SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cam Newton

ESPN the Magazine wrote a challenging piece several years back lamenting the disconnect between the quarterback's obvious physical gifts and his aloofness on the football team.  The latter became so pronounced that other leaders approached Newtown and apparently coaxed/instructed/demanded that the unprecedented QB act more like a leader and take over the leadership of the team.

Newtown has great physical gifts -- he can run better than most quarterbacks and can run over linebackers.  He has a great arm, perhaps not yet as accurate as some of the top quarterbacks in the league.  He excelled this year despite having a depleted receiving corps.  He helped lead his team to a 15-1 record.  And it looked like he had fun doing it, even if his critics would say that the celebrations were too frequent and too flamboyant.  Most gave him a pass because he is only 26 and still learning about what it is to be in the spotlight as an NFL quarterback.

Fair enough.  And most gave him a pass after his troubling press conference after Super Bowl XV, where he resembled more the petulant child whose ice cream fell off his cone at the county fair and did not get replaced than a wealthy, star quarterback with media training who should have been able to absorb with some graciousness the media's questions about the game and what happened.  Instead, he pouted, he sulked, he made Bill Belichick and Greg Popovich look garrulous and he almost blamed his teammates for the loss before adding at the end of his longest statement that he made errant throws.  It was not Newtown's best moment.

The pundits the following day gave him a pass, or at least most of them did.  But there were a few articles about his failure of leadership.  Those who gave him a pass offered that he had some things to learn from the experience and that it is difficult to put yourself in his shoes given how hard he plays and how devastating a loss like that is.  Fair enough.  But then Newtown spoke the next day and exacerbated the situation.

Instead of taking the day to calm down and show up with a more measured approach, the Panther QB commented that he is a sore loser and that if someone showed him a good loser, they still would be showing him a loser.  Does that behavior compel another pass, or would someone be fair in calling Newtown out as a poor leader who failed to show grace under ultimate pressure and did not reveal as much character as he could have in the process.  Look, it's easy to be gracious in victory -- while you are taking a victory lap.  Getting up after a defeat is tougher, and society does measure people by how they deal with disappointment and come back.  By many measures, these 36 hours after the game were not among Newton's finest and summon memories of the ESPN the Magazine article about gaps in his leadership.

Newtown would be wise to consult some of the NFL's elders about how to handle situations like these -- such as Tony Dungy and Chris Carter.  There are better ways to handle situations like these, and one who adopts those better ways ends up getting more endorsements and cementing his legacy better than someone who does not.  Food for thought for the unprecedented QB -- in terms of physical gifts if not gifts in comportment.

One of the adages that emerged after the game was that Newton and the Panthers of course will be back.  Yes, they will show up next season, but a lot has to go right to return to the Super Bowl let alone win it.  In 2004 the Philadelphia Eagles had a young Donovan McNabb and lost 27-24 to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  Many assumed that the team under Andy Reid would be back.  They were to never return.  Same with the '85 Bears, whose defense transcended imagination.  They did not return either. 

For the Panthers to return, a lot has to go right.  Players have to get healthy and others have to stay healthy.  The team needs to draft well, sign the right free agents and retain players who no doubt as free agents are more attractive because they played on a Super Bowl participant.  And then they have to work hard and hope that no other team surpasses them. 

And, finally, perhaps they need their quarterback to take his leadership to the next level. 

It certainly would not hurt.

The January Transfer Period in International Soccer

is like one big gossip column . . . in middle school.  Who is texting who, looking at whom, wants to be looked at, but no one actually comes to the middle of the dance floor.  Yes, there were a few transfers, but when you put then as the numerator atop a massive amount of speculation in the denominator, you realize what a waste of energy it is for fans to believe anything they read in the sports columns let alone read them in the first place.

The truth is that it is very hard to pry a star at a reasonable price mid-year.  First, if he's that good, his team probably needs him, so unless that team has a very deep roster at its position, it will be hurting itself.  An exception, of course, is if the selling team has significant enough money problems that it needs to make the sale to stay afloat or pay other players.  Second, if he's that good, the team will probably jack up the price because usually the suitors need "just another piece" either to win their league, qualify for Champions' League or, horrors, avoid relegation.  And, if the sellers can get teams to bid on the player, the price really will go up.  Third, there is the variable that the player's contract is expiring and that he will not sign a new deal.  Then, the sellers might settle for a reasonable price in order to avoid the player's departure without compensation after the season concludes.

There was lots to read, but very little action.  Naturally, once the season concludes, the top clubs will be off trying to improve their lots in any way possible.  That is, of course, if they can get people's attention given that Euro 2016 will be in force this summer.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Could This be Andy Reid's Year?

Just asking.

Here are a few arguments in his favor:

1.  The Broncos offense is iffy.

2.  The Patriots faded at the end.

3.  The Steelers did not dazzle anyone last night.

4.  As for the NFC, the Panthers drew the short end when Minnesota missed a short field goal and couldn't finish off tough guys Seattle at home.  Now they have the Seahawks, who seemingly are more dangerous the deeper they go into the playoffs.

5.  Neither the Packers nor the Redskins scare a lot of people.  The latter won the worst division in the NFL.

6.  Then there are the Cardinals, who do scare people and might be the most complete team in the league.  But no matter how you analyze it, the Chiefs wouldn't get the Cards until he Super Bowl were they to get there.

7.  As parity becomes mediocrity and the teams even out, injuries make things worse and the salary cap suggests that no teams have great veteran leadership, a master game planner like Reid will have better chances (okay, he's no kid, but he still has some tread on the tires).  No, he is not the best personnel guy, and no, he is not a good clock manager, but he is a good game planner.  He was yards and yards ahead of Bill O'Brien last night  Sure, Houston is not New England, but the Chiefs are hot.  Give Reid some credit.

8.  The hilarious aspect of all of this is that Eagles' owner punted Reid because Reid got stale in his role as Eagles' coach.  That might be true, but it's not as though Lurie has his team in good shape right now or as though Lurie picked a better coach when he pursued Chip Kelly.  So it would be kind of funny if Reid were to win a Super Bowl before the Eagles do.

Okay, not funny if you are an Eagles' fan.  But probably hilarious to the Reid family.  Many good coaches -- among them Bud Grant and Marv Levy -- never won a Super Bowl.  Reid might not be in their class, but he has had a good run.  The next several weeks will tell us a lot.

Friday, January 08, 2016

The NFL Head Coaching Sweepstakes

Many jobs are open.

Many names are mentioned.

Best thing to be is a coordinator on a hot team.

Worst thing to be is a college football coach wanting to be an NFL head coach.  Chip Kelly's failure in Philadelphia owed to a dictatorial, control-freak style where it seemed that the players were not treated as men and where it seemed that if it was not done Kelly's way, you were gone.  Kelly was a very good college coach and has a bright football mind.  As smart as he is, he failed to adapt to the type of coaching required to succeed in the NFL.  If he learns from his tenure in Philadelphia, he might have a chance to succeed in his next NFL gig.  But he also should learn how to deal better with the media.  He talked to the media (and correspondingly the fans) as though the City of Brotherly Love was a royal pain for him.

Second worst thing to be statistically at least is an available coach who has won a Super Bowl.  Sorry, but even if Jon Gruden or Tom Coughlin were interested in your job, the odds suggest that they will not win a Super Bowl for you.  Why?  Because no NFL coach has won a Super Bowl with more than one team.  Dick Vermeil lost with Philadelphia and won in St. Louis, and then Bill Parcells won in New York but lost in New England.  So, it seems difficult for the ultimately successful coach to have an ultimately successful second act.

As for choices, well, I don't think that either Mike Tomlin or Andy Reid were coordinators when the Steelers and Eagles hired them respectively.  And former coordinators for good teams aren't always successful.  Josh McDaniels failed in Denver and Eric Mangini failed with the Jets and the Browns.  And they coached for Bill Belichick, perhaps the best of them all.

Don't know if the analytics gurus have stats that point to why a Hue Jackson would be more successful than an Adam Gase.  Fans in Philadelphia are talking about candidates as though they have deep knowledge, but all they know are won-loss records.  While those are important, I would suggest that the skill set to be a head coach differs markedly from the skill set required to be a coordinator.  And that's where the interviewing and skills assessments come in. 

So, if your team is looking for a head coach, good luck.  You probably have no idea as to who would or would not be a good fit for your team, but the speculation and conversations on sports talk radio can be amusing.

The January Transfer Window

This seems like a great media creation.

There is tons of speculation about who might be going where.

In fact, only small deals seem to take place.

Roster continuity, however, is significantly better than in the National Football League.

Will any big-name players move?

And, if so, will they be over-priced?

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and RCD Espanyol -- in 8 Days

We had the soccer trip of a lifetime in the past week.  The following is our travelogue:

1.  Fly out of the country on Christmas night in time to arrive in London for a Boxing Day match between Chelsea and Watford, kind of a London derby (which the locals pronounce "darby.").

2.  26 December, Chelsea-Watford.  We landed at half past seven, made our way to the hotel, showered and changed (a must after an all-night flight), shook off the cobwebs (it is hard to sleep for any length of time sitting up in coach), grabbed some lunch and then took the District/Circle line to Fulham Broadway, about a five-minute walk from Chelsea's famous stadium, Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea has plenty of hospitality folks circling the stadium to direct you to where to go and even to take your photographs in front of murals of players -- former and present or the stadium itself.  They also had a bunch of young folks trying to get you to sign a card to petition some body (it was not exactly clear) that you support the expansion of the stadium.  They were so nice about it, that I did, and they didn't particularly care that I am not a resident of the United Kingdom.

The weather was in the mid-fifties and grey, slightly windy, and the crowd seemed anxious, as if waiting for the vaunted Blues to awaken after a godawful start that had them much closer to the relegation zone than qualifying for the Champions League.  We got there early enough to circle the stadium and visit the Chelsea store, which ultimately would rank as #3 in stadium stores on our trip.  It's a nice store, a bit small, and doesn't offer the variety that either Arsenal's or Barcelona's do.  Admittedly, Stamford Bridge is about two-thirds the size of Emirates Stadium and less than half the size of Camp Nou, Barcelona's famed home pitch.

What struck us about Stamford Bridge were a few things.  Like Emirates Stadium, it pretty much rests in a residential neighborhood, with some apartments pretty close to the stadium.  There are two seemingly luxury hotels close by -- one attached to the stadium and the other about a fifty yards' walk.  The stadium is old.  The concrete stairwells are narrow and harken back to what they must of looked like at Knights Field in "The Natural."  They were steep, too, as after a sleeplessness night we had to climb to the top of the first level of the stadium, a long walk indeed.  And the sections are separated, so that you cannot walk on your level to another section on the same level.  Chelsea's men's rooms offer a more modern trough urinal, somewhat reminiscent of what existed at, among other places, Princeton's ancient Palmer Stadium back in the day.  And the concessions are bare bones, ranking #2 on the trip (The English don't offer American variety or depth, but they do a better job than their counterparts in Spain.)

As for the fans, they were a bit pensive, waiting for the Blues to flip the switch and make a run toward the top four in the Premiership and an automatic berth in the Champions League.  The visiting section was leather-lunged, singing and chanting all through the game.  (Watford is in Northwest London).  Going into the match, Watford was in seventh place, Chelsea in sixteenth.  My son and I predicted a Watford victory.

For a while it looked that way.  Chelsea did strike first on a great follow by striker Diego Costa on a corner kick, but Watford captain Troy Deeney scored on a penalty after a late challenge by a Chelsea defender.  At the half, it was 1-1.  At the fifty-six minute mark, hot striker Odion Ighalo showed some nice moves to make it 2-1 Watford, and then Chelsea battled back.  Costa scored at the 65th minute and then with about ten minutes to go Watford's fate looked sealed; Chelsea had a penalty kick.  But midfielder Oscar slipped on his approach and air-mailed the shot at least five if not more feet over the goal, and the match ended in a 2-2 tie.  The Watford fans seemed pleased, ending their long day of changing with a "We are Watford FC" to punctuate the match; the Chelsea fans seemed like they were suffering the virus that they just couldn't shake.  The Blues need three points each time out to make up ground on Arsenal and Man City, but Watford were just too good.  As for Chelsea, Costa when hot is sterling, their midfielders are out of sync (Cesc Fabregas was benched at halftime and Eden Hazard was all but invisible) and their back line looks out of date. 

We then made our way out of the stadium and back to the Fulham Broadway tube stop, amazed at how the local authorities got all of the people out of the stadium and onto trains promptly.  We were glad to have made the trip to Stamford Bridge, happy for a good game, happier (as Arsenal fans) for a tie, and looking forward to a quick dinner at a pub near our hotel and then a good sleep after our travels.

3.  28 December, Arsenal-Bournemouth.  The awful news on Boxing Day was that our beloved Gunners had traveled to Southampton and were thrashed 4-0, despite Arsene Wenger's contention that their hosts' last three goals came on what should have been obvious off-side calls.  Arsenal's bench is thin; more than half their midfielders are on the injured list, and two under-21s are among their list of eligible subs.  We didn't know what to expect in traveling to Emirates Stadium -- whether Arsenal were starting to fall off the table (American idiom) or down the table (literally), or whether they would rebound and find form against a team that they had never played against in the Premiership because this was Bournemouth's first year up.

We took the tube to the Arsenal stop, surrounded by fans wearing all sorts of Arsenal gear, and then did a lap around the stadium to get to Arsenal's fan store, something the size of a large supermarket or four Rite-Aide, CVS, Duane Read, Walgreen or name your chain drugstores.  Want an Arsenal jersey with your favorite player's name and numbers pressed on it?  Done.  Want a version of the famous puffy coat that Wenger wears on the sidelines?  You can get one in blue (current year's color) or black (the one that they sold last year)?  Commemorative socks with the names of the greats on them?  Yes.  Very small figurines of certain players?  Perhaps, especially if you want Jack Wilshere.  Hats?  Scarves?  Balls?  Boots?  All there.  In many varieties and colors.  To be blunt, the only American stores I find as consistently packed during non-holiday times as Arsenal's store are Apple stores and Wegman's supermarkets.  These lads have a license to print pounds sterling.

Of course, we had to make our purchases, and if it were ten degrees cooler I would have opted for a puffy coat and did my best Wenger imitation (particularly the double fist pump after a goal).  Among our purchases were a vintage jersey, a scarf, a t-shirt, a hat and a Santi Cazorla figurine.  Ninety pounds later, and we were off to the stands.

The place was packed, 67,000 or so strong, in a residential neighborhood in North London to which no one drives.  It's all public transportation, and I do have some pity for the locals who try to drive in their neighborhood on match day.  Arsenal dominated, as the Cherries have difficulty scoring and have a bunch of offensive-minded players hurt, including striker Callum Wilson and midfielder Max Gradel.  For this match we sat in about the 20th row closer to one goal than the other, and about one-third of the way through we witnessed Ozil curl a corner into the goal box, over the head of a running Olivier Giroud and right onto the head of defender Gabriel, who ran in behind Giroud unmarked and put the ball into the upper right hand corner of the goal.  Cherries' keeper Artur Boruc did not have a chance.  One-nil, Gunners.

It stayed that way for a while into the second half.  While it didn't seem that Bournemouth could mount a serious threat, despite the great hustle of midfielder Harry Arter and the good tries by out-of-position striker Josh King, Arsenal kept threatening.  Ultimately, on a counterattack, Ozil took the ball downfield, fed Giroud near the box, Giroud made a nice backheel back to Ozil who slid the ball past Boruc.  2-0, the Gunners, and the game was just about over.  Arsenal prevailed, ascended to the top of the table, and all was well in that part of North London. 

It was fun to see our favorite team at home, playing well, and revealing character by recovering from a disaster to regain form.  They are relying on a small core of players with some due to return.  Also, the January transfer window beckoned, and there was hope that a few players might be on the way to bolster the roster.  Among the particular need, a holding midfielder to replace Francis Coquelin, who is out for a while.  On this particular night defender Callum Chambers was placed in that role and acquitted himself nicely, but he is not a long-term solution.  Aaron Ramsey also impressed with his hustle all over the field, but the Man of the Match, as he has been on many occasions, was the elite Mesut Ozil. 

30 December, Barcelona-Real Betis.  It was about a 15-minute underground ride to Chelsea from Central London and longer to Arsenal.  We got to Barcelona on December 29 and figured out that it is about a 30-minute Metro ride to the station nearest Camp Nou, one of the largest football venues in the world, seating about 99,000 people.  On this night Barca would be hosting the "other" team from Seville, Real Betis, whose only household name is the midfielder Dani Ceballos. 

After the ride we had about a ten-minute walk down hill into the stadium and then made our way to the three-story Barca store, which is right across from the venue in which FC Barcelona play both basketball and team handball.  This store is larger than Chelsea's but smaller than Arsenal's, although my son disputed my recollection.  We already had a scarf, courtesy of a friend, so we picked up some hats, a refrigerator magnet, and a sweater for my son with the Barca logo and in Barca colors.  After that, we made our way into Camp Nou, which is perhaps larger than the stadium in which Ireland and Bulgaria met for the Quidditch World Cup.  Seriously, there are layers upon layers, and we sat below ground in about the 25th row.  While Arsenal's concession stands mostly resembled those found in the United States, the ones at Camp Nou reminded me of a lower quality than I recall finding as a kid in Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia in the 1960's.  You could get a hot dog, you could get popcorn, a beer, a soda and water, but that's about it.  Want a burger?  No.  Ice cream?  Not a chance.  Lots of concrete, big, added onto, and a huge place.  It wasn't sold out, but 83,000 people did attend to watch the Greatest Show on (Soccer) Turf.

It's hard to put into words what it is like to watch Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar work together as attackers.  They swirl, they weave, they can handle the ball as if it were attached to their feet.  If you guard one too closely then another will get open.  Messi is the strategic and tactical genius, Suarez the threat to pound the ball into the back of the net when up close, and Neymar the equivalent of a dribbling wizard in the NBA.  By the end of the night it was 4-0 Barca, but with all of the misses and near-misses, it could well have been 10-0.  Betis looked a few steps slow and uncoordinated; Barca welcomed Messi back and both he and Suarez scored (Suarez twice).  Suarez is a royal pain and you'd hate him if he were not on your team, but when he's on yours he never stops battling and trying to gain an advantage.  Messi gets mugged a bit too much, but he also dives on occasion, perhaps because he can or perhaps because he's compensating for the times he gets pushed, tripped or bumped and there is no call.  It was fun to watch this trio in action and to see the likes of Sergio Roberto, Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves.  We did wonder what it must be like to be Barca keeper Claudio Bravo -- he was a bit lonely on this night. 

Another interesting fact was that at 17:14 into each half the Barca fans chant "Inde-pencia," as there is a secession movement afoot and 1714 marked that last time that this very nice city was independent. 

The fun thing was that we had seen three of the world's most significant teams in their home venues within five days, that we got to the famous Camp Nou, that we saw the great players and the great players played great.  We could have stopped there and it would have been a wonderful trip.  But there was just one more stop.

2 January -- RCD Espanyol-Barcelona.  Just as Real Betis is the other team in Seville, Espanyol is the other team in Barcelona, about 7 miles from the city center and a long commute.  We changed Metro stops once and made our way on the L5 line to Cornella Center, about a half-hour ride.  The web told us that we would have a 15-minute walk to Power8 Stadium.  My son and I figured that this would be easy, that is, until we exited the Metro.  We got there about an hour and fifteen minutes or so before match time, and very few people were at this Metro.  There were no street signs, and no signs pointing the way to the stadium.  And we don't speak Catalan.  And the GPS told me that the stadium was a two-hour walk from where we were.  I didn't know how this could be and spotted a teenager working his GPS, with two teenaged sisters and a dad who looked remarkably like Food Network host Geoffrey Zakarian.  We approached them, and in broken Spanish I asked if they were going to the match, they said yes, and we followed them for about 15 minutes until we got to the venue.  This is about a 5-10 year-old 40,000-seat stadium, concrete, and resembles many US stadiums. 

We noticed a heavy police presence (they were at all matches, but very prominent outside the stadium here, not looking for terrorists but perhaps visiting fans).  We made our way to the store, which was about the size of a 7-11, at least the type that's embedded in a mid-city apartment building.  Here our mission was for a scarf to add to our collection, a hat and a refrigerator magnet.  Like at Barca, they don't sell programs.  We made our purchases and made our way into the stadium.

We appreciated the newness.  The concessions were event more paltry than at Camp Nou; picture a vendor on the beach with a small refrigerated cart from which he pulls cold beverages and perhaps a hot dog cooker and that's what you get.  But it really didn't matter, as this wasn't a stadium food tour.  We made our way to the seats -- and your Euros buy you a lot more when you go to a regional team that doesn't sell out, even for a derby match against the cross-town rivals -- and sit a few yards from mid-field in the eighth row.  So close that we could even get a good picture of Messi from our I-Phones. 

The passion was great, as the Catalan fans are louder and more passionate than those in England, as visiting fans in the UK tend to be more vocal and persistent than home fans on many occasions.  The Espanyol fans were proud, loud and profane.  They waved their scarves, they had a section led by three men standing on a scaffold that sang, chanted and waved flags the entire match.  They (aargh) smoke in the stands.

Sitting in front of us were a father and son in Espanyol scarves; the other son sat next to me without one.  I asked the father why the other son didn't have an Espanyol scarf -- he smiled and said that he and the son next to him were fans of the home team, but that the other son rooted for Barca and was, as a result, a *@#$%.  I promised my son that I would not refer to him that way, even in jest. 

The game was played hard.  Barca threatened.  Messi hit the bar with a free from beyond the box and Suarez did the same in close, but at the end the home eleven held Barca scoreless for the first time in a while and Barca failed to pull away from Athetico Madrid and Real Madrid in the La Liga standings (they would thrash Espanyol at Camp Nou about a week later in the Copa de Espana 4-1 in a match that saw their rivals draw 8 yellow cards and two ejections).  The way to defeat Barcelona is to pull back your defense, clog the lower third of your field near the goal, hope to counterattack but essentially to bottle them up.  If you get into a running match with Barcelona, you will lose, and probably big. 

After the match we made our way back to the Metro and back to our hotel, marveling that thanks to some reliable on-line services, we made our way to four international matches in eight days and saw the famous Barcelona team twice within four days.

Great fans, great passion, great energy, great athletes.

A very fun trip.


Monday, January 04, 2016

Good Piece by John Fry of Drexel in Today's Wall Street Journal

He is the President of Drexel and known to be an educational innovator.

He explains why Drexel has no plans to fund a football team.  Drexel last fielded a team in 1973.

Fry's thesis statement is the following -- most college football programs lose money and sometimes a lot of it, and many colleges do not have the courage to stand up and provide a high-quality education for all students as opposed to funding football programs that seemingly have little tangible benefit to the university at large.

In essence, he's challenging an age-old maxim that football can do wonders for a university.  Let's face it -- the concussion issue aside -- it does not.  Sorry, SEC fans, where football is even more disproportional than say in the northeast, but sometimes it's good to challenge age-old maxims and long-held truths and see what you come up with.  And if you dig deeply enough, you'll find that maybe Fry is right and maybe there is some other alternative to creating pride in an alumni group or state than fielding a (grossly overfunded) football team.

Something to chew on.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

College Football Playoffs

Today will tell us everything about who major college football's Final Four will be.  No doubt, there will be one or two schools, just like last year, who will have a legitimate beef.  There is talk that the Final Four should be an Elite Eight.  It stands to reason that such a format would ensure that at least the best six teams in the country will have a chance to contend for the national championship.  Among the ideas thrown about would be to take the champions of the five major conferences and then three at-large teams.  That would seem to honor the regular seasons of the major conferences and give strong second-place finishers, strong teams from another conference and Notre Dame in a great year the chance to participate.

This seems to be a high-class problem, and one that the powers that be, along with the advertisers and networks, can address to their satisfaction.

Today, we will find out whether Alabama will go through (they should beat Florida), whether Clemson can keep its hold on being Number 1 (they could lose to Alabama) and whether Stanford can keep its dreams alive (they should beat USC, but the Trojans have been a team on a mission since the firing of Steve Sarkisian).  And, of course, the winner of the Big 10 Championship Game should go through, too.

All of this begs a few questions that continue to trouble me.  First, the issue of concussions and their long-term effect on players.  Second, the issue of measuring academic progress and ensuring that the players, who make significant efforts, get fair value for their contributions.  That means either that they are true student-athletes who make meaningful progress toward degrees, get the ability to finish should they exhaust their eligibility and get post-college medical care should they need it.

The first issue is very troublesome.  That data is bad at best and challenging at worst.  I predict that the game will change dramatically over the next twenty years or become extinct.  Either teams get larger and players' number of plays in a game gets limited or the rules get significantly changed about hitting both in practice and in games.  Or a combination of both.  The risks to one's health are so great that something must change, given the data that is out there about life well after football.  It just isn't natural for overweight men (and, yes, almost all football players are overweight when you compare their weights to what the Federal government's suggestion for weight is) are banging into each other for so much of the year.

The second issue is bothersome.  The purists and traditionalists argue that there isn't much to be done in this area because every scholarship player is getting a free education and that this is a very significant payment for their playing football for the college.  What that suggests, though, is a view that football is an extracurricular like any other, and that it doesn't require either a substantial commitment during the season or year-round.  But it does.  And what happens is that coaches want players to take courses that end at a certain time of the day and that, well, are easy enough not to distract them from helping win football games.  Now, this doesn't happen at all institutions, but at many coaches are more interested in keeping their jobs and winning than they are about educating their players, regardless of what they say publicly or what they say in a recruit's home.  The data bear it out.  And because of that, it is hard to argue that we as a society are not condoning herding kids into this system and chewing them up for our own entertainment -- and that it is up to them to argue and negotiate for an educational pathway that leads to a meaningful career after college.  It just is not always that simple.  And let's not forget that a bunch of these kids gain admission not because they are ready for college but because they have the potential to do spectacular things on a college football field.

So, as we go into the playoff season, bowl season and the holiday season, college football gives us a lot to think about.  And even if it gives us things to pull for and cheer about, we also must ask ourselves the question -- "at what cost?"  And if we wince or want to shake it off or want to ignore it, then that means we are acknowledging that all is not right and that we should do something about it.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Princeton versus Lafayette in Men's Basketball -- Night Before Thanksgiving

Okay, so it wasn't Monmouth upsetting both UCLA and Notre Dame, but it was something of a spectacle at Jadwin Gym the other night.  Princeton was playing its home opener, and without senior center Hans Brase, who is out for the year with a torn ACL.  On a night when Yale was giving Duke a battle at Cameron Indoor Stadium and Lehigh tangled with UVA in Charlottesville for about 15 minutes, most observers would have thought this game to be a "ho-hum" affair.  An Ivy League team hosting a Patriot League team, blah.

You couldn't tell that the Tigers had lost their leader.  They were athletic, explosive, moved the ball around well, shot the three, hit the gaps in the Lafayette defense for a few dunks and won the game by fifty, scoring over 100 points for the first time since probably the Gerald Ford administration.  A mixture of upperclassmen and underclassmen led the way, and Coach Mitch Henderson probably could have seen little in the way of flaws from this Tiger team.  The bigs could shoot; the guards hit the glass. The bigs passed the ball to open men, everyone tried to block shots and the help defense was there.  If there were any flaws, perhaps one could argue if he is trying hard that the interior help defense was a bit slow to develop, but it is early in the season.  Still, as early-season games go, the Tigers looked very crisp.  The Tigers hit 17 3's and by my count about four dunks.

Henderson was able to play everyone in his lineup, many scored in double figures and there were two double doubles -- by starters who played so little in the second half that it was hard to remember that they had such good games.  Now, it is a long season, and Harvard has its recent history, Yale is the favorite, and Penn is always a formidable opponent, but. . . the Tigers did look very crisp.  

For what it was worth, a few of us speculated whether the scoreboard at Princeton actually could hit triple digits, given the stinginess Pete Carril's teams were known for on defense and patience on offense.  But the scoreboard does go to three digits -- we confirmed it -- and that compelled a few of us to chide former Athletic Director Gary Walters why the athletic administration hadn't cut a deal with a local fast food joint for a free burger if the Tigers were to score 100 points.  Walters was on a team that scored 118 points when he played for the Tigers in the mid-1960's -- and that was without a shot clock and the three-point goal.  

Fun times at Jadwin Gym to start a holiday weekend.