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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Friday, December 31, 2010

Can Harvard Win the Ivies' Men's Basketball Title?

Andy Glockner of Si.com seems to think so.

A few questions rise to the top:

1. Is Harvard cheating, because they haven't contended in a while and haven't won the title before?
2. Is Harvard doing things differently from when Frank Sullivan, their long-time coach, was at the helm?
3. Is Harvard admitting kids that other Ivies cannot touch?
4. Can Harvard's head coach, Tommy Amaker, actually coach well and win the title?
5. As for Question #4, does it really matter if he gets much more talent than everyone else?

The answers, from my vantage point, are:

1. No, and if the comment isn't "not a chance," it's "almost impossible" or "highly unlikely."
2. Yes, as the early parts of the article seem to indicate. Sullivan seemed like a decent coach who had a knack for getting his teams to finish in the middle of the Ivy pack, but he never seemed to be able to recruit the talent that Penn and Princeton did. Was it because he was a bad recruiter or because the Harvard admissions' office was tough and, perhaps, tougher than Penn's or Princeton's? (A familiar refrain from Ivy coaches who do not succeed is that they didn't get the breaks at the admissions office that other coaches in the league get).
3. Possibly. Yale coach James Jones seems to think so, or at least he did in 2008. Then again, Harvard just outdueled Penn for a highly touted big man, Kenyatta Smith, who will enter in the fall of 2011. Then again, of course, if Harvard weren't in the bullseye of the doubters (and, to alums of the schools in the target, "haters"), Penn would be and has been before. Still, let's give the benefit of the doubt to Harvard, Penn and Mr. Smith, and for those schools not named Harvard, not every big name who shows up excels. And, for Princeton fans, the Tigers remain in the hunt -- competing against ACC schools, for a NJ big man who would be a huge recruit for them, so a) those schools not named Harvard shouldn't be sad and b) while it's easy to point the finger at Harvard, all Ivies should be careful in doing so, because when you get down to it, who really knows what each and every school is doing anyway (as Federal law protects information about students).
4. Hard to say. Amaker hasn't exactly distinguished himself as a coach, so we'll all believe it when we see it. That's not to see he's a bad coach, but he's not Fran Dunphy, Pete Carril or Steve Donahue.
5. If he gets that much talent, it shouldn't matter all that much. You can have the best coach in the universe -- and many Ivies have had good coaches -- but it won't matter much if you don't get the players. True, a very well-coached team can slay a giant with more talent, but in the end, I would argue that the talent wins out.

What does this all mean, anyway? Just more publicity for Harvard and Amaker of a type that suggests to an incoming Ivy player that if Harvard comes a-calling, that player should listen. And beware the charms of any recruiter, as the player should remember that because the Ivies do not give athletic scholarships, they are not bound by the NCAA's 5/8 recruiting rule, which provides that a school may not provide more than 5 scholarships in a single year and 8 over a two-year period. The Ivy schools can tend to bring in 5 or 6 kids a year, so the competition is stiff. Not all kids find the Ivies to their liking or find themselves able to withstand the academic rigor, but, even so, the competition for playing time at these schools can be fierce.

The bottom line is that the games are won on the floor, and the road for a Crimson title has to endure two weekends of playing Penn and Princeton back-to-back, two games against defending (if weakened) champion Cornell, and two games against arch-rival Yale. Not an easy feat by any stretch.

Fight fiercely, Harvard, fight fight fight (to quote from the Tom Lehrer song), because your opponents most certainly will be primed for you. As will you for them.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Roger Goodell on an 18-game NFL Schedule

He was just on NBC's "Football Night" with Bob Costas.

It sounds like it's going to happen.

If it does, it's stupid.

Unless, of course, the league were to expand rosters from 53 to 75 (and pay the players accordingly) and have two bye weeks during the season. Let's face it, 53-player teams get decimated during the regular season. The Eagles, the team with which I am most familiar, lost a DE (Victor Abiamiri) before the season, their Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver in the first game, their center, Jamal Jackson, early on in the season, and their right tackle, Winston Justice, has missed the last two games. Their middle linebacker and signal caller on defense, Stewart Bradley, dislocated his elbow last week. Their kick returner and starter corner, Ellis Hobbs, re-injured his neck halfway through the season, and today starting safety Nate Allen tore a patella tendon and looks to be done for the year. Their other starting corner, Asante Samuel, came back today against the Giants, but he missed a few weeks. And there's more than that.

What does the league think will happen if it were to expand the season to 18 regular-season games without adding to rosters, creating a disabled list, or putting extra players on the roster. By week 18, teams will be playing fourth-string QBs in meaningful games or offensive linemen who were working for UPS lifting packages only a month earlier.

And then there's the issue regarding concussions and the concept that players want to keep their jobs and won't admit to being injured. The average NFL career is about 3.5 years right now. Unless rules are changed, that average could come down.

The owners need to be prudent here. Go to an 18-game season, create more jobs -- for players, for coaches and for trainers. Spread the money around a bit, build depth, extend careers and perhaps create more demand for your product. Failure to do that will dilute your brand and have fans suffering Arena League-quality players for the final month of the season.

Eagles-Giants

How many Christmas presents can Philadelphia fans get?

Let's see:

Cliff Lee.

A 28-point "Miracle of the (New) Meadowlands" win today against the Giants (against whom they've won five in a row).

That leaves hockey and basketball.

So. . .

A Stanley Cup?

Kobe Bryant ending up in his hometown?

Dream on.

Then again. . .

Cliff Lee not a Yankee?

The Giants not winning this game?

Santa Claus is smiling upon the Cradle of Liberty.

Philly fans might want to press their luck by buying a bunch of lottery tickets tomorrow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mark Cuban Versus the BCS

I'd rather seem him take on Rex Ryan or Donald Trump, but the possible tangle between Cuban and the BCS is intriguing to say the least. Put simply, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks is trying to figure out a way to create a Division I college football playoff.

The defenders of the current system say that a) for some (inexplicable) reason, it's not wise to take DI players away from school for a playoff system, b) it would be unfair to the sponsors of the bowls who wouldn't figure into the playoff system and c) it's kind of fun to have debates about which team is best.

Let's debunk each reason.

First, from DI to DIII in every sport but Division I-A football, there is a post-season playoff. Sure, the Ivies are a bit self-righteous about prohibiting their football teams from participating in the FCS (formerly D-IAA playoffs), but everyone else participates in every post-season tournament (and even the fair Ivies have teams that go very far in, and occasionally win, NCAA tournaments without a fear that the athletes will miss too much school). So, while Harvard might not go to the FCS playoffs, academic stalwarts such as Williams can do to the DIII football playoffs and occasionally do. The best academic schools aside, to contend that the DI schools will spend too much time on football when bowl-bound schools spend all of December practicing is ludicrous. Sorry, but the real reason for the defenders of the current system is money.

Second, why would it be unfair to the sponsors of the bowls? Have you checked out some of the bowl games? You have 6-6 teams either facing each other or facing 7-5 teams. Do teams with those records really warrant a bowl game? Letting them go to bowls only diminishes the value of the other bowls, because then bowl games aren't scarce, and value is based to a great degree on scarcity (for example, if outstanding lefthanded starting pitchers abounded, Cliff Lee wouldn't have received the contract he did). No, it's time for Darwinism to take place in college football. Teams with mediocre records shouldn't go bowling. The reason these bowls exist is a) for the money and b) so that college coaches of teams with so-so years can tell recruits that they just went to a bowl game. What other purposes are there? (For what it's worth, you could still have bowl games for a bunch of teams not in the NCAA playoffs -- that is, below the top 16 -- if the NCAA so desired).

Third, the debate as to who should be #1 is silly when there is an easy remedy -- a post-season playoff. President Richard Nixon once told the public that he thought undefeated Texas was better than undefeated Penn State, and the voters in the polls elected Texas #1. There are other similar examples of idiocy. The best way to decide these things is on the field. By the way, if you don't think that there could be Super Bowl-like (or at least Final Four-like) ad revenues for the national semi-finals and finals, I think that you'd be proven wrong. The ratings and corresponding advertising dollars would be huge. Why? Because a) the best teams will be deciding the game on the field and b) the scarcity of this particular game. It could be a lucrative endeavor indeed.

And now comes a formidable foe in Mark Cuban. The BCS folks should put their protective gear on, as this promises to be one tough fight.

Anatomy of a Deal (Interesting Reading)

Bob Brookover's article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer regarding how the Phillies made a deal with Cliff Lee is a good read.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Phillies' Holiday Message to Season Ticket Holders

is a 19-second video with a few graphics that shows players sliding, touching home, etc. There's a holiday jingle in the background, and it ends with warm holiday greetings from the Phillies.

Very nice.

It wasn't as simple as it could have been.

A photo of Cliff Lee with a big red bow wrapped around him would have sufficed with a caption, "Merry Christmas. . . from your friends at the Phillies."

Or, to be more creative. . . a photo of GM Ruben Amaro with a big piece of paper in front of him, captioned, "He's makin' a list, he's checkin' it twice", then flash to Amaro dressed as Santa Claus and then the photo of Lee with the big red bow.

And, of course, you could have had Chase Utley with an elf's cap on, with the caption "Merry #*^&% Christmas", too.

The possibilities abound.

The Phillies, in their greeting, took a safe route.

The fans are grateful that in their general managing, they did not do the same.

Time for NFL Coaches to Cut the Crap

Such as:

filming other teams' practices;

having players lineup on the sideline to force th opponent's gunners on punt returns to take detours.

It's one thing to run creative plays -- flea flickers, tackle eligible plays, fake field goals, unique blitzes and the like. But it's quite another when you try off-the-field stuff such as the filming of practices or sidelines-hijinx that is blatantly unethical if not against the rules. The press writes as to how hard these coaches work, but then we all have to ask ourselves the question -- are they efficient, are they working "smart", or are they just trying to conjure up ways to get an edge, and that winning justifies any tactic?

The pressure on these coaches is tremendous. They are paid to win, and, if they don't, they get fired. They also have every play scrutinized heavily in the national and local media. Think that's easy? How would you like it if every decision you make at your job gets analyzed in public by a bunch of guys who did your job or who worked in your industry? You wouldn't, so you might get tempted to do anything so that all that those talking heads do is praise you.

Even if it means clandestinely filming your opponent's practice or having players line up on the sideline to disrupt punt coverage, perhaps under the theory that these are relatively small transgressions and that they're okay if you don't get caught. To me, these transgressions compel the question -- what else have these guys done or are these guys doing that enables them to get an unfair -- if not unethical or illegal -- edge in a game?

How do you stop it? Impose strict liability for a team -- get caught, and the transgressors get suspended for a season. Get caught, and you pay a whopping fine. Get caught, and you might forfeit a game. Or two or three.

Then it will stop.

Of course, the punishment must fit the transgression, so I'm not advocating the death penalty for a misdemeanor. But the NFL should be careful on the discipline here, so as to send a message that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.

Good sportsmanship should count for something.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Phillies Give Fans a Love-Lee December Day; Could Albert Pujols Be Next? (There is Some Logic To This, So Read On!)

The days are short. It's dark out early and late. It's cold, unseasonably so. Most people in Southeastern Pennsylvania do not like this time of year. For Philadelphia-area sports fans, the college basketball season is young, the pro basketball and hockey seasons just got started, and the Eagles are on their annual roller coaster of "perhaps this is the year, but then again, perhaps it is not." And the Phillies are a few months away from spring training. Fortunately, in this era, they've been very good.

After last season, fans were wondering if the team suddenly was getting very old. It's payroll was advertised to be high for them, the once-vaunted bullpen was weaker, Jayson Werth was a goner, and their leader, Jimmy Rollins, has two disappointing seasons in a row. The average age of a starting position player was about 31. Last week, we saw their best prospect, Domonic Brown, pack it in for the winter after going 2-29 in the winter league in the Dominican Republic. All they did at baseball's winter meetings was sign a journeyman lefty reliever for a pay cut to serve as their #1 lefty out of the bullpen. (And his name is confusing, at that, because they now have journeyman righty Danys Baez and journeyman lefty Dennys Reyes). They were in no hurry to find a solution in right field not named Ben Francisco, the other guy in the trade of '09 that sent four prospects to Cleveland for Cliff Lee.

Over the past couple of weeks, we saw Werth sign (surprisingly) for what seemed to be a way overmarket sum with the lowly Nationals, where he'll bat third or fourth for seven years and make plans for a post-season October fishing or hunting trip in July every season. We saw the best available outfielder, Carl Crawford, sign with the Red Sox, who also traded three top prospects to the Padres for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, whom they inked to a lucrative long-term extension (why this is important I will reveal later on in this post). And then we all had to read about how the Rangers and Yankees were dueling over who would sign the best available free-agent pitcher (by far), Cliff Lee.

That was a sore spot for the Phillies' faithful, for two reasons. First, many wonder why the Phillies traded Lee to Seattle after the '09 season for three prospects who right now look like suspects. Second, we had to watch the Yankees try to re-load once again, and, secretly, we were rooting for the Rangers, well, because we didn't want the Yankees to land Lee. Most of us thought that Lee would choose one or the other by Monday at some point. That was what all of the writers on ESPN.com and SI.com were telling us.

We went to sleep last night having noted that Brett Favre's consecutive-game streak ended at 297 and that the Giants were beating a lackluster Vikings team (the solace there is that the Eagles will get to beat up on that same lackluster Vikings team soon enough). And then the rumblings turned into news after midnight, and we woke up to this:

THE PHILLIES HAVE SIGNED CLIFF LEE.

Say what? Okay, so my son just turned 11 last week and I wanted to give him a good birthday present, but I thought that consisted of two very good seats to a 76ers game. But Cliff Lee? Sure, he didn't get his letter from Hogwarts (which disappointed him), but the next best thing to knowing that you having magical powers is learning that in addition to Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, you'll get to watch Cliff Lee too. (And, for what it's worth, for a less lucrative deal than the Yankees offered).

And all you or I can say, is "Wow." Followed by, "I sure didn't see that coming." Especially in the world of professional sports, where you believe that the players all measure themselves against each other by the coin of the realm -- the length of a contract and the guaranteed money in it. That's why Werth went to Washington, for sure, and that's why Crawford signed with the Red Sox. They got great deals.

But Cliff Lee left money on the table, and that's a bit confounding because most professional athletes do not do this. Their egos are big, their handlers urge them on, and their agents strive to get them the most money. Most of the rest of us don't find ourselves in this precise situation, but there is some similarity to it. Most of us like to work where we're connect with a team, where the work is meaningful, where we make a difference and where we have a good relationship with the boss. We might stay in a place for a long time despite offers for more money elsewhere, because that elsewhere has many unknowns -- you might have to move, your family will have to get adjusted, you don't know what's expected of you, and, well, you like your current situation, it fits your needs, and it enables you to balance your life in a certain way. So, the lure of more money is just a lure, as it cannot guarantee the stability and comfort that you seek. Now, of course, that's different for Cliff Lee, whose dollars could buy a lot of comforts, but the thing of it was, according to reports, that Lee really felt comfortable in Philadelphia and that his wife liked it. That meant a lot (memo to Yankee fans: treat the spouses of opponents well, for in the future if their husbands are potential free agents, they'll have good feelings about your city and your team). And that meant that Cliff Lee is returning to Philadelphia.

Observations:

1. Many Phillies fans, while giddy, will ask, after their giddiness subsides (perhaps in February, when spring training opens) why the Phillies just didn't keep Cliff Lee after the '09 season. It's a great question, but remember that Lee did say that he wanted to test the free agent market. It might have been the case that Lee was asking for more then than he got now, which is why the Phillies did what they did and traded for Roy Halladay. It could be that Lee needed to take the free agent journey to realize that signing for less money in Philadelphia than he could have received in New York was the right thing, but he probably didn't realize that right after the '09 season. Still, it remains a good question, because few fans can name even one of the prospects the team received from Seattle for Lee (except that one is a 6'7" French Canadian pitcher who had control problems last season).

2. Are the Phillies done? That's a big question. I am not sure that they are, unless they are very content with the potential of Ben Francisco in right and are confident enough that Raul Ibanez (on the last year of his contract) can contribute enough in 2011 in left field. If that's the case, consider that Cole Hamels will be arbitration-eligible next year. Now, peddling Hamels seems out of the question, because he's one of the youngest Phillies, and keeping him addresses the "are they getting too old?" concern. The Phillies also will have Brad Lidge coming off his big contract after next season, and Jimmy Rollins as well (and those two will prompt some big decisions for Phillies' management). So, there could be money to keep Hamels for a while. But suppose the Rangers, who have plenty of hitting, who have a good team and who need a #1 starter, offer one of their good young hitters for Hamels? Would the Phillies make the deal?

3. What does the Lee acquisition (along with the Giants' World Series victory) say about the current era of Major League Baseball? Offensive numbers have dropped for a few years in the post-steroids era, and this could be the era of the pitcher. So, the reasoning would go, if you have a dominant rotation, you can get back to the World Series.

Halladay
Lee
Hamels
Oswalt
Alfred E. Neuman (or whoever else you want to put in the #5 spot).

Wow!

4. What does this do for the best hitters in the game? Sure, the top pitchers are commanding premiums, but if offense is down and you're one of the best hitters, what number can you command? So, figure this logic. . .

The Yankees have a long-term commitment to Mark Teixeira.
The Red Sox have a long-term commitment to Adrian Gonzalez.
The Cardinals might have trouble signing Albert Pujols to a new deal.
Ryan Howard is signed to a long-term deal and is from St. Louis.
So. . . if you do the math and the Phillies could sign Pujols to a long-term deal, might the Phillies try to engineer a trade to St. Louis for Pujols? The Cardinals would get an excellent first baseman and a marquis name at a more affordable price, and the Phillies, well, they will get the best hitter of the era and pay accordingly. The only wrinkles in the works are a) that Prince Fielder will be out there as a free agent and is a more consistent hitter than Howard and b) the Angels (and a few others) might not sit idly by. Still, the possibility is intriguing?

5. What are Mets, Nationals, Marlins and Braves fans thinking today? If you're a Met fan, you're just more down in the dumps (heck, the Mets signed a free-agent catcher who will miss the first 8 games this season because of a PED-related suspension -- that was one of their biggest splashes). If you're a Nats' fan, you still have to be scratching your heads regarding Werth, even if you're happy. If you're a Marlins fan, well, how many of them are there? And if you're a Braves fan, you have to be reminding yourself that the tortoise did beat the hare after all was said and done. If you're a Phillies fan, you're thrilled, and, also happy that if you're a season-ticket holder they raised their prices before they signed Lee, not after.

6. What are Yankees' fans thinking? C.C. Sabathia has a bad knee, Phil Hughes is terrific, A. J. Burnett was awful and has 3 years to go on his contract (he might make them forget Carl Pavano), and Andy Petitte might retire. The Red Sox seem to grow young arms on trees. Who else is out there?

A great day for Philadelphia sports fans, for sure, with more to think about as spring training approaches.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Temple's Al Golden to Miami? So Says ESPN.com

Say it ain't so, Al. Say it ain't so.

But ESPN.com says it is.

I thought that Golden might wait at Temple until Joe Paterno finally decided it was time to retire, but he's the George Blanda/Nicholas Flamel/Albus Dumbledore of college football coaches -- he isn't going anywhere soon. There also was no guaranty that there wasn't someone on JoePa's staff in line to succeed him, either. So, Golden, in Year 2 of uber-hot commodity status (and not willing to jeopardize that status with an off year or two at Temple), kept his name in contention for some of the marquis jobs, and, well, the U is one of them.

Miami is getting a good man, that's for sure.

And I would think that Temple would promote from within and continue in Golden's tradition -- being aggressive in recruiting and running a well-disciplined program.

Let's see how this story unfolds, but if it is as ESPN.com says, Miami has made a good choice.

76ers 88 Hornets 70

I took my son to the 76ers' game today and had the following observations:

1. The Hornets, who have lost 8 of their last 11, showed up asleep. There's no other way to describe how horrid the Hornets' effort was. The 76ers' announcer said in the post-game that the team played great defense, and perhaps they did, but I also know that Marco Belinelli missed 5 wide open shots in the first quarter.

2. The 76ers keep on having multiple players scoring in double figures, a balance that will enable them to fare better because opponents just cannot key on Andre Iguodala. Lou Williams led the way with 17 off the bench, and Iguodala and Elton Brand also played well. Say what you want about Iguodala's not being the type of player to be the #1 option on a good team, but the guy hustles out there.

3. Mareese Speights might never get out of 76ers' coach Doug Collins' doghouse. Bad passes, a missed dunk, the guy has talent, but he needs to play smarter and work harder.

4. The place was at least half empty. Don't know what the official tally was, but you have to wonder who ups for the good seats at half court and behind the baskets. Either they're not upping, or they're not showing and cannot dump the tickets on StubHub. At least 1/3 of the suites looked empty, perhaps more. Put different, traffic to the game was non-existent, and it took me longer to get out of Princeton's parking lot after the Tigers' victory over St. Joe's last Sunday (where perhaps 2,500 people were in attendance) than it did to get out of the Wells Fargo Center's lot today. And it's not because that many people left that early, either.

5. Chris Paul seems very frustrated. I don't see him dining with Marco Belinelli after the game any time soon.

6. What happened to Emeka Okafor? The guy was once the NCAA Player of the Year, but he did nothing today. Zilch. Did the long-term contract make him dumb and happy? (He's still sculpted, so I cannot contend that he's "dumb, fat and happy")? He looked like a spare part, an elder statesman, just happy to be in the league.

7. One of the best jobs in America is to be an assistant coach on an NBA team. What the heck do all of those guys do? I mean, I could see having one assistant who focuses on offense, one who focuses on defense, and a few younger kids in the scouting department to give you a breakdown of the opponents in advance of the game. But it looks like a Secret Service detail is on every NBA bench. If the league has money problems, they only have to look to the also-rans, who have the same fully burdened costs as the top teams -- the funsters, the dancers, the dunkers, the concession stands folks, the people who take your photograph as you enter the game. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice experience, but how long can it really last? Then again, I am a Phillies' fan and go to packed houses. I'm sure that baseball fans in Pittsburgh must wonder how long MLB can last if more teams are like the Pirates than are like the Phillies.

8. Doug Collins is good for the 76ers. Stephen A. Smith had wondered aloud what Collins would have wanted the job and said the team was lucky to get him. They were. They're playing smart, they're involving everyone on offense (looks to be a 1-4 stack, and they bring the double posts out high to screen and roll, leaving the PG to even do a back-door play with the wing players). On defense, many players are showing good form and giving a good effort.

9. Thaddeus Young is a good player to having coming off your bench. He is -- he's athletic, he's a tough match-up (and, of course, it's tough to match him up on a 4 because he's not that big or on a 3 because he's not that quick), and he can put the ball in the basket.

10. Chris Paul had 25 points, but most came in the second half, and most of the second half was garbage time. Remember, it was 54-23 76ers at the half.

11. The 76ers were fun to watch. They really were, and you can go to the 11th Street Atrium and get chicken cutlets and crab fries from Chickie's and Pete's before the game -- always a treat. And for whatever reason today, this spot was barren today.

12. The 76ers had 24 assists to 14 turnovers, while the Hornets had 4 assists to 13 turnovers. 4 assists for the entire game? Proves my point regarding the Hornets' looking to be on life support. And don't blame Paul, either. He plays with a lot of energy. David West had a bad day today, and it seemed that for a good part of the time he was in there he was setting moving screens that weren't called. Trevor Ariza, the big free-agent signing, was missing in action.

13. How good is the Hornets' bench? Hard to say. 76ers' cast-offs Willie Green and Jason Smith aren't all that good, or else why would have the 76ers passed on them? After all, weren't the Hornets supposed to be better than the 76ers going into the season? Guards Jarrett Jack and Marcus Thornton played with some passion, and back-up big men David Andersen and Didier Ilunga-Mbenga (the former is from Australia; the latter from the Democratic Republic of Congo) are intriguing. Andersen has a shot, while Mbenga is huge, but still raw after 6 years in the league. Put differently, the Hornets don't appear to have a lot of quality on the bench.

14. How good are the 76ers? They're improving. Don't purchase your playoff tickets yet; they won't get there this year. But they took advantage of a floundering team and put them away early, and that's a good sign for the franchise.

Now only if they can get more people to go to the games.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

More on Cliff Lee -- The Dynamics of An Auction

When you have a rare good and you want the best price for it, the best thing to have is two people who covet it badly. They'll start bidding for it, and, depending on the egos of the two people, rationality will suppress the superego and yield to an "I must land the trophy at all costs" mentality because "I am who I am, and I am the best." Remember, we seldom read about those who lose the auction. The journalistic landscape is rife with stories about those who won and whether they were happy with the prize or not, or whether they paid too much.

Enter Cliff Lee.

102 career wins.

3, perhaps 4 good to outstanding seasons. A 7-2 post-season record (2-2 in the World Series), with a 2.13 ERA in the post-season (his post-season exploits came down a peg in this past post-season, where he pitched poorly against the Giants, with an ERA of almost 7).

Is he the best pitcher today?

No. There are others who are better, including Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez ( and Yankee fans will argue that CC Sabathia is better, and, of course, there are always up-and-comers such as Ubaldo Jimenez to name one), but, when you're in the rarified air of the top 10, what matters more is who is the best available ace, and that's Cliff Lee, by far.

What's more compelling is that there are at least two teams out there who feel compelled to land the best available ace, the Yankees and to keep up with the arms' race with the Red Sox, who have been much better in developing young pitching and, to a lesser extent, the Rays, who also have done a far better job than the Yankees in developing young arms, and the Rangers, who had Lee last season, have a great lineup, and want him as an ace to lead their staff and to keep them in playoff contention annually for years to come.

And both want Lee badly. The Yankees started the process by offering Lee 6 years and $140 million and then upped the ante to 7 years. The Rangers apparently have offered Lee a variety of options. Remember, Lee is 32, so if he gets a 7-year deal, he'll be on the books until he's 39. If you look at the history of Hall of Fame pitchers, well, most don't fare all that well after 35 or 36. Which means that whoever inks Lee to get a good 4 years out of him will be paying for 7.

And I think that ultimately, Lee will get a 7-year deal for $175 million, or $27 million a year, precisely because there are two bidders who have gotten past the rationality of the auction and into the "I'm the dot.com bazillionaire, I'm at Christie's, and I have to have the Picasso because I'm me and I don't like the other guy and, well, I win at everything I do" mentality. That translates into Lee's gettting enough money to buy the biggest farms in both Arkansas and Texas and then having enough left over to buy the payrolls of any of the Marlins, Pirates and Royals.

You can read the lastest about the Lee sweepstakes here.

7 years and $175 million seems about right.

Unless, of course, it gets even crazier.

$30 million a year isn't out of the question.

You cannot always buy excellence -- the list of big-ticket signings has had its share of failures, and more teams fail to win it all with the big-ticket signee than do win it -- but you have to pay for it.

In the case of Cliff Lee, it's just a question of how much.

Basketball in Beirut

Former U.S. collegians will go anywhere and everywhere to play for money.

Some even go to Beirut.

Perhaps it's not the Spanish League or the Italian League, but it's a pay check, it's basketball, and the crowds seem to like it. So far, there haven't been any incidents like the one on a Hill Street Blues episode decades ago, when the policemen (led by the character Bobby Joe Hill, played by former UCLA star Michael Warren) played one of the gangs, it was a close game, and as the policemen's team's shot at the end of the game looked like it was going to go in, a gang member shot the ball, exploding it, the game and the gym in the process. Nothing like that's happened, but that's not to say that there aren't well-armed men with guns around and that the U.S. players don't have to be careful walking up to and talking with women in Lebanon. They do.

Good front-page human interest article from The Wall Street Journal.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Seeds of Peace: Palestinian, Israeli Kids Playing on Teams Together

Interesting article about efforts to break down barriers and get the youth on both sides to play together, communicate together and, yes, become friends.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

From Glue to Glue Horse: Yankees Offer Lee a 7th Year

Cliff Lee is 32. He's had 2, 3 very good if not great seasons and is a clutch post-season pitcher. The Yankees offered him a 6-year, $140 million deal, only to up the ante today by offering a seventh year. That projects as a 7-year, $165 million deal. Which means that Lee will be getting big checks through his 39th birthday. On the one hand, lefties can tend to last longer than righties. On the other hand, long-term deals for pitchers haven't always panned out. The Mets didn't get great value out of giving four-year deals to aging pitchers Tommy Glavine and Billy Wagner, and their long-term deal with Johan Santana snagged when their ace got hurt. The Giants bombed on the Barry Zito deal, only to have the magical powers of Albus Dumbledore instilled in GM Brian Sabean, who used wizardry to pull off one of the most likely World Series championship seasons in recent memory. So. . .

Is this a wise deal? I like Cliff Lee a great deal, and he electrified the hometown crowds in Philadelphia and Texas. He is one of the best pitchers in the game. That's not the issue; the issue is whether he'll pitch well as he approaches 40. Then again, Lee could keep holding out for more money, because the Yankees need to improve and make a splash, as the rival Red Sox emptied a pool's full of water by trading for Adrian Gonzalez (and then inking him to an extension in Ryan Howard's stratosphere) and signing Carl Crawford. If it were a chess match for off-season, hot-stove match-ups, the BoSox have the Yankees in check. And perhaps the best the Yankees can hope for is a draw.

Pat Gillick, recently elected into the Hall of Fame, cautioned against signing pitchers to long-term deals, as pitchers tend to get hurt and lose their stuff. An article in USA Today today also pointed out that a majority of the teams that make a splash signing this big-ticket deals don't win the World Series, and there's a message in that. Still, a rotation starting with CC Sabathia (a close friend of Lee's), Lee and Phil Hughes is formidable.

Will the Rangers counter? Will they offer more money or more years? Is this a case of two teams having to have a player so badly that they'll keep bidding unti the other cries "uncle?" The Rangers went so far with Lee leading their rotation that they realize that gems like Lee don't come around so often. They have a good thing in Arlington and want to keep it going. The Yankees are the dynasty franchise, and they realize that Andy Pettite cannot pitch forever and that they need another marquis name to win the World Series for the second time in three years. And what the Yankees covet, they usually get. So, an interesting dynamic exists -- and the question really is "who will fold?"

Then again, some of these long-term deals are very risky. Zito has failed (miserably) to live up to expectations in San Francisco (the Giants won the WS without him). Werth benefitted from a Phillies' lineup that enabled him to get a lot of pitches to hit because a) the lefty-laden lineup saw a lot of lefty pitchers (and Werth hits lefties better than righties) and b) he batted behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He might not fare so well in DC batting behind Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse or Justin Maxwell (if you just asked "who?", you got my point). Crawford, though, might benefit from being an action-packed BoSox lineup -- he should see better pitches than he did in Tampa Bay's sometimes anemic lineup.

Baseball owners seem optimistic that good times are ahead. They're throwing the big bucks around, and that's good for the players and for the optimism of some groups of fans who need it given that the days are shorter and the weather is getting colder.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Good Night for Philly-Area Hoopsters at the Top Levels of DI Hoops

Rick Jackson helped lead Syracuse over Michigan State.

The Morris twins led Kansas over Memphis.

Okay, I'm being parochial and jingoistic here, but once a hotbed, always a hotbed.

Too bad that these folks didn't go to Big Five schools.

When All That Glitters is Not Gold

Kevin Fitzhugh got a phone call that most kids dream about.

The Jets lost safety Jim Leonhard to a freak injury last Friday in practice. They need a third safety, and they called Fitzhugh, who had been in their camps each of the past two seasons.

No brainer, right? Undrafted free agent now working a civilian job, so you'd figure that he'd jump at the chance to join a team that, despite Monday night's disaster, is primed for the playoffs and beyond.

If you figured that, you'd be wrong.

Fitzhugh turned the Jets down.

His parents need his support, he has a steady job with Norfolk & Southern Railroad, and, believe it or not the Jets and the NFL cannot offer him the job security that his current job does. Fitzhugh, you see, needs the steady paycheck.

The proverbial they talk about how football makes men. I haven't seen any empirical evidence that football does that, and I've seen more anecdotal evidence that football lets boys perpetuate a boyhood that doesn't always have the right consequences (see, among others, Ben Roethlisberger). But in this case, one thing is for sure -- Kevin Fitzhugh is a man.

A very good and responsible man.

How many people would have turned down this opportunity? Even for Fitzhugh's reasons?

When the Sports Illustrateds of the world think of whom to award for making the right decisions, they should look no further than Kevin Fitzhugh. It must have been very hard for him to say no, but he did the right thing.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Jayson Werth to the Nationals?!

Wow!

Didn't see that coming.

7 years, $126 million dollars. Which means that Werth will average $18 million per year until he's 38. Memo to the Nats -- Derek Jeter had his first bad year at 36, and it isn't as though the Phillies hit a home run signing Raul Ibanez (for much less) at 37.

Now. . . what does this say about. . .

The Nationals?

The Boston Red Sox?

The Phillies?

Werth himself.

As for the Nationals, they needed a big bat to replace Adam Dunn, who is now on the White Sox. They got one with Werth, whom they hope will be the keystone for their franchise for years to come. I had commented to a friend the other day that I saw Werth more as a missing piece than as a leader of a team, the guy to be the lightning rod/marquis name for a franchise. In Philadelphia, Jimmy Rollins is the leader and the primary focus of the media's attention, and then others fall into line. Werth wasn't even close to the front of the line. Then again, it's Washington, where many of the fans who attend the games go there because they came to Washington from somewhere else and are rooting for the visiting team. Over the past couple of years, Nationals Park has seemed like a home field for the Phillies, and two years ago the Nats actually advertised their home games in Philadelphia to entice Phillies' fans to travel to DC and spend their fan dollars in the nation's capital. As a result, the spotlight that Werth will get will pale in comparison to what he would have gotten in almost every other Major League city. The Nats, though, shouldn't expect Werth to be a leader, unless, of course, he subordinated himself to others' leadership and was dying to take a leadership role somewhere. My guess is that he was looking for the most money, and he got it. More on Werth later.

As for the Red Sox, well, they lost Victor Martinez, they got Adrian Gonzalez, but don't they need another bat? I think that most fans thought that they did, but I wonder whether his interview with Theo Epstein and Terry Francona in Chicago earlier in the week soured the BoSox on Werth or convinced them not to offer the outfielder a 7-year deal. It says something when the wealthiest or most successful franchises won't offer a star player the top dollar. That means one of many things, among them that they don't see him playing a leading role that would command the top of top dollars elsewhere. Another, of course, is that they aren't as desperate for a complementary hitter (to Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, among others) as the Nats were for a marquis name.

As for the Phillies, well, they were always on record as saying that they cannot have a roster full of guys making $10 million a year or more. They were consistent, and they lost Werth to a mega deal that they weren't about to pony up for, especially since they inked Ryan Howard to a long-term deal last year. Werth is excellent -- no argument here -- and he filled a key role as a righty bad in a lefty-heavy lineup in Philadelphia. But to peel back the onion finely, Werth didn't hit well with men on base and wasn't a team leader. More importantly, the Phillies need to get younger, and they need to balance their payroll a bit. As Charlie Manuel said, people step up. Several years ago, Werth and Shane Victorino were unknowns and stepped up. Perhaps it's Ben Francisco's time. Or Domonic Brown's. Or a free-agent outfielder with a righty bat whom they'll sign. Are the Phillies weaker? Sure. Might they be better off in the long run by refortifying their roster and trying to get (somewhat) younger? Possibly. But few fans can be disappointed that they didn't try to match the Nats.

As for Werth, I am sure that there are those everywhere -- including, of course, Philadelphia -- who are rolling their eyes. One question comes to mind: how happy with Werth be in July of almost every season when the Nats are almost out of contention. First, Stephen Strasburg's return is no sure thing, and it isn't like he'd be coming back to a rotation that has had that much success over the years. Sure, Ryan Zimmerman is a good player, and Bryce Harper is a top prospect, but will the everyday lineup be good enough to contend with the usually good Braves and the hell-bent-on-contending-soon Mets, let alone the Phillies? I mean, we all could have seen him signing with the Angels, who are coming off a down year, the Red Sox, the Phillies or another contender, but the Nats? What does that say about Werth except that he doesn't care about contending, he cares just about money? Well, it depends on what the other teams might have offered, because if no one made an offer reasonably close, then Werth's decision is understandable. But, if someone did, then it's hard to figure. My spouse put it well tonight -- "he already has his World Series ring, so trying to find another contender to play for might not be as important.' That could be it.

But I'm not buying what Werth might be selling if he says that he's looking forward to playing for a rebuilding team. Competitive people love to win and hate to lose, so he can't be looking forward to losing. He must be looking forward to the big paychecks, but he'll learn come July or August almost every year of that contract that all of his money won't buy him happiness.

The joint jumps in Philadelphia. Every night, even if the Pirates or Nats are in town. I've been to a game in DC. Nice park, friendly staff, good food.

And half empty.

Jayson Werth is smiling. The players' union is smiling. Other free agents (Carl Crawford among them) might be smiling. The Phillies will recover.

But the Nationals?

Wow.

Princeton 74 St. Joe's 65

Last week I wrote that the Princeton Tigers came out in slow motion against Siena. Today, they came out on fire against the St. Joe's Hawks, almost blowing them out of the building in the first half. To the Hawks' credit, they didn't quit (it could have been that the Hawks' coach, Phil Martelli, threatened to have them walk the 45 miles or so back to Hawk Hill if they didn't show a better effort in the second half), and the Tigers prevailed, 74-65 behind a balanced scoring attack that had five Tigers in double figures.

A few observations:

1. The Hawks are young. They started 3 freshmen, 1 sophomore and 1 senior.

2. Patrick Saunders was almost a 1-man demotivating force. The Tigers' junior tri-captain hit 3 threes early in the game, and the Hawks had no answer for him.

3. St. Joe's deployed an effective press in the second half. It was the first time they used it all year, and the Tigers struggled with it early before figuring out a way to break it. It was good for the Tiger guards to see a press, and it was even better to see them solve it.

4. The St. Joe's Hawk Mascot Never Stops Flapping His Wings. To St. Joe's fans and alums, this tenet is virtually an amendment to the Constitution. My guess is that if the Hawk stopped -- for whatever reason -- the faculty senate at St. Joe's would be called into an emergency session, not to mention the Jesuit fathers that run the school. For the uninitiated, Hawk fans are wont to say "The Hawk shall never die," and they mean it.

5. Tigers' frosh guard Chris Clement looks to be pretty athletic. Clement got some minutes today and showed some skills out there. Of the first four guys off the bench, two are freshmen and one is a sophomore. The other fellow? Senior forward and 6th man extraordinaire Kareem Maddox.

6. Kareem Maddox. He had a blocked shot today, and, after he did so, the guys I was sitting with agreed that it's nice to have a big guy named Kareem blocking shots for you. Remember, the last team that had a big guy named Kareem doing the same thing fared pretty well and had some amazing seasons.

7. Ian Hummer is a nice player to have against athletic, aggressively defending teams. He was the Tigers' star today. Sure, he was their leading score, but he attacked the hoop and made smart plays.

8. The Tigers can beat you in many different ways. They also don't rely on the same guy each game to win the game for the team. That bodes well for the team as they move toward the Ivy season.

All in all, another solid performance. This team is meshing well, and they're fun to watch.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Coaching Basketball for 5th and 6th Graders (Practice Plan Included).

Since my posts regarding the 2nd grade league and the 3rd and 4th grade league have gotten a lot of hits, I figured that I'd share with you some insights from having 4 practices for our 5th and 6th grade league team. Our first game is on Saturday. We only get 1 hour of practice a week, so very minute counts. We create (and it takes all of 5 minutes) a detailed practice plan so that we don't waste a second. Our resources in our town are limited -- we get a half court for 1 hour -- so we do our best to help the kids improve.


First, all kids still need work on fundamentals. We stress dribbling, passing, rebounding, defense and shooting, and we run different drills depending on what we see in practice or what we'll see in a game. We only have 1 practice per week, so we want to balance the fundamentals with some drills that are designed to give the kids a clue as to what to do on offense.


Second, here's a suggested practice plan:


Part I


Talk to team about goals of the practice -- 1 minute.


Defensive slides -- 1 minute.


Dribbling --

Going from 1 side of the court to the other (first w/ strong hand, return w/ weak hand) -- 3 minutes.

V dribble drill -- up and back with each hand -- 2 minutes

V dribble drill -- sideways with each hand -- 2 minutes


Rebounding drill -- 4 minutes (one kid stands near foul line, another under the basket with the ball. The kid w/ ball passes it to the kid at the foul line, then both chase the rebound (the kid underneath should try to box out the shooter).


Passing drill -- 2 lines (like layup lines). Kids move sideways toward basket throwing crisp chest passes, only the last pass is a bounce pass for a layup. -- 3 minutes.


2 on 1 drill -- 3 minutes (the goal not to set picks, but to draw the defender and create an easy basket). (Players take turns being the defender; everyone somehow wants to be the defender).


BREAK.


Part II


Shoot-off-the-blocks drill (2 lines, each starting 5 feet behind the low block on either side of the lane). One ball on each side, and the kids proceed to shoot off the backboard -- 5 minutes. (This teaches precision, good form and shooting in traffic).


Pick-and-roll drill -- 5 minutes (one line at top of key, the other on the side, with 1 kid playing defender. Kid at top of key fakes an overhead pass, throws bounce pass to kid on the wing, then runs, does a jump stop and picks the defender. The recipient of the pass then dribbles around the pick to score, while the screener rolls to the basket for a pass.


Give-and-go drill -- 5 minutes. One line near top of key, one line on wing, w/ a defender near the line on the wing. Player at top of key fakes overhead pass, throws bounce pass to player on wing. He then fakes left, and runs down the lane. The recipient of the pass throws a bounce pass to the initial passer for a layup.


Rotational shooting drill -- 5 minutes (in groups of 3, w/ 2 basketballs, and this requires coaching patience). One kid is on the left at 10 feet, another on the right wing at 10 feet, another at the foul line. There are two shooters, so the kids with the ball shoot and go to get rebounds. They then find the open player (w/o a ball) at a spot to shoot from, throw a crisp pass and then run a spot to shoot from. This is like the 3-man weave, and once it gets started the kids are in constant motion, passing and shooting. Do it in 45-second intervals w/ different kids. Be patient with this drill. The first time we ran it, my son offered that it was "controlled chaos." It does get better.

BREAK.


Part III


Plays.


We spent 10 minutes on Play 1, 10 on Play 2. We run a 1-4 stack offense. Translated for the less-than-fully-initiated, we have a point guard near the top of the key, two post players, one at the right elbow and one at the left elbow, and then we have two wing players, one on the right wing and one on the left wing. (Again, for the uninitiated, the left elbow is where the foul line meets the foul circle on the left side of the foul line, and the right elbow. . . well, you can extrapolate from the definition of the left elbow).

Play 1 is where the PG fakes an overhead pass to draw movement from his defender, and then he throws a bounce pass to one of the post players, say the player at the right elbow. He then takes a quick step left and moves hard to his right toward the post player, being careful to brush as closely by the post player as he takes a handoff and zooms in for a layup. The reason to brush closely by the post player is to run the defender into a dead end. The PG then converts the layup. If the right wing's defender offers help defense, the PG can dish to the player on the right wing for a bank shot.

Play 2 is where the PG fakes the overhead pass and then gets the ball to either post player. For purposes of this example, let's say he passes it to the left post player. After the passes it left, he'll run toward the defender of the right post player, do a jump stop and set a screen. The right post player will come around the screen and take a pass from the left post player, and move in for a layup or a short jumper. If help defense comes in, the right post player can hit the open man.

In future weeks, we'll add some high or low screens to free up players for what we hope are easy baskets.

(Note: Who really knows in Week 1 whether either play will work in a game. If the team gets disorganized, we'll have various players screen and move. That said, our general theory when rebounding a missed shot is to run the fast break. Or, as one Civil War cavalry general said about why he won so many battles -- "we got their first with the most men." That works in basketball too).

There are dozens of drills out there, and what we typically do is identify a weakness or two in a game and drill especially on that in the next practice. Early in the pre-season, we worked on shooting form, on jump stops, on the "triple threat" position and pivoting. We've moved away from that now to more complicated stuff, but a re-emphasis on the basics for a portion of practice never hurts. If you need some help, I would recommend buying former Dartmouth coach Dave Faucher's book on coaching youth basketball or go to Sysko (www.sysko.com) to purchase a DVD or a book. I purchased Ed Schilling's DVD on practicing the fundamentals, and I found it to be very helpful.

Good luck with your teams. We always emphasize hard work, communication, team work and, most important of all, fun.

Russia, Qatar to Host 2018, 2022 World Cupts

The former is somewhat like the Wild West, while the latter is a tiny country with only 1.7 million people and blistering summer heat. So, in the logic of FIFA, they're the best candidates to host the World Cup, because, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter said, "We go to new lands."

Sounds a little more like they're going to the Twilight Zone.