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, February 27, 2010

Two Good Pieces on Cole Hamels

SI.com's Jon Heyman writes that Hamels is the key to the Phillies' season.

Okay, so Phillies' fans know that. But Heyman writes a good article differentiating between the 2008 version and the 2009 version, worthy of a read.

And then there's this piece in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Hamels' curve ball went AWOL last season, making him a rather predictable two-pitch pitcher (still, he won 14 games). This season, the lefty working on improving his curve and is developing a cutter. If he can throw three pitches for strikes, look out. If he throws all four for strikes, you're talking Cy Young territory. Then again, if he only throws two for strikes, he'll get hit.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Nostalgia Night: Photo of Wilt Chamberlain with a Young Rasheed Wallace

Unless you're a really Philly hoops junkie, you don't have to read the article, but look at the top photo -- Wilt Chamberlain with then-10th grader Rasheed Wallace. Rasheed looked much happier then.

Retiring Wilt Chamberlain's Number at Kansas Years Ago

This ceremony took place a few years before Wilt passed away.

Warm. Kind. Poignant.

View it here.

Also, take time to read the comments section on YouTube.

Wilt used to say that nobody liked Goliath.

On this date, they did.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The NBA: Bill Simmons is a Kindred Spirit

Read here and you'll see why.

Simmons has all sorts of suggestions for making the NBA more watchable, more efficient, more cost-effective for fans. He wonders aloud why the NBA hasn't thought of some of these things, and so do I. Of course, the big question is whether the owners need some protection from themselves. In any event, Simmons' basic premise is that when you're losing $400 million in a season, you're failing.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Efforts -- Princeton Men's Basketball

On Friday night, Princeton's men's team put on a clinic on ESPNU, thrashing Yale, 82-58. The Tigers defended aggressively, had 25 assists and shot 13-19 from behind the arc. They also executed numerous backdoor baskets and made the Bulldogs work for every shot. Among the shooting stars for the Tigers was their second-leading scorer Dan Mavriades, who has a great touch from beyond the arc and had 20 points (5 Tigers scored 3-point field goals, including Mavriades (4-7 from behind the arc) and sophomore forward Patrick Saunders, who shot 4-5 from behind the arc and finished with 14 points).

Based on that peformance, the Tigers looked invincible going into Saturday night's contest against a Brown team that beat Penn at the Palestra on Friday night.

A Brown team that was 7th in the Ivies going into the game, 8-17 overall and 2-6 in the league.

So, I went to Jadwin Gym figuring on a relaxing evening with great defense, layups arising from backdoor plays and some good three-point shooting. I got the first two -- from the Brown Bears, and not much of the above from the Princeton Tigers. Brown upset Princeton, 57-54, overcoming a 30-24 halftime deficit.

Brown both outcoached and outplayed Princeton. Brown's game plan was simple -- take away shots from the perimeter for the most part (except to permit guard Marcus Schroeder, a heady Tiger player but not a great shooter, going 2-9 from behind the arc) and force the Tigers to do something else with the ball. While Schroeder had 17 points (he was the only Tiger -- save some moments from forward Kareem Maddox -- who had anything going on Saturday night), the Tigers struggled mightly to solve Brown's defense. They got the ball inside to a combination of post players -- Pawel Buczek, Zach Finley and Ian Hummer -- but they couldn't do much with it. Hummer and Finley converted a few baskets and showed some fire, but the two seniors -- Finley and Buczek -- overall had bad games at both ends. Mavriades (2-8 from behind the arc) and Douglas Davis, Princeton's exciting sophomore lead guard, had trouble getting open for good shots on a consistent basis. Put differently, the Tigers typically won't win when Schroeder takes 16 shots in a game or when, in any game, he takes only 1 less shot than Mavriades and Davis combined (which is what happened last night). Additionally, whatever 3-point attempts the Tigers got were not easy looks.

So, Brown's defensive game plan was good, and the Bears -- a physical team -- executed well. But where Princeton broke down even more was on the defensive end. Sure, if you look from a distance you can say that giving up "only" 57 points wasn't too bad, but many of those points were from five feet or less, with many being layups off of excellent passing and the physical play of Brown's senior forward Matt Mullery, who finished with 15, and forwards Peter Sullivan (13) and Tucker Halpern (12). Brown outplayed Princeton when Brown had the ball, because from my vantage point Princeton's help defense was sporadic at best and non-existent at its worst. Princeton has plenty of size, but they didn't use it often enough to help out when someone got open inside. And that killed the Tigers -- they gave up way too many easy baskets and fouled too often (21 fouls to Brown's 13). Brown converted 18 of 19 free throw attempts -- and that was the ball game.

On Friday night, Princeton had 25 assists, 12 turnovers and shot 13-19 from behind the arc.

On Saturday night, Princeton had 6 assists, 13 turnovers and shot 6-25 from behind the arc.

Yikes!

The Tigers, at 16-7, 7-2 in the Ivies, are no longer tied with Cornell for first place, but for them this remains a very good season and one which shows that their future is looking up. Last night's loss is a big disappointment for them, but it should serve as a reminder that they still have some ground to cover to become the elite Ivy team, and it should serve as a motivator that despite whatever they do on a given night, they'll have to come out and earn it even more on the following night.

Because that's how you become the elite team in the Ivies -- or any league for that matter.

The Ivy is a tough league to play in because teams play back-to-back games on weekends. It's hard to get up two nights in a row -- hard to keep your momentum if you won big and hard to get re-focused if you lost a tough defeat the night before. Remember, we're dealing with late teenagers and young adults here, and their focus and emotions -- especially at academically challenging schools -- are all over the place. So Brown's achievement is very noteworthy, because I doubt that there have been more than only a handful of times in the school's history where Brown has defeated Penn and Princeton on the road in the same weekend. Hats off to Coach Jesse Agel and the Brown squad for a job well done. By the way they played, you wouldn't have known that Brown was 8-17 going into the weekend and in second-to-last place in the Ivies.

The Princeton Tigers learned a painful lesson last night, but one that should serve them well in the upcoming years.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Landon Donovan Gets Serious

I've blogged before that I wondered about the commitment of Landon Donovan to be among the best in the world if he didn't play professionally among the best. Yes, the MLS is a good league, but it's not the English Premiership. Donovan has been on loan to Everton, where he's played great. This is a great development for U.S.A. Soccer, which now has many good players playing among the world's best in the top leagues in Europe. In order for the U.S. to become a serious contender in World Cup play, its players must hone their skills in the elite leagues. So, cheers for Landon Donovan, who's crossed the pond and is distinguishing himself.

Presumably the Bats May Remain

Major League Baseball just announced a policy banning employees of teams from bringing deadly weapons to work. (Believe it or not, I believe that there's a Second Amendment issue that might prevent, in certain circumstances, employers from disciplining employees on this topic under certain circumstances, such as if the employee keeps the weapon in his car).

Sounds like a good idea to me.

I was wondering if syringes are included on the banned list?

Just think, Gilbert Arenas and Jarvis Crittenton of the Washington Wizards ruined the fun for everyone.

Stupid Met Trick?

Or, stupid metric?

Johan Santana says he's the best pitcher in the NL East.

Now, as a Phillies' fan I hardly can take a holier-than-thou attitude, given the bulletin board material Jimmy Rollins created over the past couple of years. Rollins' team, though, backed it up.

Needless to say, there are a few hurlers in other NL East cities who will beg to differ and who probably will stay mute on the topic.

But what is it with the Mets? They somehow cannot get out of their own way. Santana might be the closest thing the Mets have to a team leader, and while I can appreciate self-confidence, the smart thing to do would have been to have created a non-story, something along the lines of: "Well, it's an interesting question. There are many good starters in the NL East, and we play the games to determine which team is the best." Or something like that.

Of course, "it ain't braggin' if you can back it up," but rest assured that this headline will be posted on some bulletin board somewhere.

And, last time I checked, it might be nice to have the best pitcher, but it's even better if your team makes the playoffs (which the Giants didn't do) or advances to the league championship series (which the Cardinals didn't do).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Visit to the Apple Store

Attention all retailers! Attention all manufacturers!

On Monday, the family and I ventured to the King of Prussia Mall, one of the largest in the U.S., to do some shopping. The girls went one way, the boys went the other (we purchased Roy Halladay uniform t-shirts for the kids), and the boys happened upon the Apple store.

It was hopping! Most of the other stores were rather slow, but the Apple store was full, and it was buzzing. Take it for what it's worth, but there is a big lesson to be learned from this.

People want to be around innovation, the new thing, a company that looks to make their lives easier, that never stops trying to advance. It was amazing to see the number of customers there compared to all of the store's neighbors.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bracketology: Joe Lunardi Has Princeton Women as a #12 seed

Check out the brackets for yourself here.

The Princeton women's team is 19-2 and 7-0 in the Ivies, with 7 games remaining (3 at home, 4 on the road). They still have much to accomplish, and playing road games in the Ivies on back-to-back nights is pretty tough.

Coach Courtney Banghart has accomplished a lot during her short tenure with the Tigers. This weekend, they play at Yale (which played them tough in Princeton for about 30 minutes) and at Brown. The Tigers defeated both teams by more than 20 points several weeks ago in Princeton.

If you're a fan of the Princeton men's team (which is 15-6, 6-1 in the Ivies and coming off a win at Penn last night), you also should watch the Princeton women's team. They're very good.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is Phillies' Farm System Now Lean?

Click here on this list of the Top 100 prospects from ESPN.

The good news: top prospect Domonic Brown, the untouchable one, comes in at #14. No other Phillies' prospect ranks in the top 100.

Schadenfraude news (sort of): None of the players traded for Cliff Lee ranks in the Top 100.

Reverse whammy news (sort of): None of the prospects obtained for Cliff Lee ranks in the Top 100, either. Not only that, but the Mariners didn't give the Phillies any of their top 3 prospects for Lee(Dustin Ackley is #8 (he's the Chase Utley-alike from North Carolina, playing OF now), Carlos Triunfel is #44 (he's a 2B), and OF Michael Saunders is #74.

The other news: Michael Taylor (now with Oakland and part of the Roy Halladay trade) is #24, and Kyle Drabek and Travis D'Arnaud, also part of that trade, come in at #s 40 and 99.

Rivals (and, possibly bad for the Phillies' news):

Atlanta has #s 1, 43, 63, 67 and 85;
Florida has #s 5, 21 and 62;
New York Mets have #s 23, 41, 64 and 73; and
Washington has #s 2, 31 and 92.

What does this all mean?

1. That the Phillies are built for the next couple of years (which makes sense, because by 2012 a bunch of their stars will be pushing 33, 34);
2. That the Phillies might not have enough prospects to trade should they need to make a mid-season move to fortify the team; and
3. That the Phillies are working hard to fortify their minor-league systems.

It also means that Washington might just have a plan, that the Mets have some young prospects who could help (but who probably cannot repair the holes they currently have) and that the Braves should be picked to finish second in the NL East.

I'd love to look back on this list 5 years from now to see a) how everyone turned out and b) how well those not on the list fared in comparison.

Pitchers and catchers report this week!

Superagent David Falk on the NBA's Labor Woes

I suppose it's time to pile it on the NBA's labor woes this week, but superagent David Falk also believes that the NBA has big problems.

Falk has one major lament -- that marginal players are making too much money and some possible solutions -- enabling the players to share in all revenues of the NBA, including sales of luxury boxes, revenues from overseas, etc. Read the whole thing to get his take on the problem.

As for salaries, isn't a perennial problem a) that teams sometimes have woeful GM's and therefore can't get out of their own way (read Bill Simmons' book on that score and see, e.g., Isiah Thomas' work in New York and Billy King's in Philadelphia, among others) and b) that too many teams often seem saddled with long-term deals that they can't get rid of, ensuring that their teams will be bad for years because they've lost the flexibility of those deals. That seems to be a recurring theme in the NBA.

The players' union would argue that it's not responsible for saving teams from themselves and hellacious personnel moves, and that argument will have some legs. The structure of the current collective bargaining agreement, though, puts teams in the "I'm afraid to lose this guy" mode that helps make a bad situation (the overall status of the NBA) worse by having 'fraidy cat GMs give long-term deals to too many middling players. Sure, it was Billy King who offered the long-term deal to Samuel Dalembert (and I haven't heard that the 76ers filed a police report alleging that three masked gunmen held guns to their head at the time). But, by the same token, the game is hurting for reasons other than salary woes. You can read my post from yesterday for some solutions.

Make no mistake, the players' union and the league need to make progress -- and soon -- and do their laundry in private. They cannot afford a lockout or a lost season the way the NHL did. The hockey owners benefited from shutting down their league before the recession; if they NBA misses a season now, it might be harder to get fans to come back. As I've written before, the battle for the marginal sports dollar is fierce, and those marginal dollars might find other alternatives if the NBA doesn't show up for a season.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Trouble for the NBA -- Updated

Update (original posted one day earlier):

More from NBA Commissioner David Stern on the NBA's money woes.

From this once-upon-a-time-more-interested-than-he-is-now fan, the following:
  • Too many teams = dilution of talent
  • Too many teams making the playoffs = anticlimactic regular season
  • Too many games = makes each individual game less meaningful (especially given how many teams make the playoffs)
  • Too expensive (tickets) = makes it hard for a family of four to go to a game regularly
  • Too much made-for-ESPN's-Top-10-Plays basketball = a product that's not as compelling as the college game. What coach who wants to teach his young players how to play the game well will recommend an NBA game over watching a Top 10 college team?
  • Too much "entertainment" = Most fans wouldn't take their daughters or wives to a strip club, so why would they want to subject them to the dancers that the teams deploy?
  • Too many empty seats = Confirmation that points one through five have some merit.
  • Too many tattoos (probably) = Whether or not you agree with a player's right to express himself under the First Amendment, these probably turn off a bunch of the fans.

So, reduce the number of teams, the number of teams making the playoffs, the number of games, the prices of tickets and emphasize good basketball, games that have meaning, and an affordable product. And chuck the dancing girls and the silly between periods gimmicks and DJ's in the stands that many teams use. I still don't think that simply reducing players' salaries is the answer. The NBA needs an overhaul.

Ah, so someone might argue "what are you talking about?" because about 90,000 fans will attend tonight's All-Star game. That has to be a sign of the league's popularity and health. It's not, because it's a statement that American fans love to go to events (as opposed to individual games), so it's a fun thing to do, to take your grandchildren or children to an All-Star game. Lord knows, most fans probably would see it better on TV than from the nosebleeds at Jerry Jones' new monument to himself, but come to think of it, the monument is a draw, too.

That same person might argue, "but the NBA is popular internationally." But what does that really mean? So, they sell a few jerseys in China, but as Commissioner Stern said, the league is losing money. (Even if he is the one who touts the league's international popularity). That leads me to a story. I once worked with a guy who split time between Philadelphia and New York. He told the Philadelphia people he was busy in New York and the New York people he was busy in Philadelphia, but as best as I could tell, he didn't have a lot of traction in either city, and dividing his time didn't pay dividends. The NBA needs to strengthen its core for it to be strong elsewhere.

And that person might argue that the entertainment is part of it. Sure, but even 18-35 year-old men want to see a good product on the floor (i.e., the guys in short pants who are playing the game). They won't watch so-so basketball forever. But if they were to go to a well-regarded movie or a concert or even, heaven forbid for that demographic, a play, they'll get a guaranteed product. You don't always get that with the NBA.

To quote Kurtis Blow, "basketball is my favorite sport." But the NBA is in a downturn, and it needs a new business plan that involves more than just cutting player salaries.

Original Post:

The league and the players' union don't seem to be in sync regarding the next collective bargaining agreement.

Normally, most fans don't pay attention to the legal stuff. Most fans normally think that the owners are rich, they have plenty of money to pay the players, that the teams are a hobby so why run them for a profit, and that ultimately there is plenty of money to go around. All they care about is having a competitive team in their city (which most cities, by the way, do not have).

Now, though, fans should be concerned. Despite Bill Simmons' elegy of Commissioner David Stern, the NBA is in trouble. Oh, sure, their marketing is hip, but if the ads sway you, then do you also buy a steak in a restaurant purely for the sizzle? Yes, the merchandise is cool, but what about the underlying product itself. Or, is the product an entertainment extravaganza, thereby making me (a hoops purist) an old geezer, because I do expect more than ESPN highlights when I go to a game. I expect no traveling, good defense, picks that are set well, rolls from the picker, on-ball screens, off-ball screens, and all that sort of stuff. But the NBA seems to be about a much more complicated algorithm than just pure basketball.

The NBA is competing for the marginal sports dollar of the fans. I've blogged about this before, but the NBA, NHL, professional tennis and golf (if Tiger Woods can't repair his image) are competing against college football, college basketball, the NFL, Major League Baseball and NASCAR for that extra sports dollar.

And it's failing.

Isn't it?

Because if it were succeeding, wouldn't it be fighting with the players' union about increasing the salary cap number? Wouldn't there be plenty of money to go around? The proposal that the league put on the table suggests a far different picture of the league's health from what David Stern's propaganda suggests.

And that should trouble owners, players and fans alike.

Penn Shocks Cornell

Basketball is a great game. College basketball is a kids' game (even though adults from time to time try to interfere with that notion). So that means that kids can do extraordinary things -- both good and bad. Cornell got off to such a good start that pundits were equating this year's Big Red teams as among the best of all Ivy teams ever. That's what the prominence of a recent, excellent team does -- fades the memories of those great teams that preceded this one.

The same Cornell team that also beat then-Number 1 Kansas in Lawrence lost to a 3-15 (going into the game) Penn team in Philadelphia last night, 79-64. Pick your verb -- stun, upset, shock -- because that's what Penn did. The Quakers went into the game with their worst team in God knows how long, a team beset by injuries and not nearly as long on talent as the ones their coach, Jerome Allen, played on. Yet no one told them that at 3-15 they were supposed to go through the motions and cave in, but, kids being kids, you have to believe that the Cornell Big Red probably thought that they could handle the Quakers pretty easily.

Penn showed the Ivies that they still have plenty of grit in them, and Cornell showed them that a loss to Princeton tonight and they're about to become Ivan Drago to an aging, but cagey, Rocky Balboa. The reason -- the Tigers are (quietly) 5-0 in the Ivies, and Cornell is 6-1. A Princeton win and the Tigers are 2 up, albeit with 8 games (which is a lifetime in the Ivies) on the Big Red. Of course, the Big Red will be fired up and determined to avenge their loss against Penn, plus they'll be fighting for their lives, so to speak, in the Ivies. Yet, they have to play Princeton in Princeton, and Coach Sydney Johnson's team is having a pretty good year. Princeton has a unique opportunity tonight -- it has one its top rivals on the ropes, and it has a great opportunity to wound Cornell's title hopes significantly tonight.

Meanwhile, Penn hosts Columbia, a 10-point loser at Princeton last night. The Quakers are fired up and should be primed to damage the Lions tonight, but, kids being kids, it could well be that Penn falls flat and the Lions get a rare win in Philadelphia. The reason? All Ivy kids play for pride -- almost all aren't going to play basketball after college. Columbia will be fired up to knock off the team that knocked off nationally ranked Cornell -- that's the way all schools -- including the Ivies -- work.

All this makes for great watching tonight in Princeton and Philadelphia.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Deflation Might Be Coming to the NBA

The NBA is going to make sure that its players have a fun All-Star weekend. According to this article, the league is going to seek a massive restructuring of its collective bargaining unit with the players' union, looking to reduce salaries significantly.

This bears watching. If you "Google" SportsProf, you'll see that over the years I've been on the NBA's case for weakening its brand, having too many teams, too many games, tickets that are too expensive and emphasizing merchandise and entertainment at the expense of the integrity of its core product. That weakening, in my opinion, must be affecting the franchises greatly -- and I would speculate that many are losing money. Reducing players' salaries is only part of the solution -- the league also should reduce the number of teams and the number of teams that can make the playoffs. Let's make the regular-season games more meaningful, and let's trim the fat from the league. That's a harsh thing to say, but the NBA is competing in a very difficult landscape for the marginal sports dollars that aren't spent on the NFL, college football, college basketball, baseball and even NASCAR. The league needs to do something to stay relevant, but it's more than just taking it out of the players' salaries.

Why Are So Many (Good) Lefty Relievers Unsigned?

A few years ago Joe Beimel and Will Ohman were worthy of multi-year deals for some good money because they ranked among the best situational lefty relievers. Today, they're unsigned, as are much-more-toward-the-end-of-their-careers-than-the-beginning Alan Embree, Ron Mahay and Ron Villone.

So much for my theory that you want your kids to grow up to be left-handed pitchers (I chanted that mantra to my wife's midsection when she was pregnant with both our kids), emphasizing the part about becoming a lefthanded relief pitcher. My inspiration -- the ageless Jesse Orosco, who made his name pitching for the Mets but who pitched until he was 46 and who, from 1991 through 1993 (his last season) never threw more than 57 innings in a season. The way I figured it, a kid could make great money, work outdoors (but without heavy lifting), stay in shape, work in the national pastime and then retire in his mid-40's, presumably to a life of volunteer coaching, commentating, celebrity appearances and perhaps discovering the latest biotechnology drug that can reduce aging without any side effects (okay, the latter part's a stretch, but teaching English at a prep school while coaching baseball might be a good second career).

Alas, the mystery remains. Are teams tapped out? Are they more willing to try an up-and-comer for the second or third lefty reliever position in their 'pen at baseball's (very healthy) minimum wage than pay for some grizzled veterans with tread on the tires, sure, but with track records that demonstrate that they're not too fearful of entering Wrigley in the middle of the seventh on dollar dog day the day after they lost the 2016 Olympics and ending a no-out, bases loaded jam (I'm not sure that anyone had this opportunity, but that's the type of situation that these situational guys find themselves in; entering the game at the beginning of an inning -- like the top of the ninth for a closer -- is a luxury for these fellows).

I happen to appreciate very much the role of the situational reliever -- all teams need them, and those who advance far into the playoffs have solid bullpens. These guys can come in handy, and I'm sure that each of them will surface somewhere during the season.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Princeton's Women's Basketball: 17-2, 5-0 in the Ivies

They're having their best season ever.

They've received Top 25 votes.

Could this be the year that the Tiger women go to the Big Dance for the first time ever?

9 games left in the league, including Harvard and Dartmouth (whom they swept this weekend and who are perennial favorites) on the road.

Anything can happen, but this Tigers' team is aggressive, it can handle the ball, and it can shoot it.

And one more thing -- it has size. As my pre-teenaged daughter put it, "they make 5'8" look small."

Go Tigers!

Waiting to Draw Aces Is Not a Good Thing

So says SI.com's Tim Marchman.

Major League Baseball clubs are going to significant lengths to sign their aces or potential aces to long-term deals, with only Matt Cain and Cole Hamels eligible to be free agents after the 2011 season. The good news is that the Yankees and the Red Sox will have to work harder to develop their own top-of-the-rotation starters (sure, but the guys they have now are pretty darned good) and won't be able to poach the likes of the Royals and Twins for their homegrown talent. The bad news is that if your team is an ace away from making a serious dent in the post-season, you'd better be prepared to deal some of your best prospects to get a guy who has half a season or, at best, a season and a half, left on his contract.

Waiting to draw aces?

Better to draw up a solid plan for your farm system and grow them in your own hothouse.

Are the Clippers Ready to Outdo Even Themselves?

There's a report out there that the Clippers have made overtures to Isiah Thomas.

The report also says that the Clippers shot down the rumor that they had approached Thomas to be coach, GM, President, head of ticket sales, head of merchandising, corporate concierge for Billy Crystal, lead talent scout and the public address announcer.

I'm currently reading Bill Simmons' book on hoops, which shows a) that Simmons is an NBA savant, b) that Simmons is funny and c) that Simmons is certifiable in his love for the league. The book also does quite a number on Thomas (shots are taken at the Clippers to). So, on paper, this would be a marriage made in the heaven of Bill Simmons' sense of humor. If you read Simmons, you know that the possibilities of this match would be endless.

Chameleon Sighted Amidst Pennsylvania Snowstorm

Pennsylvania has Groundhog's Day.

Now this.

Why Doesn't FIFA Sign Up the Guys Who Officiated the '72 Olympic Men's Hoop Final While They're At It?

Accountability doesn't extend to FIFA's overlords, apparently. They added to the roster of officals the guy who blew the obvious hand ball call in the World Cup qualifier between Ireland and France. Click here for the story.


This type of management arises from senior managers who are accountable to no one. Their attitude is, "hey, not only did we not make a mistake regarding that referee or that game, this guy's a terrific referee based upon past performance in the clutch, so we're going to give him access to the biggest stage possible." Have you ever worked in a place like that? Decisions like that do wonders for credibility and morale, but if the business is a cash cow, I suppose there are always a few places where you can stash Fredo Corleone and not get hurt.


You wonder why FIFA did this. Is is that the others on the list don't pay bribes to the governing body to keep their jobs, made worse decisions such as puking on Carlos Renaldo before a big game between Portugal and Spain, or sleeping with the spouse of the guy who heads up the South African soccer federation and posting their first dinner date on YouTube? Or, if FIFA's guys are about as honest as the folks on the International Olympic Committee who planned the winter games in Utah over a decade ago, such that they putting a guy on the roster whom they control so completely that when some Russian Oligarch or international media baron over whom it's hard to get jurisdiction in any democracy wants to manufacture the outcome, they'll put this guy in charge of that game?


Look, the referee in question had a bad game, but it was a bad game at a critical time in the qualifying for the World Cup, and it dashed an underdog country's hopes. That referee shouldn't be officiating in this World Cup; he should have a chance for redemption somewhere else, but not here. And FIFA need only to look to Major League Baseball for recent precedent. Some umpires originally designated to work the World Series were yanked from the roster after they made questionable calls in the prior rounds of the playoffs. The result -- the best umpires umpired the World Series, and people remember only the fine play of the Yankees, the pitching of Cliff Lee and the batting heroics of Chase Utley, not the name of any umpire who caused a controversy.


Let's watch FIFA's governing board and decision makers closely. They're likely to blunder more before the tournament starts this summer.

13 Year-Old Commits to USC (at least, tells them that's his school)

Click here to read all about it.

Given his ability to move around, it could be that Trojans' head coach Lane Kiffin won't be at USC when this Steve Clarkson-trained prodigy makes his way to Los Angeles.

Could be that Kiffin will be on his second job after USC by then.

Wonder if Las Vegas will be running odds any time soon.

Of course, there's also the story of why schools are taking an interest in kids this young and whether it's good for the kid, the head coach, the school, the middle schools' cheerleaders, the local hotel trade (which might not benefit from room rentals to assistant coaches from major programs who otherwise would stop by to pay a visit to the phenom, his assistant pre-school teacher and the nurse at his pediatrician's office, the reassuring one who gave him all the shots when he was a kid). My view is that the big-time schools should chart marriages of big-time athletes to one another.

For example, wouldn't you want dibs on the the children of Candace Parker and Shelden Williams? Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm? Wonder if anyone is doing any tracking on stuff like that? I mean, they froze Ted Williams' body in Arizona, so you would think that someone would keep a log on stuff like this.