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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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is Princeton's Women's Hoops Team En Route to Its First NCAA Appearance Ever?

Okay, so I'm probably getting ahead of my skis, and I might be doing for my alma mater's women's hoops team what SI might have inadvertently done for the Harvard men's program, except that I am realistic and humble to realize that no one involved with the Princeton women's program reads this blog. That said. . .

The Princeton women are 15-2, off to their best start ever, atop the Ivy league, tall, mobile, and they won their games this weekend by an average of 26 points. You can read about their weekend here.

My family and some friends went on Breast Cancer Awareness night, many of us wearing pink to get in for free (but at $5, the admission is a bargain). It was about 18 degrees outside, but I'd venture to say 2,000 brave souls ventured out to watch a good contest.

Yale battled for about 30 minutes, keeping the game within 10 points, but in the second half the Tigers went on a 17-0 run and put away the Elis, 69-48. Princeton starts one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen (although PG Lauren Polansky went down with what looked to be a pretty serious ankle sprain in the second half, so we'll have to see about her availability). Junior Addie Micir led the way with 16 points and some good floor generalship. Sophomore forward Lauren Edwards is an outstanding player in transition, has a good left hand and scored some good baskets off breaks. Sophomore center Devona Allgood had 10 points, is an outstanding inside presence on defense and had a few blocks. All in all it was a terrific performance from an exciting team, a team on the rise.

If you live in Bucks, Mercer, Hunterdon or Monmouth Counties, check out the Princeton women's team's schedule and go to a game. The coaching is good, the teamwork is excellent, and the future is very, very bright.

Memo to Harvard Basketball: Never Let Sports Illustrated's Puff Pieces Go to Your Head

Last night was one of the biggest men's b-ball games in Harvard's basketball history. You've all heard the story -- Duke great Tommy Amaker, after struggles at Seton Hall and Michigan, arrives at Harvard, perhaps gets more cooperation from the athletic department and admissions office, and is getting kids to seriously consider Harvard over scholarship schools that combine good academics with good basketball. To top it off, the most recent edition of Sports Illustrated contains a puff piece on Harvard hoops that gushes over the Crimson more than first-time grandparents do over a newborn.

And two things must have happened because of that. First, that article must have really pissed off Cornell, which has one two straight Ivy titles and has to put up with knocks on its recruiting from other Ivies (who say the likes of, "I wish we had an Ag School to stash all of our hoop recruits) and other such nonsense. After all, why couldn't the puff piece have been about Cornell, which has the recent hoops history to deserve mention in the pantheon of Ivy great teams with teams from Penn's and Princeton's past? Second, despite how brilliant the Harvard kids are supposed to be, they must have let the article get to their head. After all, if so many kids and current recruits are considering Harvard over the likes of Stanford, they must believe that they can beat the average Ivy hoopster by just showing up. Look, an article like the one in SI that appears before the big game is every coach's nightmare. Forget about the SI Jinx. Just remember that you're dealing with kids, good kids, I'm sure, but they are kids, and kids like praise. And, because they're kids, they tend to believe it.

That is the backdrop of what happened last night in Ithaca, New York, when undefeated (in Ivy play) Harvard visited undefeated (in Ivy play) Cornell.

The result: Cornell 86 Harvard 50.

Yikes. Coaches fear the concept of having their team provide "bulletin board" fodder for the opposition on the eve of the big game. Well, it's not that the Harvard program did or didn't do anything (but, you have to admit, that big an article in SI has to be huge for recruiting) except cooperate with the writer, but heck, that article was bulletin-board fodder. Cornell not only ate up that press clipping, it devoured the Crimson.

That said, it's only one loss, and Harvard will get a chance for revenge in Cambridge soon enough. But for a program that's on the rise and stocked and getting fatter on much better recruits than the Crimson had in the past 20 years, it's a big lesson. They can't avoid talking to the press, but they must avoid believing what's written about them.

Reflections on Coaching Third- and Fourth-Grade Basketball (Ctd)

We're about 2/3 of the way through our season. We practice one night a week for one hour. Some teams spend half their time running a set play and the other half on fundamentals; others spend most of their time on fundamentals and some of the time on situations (such as having their kids play in a 2-on-1 format). We do the latter, and we find that we're pretty good at putting the ball in the basket. Two of the teams that we faced that run set plays could execute the play on occasion, but most of the time the shots they got clanked off the backboard.

We spend time in practice on dribbling drills, working on both hands, working on fingertip control and working on protecting the basketball. We coach our kids to make every pass count, to throw crisp passes that the receivers don't have to bend too much or dive for. We have placed more emphasis on the bounce pass, for example. Also, we stress defense. We figure that if the kids can work hard on defense, they can stay with anyone. As a result, we want them to get into a good defensive stance and to slide their feet. We also encourage them to deflect the ball as much as possible. We even instituted a "tie up the ball drill" where a player rushes toward a coach and tries to tie up the ball (the assumption is that the opposing player has picked up his dribble). We've instituted a "three man weave" drill to work on passing and footwork, and we've shown the kids how to cut to get open. We've run give-and-go drills and pick-and-roll drills, all with a view toward giving the kids a sense of how to set a screen (and I saw one yesterday that would make an NBA coach envious, given that some of the most recent screens I've seen attempted in the NBA are heartless ballet moves that simply go through the motions). We also run shooting drills, including one where we have kids shoot off the blocks from both sides of the basket (at our last practice, we hit 16 shots in a row). And we stage 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 situations, so that the kids learn spacing on offense.

In other words, we're a bit like Mr. Miyagi from "Karate Kid". We repeat these drills so that the kids who never played before this year get an inundation of fundamentals. The kids with more experience work to improve their games. For the most part, we've been successful.

And now here's a story:

2 weeks ago we were missing 2 of our top 6 kids, had a late afternoon game, had some kids recovering from illness, and had one kid decide that he was going to imitate an NBA player by tossing up shots from all over the floor. The other team had some good athletes, but we weren't in sync, both teams played aggressive defense, and we lost, 5 baskets to 4. We probably shot 4 for 29 or something awful like that, our best players couldn't finish, and, well, we chalked it up to being down two players and having an off day. That said, the kids need to learn how to rebound from disappointment, and we didn't expect that we were going to win them all. We tried hard, but it didn't work out.

Fast forward to this weekend, and we heard that the team we were going to play had waxed everyone it had played so far, beating each opponent pretty badly. The other team didn't have a full complement of players, and we did, so instead of playing a third-grade unit together and a fourth-grade unit together, we mixed and matched (because the other team didn't have its complete third-grade unit, we would have risked having inexperienced third-graders guarding more aggressive fourth graders, they might have had the same predicament, and both coaches did their best to make sure their players had good challenges). Anyway, that probably wasn't the best for anyone's continuity on offense, but both teams did the best that they could. And, remember, that we had beaten everyone we played before last week, including a well-coached, talented team that we beat by 10.

The result for us was our best game of the year. Eight players scored, and one of our third graders, who didn't have a basket all year, scored three. Another third grader, who hadn't scored all year, scored his first basket. We set more screens in this game than we had all year, we took better shots, dribbled with more authority and played our typical aggressive defense. Both teams moved the ball well, drove the action, but, in the end, we beat them by about 8 baskets. The reason -- teams fare well when a) they give a good effort, b) they work on defense (tying up the ball on many occasions), c) they play unselfishly and screen for each other, d) they spend a little time on rebounding and e) they don't force shots. The coaches on our team took great satisfaction both at the development of the individual players and of the teamwork that they have built. (For example, in our pre-game warm-up, we work a 2-on-1 drill, and the kids line up accordingly without being told. When one of the third graders scored his first basket, he received hugs and high-fives in between periods).

Now, kids are kids, and who knows what will happen next week. But if you care about each kid's development, encourage him and his parents, get the kids to focus and work, you will see a solid effort, and, if you see that, you'll see improvement and good results.

Have fun!

Bill Simmons' Book is Hilarious

I've only read about 75 pages of the Book of Basketball, and I haven't laughed so hard reading a book in a long time. His analogies and footnotes are worth the price of admission, so to speak. Would that, of course, the NBA were as interesting or amusing as the book.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Will Jayson Werth Be With the Phillies After This Season?

Now that the Phillies have the following monies committed for 2011, will they be able to sign Jayson Werth to a long-term deal if they want to keep their payroll around $140 million:

Carlos Ruiz -- somewhere around $2 million (he's filed for arbitration, but expect the Phillies to sign him to a multi-year deal)
Ryan Howard -- $20 million
Chase Utley -- $15 million
Jimmy Rollins -- $8.5 million
Placido Polanco -- $6 million
Raul Ibanez -- $12 million
Shane Victorino -- $7.25 million
Roy Halladay -- $20 million
Cole Hamels -- $9.5 million
Joe Blanton -- $8 million
Brad Lidge -- $11.5 million
Ryan Madson -- $4.5 million.

That's $125.25 million right there for 11 players. Sure, you lose the contracts of Jamie Moyer ($7.5 million) and J.C. Romero ($4 million), but you still have to pay an average of about $1.5 million for 14 other guys -- your back-up catcher, utility infielders, extra outfielders and most likely give more money to up-and-coming starter J.A. Happ. So if the Phillies want to go for it all in 2011, their payroll -- without Werth -- might have to be around $150 million.

With Werth, it's a different story. If he has another year like he did last year, he's bound to be in the range of a bigger deal, a Jason Bay-like 4-year, $66 million contract. If the Phillies were to, say, give Werth 4 years at $14 million, then their payroll for 12 players for 2011 would be $139.25. That's a lot of money, but, then again, it's one pretty awesome nucleus of players.

A nucleus, by the way, that will not last forever and that is built to win between now and say 2013. Spend the money now, and, yes, the Phillies could have a swollen payroll. Refuse to do so, and then the team could miss an opportunity that might not come around again for 20 years.

The Werth situation bears watching. Is Domonic Brown, the untouchable prospect, going to be ready for prime time after this season? More likely is that the club will want him to replace Raul Ibanez after the 2011 season (and perhaps serve as the fourth outfielder in 2011). If that's the case, then who will play right field in 2011? If that's the case, then doesn't a failure to sign Werth give Ryan Howard a ton more leverage over the club, for the simple reason that if they were to fail to re-sign Werth and Howard, the club as fans know and love will cease to exist and, once again, local sports management will be accused of being cheap and blowing a good thing up.

It all will depend on what Werth asks for. If he takes the route of both Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton, the Phillies will have a chance to ink him to a free-agent deal that is within their range. If he decides to talk like Cliff Lee and send a signal that he wants to test the free-agent market, there's no telling what some of the biggest spenders out there might offer. And then the Phillies won't be players for him.

Stay tuned.

The Curious Case of Gary Mathews, Jr.

Why the Mets wanted him is a mystery.

This acquisition by the Mets also makes their rivalry with the Phillies more compelling. The reason: his father is the Phillies' main color commentator on TV broadcasts. What's worse is that Mathews, Jr. is a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. No doubt, though, that Mathews, Jr. is bound to be a much bigger problem for the Mets than he will be a distraction for the Phillies' broadcasting team.

Who Will Succeed Bud Selig?

I speculated on this three years ago.

I would add Phillies' president Dave Montgomery and Pirates' president Frank Coonelly to the list. I add Montgomery because he's both well-liked and well-respect, and I add Coonelly because his prior job was as chief counsel to MLB's labor relations committee. I doubt that baseball would consider a certain former Rangers' owner, whose Q rating ranks down there with those of John Edwards and Tiger Woods these days.

Reflections on Charlie Weis

I wrote this almost 5 years ago, reflecting on the future of the Notre Dame coach.

He might well have been the next Pete Gillen.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Phillies' Payroll

Originally posted on January 21; updated on January 22.

Here's an analysis that was done in the blogosphere before the 2009 season. (I've been looking for something more current, but I haven't been able to find anything yet).

Here are a few observations:

1. It's amazing how many players change teams from year to year. By my count, the Phillies will have 8 players on their opening-day roster who weren't with the team at the end of 2009. Forget about the beginning of 2009, just the end of it.

2. The list shows that the club has only 1 player signed beyond the 2011 season -- Chase Utley. Let's update that list for Roy Halladay and Placido Polanco, who have contracts that extend through 2013 (with perhaps another year) and 2012 respectively, Cole Hamels (whom the Philadelphia Inquirer reports in an article this morning is signed through 2012), and now Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino (yesterday the stories broke that the club was signing both through the 2012 season). Finally, the Phillies will have rights to J.A. Happ at least through the 2012 season. Four starters for 3 straight seasons -- that's great. What a difference a day makes! The Phillies now have a pretty solid nucleus of 7 players signed through the 2012 season.

3. This means, of course, that the Phillies have to do some longer-term planning to figure out whom to sign beyond the 2011 season. You have to figure at at 40, Raul Ibanez will be gone, and that Brad Lidge, at his price point and perhaps with continuing consistency issues, will be gone too. The Phillies are also talking a multi-year deal with Carlos Ruiz. It would be hard to see Ruiz getting more than a 2-year deal at this point, but I'm not an expert under baseball's collective bargaining agreement to understand, in Ruiz's case, what the team should or should not do.

4. In any event, the Phillies don't want a bare cupboard after the 2011 season. They'll have to make big decisions on Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth (as well as to re-evaluate their bullpen because the contracts of Lidge, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero all will have expired). The Phillies did extend Rollins through 2011, but Werth's contract expires after this season. If he puts up similar numbers to last season's, he could command Jason Bay-like money in the off-season. Whether the Phillies decide to go long-term on Werth will depend on several factors, as follows: a) whether they think they he's worth signing to a five-year deal through his mid-30's; b) whether they think that he'll be able to hit righties enough to make it worth it over that long haul, c) what their views are on their payroll through, say, 2015 (that is, will it expand?) and d) how likely they believe they can sign Ryan Howard to a long-term deal. At the end of the day, they'll also have to groom young players, as this nucleus won't continue to perform at its current very high level when these players range in age from 35 through 37. That just doesn't happen.

5. The more you win the more you have the pleasant problem of trying to reward your outstanding players and keeping your payroll in check. Your players perform well and become more valuable, and other teams will come after them on the free-agent market. Your players know this, and most will want to take the best deal. So in the long term it's hard to fathom how the Phillies will be able to keep all of these players. And there's another variable.

6. How well will they age? The core group is between 29 and 32 years old. In 3 years, they'll be between 32 and 35. You probably don't want the oldest roster in baseball, so you might have to make some choices. Some, the players will make easy for you, because either their play will fall off or the money they command is well beyond what you want to pay (I foresee teams bidding for Ryan Howard after the 2011 season and offering him $100+ million for 5 seasons, which would be a risky deal for a player of his physical size, according to various items I've read in Baseball Prospectus.

All of this bears watching. As a Phillies' fan, it would be nice to see how management assesses the situation. Still, the signings of Blanton and Victorino are very positive developments, as was G.M. Ruben Amaro's pronouncement this morning that while he likes the roster he has, he's not satisfied, and that the Phillies are evaluating whether to sign another starter and another reliever. Also boding well for the Phillies was that the Mets failed to sign either Bengie Molina or Joel Pineiro. Finally, Joe Blanton's comments in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer as to why he opted not to wait for free agency also could form part of a good sales pitch why the Phillies are a team a player would want to be on.

Book Review: Jeffrey Marx's "The Long Snapper"

Here's another excellent book from Marx, whose last book I wrote about here.

Marx writes about Brian Kinchen, a seventh-grade bible study teacher at a private school in Louisiana in the fall of 2003. Kinchen, an LSU grad, had played tight end and long snapper in the NFL for 13 years before leaving the game in 2000. Like many players, he had unfinished business. He was only 35 in 2000, not ready to quit, but no team came a-calling after the 2000 season. So he settled into life as a middle-school teacher and a part-time volunteer coach with his alma mater (then coached by Nick Saban).

And then the call came. He was 38, out of football for three years, and the New England Patriots had a problem. Their long snapper got hurt, and the team was holding auditions in a couple of days. There were about 3 games left in the regular season, the Patriots were doing fine and priming for a deep post-season run. They wanted to know if Brian wanted to travel to Foxboro and try out.

Kinchen got the call because he had played for the Cleveland Browns when Bill Belichick was the coach, and Scott Pioli, New England's head of player personnel, had worked in Cleveland and the two were friends. That said, this was all business; Kinchen wouldn't be granted any special favors. He would have to beat out three other guys -- and he did just that.

I'm not going to tell you the rest of the story -- get the book to find out how Kinchen's journey went (one clue -- it wasn't all a bed of roses; there were some thorns to overcome). But it's an inspiring story about a man in the middle of his life, his faith, his family, the game he loves, and what his purpose will be after his playing days are over.

Jon Dorenbos Makes the Pro Bowl -- His Inspiring Story

In case you're wondering, he's the long snapper for the Philadelphia Eagles.

In case you're wondering why you should care, read this story for inspiration. Dorenbos' father murdered Dorenbos' mother when the long snapper was 12. Life hasn't been easy.

It's great to see a good guy get recognition for a job where you only get noticed if you make a mistake.

Monday, January 18, 2010

NFL Observations

1. Anointments are dangerous. How many people jumped onto the Cowboys' bandwagon after they thrashed the 11-5 Eagles twice within two weeks? How many people thought that they were the best team in the NFC and had a chance to go to the Super Bowl? Many, but their analysis belied the fact that the Eagles' offensive line was battered and tired, that they had very little at linebacker and that their defensive backfield wasn't all that good at the season's end. So, was it a question of the Cowboys' being that good, or the Eagles' having faded? Moreover, how did the Vikings all of a sudden become a questionable football team? Even diehard Cowboys' fans have to temper their optimism in the future -- a first-round playoff win should build confidence, but not arrogance. That's not to say that the team itself got a big ego, but something bad happened out there for Dallas yesterday. They got whomped.

2. Are Andy Reid, Wade Phillips and Norv Turner simply good coaches who can go no further? You have to believe that fans in Philadelphia, Dallas and San Diego are asking this question and wondering aloud. In Reid's case, how could he have boasted upon his re-signing that he had the best organization in football? He's been there for 11 years, but he hasn't won the Super Bowl.

3. Drew Brees is a class act. You need to read this week's Sports Illustrated for an article about Brees, who is as good a civic leader as he is a quarterback. The guy dines with big whigs every two weeks, and they decide on the causes they're going to raise money for to continue to rebuild New Orleans. Not only is he a class act, but he's one outstanding quarterback, and the Saints looked great this weekend.

4. Are Jets' fans pinching themselves? They must be. The Jets beat a good team on the road yesterday. Sure, they have a tall task, taking on Indy in Indy, but Rex Ryan's team has some mojo going on big time, and there's enough fight left in this dog to make it a battle next weekend.

5. What's the future of the league? What will an uncapped year mean? Will there be a lockout in 2011? Labor relations seem to be at an all-time if not long-time low. The uncapped year won't necessarily cause some teams to go hog wild, if only because of how bad the economy has been. That said, teams won't be required to spend a minimum, and some teams won't. There are other complications that The Sporting News highlights in this week's issue. You should check it out.

A Curious U.S. Export to China

Many goods in the U.S. say "Made in China." But now we're exporting someone to China -- Stephon Marbury. Not sure how this move will affect U.S.-China relations, but it will be interesting to see how the Shanxi club and Mr. Marbury get along.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Observations from Coaching Third- and Fourth-Grade Basketball

It's hard to gauge how good your team is in non-competitive leagues, where you practice only once a week. If your league assigns kids randomly without much of a sense of their skill-level or experience, there are bound to be mismatches. In our league, we try to play the best kids in the second and fourth quarters as a means of getting good players to play with and against each other. Still, not all teams or games are even.

Yesterday, the team I coach played a well-coached team, a team whose best player was more aggressive and probably more talented than any of the players on our roster. This team also had a different approach from ours, so it presented a good challenge to our players.

The opposing team's coach drills his players on the fundamentals for a half an hour and then runs plays for the other half. Our opponents had a nifty give and go off the high post that created some good shots for their players. Basically, the ballhandler (whether benefiting from an on-ball screen or not) passed the ball to a player at the foul line and then made a quick cut to the basket. The player at the foul line would throw a short bounce pass to the ballhandler, who would try to go in for a short shot or a layup. The execution at the beginning of the play was excellent, but unless that team's best player was the ballhandler and the recipient of the pass, they had trouble finishing the play. The pass from the high post sometimes hit the recipient in the feet, or, more likely, it was a decent pass but the recipient couldn't get off a good shot. Still, it was fun to watch.

Our approach to coaching is a bit different. Think Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid. We run endless drills on dribbling, gives and gos, shooting off the blocks, rebounding, passing, pick and roll, all with a view that if we drill enough upon some prompting the kids will remember to implement some of the drills in a game, such as throwing a good bounce pass, following a shot, setting a screen. Our offense wasn't nearly as organized as our opponent's, but we outscored them in the contest because of a few factors. First, through our drills, the kids know how to finish their shots. It struck me that the danger of coaching a single play is that unless you have kids who are talented finishers, there's no substitute for a ten-minute drill on shooting from the blocks so that the kids get the feel of putting the ball up softly against the backboard. Second, there's no substitute for defense.

We tell the kids to slide their feet, to stay between the basket and their man, to keep their hands up and to deflect the ball, tie it up or steal it at any opportunity. We teach this because great defense creates opportunities on offense. And that's what happened yesterday. Two of our fourth graders played inspired defense on the other team's best players, so much so that those players got frustrated or shut down. The other kids followed suit -- deflections, steals, fast-break opportunities. In the end, it was our defense that helped us prevail.

It was a great game, and we outscored the other team by about five baskets (one of the grandfathers in attendance kept count). We felt like we were in a contest, but the difference was that while only one or two kids scored baskets for the other team, seven of our eleven kids scored. The difference was defense.

All that said, I learn a great deal from the guys I coach against. Yesterday's lesson was that my team should have the confidence to put in a play for our fourth graders. They can handle the ball, so if we put in a high-post offense like our opponents use, we might be able to score a basket or two off a cutter off the high post. With this crew, it might just work.

The kids continue to give a great effort, and that's all that you can ask from them. You want them to pay attention, play tough defense, and play smart on offense. I could tell from when they came off after a period that they had expended a lot of energy. For the kids who have played for a few years and love the game, they felt gratified. For the kids for whom this is their first season, they're still a bit bewildered. This generation doesn't watch much basketball on television, with the result that what we're teaching them is unfamiliar ground. For these kids, a pick might be something you use with a guitar, a screen is on your front door in the warmer weather months, and a jump stop might be a cousin to the Game Stop store. We try to be patient and encouraging, and so far the results are promising.

So, we're still practicing the fundamentals, and while there are normally about 25 drills I'd like to run, we typically run only about 10 in a practice. We don't scrimmage 5 on 5, because we don't get a full court (we get a "sideways" court in a middle school's gym), and even 3 on 3 doesn't always end up being productive. Because there can be mismatches, we go 3 on 1 or 3 on 2, so that we can stress ball movement and finding the open man. It's hard, but the kids seem to be getting to know each other better each week and, as a result, they are more familiar with one another. At the end of the day, if you get the kids to play hard, play good defense and rebound, good things will happen.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Martha Coakley Should Watch Her Sports Analogies

The Democratic candidate in Massachusetts' special election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat blundered recently when she called Red Sox hero Curt Schilling, he of the bloody sock and clutch pitching that helped lead the BoSox to their first World Series victory in over 8 decades, a Yankee fan.

Huh?

She also may be the poster child for a candidate with a huge advantage in the bluest of the blue states to blow that advantage and turn victory into disaster for the Democrats in Massachusetts and nationally. Yes, that's right, to create another sports analogy, think the 2007 New York Mets, who were up 7 1/2 with 17 games to play only to blow it big time. If Coakley loses -- and a recent poll says that she's trailing -- well, her name could become part of the lexicon in the English language.

Here's why: in the early 1900's, Man 'o War was the biggest, baddest and fastest horse around. He was entered in a race, where he lost to a horse named Upset. At the time, the word upset meant (and still means) to overturn, as in to overturn a table. But once the news of Upset's surprise victory spread, the word "upset" took on an additional meaning.

Which means that if Martha Coakley, who dissed one of the Red Sox most significant heroes, loses on Tuesday, she'll have Coakleyed the race.

And then perhaps she'll have Curt Schilling calling her a Mets' fan.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jack Clark and Andy Van Slyke Criticize Mark McGwire

Read all about it here.

I've written about the steroids era over the years, and I've been clear -- it was wrong and it was awful. I also read articles about McGwire's statements, and I still don't think he's coming clean totally. Some of what Andy Van Slyke said resonates with me. Forgiveness is easier than reconciliation or forgetting, and, as such, I don't think McGwire or any of his fellow abusers belongs in the Hall of Fame.

The usage by McGwire and Sammy Sosa cast a bad light on good players in that era who didn't use. To me, Fred McGriff was a great player, but he never buffed himself up with performance-enhancing drugs to have a mega-season the way McGwire and Sosa did. I think that McGriff is a borderline Hall of Famer, but his numbers don't stack up with McGwire's. But, because McGriff was clean, his candidacy should be enhanced. He shouldn't be punished because of transgressors like McGwire, Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro.

In addition, and I know some might think that this is stretching things a bit, the articles that I read on Barry Bonds indicated that he decided to use performance-enhancing drugs because of the home run derby between McGwire and Sosa. There was Bonds, the best player in the game, all of a sudden not getting his due or putting up the biggest numbers because these two guys loaded up on the juice and put up huge numbers. So, the story went, Bonds decided to use.

Look, I'm not defending Bonds here, and I've been very critical of him. What he did was wrong. The problem is that the first users created a culture where a player might have felt he couldn't have survived in baseball if he didn't use. McGwire was one of those people who created that type of thinking. He wasn't alone, and Lord knows who were among the first users.

The whole thing is a sorry mess. It was a bad era, and baseball seemingly has moved on, but bad conduct and a very late and incomplete apology shouldn't make Mark McGwire eligible for the Hall of Fame.

How Hot is Temple Head Coach Al Golden?

ESPN.com reports that Tennessee wants to talk with him about its head coaching position.

Wow! That says a lot Tennessee, Golden and Temple football.

Great for Temple that it has such a hot coaching prospect. As a Temple fan, I hope that Coach Golden stays on North Broad Street for a long time to come. That said, it's great to have a head coach who is considered to be able to lead a very competitive program in the most competitive league in the country.

Wow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lane Kiffin: Perhaps It Was Too Hard in the SEC and Perhaps His Initial Mistakes Were Too Great

Here's an article on Kiffin's arrival at USC.

I find the move perplexing, because didn't Kiffin say the same thing at Tennessee -- that he was going to put together a dream team of coaches and recruit all over the place? He did just that, but a) his rally girls showed up in the wrong places, b) some recruits found a creative way to add to their monthly stipends for laundry and expenses, c) he said some bold things and d) he made an accusation he couldn't back up. Oh, and he found himself competing against Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Les Miles. That's tough going.

At USC, he won't have any of those coaches to compete against. No school has the tradition that USC does, and all opponents have their ups and downs -- none is or expects to be a perennial power. You don't have Washington State in the SEC. Oh, sure, the Oregon schools are tough, Washington is on the rise and Jim Harbaugh is a great coach at Stanford, but those schools don't play like Alabama, Florida or LSU. So, in a way, it's a smart move for Kiffin -- get to an easier conference, a school with a great tradition, a school you're familiar with, and learn from the many mistakes you made at Tennessee (which may end up with sanctions because of some of the activities under the Kiffin administration).

I'm not crying too much for the Vols, because there's a rough culture in college football that makes the business side of it ugly, and the SEC and schools like Tennessee contribute to that. By the same token, young kids listened to the promises of Kiffin and his elite coaching staff, only to have the head coach bolt after a year. Those kids should have the freedom to move to another school without penalty. What the heck-- if their coaches can bolt without pretext, they should be able to do the same.

Lane Kiffin does not look good here, but it's hard to say that he's any different from many other major college football coaches.

How You Rub Off on Your Kids: A Larry Bird Vignette

My daughter is in middle school, and she and her classmates have to write a report on a biography they've read. One of her friends, a girl, is writing on Magic Johnson. This selection prompted some of the boys in my daughter's class to hurl trivia questions at the girl.

"What team did Larry Bird play on?"

The girl didn't know, so my daughter answered for her.

"The Celtics."

Frustrated, the asker threw out another question.

"Okay, so what number did he wear?"

The girl didn't know.

My daughter jumped in again.

"33."

The boys backed off.

I asked my daughter how she knew that.

Her response: "I'm growing up in your house, Dad."

True, but I don't think that we ever got down to levels of detail sufficient to discuss numbers.

So I taught her three more -- Dr. J and Bill Russell wore # 6, and Wilt Chamberlain wore #13.

Pretty cool kid, I think.

Coaching Third- and Fourth-Grade Basketball: The Three-Man Weave

I learned this drill/play decades ago in junior high school (I guess I'm dating myself because they're called "middle schools" now). Anyway, it once was called the Wisconsin Weave, because in the 20's the University of Wisconsin deployed it successfully against, among others, Purdue. In the late 20's Purdue had an all-American named John Wooden, who played against it. Of course, the Purdue teams had to solve the riddle of the weave, but it's a pretty cool play.

The basic premise is that you have three guys spaced out in a row, and you tell them "behind the man I pass it to and head downcourt." So, the player in the middle passes the ball to the guy on his right, and then he runs behind him to the right wing. The kid who catches the ball passes it to the kid on his left; this passer runs behind the kid on the left, while the kid on the left passes the ball to the kid on his right (who was the kid who started the drill). They keep this "weave" going until they're close to the basket, and then the kid with the shot puts in a layup.

Sound easy?

Well, the third-graders who hadn't played before had some trouble with it, as some of them were running in front of the the kid they passed it to, so I isolated a group of fourth-graders and had them do it together. Well, they caught on pretty quickly, they ran down the floor, passing crisply, weaving in and out, and putting up good layups. The less-experienced kids thought it was cool, the parents thought it was cool, and the kids wanted to continue the drill when we stopped it. What they learned, I hope, is cause and effect -- throw a crisp pass with good movement and no selfish one-on-one dribbling rifts and you can get a good shot. We're going to run that drill every week -- it also will help get the kids to sleep faster at night.

All kidding aside, it's an oldie but goodie. Try it some time.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Miep Gies is Dead

It's fitting that this is my 1,888th post, because 18 in the Jewish religion is the sign for chai, or life. And it's fitting that today you read about a true hero, someone who put her life on the line daily for several years in the face of unfettered terror, in order to protect neighbors that she cared about. In order to try to save other lives.

Her name was Miep Gies, she was 100, and she died Monday in The Netherlands.

She was one of the people who protected Anne Frank and her family. And she was the person who found and saved Anne's diary, preserving it so that when her father, the only person in Anne's family who survived the death camps, returned from them, he could publish it and tell the entire world his teenaged daughter's story.

Sports, of course, is a great release for all of us. But the sporting world and the sporting press overuse the word hero to the point that the word has become diluted. Even Gies herself thought so, denying that she was a hero. But that humility, that selflessness made her all the more compelling a figure.

The world is blessed with everyday people who once in a while take a stand and in so doing accomplish something extraordinary. Miep Gies was one of those people, and the world was lucky to her her (and the many other Dutch people) who put their lives on the line to save those less fortunate.

Monday, January 11, 2010

If Kurt Warner Doesn't Get Into the Hall of Fame. . .

there should be a Federal investigation -- especially after yesterday's performance.

(There are so many Federal investigations that I figure one extra one wouldn't push the budget over the cliff).

Seriously, the guy has had a great career, has a good story about persistence, is one of the best precision passers of his era, and, sure, he didn't go up against the Steel Curtain or the Purple People Eaters yesterday, but he delivered big-time.

He belongs in Canton.

The Greatest College Basketball Game in a Long While

Was played yesterday in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Vols had kicked their best player off the team and suspended 3 others. Others were injured or in foul trouble, and a walk-on with a name that belongs more in a law firm that handled your grandfather's estate than on a hoops floor nailed a 3 during crunch time to help the Vols upset #1 Kansas. You can read the recap from espn.com here.

It's not everyday we hold as equivalents character and NCAA Division I sports. But Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl and the Vols' administration took a stand -- at great cost to their program -- and they were rewarded with the type of effort that should epitomize college sports. They're not always supposed to be about the exploits of the kid who was identified as the star when he was 12 years old. On occasion, they're supposed to be the stories of walk-ons such as Sklar McBee, the player who hit the critical 3-pointer. Sure, McBee probably went into the season figuring that he'd add value as a gung-ho, happy-to-be-there practice player, but yesterday he showed that he's much more than that. The kid shined on a national stage.

Which makes you wonder what if everyone -- from boosters to your average alums to athletic directors, coaches and players -- had the attitude of the walk-on or lightly recruited player who's told up front that he'll have little chance of the bright lights and playing time but who shows up day after day and gives his all?

What would all college sports -- and particularly the revenue sports -- be like?

Hats off to the Tennessee Volunteers for one of the great character moments in the recent history of college basketball and the NCAA.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Should the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Have 96 Teams in It?

Good article in December from the Wall Street Journal.

I agree with Northwestern's Bill Carmody -- 65 teams (the current number, out of a possible 334 Division I basketball teams) is plenty. I like the scarcity -- it gives the regular season a great deal of meaning, and there aren't all that many controversies about who gets in and who doesn't (outside of 1 or 2 per year). Another argument against increasing the number is that some observers believe that increasing the number would just be a payoff to the big conferences, given that right now they get most of the at-large bids. So, increase the number of teams to 96 and, guess what? Will the Big East, which now gets about 7 of its 16 teams into the tournament, suddenly get 12 of the 16? Would the Big East deserve it?

The article points out that more than half the teams in the NBA and NHL make the playoffs. And look what that lack of scarcity and selectivity has done to those leagues? Their brands are diluted and weak. But, the article also points out that the NCAA can opt out of its $6 billion contract with CBS, precisely because of the reason that it might want to increase the roster of teams to 96.

This bears watching.

The Hidden Benefits of Exercise

Required reading from the Wall Street Journal.

Climb stairs. Walk instead of ride. Get an exercise bike, a treadmill, some light dumbbells, medicine balls, Pilates or yoga DVDs, but whatever you do -- do something! You'll enhance your quality of life, fortify your good cells, kill the bad ones, live longer and think better. Sometimes it's hard to get started, but once you do, you'll look forward to exercising every day.

Eagles' Debacle Isn't McNabb's Fault

Sure, the QB is in the crosshairs, but last night's armageddon in Dallas resulted from the Cowboys' better preparation and better play in the trenches. Put differently, when you control the line of scrimmage (translated -- when you push the other team around at will), you win the game. And sometimes it isn't even close.

And, last night, it wasn't.

Oh, sure, Donovan McNabb isn't as precise a passer as Kurt Warner or Tom Brady, but even those guys would have wilted at the thrust that the Dallas line had all night. And those guys also would have been skittish playing behind an offensive line, 3/5 of whom weren't starters when the year began. The defensive line play was more of a mystery, because those guys are generally pretty good. But the play at linebacker was awful, and the play in the secondary not much better. For those who lament the loss of Brian Dawkins, let's lament the loss of his leadership. But, truth be told, he was a step behind the plays for most of last season, so having him on board last night would not have been a cure-all. Remember, if you're one of the ones who waxes nostalgic, bringing back Jeremiah Trotter only demonstrated to the fans how woefully unprepared Andy Reid was at the season's outset, when apparently the Eagles' front office knew that starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley was entering the season on an iffy knee.

So, what should the Eagles' fans be mad at? Here are a few points:

1. The front office and Andy Reid. When Reid re-upped, he talked about the organization's being the "best in class." C'mon, show some humility. How many Super Bowls has the organization won? Until you win one, you're not best in class. Period. That was ridiculous and because it was a silly claim, it was insulting.

2. Andy Reid for having what seems to be an annual blind spot at a position. Sure, B-Dawk was a step slow, but you don't can a legend unless you have a better solution, and no one back there proved to be an equal, let alone an improvement. Macho Harris was anything but at the free safety position. A few years back there was a blind spot at punt returner, and, at times, there have been blind spots at wide receiver and, yes, linebacker. This year, there were blind spots at linebacker and safety, but the Birds were too self-congratulatory regarding their upgrades at wide receiver and running back to notice. Once again, those blind spots left them vulnerable, and good teams took advantage.

3. The trenches. Is the defensive line good enough to push other offensive lines around? Apparently not in big games. Is the offensive line good enough to offer a chance at a balanced offense that keeps opponents guessing? Apparently not, period. The Stacy Andrews' signing is a big bust, and Jason Peters is overrated, even if he made the Pro Bowl. He didn't show much yesterday -- and that's not Donovan McNabb's fault.

So, there are many problems that the team needs to address before it gets to quarterback. Donovan McNabb had a good year, and he should return next season. Yes, he's the symbol of the franchise, and fans are quick to forget all the good that he has done when he gets sacked or throws behind a receiver. He isn't the most precise passer, but he can win football games. Last night, though, he didn't have a chance to.

And the debacle that was the 34-14 loss to the Cowboys was by no means Donovan McNabb's fault.

Not even close.

If you were to give Andy Reid a shopping list for next season, here are a few thoughts:

1. a leader on defense.
2. a few linebackers who are better than free-agent pick-ups or 7th-round picks who we're supposed to hope become all-pros.
3. a few playmakers on defense (outside Asante Samuel and Trent Cole, where are they?).
4. a huge run-stuffing defensive tackle.
5. two offensive linemen who have Jon Runyan's mean streak.

You need all of those components before you start a conversation about the quarterback position.

And you need a head coach to take stock of his approach and realize that he needs to be aggressive on all 53 roster spots and at all positions and not take an annual flyer on one or two of them.

Achilles had his heel. Andy Reid has two positions every year that come back to haunt him. He's been at the helm for eleven seasons, so he should have learned by now that you can't leave yourself this vulnerable.

If he doesn't learn soon, he'll be regarded as a very good head coach.

But not a great one.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Who Are the Real Rodents?

The Philadelphia Daily News announces "Once Rat-Infested, the State Capitol's Cafeteria Reopens."

This begs the question whether state legislators are allowed back into this establishment.

Mike Shanahan Will Fail

To win a Super Bowl with the Redskins, that is.

There are several reasons for this comment:

1. No coach in NFL history has won a Super Bowl with more than one team. A few got to the Super Bowl with two teams (Dick Vermeil, Bill Parcells and Don Shula come readily to mind), but no coach has won a Super Bowl with more than one franchise.

2. Dan Snyder goes through coaches more quickly than Larry King goes through wives. While Shanahan will get more of a leash because of who he is, it's hard to believe that the owner will not meddle. Friction could occur early between owner and coach, unless the owner is under sedation.

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American life. This is a corollary to the first point, but many excellent coaches haven't been able to win a Super Bowl with a second team.

As for the first point, Vermeil's career was amazing because he lost a Super Bowl in '81, took 16 years off and then came back and won one with the St. Louis Rams. (In other words, he had a second act of sorts in reverse order, but the hunger and humility were there because he didn't take his long hiatus after winning a Super Bowl). Look, Don Shula was one of the best coaches of all time. Vince Lombardi was a legend, as was Bill Parcells. But what's to say that Shanahan won't turn into George Seifert, who failed in Carolina (and his career ended miserably there with a 1-15 record in his last season) or a Joe Gibbs (who tried his second act with the same franchise after a much longer hiatus than Shanahan's and fared okay but a far cry from what he had achieved in his prime).

Washington fans shouldn't get too gleeful about this development. Their franchise has too many problems, and the odds are better that finding the next Mike Tomlin or Ken Whisenhunt would give the team a better chance than hiring Mike Shanahan.

More Stupidity from the Washington Wizards

Oh, to be young, a multimillionaire, have your bags carried by someone else, fly charters, stay in five-star hotels and be responsible for absolutely nothing.

Don't the four Wizards implicated in the linked article realize how good they have it?

Apparently not.

They made a bad situation worse, embarrassed their organization (not that they seem to care at all) and humiliated their teammates that seem to have some sense of responsibility.

Playing in the NBA is both a right and a privilege, but it's much more of a privilege. Sure, you can make all of the constitutional arguments you want that anyone has the right to do anything, but to play in a supposedly elite league, with the compensation and accommodations these players get, is a privilege. Most young kids would do almost anything to achieve this status, and there are many players around the world who would love to play in the NBA. But some guys will never get it -- either ever or until it's way too late.

I forget who wrote "youth is wasted on the young," but whoever said it might have had situations like this in mind.

Sheesh.

Increasingly it seems like Commissioner David Stern is running a preschool for overprivileged, irresposnsible and ungrateful young men. And when the ratings and attendance continue to fall, the league will only have to blame its lack of discipline and ingratitude for the privilege it currently has to demand so much of people's wallets. The trademark is at its weakest, and marginal dollars to spend on second-rate sporting events are becoming even more scarce.

But it doesn't seem like the league gets it until a big crash occurs.

What (on Earth) is Wrong with Ivy League Men's Basketball?

Dartmouth men's coach Terry Dunn resigned suddenly yesterday. Click on this link to the Princeton Basketball blog for the story and links.

Dunn's players apparently were going to boycott the team's next game. This resignation comes atop Penn's dismissal of its head coach, Glen Miller, after the Quakers started 0-7.

Remember, this is the Ivy League. Not the NBA, Major League Baseball or even bigger-name conferences where coaching tenure sometimes rests halfway between a cliff and a 300-foot drop without a parachute or cushion.

So, what gives? This is distressing to say the least. What's driving it? Is there too much pressure on coaches and athletic directors? Are the players becoming too entitled? Are the fans unrealistic? Are the coaches themselves so autocratic that they become impossible to live with?

Remember, this is the Ivy League. Stuff like this isn't supposed to happen. It's almost as though blurbs like this belong under Sports Illustrated's banner "This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse is Upon Us." This is the league where the term "student-athlete" should mean more than what it connotes in other conferences. This is supposed to be the nerdy, eggheaded conference, where kids actually can conjugate Latin verbs, decline Latin nouns, perform differential equations and discuss Proust and Goethe and do physics experiments while riding their unicycles to their small-group classes on political conflicts in ancient Greece.

I suppose not. But, then again, the Miller and Dunn situations sound, on the face of it, distinctly different. In the Miller situation, the Penn men's hoops brand was becoming about as valuable as that of AIG, and, in the Dunn situation, it seems like the players had a lot more to do with it. Still, two resignations out of eight mid-season? In any league, that's very significant, and, correspondingly, a disaster.

If you have one firing mid-season and that's the first one that people can remember, you can chalk it up to something idiosyncratic. Have two, and either you've fallen victim to the odds that lightning doesn't strike all that frequently in the same place or, alternatively, you have a cultural problem. And the thing of it is, Ivy hoops -- with the exception of an outstanding Cornell team -- is a far cry from where it used to be.

What gives?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Princeton Women's Basketball Team is On Fire

Here's the link for the Tigers' women's team.

They are off to a 12-2 start, having lost only to Cal and UCLA, and neither of those losses was a rout. They start two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, and they could well be a) the first Tigers' team to make the NCAA tournament (okay, the Ivy season hasn't even started yet) and b) the best Princeton women's hoops team ever. Coach Courtney Banghart is doing a great job in Jadwin Gym, and if you haven't seen this Tigers' team play, you should check them out. They play with great precision and accuracy, and they are a lot of fun to watch.

Go Tigers!

Sad Case at Tennessee

Another gun case. All-America candidate Tyler Smith was kicked off the team because of a felony gun-possession charge.

Yikes.

What is compelling these young men -- in college and in the NBA -- to carry guns? Is their safety that much in jeopardy? There has to be a back story here -- do they believe that their lives are in danger?

Much has been written about Smith, his transfer back to Tennessee, the death of his father, his decision to stay in school, etc. Unfortunately, his actions just wrote the epitaph on his career at Tennessee. What will stick in everyone's mind for a while is how his career ended.

What a shame. What a waste.

It took Tyler Smith years to build a trademark and a career at Tennessee. It took several hours of bad decisionmaking to destroy both.

Pennsylvania Sells a Little More of Its Soul

State passes an expanded gaming law.

My father once said that society is on the precipice when it has to resort to legalizing gaming as a way to save itself and its finances. Great, so people who can't afford it will now lose money to help pay for state programs that will subsidize them precisely because they don't have enough money to live on. I applaud the courageous legislators who voted against the bill.

Mark Twain was right -- no honest man rests easily when the legislature is in session.

A Third College Football Coach is Canned for Alleged Player Abuse

South Florida fired head coach Jim Leavitt, who built the program from scratch.

Note that the headline reads "canned" and not "caned," but perhaps that will come next. Funny, but you would have thought that a canning would have happened because Leavitt couldn't beat the 'Canes.

Are college presidents and athletic directors showing more backbone, or have these cases been so bad that they left their universities' administrators no alternatives but to show their head coaches the door?

What Philadelphia Refuses, Houston Uses

Goofball alert.

The Astros are going to sign former Phillies' #1 draft pick and starting pitcher Brett Myers to a 1-year deal.

Myers has a million-dollar arm (or, in this case, a five-million-dollar arm), but has on many occasions displayed a ten-cent head.

Astros' GM Ed Wade, who held the same job with the Phillies for about 8 years, has made a habit of obtaining some of his former players. In his case, familiarity breeds (being) content.

Wade once had this to say of one-time Phillies' ace Curt Schilling: "He's a horse every fifth day, and in between he's a horse's ass." And this about a possible Hall of Famer. I can't wait until Wade waxes eloquent on Myers, who also once served as the Phillies' closer. What might he say: "He's a jack-of-all-trades on the field, and a jackass off it?"

Good luck, Astros. Perhaps the Phillies' refusal to re-up Myers sent him a signal that it's finally time to grow up. The guy has talent and has shown flashes of brilliance, but he's maddeningly inconsistent.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The NBA Has No Choice But to Suspend Gilbert Arenas

And it looks like that will happen.

Otherwise, what type of message is the league sending to players and fans? That anything goes so long as you're an elite performer? That the rules don't apply to you?

History is littered with examples of fallen heroes and stars who surrounded themselves with people who told them their sweat didn't stink, who enabled them, and who didn't tell them when they were out of line. Drunk on their success, these folks would begin to think that everything they touched would turn to gold or that the rules didn't apply to them. What then happened to many of these fallen stars is that they handed out with people who did bad things, who were interested only in their money, or who gave bad advice. In addition, these fallen stars started to act poorly because they saw no limits.

It's an old tale.

And it happens too frequently.

Perhaps by taking a stand every now and then the NBA will hold its players more accountable and, correspondingly, save a few of them from an inevitable decline and, yes, from themselves.

Gilbert Arenas should use this incident as a wake-up call, before he ends up on basketball's scrap heap, a washed-up mid-thirty something sixty-five pounds over his playing weight, having little to do but pass his time and wonder where all his money went. Sorry to sound harsh, but again, this sounds like the late-night re-run of an old movie whose plot line we've seen in many forms before.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Mike Leach Saga: It Takes Years to Build a Brand, Only A Season to Tarnish It

There have been many articles on the issues going on behind the dismissal of Texas Tech's football coach, Mike Leach, and this one gives a different side to the story (which at first looked like a battle between an AD, a player with a strong-willed and well-known father, and a head coach). It's a good read, as it's not every day that a school fires a coach before the end of the first season after they had given him a new (and lucrative) five-year contract.

Leach's firing marked the second firing in the Big 12 this year of a successful coach who either had gotten too big for his program, too abusive or too unaccountable. Whatever the case, the terminations of Leach and now-former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino are evidence that the coaches don't control their schools or hold them hostage precisely because they're winning. What these terminations also can point to is the tremendous stress and responsibility placed upon these head coaches, so much so that their jobs are as consuming as any in the country -- and that type of burden can damage a person, physically (see the case of Urban Meyer) and emotionally.

I recall a quote from Bill Belichick's father, Steve, himself a revered assistant coach, when asked if his son was a genius. "Genius?" The elder Belichick responded. "All he does is run up and down the sidelines coaching football for a living."

Perhaps it's time, again, to look at the perspective the big-time schools have about football (seemingly above almost everything else) and what the purpose is of having a big-time college football program. Two successful coaches were fired this year because of what can only be described as behavioral irregularities -- coaches who only a short while ago had been hailed for turning their programs around and building winners. Now these men are out on the coaching scrap heap, damaged, partially because of their own bad decisions, partially because of a system around them that encouraged tough (and sometimes) mean decisions, and partially because of a culture that stresses winning football games more than anything else.

These men are human. They are not geniuses. Football is a game, like basketball, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, field hockey, softball, that should be for kids. For fun.

What has happened at Texas Tech and Kansas demonstrates that it is -- and has been for a while -- a ruthless big business that, for every winner there is, creates collateral damage in terms of ruined coaches, damaged or uneducated players, and college kids who perhaps spend too much time following games and partying around them than learning better skills to get more out of life. Okay, so the latter point might be a bit of a stretch, but when you write sometimes you shock to provoke a response. Still, people should ask themselves why college football has become so important in some places to create situations like these.

General Patton was a hero for what he did during World War II. My guess is that he wouldn't have survived media scrutiny and political pressure today. Neither would have Bear Bryant (a quick read of "Junction Boys" would tell you that).

College football will continue to chug along, untransparent and unchecked to a great degree. But cases like those of Mike Leach and Mark Mangino deserve scrutiny and should be studied, so that we all can remember that this is just a game.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

More on the Washington Wizards, formerly the Washington Bullets

Here's more on the incident at the Not So OK Corral.

The NBA needs this as much as it would need a hole in the head.

Mark Macon Tries to Stabilize Basketball at Binghamton

Good article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer regarding former Temple star Mark Macon, who is now the acting head coach at Binghamton, which is trying to rebuild after a series of problems resulted in the suspension of its head coach and the dismissal of about a half a dozen players from the team. Binghamton is 4-10 with only 7 scholarship players on its roster. Macon had always wanted to be a head coach, but not in this fashion. The article is a good, short read and a good way to get caught up on Macon.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Another Sign That the NBA is Becoming Irrelevant?

Guess who might be playing in the All-Star game.

Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady.

I don't think I got the memo from the league office that announced the adoption of the resolution requiring the league first and foremost to be about entertainment and sales of merchandise and second about good basketball. My guess is that someone wrote it and circulated it, but that perhaps I and others were watching team sports.

The economy isn't getting a whole lot better, and the competition for the marginal sports dollar will become more fierce. There will be winners and losers, and if taxes go up for the people who can afford the tickets the most, they'll have to make choices.

That and a diluted brand won't help the NBA.

Nor will this.

Reflections on Penn and Princeton in Ivy Hoops

Two nights ago I went to see Princeton host Wagner at Jadwin Gym. The Tigers won 45-42 on a three-point play by Kareem Maddox with about 5 seconds to go. The game was tied at the half, and then coming out of the locker room the Tigers looked asleep. Wagner went on a big run to go up 34-22, and then with about 10 minutes to go, the Tigers pressed and took Wagner out of its game. Before then, Wagner pounded the ball inside to its senior center, with good results. The press disrupted Wagner, the Tigers went on a run of their own, got 21 points from junior guard Dan Mavriades (the only Tiger who shot the ball consistently that night) and held on to beat a terrible Wagner team. For the complete writeup, please, as always, consult the Princeton Basketball blog.

A few observations about that game:

1. Wagner coach Mike Deane looks about 75 years old. He's about 57, and I don't know if he's had health problems or this season has aged him. But he sounds like an old grouch out there. I predicted to my son five minutes into the game that Deane would draw a technical foul, and I was right -- he got one in the second half. It's hard to see how a recruit would be interested in joining this program if he had a choice of other DI schools. Deane should change gears every once in a while.

2. Princeton looked asleep for a good part of the game. In the first half, I saw the most energy from two freshmen, Ian Hummer and Will Barrett. Hummer had a spectacular block, and Barrett showed great energy following up a missed shot. Both have some size, and that bodes well for the Tigers.

3. The Tigers' offense looked better than last year's, in that they took very few shots with five seconds or less remaining on the shot clock. In the early days of Coach Sydney Johnson, the offense looked disorganized, and the team took quite a few bad shots with the shot clock about to expire. That's the good news. The bad news is that the offense still doesn't look crisp enough against a zone defense, as the players are thinking enough about what they should do with the ball in advance of their getting it. As a result, a player gets the ball, holds it for a few seconds, allowing the defense to catch up, or he'll take two dribbles, the defense catches up and then he'll pass the ball to someone too far away from the basket to shoot. If you watch the elite teams, they zip the ball around quick to try to take advantage of an overload or a mismatch. The Tigers' offense against the zone was too predictable, too undisciplined and too unconfident to paste a team like Wagner, which, from all accounts, was ripe for a shellacking.

4. Frosh guard Jimmy Sherburne didn't have his best night, made some bad decisions and turned the ball over too many times in the short time he was out there. He displayed good energy and looked quick, but he has to make better decisions.

5. I don't understand the coaching huddle that Coach Johnson has with his assistants after a timeout. They walk to the middle of the floor and talk for 20-30 seconds, leaving the players by themselves, standing around. To me, that's wasted time. Coach Johnson might want to be inclusive and build consensus, but I would think that he'd be conferring with his assistants and then know precisely what to say during a timeout. Maybe it's just a matter of style, and that's it.

6. Overall, Princeton was lucky to escape with a win over a bad opponent. Yes, I'm speaking with Pete Carril-like frankness, but the average long-term fan shouldn't get overly optimistic about this team's chances in the Ivies. The team doesn't look like it has solid leadership yet, and it doesn't look like it knows how to execute a game plan with great precision and put an opponent away consistently. Yes, they've had their share of wins, and that's all good, but they'll need to do more to beat Cornell and Harvard.

As for Penn . . .

When the wheels fall off the bus, they really fall of the bus. I watched most of the Penn-Duke game last night on ESPN2, and while they say that no publicity is bad publicity, whoever offered that wisdom didn't see its team lose 114-55 on national television. Yes, Penn was without Tyler Bernardini, its sharpshooting forward, and Mike Howlett, its leading rebounder, but even if it had those two guys it still probably would have lost by 35 or more. Interim coach Jerome Allen substituted freely, and, overall, the Quakers looked lost. The forwards looked mostly interchangeable, one-time top prospect Darren Smith looks rusty at guard, and outside of soph guard Zack Rosen (who might be wondering why he turned down Harvard two years ago), no one on the Quakers looked all that special. Penn has some talent, and my guess is that when the Ivy season starts, Coach Allen will have an eight- or nine-person rotation and the Quakers will finish somewhere in the middle of the Ivy pack. But, right now, Penn is a very-hard-to-believe 0-9, lost and looking for answers.

It can take decades to build a top brand. It can take only a few seasons with the wrong coach at the wrong time to wound it enough to knock a team from a preeminent perch into the ranks of the also-rans. But that's precisely what has happened at Princeton and Penn at around the same time. The Tigers look to be (somewhat) on the rebound, while it's tough to figure whether Penn's hit bottom yet or whether the Quakers will continue their fall, at least for a little while longer.

A Different Meaning to the Term "Gunner"?

Read this and see what I mean.

There will be a big investigation into this, as the report is that Washington Wizards players Gilbert Arenas and Jarvis Crittenton drew guns on each other after Crittenton tried to collect on a gambling debt. Arenas allegedly drew first.

Let's not convict anyone on the internet or in the media, but if this were to prove to be true, well, yikes!