Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Wheels on the Bus, Continued

I had posted this earlier about some of the dramas that were unfolding in Philadelphia surrounding the Eagles, and I had posted this about the most recent Eagles' draft and the messages that the front office, including Coach Andy Reid, was sending to certain players.

And now there's this.

It's about time, too.

Yes, Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb did speak out yesterday about the remarks his teammate (and holdout) Terrell Owens made regarding Owens' value to the team and McNabb's performance late in the fourth quarter in the Super Bowl. McNabb clearly didn't appreciate being thrown under the bus, as it were, and he came out and hit that issue head on. He's asserting his rightful authority as the leader of the team, albeit a bit late, as Owens made his comments a few months ago.

So now you have a perceived public feud between the star QB and the star WR, as well as unhappy players in DT Corey Simon (unhappy with the Franchise Player tag and an offer for a one-year $5.1 million contract -- he should trade notes with Seattle OT Walter Jones, who lived under the Franchise Player tag for at least three seasons before inking his big deal this past off-season), aging DT Hollis Thomas (unlike Simon, he's at mini-camp, but he's unhappy with his contract), RB Brian Westbrook (who, along with his agent, believes that he is one of the top 5 RBs in all of football and therefore deserves equivalent pay) and WR Freddie Mitchell, whose histrionics outweigh his ability and whom Coach Reid told to stay away from the recent minicamp.

Is there a problem with the bus? Are the wheels falling off?

No. A few years ago, right at the season's outset, the New England Patriots jettisoned popular safety Lawyer Milloy. They promptly laid a big egg in their season opener, against Buffalo (where Milloy had signed). The professional and amateur pundits were out in full force, questioning Coach Bill Belichick's decision-making, that he was dismantling a very capable defense, and that the loss of the popular Milloy would help unravel the strong Patriot defense. Instead, the Patriots up and won their second Super Bowl. And, this past season, their third in four years.

Teams at the summit will always have some of these issues, if for no other reason than success suggests that those who contribute to it are entitled to a bigger piece of the pie. Simon wants a better deal, as does Westbrook. As for the former, he is a good DT, a good teammate, but prone to disappearing at times. The Eagles wanted to sign him to a longer-term deal, but apparently the sides cannot agree on Simon's value. As for the latter, he is a keystone to the Eagles' offense, but he's on the small side, and while a very good player he's not a top-5 running back. What makes it worse for Westbrook is that free agent RBs Edgerring James and Shaun Alexander have found no takers, and many good RBs will become free agents after this season. While it's key to have good players at the skill positions, it seems that the conventional wisdom in NFL front offices is that you can find good RBs the way you can find good offensive linemen -- in later rounds and not always in the first round (Denver makes the best case for this argument, with the way that they develop running backs). As for Hollis Thomas, he's at the end of his career, had missed a few seasons to injury, and should be happy to be where he is. As for Freddie Mitchell, he should pack his suitcase -- assuming someone else wants him.

The biggest problem is Owens, his holdout, and whether he's reverted to the T.O.-type of behavior that had people initially question whether he would be welcome in Philadelphia in the first place and whether he could sacrifice his ego to help create a Super Bowl champion. No one can question his ability, his work ethic or his heart -- his actions (both as a cheerleader in the NFC champion game and on the field in the Super Bowl) have spoken loudly -- he answered those questions in a very positive way. But now he's opened his mouth again.

Actions do speak louder than words, but words, spoken at a distance, through third parties, can create locker room fractures that are harder to heal than those created in some sadistic drill run by an SEC coach in the 1950's. Bones can be set; it's not clear what can be done with high-level psyches.

Except that they always seem to heal, and that words can be taken back, set straight or apologized for in ways that cracks in vertebrae and femurs cannot. There is still plenty of time to heal this mess in Philadelphia, and it's probably the biggest one that the Eagles need to heal.

And T.O.?

He'll be back, perhaps not in training camp, but in time for the season's opener on that first Monday night in Atlanta, in time for the bright lights.

But without a new deal.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Adrian McPherson's Second Chance

I've always hypothesized that there are probably hundreds of guys in the United States with the talent to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. Some, arguably, never get the chance. They're the QBs from Division III schools who are late bloomers, from Division II schools who couldn't get into a Division I school, from Division I schools who didn't benefit from the best supporting casts. Those guys don't always get the exposure, even if they play on championship teams or have outstanding talent. The NFL teams have to be selective somehow, so, naturally, they gravitate to star QBs, usually from winning teams (or in the case of Matt Cassel, a back-up QB to stars on national championship teams).

That not all of the star college QBs become stars in the pros and that not all of the winning QBs on outstanding teams become stars in the pros (for examples of the latter, see Ryan Leaf and of the former, see Craig Krenzel) means there are those kids out there who don't get the chance. How many is open to question, but in a country with a population of 280 million people, there are bound to be a few hundred. Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard QB, was a star in the Ivies, but he might not be viewed as a potential NFL starter precisely because he played his college football against teams like the Cornell Big Red instead of red-uniformed players from Oklahoma and Nebraska. He might be a back-up, but will he ever be entrusted to start?

There are also those who never give themselves the chance. They can't get their grades together, can't get along with coaches, just can't find their rhythm in a major college program. There will always be those types, the Jeff Georges and Ryan Leafs of the high school and college ranks who never get any traction under their careers. That's not to say they don't have the talent; it is to say that they cannot harness it enough to show what they can do.

And then there are the kids who get more than once chance, who had all the advantages and at least the first time around couldn't realize how privileged they were. These are the fortunate ones, and it's because of that dreaded word "potential" that some people always will hold out hope that it will be with the next chance that they'll be able to realize their full potential. Many teams looked hard at Jeff George time after time, and there are teams that looked at Ryan Leaf after his implosion in San Diego.

And that brings us to Adrian McPherson. I have blogged on him extensively, and I took the position that he made many mistakes at a young age and deserved a second chance. I was somewhat tough on those who didn't believe he warranted that chance, but those people had a point. The charges against McPherson were serious, and while he was generally repentant he didn't totally address the most serious charges -- that he gambled on games. As a result, all observers should allow for the doubting -- McPherson clearly wasn't the elite QB prospect coming into the NFL draft that he was coming out of HS and into Florida State.

Adrian McPherson should take stock of all of those who never got the chance or never made the most of the only chance they were likely to get and then make sure he stays on the straight and narrow and makes the most of this opportunity. He was drafted by the Saints, a team with Aaron Brooks (who probably won't get many more chances to show he can lead a team to the playoffs) and Todd Bouman, a good back-up but perhaps not likely to be an NFL star, as its QBs, and neither of those players is in the upper echelon of NFL QBs. In short, he's on a team which, if it doesn't get off to a great start, might give him a chance to show what he can do. It's a great fit for him, as he is not stuck behind an incumbent who looks to be safe in his job for years (we all know who they are). He's also relatively close to his Florida home.

An NFL career averages four years, and the window closes so quickly on most players that by the time they blink their careers are over. Adrian McPherson's career has taken a path distinctly differently from those who, like him, were the top recruits out of HS. The detours were plentiful, but now he's back on the right path. And he's only 21 years old.

Given what's been said of his talents, it may be the case that the only one who can stop Adrian McPherson is. . . Adrian McPherson. I wish him the best in his attempts to recognize his full potential and to resurrect his career.

Second chances aren't easily given, and Adrian McPherson finds himself at a lower spot on an NFL team's depth chart than his HS success had forecast. He has handled adversity well thus far, and great challenges lie ahead.

Tough challenges, of course, but perhaps there's no NFL draftee out there who's happier being a fifth-round pick than Adrian McPherson.

The window of opportunity has opened once more for him.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

ESPN Radio Tackles MLB's Steroid Problem

This, courtesy of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio.

And it echoes the basic sentiments of baseball fans everywhere -- that you couldn't pick those who have been identified through Major League Baseball's steroid testing as having tested positive for steroid usage. The two guys who look like they suffer from asthma probably are M&M Show staffers Liam and Joaquin, but Greenie and Golic make their point.

The fellows were talking this morning about the positive steroid test of Jamal Strong, a minor-league outfielder in Seattle's system who happens to be on Seattle's 40-man roster. Strong last played in the majors three years ago. -- in 12 games. Click on the link and read the newspaper article, and it's hard to believe that Strong got any benefit from whatever alleged juice he was on. As Golic put it, Mariners fans are mourning, because their playoff hopes have been dashed now that they know that Strong won't be able to play for a while.

Jamal who?

Which prompts a few questions:

1. What, pray tell, did he allegedly take?
2. Did some devious teammate switch urine samples on him?
3. Did some conniving teammate conspire with him to switch urine samples, and does Strong now have a Swiss bank account?
4. Not that they ever have been before, but was the U.S. Congress way off base in blasting Bud Selig and the Lords of Baseball (and the Trade Unionists of Baseball) for no good reason?
5. Where are all the steroids users? Where are all the big names? Was it really only the minor leaguers who were using? Are the American people caught up in such a game of "gotcha" that they needed to come up with an evil conspiracy theory about how onetime skinny players playing in bandboxes started hitting home runs?
6. Is the test faulty?
7. Is G. Gordon Liddy working undercover at the testing lab on behalf of the players' union?

Yesterday (or, earlier in the season), Damien Moss (and others).

Today, Jamal Strong.

What's up for tomorrow?

Former commissioner Fay Vincent is pushing for an investigation on the alleged misdeeds of one-time Phillies and Mets CF Lenny Dykstra, who is testimony that they really don't make baseball players like they used to. Dykstra is old news (which is too bad, because at least he was colorful). Is that the best Major League Baseball can do?

Look, no one wants a witch hunt, but the reports were out there, bubbling under the surface, that Major League Baseball had a problem. The BALCO case brought that problem to the surface.

So now we must contemplate possible results:

1. Everyone who wasn't clean suddenly became clean.
2. They haven't tested everyone yet.
3. They haven't released all the results yet of those whom they've tested.
4. They are covering something up.
5. Steroid use never was a significant problem.

I rule out #4 immediately, because there has been so much scrutiny and it's so hard to avoid leaks that hiding bad results just doesn't seem possible. Moreover, I think that those running the program have integrity, so even absent all-encompassing scrutiny they wouldn't cheat. In addition, the stakes are too high. Pull Congress's tail, and they'll bite. Hard. I rule out #5, because the evidence suggests otherwise.

My guess is that they haven't made all the rounds yet, and I further suspect that many former users have quit using the stuff. Whatever the case, there is more to this story, and there have been projections (by former MLB pitcher Rick Sutcliffe) that big names will test positive at some point. The odds suggest he's probably right.

Say it Ain't So, Jose!

Street & Smith's Must Not Have Followed the Atlantic 10 Men's Hoops Season Too Closely Since

it named Linda Bruno, the A-10 Commissioner who thoroughly botched the John Chaney affair, to its list of the top 20 most influential women in sports.

Click here to see the list. Click here for the Atlantic 10's press release (this is a lead story on the A-10 website).

Click here for one of my posts (that links to others) regarding how Commissioner Bruno failed markedly in handling John Chaney's transgression of sending Nehemiah Ingram into a close game to commit hard fouls on St. Joseph's players (causing a serious injury to starting St. Joe's forward John Bryant). She let Chaney and then the Temple administration take the lead on this problem, when she should have sent a quick and clear message that conduct like this by any coach, even a Hall of Famer, must not be tolerated. Chaney should have been suspended for the entire season (regular and post-season) and banned from practice. Instead, the situation became a debacle, almost comic in its poor handling.

Except for the fact that what happened was so serious.

Linda Bruno, influential?


The A-10 needed serious leadership from its commissioner in the midst of a major crisis, and Linda Bruno failed miserably. While her business accomplishments seem solid, it's hard to fathom that given the Chaney Affair Street & Smith's couldn't find someone with a better overall record to replace Linda Bruno on its list.

It appears that this magazine looked more at the business of college sports in making its evaluation than the games the league's teams played themselves. Because if they had watched the Temple-St. Joe's game and how the A-10 handled the matter, Linda Bruno wouldn't have made the list.

Those Who Have No Sense Of History

are condemned to repeat it.

Sure, after last season, everyone was saluting the Boston Red Sox' front office. The salutes were genuine and warranted, as Theo Epstein et al. crafted together an outstanding team -- the World Series winner.

But as is the case with contemporary sports teams, it's hard to keep a championship team together (or any team, for that matter). Everyone wants a piece of a winner, and in the age of free agency it's easy to get that piece. Players who excel in the post-season suddenly have a tremendous amount of value, such as Derek Lowe, who had pitched his way out of the BoSox' rotation in the regular season only to win two key post-season games and earn a nice free-agent payday with the Dodgers. Others end up landing big contracts at the right time, such as Jason Varitek, thereby taking dollars away from other key needs.

In baseball you win with pitching. The Red Sox had holes to fill in their rotation, and while they couldn't swing a trade for Randy Johnson or sign Carl Pavano, they did get Matt Clement and they also signed David Wells.

And therein lies the problem. You don't have to be a Yale grad (like Theo Epstein) or a Princeton grad (like team president Larry Lucchino) to realize that overweight 41 year-old pitchers are prime candidates to break down (the same way you don't have to be a rocket scientist or brain surgeon to figure out that with a team whose players average 34 years in age, the Yankees are old).

Did they honestly believe that David Wells would last for the entire season without breaking down? Do they have a valid back-up plan? Is John Halama, a once highly touted prospect with a history of injuries, the guy to do so? Or is he just a filler until gimpy-winged Wade Miller enters into the picture for Boston?

What demonstrates the true genius of any GM is not when they sign Carlos Beltran in his prime or Carl Pavano in his and then the players put up big numbers. Instead, it's when they have the appropriate level of personnel planning and player development so that if one player goes down, the entire team can figure out a way to compensate for his loss, or, better yet, for what he was being counted on to do. Which, to my estimation, was to win about 10-15 games.

It may be that Theo Epstein and Company signed the best starter available, hoped for the best and then decided to plan for a bunch of contingencies. Or, it may be that they actually thought Wells could rekindle some of his old magic and bedevil his old team, the Yankees, for one more season.

Certainly in Halama and Miller it would appear that the BoSox have the names who can help make the difference. What the course of the season will prove is whether those fellows can still pitch, or whether they're just names whose past promise or past accomplishments give false hope to the Red Sox faithful.

There's a saying that makes the political blogs that is that one shouldn't get into a land war in Asia. Perhaps there's another tautology that should make the rounds of the sports blogs: don't sign overweight pitchers who are in their forties.

Or at least don't count on them for too much.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hawkeyes Are Flying High

Click here for Charlottesvillain's outstanding post (he's of the TigerHawk blog) regarding Iowa Hawkeyes in the NFL draft.

Iowa Coach "Captain" Kirk Ferentz is great at developing talent, and next year promises to be one of the Hawkeyes' best in a long time. Remember the name Drew Tate, as this QB should merit Heisman consideration before the year is over. Also remember my prior post about top recruiting classe this past year in college football; Iowa was at the top of this year's heap.

Ohio State? Michigan?

They are the perennial bellwethers in the Big Ten.

But now it's time that they make room for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Chairman of the Boards? (Brian Zoubek Update)

I've blogged about him before, so you can tool around in my archives for 2005 about this 7'1" HS junior from South Jersey who has 1360 on his SATs and is choosing from among Stanford, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Duke. The newest news: Duke has offered Brian Zoubek a scholarship.

Coach K has developed point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, wing players and power forwards, so his latest challenge will be to develop a center into an excellent college player (and, as the ad goes, a wonderful student and human being to boot, although this kid seems like he's well on his way in those regards). Christian Laettner and Elton Brand were excellent college fours, as is Shelden Williams, so for the coach who has accomplished all but everything this is his latest challenge. None was or is a five.

Notre Dame and Stanford present "easier" situations for this outstanding student-athlete. Notre Dame isn't in the stratosphere that Duke is, and Stanford recently vacated its high elevation after years of being in the Top 10. Wake is a formidable team, but if your parents have Ivy or Ivy-quality credentials (as Zoubek's do) and your academics are in that realm, it's hard to find a reason to choose Wake over Duke.

More than that, it's hard to turn down Coach K, although, as the linked article points out, a few recruits have told Duke that they're not interested, and it doesn't appear that one of the top junior wing players, Wayne Ellington, from Episcopal Academy outside Philadelphia, is interested in Duke either. That said, another top two guard prospect, Ellington's teammate Gerald Henderson, son of the former NBA player of the same name, is at the top of Duke's wish list.

If you can play serious minutes in Durham, you can play anywhere.

If you're an HS junior, what do you do? How do you say "no" to Coach K? Are you going to be the first big-time center he develops, or is there a risk that you'll become a tall "fan favorite" that is the ninth or tenth man in an eight-man rotation because the coach might revert to his tendency toward the 6'6" wing player that has taken him to three national titles, especially if you don't develop rather quickly? What's the risk in that?

Duke has fielded marvelous basketball teams over the years and a litany of terrific players. The thought of fielding a team with a 7' center who can play, who can rebound and who can pass very well is tantalizing. Duke with a 6'9" PF and a bunch of 6'6" guys is a scary proposition. A sonn-to-come-Duke with a 7' center with a serious game, along with a PF (and there are those in the pipeline too) could well give Coach K his fourth national title.

That's what they're hoping in Durham. And, if Brian Zoubek chooses Duke, that's what he's hoping too.

Temple Football Beats Penn State

No, today is not April Fool's day, and April Fool's day didn't take place over the weekend, either.

The NFL draft did.

Score it Temple 1, Penn State 0.

One Temple player, LB Rian Wallace, was drafted -- on the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Zero Penn State players were drafted.

That's the first time that happened since 1951.

If you go through my archives, you'll note that I've become a dauntless defender of the Penn State football program and Coach Joe Paterno, even if I always didn't have those sentiments. Penn State runs a clean football program.

They just haven't been winning a lot lately. If you toil in the rarified air known as the BCS, wins are expected. As are NFL draft picks, because that's how you recruit future winning players. The elite players want to play professionally, so they'll matriculate with a program that will give them a good chance to do so. Tell an elite recruit that 32 guys signed NFL contracts over the past four years, and that fact will be sure to get his attention. About ten years ago, Penn State was in the top ten in terms of number of alums playing in the NFL. I'll do some digging, but I'll doubt that Penn State is in the Top 20 today.

Winning begets winning.

And you won't do it at the BCS level if you don't have draftable players.

Monday, April 25, 2005

(Unique) Reflections on the NFL Draft

You can get the usual reflections from one of the many mainstream media outlets. Kudos to ESPN's Insider for an outstanding job on the draft. If you want details, subscribe and go there; it's good stuff.

Here are my reflections:

1. There were many players who were projected as getting drafted but who did not. Two that I'd look for big things from are Tennessee T Michael Munoz, Hall of Famer Anthony's son, and Lehigh TE Adam Bergen. The former has had to deal with injury problems; the latter didn't play at a school with a high enough profile to get even the consideration that Colorado State's Joel Dreessen, perhaps the second best TE in the draft after UVA's Health Miller, did (6th round). I saw Bergen play in college; he's a hammer. Others to look out for are your friendly neighborhood kickers and punters, most of whom don't get drafted. Also undrafted were onetime Heisman winner Jason White, the Oklahoma QB, and Michigan DB Ernest Shazor. Click here for's brief take on White and other undrafted free agents.

2. For former Cowboy honcho Gil Brandt's take on the top undrafted free agents, click here.

3. I posted earlier about the Philadelphia Eagles' potential draft picks, and I got it wrong. Click here for the list of their picks. I thought they'd go for O-line help earlier in the draft, and they could have had Khalif Barnes, the T from Oregon, who slid all the way to #52. They passed on him. I thought they'd go to beef up their tackle spots because their tackles are past 30 (shades of Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent at CB a few years ago) and because LT Tra Thomas reportedly has a bad knee. While Jon Runyan is advanced in age for the Eagles, he did restructure his contract, so that fact aligns well with the Eagle's overall goal of outstanding salary cap management. Still, you can't fool Father Time, and only time will tell whether a) by not drafting an elite-rated player for the OL, the Eagles made a mistake or b) whether their later-round selections prove to be star linemen (one, BYU guard Scott Young, was rated as the 63rd prospect overall by Mel Kiper, Jr., so perhaps the Eagles got a steal here with a fifth-round pick).

That said, all pundits thought the Eagles excelled on draft day, building depth at defensive line, running back, wide receiver, safety, linebacker and offensive line. As with any other sport, let's see who shows up and can really play. All teams are giddy with their picks on draft day, and seldom do people write about their drafts in retrospect three years later to see how players panned out. That said, the Eagles do look like they re-loaded over the weekend.

They sent messages, too, that the game is a business. They drafted a d-lineman in the first round, in part because their tackles overall didn't play better than above average for the entire season. Also, veteran DL Hollis Thomas demanded a trade, and Corey Simon isn't happy with the franchise tag. Again, re-loading. Ditto for RB, where the Eagles were thin last year, where Correll Buckhalter is recovering from a knee injury that cost him to miss all of last year, and where Brian Westbrook is reluctant to sign a long-term deal. Again, good business, building for the future. Lastly, they drafted a prime-time WR in Reggie Brown a) because of Freddie Mitchell's unhappiness and b) more importantly, because it's hard to figure out what T.O. will do. Can they really replace either Westbrook or Owens quickly? No. Can they build for the future and have good succession planning? Absolutely.

Andy Reid refused to engage reporters on the issue of whether he was sendnig certain players a message. Call it what you want, but what any good drafter does is not to get sentimental or vindictive. Succession planning is at the core of good businesses.

4. It strikes me that year after year New England's draft grades out as puzzling or middling. Which just goes to show you that, as I blogged earlier, Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick have figured out something that others have not. True, it looks like Bill Parsells accomplished two things yesterday -- building for now and building for the long-term. His draft is supposed to pan out; he had lots of high picks. If it doesn't, the Cowboys will have to go in a different direction. If Dallas does, well, everyone will say that it was supposed to. No one expects much out of the team drafting last in the first round, at least in terms of getting players in the draft. And that makes New England's recent perennial accomplishments all the more amazing.

5. Finally, I don't know what they were smoking in Detroit, but if they can get either Joey Harrington or Jeff Garcia any protection, what team can boast finer targets than Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams? Even an undrafted free agent from the NAIA champion could find those guys -- if properly protected.

All in all, a fun weekend. Which kid from William Penn, Saginaw Valley State, Temple, Harvard or Texas A&M Kingsbury will make a name for himself? Which backup QB from USC could be a star? Which front-liners from the elite five conferences will continue to improve, and which ones will demonstrate that they peaked in college. Was Maurice Clarett taken too early by running back-rich Denver (third round)? Was Adrian McPherson a bargain in the fifth round going to New Orleans?

We'll know soon enough, or, in some cases, not for at least three more years.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Draft Steals

Who will prove to be this year's steal in the NFL draft?

It's hard to say, because there's always someone who played at Western Carolina, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Harvard, UTEP, or even a Michigan, Georgia or Arizona who gets overlooked and ends up being a Pro-Bowler. SI.Com offers a list of the top 20 steals in the draft over the past 20 years, and most are household names if you're a football fan.

Clyde Simmons, Terrell Owens, Matt Birk, Seth Joyner, Tom Brady, Hines Ward and Tedy Bruschi are among the names on the list. It's an impressive group.

Bill Belichick is a master of finding late-round value, as was one-time Eagles' coach Buddy Ryan (whose principal flaw was that he never paid much attention to his underperforming offense in his drafts) and one-time Cowboys' coach, Jimmy Johnson, perhaps the all-time master at finding late-round value.

Let's take at face value the comment that the average career of an NFL player is about 4 years. There are many players, of course, who only last for cups of coffee at different franchises. They either get hurt badly enough to end their careers or aren't good enough to be more than a periodic fill in. I don't have any hard numbers on this, but let's further suppose that you can get 7 to 8 years out of your first-round picks because they are elite players who aren't susceptible to falling into the "not good enough" category that brings down the average number of years in an NFL career.

If that's so, then at best, barring free agency, you can have eight first-round picks on your active roster of 53 players. My guess is that some injuries will befall your first-through-third round picks, you'll trade a few, a few will leave in free agency, and a few will prove not to be good enough after a few years. So, for any given eight-year span, if you have 24 of those picks (8 in each of the first three rounds), perhaps only 16 of those guys are on your roster during at any one time.

16 down, 37 to go to complete your active roster. In the current version of the NFL draft, the first three rounds are held on Saturday, the final four on Sunday. And that means that you'll need excellent second days (and signings of undrafted free agents) if you want to consistently field an elite team. Which means, of course, that you'll have to look hard for value on the second day.

It's no wonder, then that NE's Director of Player Personnel, Scott Pioli, makes $800,000 a year and was offered $1.5 million a year to become president of the Seattle Seahawks. Year-in and year-out, it seems that Pioli and Belichick are able to find gems in the draft from "tweener" sized players from out of the way schools.

They are, in a way, football's version of Billy Beane. Beane, of course, has to do more with less with the Oakland Athletics, because there are serious revenue imbalances in baseball that don't exist in football and there isn't the hard salary cap in baseball that there is in football. So, let's concede that from a competitive standpoint, the job that Pioli and Belichick have is easier relative to that of Beane. But where the comparison begins and is solid is that Belichick and Pioli don't always go with the flow and use the same metrics to value players as other teams do (if they did, their squad wouldn't have won three Super Bowls in the past four years). True, they won't draft a player before they have to (i.e., giving up too much value), but they find the players who can flat out play, regardless of whether their college competition was of BCS Bowl quality and whether their measurements are "classic" for a position. In similar fashion, Beane looks at a bunch of variables in evaluating players that have differed from the traditional scouting techniques.

Which takes us back to the initial question. Who will prove to be the steals in this year's NFL draft?

To answer that question, take a look at the second-day picks of the New England Patriots, and then follow up in about three years.

Because one of those players is as likely as anyone to join SI's list.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Prognostication For Philadelphia Eagles In Tomorrow's Draft

With respect to the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL draft, people have noted the following:

1. They have more picks (13) than anyone else in the draft.
2. Because they have a lot of depth, they cannot possibly keep 13 rookies on their roster.
3. Because they have a lot of depth (relative to other teams, of course), they can really draft the best players available with their top 2 picks (#31 and #35 overall in the draft).
4. They have 5 of the top 94 picks in the draft.
5. They are likely to make a trade because of comments 1 and 2.
6. They are likely to take either Arkansas QB Matt Jones (who should be called "Football Jones" after his great-than-Mike-Mamula workout numbers) or Virginia TE Heath Miller.
7. They might take a WR early because they are likely to release Freddie Mitchell (once a first-rounder himself) and because of T.O.'s contract demands.
8. They might take a DE early because they lost Derrick Burgess to the Raiders.
9. They might take J.J. Arrington, Cal's outstanding RB, with one of their highest picks because they need to complement Brian Westbrook.
10. Their offensive tackles are both in their 30's, and that's very old for the Eagles.

Good stuff, all of it. Now, here are my prognostications:

1. Andy Reid's best draft was 2002, when he took 3 DBs with his top 3 picks -- CBs Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown (the former a first-rounder; the latter a second rounder) and S Michael Lewis. All were taken despite the fact that the Eagles had primetime CBs in Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent and Brian Dawkins playing safety. The experts shook their heads; after all, the Eagles had other (sometimes glaring) needs. So much for the experts. All are now Pro Bowlers or Pro Bowl-caliber players.

2. Fast forward to 2005. The Eagles' offensive tackles are both in their 30's. Tra Thomas has been a Pro Bowler, and Jon Runyan is an ornery player. The Eagles need more depth on the offensive line, as it was sorely tested last year when first-round pick Shawn Andrews went down for the year in the first game and Jermaine Mayberry suffered injuries as well. The view here is that with at least two of their top 94 picks, the Eagles will take offensive linemen. Here is a list of tackles; here is a list of guards. The bet here is that if they can get Khalif Barnes, they will. Also look out for Elton Brown of Virginia (he could move Andrews to tackle). Don't be terribly surprised if they get both of those players. To do so would involve trading up somewhat, but they have the pile of picks to accomplish that goal.

3. The Eagles' defensive line needs beefing up. If you watched the Super Bowl, you realize that defensive tackle is a place where they could use an upgrade. The same for defensive end, because they lost Burgess just as he showed that he can play. Yes, they have five DEs returning -- Jevon Kearse, N.D. Kalu (who missed last year because of injury), Jerome McDougle (oft-injured and a first-round pick two years ago), Hugh Douglas (ready for the natural history museums because of his dinosaur-like age) and Jamaal Green, a fourth-rounder two years ago who's on the injured list. At DT, they have Corey Simon (assuming he agrees to play for the franchise-tag price of $5.1 million a year), Hollis Thomas (again, another aging veteran), strong-as-an-ox Sam Rayburn, and dependable rotation player Paul Grasmanis. The entire line is agile and quick, but they are capable of being blown off the ball. Again, I wouldn't be surprised if they used two of the their top 5 picks for defensive line help. Click here for a list of defensive ends; click here for a list of defensive tackles. Don't be surprised if DE Matt Roth from Iowa or DT Luis Castillo from Northwestern make their way to the Eagles (if the Eagles take one of these linemen, then they won't be drafting both Barnes and Brown).

4. As for other positions, I could see the Eagles taking Heath Miller of Virginia if he dropped down to #31, as I could see them trading up a few spots to get him or Khalif Barnes. It's been reported that they'd like to draft J.J. Arrington from Cal, and while he'd be a good fit, I think there is sufficient depth at RB to wait a little longer for a good RB. The line play is critical, and I think that the Eagles will focus on that. They will grab a linebacker or two in the later rounds, and perhaps another WR to provide some competition in camp.

But from where I sit, look for the Birds to fortify their lines on both sides of the ball before anything else. If they learned anything in the Super Bowl last year, they learned that the magic to the Patriots was controlling the line of scrimmage. A few top-notch talents here and there, and the Eagles could do for their line play what they did in 2002 for their defensive backfield play.

For the opposition, that's a scary thought.

My thoughts:

Round 1 (trading up): Khalif Barnes
Round 2 (35th pick overall): Luis Castillo.
Round 3 (63rd pick): Traded to move up to get Barnes.
Round 3 (77th pick): Terrance Murphy, WR/KR, Texas A&M
Round 4 (95th pick): Michael Munoz, OT, Tennessee

Where Games Are Won In Football

For what it's worth. . .

These guys have figured it out. Their record speaks for itself. They have turned player personnel into a delightful art form.

Many draft the behemoths, the workout wonders, the guys who get all the publicity. These guys draft the guys who can flat out play.

But when you look at their team, you have to ask yourself a question. Why is it that they have been able to post great records without marquis names at the skill positions? Every year in the draft, you read about this burner and that burner, the powerful running back, the wide receiver with great hands, blazing speed and a toughness that enables him to go over the middle with no fear. Every year we hear about the potential franchise quarterback who should go in the top 10 picks.

You seldom hear that buzz about offensive linemen; sometimes you hear it about defensive linemen, but even then, not nearly as much buzz follows those guys as it does skill position players on offense.

And every year, this team doesn't take one of those guys. In the past four, they've gone for help at either tight end or on the defensive line. Look at their roster, and then tell me what you see. You don't see very many "big names." What you do see is guys who have won championships.

Because there's something that Bill Belichick knows (and Scott Pioli knows) that the great coaches always have known, both in the NFL and in college. The key point: that football games are won in the trenches, plain and simple. If you're able to move the other side off the ball when you're on offense or defense, you will win football games. Put another way, control the line of scrimmage, and good things will happen.

You don't have to go further than last season's Super Bowl for an outstanding illustration of that point. I recall the Patriots' offensive line forming a perfect arc in front of QB Tom Brady play after play. The Eagles' defensive line, a pretty good group, had great difficulty getting near the QB. Brady, to his great credit, made all of the plays, but deep down I believe that with the time Brady had that Sunday, several NFL QBs could have made those plays. On defense, the Patriots succeeded in flushing out the Eagles' running game and in getting into the grill of Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb, so much so that they had knocked him woozy by game's end. By penetrating their opponents' perimeter, as it were, the Patriots threw the Eagles' off balance. To Philadelphia's credit, they played a pretty good game, just not good enough to win. While Donovan McNabb gets the lion's share of the blame for the Eagles' performance, I believe that the Patriots' defensive line that day would have rattled even Tom Brady into a subpar performance. The line play was just that good.

Now there are those who say that you don't take offensive linemen with high draft picks, that you're better off getting some late-rounder from Idaho with a lot of fire in his belly like Mark Schlereth years ago. That's all well and good, so long as you find the right players. In the final analysis, though, your team must find those players, whether in the early rounds, on the second day, or on the free agent market.

The skill position players get most of the hype before the draft. Of course, you need good skill position players to win football games, and football in many ways is the most "team" oriented of team sports -- everyone needs to contribute significantly. That said, if you get the great guys to battle it out in the trenches, their work makes everyone else's a lot easier.

Lots of teams have WRs and RBs who starred in college. The key to making the playoffs and the Super Bowl is to get the linemen who will star in the pros.

It's not as easy as you think. But somehow Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick have done it year after year.

Go Figure

The NBA set an all-time attendance record.

Yes, the NBA has great athletes, but the basketball players today aren't as fundamentally sound as they were thirty years ago (among others who believe that is Walt "Clyde" Frazier, former star guard of the Knicks, who said as much on WFAN's Mike and the Mad Dog show yesterday).

It strikes many that players today play for their shot to appear on ESPN Sportscenter's Top Ten Plays of the Day more than say giving themselves up for the team. I've lamented what I believe the league's ills are, such as too many teams, a corresponding dilution of talent, not enough fundamentals, poor shooting, overly expensive tickets, overexposure on television, too many teams making the playoffs and a sense of choreography and teamwork that seems baffling at times. Other than that, it's a great product.

I suppose, though, that I am wrong, and there are over 21 million reasons why. Just click the link and read on.

Every time doubts crop up about the NBA's product, the NBA has evidence to support that the doubters are wrong. It's hard to bet against Commissioner David Stern, that's for sure. His product seems to be in good shape, at least if you look at attendance (and probably international popularity and merchandise sales).

Given how expensive tickets are and how the economy is stuck in a middling gear, the attendance numbers are very impressive.

Go figure.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

NASA Offers To Purchase Citizens Bank Park From Phillies, Philadelphia

Rumor out of Philadelphia has it that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has made an offer to Philadelphia Phillies' team president David Montgomery to buy Citizens Bank Park. The offer reportedly was made after the Phillies suffered a 16-4 drubbing at the bats of the New York Mets, who hit a park-record seven home runs en route to their victory.

Banjo music blared during the contest, presumably to honor the suprising home run power of heretofore power-less hitters in Victor Diaz and Jose Reyes, both of whom hit two homers apiece, and 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, of whom one scout said would be at the bottom of the HR pack even if all players at the power position never had heard of steroids. David Wright of the Mets added a grand slam, and Mike Piazza hit a two-run shot.

Apparently the combination of the hitting background and currents at the ballpark was so favorable that the biggest twelve year-olds in the St. Timothy's Elementary School Boys' Choir, there to sing the national anthem, were hitting moon shots to the warning track before the major leaguers arrived for batting practice late yesterday afternoon.

Said NASA spokesperson Glenn Shephard, "We've always been looking for appropriate alternative launching sites to Cape Canaveral, and the aerodynamics are so good in this particular location that we would consider developing this site for launching the next-generation space craft, which are smaller and more maneuverable." Shephard added that the offer came after the heralded space organization searched for new sites for over four years.

Philadelphia Mayor John Street, eager to climb up from the dismal rating he got from a national publication that had evaluated America's mayors, had this to say: "We are flattered that NASA has expressed a big interest in the City of Philadelphia to be at the forefront of the next generation of space craft. In the 1800's, we built locomotives for the entire world. In the 1900's, we built ships, and we continue to do so today. From 2000 and beyond, we can make our mark in the space industry. There is plenty of alternative real estate for our beloved Phillies, but the potential to create thousands of jobs in this great city is very appealing."

Major League Baseball was quick to rally its forces. Reached late last night, Commissioner Bud Selig said, "We will investigate this situation in Philadelphia very thoroughly. The Philadelphia franchise is one of our oldest and most storied franchises, and we were thrilled to see the greeting the new ballpark received last year. We believe that Citizens Bank Park is an important addition to one of our seven largest markets, and we hope that it will remain in baseball for the foreseeable future."

Privately, a source within Major League Baseball indicated that Major League Baseball is absolutely thrilled with the true hitters' parks such as Camden Yards in Baltimore and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. There had been concerns that with the big crackdown on illegal steroids, power numbers would drop significantly, leaving a less appealing product for the fans. Major League Baseball hopes that with parks like these, the power numbers won't drop appreciably.

But therein could lie another problem. Apparently, according to another source, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the United States Department of Labor is investigating anonymous complaints about working conditions at Citizens Bank Park. According to reports, Phillies' players filed these complaints over the course of the past few weeks. It hasn't been determined whether pitchers filed the complaints out of a fear of getting hit by excessive line drives through the batters' box or whether outfielders filed the complaints because of a higher than acceptable incidence of neck strains.

The Major League Baseball Players Assocation couldn't be reached for comments. The players' union apparently would have a conflict on the issue, because while pitchers might lament the working conditions, position players would cheer it. And then there's that lingering steroids problem that everyone wants to have vanish, and that's something that parks like Citizens Bank Park could help cure.

So now the baseball world watches the drama that is unfolding. Commissioner Selig, for his part, while not fond of banjo hitters, is fond of bandboxes, and apparently wants the City of Philadelphia and the Phillies to hold out. Said Phillies' GM Ed Wade, "This is a tough situation for us and our fans. The fans didn't like the Vet at the end. It was crumbling and they were too far away from the action. Now they have a new park, where they get to see the games up close and personal, but they're not happy with the fireworks that take place on the field. Some have told me that they'd rather go back to the 70's, when Steve Carlton could hook up with Randy Jones in a 1-0 game that took one and a half hours to play. So it's hard to please everyone. And then there's the prospect of the new jobs, which would be great for the region, and those people could add to our fan base. I'm sure we'll look hard at every alternative."

At the turn of the 20th Century, Philadelphia was known as the Workshop for the World. Today, it has the chance to become the Launchpad for the World.

Which would be quite a feat, especially if that moniker could transcend local baseball scene.

Because if it cannot, allowing 7 HRs in your home park does not bode well for the future of the hometown nine.

Launchpad for the Baseball World, indeed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Sam Mills, R.I.P.

I remember all of the hullabaloo surrounding the USFL, how some maverick owner in New Jersey, some real estate developer named Trump, coaxed Herschel Walker out of the University of Georgia and into the Meadowlands, and I remember watching the New Jersey Generals play the Philadelphia Stars in a packed house in the heat of the summer. As start-up leagues went, that league was a good one.

Philadelphia had been starved for winners for a while, but not from about 1974-1983. During that time, the Phillies went to two World Series and won one (as well as to many playoff series), the Flyers won two Stanley Cups, the 76ers won the title, and the Eagles went to a Super Bowl.

That's a great record for any city; for Philadelphia, well, it's an all-timer, and it may never be replicated.

So out comes this new league and this new team, and, well, they could play. They contended every year during the fledgling league's short lifespan, and the league itself gave birth to some great careers.

Among the most notable was that of Sam Mills. Outside linebacker, Philadelphia Stars, and better than anyone the NFL team in the City of Brotherly Love had playing that position at that time.

Mills was an undersized outside LB from Montclair State who was football's version of "The Little Engine That Could," or, as one of his former teammates put it, a big man in a small body. He was only 5'9", but he hit like a Mack Truck. After his USFL career, he went to the NFL, where he starred at LB for the Saints and made it to 4 Pro Bowls. Not bad for a 5'9", 215-pound linebacker, huh? Actually, it was pretty special. (Somehow, the Eagles missed him, but after Dick Vermeil left they missed out on a lot of talent until Buddy Ryan got into town).

After his career ended, Mills became an assistant coach, most recently with the Carolina Panthers, for whom he was working when he died of intestinal cancer at the age of 45.

Sam Mills was a terrific guy on many levels, and he leaves a rich legacy.

A legacy of a guy who focused on a goal and never quit. He didn't go to a college that regularly turned out pro players, and he didn't have the size that coaches looked for in their linebackers. But what he did have was a great sense of the game, a huge heart and a great work ethic.

Many GMs will look at game films, measurements, combine workout statistics and Wonderlic tests and come up with a view as to where a college player should be drafted. That's all well and good, because those metrics have helped some outstanding player personnel people develop championship teams.

But there also should be a measurement that captures what those tests don't -- the qualities that gave the NFL Sam Mills. I'm sure that some math genius at MIT or Cal Tech could come up with some algorithm to find players like Sam Mills, and, when they do, they should call it the Sam Mills Test.

Because while there isn't any wonder in the Wonderlic, there was tons of wonder and wonderful in Sam Mills. Sure, it's great to have smart guys who ace the SATs and the Wonderlic and who can conjugate Italian verbs and decline Latin nouns, but you win games with the guys who simply outwork everyone and will not be denied.

Sam Mills, thank you for all of your achievements, and for all of the lessons we learned from you.

You will be sorely missed.

More On the NBA's Proposed Age Limit

Ian O'Connor of USA Today seems hopping mad about this. His basic premise: let the kids with the good hops play, regardless of their age. It's a good piece, and O'Connor points out how good this past year's HS crop has turned out to be. His ultimate point: let the kids play and let the teams determine on their own whether they want the kids in the first place.

I agree wholeheartedly, and I hit some of the same points in my previous post on the topic (which I wrote in response to some of the remarks Jermaine O'Neal made about Commissioner David Stern's intentions).

The NBA has benefitted significantly from its youthful image. Many of the young kids have serious games. The NBA has hurt itself in certain ways by not bowing to tradition, but letting kids into the league who under 20 doesn't for a moment mean that you're jettisoning tradition. The same way excluding those kids doesn't mean you're honoring tradition. More importantly, there is no correlation between the quality of the product and a policy that admits or excludes into the league kids who are 20 and under.

Absolutely none.

So what's the point?

My guess is that the policy is the NBA's attempt to put some more cosmetics on its mediocre product. By spinning this policy to their advantage, the NBA will try to send the message that they'll have a crisper, more fundamentally sound game by keeping out HS kids who aren't ready for the world or the NBA. Sadder than the policy itself is that some people will believe it.

The types who focus more on the sizzle than the steak.

Read O'Connor's article and read my prior post, and then tell me that the sole problem for the NBA in terms of the quality of its product rests at the doorsteps of HS kids who enter the NBA draft.

That's right, blame Dwight Howard for the plum awful shooting percentages. Blame Sebastian Telfair for the fact that there are too many teams in the league. Blame Josh Smith for the fact that too many teams make the playoffs. Blame all of the HS kids for the fact that the games aren't nearly as compelling as those in the NCAA tournament.

It's not right, it's not true, and it's misguided.

The NBA has many bigger problems than those created because kids under 20 can make an NBA roster.

It should start focusing on those problems immediately.

And leave the kids alone.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Yankees: A Phase or a Trend?

I posted this about the Yankees in mid-February.

Is this just a bad start?

Or are the Yankees getting old, too old, perhaps, to win it all again?

The screech you hear is that of George Steinbrenner, ranting against many things he cannot control.

The creaking you hear are the collective joints of the Yankee 9 (okay, with a DH, 10).

Read the whole thing, and then you decide.

Should they be worried in the Bronx?

For what it's worth, I don't think so.

At least just not yet.

The Devil Rays are in town, and a diet of Devil Rays is just what the baseball doctor has ordered.

But if the Yankees have trouble digesting their poor brethren to the south, the worrying will intensify.

As it should.

Because the third sound you'd be hearing is the tick-tock of baseball's biological clock, with the fourth sound being a loud bell, which customarily tolls for all but the junkballing crafty lefties and Julio Franco in a player's mid-thirties.

The Yankees have a great assemblage of talent; the real question is whether that talent can compete in the present the way we know it might have dominated five years ago.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Serious Character Pick

I blogged about this guy last fall, when he surprised the ACC and had an outstanding year as an RB for UVA. As you'll note from the comment board to this blog, some of you had great things to say about this player.

And now he's a "sleeper" pick in the NFL draft (scroll down on the Fox link to Richard Ciriminello's portion).

He was a career back-up, who, when given the opportunity, absolutely shined in Charlottesville and on the road. When called upon, he was ready.

He's a "do it all" back who can run back kicks, catch the ball and run it well. The type of player who would do anything to help the team.

Look for him on the second day.

His name: Alvin Pearman, Jr.

More on Adrian McPherson


And con.

And detailed (updated from yesterday, and there's an excellent Miami Herald article in the April 17 edition).

And my takes, which many of you have read before, here, here and here (and click the link in this last post for my first post on McPherson).

Dan Pompeii of The Sporting News has not jumped on the McPherson bandwagon and is quite wary of him. Pompeii's point is a not unreasonable if a) it's true that McPherson is only a developmental prospect and b) that compared to other projects out there, it's always better to go with one with a clean background than one with McPherson's. At best, it's the smart human resources move in an age where past blemishes seem to be less forgiveable than previously. At worst, it's the safe human resources move in a universe where many people passed on both Warren Sapp and Randy Moss on draft day, only to regret it later (especially Sapp, who helped lead his team to a Super Bowl title). Needless to say, the "safe" moves aren't without peril.

I don't accept Pompeii's point, though, because a) McPherson is more than a developmental prospect (he is a potential star) and b) while McPherson's past character mistakes do raise issues (they are impossible to ignore), he made them when he was an immature kid and has more than atoned for them. His journey has involved his hitting bottom and rebuilding his life, and his character hasn't been questioned for almost three years. Is it impossible for anyone who has made a significant character mistake, especially at a very young age, to overcome it?

Here are some other links as to QBs in this year's NFL draft where mention is made of McPherson, here, here, here and here.

What do you think?

Second-round pick?

Mid-round pick?

Undrafted free agent?

Somehow I think that Jon Gruden won't pass up McPherson in the third round unless the Bucs trade up for the first or second pick (they have the fifth) to ensure that they can get either Cal's Aaron Rodgers or Utah's Alex Smith (and there are reports that they are considering doing so; then again, it is hard to fathom Gruden's staking the future of his franchise immediately on McPherson, so it could be that even if he lands Smith or Rodgers, he'll try to take McPherson later for depth). Otherwise, I think that with a league-high 13 picks in the draft and a need for a third-string QB, the Philadelphia Eagles will use one of their three fifth-round picks on McPherson. Yes, I had written that the buzz was so that perhaps McPherson could have sneaked up very high in the draft (perhaps into the second round), but right now I think the buzz has cooled off a bit. Not only are Rodgers and Smith the top two QBs in the draft, but most articles I've read put McPherson around the seventh most likely to be taken, behind Akron's Charlie Frye, Auburn's Jason Campbell, Purdue's Kyle Orton and UConn's Dan Orlovsky.

Is that so bad?

Well, for a one-time Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in Florida, yes, because his past successes predicted much more. But for someone who was kicked off his college team, that's quite all right.

All Adrian McPherson needs from someone in the NFL is an invitation to enter.

The rest is up to him.

I, for one, believe in second chances, especially in McPherson's case, and something tells me that if given the chance, he will not disappoint.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Underclassmen And the NBA Draft

Spring is here, and that means it's time for talented underclassmen hoopsters to weigh their options.

For the top players, such as Utah's Andrew Bogut and Wake Forest's Chris Paul, there isn't a whole lot to weigh. They will be top lottery picks, their value is at about its highest, and it's time for them to move on. It's a business decision, really, and while I'm at the top of the list of people who cherish academics, if I had a kid with the demonstrated skills of those two who had a passion for the game, the decision really isn't that hard to make. (I would be less thrilled if I had an Ivy Leaguer who decided to spend most of his days playing poker, even if he were making six figures at it).

For others, the decision is harder (click here for the list; and click here for the skinny, both thanks to As Andy Katz points out, there are a few kids who need to enter the draft; family issues compel that they play for money somewhere. Many kids entered to assess where they stand, and they are smart not to have signed with agents and forfeit their eligibility status.

The coaches, on the other hand, are sweating. Why? First, they finalize their recruiting seasons early. Long gone are the days where kids decided at some point during or after their senior years. Today, most kids are inked either after their junior seasons or at some point before their senior seasons begin. Therein lies the problem, because coaches recruit for future projected needs, and their plans could go awry if, as in the case of North Carolina, three key underclassmen opt to leave early. There's no great way you can recruit to immediately fill gaping holes, whether they're left by a trio (Felton, McCants and May) or by a single individual (Chris Paul). It's just too difficult to do.

There are three conclusions that one can draw from the early-entry situation. The first is that it's good for college basketball, because it assures that there cannot be dynasties. The reason is that if the elite programs always draw the type of player who will consider leaving early, the periodic voids that these programs will suffer from early departures will ensure enough tumult in the major programs to enable other programs to challenge the elite group. The second is that there's really no overall effect, because the elite programs will always draw enough elite players, and while those programs might suffer periodic declines (either to the bottom of the Top 25 or once in a while out of it), they'll still remain top programs. Support for this argument is that Duke, Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky, for starters, have remained elite programs (Carolina's temporary decline several years ago stemmed from coaching programs more than anything else). The third is that this system makes college basketball worse, because when you couple this system with the fact elite players from HS go straight to the NBA, the dilution of talent is too great. Also, when elite players leave a George Washington or a Northwestern, those programs could be set back for a while.

In thinking this through, my view is that the overall effect is probably slight, and this phenomenon only compels the elite programs to recruit more efficiently. For example, if your program will rely on key juniors and sophs, then you'll need good frosh to groom to ultimately replace the juniors, and you'll need good recruits to provide backups for the sophs once those sophs become juniors. That said, you certainly can't plan for a frosh's early departure, because it's likely that you won't have a backup plan on the bench or in the recruiting pipeline to replace a key frosh who, by definition, just got there. Which means that a program has to be careful what it wishes for when it recruits a DaJuan Wagner or a Tim Thomas, players who were likely to leave after a single season and who did just that. In the end, the elite programs will recruit smartly, balancing positions and talent so as to keep current players happy (i.e., by not recruiting two top-5 PGs in back-to-back years), so as to make sure that the rotation will have enough players with star potential (read: give them the ball in the final minutes and they'll make something happen, so that means that the frosh PF might be a better player than the senior, but the junior PG may be the star with the frosh a talented PG in waiting), and so as to make sure that there are succession plans for each group of players.

Most certainly, that's not an easy task, but remember not that many players leave early (even if the list of those testing the waters is long), and somehow year after year we end up seeing Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Syracuse, Illinois, North Carolina and several others in the Sweet Sixteen.

Thankfully, most of the kids who have entered are just testing the waters. It's sad to see HS kids enter the NBA draft and forego their eligibility, only not to be first-round picks or not to make NBA rosters, and it's sad to see underclassmen who sign with agents, thereby foregoing their remaining eligibility, and then not get selected. No one wishes bad things on any of those kids, and for those who belong in the NBA, it's great that they'll get the chance.

Even if that means that some $1 million a year coach who makes more than his University's president has to sweat a little more to earn his living.

Hey coach, that's why they pay you the big bucks.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Are The Wheels On the Bus Falling Off?

Many remember the late Ken Kesey, author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", leader of the Merry Pranksters and one of the key subjects of Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," which was about the Merry Pranksters' cross country trip in the 1960's on a psychedelic-colored bus. Kesey had a saying during those times, which was "You're either on the bus or off the bus."

But before you start saying, "Oh, gee, that's really profound," you should remember or realize that Kesey was talking metaphorically, as in "either you're with the concept or not with the concept," and if you weren't with the concept, you probably should have dragged your posterior off the bus. Physically, and, yes, metaphysically. In modern football terms, you are either with the program or not with the program.

One of the best examples of getting people on the same page (i.e., the bus) and coordinated in the same program has been the Philadelphia Eagles, where, with the leadership of Andy Reid and the cap management of Joe Banner, the Eagles have been able to produce outstanding teams over the past five years -- four straight conference championship appearances and a Super Bowl appearance this past winter. Through the leadership of Reid and key players, including QB Donovan McNabb, the Eagles have been able to come together, bury discontent, and forge an outstanding record. It's been one fun bus ride.

They also had to be encouraged by last year's Super Bowl appearance, for they had fared much better against the heralded New England Patriots than either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Indianapolis Colts had in the AFC playoffs. The Eagles played a good game, just not good enough to win. Star WR Terrell Owens gave an inspired effort, coming back earlier than expected from ankle surgery. With their cap well-managed, a solid roster of veterans, and a league-high 13 draft choices, Eagles' fans have had reason to be optimistic that their team would be the NFC's odds-on favorite to appear in the Super Bowl in early 2006. The team continues to re-load, not rebuild.

In other words, everyone in Philadelphia was on the bus, with some promising newcomers in the queue given the number of draft picks, and with some good players (second-year G Shawn Andrews and DE N.D. Kalu returning from injuries).

Until now.

The good news for the Eagles prior to last season was that through the trade for Terrell Owens, the Eagles solved one of their most glaring weaknesses, which was adding a top-notch WR who could help the Eagles improve their offense. Owens performed most ably, and he helped lead the team to the Super Bowl. Not only was his play in the Super Bowl outstanding, his sportsmanship during the NFC playoffs, most notably when he stood on the bench waving a towel in support of his teammates in the NFC championship game against Atlanta, was classy and infectious. T.O. transcended his reputation -- he was just great.

The bad news for the Eagles is that when you ink a T.O., you get the unpredicability that has accompanied him throughout his career. While it's true that FredEx, Freddie Mitchell, has been much more outspoken (he probably leads the league in words uttered publicly by a role player), it's T.O. who people care about much more. If Freddie squawks, well, he could end up out of town (the way G John Wellbourn was sent packing the year before). But if T.O. acts up -- as he has through his demand for a new deal -- his potential unhappiness is tantamount to running an earthquake through the team. If he shows up and is unhappy, the "on the bus" theory gets shattered. If he doesn't report to camp, then the Eagles' passing game reverts to what it was before T.O. And the "on the bus" theory gets shattered.

Neither is a pretty scenario.

Either presents the possibility of the wheels falling off the bus.

The Eagles' front office won't be bullied, and they won't let one player's salary demands hold the harmony of the bus hostage. History has demonstrated that. T.O., on the other hand, claims that all he wants is a fair deal and that he got taken advantage of last year when the trade of T.O. to the Eagles was brokered. Whether or not he truly wants to create this fissure is an open question -- a fissure, though, is a likely consequence of his actions, and he had to know that when he took his stand.

The Eagles' front office has managed difficult relationships in different ways. Typically it has let aging players go, because some team will pay them more than the sagacious Eagles think the player is worth, and the Eagles usually have been proven right on that front. When John Wellbourn spoke out, ostensibly wanting a better contract, he found himself playing in Kansas City. The difference, though, is that Wellbourn was a serviceable lineman who was replaceable, while Owens is an all-pro player who really isn't replaceable.

That difference, then, presents Andy Reid and Joe Banner with their most formidable player personnel challenge to date.

It might have required an arbitrator and a quasi-court proceeding to bring Owens to Philadelphia, but who would have thought that keeping him happy present a more challenging effort?

The Eagles need T.O., and T.O. really needs the Eagles. He thrived in Philadelphia last year, overall. Right now, though, neither side seems to be willing to give in, and if that pattern holds true over the course of the next several months, there will be anxious times in Philadelphia.

Because a wobbly bus ride is not something they're used to in Philadelphia, and it's certainly not a fun one.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

John Who?

The link on the ESPN website said Rocker asks New York fans to forgive him, so I figured that some rock star involved in sports (perhaps as an owner) wanted forgiveness for doing some dastardlya act onstage, slurring New York, or both.

Turned out I was wrong.

Turned out that I had moved on, that my memory wasn't that long.

It was John Rocker they were talking about, you see. You remember him, the loutish lefty reliever for the Braves (and subsequently others) who had a habit of writing checks with his mouth that his performances ultimately couldn't cash. The guy who launched a tirade about the evils in New York, figuring that the world really cared what a barely post-teenaged reliever thought about the social milieu that is NYC. Yes, the guy who, by opening up his mouth, demonstrated at the time what an intolerant fool he could sound like.

Well, he's back in the NY area, this time as a pitcher for an independent league team where, at the age of 30, he hopes to rekindle his career. Think Jamie Moyer (at least in terms of player development; Moyer's comportment always was excellent), the ancient Mariner who was a young Cub, floundered a bit, and then got a second career going in his mid-thirties. In this case, Rocker had a career in his early twenties, and he's now trying for a second act.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that "There are no second acts in American life." That may be true for Joe Gibbs thus far in Washington and it was true for Rollie Massimino in Las Vegas, but Fitzgerald didn't watch that much baseball and he didn't focus his powers of observation on the species that is known as the lefthanded pitcher. Many of them do get second, third and fourth acts, if only because there's a general view that lefties take longer to develop. For them, life well could begin at 30.

Will New Yorkers forgive Rocker? Perhaps if they even remember him, they will. The guess here is that they don't really care enough to get exercised about him. Some mighty even pity him.

Can Rocker rekindle his career?

Why not? Jamie Moyer did, so did Ricky Bottalico, and many others have as well. It struck me that maturity impeded Rocker's progress, so if he can keep the little man on his left shoulder who wants attention from conducting a baseball version of "Girls Gone Wild" every time the big lefty talks to the media, he'll have a chance.

He'll also have the opportunity to prove to all that his name really is Rocker -- and not Rockhead.

America loves stories like these, so a Rocker comeback might draw a lot of cheers. Then again, it could also draw a lot of "Oohh sheeshes" the way Tonya Harding's boxing career has.

Thankfully for John Rocker, it's all up to him.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Update On Brian Zoubek

I've blogged about Brian Zoubek here, and what makes him intriguing is that he's a top prospect with great academics and parents who went to Princeton (alma mater of Bill Bradley) and Wellesley (alma mater of Hillary Clinton), which means that this is one family that takes its schoolwork most seriously. I haven't checked it recently, but at one time Zoubek was listed on Princeton's recruiting list, and, were he to elect to go there, he'd be the biggest recruit to go to the Ivies (literally and figuratively) in decades.

Imagine a 7'1" center with serious game who is a great passer, and imagine that center in the Princeton offense, which is center-centric, especially with a great passing center.

You'd probably be talking three (or four) straight Ivy titles and an equal amount of NCAA appearances, and, yes, some first-round victories and maybe even, at least, a Sweet 16 appearance or two. Akin to Field of Dreams, if you build your offense with a serious 7' center, they (in the form of wonderful guards and forwards) would come. And not just the kids you normally get, but the reach kids, the kids who would come for the opportunity to run with a very able big man. Imagine that.

Yes, were Princeton to land Brian Zoubek, he might well make them forget about Kit Mueller, Steve Goodrich and, yes, even current Texas Rangers' starting pitcher, Chris Young, who continues to be the dalliance of the Tiger fans despite that he never won a title while at Princeton (even though he was a two-time first-team player). Youn Zoubek is a wonderful prospect and apparently very level-headed.

Sounds great, but, alas, it's not to be for the Princeton Tigers. And it probably hasn't been for a while.

Reports over the past several weeks indicated that Zoubek had narrowed his choices to Duke, Stanford, Wake Forest and Notre Dame, schools with excellent academics and very good basketball. Today's Philadelphia Daily News reports that Notre Dame is out. (Coach K visited Zoubek at his HS last week, and he also visited Gerald Henderson, son of the one-time NBA guard of the same name who was a standout as a junior at Episcopal Academy, a private school located in the Phila. suburbs). Most interestingly, the article indicates that Zoubek will make his decision by the end of the school year.

From an academic standpoint, you'd rate the schools like this: Stanford, Duke and Wake. From a hoops standpoint, you'd rate the schools Duke, Wake and Stanford, with Duke getting the edge because of the players that it will return next year. Taken together, you'd have to figure that Duke has the edge.

But it's tricky with big men the same way in baseball it's tricky with lefthanded pitchers. Coach K always has a knack for developing wing players, the Brian Davises, Thomas Hills, J.J. Redicks, Chris Carrawells and the like. But has he really ever developed a big man? A big man other than Christian Laettner, who was more of a four than a low-post five? How would a true center fit into Coach K's up-tempo system? Would he get serious PT?

Then again, the commentators all lament the lack of true low-post players in college, so most colleges would find Zoubek an intriguing proposition to begin with, and not just Coach K. And it's not as though Skip Prosser of Wake or Trent Johnson of Stanford have developed top-drawer true centers either. But it may be that they might be willing to make more room for a player like him in their offenses, especially Stanford, which doesn't attract the cornucopia of HS all-Americans the way Duke, and to a lesser degree, Wake, do.

So what goes through a 17 year-old HS kid's mind? What's it like to have Coach K visit your HS? What's it like to get a Duke basketball scholarship offered to you? How do you compare the schools? How serious are you about basketball, about wanting to play in the NBA? How unreal must it all seem?

And who do you think will offer you the best college experience possible, the best combination of academics and athletics?

On paper, that would appear to be Duke.

But life isn't that simple, and Duke doesn't win 'em all.

Good luck, Brian Zoubek, and whichever school you pick will be lucky to get you.

And give Princeton one last, hard look, won't you?


The NCAA Is At It Again

Football-wise, that is.

Or football stupid.

While there remains no mention of the creation of a national playoff system for Division I-A football teams, the NCAA moved a step closer to allowing members schools in Divisions I-A and I-AA to schedule a twelfth regular season game. The point of this exercise seems to be to permit the schools to generate extra revenue (which, properly conducted, a playoff system also would do).

Once again, it's all about money. Not mentioned in this article is the potential risk to the collective health of young players by having them play an extra game. Considered, but ignored, is the ACC's opposition on the grounds tha the extra game is burdensome on the academics of the student-athlete. Kudos to the ACC for taking a stand on principle.

The irony, of course, is that one of the proffered reason not to have a national playoff is the time that the playoffs would take the kids out of class. Play an extra game for more money, take all of the kids out of class for, say, a week. Play, say, 11 regular-season games and have an 8-team playoff system, and then you're only taking 8 teams out of school for an extra week, 4 for an extra two, and 2 for an extra three. And it's not like the kids won't have time for tutors, homework and class. Heck, the NCAA men's basketball tournament has a lot of hoopla and men's (and women's hoops) has a long season, but no one really is complaining about the effect on academics. Ditto for Division 1-A football. (Dave Sez agrees).

I've blogged before that it's time for a playoff system in Division I-A football, and the time is long overdue. For as much as they can tweak the BCS formula year after year, the odds are that some situation will arise where there's an iniquity, manipulation of the voting, or both. The only good way to decide the national champion is on the field, not at the polls.

Gymnastics, diving and ice skating are judged sports, and look how pleased we are with who wins those titles. A slip up by a judge here, a screwup on the parallel bars by a South Korean there, a nationalistic French judge over yonder, and controversies abound.

Memo to the NCAA: Forget about a meaningless twelfth game that only helps the coffers of athletic departments. Get your priorities straight and arrange for a national championship tournament. If you have 8 teams, then give automatic bids to the winners of the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10, and then give three at-large bids. Then have a seeding committee that seeds schools 1 through 8, and play the four first-round games at some of the traditional bowl sites. Ditto for the two national semi-finals. Finally, rotate the national championship game each year among the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar Bowls.

Those games would mean a great, great deal.

But a 12th game?

It would be as meaningful as some late December bowl game between two 6-5 teams.

The NBA and NHL give us those types of games, and look how enamored we are of them.

The NCAA, as far as Division I-A football is concerned, should reach higher.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Jermaine O'Neal, David Stern And The NBA

Jermaine O'Neal has generated significant attention with his comment that the NBA's quest to put an age limit on eligibility for the NBA draft is "racist." Many of the responses have been negative, including one that I heard on ESPN Radio this morning from ESPN's (and the Philadelphia Inquirer's) Stephen A. Smith.

It's hard to argue that the NBA is racist when so many players (and most, if not all, of its stars) are African-Americans or men of color. The days of small forwards named John Wetzel and John Tshogl (which prompted GM Pat Williams to promote a "Wetzel Pretzel/Tschogl Bagel" Night) are long gone. Echoing the comments of others, so long as a player helps the NBA make money, it is color-blind. (It had to be during various stages of Dennis Rodman's attempts at haute couture and haute coiffure). The money is great, and players of color make most of it.

That said, I think that Jermaine O'Neal might have a point. He's viewed to be a thoughtful and smart guy, the unfortunate episode in Detroit that happened at the season's outset notwithstanding. It may be that he just didn't articulate it well.

I don't think that there's outright racism involved, but there is a level of paternalism that's being applied here that, if you scratch beneath the surface, could be labeled as either visionary or subtly racist, depending on which end of the spectrum you sit. At the former, the NBA could use other sports as examples of letting "kids" play too early, such as tennis (men's and women's), women's golf, ice hockey and baseball (where "kids" are eligible to be drafted upon graduation from HS, although virtually no one ascends immediately to the majors). At the latter, why the big deal about HS kids in basketball when country club kids or Bollettieri baseliners turn pro as early as 15 in tennis? Where HS kids tee it up on the LPGA tour? When a teenager sometimes laces it up for an NHL team? Are those other sports truly different, or is this paternalism being displayed because the hoopsters by and large are black and the others are white? Perhaps that's what Jermaine O'Neal is getting at.

I, for one, have always laughed at the criticism of AAU hoops teams for both boys and girls. The criticism is that the AAU coaches have more influence with the kids than their HS coaches, and that comment could be right. But what's the difference between inter-city kids who play for HS and AAU teams and HS kids who play both for their HS teams and in USTA tennis events, because college coaches value USTA rankings much more than HS accomplishments? And, heck, sometimes the tennis players don't even play for their HS teams; they concentrate on the USTA events. How many inter-city kids could get away with only playing for an AAU team and not playing on a HS team? (One disclaimer: the AAU and HS basketball seasons don't overlap; AAU is an off-season phenomenon, to my knowledge, where the tennis seasons, to my knowledge, do overlap)? Is if that we're giving predominantly teenaged white tennis players a break, that we don't care enough about tennis to complain, or that we're holding the inter-city hoopsters to a higher standard because we like their game more and don't understand what could be more compelling than playing for one's HS team?

I have written before on why the NBA really should care about having age limits on the draft. Sure, there are kids who declare early, don't get taken or get taken on the second round and get cut who totally screw up their chances at getting a free education, among other things. A one-time big-time college recruit named Ousmane Cisse comes to mind. Other kids leave too early, giving up their free rides and then never making it. Case in point: Duke's Will Avery, who left after one year. Lastly, an age limit could protect teams from themselves. Example: The Detroit Pistons, who eschewed taking either Carmelo Anthony or Dwayne Wade two years ago and took Darko Milicic. All aren't bad reasons. As is the reason that some kids just aren't ready.

Except for three things.

One, if the NBA had a meaningful minor league system, the way baseball does, then this issue would go away. There are thirty NBA teams, so why not have a ten-team minor league to which each team has the right to contribute four players. Naturally, the structure of the league would be to have primary prospects (who get most of the playing time) and secondary ones (who fill in, say, the ninth through twelfth spots). In this fashion, each team could be assured that two prospects get meaningful playing time in, say, a minor-league season that has about fifty games and a playoff system. There also could be a rule that a player cannot make it to the NBA unless he's played a full minor-league season or by the time he's twenty, whichever is earlier. In this fashion, if a first-round pick excels in the minors at the age of 18, showing he's ready for the NBA, his team should have the option to elevate him to the NBA roster or to keep him in the minors. A meaningful minor-league system would solve a lot of problems.

Two, LeBron James. Perhaps the timing is right because the NBA's collective bargaining agreement is coming up for negotiation, but it is rather convenient for the NBA to promote this idea now that it has secured the services of the next greatest player, LeBron James. Would Commissioner Stern have floated this idea and pushed hard for it if it meant that James would have spent, say, three years at Ohio State than filling arenas all over the United States and selling tons of merchandise? He's a good guy, the commissioner, but I'm sure he's happier that James is in the NBA and not the NCAA.

Three, the concept that the best players should be playing, period. The pro argument is that James deserves to be in the NBA, period, and that a rule that bans every player who is under 20 would hurt both James and the NBA. The con argument is that for every James and Anthony there are 20 Donnell Harveys, Kwame Browns, Bill Willoughbys, etc., who would benefit from several seasons of development and meaningful playing time in college or a minor league instead of either sitting on the deep bench for three seasons, bouncing around the CBA or playing in places like Argentina and Malaysia, where almost nothing is guaranteed.

The latter, of course, is the NBA's strongest argument for the age limit. The real question, though, is whether adopting such a rule is wise for the NBA, which is battling with an almost-schizophrenic image problem. On the one hand, it benefits from the hip-hop, youthful, MTV music-course it has taken and sells a lot of tickets and merchandise because of it. On the other hand, many of the games are unwatchable, as fundamentals have been sacrificed at the altar of ESPN's SportsCenter, which favors lob passes and spectacular jams over precision passing and a well-run fast break.

The NBA's product just isn't that good, even if its packaging is spectacular.

Adopting an age limit will tone down the packaging and focus more attention on the product. But adopting an age limit will not necessarily improve the product.

Not so long as so many teams make the playoffs. Not so long as the salary structure is such that some of the most heralded franchises -- those in Boston, New York and Philadelphia -- can remain mediocre for years (although I confess that management has had something to do with that too). Not so long as no one can hit a mid-range jumper with regularity or so long as so few teams run motion offenses and rely on clearouts (which have many players standing around) instead.

Raising the eligibility limit to 20, then, is an attempt to protect the league from itself and young players from themselves (assuming that the latter need protecting in the first place, and not all do). Which is all well and good, except what both the league and the players need to do, together, is to improve the product and make it worthy of the packaging it now enjoys. The NBA has benefitted from its outstanding packaging for a long time, but one day the fans will wake up to realize that what's inside the box and the wrapping is an old model that just doesn't work very well.

Midwest Version Of UNLV No More?

In one corner, you have University of Cincinnati President Nancy Zimpher, who is charged with running an entire university, and not just an excuse of a school that envelops a perenially Top-25 Division I hoops program. In the other corner, you have Bob Huggins, the head coach of a hoops program that probably gets the most attention for off-the-court issues since Jerry Tarkanian's Fresno State and, yes, UNLV, squads. The battle that they are fighting, or so it seems, is about the image of the University of Cincinnati, and whether the sacrifices that the school has made for its hoops program are worth it.

Right now, Zimpher is winning, if for no other reason than the fact that Huggins has only two years left on his contract. That's an important fact, because most coaches have at least five years remaining on their deals, if for no other reason than to tell their recruits that they'll be around to see them graduate (or, perhaps more realistically in certain cases, exhaust their eligibility). If don't have those five years remaining, your rivals will use it against you in recruiting. Basically, they'll say, "how can you be so sure that Coach X will be there; he only has 2 years remaining on his contract?" That issues matters a lot more than most people think.

The linked article indicated that Huggins was on his way to do some fishing near where he grew up in Eastern Ohio. From the looks of it, President Zimpher is doing some (lame) duck hunting.

Shotguns beat fishing poles.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and where a university president will land on the issue of the balance between academics and athletics. Clearly, the issue weighs on her, and clearly she wants the University of Cincinnati brand to mean more than the achievements and exploits of the Bob Huggins-led basketball program.

Right now, it appears that Nancy Zimpher believes that her legacy might be intertwined with that of Bob Huggins' basketball program. If that's truly the case, then as a leader of an academic institution she'll have no alternative but to fire Huggins and to bring in a coach whose approach is more in line with her vision of what a university should be.

That sounds pretty easy, doesn't it? But you could guess that Huggins has built up a lot of chits with boosters at Cincinnati, some of whom might well have influence on the Board of Trustees of the school, who are Nancy Zimpher's bosses too. So, the trustees will have a choice to make -- do they back the university president or do they back the basketball coach?

Given the facts to date -- that Huggins hasn't received a contract extension -- it appears that they've already cast their lot.

With Nancy Zimpher.

Bob Huggins ultimately will land elsewhere, and he'll resurrect some moribund program that was on life support before he got there.

The University of Cincinnati will move on, and hopefully Huggins' successor will fare better in Cincinnati that Jerry Tarkanian's did in Las Vegas.

You'll remember that guy. He won a national championship at Villanova and had great bona fides before moving to Las Vegas, guy by the name of Rollie Massimino. UNLV couldn't have gotten a bigger name than Coach Mass, or a guy with a better reputation at the time.

But, relatively speaking, Coach Mass failed, precisely because operating differently he couldn't bring UNLV's men's hoops program to the heights that his predecessor had. That was a tall task, and following a legend, tarnished or not, is a difficult job.

Cincinnati appears headed in the same direction.

It's a courageous decision to make, one that will probably cost Cincinnati the national attention that it has received because the successor teams aren't likely to fare as well as those under Huggins.

But, to a university president's (and many others') way of thinking, that's a small sacrifice when the greater good of the university is at stake.

(Thanks to Yoni of the College Basketball Blog for the link.)