should be careful to dismiss the criticism of the fans as uninformed ventilating, and, to quote one of Carril's favorite poems, the insiders should "allow for the doubting." True that poem, Scott needs to hold his head high and keep his cool, but those who are grading him are in a tough spot.

I had written previously that conversions to orthodoxy take time. I still believe in that, but I am a little concerned that the Princeton system doesn't transcend talent and aggressive coaching, both of which Penn has (and Penn is having an excellent recruiting year). I don't think that the Tigers should fire Joe Scott, because to do so would be premature. At the same time, they should shed the notion that he's "coach for life" and untouchable precisely because he's an alumnus and a beloved disciple of Coach Carril. Perhaps Walters et al. should adopt the same method of thinking that Carril did when he decided to retire -- Carril knew when to get out and the Tigers should figure out at what point they'll have to decide to let Joe Scott go if the squad doesn't show improvement next season.

My sense is that Walters has talked with the coach about expectations in the near term. The AD at each school meets with his/her coaches every year to review the year (and if he/she doesn't, he should). You wouldn't expect a leader to throw his coach under the proverbial bus publicly, but I can't believe that anyone in the Princeton administration is happy with the state of affairs. And, given how frank he can be, I'm sure that Joe Scott is the first among the unhappy.

I don't know what happened after I blogged here and here about the Marshall and Rice games. In both of those games, the Tigers played great defense. But, as many have pointed out (and I'm sure that those who follow it more closely than I will, as you usually do, point out the holes in this post), they relied as much if not more on the 3-point goal than any other DI team in the country and didn't rebound well. Translated into plain English, that means that they were pretty easy to defend. And when you're easy to defend, it's hard to win.

So Joe Scott will get at least one more year, and my guess is that he'll probably get two (on the presumption that he has a five-year contract and that it hasn't been extended since he came back to Old Nassau). That means two more recruiting classes and a chance to see the promising frosh become juniors. If he got a five-year contract when he started, then it's doubtful that Walters will abandon the family loyalty until Scott's five-year plan has run its course. That's good news for Joe Scott.

Whether it's good news for the Princeton Tigers remains to be seen.

And the stakes are big. If Scott turns it around and makes Princeton as formidable as he did Air Force, the Tigers could run off a string of consecutive titles. If he fails, what's the long-term damage to the brand name? Is there a chance that the Tigers will lose the recruiting edge they once had were recruits to examine the school's collective record over the past five years? Is that type of data relevant to recruits?

And Penn fans, take note. Do not rejoice in this. You need a strong Princeton team to help make the rivalary better and to make your team better. Sure, you want to win, but the Ivies' RPI and avoidance of the play-in game in some part depends on the rekindled excellence of the Tigers' program. Plus, it would be fun to go to a game at the Palestra or at Jadwin that had some meaning, wouldn't it (okay, so maybe you wouldn't agree with me here)?

Princeton fans, be patient and be supportive. Joe Scott is your coach, and you all need him to succeed. Let's hope that he'll draw on his successes at Air Force (and as a Carmody assistant), learn from his past three years, have one of his own light bulbs go off and burn brightly, and inspire the team to the success that the Princeton program and its supports have grown to expect.

Let's remember what it was like to walk into Jadwin knowing that the team would paste Dartmouth by 20, what it was like to watch Earl and Lewullis, Goodrich and Henderson. Let's hope that Coach Scott can wake up those echoes and renew the Tiger hoops brand with vigor.

Because the alternative -- failure -- is more than we can bear.

Gary Walters knows this, and so do Pete Carril and the other insiders.

And one thing is guaranteed -- no one will work harder than Joe Scott to bring the program back.

Let's hope that the Tigers administration, and Coach Scott, is working smart, too. The past three seasons collectively have been a drought. Princeton needs the Air Force Joe Scott.

And needs him now.

The Flip Side to the Glory of the Quarterback

Buddy Miley was a star quarterback in high school.

Until he took a hit that broke his neck and left him paralyzed.

Here is his story, its sad ending, and his enduring legacy.

We read about the heroes, the kids who win the games, in the papers every day. Families keep scrapbooks of their kids' exploits, and those are typically what you hear about. You don't always here about those who weren't so fortunate, who suffered awful injuries.

We like reading the "where are they now" stories about former heroes, and usually we read stories about those whose lives after their sports have been successful, or, who have agreed to be written about. We don't hear about the difficulties people have or the sad cases, because, to paraphrase a book on a famous football coach, "pride still matters." Or gets in the way.

We're now starting to hear about the post-career problems many NFL players have suffered -- bad orthopedic conditions, bad neurological conditions, etc., and how the players' union is struggling to cope with these issues (the answer is, because of the staggering cost, not well). It will be interesting, indeed, to see how the country's reaction to collision sports evolves over the next several decades, where our citizens will have to weigh the weekend rituals they enjoy versus the human cost.

Buddy Miley's situation, of course, was different. He never got to play in college, suffering his awful injury in high school. The article teaches us many things -- about the spirit of a boy whose world changed forever with one hit, about a family that rallied around him, and about the last important decision Buddy Miley made.

It's a chilling reminder that everyone who plays the game isn't as fortunate as the players who get all of the headlines for their on-field exploits.

Where Sports Really Make a Difference

Read this and you'll understand.

There are many Tricia O'Connors out there, coaches who labor in relative anonymity who touch kids lives in a positive way every day.

Stories like these are refreshing to see, especially at the time of the over-hyped, over-monied, over-programmed (in terms of robotics) NCAA Men's Hoops Tournament, with coaches who get paid ridiculous salaries and a premier color commentator who could use a lesson or two in humility (and I'm glad that Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy, agrees with me).

Yes, I like March Madness as much as many of you, but as I get older I look for more and more stories like these. Sure, there's a lot of pressure on Karl Hobbs, the men's hoops coach at George Washington University, but the resources that he has at his disposal dwarf those given to Tricia O'Connor, the boys' swimming coach at George Washington High School.

Read this article and tell me who has the tougher job.

And, perhaps, the more rewarding.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Farm Country

I'm involved in an extracurricular activity that's consumed a good deal of my spare time in the past 3 months, so much so that it's cut into my blogging (and, yes, I will post on Princeton's men's hoops season within the next week so that I can offer my thoughts, albeit late).

By way of background to this small story, I think you'd agree that I've kept my politics to myself and that while I live in a state that is schizophrenically red and blue, you can't tell from my politics whether my politics are red-state oriented, blue-state oriented or somewhere in between, and I'd like to keep it that way. This is a sports blog, and while I offer some social commentary it's social commentary, not political commentary.

As you also know from reading this blog, I live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is the county that is northeast of Philadelphia and in between Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey (not to mention Princeton). Thirty years ago, farms predominated. Now, tract housing does. Historically it's been a suburb of Philadelphia, but in the past 15 years both New Yorkers and New Jerseyites have moved here, if for no other reasons than to get more house for the money, good schools and the ability to pay lower taxes, both on earned income and on real property. Translated, this means that there are more Mets and Yankees hats in the area than there were, say, even fifteen years ago. The indigenous populations and the invaders from the north get along peaceably, even when the Mets play the Phillies or the Eagles play the Giants.

At least so far. :)

(As many know, about 200 years ago a hideous political deal between northerners and southerners moved the nation's capital to swamp land that became Washington, D.C., with the result that Philadelphia lost its stature as the money center to New York and the political center to Washington. Later, it became known as the "Workshop to the World," making everything from steamships to locomotives to men's suits. Most recently, it's still known for many things, but it's not a global center the way New York and Washington are).

So. . .

I'm talking with an acquaintance (from the NYC metropolitan area) about people whom we know who are writers. She asked me about a particular acquaintance, who I said thought writes for the Washington Post. Then I said that I wasn't certain whether he wrote for the Washington Post or the New York Times. I conceded that perhaps the reason for this was that I did not read either newspaper.

"What are you, a Republican?" was the question on the other end of the phone.

"No," I replied, "I'm a Philadelphian."

I then explained -- and I'm now disappointed with myself for feeling a need to explain -- that I read three daily newspapers, none of which emanate from Washington or New York. I shouldn't have had to explain that. Put differently, it was none of her business (because the activity in which we're involved isn't political and, as I said, she's an acquaintance, which means I don't know her well). Moreover, I inferred from the tone that either the person on the other end was a) either a New Yorker incredulous that someone didn't read either the Times or the Post or that b) it's bad to be a Republican and that not reading either of those papers is an indicia of intolerance for, or disappointment in, those two papers and, also, a failure to embrace the political tides of last fall.

Needless to say, I was amused. My telephone correspondent seems very well-intentioned on the subject we're working on, and the topic of newspaper subscriptions was only an aside to a more important conversation.

Still, just because Philadelphia and its suburbs do not form the political or financial capital of the free world doesn't mean that we don't get newspapers. As for the Post, I don't know who might sell it locally on Sunday. As for the Times, I had a historical problem with its ink running off on my hands, and it's sports page is usually a day late and a dollar short. As for drawing inferences, draw them at your own risk. (Although hoops and the alma mater are thicker than mostly anything, with the result that I have supported Bill Bradley when he ran for President).

And, the last time I checked, our area has enjoyed the benefits of indoor plumbing for at least several generations, too.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Is the NIT Still Relevant?

Read here for the latest on the NIT.

Years ago, the NCAA eliminated consolation games, both at the regional level (where the two teams that didn't advance to the regional final would play) and at the national level (where the two losers of the national semifinals would play for third place). The coaches and teams hated playing those games, and they were eliminated.

So why play the NIT? It's an also-rans tournament, a tournament for teams that didn't qualify for the tournament that we care about, the NCAA tournament. Who watches it except for alums of the schools involved and the family members of the players? The ratings just can't be that good, because the championship means little to anyone except those who win it. Quick, name who won the NCAA tournament last year?

Florida?

Who won the NIT?

Get my point.

Now, onto a bigger issue, one that also is a subject of controversy. No less an authority than John Wooden has suggested in the past that the NCAA expand the field of the tournament. He harkened back to the excitement that the Indiana HS hoops tournament generated by being all-inclusive, and he has expressed the opinion that the DI men's tournament include all teams. That would be very interesting and create even more excitement than the tournament generates now. That concept also would eliminate the NIT.

Picture a shorter in-season schedule and a 330-team tournament. Now, that doesn't mean that everyone should have a first-round game. It could be that the top 64 get a first-round bye and that there's re-seeding in each round. A certain number would get first-round byes (conference champions and the appropriate number of the best remaining teams to make the field work mathematically). Is that fair?

Expanding the field certainly would add excitement, even if there's a risk that you'd be making the regular season less meaningful. That's the one argument that resonates with me -- if you're going to include everyone, why play a grueling regular season? The flip side is that the grueling regular season will help with seeding and toughen up teams for an exciting post-season tournament. No, I don't think that a 2-26 team will win a game, but the buzz that the possibility of a George Mason-like run or of a SWAC team beating a top ACC team in the first round will be tremendous. Put differently, I think that the country would grind to some sort of halt a la the World Cup in many nations when the national team is playing. Why? Because with every team making the field, many Americans are bound to have a team to watch. And, in a nation that's worried about Social Security's bankruptcy in thirty years, the role of radical Islam, the economic emergence of China, the increasing incidence of obesity and a whole host of things, would it be so bad for people to duck out of work for a while, head into a local sports bar, have a libation and root hard for a team with which they have a connection?

Then again, there's the "Wall of Gaylord" syndrome from "Meet the Fockers." You might remember the scene from the movie, where Ben Stiller's folks (earthies who hug perhaps too much) had a wall with their son's so-called accomplishments (none of which amounted to more than a ninth-place finish in a JV wrestling tournament). Or, you could call it the current "little league sports" syndrome, where up to a certain age everyone gets a trophy, whether they show up to every game, play hard or even have a clue that they're playing the sport they're playing. Why should the 2-26 team that perhaps might not beat Oak Hill Academy get rewarded by entry into a tournament? What's the sense in that?

Perhaps it's cents. If everyone makes the tournament, everyone could get a share of the tournament's money to help fund their athletic departments. That means, perhaps, one less game where you have Morgan State traveling to Ohio State to get their clocks cleaned early in the year for an appearance fee. That means that the wealth gets shared beyond the "oligarchy" conferences, who want to dominate the conversation each year because they think that anything below a high-major is a debilitating nuisance at worse and a romantic one at best. The ADs of those schools (some of whom were not portrayed in a flattering light in John Feinstein's book on the Final Four) want as much money as possible for their schools. They tolerate all non-majors because popular opinion would vilify them if they didn't at least give lip service to the notion that schools outside the Big East, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10 should play a meaningful role in the tournament. Would that be so bad?

To them, it would be, because to quote Billy Joel in "Piano Man," "Because it's me they've been comin' to see to forget about life for a while." Translated, most people watch the tournament from the get-go to watch the big-name schools, and, if not from the get-go, they end up there because it's more often than not that the George Masons don't make it to the Sweet 16. So, then, perhaps there's a compromise that puts a premium on winning if the NCAA were to have an all-inclusive tournament. Share the money with first-round winners and beyond. Don't share the money with the "Wall of Gaylord" participants (to ACC fans, think of teams that qualified for what once was called the "Les Robinson Game"). Would that work for you?

There's so much money to go around, it should. But be careful that you just don't throw a tip to first round winners (shades of the sign at the pool on Caddie Day in the movie "Caddyshack," where caddies were welcome to use the pool from 1:00 to 1:15). Make the first-round bounty meaningful, and end it there.

So, back to the main points. One, should the NIT continue to exist? I think that deep down the NCAA believes it shouldn't. However, to avoid arguments from the Justice Department that the NCAA is really monopolizing college hoops, they'll probably let it die a slow death over the course of a few years and then bury it quietly. And that elimination might coincide with an expansion of the NCAA tournament. I don't expect expansion to every team, but expansion to 96 or 128 could be a possibility.

Because it's hard to argue why 65 makes sense, and it's really not all that sportsmanlike to make a team that wins its conference tournament play on a Tuesday night in a play-in game where the winner doesn't get any of the huge pool of bucks for its victory. John Feinstein made this point in his book, and he's absolutely right.

Contrary to the argument of Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street" that "Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good," the greed of the big schools is dangerous. The magic of NCAA hoops is that a 6'7" forward can turn into a dominating 7'1" center a la David Robinson, a Valparaiso and a Copping State can wreak havoc, and a Gonzaga can reach the Final 8. Let's do nothing to take away that possibility, and let's enrich all of DI college hoops in the process.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Echoes of the Beverly Hillbillies

Journeyman pitcher Matt White made a startling discovery on a piece of property he purchased from a relative with financial difficulties in Western Massachusetts. The property has rare, expensive stone on it that probably has a retail value of $2.4 billion dollars.

Now, the kinfolk didn't say that 'ol Matt ought move away from Western Mass., and they didn't say he ought to move to Beverly Hills, even though he's in the Dodgers' camp. The experts in this field say that the land is worth far less than the $2.4 billion retail value cited, because it costs big bucks to get the stone out of the quarry. Even so, Matt White is probably set for life because of this good deed.

Question is, how much of it would he trade for a successful Major League career? A World Series ring?

Some things are priceless.

And if you can't have them, a quarry worth $2.4 billion (which you couldn't possible pay for with a Visa or MasterCard) is a nice prize.