Monthly Archives: January 2010

Watching ESPN’s college basketball bias…

Last night I watched SportsCenter on ESPN at 8 PM as my pregnant wife snoozed away (I wrenched the remote away stealthily and changed it from some housewife show).  Midway through the show, Scott Van Pelt and Steve Levy were rattling through highlights of college basketball games.  Following a Maryland basketball package where Van Pelt showed how much of a homer he is, they transitioned to show 90 or so seconds of footage from last night’s University of North Carolina vs. North Carolina State game.  I immediately thought to myself, “Self, why is UNC getting this much press on SportsCenter?  Didn’t they just drop WAY out of the top 25 in both polls?”

So I did some research.  Carolina got a combined one vote in both poll.  That one vote came in the ESPN/Coaches Poll, meaning not a single Associated Press writer voted the Tar Heels into the top 25 this week.  I wonder what coach voted for UNC?  Do you think he collects paychecks from an ACC school?

North Carolina, a school that has unmistakable ties to ESPN seeing that the network broadcasts ACC games and the annual ACC tournament, happened to win their game over NC State, a team they usually pummel.  UNC has reeled since the turn of the new year, going 2-4 since 2009 passed.  They had been 11-3.  They’ve started 2-3 in the ACC and are 13-7 overall.  They don’t deserve a top 25 spot and seeing that ESPN rarely shows highlights of games that feature no top 25 teams, they don’t deserve the coverage they received on SportsCenter last night.

But what will Dick Vitale have to talk about if North Carolina isn’t in the top 25?  Who will he get to promote?

Well, let’s look at some other schools that Dickie V can take a look at.  There is a litany of schools that have received votes or are in the top 25 that get little to no press and certainly aren’t given two minutes of coverage on SportsCenter.

How about Northern Iowa?  That squad is currently 17-2 and ranked 25th in the ESPN poll.  

Or what about Baylor?  They are from a big conference where their up-tempo play has led them to a 15-3 record and a number 24 ranking in the AP poll.  

Looking for someone a little more stable?  How about BYU?  The Cougars have one loss this year and are ranked tenth in the ESPN poll out of the impressive Mountain West Conference (more on the MWC later).  

Or maybe UAB catches your fancy.  They’re number 25 in the AP poll, sporting a 17-2 record.

So why don’t we hear about these great stories?  Who is reporting on these teams?  There are so many amazing seasons underway for schools that are impressing a lot more voting writers and coaches than UNC.  The following teams from big conferences are outside the top 25, but got more votes than Carolina in the most recent polls: Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Maryland, Virginia, Northwestern, Cal and Notre Dame.

And how about the little guys?  College basketball is built on the backs of the small schools that make March so exciting.  Where are their stories?  The following small conference schools are outside of the top 25 and have drawn more votes than the Heels: Butler (#18 in coaches poll, not ranked in AP), Cornell, Old Dominion, Xavier, UNLV, Siena, Saint Mary’s, Louisiana Tech, and Harvard.  Coastal Carolina has the same number of votes as UNC, which is one.

That’s right, Coastal Carolina has as many votes as UNC, and Cornell, Harvard and Old Dominion have significantly more ballots cast.  So where are the 90-second highlight packages on their seasons?  Oh that’s right, ESPN needs to make sure everyone knows the Tar Heel players so they are more recognizable when they have their first matchup with Duke on February 10th.  Duh.

ESPN’s alliance with the ACC and other big conferences runs deep.  Jay Bilas went to Duke.  Hubert Davis went to North Carolina.  So did Stuart Scott.  Dick Vitale praises anything that has to do with ACC basketball, especially if it takes place on Tobacco Road.  The network carries their games and the tournament, as previously mentioned.  Unfortunately, ESPN has such an effect on the landscape of college basketball that poll results may be swayed by their coverage.

Take the Mountain West Conference.  Home to the likes of BYU, Utah, San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico, the conference has continually made strides, but seems to stay out of the national conscience.  MWC teams consistently downed big conference powers in pre-conference play.  Arizona lost to three Mountain West teams (BYU, UNLV and SDSU).  BYU also beat Arizona State.  Louisville lost to UNLV.  Utah took down Illinois, Michigan and LSU.  New Mexico defeated Cal, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

The conference currently boasts two teams in the top 25 (BYU and New Mexico), with a third (UNLV) having spent time there and still receiving votes.  The MWC also boasts big name coaches like Steve Alford (UNM), Lon Kruger (UNLV) and Steve Fisher (SDSU).  So what’s keeping them from getting more attention?  Could it be partially because of ESPN’s lack of coverage while they are too busy giving time to ACC teams that are well out of the top 25?

UNLV only has four losses and two are to teams currently ranked in the top 15 (BYU and Kansas State).  The others are to USC in a Christmas tournament championship and Utah in a tough MWC matchup.  There are eight other teams currently in the top 25 that have four or more losses.  The Rebels have only two conference losses and one is at BYU.   The Cougars come to the Thomas & Mack center for the Vegas rematch on February 6th.

The MWC has television contracts with CBS College Sports and The Mountain, a network created by the conference.  ESPN has no vested interest to show their highlights, promote their games or make fans (and potential voters) aware of the brand of basketball being played in the conference.  One could laugh at ESPN for their fair and balanced coverage the way the general public does when someone talks about Fox News Channel.

The Mountain West is not the only conference being slighted as there is plenty of great basketball being played that the majority of the viewing (and voting) public knows little to nothing about.

The “Mothership” owes the legions of sports fans better than this.  Let’s drop the coverage of a floundering UNC team just a tad (you can still report on it and promote their games) and up the ante by talking up the big games in other conferences that have teams receiving significantly more top 25 votes, regardless of who their TV contract is with.

Let’s start with this: Cornell hosts Harvard on Saturday night.  Let’s cover that like you did the two unranked teams you gave pub to last night when UNC vs. NC State was pushed upon us.  At least Cornell and Harvard have more combined poll votes (18) than the Heels do (1).

Let’s all hope for a Big Red win over the Crimson to push them over the edge in the ESPN/Coaches Poll.  They are ranked number 27 now.  A top 25 berth would make ESPN cover them.  One can only wish…

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Filed under ACC, Basketball, BYU, College Basketball, ESPN, Journalism, Mountain West Conference, University of North Carolina, UNLV

Watching an owner with heart in the AFC Championship…

Typically, owners of major sports franchises are not lauded for much of anything.  Either they are loudmouths like Mark Cuban, meddlers like Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones, divorcés like the McCourts, or incompetent like Donald Sterling and Al Davis.

Owners who are well-respected like Dan Rooney, Tom Hicks and John Henry don’t usually make headlines because they generally refrain from doing idiotic things.

Rarely is there a story about an owner which does not involve his or her wasting money on a star, berating referees to earn a hefty fine or firing a coach after seven games.  Rarely do we think of owners as anything but rich, well-to-do employers of rich, well-to-do athletes.  We do not typically picture these elite individuals as regular human beings and the thought of a tragedy striking them is almost unfathomable.

Enter Robert Wood Johnson IV, or Woody as he is affectionately known.  Johnson, 62, is the heir to the Johnson & Johnson corporation as the great-grandson of the original Robert Wood Johnson, who co-founded the company.  Woody Johnson has dedicated most of his life to philanthropy and purchased the New York Jets from Leon Hess in 2000.  The Jets return to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1998 on Sunday when they take on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy.

Johnson is father to five children, three daughters and two sons, and his philanthropy is closely tied to the love he has for his kids.  Doctors diagnosed daughter Casey with diabetes, prompting Johnson to donate heavily to causes related to the disease with which his first-born was afflicted.  Johnson also serves as chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  His second daughter, Jaime, contracted lupus, inspiring her father to found the Alliance for Lupus Research.

Earlier this month on January 4th, Casey Johnson died at the age of 30.  The cause of death has yet to be determined.

She died the day after the Jets clinched a playoff spot by defeating the Cincinnati Bengals, setting up a rematch with them in the wild card round.  The Jets won the second matchup and then upset the San Diego Chargers to get to the AFC Championship.  Needless to say, this return to the postseason for New York’s owner has not been all that he anticipated, as the Johnson family put Casey to rest during the playoffs.  The ceremony was private and quiet, bittersweet for Woody Johnson and his beloved football team.

Casey was in the spotlight in her own right in recent years.  She grew up on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and was known to pal around with fellow heiresses Paris and Nicky Hilton.  The three were featured together in the 2002 documentary, “The It Girls”.

Ms. Johnson was also common tabloid fodder in the last six months, drawing headlines for questionable relationships and strange behavior.  Just last month, Casey announced her engagement to Tila Tequila of reality show fame in an online video, earning raised eyebrows and even more questions.

But Casey Johnson’s life did have a deeper side.  In 1994 she wrote a book with her parents entitled Managing Your Child’s Diabetes.  Clearly, Casey’s battle with diabetes has fueled Woody’s passion for helping treat the disease.

Casey was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of eight in 1988.  In addition to the book the Johnsons published, the family donated $10 million to a diabetes campaign in 1994 and had given at least $5 million more before Woody Johnson and his wife, Nancy, divorced in 2001.

In 2007, Casey Johnson adopted a child from Kazakhstan, whom she named Ava-Monroe.  Today, she is survived by that daughter in addition to her parents and siblings.

The attention Casey received from the media didn’t always sit well with her and she struggled with it most of her life.  Her love/hate relationship with her family’s history may have been best characterized in a 2007 interview with Life/Style Television.  She said then:

“You really have to know why someone wants to be your friend.  I’ve learned that the hard way.  I’m Casey Johnson.  I’m not The Johnson & Johnson Girl.”

In 2004, Casey’s cousin, Jaime produced “Born Rich,” a documentary on heirs to ridiculous fortunes.  The piece explored the effect inheritances have on children and how they fare later in their lives.  11 other heirs to similar fortunes were also interviewed for the production.

Since the cause of death is not yet known, speculation on what Casey was involved in is inevitable.  The torment that Woody Johnson must be feeling is incomprehensible for a man who has dedicated his life to serving others, many of whom shared the same misfortunes his daughters had, leading to his involvement in organizations that help research and treat lupus and diabetes.

Additionally, Johnson’s legacy of charitable acts includes being a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and being a successful lobbyist.  In 2002, Johnson was effective in lobbying Congress for a five-year, $750 million package for funding diabetes research.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation invited Woody Johnson to join the board of the charity set up through his grandfather’s estate.  He was the only member of the Johnson family asked to be a part of the foundation.  The charitable organization has nearly $8 billion in assets and gives $1 billion annually, making it the United States’ largest foundation of its kind dedicated solely to health care.

Johnson had a sit-down with several reporters for 20 minutes on Thursday, acknowledging how difficult it is for him but that he is still behind his team and excited for what is to come.  It was uncertain whether Johnson would attend the Jets’ game at Cincinnati, but he was there and in the end…when Head Coach Rex Ryan awarded him the game ball.

There can be no doubt that winning has been the best medicine for Woody Johnson, the man who gave so much only to lose something so dear just weeks ago.  Ryan and his players have done a lot to ease the pain for Johnson and the owner reciprocates the same kind of care.  Earlier in the year, he comforted long snapper James Dearth, who lost his mother.

Woody Johnson is not your typical owner.  He cares deeply about people and helping those who are in need.  While his fortune was inherited, what he has given back is immeasurable.  The loss of his daughter is truly tragic, but perhaps these upstart Jets have just the medicine to cure Johnson’s gloom: a Super Bowl berth.

Here are my picks for the AFC and NFC Conference Championships.  Lines are from Danny Sheridan as of Friday evening.  Picks against the spread are in caps.

Indianapolis 27, NEW YORK JETS (+7 ½) 24

I don’t know if New York pulls this game out, but I think it will be very close.  I will certainly be rooting for them as they are the underdog and I think it would be a great karma game for Indy to lose to the team they could have put their foot down on in Week 16 when they were 14-0 and let up.  I see this game coming down to how well the Jets can control the ball with their running game and how many times they can force Peyton Manning and the Colts offense into field goals instead of touchdowns.  I see it coming down to one possession and think that taking the points is the safest wager.

NEW ORLEANS (-3 ½) 38, Minnesota 24

I think the Superdome will be too much for Minnesota.  Their defense can be beaten and Drew Brees certainly has the weapons to put up points.  I also see Brett Favre rediscovering how to throw bad passes in big spots this game.  The Viking running attack really has not been effective for some time and Favre has been asked to throw more.  I see the Saint secondary coming up with big plays and think Darren Sharper will make his presence known to the team that let him walk.  Add all that to the crazy crowd and the Saints being legit at home and I see New Orleans travelling to Miami for the Super Bowl.

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Filed under Betting, Football, NFL, Playoffs, Uncategorized

Watching superstars go head-to-head…

Tonight, television sets will be going back-and-forth between the two major showdowns in the NBA and NHL, featuring the two biggest stars in each sport.  

Scratch that, only televisions in Pittsburgh and Washington will have that opportunity.

Tonight, the NBA pits two of the marquee names in the sport against each other as LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers host Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.  Kobe and LeBron renewed their acquaintances earlier in the season when they met at the Staples Center in LA on Christmas Day.  In that game, LeBron and Shaquille O’Neal took home a win in Shaq’s old stomping grounds.

The Cavs didn’t just beat LA in their place, they won by 15 and never relinquished control throughout.  James led a balanced attack with 26 points and 9 assists and Shaq scored in double digits.  

This sets up tonight’s match-up in Cleveland.  Can Kobe take one in LeBron’s crib?  Will a win by the Cavs give them a sizable advantage in the eye’s critics if the two happen to meet in say the NBA Finals?  Will Kobe and LeBron agree to take part in Shaq’s idea for a dunk contest to support Haiti?  (See yesterday’s column for more on that HERE.)

Lucky for us, tonight’s game is nationally televised on TNT.  We will get to see the rematch between of the world’s best in full high-definition.  Additionally, the NBA has only one other scheduled game tonight, the Clippers at the Nuggets, allowing us to focus solely on this can’t miss match-up between Bryant and James.  Tomorrow morning, SportsCenter will show highlight after highlight and of LeBron-Kobe II and have plenty of analysis because once you show the 25 seconds of footage from Clips vs. Nugs, what else is ESPN going to do with the time they normally slot for NBA coverage?

Now on to the NHL, whose main attraction tonight is the Washington Capitals at the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Alexander Ovechkin brings the Caps north to face Sidney Crosby and the Pens.  Clearly, the two most exciting players in hockey facing off against one another.  Sid the Kid is fresh off his Stanley Cup win and Ovechkin, the most prolific goal scorer in the league, has an improved overall game and a fiery mean streak that has come out more than once this year.  Great drama for a league that needs all the attention it can get.

This will be the first of four meetings this year.  All four meetings will occur in the second half of the season and two will happen in the span of just over two weeks (the teams play again on February 7th in DC).  What a great way to showcase the two hottest players right before the Olympic break where hockey takes the world’s stage.  Man, the NHL is really doing this right.  Or so it would seem.

The NHL has 26 teams in action tonight, that’s 13 games.  The only teams not playing tonight are Montreal, New Jersey, Colorado and Edmonton.  Talk about a loaded schedule.  Wouldn’t it have made sense that when Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL’s brass were reviewing the schedule that they would want that game showcased on a stage it didn’t have to share?  Maybe they could have done something like the NBA did.  You know, like having Kobe and LeBron square off on a night with no other major games so all basketball fans’ attention is affixed square on that duel.

Beyond that, very little time is dedicated to hockey coverage on sports news shows like ESPN’s SportsCenter these days because of the popularity of the league being driven down in the post-strike reality of the NHL.  The fact that ESPN no longer has the contract to broadcast NHL games doesn’t help either.  Money always talks and “The Mothership” doesn’t seem to have any problems finding time in their shows to spotlight leagues and sports they do have contracts for like the NBA, NFL, MLB and even World Cup soccer.  Look, I’m sorry to all the soccer fans out there, but I’m pretty sure the NHL is more popular in the states than “football” and I know it deserves more than two segments a week with Barry Melrose and his fantastic hair.  But, I digress…

The NHL’s blunders do not end with the number of games scheduled.  There is no legitimate  national television available for tonight’s featuring Sid the Kid and Ovi.  The NHL Network (NHLN) will carry the feed from Fox Sports Pittsburgh.  NHLN is not readily available on cable plans.  Where I live in Las Vegas, the network is a part of the sports package for our local cable company’s digital cable option, meaning you would have to pay the monthly fees for the digital service and then add-on that package for another monthly fee.

Make no mistake about it, I’m sure that David Stern and his legion of executives ensures that they have marquee games on television and the schedule supports that.  I’m positive that they sit down with TNT, ESPN and ABC to make sure that LeBron-Kobe is on TV and has top billing.  Can the NHL not do the same with Versus and NBC?  Is Bettman that far removed from working for the NBA (which he did from 1981 until 1993 when he took the job as the NHL’s first commissioner)? 

Why couldn’t the NHL get that game on Versus (and all three Ovechkin-Crosby rematches) and on a night when action was limited?  I mentioned that 12 other NHL games are on the schedule for tonight.  Last night there were three games played and the same number is on tap for tomorrow night.  Would it have been that hard to cater the schedule to get Caps-Pens on one of those two nights, even if it meant back-to-backs for either Washington or Pittsburgh?  It’s almost shocking that a league with such a declining fan base would not look at things like this especially after their seven-game playoff battle last May.

Interestingly enough, the Caps-Pens game starts at 7:30 EST, 30-45 minutes before the Cavs and Lakers tip.  What if the game were on national television and Ovechkin and Crosby lit it up the first period of the game?  LeBron and Kobe may not get all the viewers they were probably expecting as fans settled their way in to a comfort zone, watching the artistry of two of the NHL’s best offensive players.

What it all comes down to is Bettman.  For a commissioner who was essentially brought in to expand the game, end labor unrest and modernize the United States’ view of hockey, he has consistently fallen below expectations.  After a period of over-expansion that resulted in a diluted talent pool and franchises in several smaller markets with a lack of support for a pro hockey team, the NHL suffered through two labor disputes.

The first lockout during the 1994-95 season resulted in a 48-game season.  One of the main issues in that lockout was a plan to aid smaller market teams.  Yes, the small market teams that Bettman had just finished expanding to.

The subsequent lockout, ten years later in 2004-05, led to the cancellation of the entire NHL season, a decision whose reverberations are still being felt and that the league has never recovered from.  It should be noted, though, that Bettman was lauded for bringing the lockout to end with a hard salary cap based on league revenues and a rollback on player salaries.  But was the loss of a season worth that bounty?

Since the lockout of 04-05, television dollars have dwindled to nearly nothing.  ESPN and ABC declined to renew their option to broadcast the league’s game in 2005-06, stating that the cost was overvalued.  My guess is that it takes a lot to get ESPN to turn your sport down since they collect broadcast rights like Alex Rodriguez collects girls’ phone numbers.  

NBC would only sign a limited deal with no money up front.  Bettman was able to cajole the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) to sign a deal with the NHL.  Outdoor life?  It’s a good thing they play NHL games is cozy arenas.  The network changed its name to Versus down the road.  Bettman has been heavily criticized by this move and it’s evident that the league has lost numerous fans for this decision, though can you blame ESPN for dropping a league that gave them zero games a season prior?

Pro hockey’s follies only accentuate the fact that the NBA seems to do everything right.  Stern has run the league since 1984 and was originally hired by the NBA as its General Counsel in 1978 (the year I was born).  The league knows how to market its stars and has conducted its business without many sidesteps, while recovering quickly from the ones they have made (like 1999’s lockout). 

The NHL, meanwhile, can’t seem to get out of its own way.

So…tonight, while we should be flipping back and forth between Ovi vs. Sid the Kid and LeBron vs. Kobe, viewers will be fixated on the drama in Cleveland. 

At least the can look forward to Melrose’s two minutes of coverage and perfect hair on SportsCenter later that night.

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Filed under Basketball, ESPN, Hockey, NBA, NHL

Watching Haiti and the dunk contest…

Last night, Shaquille O’Neal commented in his post game interview that LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and others should all participate in a slam dunk competition to benefit the earthquake-ravaged country of Haiti (see HERE). 

Maybe the “Big Philanthropist” is onto something here.

Imagine the financial windfall a contest between LeBron, Kobe, Vinsanity, D-Wade, Dwight Howard and others could create.  Then factor in television contracts, corporate sponsor dollars and donations that could be solicited during the competition.  Heck, they should just go ahead and put it on pay-per-view and then bring in what you normally would for an MMA or boxing card.

In watching coverage of the disaster in the island nation of Haiti, one can’t help but have his or her heart broken over and over again when news of orphans, looting, riots, shootings and deaths that really shouldn’t be happening flash along the CNN ticker.

So many Americans have donated money and time, but we know that with devastation of this magnitude, there really is never too much that we can give.  Americans should be commended for what they have done and how much sacrifice has already been given.  We surely have led the charge of the world coming to the aid of the truly less fortunate.  The aftermath is not over, (I got a tweet that a 6.1-magnitude aftershock rattled the area this morning) and the dominos have not stopped falling.

Several celebrities like Brangelina and Sandra Bullock have donated millions to aid the recovery effort and I’m sure athletes have done their share of donating, as well.  No offense to telethons and other efforts to procure funds, but a slam dunk contest with that kind of star power would be something I would watch over a reunion of “We are the World”.

Holding a contest with the marquee stars from the marquee sport around the world could garner so much attention and raise a ridiculous amount of funds.  No offense to soccer and baseball, but the global impact of the NBA and basketball in general is amazing.  Besides, do you think people would really get excited about a soccer shootout with Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and David Beckham?  I know I wouldn’t. 

The homerun derby would be a little different because it would be an attraction and could be global, but most of the biggest stars in baseball already participate in that competition, so what we would be seeing wouldn’t be completely novel.  Which brings me to this…

What has happened to our beloved slam dunk contest?

The first slam dunk competition was held in Denver in 1976 at the ABA All-Star Game.  That thriller saw Julius Erving soar from the free throw line to defeat the likes of David Thompson, George Gervin and Artis Gilmore.  All four are hall of famers with the exception of Gilmore and his lack of induction into the hall is quite controversial.

Gilmore had an ABA career where averaged 23 points and 17 rebounds, an NBA career where he averaged 17 and 10, is in the top ten all-time in rebounds, blocks, games and minutes played and in the top 25 in points.  He is also first in league history in field goal percentage.  His lack of induction is a travesty.  I haven’t done a ton of research on this, but I don’t think that a single player with his statistical profile has been denied induction in the history of the game.  It is clear that he is being slighted because his best years were played in the ABA, but isn’t it the hall of fame for all of basketball?  But, I digress…

The point is that this dunk contest set a precedent that the highest fliers came, competed and gave one heck of a show.  The NBA brought the contest to their all-star weekend for the first time in 1984, also in Denver.  Who had boarding passes in that competition?  Just three hall of famers: Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler.  Larry Nance took the top honor that first year.

Dr. J came back to compete for the last time in ’85, a competition that added a fourth hall of famer to the lineup, some dude named Michael Jordan.  That year Jordan lost to ‘Nique in a phenomenal final.  Spud Webb topped Wilkins in ’86 (Jordan was injured), MJ won back-to-back titles in ’87 and ’88 and the rest is history.  The dunk contest was part of basketball culture and that culture dictated that the best came to play each all-star weekend. 

Jordan would compete in three contests (he sat out ’86 due to injury), Drexler and ‘Nique each threw down in five.  Down the road the competition would feature NBA stars like Scottie Pippen, Ralph Sampson, Shawn Kemp and other marquee attractions who soared above the rim.  They would enter themselves in multiple dunk showdowns unlike competitors like Carter (’00 champion), Bryant (’97 champion), Andre Iguodala (’06) and Tracy McGrady (’00) who have only entered one contest each.

These days we get scrubs like Hakim Warrick, Stromile Swift, Jonathan Bender, Ricky Davis and Gerald Green.  Nate Robinson is an interesting novelty like Spud was, but will he go to the hall of fame?  Will he ever be the best player on his team?  It is nice that Dwight Howard has made multiple appearances (’07-’09) and he may very well be on his way to the hall, but where are his backboard-rattling contemporaries?

So, let’s bring it back and let’s do it for the right reasons.  Let Shaq be the promoter, he did implore us to spread the word:

“I’m saying it now, so tweet it. Facebook it. E-mail it and hopefully it gets out. Vince, we’re calling you out. Kobe, we’re calling you out. We’re calling everybody out. If those guys step up in the dunk contest, then I will allow my client [LeBron] to step up.”

What would the impact be on our Haitian neighbors if this happened?  How many millions will it raise? 

Furthermore, what will the impact have on our dunk contest?  Maybe the precedent will be reestablished that it features legit, high-flying all-stars headed to the hall of fame. 

More recent contestants have seen the need to feature a stupid gimmick like a blindfold (thank you Cedric Ceballos and Dee Brown) or a Superman cape (props to you Dwight Howard), but when did we ever stop liking the visual of 6’6″ monster throwing down a dunk from the free throw line or a sick alley-oop delivered spot-on for a rim-rattling jam? 

Bring the stars back and the dunk contest is what it was meant to be again.  Let Shaq do it for Haiti and the world will see how powerful 180s, 360s and tomahawks really are.

Are you there Kobe, LeBron, Vince and D-Wade?  We’re waiting…

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Filed under Basketball, Haiti, NBA

Watching the NFL Divisional Playoffs

One of the more intriguing storylines leading up to this weekend’s divisional playoffs is the re-signing of Deuce McCallister to the New Orleans Saints.

This old friend came back to a team that drafted him in 2001 out of Mississippi and a squad he led into their last playoff appearance three years ago when he rushed for over 1500 yards in 2006.  In that playoff, McAllister led the Saints in rushing and scored a touchdown to help the team defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round.

Upon signing the oft-injured running back, the Saints immediately declared that he would lead the team onto the field and  be an honorary captain against the Arizona Cardinals later today when the teams play in the NFC Divisional Round at the Superdome in New Orleans.

It appears that will be all McAllister will do, barring some horrific injuries to the Saints running back corps, which consists of leading rusher and newly healthy Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell.  All three have seen significant playing time this season.  Even the fourth running back on the roster, Lynell Hamilton, has looked impressive in limited time when injuries hampered the options Head Coach Sean Payton had in the backfield.

So why make the move?  Some point to a sentimental effort to have McAllister be a part of the playoff roster, reminiscent of a team who hadn’t been there in a while and wanted to honor the beat-up veteran with a spot on the active roster.  However, this is not that kind of team.  They were in the playoffs just three seasons ago, with McAllister, and they made it to the NFC Championship game, where the Saints fell to the Chicago Bears, the eventual runner-up to Super Bowl champion Indianapolis.

Clearly, the Saints don’t believe McAllister has the ability to contribute in the playoffs.  The man he replaced on the roster, Rodney Leslie, is a reserve defensive tackle, who did not practice this week due to a knee injury.

Additionally, this isn’t exactly a situation where a team like Kansas City were to resign Trent Green because he never really had a shot in the playoffs during his six years on the team.  Or if the Dolphins were to bring back Zach Thomas as an honorary captain right before the playoffs were to kick off.

So why then?  The sentimental value of having him on the squad as a captain is apparent, but my general view on this New Orleans team is that they are driven from within by several players with something to prove (i.e. Drew Brees, Jeremy Shockey and a host of others) and a coach who is fiery and motivated to have success.  However, there may be more to the drive behind this Bourbon Street squad.

McAllister’s signing may be evidence that Payton doesn’t feel his team is motivated enough coming into the playoffs.  They did, after all, tumble into their number one seed after three consecutive losses to Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina.  This after the outspoken effort to have a perfect season. 

Perhaps Payton felt they poured all of their emotion into the perfect season, only to fall short and be running on fumes going into “The Tournament.”  Maybe Payton realized that defenses had figured out how to slow down Brees and the Saints’ prolific passing attack and that offenses had worked through a tough defense to control the ball and score points on an always game Saints defense.  The Saints have not had a dominating performance since their big Monday night win against the New England Patriots on November 30th and have not scored more than twenty points in over a month, since they put up 26 in a 3-point victory at Atlanta.

An injection of emotion from the returning McAllister may have been just the right prescription for this stumbling team.

Regardless, it is curious, has been interesting to watch and is a story that has flown under the radar as more “feel good” than anything.

I still like the Saints this weekend mostly because I think the Superdome is a huge advantage and that their team does show the makings of one that wants to prove everyone wrong, make a name for themselves and are ready for the big time.  Not to mention the fact that Brees must have needed a drool cup as he watched Aaron Rodgers and the Packers take apart the Cardinal defensive secondary.

I think Brees and Warner give us an aerial show but that eventually the Saints pull ahead and move into the NFC Championship.

Here are my official picks (in caps).  Lines are from Danny Sheridan as of Saturday morning.

SAINTS (-7) 34, Cardinals 24

I think Brees and New Orleans have a feeding frenzy on Arizona’s defense and the Saints’ defense does just enough to slow down Kurt Warner in what may be his last game.

INDIANAPOLIS (-6) 27, Baltimore 16

The layoff will get Indy off to a slow start, but I think Peyton and company play a smart game and handle the Ravens.  I also have a hunch that something really is wrong with Joe Flacco.

Minnesota 17, DALLAS (+3) 16

A defensive battle here will be characterized by Dallas’ inability to stop the run late.  I also see Favre making enough big plays on third downs to limit Romo’s possessions in the second half.

San Diego 24, NEW YORK (+7) 21

Darelle Revis can’t cover everyone and Rivers finds enough opportunities around the field to withstand the Jets defense.  However, I think the show will be stolen by Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene in a coming out party of sorts.

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Filed under Betting, Football, NFL, Playoffs

Watching the ins and outs of baseball’s HOF

So the best looking neck in sports came out of his injection-free bathroom this week when Mark McGwire admitted to using steroids.  Now we get to talk about this until the NFL conference championships at the turn of the week.  That is unless McGwire decides to have an extra-marital affair with Tiger Woods between now and then.

But what does the McGwire admission mean

We are so anesthetized by the admission of a different Major League Baseball player every few months that we are not surprised by the newest tear-filled confession of sins to the television cameras.  Fans, critics and baseball people alike now suspect everyone who played in this generation and had prolonged health or immense success may have done steroids.  Nothing has really changed.

However, one issue will live on no matter how many sluggers come out: hall of fame balloting.

Who’s in?  Who’s out?  Who did steroids?  Who didn’t?

These questions will be asked each year, and after each ballot, sports networks and radio personalities will break down the credentials of each player.  Sooner rather than later, those credentials and stats won’t just include ERA, home run totals and career batting averages, but steroid allegations, confession dates, positive drug tests and whether or not the players on the ballot were connected to steroids.

So how do we treat this?  It’s easy and I’ll lay it down for you like this: either they all get in or they all stay out.  It’s as simple as that.

Every player, alleged user or not, who played in the “Steroids Era” should be considered with equal treatment.  They should all be tainted or none of them should. 

If the abuses of these performance enhancers are as widespread as we are to believe, then we should treat everyone as being guilty. 

And if many of the accusations are allegations without proof, how do we sort out those who have legitimate complaints against their accusers from those who are guilty?  There is no test to determine this.  For every McGwire there are ten other players who deny using despite having been implicated.  And for every one of those players, there may be ten more that used but have not been caught nor implicated.

Hypothetically, the steroid epidemic of the nineties should be considered league-wide.  Despite the fact that many claim the likes of Ken Griffey, Jr. or Jim Thome never touched the stuff and should be first ballot HOFers, they too should be treated as tainted candidates for Cooperstown.  Griffey and Thome are widely considered to be the golden children of the era as they have not been implicated in the use of PEDs, but wasn’t that Alex Rodriguez guy a former holder of that title?

Just like McGwire said he was unfortunate to play in the steroids era, Griffey and Thome can literally make that claim if they are kept out of the hall because they were supposedly clean players who competed in a period of time when steroids were rampant.  Their case is much more convincing than Big Mac’s, especially when considering Mac made it sound like being in the steroids era forced him to partake. 

That’s like someone growing up in the sixties claiming that the “era” forced him or her to smoke marijuana.  Or someone from my era saying that the culture of the time forced him to get Z. Cavaricci knock-off pants and pass them off as the real thing.  Picture it:

 

Associated Press Reporter: So, Josh is it…we have this photo here of your pants from 1988.  We have enhanced them so that you can see the 2-inch long white tag on the fly.  Are these your pants?

 Me: Yes, sir.  I believe they are.

 Reporter: Now, it clearly shows that this white strip is a simple piece of fabric that you have cut and sewn to a pair of replica Z. Cavaricci pan—wait no…is that a staple holding it on?

 Me: I can see that one might see it that way.

 Reporter: And on this white strip, it clearly has lettering on it that someone has written “Z. Cavaricci” and spelled it wrong, with just one “C”.

 Me: Yes.

 Reporter:  You are aware that Z. Cavariccis were very popular at this time.  It should also be noted that only originals made one “cool”.  Replicas were just a way of saying, “Hey!  Look at me and how lame I am.”  What do you have to say for yourself?

 Me (through tears): I just wish I hadn’t lived in that era…Z. Cavaricci usage was so prevalent and I just wanted to be like everyone else.

 

I looked dang good in those pants, too.  Anyway…

Baseball has gone through many “eras” that have forced hall of fame voters to cast ballots along the lines of those periods of time.  The Dead Ball Era of the early 1900s saw low scoring, defensive contests with dominant pitchers like Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.  However, hall of fame hitters like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie and many others are in Cooperstown without prodigious home run numbers.  

Other factors that have defined eras of baseball include expansion, the length of seasons in terms of games and time, the distance required to hit a home run and several more that only baseball historians could hash out.  Even in the 1960s, rules were changed to inject (no pun intended…okay maybe it was) more offense into the game as pitching had gained a dominant foothold on even the best of lineups. 

In 1968, Carl Yastremski led the American League in batting with a .301 average, the lowest in history.  In that same year, Bob Gibson finished his season with an ERA of 1.12.  The following season, the strike zone was changed and the pitching mound was lowered.  However, the pitching dominated era still produced its fair share of hall of famers at the plate and on the mound.

Baseball players should be judged with their contemporaries, and if you judge the generation of players from the nineties and into the next century, they should be held to the industry standard from that time period like they always have when comes to the Baseball Writers of America and their HOF voting.

Unfortunately for baseball fans, this industry standard includes the pervasive use of steroids, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs.  We need to face that and either let them all in or keep them all out.  There cannot be qualifications that address whether someone came clean or how many times their name was leaked from a report or a lab. 

The truth of it is that baseball did not test for these substances and they were the ones in many cases who turned their backs on what was going on.  BUT…that was the culture of baseball and the era in which those players competed. 

Every statistic, every record and every player needs to be looked upon with their contemporaries and then the decision should be clear.  That’s why Babe Ruth’s tenure was so impressive and why a starting pitcher with an ERA under 2.00 in a season of today’s game is equally extraordinary.  Everything is relative to what is going on around these high-priced athletes in terms of how the game is played and trends of the era.

I loathe what has happened to our game just as much as the next Barry Bonds-hating baseball fan does.  But we cannot invalidate some while exalting others especially when we still know so little about what was going on during the time of bathroom injections.

Let them all in or keep them all out, but the worst thing we can do is pick and choose based on who came clean and who is suspected.  The standard needs to be the same for everyone from the era because they were all affected by it…for better or for worse.

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Filed under Baseball, Hall of Fame, Mark McGwire, Steroids

Let the watching begin…

“Those who can’t, teach.”

I wish you knew how much pain that statement causes teachers on a daily basis. Being an educator, I know their pain and have felt it all too many times.

Not only is this statement completely false, but it is offensive to anyone who has had their life touched by an educator, which is pretty much all of us.

So what does this have to do with my new blog, “Scoreboard Watching”? Well, for years I’ve done a lot of watching. I’ve watched sports, yes, but for the most part I have watched life. I’ve seen several of my students do extraordinary things, I’ve observed media coverage both good and bad, I’ve watched my fantasy football teams choke time after time in the playoffs and I’ve checked out every sportswriter I can get my eyes on.

Over the course of my career of watching, I’ve come to realize that my opinions can be classified as “off the beaten path,” “unorthodox” or whatever cliché fits best. I’ve realized that I can make a pretty good case for myself on a variety of topics and that my breadth of sports knowledge is fairly impressive.

As a media teacher, I have had the opportunity to teach the tenets of good journalism, both in print and broadcast. My two programs at the high school where I teach have had immense success and I’ve seen the rise of several outstanding young student journalists. I’ve had the privilege of reading and editing great writing and like to think that I’ve made a big impact on several of the kids I’ve come in contact with.

Many of them have asked me in the past, “Wik, why don’t you write anymore?” Well, for a long time, I had nothing to write about. I’d moved on to teaching, stopped writing poetry, stopped journaling and didn’t work that part of my brain for some time. I hadn’t realized that my opinions were what I should be writing and that there was an outlet where my writing would have a home. That’s what this blog will become: a home for my (choose your cliché now) opinions. I’ll primarily discuss sports, but I can promise that life events and pop culture will inevitably be given their fair share of time.

I have to admit, that when blogging first appeared in our culture’s vocabulary, I was fairly offended by it, considering myself a journalist, trained and bred to investigate, report and inform. I saw bloggers as wannabes who couldn’t actually work for a paper or a legitimate news source and had no training. But alas, they decided to do what they wanted to but couldn’t and created a blog.

That’s when I coined my own catch phrase: “Those who can’t, blog.”

For years I panned bloggers for being self-absorbed creators of media that had no business doing what they were doing. I even slighted them in my media classes and encouraged my students to avoid websites without credentials, morals and AP style guides.

Now, after reading several blogs and seeing where digital media has been speeding, I realize the place for bloggers and feel that it is now a home where my writing can be nurtured and put out there for readers to see. There are still bloggers who create news or are more tabloid than journalism, but I can see the positives and see where the production of more unique content and the presence of more original voices are not just valuable, but welcome.

So, on “Scoreboard Watching” you’ll read about my opinions that may surprise you, like how I think the use of steroids is actually given a bad rap (coming soon in a blog). You may read about my displeasure with where sports is going or hear amazing stories that touch the hearts of sports fans and non-fans alike. I will attempt to treat this site like a column where I write two or three times a week. We’ll figure that out as we go, but I’m excited to get started and know that you will enjoy my first piece on the Mark McGwire admission and how it brings up important questions about the baseball hall of fame down the road. Look for that piece tomorrow.

So without further pomp and circumstance, let the watching begin…

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Filed under Bloggers, Education, Journalism