Friday, March 26, 2010

Eldrick Speaks -- Again (Yawn)


The sporting world is much better informed about all things Eldrick after the two illuminating interviews he granted last Sunday, to ESPN and the Golf Channel. (CBS declined to participate.) Yeah, right.

By speaking with Tom Rinaldi and Kelly Tilghman, two interviewers favored by the Woods camp, the golfer did what he could to control the situation. His people had already chosen the location (Isleworth Golf and Country Club), set a time limit (five minutes for ESPN, six for TGC), mandated that the interrogators stand, face-to-face, with Woods and embargoed the release of the footage until 7:30 p.m., presumably to let Woods finish watching the NC2A tournament. Woods’ people also stipulated that the interviews would take place outside – why is anybody’s guess – but rainy weather made it impossible for that and forced the action onto a veranda.

With all of those conditions satisfied, it was up to Rinaldi and Tilghman to do their jobs. Unfortunately, neither was overly impressive. Rinaldi looked suitably serious and consulted his note cards, but he never pressed Woods on his unwillingness to discuss specific events, such as whether his wife, Elin, had indeed used his head as a substitute for a Nike One Tour golf ball. Tilghman was overly impressed with Woods’ Buddhist bracelet, a symbol of his rededication to his mother’s faith. Remember that we had never heard anything about his devotion to the Fat Man before, except as an explanation for his preternatural skills of concentration on the course.

It would have been a service to all viewers if either interviewer had thought – or been instructed by his/her superiors – to ask about whether Woods has ever used performance-enhancing drugs. While rehabilitating an injury, Woods sought the care of Dr. Anthony Galea, a Tronno-based physician who is in the middle of a maelstrom regarding his prescribing P.E.D.s to big-league ballplayers. Woods could have chosen any doctor in the U.S., because his health insurance is probably pretty darn good. Instead, he went to Canada to seek assistance from a doc who is in big trouble with the Proper Authorities. Hmmmm.

We didn’t hear anything about that, and it leads one to wonder whether the Woods folks forbade such a query or if the people at the two networks weren’t doing their jobs properly. Whatever the case, we learned nothing from the interviews. Woods was smart enough to tell us everything we already knew. He had done some bad things. Really? It was tough to tell his mother. You don’t say! He’s not sure how the fans will treat him. Perhaps, but he can guarantee reverential treatment at Augusta National next month from the stodgy coots who run the Masters and tolerate nothing short of behavior reserved for Easter Vigil Mass when the tournament comes to town. At least that’s how CBS and the sycophantic golf media, many of whom knew about Woods’ behavior but let it ride, behave.

In short, the Woods interviews were nothing short of public relations ploys to end what has become a slowing, quieting news cycle. You can’t fault the networks for jumping at the chance to speak with the golfer, since it afforded them the opportunity to promote the heck out of the event. What we can fault them for is not following up when Woods stonewalled them, for refusing to ask about Galea and for buying the Buddhist stuff without asking why we hadn’t heard so much about this religious devotion before Woods went rogue. Jailhouse conversions are nothing new, but this seems a little too contrived, even for a control freak like Woods.

Put this one in the win column for the Woods camp and get ready for the next round of silliness at Augusta. That begins April 5, when Woods will deign to speak with the mainstream media prior to competing in the Masters. It’s interesting that he chose that Monday, since it’s the beginning of baseball season and the day of the NC2A men’s hoops championship game. Some pundits have wondered whether Woods will overshadow the other sporting events that day. It’s more likely he’s hoping they will overshadow him. Think about it; dozens of journalists, TV types and columnists will be in Indianapolis to shower praise upon this year’s top student-athletes, while others will be scattered across the country in ballparks to figure out which ballplayers used their off-seasons to experiment with HGH. It’s a classic trick for those who don’t want maximum coverage for a news story and the reason why a lot of unpopular proclamations and information are given on Friday afternoon, the better to be ignored over the weekend. Woods couldn’t have done that, since he’ll be trying to make the cut at Augusta on the Friday of that week, so he picked one of the busiest news days of the year to meet the press.

The most important thing for Woods is that he is on his way back to the course, and it’s clear that the people who cover him are reverting to their pre-scandal form by affording him considerable latitude and respect. Before you know it, commentators will be gushing over his game again, and advertisers will be lining up to have him sell their products. The healing is almost completed. Woods’ participation at the Masters will take him closer to the final step in his rehabilitation.


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EL HOMBRE SEZ: The college football world was rocked Thursday by the news that the International Bowl was folding after four historic editions. For some reason, the Big Least decided that sending a team to play a MAC school in Tronno wasn’t a good idea. Fret not, America, because a Big Least rep will be part of the new Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium. Talk about an upgrade…Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt, a New York native, turned down the St. John’s coaching job, showing just how tough it’s going to be for the Johnnies to get back to prominence. If the locals don’t want the gig, who’s left?...If you’re not loving the NC2A tourney, then you probably root for Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to get richer. The upsets may have terrorized your office pools, but it’s been great to see the little guys stick it to the Rejection Committee by winning so many games…Ryan Leaf received 10 years probation in his drug and burglary case after a guilty plea. Hard to believe NFL types had such a hard time choosing between him and Peyton Manning back in the late ‘90s. As career train wrecks go, his has to be in consideration for biggest ever.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? The anti-Donovan crowd seems closer every day to getting its wish: an end to McNabb’s tenure under center in Philadelphia. The best part? They’re delighted Kevin Kolb will be taking over, simply because he’s not Number Five. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Kolb’s abilities, which frankly few can endorse given his short resume – two starts and a 1-1 record. The Eagles stunk at the end of last year because of a rotten offensive line, a defense that could not pressure the QB and a below-par secondary. McNabb wasn’t exactly channeling Johnny Unitas, but blaming him for everything is at best myopic and at worst an indictment of Philadelphia fans’ vaunted sports knowledge. McNabb will go before the 2010 season, if the price is right, and will definitely be gone before 2011 kicks off. (If it does kick off.) And if you think Kolb or just about any other QB in the league can lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl as they are presently constructed, then be sure to wait up late next Saturday night to get a good look at the Easter Bunny.

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AND ANOTHER THING: After spending a couple months defending Boniface Meyer’s now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t, now-you-do-again behavior regarding his coaching future at Florida on the basis of his heart problems, it’s time to take off the gloves and expose the man for what he is: a two-bit bully who thinks he can do whatever he wants to whomever he wants. Meyer’s threatening, menacing approach to an Orlando Sentinel reporter who merely quoted a UF player was a disgrace and reminded El Hombre of Johnny Friendly, the waterfront hoodlum who was nothing without his cronies and guns. Meyer actually told the reporter, Jeremy Fowler, that if it had been “his son [he had quoted], [they] would be going at it right now.” All Fowler did was accurately report what Deonte Thompson said about the differences between outgoing Gator QB St. Timothy of Tebow and next year’s presumed starter, John Brantley. Because Thompson was not entirely complimentary of Meyer’s pet, the petty dictator thought Fowler’s printing of the comment would be detrimental to Tebow’s draft prospects. No, Boniface, Tebow’s awful throwing motion and wet-noodle arm strength will take care of that. You need to tell your players to stop disparaging your favorite, rather than excoriating those who quote them. Meyer’s behavior was cowardly and arrogant. He needs to issue a legitimate apology (fat chance) and remember that bullies eventually get their comeuppance, and when it happens, the whole world applauds.

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ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: The sporting world lost one of its best comrades-in-arms last week when Jeff St. Amour passed away. Jeff was always quick with a smile, a bit of incisive sports commentary and a kind word. All you need to know about him was revealed at the end of his daughter Caitlin’s marvelous and incredibly courageous eulogy Tuesday. She said that she would finish with two of her father’s “rules.” The first was, “Never strike out looking,” and the second was, “Always finish your drink.” That was Jeff. He participated fully in life and never turned down the opportunity to have a good time. Most of all, he was a dedicated family man who loved his wife and children. As we continue on our strange and wonderful journey, we should emulate Jeff and be sure to keep swinging – and smiling.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Onset of Madness


No matter how poor a job the NC2A’s esteemed Rejection Committee did assembling this year’s bracket, watching the increasing love affair between tournament organizers and big-conference schools will certainly be more entertaining than suffering through the coming three weeks of manufactured drama surrounding Eldrick Woods’ return to golf. Could there be any storm capable of more damage than Woods’ decision to end his sackcloth-and-ashes tour at The Masters, which will be televised by espn and then CBS, the two networks most capable of slathering an event, athlete or coach in enough treacle to clog even the most efficient sewage system?

As sports fans prepare to have their brackets torn apart by underachieving high seeds and dastardly upstarts, espn is auditioning a battalion of string quartets for its melodramatic pre-tourney package, while Jim Nantz is rehearsing scads of catch phrases and hosannas to intone at properly reverential moments. And in Augusta, Gestapo-like security forces are preparing holding cells and sharpening their bayonets in anticipation of pouncing on any spectator brazen enough to regard Woods with anything other than awe and wonder. Forget waterboarding. Anyone caught so much as smirking at Woods will be made to listen to one of Augusta National’s oldest members recount stroke-by-stroke memories of his most recent rounds. Next to that, bamboo shoots under the fingernails is like a dinner date with Amanda Seyfried.

The best way to ward off the intense nausea this period is sure to induce (syrup of ipecac has nothing on this stuff) is to direct your attention at something else. Fortunately for sports fans, there is the NC2A tournament, which for all its faults, remains quite the spectacle, if only because Dookie V isn’t able to broadcast any games. That wonderful circumstance, however, that could well change in the coming dark times. Then again, it might be better if espn gets the broadcast rights to the tourney, because maybe it won’t decide to show 76% of the nation that compelling tilt between Duke and Arkansas-Peanut Butter. (Credit El Nino with that one.) Anyway, with the round of 65 already pared by one – thanks for stopping by, Winthrop – courtesy of the infernal play-in game that robs one school of the true tourney experience (once again, the little guy takes one in the shorts) it’s time to look at the best thing about March, aside from green beer, and make a few declarations.

Justice Deferred: Temple was hosed. The three-time Atlantic 10 champion finished 11-1, captured its conference’s regular-season and tourney titles, finished eighth in the RPI and beat Villanova by 10 points, but it received a five seed and the chance to play strong Ivy winner Cornell, which is better than the 12 seed it received. The Midwest bracket is too strong, especially since Kansas, the number one overall seed, is in it. Sure, the Jayhawks only have to play one of the other big boys (Ohio State and Georgetown) in the bracket, but their presence almost guarantees a tough finale for KU. West Virginia should have been treated more fairly. The Mountaineers didn’t necessarily deserve a number one seed, although WVU finished fourth in the RPI, had the nation’s third-toughest schedule, won the Big East tournament and closed the season on an 8-1 roll. But WVU should have had the softest number two road, against Duke, rather than Kentucky. Just what we need, more bile for Bob Huggins.

Mid-Major Slap-Around: Temple and Cornell weren’t the only mid-majors to get abused. Consider Butler and UTEP. Both could win a couple tourney games, but they are paired against each other, the better to guarantee the elimination of a non-BCS tough guy early on. Same goes for UNLV and Northern Iowa. Old Dominion was 27th in the final RPI, beat Georgetown in D.C. and is seeded 11th. Utah State is a 12, despite a 26-7 record, a win over BYU and a season-ending 17-1 run. Here’s hoping all the little guys win big. Won’t it be interesting to hear the Deflection Committee try to explain that?

Small Names, Big Games: There is a reason teams like Yosemite Sam Houston State and St. Mary’s win their conferences: They have guys who can play. As you peruse the early rounds of the tourney, be sure to check out SHS’s three-point specialist Corey Allmond, who hit 11 triples at Kentucky. Gonzaga fans can’t stand St. Mary’s 6-11 senior Omar Samhan, but his 20.9 ppg and 11.0 rpg have sure endeared him to the Gael faithful. Wofford’s Noah Dahlman (16.8 ppg) is a force along the front line, and Montana’s Anthony Johnson is one of the nation’s most accurate backcourt shooters. Pay attention every time New Mexico State guard Jahmar Young gets the rock, because he may be scoring in a couple seconds, and be alert whenever Utah State forward Tai Wesley is on the court, because few can fill a stat sheet like him.

Soo-Prise! You know there are going to be upsets. It happens all the time. So here are some first-rounders to consider: San Diego State over Tennessee; Georgia Tech over OK State, UTEP over Butler; Murray State over Vandy, Siena over Purdue and Old Dominion over Notre Dame.

Final Fantasy: Indianapolis gets a bunch of chalk: Kansas, Syracuse, Duke and West Virginia.

The Envelope, Please: Kansas isn’t a juggernaut, but it has too much (size, shooting, experience, toughness) for this crop. Bill Self enhances his legend with his second title, beating Duke in the finale, 81-79.

Lucky You: The last couple years have featured some ugliness for El Hombre in the bracket department. But he feels 2010 will be different. (Hah!) Without further ado, here is his entire bracket – from here on known as The Answer Key – broken down according to each round’s winners.

Round One: Kansas, Northern Iowa, Michigan State, Maryland, San Diego State, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Syracuse, Gonzaga, UTEP, Murray State, Xavier, Pittsburgh, Brigham Young, Kansas State, Kentucky, Texas, Temple, Wisconsin, Marquette, New Mexico, Clemson, West Virginia, Duke, Louisville, Texas A&M, Siena, Old Dominion, Baylor, Richmond, Villanova.
Second Round: Kansas, Michigan State, Georgetown, Ohio State, Syracuse, UTEP, Pittsburgh, BYU, Kentucky, Temple, Marquette, West Virginia, Duke, Siena, Baylor, Villanova.
Sweet Sixteen: Kansas, Georgetown, Syracuse, BYU, Kentucky, West Virginia, Duke, Villanova.
Elite Eight: Kansas, Syracuse, West Virginia, Duke.
Final Four: Kansas, Duke.
Championship: Kansas.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Looks like Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington hopped into the Hot Tub Time Machine and went back to the ‘80s last season. Hey, lots of people in pro sports are smoking pot. And don’t even start on the painkillers and P.E.D.s. But coke? Yo, Ron, you have to update your recreational drug profile…If anybody not named Tim Tebow were tossing wobbly out patterns, throwing while backpedaling or taking nine seconds to release the ball, he would be lucky to get drafted at all. But some NFL team is going to choose him in the first three (two?) rounds and hope that he develops into a legitimate starter. Keep hoping…NBA owners unanimously approved Michael Jordan’s bid to take over the Charlotte Bobcats. Why wouldn’t they? Given Jordan’s track record of picking talent (Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison) and not showing up for work, he’s the perfect adversary…NFL owners are trying to decide whether they want to change the rules of overtime for playoff games. Look out for a compromise solution that includes eight-on-eight football after regulation, and if there is still a tie, a field goal kicking contest involving offensive linemen. Now that sounds like fun.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? After sitting out the big-money part of the NFL’s free agency shuffle, the Eagles have become quite busy in the past week, giving those fans and media analysts who are trying to figure out the team’s QB plans plenty to think about. The most obvious thing about the team’s intentions is that youth remains a priority, so even if Number Five is under center for the 2010 season, he likely won’t be back in ’11. With Seattle’s overspending for Charlie Whitehurst – what a great time to be a Seahawks’ season-ticket holder – the Browns picking up Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace (blechhh!), the Rams looking pretty darn interested in Sam Bradford, the Cardinals’ signing Derek Anderson to join the QB derby with Hot Tub Leinart, and Cowboy Quarterback’s role in the recruitment of LaDainian Tomlinson presaging a return to the Vikings, the market for Birds’ QBs looks smaller and smaller. Maybe the Bills might be interested. The Panthers are a possibility, although they’re on the hook for $13 mil to Delhomme. Jacksonville could be a destination, although David Garrard did throw for nearly 3,600 yards last year. The upshot? Expect Number Five and Kevin Kolb to be in midnight green next season, with Courageous Cat the likeliest QB to be moved.

* * *

AND ANOTHER THING: Now that Eldrick Woods has rejoined golf’s living, it’s important to know that he is all about golf. His people are going to keep spinning his rehab and his remorse, but this is about his ability to play golf, make money and get back into the promotional world that made him so wealthy. The best thing any of us can do is forget about Woods the man, because no amount of Ari Fleisher-generated pap can bring back the carefully-crafted image we were fed for the first part of Woods’ life. From here on out, it’s about golf, and that’s not the worst thing in the world, so long as the coming months and years don’t “heal the wounds” and yield “forgiveness from the American people.” Baloney. Woods is a golfer. That’s all he is and all he should be. The run-up to his Masters appearance shows how strong the cult of personality surrounding him is, but here’s hoping fans wise up and focus only on whether he parred 17 and not on who Woods is. We already know that, and it’s not very pretty.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Bursting the Bubble


The Connecticut women’s team’s dominance of its basketball world has been so thorough that it is causing otherwise logical people to ask questions that seem to have come directly from the lunch table at the Laughing Academy. Things like whether the Huskies could play competitive basketball against a Division I men’s team. Or a D-II club. Or even a top-shelf boys high school team. Granted, some of that curiosity stems from political correctness. And don’t discount a certain broadcast entity’s self-serving desire to promote its own programming. But the questions are out there, and they are ridiculous.

Don’t mistake this for a chauvinistic screed. UConn’s winning streak is remarkable. But even Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma understands that his team couldn’t handle those assignments. He admits Connecticut couldn’t even hang with a WNBA team or the U.S. national women’s club, much less a men’s squad.

So, if the NC2A men’s tournament were to swell to a bloated 96 teams, there wouldn’t be room for UConn’s thresher, even if it wins 100 games in a row. Or a thousand. There would, however, be spots for Louisiana Tech and IUPUI, whatever the hell that is. And North Carolina might find a place in a come-one, come-all extravaganza. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit over the top. The Tar Heels stink. Worse, they don’t play hard.

If there were ever an argument against an idea as hare-brained and as greedy as a 96-team version of March Madness, it’s this year’s tourney “bubble.” Have you seen the thing? In years past, it has resembled the giant, glimmering orb that bore Glinda the Good Witch of the North in and out of Dorothy Gale’s Ozian reverie. This year, it looks like the by-product of a pig’s roll in a particularly fetid mud puddle. Trying to find 65 worthy teams for the tournament is a big challenge this year. Just imagine if we were figuring out who deserved the last four spots in the Orson Welles Invitational. What fun it would be discussing the relative merits of Missouri State and Portland. Talk about your drama. And what about those water cooler arguments?

VP of Sales: “How can you say Weber State belongs? They went 1-4 versus the RPI’s top 100.

Comptroller Bob: Oh, and I suppose you favor Harvard and their 274th best strength of schedule?

Heaven help the Republic if those debates are happening across the country. We’ll never get any work done. Come Sunday evening, teams such as Virginia Tech and their awful offense and Memphis and their rotten rebounding could find their ways onto seeding lines in your brackets. The “Last Four In” had better fly to their first-round sites as soon as their names are mentioned, the better to prevent anybody from noticing just how bad they are and getting some court to issue an injunction barring them from participating.

As bad as this year’s crop of at-large candidates might be, it’s nowhere near what could be soiling the tourney’s good name in a year or so. All of the arguments to expand the tournament are self-serving, from the NC2A’s desire to make more money from its TV contracts and corporate “champions” (just writing that makes El Hombre want to wash off the slime), to the coaches’ wishes to preserve their jobs through expanding the number of teams who get to boast of tourney participation. That’s the athletic equivalent of grading every test on the curve. (A big favorite during EH’s days at Eton.) So, you went 5-13 in the Big East? Hey, you still made the tournament. Here’s a set of steak knives.

The other popular argument these days, which seems to be crafted by the same BCS moneygrubbers people who spout the “Every week is a playoff” argument during college football season, is that expanding the tourney puts NC2A hoops on a more level playing ground with professional sports leagues. That camp posits that since 16 of 30 NBA teams (53.3%) and 12 of 32 NFL clubs (37.5%) qualify for the post-season, the NC2A tournament should increase its participation level, which stands at 19.1%. That’s a sound argument, until you consider that in professional leagues, the franchises are all on even footing – except for the Lions. They have the same salary restraints, except in baseball, the same money coming to them from national TV contracts and the same goals and mandates. That is absolutely not the case in the NC2A.

There are 250 schools that have no shot of winning the tournament. Ever. (And don’t try to argue that George Mason disproved that. The Patriots were the first mid-major team in 27 years to reach the Final Four.) Their budgets are nowhere near those of the big-time programs. Their resources and facilities don’t come close. Their conferences have little or no status on the national scene. You cannot argue percentages when there is a giant gap between the group of schools that have a shot at the tourney and those just hoping for a moment or two in the spotlight. If 31 at-large teams are added to the tourney, do you think we’ll see the Horizon League’s runner-up included or an 11th-place squad from the Big East? Is the regular-season champ from the MEAC that lost in its made-for-TV conference tourney going to be included, or will another ACC club get a spot? It’s big-time college sports welfare, and it will hurt an cherished sporting institution badly.

In a week, what could be the final sensible NC2A tournament will kick off. And even though there will be some schools in there with credentials shakier than those of a porn star who’s running for governor, at least they’ll all have winning records. We hope.

Meanwhile, fans of the UConn women should be patient. Their favorites will probably get in – when the tourney is expanded to 256 teams.

* * *

EL HOMBRE SEZ: Ben Roethlisberger may not be guilty of sexual assault. We’ll know more when (if) he provides a DNA sample. But the Pittsburgh quarterback is guilty of serial stupidity. Don’t you think it’s time for a 28-year old multimillionaire to stop trolling college dives for companionship? Get a gun and head to the club, Benjamin. At least there you’ll be hanging with people your own age. Oh, and one more thing: If you’re going out for a night of drinking with the sorority crowd, wear something other than a T-shirt with the devil’s face on it…Eldrick Woods is close to returning to competitive golfing. But don’t expect things to change, at least on the course. The PGA will do everything possible to insulate its cash cow from the public, to the point where he may get to compete on a closed course or play his rounds on Golden Tee…In another example of its continued irrelevance on the sporting the scene, the NHL is dragging its feet about whether to ban hits to the head. At a time when the discussion about concussions has become deafening, the frozen-water crowd continues to debate whether to outlaw cheap shots. No wonder no one can find the league’s games on TV…Milton Bradley talked about how horrible the conditions were for him and other black players in Chicago, a charge Cubs GM Jim Hendry refutes. There was no doubt some racial component to the criticism Bradley received, but his production last year was poor, and for that he was criticized. For a guy now on his ninth team of an 11-year career, it would be a good idea for Bradley to “look in the mirror,” as Hendry suggested…R.I.P. Merlin Olsen.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? If Eddie Jordan isn’t fired this weekend, he’ll get axed the next. Make it through that, and he will certainly be on the bread line by late April, when the Sixers’ regular season ends. If this type of thing weren’t so commonplace in professional sports, it would be laughable. But teams have been firing coaches to cover up management mistakes for decades, so why shouldn’t Jordan get whacked for the poor jobs done by GM Ed Stefanski and executives Peter Luukko and Mr. Ed? Did Jordan hire a coach with a clear, definite system of offense that ran counter to the roster he was expected to direct? No. Did Jordan give a max contract to a forward who was expected to play one way but who had a game that was completely different, a fact that was known throughout the NBA? Nope. Further, did Jordan think it was smart to hire a coach to run a system that puts a premium on court sense, when said big-money free agent was “one of the least intuitive players in the league,” according to an NBA GM? Nyet. Did Jordan give a huge, cap-crippling contract to a player (Andre Iguodala) who didn’t deserve to be paid that much? No, sir. Did Jordan assemble a roster that had no proven point guard and then ask a coach who has a history of being tough on young players to change his style by giving the keys to the team to a rookie? Nein. Did Jordan sign a one-dimensional center to a trade-proof contract? Non. Did Jordan sign a shooter to a two-year, $13 million contract, only to find that he couldn’t shoot all that well? No, sir. Given the answers to those questions, it makes perfect sense that Jordan should be fired, since so much of the Sixers’ mess is his doing. The man is not a great coach, but this franchise’s problems, both immediate (23-41 record) and long-term (worst cap situation in the league for 2010-11) are not his fault. Too bad nobody in the organization recognizes that.

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AND ANOTHER THING: Big College Swindle mouthpiece Bill Hancock invoked the “Congress has more important things to do” cop-out when describing Capitol Hill’s inquiry into the distribution of funds by his organization. First off, that’s the last resort of people with no compelling argument on their side. It’s a wonder he didn’t say, “Nanny, nanny boo-boo” right after that. Secondly, many of the institutions our fine elected officials are investigating receive millions in state funding each year and huge dollar amounts from federal research grants. If there are fiscal monkeyshines going on within a group of those schools, then Congress absolutely should be involved, Bill. Be careful what you believe every time Hancock opens his mouth. The Big College Swindle exists to exercise sovereignty over college football bowl dough and to keep it in the hands of the biggest schools. By throwing some crumbs to Division I-A’s lesser lights, the BCS gives the illusion that it is being equitable. To give you an idea of how unfair the system is, consider that several studies have shown that a college football playoff would generate more money than the bowls. But since the proceeds from that wouldn’t be controlled by the BCS schools, rather by the NC2A, there might be a fairer sharing of the pot and therefore less money for the big boys. Hancock doesn’t want Congress involved, because it may provide a stunning first: Lawmakers agreement on something.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Let's Get Ready To Rumble!


The clock is ticking on the first round of labor negotiations between NFL owners and league’s Players Association, and they have the potential to be as acrimonious as a chance meeting between Jim Bunning and common sense. It’s now certain the 2010 season will not feature a salary cap, the only thing ever invented that keeps Green Bay on an even footing with New York. There probably won’t be a collective bargaining agreement between the two sides in the near future. And the way things are shaping up, talks are likely to be as friendly and civil as a food fight in Miss Merrie’s pre-school lunch room.

Expecting a signed, sealed deal after such a short period of bartering is borderline crazy, since there are so many big issues to deal with, and each passing day brings more certainty that the league is looking to slap the players around as if they all played for the Detroit Lions. Despite annual revenues of about $7 billion, TV contracts that would make the International Olympic Committee envious and a seemingly endless demand for apparel and other branded items, the NFL is crying poor. It wants to knock down the amount of “gross revenues” devoted to player salaries – even though the definition of what’s in that pot is already quite fluid – and it’s trying to make contracts even less secure for athletes than before. If the owners thought they could get away with it, they would try to jam baseball’s old reserve clause into the deal, the better to rob players of their rights completely. Old False Face and Little Danny would love to have year-to-year deals for their hired hands, all the while selling piles of tickets and bloated party passes to fans who have been conditioned to worship the logo, not the player.

Anybody who followed the recent releases of top-shelf running backs throughout the league understands exactly what the owners are after. Within the span of a week, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook and Thomas Jones were all jettisoned by their teams, even though all had time and money left on their contracts. Part of it was the nature of life for NFL running backs, who like roasting chickens, have little plastic sticks in their backs that pop up when they are fully cooked. All three are north of 30 years old and therefore practically crippled and wheelchair-bound in the eyes of league execs. Why pay them big money for their diminishing skills when younger backs can produce nearly as well (if not better) for much less whip-out?

Such is the state of the professional football contract. And such is the cause for concern among all players. The NFL wants even more control over its labor costs, which is pretty amazing considering teams can cut players with no obligation once the guaranteed part of the contract is satisfied. No other major sport operates that way. If a baseball player signs a 5-year, $45 million contract, he gets it all, so long as he doesn’t retire or celebrate the New Year by firing a gun in a crowded nightclub. He could inject himself with HGH in the batter’s box, and it wouldn’t matter. He still gets paid. The same goes for NBA and NHL players, none of whom is protected by a particularly robust union. The NBA deal, which was forged after a historic cave-in by the drunken-sailor-spending players, allows for serial hounds like Me-Mac to get eight figures, even when they haven’t won a single playoff series during their careers. NFL players, on the other hand, have little or no leverage against the most successful league on the planet.

The good news for those who support the union’s cause is that new NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith appears to have the fortitude necessary to stand up to the greed mongers who own the teams. Smith has put the chances of a work stoppage in 2011 at “14” on a scale of 1 to 10, so maybe the players will dig in and get a fair deal. Of course, that assumes they have saved enough of their million-dollar salaries to see them through six months of labor unrest. If you’ll remember, it was a spendthrift attitude that forced NBA players to capitulate during their last work stoppage. Well, that and the Great Entourage Uprising of 1999, when dozens of hangers-on and childhood pals revolted when struggling, striking NBA players had to cut back on their cell-phone service and forced them to switch to Korbel from Cristal in the clubs. The NFL has controlled its world pretty well the past several decades, and with commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a conciliatory presence, gone and wartime consigliore Roger Goodell in the top chair, a hard line could prevail again. Whatever the case, don’t expect to see your favorite pros on the field when the 2011 starts. They’ll be too busy cracking heads at the bargaining table.

And that could be uglier than any late hit, clothesline tackle or crackback block. Players had better hope they’re able to walk away from the collision with everything intact.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Stop the presses! Cowboy Quarterback revealed that he hasn’t made up his mind yet about playing in the 2010 season! When will people stop talking to the drama queen and just wait until he shows up or doesn’t show up for training camp? It’s beyond old. This has now become part of the purview of Zahi Hawass…You have to love baseball. Nearly six months after he and his Milwaukee teammates celebrated a walk-off win over the Giants with a choreographed home-plate celebration, Brewers slugger Prince Fielder was drilled by San Francisco pitcher Barry Zito in the first inning of the teams’ Cactus League game Thursday. “My fastball was running in, and it just got away from me,” Zito said. Beautiful. The best part? Fielder took the plunking in stride. Less than a month until Opening Day…Hats off to Texas A&M-Commerce football coach Guy Morriss, who praised his players’ decision to steal all of the copies of the school’s weekly newspaper from racks around campus, after the paper ran – as is standard procedure – an article detailing one of their teammates’ arrest on drug charges. Morriss said, “I’m proud of my players for doing that. This is the best team building exercise we have ever done.” The Lions were a mediocre 5-5 last year, which for Morriss represents a huge step forward. He was a combined 27-54 during seven years at Kentucky and Baylor. Maybe his “team building exercises” should focus on blocking and tackling, rather than theft. Nice example to be setting, coach. You’re a real prize…The prigs who were upset by the Canadian women’s hockey team’s celebration after it won the gold medal need to be transported back to the Victorian Era, the better to match their hidebound values with a time period more suited to their stodgy personalities. So what if some young women’s revelry included beer and cigars – after fans had left the building? So what if an 18-year old woman drank some beer, in a province where the legal age of consumption is 19? Think that’s the first time it’s happened? Worse is that the head of the Canadian Hockey Federation (or whatever it’s called) actually apologized to the cranks for the fun. Every single day in Canada includes beer and cigars, so what’s the big deal? Here’s hoping the nasty whiners all get eaten by polar bears. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? El Hombre has always been of the opinion that Allen Iverson’s NBA tenure has been characterized by a sad waste of his talent, which likely would have produced a championship had it been used for good, rather than his own self-aggrandizement. That said, there is no joy in the news of the past week, which included reports of Iverson’s removal from the NBA world for the rest of the season – due to the continued illness of his daughter – the divorce papers filed by his wife, Tawanna, and reports that the mercurial guard has been battling gambling and alcohol demons for quite a while. Although it was tough to watch the remarkable talent prefer scoring over team play while in his prime, these dispatches are quite disturbing. One hopes they don’t presage a post-retirement catastrophe, in which a man who once had everything is laid low by an inability to handle the end of the line. Never one for off-season conditioning, Iverson always relied on his rare skills to carry him. Now that he is older, slower and fighting injuries, he doesn’t have the history or predisposition to overcome nature’s cruelties with hard work. As a result, his last days in the NBA will be remembered for controversy (in Denver and Detroit) and atrophy (Philadelphia, Part II), rather than triumph. If this is indeed it for Iverson, let’s hope he can forge a successful second chapter and that his daughter’s good health returns.

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AND ANOTHER THING: It’s conference championship time once again, and that means the annual diatribe against the concept in general, which renders an entire regular season of play meaningless as leagues chase two hours of TV time during a four-day single-elimination format designed to punish their best teams. What could be worse than trampling one’s peers for two months, only to go cold for a game and lose the opportunity to play in the NC2A tourney, all so the league office can bask in espn’s annual dispatch from its corner of the world? It’s awful, and it isn’t fair. But that’s the contrived nature of college basketball these days. And, coming soon to a couch near you: The new, 96-team tournament, an idea that will make New Coke and the Germans’ decision to wage WWII on two fronts look like great decisions. Thank goodness for the Ivies, who choose their champion the proper way. Then again, what do those eggheads know, anyway?

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ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: It makes El Hombre truly sad to report that loyal reader and bon vivant Jeff St. Amour is fighting a rival tougher than any curveball he ever faced. Jeff, a great fan of Villanova, devoted father and husband, sharp businessman and great friend, has some steep odds stacked against him. But if his resolve is anything like his engaging personality and that boyish twinkle in his eyes, he’s a good bet in this scrap. When you hit your knees, send one up to the Big Skipper for Jeff. He will certainly appreciate it. Here’s to you, Jeff. You have a lot of people pulling for you.