Saturday, September 27, 2014

Really, ESPN? Really?

Dictionary.com succinctly defines a “liar” as “a person who tells lies.”  And a lie is defined as “an inaccurate or false statement; a falsehood.”[1]  This week ESPN’s most prolific writer, and arguably its most popular personality, Bill Simmons, ranted about Roger Goodell on his podcast.  In the process, Simmons called Goodell a liar for claiming to have not known the contents of the Ray Rice in-elevator video before TMZ released the video.  Simmons, in his all too often only-child way, then went on to dare his superiors to reprimand him for his rant.  His superiors obliged his request by shelving Simmons for three weeks without pay for the following stated reason:

ESPN has suspended Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons for three weeks after he repeatedly called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a "liar" during a profane tirade on a podcast.[2]
The network went on to claim:
Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN's journalistic standards.  We have worked hard to ensure that our recent NFL coverage has met that criteria.

Bill Simmons did not meet those obligations in a recent podcast, and as a result we have suspended him for three weeks.[3]

Interestingly, ESPN suspended Simmons less than a week after ESPN’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative journalist, Don Van Natta, Jr. published an epic piece on the Rice fiasco on ESPN.com that included the following:
Before leaving for New York, Rice was told by several Ravens executives that he had better be completely honest and forthcoming with the commissioner because the organization believed Goodell had seen a copy of the inside-elevator video. A source confirmed to "Outside the Lines" that the team believed this. It's unclear why exactly the Ravens thought Goodell had seen the video -- whether they had been told that or whether they assumed so given the league's aggressive investigative tactics in other cases. Asked for comment, the Ravens parsed that description Friday, calling it an "assumption" and not a "belief." It is well-known among players and union officials that Goodell won't stand for someone lying to him about behavior; he will harshly punish anyone he discovers has lied to him.

With his wife sitting by his side in a conference room, Rice told Goodell that he hit her and knocked her out, according to four sources.[4]

Let’s break this down for a moment:

1)      Roger Goodell claimed that, when he met with Ray Rice, Ray Rice provided an “ambiguous account” of what happened inside the elevator and that Ray Rice’s account was “starkly different” than what the video revealed;

2)     on ESPN.com, an acclaimed and decorated investigative reporter that undoubtedly meets ESPN’s “journalistic standards” published an article stating that, according to four sources, Ray Rice told Roger Goodell he hit and knocked out his then fiancée in the elevator; and

3)      the horrific video we have all now seen proves that Ray Rice, in fact, hit and knocked out his fiancée in the elevator; 

If, as Don Van Natta, Jr. reported on ESPN.com, Roger Goodell knew Ray Rice hit and knocked out Janay Rice in the elevator, Roger Goodell knew what the in-elevator video would show, regardless of whether he had seen it or not.  Thus, in his piece, Mr. Van Natta unmistakably reported on ESPN.com that, when Goodell claimed “ambiguity” in Rice’s statements and a “starkly different” account than what the video revealed, Mr. Goodell made “an inaccurate or false statement.” In sum, Mr. Van Natta and his two Pulitzer’s reported that Roger Goodell is a liar.  It’s important to understand that Van Natta didn’t report that Goodell lied about seeing the video.  Instead, Van Natta undeniably, on ESPN’s own pages, reported that Goodell lied about not knowing what the video revealed. 

Interestingly, despite Van Natta’s piece (which, importantly, remains prominently available on ESPN.com), ESPN, in justifying Simmons’ suspension, appears to claim that it doesn’t know if Goodell is a liar.[5]  In fact, ESPN Ombudsman, Robert Lipsyte, began his public lashing of Simmons with the following:

Roger Goodell is the sports world’s villain du jour, but until the NFL’s elevator of investigation reaches the top -- or ESPN delivers a smoking gun that proves when the NFL viewed the Ray Rice video -- the commissioner is not a certified liar.[6]

Lipsyte then amazingly goes on to praise Van Natta’s piece as “a terrific story arc…that chronicled the league’s and the Baltimore Ravens’ myriad missteps that led to Rice’s suspension.”[7] Congratulations, Mr. Lipsyte.  Given your inability to follow logic and willingness to distort the facts, you certainly have a chance to be Ted Cruz's Presidential campaign manager.  As for Mr. Lipsyte's exemplary work here, in the span of one article by its alleged voice of all reason, ESPN managed to: 1) demonstrate that it fails to understand that Simmons didn’t accuse Goodell of lying about not seeing the video; and 2) just like Simmons (albeit much more eloquently and diplomatically), Van Natta accused Goodell of lying.  Some may attempt to draw a distinction by claiming that Van Natta’s sources, not Van Natta, accused Goodell of lying.  That theory, however, fails.  A journalist of Van Natta’s stature does not report information from sources unless he deems those sources reliable.  So, whether explicitly or implicitly, Van Natta accused Goodell of lying.  So did Simmons. The lesson?  Apparently, if you don't work for ESPN, you should receive the Van Natta piece as an epic piece of journalism and accept its allegations as true.  On the other hand, if you work for ESPN and do that, you will be suspended without pay and ripped to shreds by the company. 
 
Thank you, ESPN.  Just when I thought you had revealed all your hypocrisy and all the reasons to loathe you, you gave me one more.  And, yes, I know its futile to hate you because you are never going away.  Between your incestuous relationships with the NFL, MLB, the NBA, and the SEC, you will be pushing agendas, taking inconsistent positions, and generally sucking the fun out of sports for decades to come.  But at least you will have Skip Bayless and your "journalistic standards."

To steal from Simmons, I can’t think about this anymore or this will happen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjnZO5ZgWE8

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Since its never been more popular, let's fix college football, shall we?

By all apparent subjective and objective measures, college football has never been healthier.  We are four years into ESPN’s $2 billion deal with the SEC (a/k/a by intelligent people as the contract that permanently destroyed ESPN’s journalistic integrity as it relates to college football); we are one year away from ESPN launching the SEC Network (a/k/a by intelligent people as ESPN’s confession that it is no longer pretending to possess any journalistic integrity as it relates to college football); we are ten days removed from Alabama and LSU garnering 11.9 million viewers (compare that with the record shattering 10.3 million viewers that tuned in for the series finale of one of the seven greatest television shows of all time, “Breaking Bad”); and we are one year from the start of ESPN’s 12 year, $6 billion contract to carry the new college football playoff.  Upon consideration, maybe it’s fair to say that the SEC and ESPN have never been healthier.  Actually, it’s completely fair to say that. 

But don’t worry.  I’m not about to inundate you with thousands of words bemoaning the inherent bias arising from the relationship between ESPN and the SEC.  Suffice it to say, citizens of states where SEC programs reside will tell you that, of course ESPN wants to be aligned with the SEC because there is no better semi-professional football in America.  And citizens of the remaining states would tell you that, sure the SEC may have some of the best teams in America, but everybody else fights a constant uphill battle for notoriety because of the constant hype and exposure the SEC enjoys as a result of its unholy alliance with the World-Wide Leader.  There is certainly some truth to both arguments, and as with all great arguments, the full truth likely resides somewhere in the middle. But again, this is not the argument I’m here to explore.  Instead, I figured I would use my first few paragraphs back in this space to take a few pot shots at my two of least favorite institutions in college football and move on. 

Truth is, I’ve always been a huge college football fan (both literally and figuratively), but over the past few years, with the advent of the spread offense, other pass happy systems, and soaring scores (even in the vaunted SEC where their defenses supposedly play “big boy football” TM: every gas back former athlete working for ESPN college football), I’ve grown slightly disenchanted with college football.  Bear in mind, I’m not a guy that longs for the good old days that weren’t always good (TM: Billy Joel), and I’ve always loathed the three yards and a cloud of dust (TM: some really old guy that couldn’t run a 6.3 40) offense that used to define the Big 10, SEC, and even the old Big 8 and Southwest Conference.  I like offense, and I revere Mike Leach.  I mean, how do you not revere a reformed lawyer that believes in pirates and makes cameos on “Friday Night Lights?”  Speaking of which, watch this and I defy you to not love Mike Leach:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBxe3cprocQ

In short, I’ve always loved offense.  I loved the Ralph Friedgen/Joe Hamilton days at Tech.  Heck, I used to love staying up late, watching old Pac-10 games, and making some pizza money on the overs in those games.  Or, at least that’s what I would’ve done if gambling was legal, of course.  Now, however, something is different.  Great offenses used to stand out because they were the exception, not the rule.  Now, unless you are playing Alabama or Stanford, if you can’t put up 31 points, you are simply doing something wrong on offense.  You either don’t have sufficient talent, or you are running the wrong system, or both (See Tech, Georgia).  The result is that every time I tune into a
game, I suddenly feel like I’m back in T-8 at the Sigma Chi House, or in Fite’s apartment on 115th and Amsterdam, slugging out 63-56 playstation game, the winner of which hinges on:  1) who can manage to sack the quarterback once and force a pick; or 2) who can manipulate the clock to ensure they have one more possession than the other guy; or 3) both. 

I’ve long been one of the few NBA fans in my group of friends, and the criticism I’ve always heard about the Association is “why would I watch an entire game when I can tune in for the last 2 minutes and see everything I need to see?”  While I’ve always contended that this was a silly argument because, on any given night in the NBA, you can see no less than a dozen spectacular or ridiculous plays (both being equally entertaining) throughout the course of a game, I now find myself making the same argument about college football.  Unless you have two completely uneven teams (See FSU or Clemson vs. any ACC team not named FSU or Clemson), you really only need to tune in for the last two minutes to see the important stuff.  Case in point:  Auburn vs. Georgia this past Saturday, or pretty much any other SEC game featured on CBS this year. 

Granted, if you watch those games in their entirety, you do have the pleasure of hearing Verne Lundquist screw up no less than a dozen names and penalty calls, but even that enjoyment fades when you are 3.5 hours into the game and just entering the fourth quarter.  (Side note:  I have always loved Verne.  His “Yes Siiiiiir” call of The Golden Bear’s birdie at 17 of the ’86 Masters creeps its way into one of my conversations no less than once a week – “we won that motion?  Yes Siiiiiiiirrrr,” but all good things come to an end, and the time has come for Verne to only sit in the tower at 16 at Augusta and guide us through all the near miss 8 foot birdie putts on that glorious Sunday in April.  No shame in that, Verne. You had a Hall of Fame run.).

Again, times are good for college football, but others are growing tired of the new-found Arena League state of college football.  (Seriously, it’s not just me.  I talked to 10 people before writing this article, and at least two of them didn’t tell me I was crazy.)  But the time to change is before the masses grow wise to your problems.  The time to change is before the fall.  Why do you think Tiger Woods has changed his swing three times throughout his career, and why do you think Tiger changed his personal behavior before his life came crashing down around him?  Okay, maybe that last one isn’t the best example, but you get my point.  College football should consider change before the Playstation-Arena League evolution is complete and forever alters the game into a one-sided, offensive affair.  Fear not, however, I’m not proposing a complete overhaul of the game.  Instead, I’m proposing just three minor changes that would serve the game well and bring things back to reality without compromising any of the things that really make college football great:  the pageantry, the tradition, the rivalries, the ability for middle-aged coaches, administrators, broadcasters, and television execs to make themselves wealthy beyond their wildest dreams on the backs of a free labor force that has no rights or ability to control any aspect of their own lives while beholden to the corrupt and patently unfair cartel that is the NCAA, college presidents, and conference execs.  What?  You sensed my sarcasm in that last one?  Good.  But we’ll leave that topic for another day because, trust me, I need a lot more space to tell you how I really feel about the state of college athletics as a whole.  Then again, I may have just done it in one sentence.  Regardless, let’s move on.  Here are three minor rule changes that would have a positive impact on college football and give defenses a fighting chance:

1.      The clock should never stop after a first down.  Can anyone explain to me why this rule exists?  It results in three ridiculous consequences:  1) 4 hour football games; and 2) teams that have no business getting back into games (i.e., down 20 with 12 minutes left; or down 26-0 in the fourth quarter) to run 35 plays in a quarter and get back into the game; and 3) college coaches simply don’t have to worry about managing the clock because the rules manage it for them. 

I think the 4 hour game speaks for itself.  Show me somebody that supports a 4 hour sporting event, and I will show you someone that thinks the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has gone smoothly.  This would be someone I could not have a rational conversation with.  You know why soccer is the world’s most popular sport?  Because, even with halftime, it’s over in less than two hours.  You watch it.  You get emotionally invested (well, if you like soccer, or if you happen to be wrapped in the Flag during the World Cup).  Then you go about your day.  Two to three hours is something that becomes part of your day.  4 hours becomes your whole day.  It’s too much.  Let’s get this under control, shall we? 

The absurd comeback is another story all together.  Here’s what happens in these games.  One team dominates the other team for 3 quarters.  It proves it is clearly the better team on an even playing field, and then suddenly it finds itself at a terrible disadvantage.  The team with the big lead goes into “kill the clock” mode.  On offense, it takes the air out of the ball and works on the clock.  On defense, it drops back in coverage to prevent the big play and keep receivers in front of them and in bounds.  The only problem is that there is no such thing as killing the clock because the clock constantly stops when the desperate team invariably picks up first down after first down against the soft coverage.  Then, after the desperate team gets hope, the dominant team goes into panic mode.  The momentum has clearly shifted to the desperate team, and all hell breaks loose.  The end result?  The game comes down to an on-side kick, or a ridiculous 73 yard tip drill, and either the dominant team hangs on for dear life, or the desperate team steals a game in which it only showed up for 1 of the 4 quarters.

Now, I can already hear some of you saying that the dominant team should never take its foot off the gas.  Under the current clock rules, this is certainly true.  But it’s not reality.  If you have a 20 point lead in the fourth quarter and you keep airing the ball out and things go well, you are Urban Meyer, and nobody wants to be Urban Meyer.  If things go poorly and you turn the ball over and give up easy points, you are vilified by your fan base for being reckless.  In short, if you are coaching a team that has dominated its opponent for three quarters, you are in a no-win situation because the stupid clock rules allow the opponent the chance to nullify three quarters of dominance with one quarter either fueled by turnovers or soft defense.  And if you think this is a weak argument, I simply fall back on the fact that all this takes more than 4 hours to happen.  For the love of all that’s holy, let’s do away with the 4 hour game.

Finally, I hate that, with this rule, college coaches are almost always completely absolved from taking dumb timeouts early in a half.  There are few sources of comedy more enjoyable than watching NFL coaches constantly botch timeouts and instant replay challenges.  Why rob us of this comedy at the college level?  Every LSU game would be 37% more enjoyable if Les Miles was actually accountable for his timeouts.

2.      College receivers should be required to get two feet in bounds.  No less than half a dozen catches a game (warning:  totally made up stat) hinge on the receiver getting one foot in bounds.  The rule in the NFL has been two feet down since before I was born.  It just makes sense.  If somebody can explain to me why one foot makes more sense than two feet, I’m willing to entertain the argument, but I haven’t heard anything close to convincing yet.  And, for the record, “because it’s always been the rule” is not a good argument.  Receivers are more talented now than ever.  Let’s increase the degree of difficulty in the passing game for heaven’s sake.  Don’t worry, the kid from Baylor will still throw for 1,234 yards/game instead of 1,311.  We’ll all be okay.

3.      This one goes for both the NFL and college:  let the defensive backs use their hands as long as it doesn’t impede the receiver’s ability to catch the ball.  This is basic.  Receivers know where they are going.  DBs have no idea.  A little leeway with the hands will help things.  As the rules exist now, a DB can’t touch the receiver until after the receiver catches the ball.  Going out on a limb here, but that is typically too late.  Currently, 30 college quarterbacks are completing more than 65% of their passes.  72 are completing 60% or more. To put that in perspective, Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy in 1996 with a 57.5 completion percentage.  You remember him, right?  The leader of the “Fun and Gun.”  The only quarterback Steve Spurrier has ever liked?  And, don’t forget Gino Torretta’s 56.7% in his 1992 Heisman campaign.  Chris Weinke, in his Heisman year, would have ranked tied for 54th in completion percentage this season with Toledo’s Terrance Owens.  Caron Palmer’s ’02 Heisman season would’ve have locked him in a tie for 44th this year with Anthony Boone.  And as we creep closer to the present, only Tim Tebow (remember that guy?), Sam Bradford, and Robert Griffin III in their Heisman seasons would have cracked the top 20 this year in completion percentage, with Griffin being the only guy to crack the top 10.  The point?  For whatever reason (and I’m not smart enough to know them all), it is now far too easy to complete a forward pass in college football.  A slight rule change here and there to level the playing field for defensive backs certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing for the game. 

Remember, I’m a huge college football fan.  I’m not advocating anything drastic.  I’m simply looking for ways to give defenses a fighting chance against this new wave of high powered offenses.  Of course, if your talent stinks (again, see Tech, Georgia) no amount of rule changes will change your fate.  But I’m not trying to level the playing field for the bad teams.  I’m trying to find ways to level the field between the good teams, shorten the games, make it a 22 on 22 game again, and make the first 58 minutes relevant again.  Otherwise, I might as well return to my Playstation days, set the game to 5 minute quarters, and get my football fix 30 minutes at a time because, as EA Sports bows out of the college football video game market, the real product on the field is quickly taking its place. 

Next time on “Curmudgeon On Sports” we will tackle the absurdity that are the college football instant-replay and overtime rules.  What?  That doesn’t sound fun to you?  Well, fine.  Just know I think they both stink.  Curmudgeon – Out!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Who To Blame


If you know me, it’s not surprising that a Tiger Woods story finally motivated me to take back to the blogosphere after a year and a half absence.  This particular Tiger Woods story, however, is beyond surprising.  Even more surprising, though, is the lack of thoughtful and fair analysis we’ve seen in the past few hours.  Specifically, nobody in the print or television media has focused in on the real issues here, and the fact that, to the extent people feel the need to assign blame, the blame lies squarely with the Masters Rule Committee (the “Committee”).  Let me explain.

After Augusta National’s statement this morning, here is what we know:

1)      The Committee learned of the possible illegal drop (the “Drop”) before Tiger finished his second round;

2)      The Committee immediately investigated the Drop;

3)      Before Tiger finished his second round, the Committee determined that Tiger complied with the third acceptable scenario under rule 26-1, which required him to drop the ball “as nearly as possible” from where he played the original shot;

4)      Before Tiger signed his scorecard, and based on the empirical video evidence, the Committee chose not to assess Tiger a two shot penalty, and the Committee allowed Tiger to proceed with signing his card without raising any issues to Tiger;

5)      After Tiger’s post-round interview with Tom Rinaldi, the Committee learned that Tiger’s intent was not to drop his ball “as near as possible” from where he played the original shot (i.e., in the heat of the moment, Tiger confused the first and third acceptable scenarios under Rule 26-1).

Now, this morning, after learning of Tiger’s intent, the Committee chose to assess him a two shot penalty.  Here’s the problem:  Tiger’s intent has nothing whatsoever to do with whether he complied with Rule 26-1.  Therefore, Tiger’s intent should have nothing to do with the Committee’s decision.  So when the Committee determined yesterday evening, based on nothing but the empirical video evidence, that Tiger complied with the rule, the issue should have been forever resolved.  If the Committee had determined Tiger did not comply with the rule, just as the PGA officials did with Dustin “Soul Patch” Johnson at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the Committee would have thrown themselves in front of Tiger before he signed his card in order to assess the penalty and avoid any potential for disqualification.  At that PGA Championship, play was suspended for a half hour while PGA officials determined that Johnson grounded his club, informed him of the penalty, and allowed him to sign a correct card to preserve a 5th place finish, instead of a DQ. 
In short, yesterday, the Committee determined the Drop was legal.  

Today, the only information the Committee has that it didn’t have when it conducted its official review before Tiger signed his card, is evidence of Tiger’s intent, which has no bearing at all on whether the Drop complied with the rule.  Therefore, if the Drop didn’t warrant a penalty yesterday, it cannot, based on Tiger’s intent, warrant a penalty after the fact.  This should be the end of the story.  It isn’t, of course.   Instead, we have to endure the sanctimonious ranting of Faldo, Chamblee, Faxon, Duvall, Appleby, etc… calling for Tiger’s withdrawal.  Such calls are ludicrous.  Tiger may have erred yesterday, but the Committee ruled he didn’t, and, just like every other competitor in the field, he ultimately signed a scorecard the Committee deemed correct. 

USGA Decision 33-7/4.5 allows the Committee to waive disqualification for an incorrectly signed scorecard when a player “has breached a Rule because of facts that he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his scorecard.”  If the Committee viewed the video of the Drop and determined it legal prior to Tiger signing his scorecard, you cannot make a credible argument that Tiger should “reasonably have discovered” the Drop was not legal before signing his card   So, assuming a drop that was legal yesterday can be illegal today (a proposition I obviously reject), the Committee correctly implemented 33-7/4.5 to assess the two shot penalty and avoid disqualification.  In truth, however, because the Drop was deemed legal before the irrelevant evidence of Tiger’s intent came to light, it should have remained a legal drop, and Tiger should be starting his day 3 under par.  Under no circumstance should the Committee ever have considered disqualifying Tiger, and those calling for his withdrawal should heed these words from Principal Anderson:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hfYJsQAhl0

Sunday, December 04, 2011

BCS Thoughts

It’s the first Sunday of December, so, of course, we have BCS outrage that people will incoherently scream about for the next 48 hours on talk radio. Every college football beat writer and television personality will chime in with their opinion in that same time. And, every idiot with a blog (myself included) will feel compelled to offer their thoughts. Then, amazingly, a month will pass with no outrage. People will go Christmas shopping, spend the Holidays with their families, bemoan the fact that New Year’s Eve is the most overrated night of the year, and finally, people will happily watch the New Year’s Day Bowl games while they eat collard greens and black-eyed peas. And only then, in the week leading up to the Rematch, will the outrage surface again. So, before the outrage subsides, let me take this opportunity to share mine.

Okay, that’s not really what I am doing here. For better or worse, at some point over the past several years, I have become a guy that appreciates sports for their entertainment and humor and very little more. The closest I have come to feeling outrage over anything sports related in these past several years was the NBA Lockout and that is only because I recognized that my winter and spring would be robbed of both my nightly entertainment and humor with no NBA, and more importantly, no Kenny, Chuck, Ernie, C-Webb, and Shaq. Now that I have that back, I’m cool. I like not feeling outraged about sports. Rightly or wrongly, it makes me feel mature and as if I somehow have my priorities in order. That said, I do have a few points about this year’s BCS Title Game I feel compelled to share:

First, anybody that argues that the Rematch is the “right” decision because Alabama and LSU are clearly the two best teams in the country (Yes, I’m talking to everyone at ESPN, including you Herbie) is offering an indefensible position. Why it is it indefensible? Because, by definition, you cannot know whether one team is better than another team unless you see them play one another. And, even then, it’s not an exact science. For example, I watched LSU v. Alabama I, and I know that Alabama easily could have won that game, but on that given night, the breaks didn’t go their way. So, even though LSU scored more points after overtime, I honestly don’t if they are better than Alabama. And, if I don’t know if LSU is better than Alabama, how in the world could I possibly know if Alabama or LSU is better than Oklahoma State, Stanford, or Boise State? I certainly can have an opinion, but opinions are subjective. Consequently, when you go on national television and try to pass off a subjective opinion as an objective fact, you look like you either are not smart enough to know the difference, or you look like you are trying to justify the result because your network paid gazillions of dollars for the broadcast rights to the BCS. Either way, you look silly. I knew Mark May was silly, but I really thought Herbie was better than that. Color me disappointed, Herbie.

Second, given the fact that OSU was one double OT loss at Iowa State away from the Title Game, I truly hope every human voter gave thoughtful consideration to the circumstances of that loss. Specifically, OSU took the field that Friday night in Ames approximately 24 hours after the school’s head women’s basketball coach and an assistant coach were tragically lost in a plane crash. Is this the reason they lost that game? I have no idea whatsoever. I do know, however, that we are talking about 18-22 year old young men that may or may not have ever had to deal with the fact that someone that they were accustomed to seeing all the time, or someone that their friends or girlfriends were very close with, would never pass by them in the dining hall or athletic offices again. Again, I have no idea what impact this tragedy had on those young men that night. I do know three things for certain, though: 1) that game day in Ames, whether it was the team breakfast, down time in the hotel, a possible walk through, and even dressing for the game in the locker room was, at least to some degree, not a normal day for those young men; 2) Coach Gundy and OSU will never, and I mean NEVER, bring this up in any argument on their behalf because they know that in the grand scheme of what is important in life, it would be wholly inappropriate and self-serving to do so; and 3) Because Coach Gundy and OSU could never even hint at the impact that tragedy had on them that night in Ames, it was the responsibility of the human voters to do so for them. If a voter took this into account and still felt it was appropriate to vote Alabama #2, that is fine and they should have had no hesitation about casting that vote. If a voter failed to take this into account, they failed to properly discharge their obligations

Next, tonight, Nick Saban actually made the best argument I have heard in favor of the Rematch, but he and his interviewer, Reece Davis (someone whose work and objectivity, despite being a ‘Bama grad, I admire very much ) failed to seize upon it. Specifically, Coach Saban said that Alabama and LSU played to a tie after 60 minutes, and LSU happened to get the better end of things in overtime. For those, like me, that loathe the randomness of the college overtime system, this is a fine argument: “Look, nobody disputes that LSU should be in this game, and after 60 minutes of football, we proved we are at least their equal, so let us finish the game.” That is how Saban should have phrased it. Of course, he rushed through the point and continued to make a bunch of statements that might not be true. I mean, I’ve been told by many LSU and Dolphins fans that is what he does, so I will take their word for it

Finally, I really hope LSU wins the Title Game. I feel this way not only because my close friend and LSU diehard, Ben, may walk around in a catatonic state for a month if they don’t, but also because I will feel terribly for the LSU players and coaches if they don’t. When you break this down to its core elements what you are left with is an LSU team that has not lost a game, has two more wins, one less loss, and one more conference title than Alabama, and beat Alabama on its home field. Now, if that same LSU team, after over a month break, has its first off night of the season and loses to Alabama in the Title Game, they will be forced to watch the team they already beat (on their home field – did I mention that?), with one less win and one less conference title, walk out of LSU’s de-facto home city with the Crystal Football LSU has focused its every waking minute on since the end of last season. How does that make any sense to anybody?

Furthermore, if Alabama wins, everything LSU has accomplished to this point in the regular season, which is historic on several levels, will amount to nothing. And, as someone who has railed against a college playoff system for fear it would cheapen the regular season, I will have to re-evaluate my position. And, nothing outrages me more than having to re-evaluate my position. So, for my sake, I really hope LSU wins. I have no desire to once again feel outrage toward anything sports related.

Friday, June 17, 2011

You Didn't Really Think I Wasn't Going to Write About Lebron, Did You?

With two wars raging (maybe three, depending on how the media decides to characterize Libya any given day), devastating floods ongoing, intolerable heat waves engulfing the deep south, and a seven term congressman resigning in disgrace after making Brett Favre look smart for only texting instead of tweeting, the two most frequent questions I’ve been asked over the past week are: 1) Do you think Kim Kardashian really hooked up with that guy on the Patriots?; and 2) What do you think happened to Lebron? I’m not sure if this says more about me, the people I spend most of my time talking to, or our society as a whole. Regardless, I have no idea as to the answer to either question, but in both cases, I certainly have an opinion. Coincidently, I would argue that both opinions are based on empirical evidence. For the sake of brevity and so as not to state the obvious, let’s skip over the Kim question and move right to Lebron.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about a person or topic more in a week than I have talked about Lebron this week. The theories I’ve heard tossed around have ranged from ones involving Rashard Lewis pulling a Donte West (all alleged) to Lebron never recovering from the tongue lashing D. Wade gave him in Game 3. I even heard one guy say that it looked like LBJ was shaving points. Okay, that guy was me, but I was totally kidding. Everybody knows that nobody has shaved points in a high profile basketball game since UNLV in the ’91 Final Four. What? That didn’t happen? I’m still demanding an investigation.

Well, after much consideration and amateur psycho babble, I’ve finally settled on the theory that evolved out of one of the many LBJ psycho analysis sessions my buddy Joe and I conducted over the past week. Basically, there seem to be two types of uber successful people in sports (and, probably in all walks of life): 1) The people that constantly view themselves as the underdogs, either perceived or real; and 2) That rare group of people that are so incredibly talented and physically gifted that success not only comes easy to them, it’s an inevitability.

Those in the first group sometimes morph into the second group (see Jordan, Michael). But, even when they morph into the second group, they never lose their group 1 roots and continue to work as if the deck is stacked against them. They refuse to accept the fact that they can put things on cruise control. They invent ways to pit themselves in the underdog role by inventing slights that didn’t actually happen or taking small slights and turning them into much bigger deals than they actually are. For an example, just think back to MJ’s maniacal evisceration of Karl Malone in the ’97 Finals after Malone received his sympathy MVP award. Should MJ have been so pissed that he was denied his fifth MVP award? Probably not, but he has group 1 DNA , so he had no choice. He found an obstacle in his way (i.e. Karl Malone), and he chose to do everything in his power to destroy it. That’s what the group 1 guys do. If you challenge their greatness, you are going to face the consequences.

In contrast, Lebron is squarely a group 2 guy. Since he was in 10th grade, the question was never if he would be a great basketball player, it was whether he would be the greatest basketball player of all time. Since we first came to know LBJ, we’ve been constantly awed by his athleticism and the ease in which he can dominate a game based solely on his physical gifts. He’s never been the underdog and we’ve never questioned his greatness. We’ve never doubted that LBJ would win rings, we’ve just wondered if he could get to MJ’s mythical level of six rings. Now, however, twice in two years (in last year’s Boston series and this year’s Finals), we’ve seen two inexplicable disappearing acts that have made us question everything we’ve ever believed about his apparent greatness. Last year, we could explain away the Game 5 in Boston with crappy teammates, impending free agency, the weight of his hometown on his shoulders, and, well, that alleged Delonte thing. This year? Nobody seems to have any clue what happened.

As for me, the only conclusion I’ve ultimately come to is that LBJ potentially fell victim to the same fate that the group 2 guys too often seem to encounter. Specifically, when everything has always come with relative ease and your greatness is naturally assumed, sometimes it is easier to put on the breaks and not take the big shots than it is to dig deeper and take the responsibility of winning and losing on your shoulders. The reason? If you fail but don’t put yourself completely on the line, it can be easier to swallow than if you give everything you have, take the big shots and big risks and come up short. You can always tell yourself, “if I had really given it all I had, we would have won”, and nobody can prove you wrong. Put simply, you don’t have to face the reality that, no matter how gifted you are, on occasion, your best might not be good enough.

By all appearances, LBJ is content to be great when the circumstances don’t require him to potentially expose himself to failure. The crazy thing is that it’s a matter of self perception rather than popular perception. Sure, we are all left wondering, “what if Lebron had just been average”? (My favorite writer/talk radio host/sports personality, Dan LeBatard, has asked this question no less than 30 times this week). I suppose Lebron takes some consolation from this lingering question, but what he doesn’t seem to understand is that fans, the media, and his peers would hold him in higher regard if he had been willing to put it on the line against the Mavs, and he had come up short. As strange as it sounds, there is a certain nobility in giving it everything you have and coming up short.

I mean, if you ask me if I have more respect for John Stark’s 2-18 Game 7 in the ’94 Finals or LBJ’s disappearing act in this year’s Finals, it’s not even close. Even as his shots continued to miss the mark, Starks did not succumb to the despair or the fear. For better or worse (I guess worse, if you are a Knicks fan), he never wavered from his commitment to take the responsibility of winning and losing on his shoulders. Consequently, while we all remember the 2-18, basketball junkies, almost to a man, still remember Starks as a warrior that had onions that would make Bill Rafferty proud. Even in a loss, Starks strangely cemented a legacy. As Hemingway famously said, “a man is not made for defeat.” Starks lost, but he was not defeated. LBJ, unfortunately, cannot say the same.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

At Long Last

"Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team - no one more important that the other." - Coach Norman Dale, Hickory High.

Most "old school" basketball fans will probably tell you this quote from the greatest sports movie ever made provides the ultimate key to success on the hardwood. As much as I love Coach Dale (even though he stupidly considered running the last play against South Bend Central for someone other than Jimmy - I mean, was he auditioning for the George Mason head coaching job or something?), I've actually always felt like this philosophy was partially flawed. Instead, the Dunn key to basketball success goes a little something like this:

"Five players on the floor functioning as a single unit: team, team, team - one guy way more important than the others."

The Dunn Philosophy is definitely a product of the teams of my youth and their unquestioned superstars: In the 80's it was the Lakers (Magic), Celtics (Bird), Pistons (Isiah); in the 90's it was the Bulls (MJ) and Rockets (Hakeem); and in the '00's it was the Lakers (Shaq), the Spurs (Duncan), the Heat (Wade) and the Lakers again (Kobe). Sure, each of these stars had significant help, whether it be Kareem, Worthy, Pippen, Vernon Maxwell (easy, it's a joke), Kobe, Ginobli & Parker, Shaq, Gasol, etc... You get the point. Under my theory, it's not enough to be five guys functioning as one unit. You need a superstar, and that superstar needs a sidekick or two.

All that said, with the addition of the "superstar" to the mix, I still buy into the first part of Coach Dale's philosophy. Specifically, it is still essential for all five guys, Superstar included, to function as one unit. Or, to use the vaguest and most over-used term in sports, the five guys on the floor must have "chemistry." Since I took Chemistry from a professor that didn't speak English, I don't really know what the term means. As best I can tell, though, a team has "chemistry" when the five guys on the floor play unselfishly, put their own personal agendas aside, and focus only on winning. I've put that last part in bold for a reason, which I may or may not get to tonight depending on how much I have left in the tank. If not tonight, soon. I promise.

Okay, so where am I going with this? It's actually quite simple. After all the months of hype and well written, but entirely unnecessary Brian Windhorst articles, we've finally reached the moment when the Heat and Celtics are going to collide and either the Celtics are going to provide further support for mine and Coach Dale's theory that success is contingent upon "Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team", or the Heat are going to blow our theory all to hell. While he hasn't tread the same path getting to this same point, the great writer Bill Simmons (you know, the guy most of you accuse me of poorly ripping off?), has gone as far as to say that this series will put to the test everything he has ever believed about basketball. And, while Simmons used over 700 pages in his best selling "The Book of Basketball" to sum up what it is he believes, I can sum it up like this: He, like me and Coach Dale, believes five players on the floor must function as a single unit. Not nearly as marketable as 700 pages, but it gets you where you need to go.

As for the series, here's how it breaks down:

1) The Celtics are the grizzled veteran team. And, true, they aren't exactly devoid of stars since they feature four All-Stars and three future Hall of Famers (if any of you still want to argue Allen's and Pierce's HOF credentials with me after Reggie Miller just got the nod, I would kindly just ask you to argue with a wall. It may be more receptive than me), but, only one of those four stars, Paul Pierce, can still sniff the scent of Super Stardom. Instead, when at their best, the Celtics are the definition of the whole "five guys on the floor functioning as a single unit" philosophy. Over the course of the regular season, each of their five starters averaged double figures in points. 6 guys averaged more than 4 boards a game. Each of their current five starters shot 45% or greater from the field, with the team posting a 48.6% average. And, the Celtics averaged 23.4 assists/game as a team.

2) Now, let's look at the Heat. You know the story, and I don't need to rehash it. But, just in case you have been under a rock since July, or in case you don't care about NBA basketball (probably not enjoying this if that is the case), the Heat have arguably the best two players in the world, and a third guy that is arguably in the top 20 - arguably. At any rate, those three guys, we'll call them "LBW", are the only Heat to average in double figures, and collectively, they account for 70% of the Heat's points, 53% of all the Heat rebounds, and 67.5% of the Heat's assists. In fact, LeBron averages nearly 20 points/game more than the Heat's fourth most prolific scorer, Mike Bibby (7.3 ppg). Honestly, looking through all the statistics, I could on and on, but I think the point is clear: The Heat, unlike the Celtics, or any other team for that matter, are a three man team. It's LBW and 9 other guys wearing the same uniform and collectively trying their hardest to stay out of the way and not mess things up for LBW.

So, in sum, we have a clash between what many consider the NBA's most "complete" team because of its great "chemistry" and a unit out of Miami that, frankly, doesn't even resemble a "team" in any form that either me or Coach Dale recognizes. And, you know what makes this so fascinating? As of this moment, the Heat are a -180 favorite to win the series. In other words, despite having never seen a "team" like the Heat assembled before, and having nothing but decades of empirical evidence to support the belief that the Celtics "chemistry" should give them the edge over the Heat's lack thereof, the American betting public (admittedly, a suspect sample group) is pooping all over me and Coach Dale. Basketball fans (at least those that enjoy a good wager) have come to believe that 3 can be greater than 5 when that 3 features 2 of the best players alive (that 3>5 when 3 = 2 > world, got it?) Am I buying it? Not just yet. But, I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't very afraid that the Heat are about to rip away the curtain to reveal my long held beliefs floating away like Wilson the Volleyball in "Castaway". And, if this happens, much like Tom Hanks, I'm pretty certain I will react like a crazy man with a righteous beard and a missing tooth...at least until the Bulls have a chance to resurrect my theory in the Conference Finals.

Oh, remember up above when I put this in bold: "put their own personal agendas aside, and focus only on winning"? Well, as you likely predicted, I ran out of steam for tonight. But, I promise there's more to this, and I will get to it in the days ahead (if this were radio, or even a blog people actually read, you would call that a tease). For now, enjoy the start of Round 2. OKC and Memphis - two of America's great bbq hot spots - tip off in less than 12 hours. That means Kevin Durant should have 20 on the board in less than 13 hours.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Big is the Three?

In my last post, way back on Super Bowl Sunday (a/k/a The Day Dunn was convinced it was finally time for an OT Super Bowl - long story), I went to great lengths to break down what I view as the deterioration of the quality of play in college basketball. Let's just say that my comments were met with some support and with some suggestions to do unspeakable things to myself. Pretty much like most of my comments on most subjects. At the very least, though, I touched a nerve, which was somewhat gratifying. Now that we are quickly approaching what is going to be a historic Final Four, fear not. I have not returned to poop on the lawn that is the best weekend in college basketball. Granted, many of the games in this tournament have been horribly hard on the eyes (yes, I'm talking to you Butler and Wisconsin, among others), but even I have to admit that the excitement of the tournament still delivers. I would, however, point out that there is a difference between an "exciting" game and a "good" game, but again, I'm not here to beat a dead horse (can we still use this expression in the post Mike Vick world?...I'll just move on).

My purpose here is to offer my answer to the questions I've heard a thousand times (not literally...it's a writing device) over the past few weeks, and especially over the last 24 hours: How do these mid-majors keep pulling these upsets?; and how in the hell is VCU in the Final Four?

Well, for starters, I still maintain that a lot of the rationale set forth in my previous post provides insight into these answers (i.e. talent and skill levels diluted due to one and dones, AAU, Lindsay Lohan dropping her last name, etc...), but among all the points I made below, I think the one that has gained the most validation in this tournament (at least in my own tortured mind) is the fact that now, more than ever, the three point shot wholly dominates the college game. By way of illustration, let's look at some of the biggest upsets of the tournament, and we will end with VCU run:

#12 Richmond over Vandy - 43% of Richmond's FG attempts were 3 point shots. They took 24, and they made 12 for a 50% clip. Vandy, on the other hand, made half as many 3's. Fair to say the +18 differential from behind the arc was key in the Spiders' 3 point win? Now, the flip side of this equation ultimately reared its ugly head against the Spiders when they took on Kansas in the Sweet 16. In that game, Richmond hoisted 40% of its FG attempts from behind the arc, but they only made 4 out of 26. Yep, that's a whopping 15.4%. Their shooting performance was so poor that I'm pretty sure the game was relegated to TruTV's awful HD in the second half.

#8 Butler over #1 Pitt - So, those pesky Bulldogs took 52% of their shots from behind the arc, and they made 12 of their 27 attempts (44.4%). Couple that with the most ridiculous foul call....never mind. Butler won.

#8 Butler over #2 Florida - This one blew my mind. Butler took 55% of their shots from behind the arc - a total of 33 shots from three point range. Now, they only made 9 of them. But, when you consider Florida threw up two ridiculous 3's at the end of regulation and OT after having only made 3 such shots the entire game (I will spare you a whole other rant on the atrocious end of game management we've seen in this tournament), you again find a +18 three point margin, which I would venture to say was fairly decisive in a three point OT win over the worst coached program to ever win back to back national championships. Okay, I spared you the rant, but I had to throw in a snarky comment. Thanks for your indulgence.

Now, let's look at VCU:

Play in game (I refuse to call it round 1): They drain 9 threes. USC connects on a shockingly gruesome grand total of 1 three. That's a +24 margin for those keep score at home.

Round 1: Against Georgetown, the Rams took 57% of their field goal attempts from behind the arc, and made 48% of them (12 for 25). Now, consider the fact that they only made 18 FG's in the entire game! How in the world do you beat a Big East school when you only make 18 FG's in a game? Well, when that Big East School takes half it's field goal attempts (26) from behind the arc and makes only 5 of them (19.2%), you are looking pretty good. If you are John Thompson The Original, did you ever think you would see a day that the Hoyas would out rebound an opponent by 10, make 58% of its 2 point shots, and lose by 18 points? Pretending I am John Thompson The Original, I will simply say "no".

Round 2: The Purdue game doesn't really help illustrate my point, so I'm calling it an aberration, and I'm moving on. Hey, this is my blog, I make the rules.

Sweet 16: The Rams took 26 threes (49% of their field goal attempts), and they made 12 (46.2%). FSU only made 7 of 19 threes, but they did out rebound VCU 45-28 and 20-5 on the offensive glass. In other words, even with the +15 from behind the arc, VCU only won this game because FSU proved what we all have known for quite some time: FSU can't score from anywhere on the floor, even under the basket. Honestly, this is the most amazing box score of the tournament. In addition to the ridiculous rebounding numbers, FSU put up a staggering 18 more field goal attempts than VCU and still managed to lose. Forget all my theories about AAU, I'm going to start blaming the demise of college basketball on Leonard Hamilton...and Rick Barnes, of course.

Elite 8: This is where it gets fun. This is where the insanity should have stopped and VCU should have gone back to Richmond with a great story to tell as they watched Kansas play in the Final Four next weekend. But, luckily for us, we have Bill Self and his phenomenal game plans and in game adjustments. Check out these numbers: VCU, the grossly undersized and out manned team, takes 47% of its field goal attempts from deep and hits 12-25 (48%). At this point, I think it's worth noting that this is the same VCU team that shot 37% from three in the regular season (translation: they are collectively out of their minds right now). So, the Rams shot great. That's awesome for them, but that really shouldn't matter for the Jayhawks, who have an incredible size advantage and should be able to get whatever shot around the basket whenever they want it. So, how did Kansas counter? Well, of course, in true Selfian fashion, they proceed to throw up 21 threes. They make 2 of them (9.5%). I'm going to put that a different way: Kansas, the team with the size, talent, and jersey advantage (you know, the "we're effing Kansas, your VCU" advantage) decided to stop running an offense and throw up brick after brick from beyond the arc. The result, of course, is that Shaka Smart is going to increase his bank account by about $2 million/year come Tuesday of next week, and we are going to witness a national semifinal on Saturday that could feature 80 three point shots and 70 total points scored. Don't think for a minute that's not possible.

The ultimate takeaway here is not that the three gives less talented teams a chance to beat more talented teams. That's not a revelation. We've known that ever since Billy Donovan was learning all he knows from Rick Pitino at Louisville. Well, everything except for how to coach a team in the final minutes of a close game. No, the real takeaway here is that when the more talented teams are willing to engage in a three point battle with these less talented teams, they are placing themselves on equal footing with the less talented teams, and upsets are no longer possible, they are as equally likely to happen as not (by the way, that is what "equal footing" means. I enjoy being redundant from time to time).

Think of it this way: when I was a little kid (say around 7 or 8), I played my older neighbor, Brian, one on one every day. Brian was probably 6 or 7 years older than me, and he was bigger and stronger than me (he was also very kind for taking the time to play basketball with the brat across the street). So, I would tell him he was only allowed to shoot from behind an arbitrary line I would draw. Suddenly, his size and strength were neutralized, and I would manage to lose 21-4 instead of 21-0 (granted, he would let me score the 4). There came a time, however, when I could actually shoot a little, and Brian would no longer agree to stay behind that line, and the 21-0 beatings recommenced. Well, it's time that the more talented teams in college basketball stop letting the less talented teams keep them behind that arbitrary line because, if we know nothing else, we know that everybody now has the potential to get hot at the right time and shoot a little.