SportsProf

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

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sam Hinkie, Genius

4.0 at Oklahoma.

MBA from nationally recognized school.

Challenged the status quo, traded an All-Star for "the best defensive prospect in 15 years," then drafted one of his best friends.  All in the name of rebuilding.

Fans are excited.

Fans are starving for a winner.

Fans are looking for hope everywhere.

Jury is out.  Let's see what the team looks like in 3 years.

And let's see how happy ownership is if a) a franchise with among the league's worst attendance sees that attendance drop by 4,000 fans a game, b) New Orleans doesn't play badly enough to make the pick gotten in the Noel/Holiday trade a non-protected lottery pick (or they play poorly enough to achieve protected lottery pick status, thereby denying the 76ers a much counted on elite pick in next year's draft) and c) if the team signs free agents who (i) don't augment attendance but (ii) cause the team to play well enough to put the team at the bottom of the lottery or worse (for rebuilding purposes).

That said, it's about time for the team to do the following:

1.  Be creative, a la San Antonio, who got Tony Parker with a late first-round pick, got Manu Ginobli in the second round, Danny Green off the scrap heap and Kawhi Leonard in a trade; and
2.  Be more international, and find some players who can help from overseas.

In the meantime, he's been bold and he's offered hope.

But if the team doesn't fare better 2, 3 years down the road, few will remember Sam Hinkie.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The 76ers Have Had 18 Head Coaches in the Past 40 Years, 19 if You Count Whoever the New Guy Is

You can check it out here.

That's about one coach every sixth months.  Now, sure, some stayed for longer (Billy Cunningham, Larry Brown), but others did not (Kevin Loughery, Tony DiLeo).  Still, each has had the title "head coach."

Which gets me to thinking that the most recent trade of Jrue Holiday and a #2 for Nerlens Noel and a protected #1 is a bit wishful thinking.  Yes, some have labeled new GM Sam Hinkie bold, daring and smart, while others wonder if he just steered the good ship off the cliff and will have fans desperately wondering whether they'll clinch the best chance for the first pick in next year's draft by Christmas.  They'll also be offering pagan rituals for Thaddeus Young, who deserves a better fate than to play with the team sponsored by the Last Chance Hotel. 

Optimism for the 76ers results from the triumph of hope over experience.  Sure, they had great teams in the mid-to-late 70's to early 80's and got to the finals in 2000, but otherwise they've been an abysmal team at worst (see 1972-1973 and a fair-to-middlin'-to-above average team at best.  This trade suggests that they want to build around Noel, Young, first-round pick Michael Carter-Williams, the enigmatic Evan Turner and perhaps the kid from Kansas who many think is the "next LeBron" (cautionary tale:  Google "Lenny Cooke" and show some measure of concern when you heap all that praise on someone; also Google "Harold Miner," who was touted as "Baby Jordan").  But live in the present we must, and Noel is out until December.  So, you have a lineup consistent of Carter-Williams, Turner, Young, Spencer Hawes and either a two or three to be named later depending on where you put Turner (probably at the 3).  And the bench?  Who will be there? 

This is a recipe for an 18 and 64 team. 

This is a recipe for many empty seats.

This is a recipe for further condescension from the Knicks and Nets fans, and even the rebuilding Celtics could be better.  But if they want to vie for the Wiggins sweepstakes, given NBA history, they'll beat out the 76ers.  Yes, rock beats scissors, and I'll bet on the Grousbeck father and son combination and the Boston karma over Josh Harris and his buyout fund billion. 

The jokes are going around that the 76ers will sign Greg Oden to be a matched pair with Noel, and that they'll hire bad-legged historic big men Bill Walton and Sam Bowie to help coach our bigs.  Of course, they could re-sign Andrew Bynum, too, and have Noel and his limited offensive game play alongside Bynum, whose offense is good.  The possibilities are endless.

But, remember, this is a big bet.  And, with how frequently the head coaching position has turned over, it seems that it will be difficult for the team to gain traction quickly enough to build upon another new, exciting nucleus and go further than the first round of the playoffs.  History dictates that this won't happen, that Harris will get bored, sell the team to a local gazillionaire and buy an NFL team. 

Where hope will triumph over experience once again.  But at least "parity" makes it easier to rebuild an NFL team.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The 76ers Have Fired CEO Adam Aron -- Hold the Phone -- Perhaps Not


I posted the following yesterday after seeing a tweet from local sports media honcho Howard Eskin that he had two sources that told him this happened; the morning papers on June 25 report that the firing didn't take place but opened the door that Aron's role might change.  The original headline was that they fired Aron, and I apologize for jumping on this without letting it marinate.  Eskin has broken some big stories before, but this time either he was ahead of the competition or, upon learning of Eskin's early learning of the story, the 76ers retreated.  In any event, here's what I wrote, and despite the uncertainty for the 76ers and Aron, I'll leave it up for consideration.

Philadelphia area guy. 

Went to Harvard.

Had success in business.

Probably figured that a good way to end a business career would be for a long ride helping bring the hometown basketball team -- in a basketball town -- back to prominence. 

Went to work for a guy with four kids, a hedge fund billionaire, a Wharton grad who made his entry into sports ownership by purchasing a once-storied but now struggling basketball team.  Probably figured it would be a safe bet, working for and with this Wharton guy.  Probably figured that he'd have some rope in helping bring the team back into prominence.

Sure, there would be pressure.  The pressure that comes from the Celtics and Knicks and the  upstart Nets, with their Russian oligarch owner and their somewhat fashionable address in Brooklyn.  They made the big deal, it bombed, the seats didn't fill, and the GM went.  A GM who had spent years in a system that had consistently failed to find gems from among foreign players or overlooked U.S. players playing overseas.   So did the head coach, who was a luxury, a great basketball mind and man coaching an also ran with only a few good players.  His potential for success was doomed when the big guy's knee balked and then balked again. 

So now the third thing happened.  The CEO is gone.  Perhaps owner Josh Harris is taking a page out of one-time "owner" Pat Croce's book (Croce called himself "owner" but owned only a tiny sliver of the team; yet, he was the face of the franchise) by parting company with most of his front office after only one season. 

The coach, a legend for the team as a player, is gone.  The GM, a Big Five hoopster with a son playing in the Big Five (albeit for a different school), is gone.  The local kid who went to Harvard is gone.

Wonder whether Adam Aron still thinks it was a wise move to exit the travel business for the glitz of professional sports? 

I had contemplated a career in it, too, only to have friends talk me out of it because they offered that I could do something more important in my life than watch games and that dealing with athletes -- actually meeting them -- would prove to be a major disappointment .  (I once met Willie Mays, and it was hard for him in person to live up to his legend as a player).  At any rate, what the business people find is that sports is a raw business in terms of sales.  What I mean by that is that you can probably sell a like good to a customer who is considering other like goods.  There are different features and price points, but you probably could sell something to just about everyone.  In sports, though, the won-loss record is so raw that people won't go to a palace to watch an also ran; they will go to a barnyard to watch a champion.  There is so much competition for the entertainment dollar -- cable TV, iPods, iPhones, Netflix, Cable TV, cell phones, gourmet restaurants, other sports -- that if you cannot field a winning team, unless somehow the generation that blows its money on hanging out finds your arena cool, you are doomed.  You don't need to be a Wharton or Harvard grad to figure that much out.  You need a good product -- not a DJ for a P.A. announcer who can't carry half of Dave Zinkoff's microphone, not dancing girls of all ages, not men jumping on trampolines dunking basketballs. 

You need a team that can contend.  You need a front office -- the way Jack McMahon did it finding player after player for the Sixers in the 80's (including, among others, Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney) -- that the fan base has confidence in will go to all corners of the earth to find the next great player. 

The owners don't have to be Wharton alums, the CEO doesn't have to be a Harvard grad, and the coach doesn't have to be a Hall of Famer and former Olympian.  It's not that formulaic, but it's pretty obvious what you need -- players, and players whose will to win is so fierce that the money doesn't become a deterrent, that guaranteed money doesn't reduce their will to win.  Capture that talent and that will in a bottle, and you will win a championship.  Signing a guy with a tendency to change haircuts and go bowling while nursing an injured knee might just not cut it.  Sure, he could be a bright guy, but you're looking for the guy who loves winning and hates losing. 

So, the front office parts ways with CEO Adam Aron, making it a hat trick in terms of cleaning out upper management.  The owner doesn't fire players or himself. 

And, the thing of it was, had Andrew Bynum been health and played up to his potential, Adam Aron, Tony DiLeo and Doug Collins all might still be at the Wachovia Center. 

Perhaps looking for just one more piece to make an even deeper run into the playoffs.

So, bright kids everywhere, be careful what you wish for.  Sports is a big business, and it's much easier to tell whether you're performing well or not.  It's both the won-lost record, your revenues and your earnings.  They typically correlate. 

You don't need a Wharton or Harvard degree to figure that out.

And while the product might be a fun thing, it's still a business.

The Protests in Brazil

I am not an expert in Brazilian politics.  I have read that the current Prime Minister is not as good for the economy as her predecessor, and I have read what everyone else has read about the protests.  What does not surprise me is that this seemingly is the first time in a long time that an entire country has protested the huge expense that Brazil has made on soccer stadiums.  Yes, various U.S. municipalities have protested the construction of sporting facilities -- simply by refusing to approve the expenditures on a ballot referendum.  And, while many Olympic games have proven to be financially disabling (among them the Montreal games of 1976), few have protested the expenditures in advance.  Many lament them after the fact.

So, to me it's a surprise that it is taken this long for significant numbers of people within a country to say, "Hey, wait a minute, we're spending all this money on international soccer when we have serious problems with our infrastructure -- with our educational system, with our healthcare, with our government?"  The amounts are staggering, and for whose benefit are they?

For the growth of international soccer?  Perhaps.

For the professional soccer leagues who try to make increasing dollars on merchandise and TV rights?  Perhaps.

For in-country soccer federations trying to sell more merchandise?  Perhaps.

For the people in the country where the tournaments are hosted?  Perhaps not.

Sure, the phenomenon of international soccer created a demand for hosting the Confederation Cup in 2013 and the World Cup in 2014, and that demand compelled Brazil to build soccer stadiums, many of them.  Admittedly, these projects created numerous jobs for those in the building trades, and the tournaments themselves will help tourism.  But what will happen after that?  And could the money have been better spent?  Would Brazil have weakened its international prestige in soccer if it had ceded the stadium turf to Russian oligarchs or Middle Eastern oil barons? 

The answers are "who knows?", "of course it's possible" and "of course, it depends on where you sit."  But if things are as bad as the tens of thousands of peaceful protestors are saying, did Brazil really need to spend all this money on stadiums? 

Sports are fun, they are a good outlet, they promote exercise and teamwork, they are good entertainment. 

But how many Brazilians can afford to attend, and at the expense of more basic needs?

As protests go, it's smart for the protestors to draw attention to themselves while the international cameras are rolling.  It's gutsy, too, as the leaders invite retribution from forces in a country not always known for due process and good justice.  It's risky in that they chose a time to humiliate the government, and people who feel backed into a corner don't tend to play as friendly as people with whom you correspond nicely.  That said, the time for the most polite conversation seems to have ended; the people are frustrated.

Now the whole world knows.

A basic question is before us, one which many of us find convenient to avoid -- how much money do we need to spend on stadiums and leisure time?  And why?

Essays, not to exceed 750 words, are due next week.  But seriously, how much is enough, and when is spending money on structures that won't get a ton of use excessive?

Interesting questions within a soccer-mad country.  One might have figured that Brazil would have accepted this role willingly out of a view that it's the best soccer nation on the planet.  Instead, they are questioning a significant part of their culture -- how many monuments must we build to something we are really good at?  In the U.S., the stadiums probably wouldn't have been built; soccer isn't popular enough, and the people turn down building new municipal stadiums for football and baseball not too infrequently.  But this is one of the biggest soccer countries in the world.

Where people are not happy with something to do with their favorite game. 

Because sometimes too much of a good thing is excessive.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On the Phillies. . . and Leadership

On 97.5 FM, one of the sports talk radio stations in Philadelphia (a commentary on society is that there is more than one of them), former Phillie Darren Daulton talks about problems in the Phillies' clubhouse.  He doesn't specify, of course, which means either he suspects that there are or he knows something but isn't telling.  It's hard to know how connected Daulton is.  He talks in this laid back style and has a nickname for everyone, which means either he has a familiarity with all or just does it because, well, he's Dutch, and deep into middle age, he's still trying to be cool (going so far as to being a radio pitchman for an air-conditioning company and saying that he relies upon them, despite the fact that he also does an ad for the condo building he lives in, which, presumably, means he doesn't need his own personal HVAC contractor).

Today, on the same station, Leslie Gudel of Comcast SportsNet was interviewed, and she offered that it's not so much that there are problems, it's just that there isn't any leadership.  That's probably closer to the case, and, if so, it's sad.

Very sad.

In the mid-2000's, the senior player on the squad was Bobby Abreu, who was a pretty good outfielder despite current musings that he was awful.  The younger players -- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins -- and others deferred to Abreu because of his seniority.  That led to GM Pat Gillick's trading Abreu to the Yankees for four suspects into order to enable the Phillies to become Rollins', Utley's and Howard's team.  Seemed simple, but with Jamie Moyer providing leadership for a young pitching staff, it was time for the young stars to take over.  

And it worked.  It led to a world championship.

The team was full of energy and gamers and, interesting, no big contracts.  Then Jayson Werth cashed in and hit the jackpot with the Nationals, and, according to Gudel, he lived, breathed and slept baseball.  Ditto former OF Shane Victorino, an energetic player with whom the others seemed to want to keep pace.  Traded to L.A., cashes in with a seemingly over-the-top contract with the Red Sox.   Gudel offered that both are missed.

That may be, but Werth left a few years ago, Victorino was a good player, but even so, Utley, Howard and Rollins remain.  Cole Hamels is more senior, and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are deans of MLB's starting pitcher ranks, and Jonathan Papelbon is a premier closer.  And then there's Carlos Ruiz, whose suspension for taking Adderall didn't help matters.    So, is it really the case that there is no leadership?  Is Utley fried?  Is Howard not showing leadership because he's playing hurt?  Has Rollins decided that someone else should step up?  What about Lee?  What about Hamels?  What about Halladay?

Or, is it simply a case of, "well, I have my big contract, I have my awesome condo in Center City and a second home somewhere, so as long as I do my job, I'm fine.  Leadership?  That's for someone else?"

Because that's what it looks like.  It's only been five years, guys.  A few of who have never won a series, so perhaps you'll step it up. For those who have, don't you want to get back there?

Meanwhile, two young commentators were chastising the fans for booing and not being positive.

To a degree, the fans' attitudes reflect the leadership that they see on the field.

The absence of leadership is bad enough.

But the absence of leadership from those who led before or who get paid enough to lead is even more troubling.  

Better leadership won't, in and of itself, get the Phillies to the playoffs.

But the absence of it could make the difference between contending for them or not.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cost versus Value

The Nobel laureate in physics, Val Fitch, once said, "Excellence cannot be bought, but it must be paid for."

The statistics have shown, particularly in MLB, that if your team is not among the top quarter in payrolls, you will not be a playoff team.  It also tells you that spending into the top quarter doesn't guarantee you that spot, as there are examples of big spenders who have failed.

The statistics also are showing, with some troubling regularity, the decline in performance of stars who get long-term deals, such as Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Vernon Wells, Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, Ryan Howard, to name just a few.  Translated, if you're a betting person, don't bet on the teams with the long-term contracts, bet on the teams with the players who are about to get them.  Case in point:  The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.

Ben Cherington, the Red Sox's GM, probably ruined it for all overpaying GMs when he pulled the coup of the century on the overeager Dodgers by not only unloading some very expensive contracts, but also by getting some top prospects in return.  According to one GM, Cherington would have done a great job yielding those contracts (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez) for nothing, but he should have been named GM of the year for getting good prospects in return.  Because of that deal, it will become increasingly hard for GMs to unload big contracts without including prospects and eating much of their salaries.  At some point, the teams might as well keep the players or eat the contracts.

A recent article in ESPN the Magazine should have made Philadelphia fans cringe.  Each Philadelphia team ranked in the bottom tenth on the spending for wins proposition.  The Eagles overspent on never wases and has beens two years ago.  The Flyers consistently have spent big bucks errantly in their quest to have their first Stanley Cup Champion in 40 years (once they changed the rules on the hard-nosed Mr. Snider, he has been unable to lead his team back to the title).  The Sixers are the anti-Spurs, in that they have spent big bucks but have failed to be creative in locating the good overseas player -- ever.  And then there are the Phillies, who might as well be the free space on the bingo card for these purposes.  After 2008, they opened up the checkbook but failed to achieve another world championship. 

They overpaid for Ryan Howard.  They signed Chase Utley 7 years ago to a 7-year deal which expires after this season.  At the time, it looked like a bargain for the club ($84 million); now it looks like a fair deal if not a disappointment for the club given that Utley will not have the Hall of Fame career that 2007 portended.  They inked Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to big deals, huge deals, only to now to have to deal with the irony that in 2008, when they won the World Series, their rotation consisted of Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick (their bullpen was oh so much better, though).  Carlos Ruiz has been a bargain; Howard a disaster.  They inked SS Jimmy Rollins to a three-year deal last season, but he's a shadow of the guy who won the MVP award about six years back and the effort, sadly, isn't always there (he remains, though, one of my favorite Phillies).  Brad Lidge got a 3-year, roughly $33 million deal in the midst of 2008, only to pitch terribly, really horribly in 2009 and not that well in 2010.  He couldn't have left town soon enough.  Jonathan Papelbon, a good closer, got $48 million for four years a year ago, and he's been closing for a pretender.  For all the money that they have spent, the Phillies thought that they both bought and paid for excellence.  In fact, they did not.

They forget demography and the need to keep re-seeding the farm system with position players and pitchers.  They forget dollar-cost-averaging, in that it's not wise to have most of your good players be the same age.  While GM Ruben Amaro gets credit for the Raul Ibanez signing as one of his best moves, it was one of his worst.  The reason -- the team got very much older at a time when it needed to get younger.  The signing of an aging, injury-prone Placido Polanco the next off-season compounded the aging problem.  Instead, they figured that brute force -- spending for veteran players -- would solve all ills.  Instead, it forged a team that was somewhat complacent, that lacked the spark that up-and-coming players and role-playing aged veterans provided, and the team didn't win another World Series.

All because the GM knew what everything cost.

He just didn't know, really, who was worth it and who wasn't.

And now the team is stuck, facing a big decline, with many starts with big contracts, many on the downside of their careers, with few prospects coming up.

It used to be that fans could sell tickets on StubHub for significantly over face value; today, they have significant trouble recouping their purchase price.

Which goes to show you that if the front office can't figure it out about value, the fans can teach you in a hurry.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Question for NCAA President Emmert: If the Rape Charges are Substantiated Against 3 Naval Academy Football Players, What Will You Do?

You can read the story here

The stakes could be big.  After all, you set a precedent with Penn State, you rushed to judgment, and you exacted huge penalties against an undergunned and intimidated Penn State board without giving them any due process and without having conducted an investigation.  You damned them, you fined them, you reduced their scholarships and put various curbs on them. 

All for underlying acts that a current administrator, coach or player did not perpetrate.  By the way, the purpose of this post is not to defend or apologize for Penn State or the Paterno family, as I have written before that Penn State and Paterno didn't handle the matter well.  That said, it is pretty clear what the NCAA did and did not do. 

What the NCAA did puts them in a big bind.

Or should. 

That is, if the NCAA itself had any discipline in its approach and had standards to adhere to.

Because rape is a pretty serious charge.  As is the issue of sexual assaults in the military, which have been a big topic of conversation.  So, for a moment, let's suppose that these three Midshipmen committed sexual assualt, that they raped this female Midshipman.

Then what?

Well, if you adopt Mark Emmert's way of thinking, that's it for Naval Academy football.  You cannot reduce their scholarships, because everyone who goes to Navy gets a full ride.  You probably cannot suspend the Army-Navy game, because the nation wouldn't stand for it and you'd be punishing Army (then again, you did punish current Penn State players, who weren't around when the alleged bad activities and failures to act during the heart of the Jerry Sandusky problems took place).  You probably cannot bust the Naval Academy down to I-AA for a while, but I am not sure whether that would be a punishment.  You could reduce the number of football recruits Navy brings in, but unless there are rules that the USNA follows now, that would be hard counting to do.

No, you could suspend their football program for a period of years.  You, after all, threatened Penn State with the "death penalty," and since it's hard to fine Navy without fining the average tax payer (who wouldn't appreciate the symbol of the fine but would only seethe at the irony), so why can't you do that to Navy?  Okay, so you'd be suspending the Army-Navy game and you'd be elevating Air Force to an equal (which would be equally galling to Army and Navy), but what other choice to you have?  You set a precedent with Penn State.

So, if this is true, you'd have to consider a four-year ban on the football program, elimination of the "football house" referenced in the article (memo to football players who want a good future:  stay way from that #&^*@ house) and mandatory sexual harrassment training that sets the standard for all athletic programs everywhere, among other things.  If this were true, that would have to happen. 

If this were true, Navy football should have blank pages in its history for several years.  And, Mark Emmert, you're just the guy who can and should do it.

Because failing to do it would throw into question your leadership and decision-making on the Penn State matter.  You elected -- rashly -- to take a stand, so you have set a precedent.  You picked on an otherwise honorable institution because you wanted to show that even the most honorable were not above your jurisdiction (and perhaps you were, as many were, tired of hearing from the Paternos and their lionizers about how special and wonderful Penn State was and is), an institution that would have been less prone to fight back than, say, your average SEC school.  So, if you're going to be consistent, you're going to have to fire all the guns on Navy, too.

And, if you're totally consistent, without doing an investigation.

To be clear, I do not want anyone to rush to judgment.  The charges against the three Midshipmen football players are very serious, and these young men are entitled to a vigorous defense.  Everyone should remember that, even if the allegations are harsh and the reports are negative.  They are not guilty until they go through the process (and I admit I do not know whether it's a military process or the same criminal process the rest of us are subject to).

But if it's true, what does Mark Emmert do?  What should he do? 

If he goes after Navy the way he went after Penn State, he'd at least be consistent, but most likely overreaching (at least on the current facts).

If he were not to go after Navy in the same fashion, then he should immediately lift the various sanctions on Penn State and let them off for time served. 

Otherwise, the NCAA would lose all credibility.

It's hanging on a precipice now, or so it seems, at least with the latest article in SI about enforcement.

So, if you're Mark Emmert, what do you do?  The easy way out would be to distinguish this matter from the Penn State matter, say it's not a program-wide matter, let the authorities and school deal with it the way member schools have dealt with numerous felons over the years.  The bet here is that this is the way he'd go.

But remember, President Emmert, the prayer of the United States Military Academy, which, in relevant part, asks God to give the cadet the strength to choose the harder right over the easier wrong.  And use it to guide you in making your decision.

I'll also give you some advice -- the harder right might not be to punt and let the Naval Academy deal with this on its own.  You'll get a lot of pressure to do that, but you should, at all times, remember your prior actions and either be consistent with them or apologize for an overreaction.

Right now, there doesn't seem to be a middle ground if those kids are culpable.

Championship Golf of the Future

Zach Johnson aside, the biggest criticism of Merion was the amount of revenue an Open could generate.  The reason why that's important is that the USGA relies heavily on Open revenues to fund itself.  Have a historic, memorable Open on a smaller track that allows for fewer spectators, generate less revenue.  Forget TV revenue, forget mechandise, think spectators.

And that got me to thinking.  If I ran the USGA, I would. . .build the ultimate golf complex in conjunction (or at least in consultation) with Disney.

Picture this:  1) a huge resort, replete with interactive activities, courses, pools, ranges, golf school opportunities, spas, good food, and 2) the ultimate in stadium golf -- that is, the best championship golf course ever, a course that lends itself to TV, to great photographs, and to the ultimate in stadium golf experience, perhaps allowing 60,000 spectators to attend. 

And here's how you get them there:  you take the best of seating experts, Disney "fast pass" experts, computer programmers, corporate marketing people and the like, and you put together all sorts of packages.  If you pay the premium price, you'll get preferred seating and times in the grandstands of your choice for all four rounds.  Want to be at the first tee and last green on the fourth day, you'll pay X.  Want closer seats during those times, you'll pay 2X, and so forth.  You'll stay on the campus of hotels at a price point you prefer, and shuttles in the park will take you to the course -- access, once you're on the campus, will be easy.  There will be all sorts of restaurants, big-screen TVs, air-conditioned venues, corporate hospitality tents, pre-arranged.  The ultimate championship course will have topography, blind shots, the need to use all sorts of wedges, the need not to use driver on each par 4 -- the designers will get all that.

The "price-point" concept will enable fans to purchase autograph session tickets, with the PGA to provide players at various intervals.  You could sign up for the ultimate experience -- a golf school early in the week, perhaps a few dinners with older pros (a la baseball fantasy camps), good seating at the tournament, various sight lines, you name it.  And then, when the course isn't being used for the PGA championship or another major, it can be used for Q school (whose drama compels televising, given what's at stake), for the U.S. Amateur, for the NCAA championships, what have you, with, of course, various tee boxes depending on who's playing).  The possibilities are endless.

Organized golf needs to find a place to continue the legends of places like Merion, Winged Foot and Baltusrol, but, at the same time, should consider the "mega golf" experience of the next quarter century.  "Golf World," somewhere where the land is cheap but the access is relatively easy, could be an amazing place for the evolution and growth of golf.

But, not at the expense of the grand, old courses.

Danny Green's Success Begs a Question

How good are NBA personnel people?

Green was cut by the team that drafted him, and then the Spurs cut him twice  Now, he's close to being named the MVP of the NBA Finals (and, if you look at the roster of past NBA Finals' MVP's, it's a who's who of all-stars).

It took Green four tries to find his niche, and he's excelling.  Which begs the other question, which is, how many players just don't get the right shot because either a) the wrong team drafts them, b) a team that has too many guaranteed contracts passes on them and favors an inferior player, c) teams peg them way too early based upon criteria that don't do the best job of predicting outcomes or d) something else?  Meanwhile, the Heat have an antiquities wing on their bench, and over two dozen teams not in the finals have to wonder why they might have passed on Danny Green in favor of a roster of ten-day contract players used to fill time, some of whom might be playing in the D-League or Mali. 

It seems to me that there's some Darwinism due to take place in the NBA, and soon, looking for the next Tony Parker, the next Danny Green, the next Carlos Boozer (taken on the second round).  At some point, the evaluators will have to mix potential with results and then with other factors that the successful players have shared.  I don't know precisely what those are, but it seems to me that there is enough money lying around for a team to come up with a formula that consistently turns up Danny Greens.

Which, then, for them, will turn into green.

Father's Day at Merion

When I was in college and for a few years thereafter, my father and I used to get up early, sometimes at sun-up, to get one of the first tee times at a public course about 20 minutes from our house.  The course was tight, with what I'll call Pennsylvania lies (the type that most golfers ran into at the U.S Open this week).  Even after a good tee shot, you could find the ball on a sidehill lie, beneath your feet, what have you.  We played in rain, we outsprinted thunderstorms, we played in tremendous heat and humidity, with good players and not-so-good ones, humble ones and chest pounders.  Most importantly, we played, together, and were, perhaps, each other's favorite partners.  By the time he took up the game in earnest again, it was when I was in college.   He would  live for only five more years.

He had played as a younger man, even belonged to a private club, but it took too much time -- time away from the family, time away from helping build his career (even though a mentor or two told him that this was precisely what he should be doing).  As his responsibilities grew and his interests changed, he moved away from the game.   Thankfully, for that short window of time, he moved back to it.

I played with some vigor for about a dozen years, but once I met my wife and started a family, the rounds became fewer, the changes to go to the range even almost non-existent.  I got my son interested in some lessons a few years ago, but the burdens of work essentially made it very difficult for us to get out together.  After the sudden death of a friend and a realization that I will not be getting any younger, I've determined to find more hobbies, to rekindle some old ones and find some new ones, golf prominently among them.

I am not the best advance planner, so I didn't get a sense of the U.S. Open timetable and that it was visiting my area until earlier this year.  I suppose that when I first saw the news that it was going to take place at Merion, I thought, "Well, it will be a nightmare to get to, it could be hotter than Hades, and it could be very crowded.  Plus, you can get a better look at everything on television."  I also had figured that getting tickets was pretty much near impossible -- and it was at that. 

By the time April came around -- warmer and longer days -- my sense of "Yolo" (you only live once) got enhanced.  I thought about life, about getting out there more, about using weekends not for recovery from ever-so-hectic work weeks but as days to plan for aggressively.  I also figured that the Open might not get back to the Philadelphia while I'm still alive, given the trends toward huge stadium golf (I imagine that Disney and the USGA will combine to build the mega-golf resort complex replete with a full-stadium golf course and "fast passes" that will enable you -- on-line and in advance of a tournament -- to plan your day by booking seats in different grandstands along the course) and for long courses that don't require Merion's finesse -- that this might be one of the last Opens of its kind.  All of that weighed on me.  Sure, there were many reasons not to go, but there were many more for going.  Despite the potential for bad weather, for traffic jams and for having to work a bit to get a good view.  It didn't matter much when I boiled it all down.

It was the U.S. Open.

It was at Merion.

It was close.

It was Father's Day.

My son is a young teenager who likes team sports and running around a lot, so he hasn't been bitten by the golf bug yet.  He has taken some lessons and gone to a clinic, so taking him to Merion offered some risk -- he's not that tall yet, he doesn't know the game that well, it was going to be hot and humid -- but it was Father's Day, it was a big event, the big names were all there, and he liked golf enough to want to know and learn more.  And, in typical family fashion, we planned -- we read on-line, we read the local newspaper, and we got caught up on the course, the history of the Open and the players.  We both looked forward to the day very much -- and, come to think of it, how could we not?

We had a long day on Saturday, celebrating a life-cycle event with good friends and getting home late, so awakening a teenager at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning after getting home at 11 p.m. was no small task.  We got up and we drove about an hour to PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union, in order to catch a 20-minute shuttle bus ride to Merion.  There was no traffic, and we arrived at the gate near the second green at about a quarter after nine.  We walked in to greetings from volunteers of "Happy Father's Day" and "Welcome to the U.S. Open." 

Some had umbrellas, some had rain jackets, almost all were wearing collared shirts, a tribute, perhaps, to the Grand Dowager of golf, Merion, or to the Open.  We quickly went to the grandstands behind the second hole, a tough par 5, where player after player had difficulty holding the green and getting birdies.  We ran into a good friend there, who gave us good advice, which was, "at some point in the afternoon, you'll need to figure out whether you want to follow a group or pick a grandstand and watch everyone come by."

After about ninety minutes, we walked the course.  We walked down Ardmore Avenue, stopped at the very short 13th hole for ten minutes, and then proceeded to the back nine, to the main merchandise tent (it was "only" 24,000 square feet, whereas, at other Opens, it is 40,000 square feet, but the attendees nonethless did a good job of picking the place clean by Sunday afternoon), and then to the grandstands near the 17th green, where we could see the tee box at the 18th, which might as well have been in the Pocono Mountains for how far back it was from the fairway.  We saw the joy of victory in Shawn Stefani's hole-in-one (where he benefitted from a bounce typically only afforded members, as he hit the ball left into an angle of rough, which forced the ball onto the top tier of the green, culminating in a slow roll into the cup and the agony of a triple bogey, after South African George Coetzee hit his tee shot into the stands.  Both were great showmen -- Stefani kissed the ground where the ball hit and then applauded the fans who cheered him so loudly as he walked toward the 18th fairway after his tee shot.  Coetzee interacted well too, threw his ball into the stands after completing the hole, and then bowed to the fans after he hit his tee shot on 18.  That stuff doesn't draw the attention of the networks, but Coetzee will have some golf fans checking on his status as the weeks ensue. 

(This was my son's first golf tournament, and he witnessed in a hole-in-one, which he'll remember.  At his first baseball game, he saw a triple play, even though he doesn't remember it because he was four years old.  All I'll offer is that if your a horse trainer and your horse wins the Derby and the Preakness, you should purchase tickets for him and me in a box at Belmont -- your horse will win.)

Mike Weir hit a provisional there, and then found his original tee shot, and took what seemed like a week figuring out how to play it, only to duff it into the trap and then save it from there for an amazing bogey.  He's struggling this year, but he finished with a 69 on a day that under-par rounds were more rare than a Faberge egg.  Sergio Garcia arrived with pants that required a dimmer switch, a fuchsia-like color not normally found on the average golfer.  Martin Kaymer and Marcel Siem hit amazing tee shots, K.J. Choi looked calm, confident and professional, and Tiger Woods looked pained and aloof.  He played Merion this week; Merion won.

After hours of watching, it was time to go.  We were sweating but not dehydrated, hot but not bothered.  No, to the contrary, we were father and son, on a golf course on a Sunday, on Father's Day, enjoying a special event with one another, laughing, talking, smiling.  We shared observations, talked with the people sitting near us, had a good view of the quarry, and bought some merchandise, including Merion U.S. Open bag tags that will put on our bags and hopefully keep them forever, a sentimental token of a great time together.

It was the U.S. Open.

It was Merion.

It was Father's Day.

It was magic.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My (Tiny) Connection to the U.S. Open and Looking Forward to Going on Father's Day

When I was a kid growing up, my best friend lived two blocks away.  He lived in a nice, single-family house, but it wasn't huge and it didn't have a lot of land.  The one memorable thing about the neighborhood was that the next street down wasn't a through street.  It ran smack into a small estate with a big, colonial house with one of those nice, wooden, wraparound porches that Norman Rockwell painted and that might resemble houses near Merion.  I grew up east of the Schuykill River, miles and light years away from Merion (I had cousins who lived near there, and, yes, they believed to a degree that they were superior because they lived on the Main Line and we did not; I personally could have cared less). 

My friend's house's backyard abutted this small estate, with chestnut and crabapple trees separating his parents' property from this estate.  And old woman lived on the estate, an heiress to a manufacturing company that had either folded up or left for the South when we were young.  An old caretaker lived on the estate too.  The woman seldom went out. 

The house had an air of mystery for us, and my friend's father every now and then waved and mosied over to say hello, but there wasn't much conversation.  The woman kept to herself. 

We knew her as Mrs. Stetson.  (Her first name was Helen).

The manufacturing company was a hat company.

Stetson hats.

When we were in high school, the local newspaper ran an article about her, on the fiftieth anniversary of one of her biggest accomplishments in life:  winning the 1926 U.S. Women's Amateur tournament.

At Merion.

The part of the road that went into her property we called the Dead End, because so seldom did cars go in and out of the place that we were able to make very near her gates home plate, and we played softball on the street (if you pulled the ball and got an extra-base hit to left, you risked drawing the ire of a guy who made millions in the cemetery business; other neighbors weren't nearly as well off). 

The house doesn't exist any more; Mrs. Stetson is long gone.  What made me think of her was a snippet on NBC today that reviewed past major championships at Merion and their champions, and, well, there she was.

And that got me to thinking about growing up, and golf, and my taking up the game when I was in college.  My friend who lived a couple of blocks away played in elementary school, because his father belonged to a country club; mine did not (so I took to playing tennis with friends on public courts).  Later, I took up the game, enjoyed playing with friends at the end of my senior year in college, and then for about a five-year period with my father before he passed away -- too young -- in the mid-1980's. 

When the news that the Open was returning to Merion reached me, I didn't get all that interested because, well, it's nestled right outside Philadelphia and getting there is difficult.  But as the event grew closer, I thought that this was a must event -- and a must to try to get there on Father's Day.  My son, a young teenager, has started to take up the game, and we've shared some fun, major events together.  And I'll forever remember, among other things, his first baseball game at Citizens Bank Park

But there's something about the Open, about Merion, about courses that were made not with bulldozers but with the local topography in mind, without huge stadium seating, about the sporting world focusing on your area, and about celebrating something with your son.  Sure, getting there will be a journey, but being there -- amidst all the hoopla, all the media focus, all the big stars -- should be something we should remember for a long time.

And to think, as a young boy I was within yards of someone in the neighborhood who won a major championship at Merion before television, before the internet, before Twitter, before the three major networks, let alone ESPN.

My, has the world changed since Helen Stetson won her tournament 87 years ago. 

But Merion hasn't changed much, and the scoring averages haven't changed much either.

Father's Day.

Golf.

Tradition.

My home town (more or less).

Walking around with my son.

I can't wait.

Results of the Penalties for the Dodgers-Dbacks Hockey Fight are In

Click here for the full report.

Shades of either Roller Derby with Buddy Atkinson, Jr. and Judy Arnold or tag-team wrestling with Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy and the British Bulldogs.

Come to think of it, if fighting were to become a part of baseball, they might draw more fans.

And watching HGH-addled players battle could have all sorts of interesting consequences.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Spurs-Heat Tonight

The Spurs are up 2-1 in this series.

After Game 2, when the Heat went on a huge run to win the game, the pundits were mixed as to where they thought the series was.  The pro-Heat group thought that the Heat sent a message, that they have a gear that the Spurs cannot get into, and that they sent a message that the series was there's to lose.  One went so far as to boast that the Heat had not lost two in a row since January (only to have another point out that if the "lose every other game" cadence persisted, the Spurs would win the championship).

The pro-Spurs group didn't read as much into the Heat's win in Game 2 for two reasons.  First, the Spurs' goal was to return to San Antonio with the series tied at 1, and they did that.  Second, the Spurs would have three in a row at home, and their home is a tough place for road teams to win at.  There also was a third reason, too -- that it's far from a sure thing that the Heat can get into the gear that they did in Game 2 any time they want to.  The conference finals proved that getting into that gear is difficult but doable.

Then the Spurs kicked the living daylights out of the Heat in Game 3, winning 113-77, taking the Heat out of their game and totally disabling the gear that the Heat might have figured they could turn to at any time in any game.  So now the Spurs have the chance to win the series in 5 games and at home if they win out in San Antonio.

Which means, of course, that Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich is telling his team tonight to replicate Game 3, to play like there is no tomorrow, and to totally take the Heat out of their game.  Do that, he has to figure, and then you're up 3-1 with another game at home.  Sure, the odds might figure that the Heat cannot lose three games in a row akin to the Game 3 debacle, but, that said, were Game 4 to replicate Game 3, that's precisely what could happen.

Of course, the Erik Spoelstra will be telling the Heat that they must summon the gear that they did late in Game 2, play that way the whole game, and tell the grand old men of the game that their time is up and that the league belongs to them.  He'll tell them that, encourage them and cajole them, but truth be told, Dwayne Wade isn't what he once was, and the Heat's bench is laden with some grand old men of their own -- Mike Miller and Ray Allen (who play), Shane Battier (who doesn't play much) and Juwon Howard and Rashard Lewis (who do not play).

I don't have any predictions for tonight, but I will summon the wisdom of a friend who is a terrific negotiator.  He once advised, "When you have the other side in a bad place, keep them there."

Touche.

That's precisely what Gregg Popovich is regaling the Spurs with.  The Heat will come out with a different level of intensity, but do not think for a moment that the Spurs will not, either.  They have a golden opportunity tonight, and they know it.

Are the Nets Kidding Us?

Who would have bet that Jason Kidd would get an NBA head coaching job before Patrick Ewing?

Why wouldn't the Nets have out-bigtimed the Knicks by hiring Patrick Ewing? 

It's not as though NBA coaches have a long tenure, so why won't anyone take a chance on Ewing, who has paid his dues?  Ewing the player worked very hard, improved his game and was a real warrior.  He'd have instant credibility in the locker room, and seemingly would have the edge over Kidd because of the perspective he's gained since he retired from playing.  Sure, you can argue that Kidd will surround himself with veteran coaches to help guide him, but it's a big switch.

I have nothing against Kidd; it's just time for Ewing.

What Will the BCS Schools Think of Next?

If you click on this link, you can read about how UCLA's football program just offered a scholarship to an 8th grader.

If you read the entire article, you'll read that other schools have done the same thing.

Which leads to this question:  what will the headlines be 5, 10 years from now? 

Commitments to 5th graders, some of whom were held back two years so that they would have more time to develop?  (You are permitted to conjure up views of Seinfeld's Kramer competing in karate competitions against kids).

How about adopting the ways of the horseracing set and setting up conjugal relationships between star athletes at your school, so that they can breed the next ___ for the ____ team at the BCS school?  Failing that, how about getting star female athletes to donate eggs and male athletes to donate sperm?  You can raise money for your top-of-the-line genetics department and med school and concurrentlly help the football team.  Everyone can win.

And Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney thinks its tough enough to compete without having the two dozen "administrators" beyond the allotted number of head coaches, wait 'til he sees the boosters at his competition swing into action on this stuff? 

Imagine the flyers within the athletic department's alumni publications:  "Wanted, former sprinters on women's track team, must be 5'8" or taller, to hang out with former wider receivers on football team," with more details of course.  And, if the schools hone their game and have the number of "administrators" that Bama football currently has, they can keep databases on the bloodlines of the various sports families.  The possibilities are endless.

But offering 8th graders? 

Here's what I can guess might happen.  First, the 8th grader could get hurt, burn out, or lose his edge because big things have been given him too young.  Second, some kids will use this anointment to make the kid a target, particular defenders.  Sack the prince and you'll show up on the radar screen.  Third, rival QBs will use this as a motivator to excel and show everyone how pissed they were that the cognoscenti anointed this kid and not them.  My bet is that many will surpass this anointed 8th grader. 

I remember reading years ago in USA Today about the then-#1 recruit in the nation, a Louisiana running back named Joe McKnight.  Oh, he was the second coming, USC was thrilled to get him (even if their roster of tailbacks was impressive at the time they got McKnight), but he was nothing special in college, and he struggled to make the Jets as a back-up (the HBO Special, "Hard Knocks" had some snippets about McKnight's battling to make the team). 

So what happened?  Did McKnight peak in high school?  Was USC the wrong program for him?  Were the scouts wrong and he just wasn't that good?  Did he get hurt? 

I don't know.  But what I do know is that no one wants to peak in 8th grader or in 10th grade or in high school.  Brian Urlacher flew under the radar, played safety at New Mexico (hardly a powerhouse) and then excelled for the Bears and will make the Hall of Fame.  Noted drafter Jimmy Johnson was scouting several other Texas Tech players but kept coming back to an undersized linebacker who kept on making the plays.  He took that linebacker in the middle rounds, and that linebacker -- Zach Thomas -- went on to play in many Pro Bowls.  These stories are endless.

So, let's beware of anointing princes too early.  Life is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Still, if they're offering 8th graders now, when will they offer 5th graders?  (And, by the way, there is precedent for this, in that the European soccer clubs have "academies" and sign players early.  Arsenal's Jack Wilshere has been with the club since he was 9, and there are many, many others out there like that).  So, perhaps BCS football is behind.

And that's a scary thought, because they can raise the money fast to get ahead.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Rise and Fall of the American Empire

Did you read the article in a recent edition of Sports Illustrated regarding the current arms race in college football?  Do you think that Nick Saban is an innovator?  A visionary?  Or, is he a greedy grabber of resources that takes football to a new extreme and puts it way out of proportion to the mission of a public university?  Or, are you somewhere in between?  Is he worth emulating?  Or excoriating? 

If you go to the Alabama football website, you'll count 13 coaches for the Tide -- Saban and 12 assistants.  My guess is that 12 is the NCAA limit for assistants, because Alabama is an elite program and you would figure that they'd be at the max.  If you believe that football teams should have that many assistants, then you're fine with that number.  A rules a rule, and, Lord knows, the NCAA has plenty of 'em. 

The recent article highlights how major programs supplement the coaching staff with a bunch of people -- former high school coaches, former players, former coaches and coaching wannabes -- with administrative staff with nice titles to help arrange things, confirm things and do anything other than what the coaching staff is prohibited from doing.  Alabama, for example, last year spent $1.6 million in salaries for 24 such people with titles such as Director of Player Personnel.  That's an average of $75,000 per employee in a state where the cost of living lets you live pretty well (in contrast, at a place like Stanford, in expensive Northern California, good luck).  Perhaps it's jobs like these that have helped the economy rebound.

The article discusses the arms race, discusses how Mack Brown at Texas found himself behind but is catching up, but also highlights the laments of a DI coach like Clemson's Dabo Swinney, who believes that he cannot possibly keep up and, as a result, will be at a competitive disadvantage.  The question is, of course, is Saban once again showing what an organizational innovator he is, or just that he can raise more money and persuade an administration that really cannot afford to say no to the football program (sorry, NCAA President Emmert, but if you want to ding a "football first" program, you really messed up by rushing to judgment on Penn State at the expense of your beloved SEC, where you have something of a conflict of interest, perhaps if for no other reason than by directing the spotlight at Mount Nittany, you directed it away from Baton Rouge and other such points).

Is this really a good thing?  The NCAA curbed the abuse of offering too many scholarships and denying kids the opportunity to play by limiting the number a football program may give to 85.  That has resulted in schools not over-recruiting and other kids -- worthy kids -- getting a chance to shine in conferences such as the MAC and the WAC.  There are limits to the number of coaches, what coaches may do at certain times of the year, and now this administrative phenomenon pops up. 

All for an extracurricular activity.

A lucrative extracurricular activity.

A lucrative extracurricular activity that at certain places seems to have no boundaries.

I would ask the president of the University of Alabama this question:  how many academic advisors do you have in your entire university?  How many career counselors?  And what's the ratio of those to the number of people who support the football program?  And how many football players graduate?  And how many football players graduate with meaningful degrees that do not include credit for football or taking joke courses like the one the Harricks taught at Georgia on basketball? 

Sorry, but I just don't get it.  I'm not at the point of excoriating Saban, Alabama or anyone else, just at a loss as to why any of this makes sense.  (And perhaps I lost faith in the Tide after they wouldn't offer Smash Williams of Dillon High a scholarship when he needed one).  Seriously, why is all of this desirable?  Couldn't Alabama put that $1.6 million annual obligation to a better use -- one that would benefit all students?

Travel programs cannibalize youth leagues.  Those not deemed elite feel stigmatized, stop playing.  Video games are fun and create a distraction from physical exercise.  Parents don't like to let kids bike anywhere, walk anywhere, as they fear that their kid will become the next subject of either an Amber Alert or a hit and run from a high school kid texting something stupid while driving.  Kids are fatter, kids are suffering more from Type 2 diabetes.  What about funding intramurals?  Wellness programs?  Programs that encourage participation and perhaps some competition (as in, who walked the most flights of stairs in Tuscaloosa this year, as measued by a Fitbit?). 

But 12 assistant coaches and 24 administrators?  If there are 85 kids on scholarship, that's about 3 players per one football program employee.  What's next?  Are we going to cross Downtown Abbey with Alabama football and hire valets for each player (going back to the Friday Night Lights analogy, how about a personal "rally girl"?).

You've heard it all before.  Cities are in decay; economies change much more quickly than the plants that they leave behind.  Take a train from the northern suburbs into Philadelphia and some parts resemble Dresden after the air raids in '45 or parts of Baghdad more recently.  Education systems and healthcare seems to be better in more than 15 countries, and Niall Ferguson just offers up the thesis that America is one of the hardest places to start and then do business in because of all the rules and regulations.  The money spent on the assistant to the Director of Player personnel might better be spent somewhere else.

The Tide will continue to roll.  As will the other BCS football programs.  But the administration, the trustees and the alumni should think about this when they think about their charities and their communities and their beliefs.  You do have to pay for excellence, but do you have to pay for excess?

Monday, June 10, 2013

What is Wrong with the NBA? (in 500 words or less)

P.J. Carlesimo earned the Brooklyn Nets job with a good coaching job.

He won't get it.

George Karl was Coach of the Year and was fired.

Lionel Hollins took the Grizzlies to the conference finals and wasn't retained.

The Clippers, off one of their best seasons in a while, part company with Vinny Del Negro.

The irony is that NBA teams have a head coach and five assistants, and yet most coaching situations seem tenuous.  None of the Nets, Nuggets, Grizzlies or Clippers coached themselves.  And yet. . .

All clubs should consider doing away with all coaches.  Save money, donate it to charity, reduce ticket prices, but can the coaches.  Pick three captains on a 15-player roster and make them co-coaches.  One can run the offense, one can run the defense and one can run the substitution patterns.

Because, right now, it doesn't seem that hiring a head coach matters, because it doesn't seem that anyone pays attention to his head coach anyway.

What a mess.

Which is why Hubie Brown's point about Tim Duncan is one of the best I've heard about the NBA in a long time.  Brown commented that Duncan is the only superstar that lets himself be coached, and he offered that as a reason why the Spurs are so successful.  Extrapolating from Brown's comment is that no one else among the top 25 players lets himself be coached.  With the Nets, despite having a good coach in Mike Woodson, that seems apparent because Melo doesn't defend.  With the Lakers, Kobe listens to his own muse, and Dwight Howard clearly didn't listen to anyone.

Talent will win out, for sure.  But this revolving door with good coaches?  It's unprecedented.

What else can the NBA think of?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Fitbits

About 15 plus years ago, I bought a Franklin-Covey DayTimer to plan my day.  Information Systems weren't as advanced then, and I wanted some system to prioritize my work.  I used it for a while, found for a time that I spent too much time organizing my work and not enough time doing it, and, ultimately, stopped using the system.  It wasn't so much that Franklin-Covey had a bad system -- I liked it -- it was that it might have been better for people who do other kinds of work.

I'll confess that I sit too much.  I sit at work.  The parking lot is a short walk from my office, and I don't walk a lot during the day.  We sit watching our kids play sports, work is tiring, so we sit watching TV, and we do enough on-line that we don't park in store lots as much as we used to and spend a lot of time walking around stores and malls.

Someone at work got a Fitbit, talked about how he measured his exercise, how he measured his sleep, and, truth be told, he has worked hard to get into better shape and snack less.  He also talked about how optimally we need to get 10,000 steps a day.

And that's a lot.

I got a Fitbit upon his recommendation and the recommendation of an acquaintance.  I've started keeping it in my pocket, and I've noticed a few things.  Sure, I'm more conscious of the steps I take.  Second, I don't get as many "steps" or mileage as I thought pounding away on my spin bike (translated:  45 minutes equate to roughly 4500 steps).  Third, I don't climb stairs all that much.  Fourth, I need to figure out ways to get that other 5500 steps.

Walking to a nearby shopping mall for lunch is worth roughly 2200 steps.  Walking the dog in the neighborhood after work -- assuming that he is cooperative -- is worth about 2000 steps.  And, yes, I do some walking within the office, so, if I exercise, take another long walk and do some walking at work, I can get my 10,000 steps in.  50 sets of stairs are harder to come by.

I suppose that this Fitbit craze is a good thing.  Americans need to walk (and hydrate) more.  The longest days put us in better moods and get us into t-shirts and shorts more easily.  That said, the winter is gloomy, the weather is cold and wet, the ice and snow can present problems, the days are shorter, and, I think, the test will be when winter comes, how do we get the extra exercise outside the gym.  The mountain sports stores have all sorts of layers and workout equipment, so we can get outside, but the question is whether we will.

Fitbits themselves aren't the answer, though.  If you still eat a lot of fat and carbs, drink a few glasses of wine with dinner, eat pasta and bread and, of course, dessert, you'll put in your steps but you won't lose any weight.   So, it's not just the Fitbit, it's your whole regimen.

Exercise is good.

Measurement with a Fitbit is good for accountability.

Diet is important, as is hydration.

As are good social relationships, hobbies, interests and the like.

There is no one easy answer, but if Fitbits help spur us onto greater fitness, they'll do individuals and the healthcare system a very good deed.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Odd Facts Here and There

1.  On the telecast today, one of the announcers offered that 9 of the 14 horses running at the Belmont are related to Secretariat.  I am no expert in horse breeding, so I wonder whether they are grandsons, great-grandsons or further down the line.

2.  I saw a tweet from ESPN that suggest that Domonic Brown's home runs benefit from the stadiums in which he hits them, that the average length of 1 of his 19 four baggers is 378 feet, whereas the average length of a Major League home run is 397 feet.  Could it be that the Bank is turning into a bandbox again?

3.  Is Game 2 a "must win" for the Heat.  I think so.  Their roster is interesting -- current stars, past stars, old-timers, but perhaps not as even as that of the Spurs.  Then again, when you have a transcendent player like LeBron James, perhaps that's okay.

The Eagles Won't Get Better with Cary Williams

Player wins Super Bowl.

Player wins Super Bowl despite not having the greatest year as a defensive back.  On the "glove to toast" continuum for defensive backs, he was closer to toast (as in, getting burned with some frequency).  Yet, he parlayed his Super Bowl success into a three-year, $17.5 million deal with the Eagles, $10.5 million of which is guaranteed.

That type of money suggested that the Birds were not only trying to solidify their defensive backfield, they were looking for a desperately needed leader on defense.

So what does the player do?

He bags OTAs for "family reasons."  Why?  Because they are voluntary.  And because he sacrifices so much family time during the season that he needed this time for the family.

Really?  Okay, so the season is busy, but it lasts for about six months.  Which would suggest that there is plenty of time to pick out sconces for a new house, which is what Williams did.  It's also not as though the rest of us who support the team -- through ticket and merchandise purchases, among other things -- don't have to make sacrifices, either.

Like not being home for dinner, like being gone so early in the morning as to not wish the rest of the family a good day, like being on the road for meetings, sometimes for over a week at a time.  Some of those are very important for the future of one's career and company, some can be re-scheduled, and some can be missed.  But every day, so many of us do so much that we make sacrifices too.

Allen Iverson got pilloried for saying, "Practice?  We're talking' about practice."  Pilloried.  Ridiculed.  Blasted.

What doesn't Cary Williams get the same treatment?  "OTAs?  OTAs?  We're talking' about voluntary?  We're talking about my family?"  Remember when Latrell Sprewell got blasted for turning down a big contract because he wanted more for his family?  Okay, so Sprewell's situation might have been a bit more extreme than Williams, who sounded earnest in his explanation, but Williams also sounded ill-advised and mis-guided.

OTAs are a great opportunity for a team to bond, for a team to establish new leaders, for a team to put in new schemes.  Miss OTAs, and you miss out on a chance to do all that.  Miss OTAs, and it's hard to establish yourself as anything but someone who cares about yourself more than anyone else.  Give that explanation, and it sounds like you'll be on a losing team or at least a part of one.  Give that explanation, and it sounds like you were not a reason why the Ravens won the Super Bowl, but a free rider on the leadership and hard work of others.

The Eagles and Cary Williams goofed big time here.  The Eagles goofed because on the face of it, they have spent big money on a goofball.  Everyone knows that OTAs aren't really voluntary.  Sure, you'll get a case every now and then of someone missing something for some reason, but the new leader?  Wow!  You would have thought that the Eagles and Williams would have gotten this one straight at the time they signed him.  As for Williams, it seems like the guaranteed money has removed his motivation other than to work enough to pick up a paycheck, but to do nothing more.   And, the last time Eagles' fans checked, the so-called dream team -- the big signings with the big contract -- turned out to be a dysfunctional unit that lacked cohesion and ambition.  The fans are entitled to a group that comes together better than the teams they watched at the end of the Andy Reid era.

Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Rosenman, Chip Kelly and Cary Williams all should be held accountable here.

What a disaster.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Impact of Travel Sports

I had a long, deep, good conversation with a good friend of mine who starred at two Division 1 sports -- football and baseball.  He's a bit of an iconoclast, made friends with non-athletes, earned the respect of all teammates, and remains a very thoughtful guy.  He's an exercise maven, looks for ways to compete -- long swims, long bike rides, stuff like that -- and over the years has offered interesting insights into youth and college sports.  What follows is a summary of our most recent discussion topics:

1.  The emphasis on travel sports is out of balance.  In his view, the talent doesn't really separate until ninth grade, and before then the parents have too much control.  He wonders who the travel is for -- the kids so that they can say they are on an elite team, the parents of those kids so that they can say the same thing, the people who coach, because somehow this "elite" coaching adds to their self-esteem and relieves them of boredeom.  His view is that the parents and associations should provide the balls, the hoops, the nets, whatever, and then let the kids choose up sides and play.  They'll develop creative skills, they'll develop leadership skills and critical "work it out skills" that are invaluable to any society and organization.  (Somewhat supporting his point in, albeit, an oblique way is the Dutch national soccer program.  On the one hand, they do identify top prospects as early as eight.  On the other, the requirements for their programs and pretty light -- such as one game a week -- for a while, as they let kids be kids.  The intense part of the academy doesn't happen until the kids are teenagers). 

2.  Travel sports create the illusion that if your kid fares well, he or she will get a full scholarship to college.  We discussed how some parents operate under the false impression that their kids will get scholarships if they focus on one sport and play for an elite travel team.  I've discussed this with the parent of a current Division 1 lacrosse player (who himself played Division 1 lacrosse), a former Division 1 softball coach (who played Division 1 softball) and this friend.  All of us agree that first and foremost, the kids better love the sport.  My son and I traveled to a small tournament a few years ago that was hosted at a private school on Philadelphia's Main Line.  His coach said to the team and their parents:  "Take a look at this place.  Their lacrosse program will have 17 kids getting full rides to Division 1 schools."  He couldn't have been more wrong on so many fronts.  First, lacrosse teams tend to have 40 kids on them, and perhaps 10-12 full scholarships to offer.  Most kids don't get full rides; the teams carve up the scholarship money and dole it out selectively.  Second, this school had very few kids getting any scholarship money because its an elite place with kids whose parents can afford private school tuition and, therefore, college tuition.  Did lacrosse help get these kids into school?  Absolutely.  Did some of these kids get into better schools than they would have had they not been recruited athletes?  Most definitely.  But did any of them get full rides?  According to a friend of mine whose kids went to this school, the answer is "highly doubtful."  Yet, many parents operate with the false hope that their kid will get that full ride. 

Lacrosse seems to be attracting parents and kids who harbor this illusion that they get a full ride to college.  Softball also seems to do that, and the friend who is the former coach suggested that there is very little money by way of scholarships, and, if there is, it goes to the pitchers, catchers and shortstops, period (which does explain why the father of a friend of my daughter's pushed his child into catching; he didn't go to college and has had some trouble sustaining a career, but he pushed his daughter in this direction to earn a scholarship and at least once said he'd be disappointed if she didn't get into an Ivy League school, even if a vast majority of Ivy softball players do not hail from the Northeast).  Again, being a good softball player might get you recruited and therefore preferred admission, but as to money -- it depends on the school, the position you play and how good you are.  It's probably not a great strategy for most people.

3.  Travel sports are expensive, potentially elitist and potentially creating a false self-image.  My friend who played two sports in college and I talked about Princeton's baseball roster, for example.  If you look at the bios, you'll see that most of the kids' parents, if not all of them, are professionals, and sometimes both parents are.  That means that they more than can afford the travel team entry fees, the travel fees, the private hitting and pitching coaches and the $300+ DeMarini bats.  But does that mean that they are the best potential players out there?  They do have an advantage -- there is a barrier to entry, in that poor kids cannot afford that type of training, that type of travel and that type of equipment.  Major League Baseball should be worried, given the drop in their viewership on TV.  What once was the national pastime seems to be the pastime of a subset of people.  Sure, it could be that the prevalence of PEDs has hurt baseball's image, but it's not as accessible as it once was.  All you need to do is read Malcolm Gladwell to know that if you don't get your kid started early to get his 10,000 hours in, he'll be behind.  It's easy to play pick-up basketball or soccer in the inter-city; hard to play baseball. 

My son also noticed this.  He has some classmates who play on a travel basketball team.  They're good athletes, the team has a good coach and it has a good record.  The team is all white.  In contrast, when we went to basketball clinics at our local high school, he also noticed that most of the players are African-American.  What does that mean?  That the kids on the high school team come from somewhere other than this travel program in most cases.  My guess is that the latter play wherever and whenever they can, but that they cannot afford the ante that is required to play travel ball, and the travel programs don't have the infrastructure to offer scholarships, rides to practices and games, etc.  This type of separation could create false hope in the travel players, who might not be, at this stage, playing against anyone other than other suburban kids from upper middle class families.  Again, they're good athletes, but there is a disconnect somewhere. 

As for economics, the entry to play on some of these teams can be $5,000, and then you have the equipment, the travel, the private coaches, etc.  If you have a kid playing "elite" travel for eight years, the money can add up.

4.  Travel sports are exhausting for families and teaching the wrong things.  People are always on the go.  Parents work, use their vacation time to leave work early to drive 45 minutes for a practice, they're gone on weekends, and not every kid is good enough to make a travel team or to play one and only one sport well.  Travel programs can deplete rec leagues, and non-travel kids can lose interest because they get stigmatized as not being any good.  That means less exercise, more obesity, etc.  Alternatively, families aren't together on weekends, the kids who don't play travel feel disrespected, some kids don't see a parent all that much, and the travel culture is one where parents and kids tend to care much more about themselves than their teams or their organizations.  I witnessed it first hand, where otherwise nice parents would get into e-mail wars or shouting matches with coaches about where Sally batted in the order or what position she played.  And how a piece of any of them would die if someone who competed with their kid for playing time excelled.   What is that teaching anyone, other than to look out for me first?  Sometimes, we have to do that, but at this young an age and in an activity that's supposed to be a kid's game and fun? 

5.  How do we know whether the travel coaches are any good or not?  This is another key consideration.  I recall my best teachers fondly, and I spent more time with them than I did my parents at times.  The same would hold true for any travel commitment -- so, as a parent, you had better make sure that you are getting an outstanding teacher, leader and role model.  Sadly, that is not always the case.  You get the self-important, those who think they are Earl Weaver or Joe Torre, those who think that they are power brokers with college coaches, those who are profane, those who are angry, those who drink too much (and during the day and sometimes in front of the kids) and those who are trying to prove something to themselves.  There are many gifted coaches out there, but there are also those who coach so that they can assure their kid a position on the team and a good position within the team.  Softball in certain parts has become known as "daddyball," as a team of 11 can have four coaches, each of whom has a kid on the team.  Perhaps nepotism is part of the real world, but the politics, bad coaching and bad leadership can proliferate.  It's hard for me to be able to parse through the percentages absent a big study, but there is significant attrition because of burnout (either dads being too tough on their own daugthers or families getting fed up with the politics of travel).  That's why kids can play for many different organizations during their careers -- parents and kids are always looking for a better team and a better spot.  Sometimes they find it, and sometimes they trade one set of problems for another.

At some point, we'll discuss potential solutions that do not involve laws or governments, but common sense.  Darwinism is in play here, but it's very hard to tell whether those who survive are the best players, or the parents and kids who are best at "playing the game."  Something tells me that it's a little bit of both, when it should be the former.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Showdown at the OK Corral: MLB Might Seek To Suspend 20 Players Because of PEDs Use

They ignored it for a while.

A long while.

They celebrated the (inflated) statistics of the (inflated) users.

The Lords of Baseball profited.  You, yourselves, needed a financial PED after the disaster that was the 1994 season (the one that resulted in a labor dispute and cancellation of the World Series).

The Knights of the Keyboard marveled.  Yes, you, Messrs. Olney, Stark, Kurkjian, Verducci, Gammons.  You didn't question.  You marveled at the Herculean numbers. 

Hall of Fame considerations are now a mess. 

But somehow, some way, even if too late to nail the worst abusers during the worst period, Major League Baseball could be taking a stand

No doubt, the MLBPA will be taking one, too.  They will defend all players to the max.  Bet on that.  They'll do so under the theory that if they were to give an inch, MLB will try to take a mile and reserve all gains that the union has gotten since its inception.  That's how they'll think.

The Lords have self-inflicted so much embarrassment and humilation that they have to be worried.  The same way match-fixing has undermined the integrity of some international soccer leagues, PEDs have undermined the integrity of the game.  Many fewer are playing baseball and watching it since, say, 30 years ago. 

Today on ESPN Radio, I heard a good explanation regarding the loophole in the system -- the "three strikes and you're out rule."  That enables ballplayers -- such as Melky Cabrera -- to make a business decision (brushing up against the rules) to make about $16 million over the time that he's run afoul of the rules.  The reason the players are daring here is because they get three strikes.  At the third strike, they'll get banned.  Some players -- according to the reporter on ESPN -- have suggested fixing this loophole to enable MLB to ban a player on his second violation.  Some fans would say that's even too lenient.  But the fact of the matter remains that if the rules enable someone to make $16 million over a time when he cheated, they are bad rules. 

This ought to be a bigger battle than a pennant race between the Red Sox and Yankees.  The stakes are huge -- money for players and the long-term integrity and credibility of the game for everyone.

It's about time.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Bayern Munich Becomes Only 7th Team to Win European Treble

For the uninitiated, that means you win a) your league, b) your country's "cup," and c) the Champions League.  The first is the Bundesliga, a very strong soccer league.  The last is the tournament that amalgamates the best teams from leagues all over Europe.  Bayern Munich is the first German team to do so.

They have stars, almost all of whom Americans have never heard of.

Arjen Robben

Franck Ribery

Thomas Muller

Bastian Steinshcheiger

Jerome Boateng

Manuel Neuer.

Among others.

And, next year, they'll get the most promising young central attacking midfielder in the world, Mario Gotze, and a great striker, Robert Lewandowski.  Plus, they'll get a new coach, Pep Guardiola, who did a great job at Barcelona.

If you're an American, you probably have heard of Manchester United.  Perhaps, also, Real Madrid and Barcelona.  You might have heard of Chelsea and Arsenal and perhaps, for all its wealth, Manchester City.  I doubt you've heard of Monaco, PSG (Paris St. Germain) or Borussia Dortmund.

Make no mistake, though, Bayern Munich, right now, might be the best team in the world.

And, look out for the Germans in World Cup 2014.

Domonic Brown Shows Why Phillies Kept Him

Around 2007, the Phillies were onto something.  The Bank was abuzz.  Younger players not yet on big contracts played with a huge verve.  Prospects were coming through the system.  The team needed a few more pieces to become elite.

So they traded prospects. . . for Joe Blanton, for Cliff Lee, for Roy Halladay, for Hunter Pence, among others.

They traded guys like Kyle Drabek, Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman (great name for a pitcher), Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Michael Taylor.  They also traded Gio Gonzalez, Travis D'Arnaud, Jonathan Singleton and Anthony Gose.  There is good news and bad news in this.

The good news is that so far they haven't made a trade along the lines (if you're very old) of Lou Brock (a future Hall of Famer) for Ernie Broglio, (if you're middle-aged) Larry Bowa AND Ryne Sandberg (a future Hall of Famer) for Ivan DeJesus, (if you're somewhat younger) Jeff Bagwell (a possible Hall of Famer) AND two others for Larry Andersen and John Smoltz (a future Hall of Famer) for Doyle Alexander (who admittedly pitched great for the Tigers in a pennant race after the trade).

The other good news, believe it or not, is that they did trade some good prospects.  The reason is. . . if you only trade people who don't turn out, the other teams will get a sense of your GM and be unwilling to trade, precisely because, well, trades are supposed to work out for both teams.  So, while the Phillies got stars in trades, they also gave up some guys who could pan out -- D'Arnaud (a very promising catcher), Singleton (a very promising first baseman) and Gose (who, somehow, if he can put all his tools together, could be special).  That also shows that the Phillies' brass's ability to evaluate and draft talent isn't awful, even if they haven't elevated a star position player except Brown since Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley came up.

The bad news is that some of the prospects I just discussed could be very special, and, if that's the case (and the odds are that all will not), then they've misjudged their talent and erred badly.  So, that's not really bad news, just potential bad news.

But remember when they made the trades for Halladay and Lee?  Drabek was supposed to be another Halladay, Taylor a right-handed version of Dave Parker (for those who remember), Marson a potential All-Star and Donald a player along the lines of Sandberg and Utley.  The Phillies and their fans agonized over the price that those trades required, but it turns out the Phillies made good trades.  It's just that they didn't win a second World Series.  Halladay pitched great before he got hurt, including a perfect game and then a no-hitter in a playoff game.  Lee has had mixed success, but will be remembered for his failure to hold a 4-0 lead in game 2 of the NLDS after one inning (with the Phillies up 1-0 in games).  Had Lee been able to hold that lead, it stood to reason that the Phillies would have won the NLDS and perhaps gone on to win another World Series.  Then again, who really knows?

So, amidst a continued decline of aging stars, Brown is emerging as the star the team thought he would be.  He's on pace to hit 40+ home runs, and be an anchor in a lineup that desperately needs one.  While the Phillies are 26-29, they are this way without many stars.  If somehow the stars can get healthy for a last hurrah (save Halladay, who seems done for the year), then perhaps they can grab the last wild-card spot.  That seems unlikely, but at least Brown will give the fans some hope for the future.