Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Year-end observations and musings

1.  Oh to be Jaromir Jagr and still playing the game you love at the age of 44.

2.  Saw parts of the Kentucky-North Carolina game.  There was a player out there who had some Michael Jordan-esque moves.  Problem for the Tar Heels was that he played for Kentucky.  Name:  Malik Monk.

3.  Bucks have a 6'11 point guard whose last name you cannot pronounce or spell, but he's one of the top players in the NBA.  His name:  Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

4.  If the FCS has an eight-team playoff, why shouldn't the FBS have one? 

5.  Joel Embiid has been worth the wait.  Plays like a combination of Olajuwon and Chamberlain.  Problem is that the 76ers' guards play like another Chamberlain -- Neville.

6.  Dak Prescott is having an amazing year.  No one can take that away from him.  I wonder whether Carson Wentz would have had a similar year if he played behind that line with that running back and those receivers. 

7.  Will someone call the Federal Trade Commission and try to prod the NCAA and SEC to break up the Alabama Crimson Tide?

8.  Gender bias is apparent in sports, period.  Otherwise, how can you explain the relative lack of coverage of the UConn women's basketball team (or, for that matter, my listing this eighth).

9.  Does the English Premier Soccer League give us the rock star athletes like the NBA?  Just asking.  Games are fun to watch, and the crowds are excellent.

10.  If Theo Epstein were to pull off a third miracle after Boston and Chicago, what would the world do for him, give him?  Pretty amazing feats, what with all the attention in both cities.

11.  Will the Warriors smoke everyone in the post-season or will the playoffs expose their lack of depth?  Team isn't as deep as last season, and while that does not matter in the regular season, it might in the playoffs.  I would do everything to pry Nerlens Noel from the 76ers as a back-line stopper on defense.  The kid has game.

12.  Westown School in Pennsylvania has two or three future NBA players on its front line, one of whom has the second largest wingspan in all of organized basketball.  Question is how those players make their way to a league that isn't usually known for its sports.  Schools are good, and perhaps for some boys' hoops is an exception.

13.  Thankfully the Carr football family has found some good fortune.  Older brother David had a great college career and tons of talent, only to have the Texans' o-line perform so badly that he turned himself into a tackling dummy and didn't have the career forecast for him.  Younger brother Derek has found a great situation in Oakland and, as Jon Gruden predicted, is off to a great start in his career.

14.  Will this be Andy Reid's year to win a Super Bowl?  The guy is an excellent coach, yet his team's have been marred by the occasional Achilles' heel over the years.  Last week's failure to beat the Titans at home in the frigid weather revealed that Big Red's team cannot always get it done in the clutch.  It's a long season, and New England and Oakland look formidable.

15.  Saw that Jimmy Rollins signed a minor-league deal with the SF Giants.  Methinks that he and his former teammate, Carlos Ruiz, will manage in the Majors some day.  J-Roll could add a veteran presence and clutch bat to Bruce Bochy's bench.  Speaking of former Phillies, someone should sign Chase Utley.  Guy is a flat-out gamer.

16.  What goes around comes around.  During their great years from say 2007-2011, the Phillies were so popular that they sold out several hundred consecutive games at Citizens Bank Park and that the Nationals and Pirates both advertised in Philadelphia for fans to visit their stadiums during that era.  Phillies' fans got so confident that they waved a banner in D.C. that exclaimed "Citizens Bank Park South."  How the mighty have fallen.

17.  Ivy League men's hoops just aren't the same as they were when Penn and Princeton ruled and that rivalry was riveting and everything.  Sorry, Harvard, but you have taken the fun out of things.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Wake Forest Football Scandal

Alum becomes assistant coach.  Head coach gets fired.  New head coach doesn't want assistant coach on his staff.  Assistant coach becomes a member of the school's broadcast team.  A good job if one wants to a) stay in Winston-Salem, b) work for his alma mater and c) stay in football so that perhaps he can get another coaching job somewhere some day.

All that makes sense.  Alums don't have some divine right to have a permanent job in some capacity at their alma mater, no matter how much they loved their experience as students.  Football coaching is a meritocracy, to wit:  if you coach for a winner therefore you are a winner and therefore you will continue to be a desired member of a staff.  Conversely, if you coach for a losing team, no matter how good of a coach you might be, well, your job security isn't the same and your desirability on the assistant coaching job market will not be what you want it to be.  It's pretty much that simple.  Sure, you might have been in the wrong job in the wrong place at the wrong time and get resurrected quickly at an equivalent position, especially if you have a mentor who has a need, but that doesn't always happen.  Sometimes, you have to take a step sideways or backward to map out a new path forward.

The Tommy Elrod story started that way.  He was a co-offensive coordinator under the prior head coach and the new guy didn't want him on his staff.  There could have been a lot of reasons, but all that matters is that the new coach should be entitled to hire whomever he wants.  And the new coach, Dave Clawson, did just that.  And Elrod ended up in the broadcast booth. 

And that's when a screw seemingly went loose in Elrod.  I don't need to link to the many stories, but the gist is this -- for some reason, Elrod, who had significant access to the Wake program, took it upon himself on multiple occasions, apparently, to pass along plays to Wake's opponents.  Former players speculated on ESPN that he did this for money; Mike Greenberg wondered aloud whether payments were involved.  What's clear is that if this happened, it's a Benedict Arnold-level treasonous offense in the world of football.  You just do not do that.  That clearly crosses the ethical line if not the legal one. 

The scrutiny right now is on Elrod, but what about the teams that might have taken the Wake plays and done something with them?  What is the accountability for that?  The culpability.  What Elrod did clearly was wrong, but I'd submit that if investigations uncover that other programs willingly took and used the plays that Elrod shared with them to their advantage, then everyone involved in the taking of the secrets should be held accountable.  What should they have done?  Simply said, "not interested" and walked away.  Better yet, they might have called Coach Clawson and told him that this was going on.

What should the consequences be for those programs and people involved?  That's not for me to decide.  My guess is that facts and circumstances will decide the punishment, which could involve termination or suspensions and fines.  This seems to be an unusual and rare situation, but it also must be one that must not be tolerated.

The story is sad, pathetic and hard to believe.  I can understand that Elrod might have felt disappointment and frustration.  And it could have been the case that he didn't like the way he was spoken to.  Perhaps he felt ignored, dismissed, condescended to, or avoided or something else.  Even if he wasn't treated the way he wanted to be, his remedy for the situation was extreme. 

And for that he will need to find work far away from his alma mater and outside the game of football.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Aaargh, Arsenal!

A colleague once advised not to take victory laps.  His reasoning:  because every time you take one, there is someone standing in the shadows near the last quarter turn, waiting to take your knees out with a baseball bat. 

The commenters on NBC Sports Channel the other day made a great point about Chelsea in its lackluster 1-0 win on Sunday against West Brom.  The men in blue could not get much started and only had two shots on goal in the entire match, yet came away with the victory because Diego Costa took advantage of a lone West Brom defensive lapse with about ten minutes left in regulation to win the game.  Afterwards, Robbie Mustoe noted that this is the type of win that leads to championships, because Chelsea were/was not at their/its (note the allocation for English versus American usages) best during the match. 

And that's what good teams do -- they win when not playing their best.  And this is a far different team from the one that Arsenal embarrassed 3-0 at the Emirates several months ago.  Better organized and in a formation that works for them.  And that gets us to. . .  Arsenal.

The Gunners smashed West Ham almost all the way to the English Championship League three matches ago, and followed that pounding with a blasting of Basel in their final match in the Group States in the Champions League and then followed that match with a convincing 3-1 win over Stoke just on Sunday. 

And then they traveled to Everton, a team by all accounts (including that of their manager) in poor form.  The good news was that they took a 1-0 league through a fortuitous result on a free kick by Alexis Sanchez.  But then their lack of defensive depth hurt them.  They have been missing captain Per Mertesacker all year and recently lost Shkrodan Mustafi to a pulled hamstring about a week ago.  And that meant they moved Gabriel Paulista back to his natural center back position (he had been filling in at right back after Hector Bellerin was injured, back-up Matthieu Debuchy got injured and further back-up Carl Jenkinson proved ineffective).  Somehow, the chemistry with acting captain Laurent Koscielny was not there, and Everton scored once right before the end of the first half and four minutes before stoppage time began to seal a much-needed victory at Goodison Park. 

To paraphrase Robbie Mustoe's astute comment after the Chelsea-West Brom match, if Arsenal fails to win the league this season, they'll look to the 0-0 match against Middlesbrough at Emirates and this match as evidence that they were not a championship team.  Because a championship team would have found a way to score against recently promoted Middlesbrough and a championship team would have found a way to beat a downtrodden Everton yesterday.

Don't get me wrong -- this looks to be the best Gunners' team in years.  Arsene Wenger has a find in Alexis Sanchez at striker, Mesut Ozil is picking up where he left off from last year and both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are vastly improved from the year before.  The offense is high-powered and in gear.  As for the defense, well, they are not as good as Tottenham, and they miss holding mid Santi Cazorla.  Granit Xhaka has played well in spurts, but he is simple one ill-timed challenge away from a red card.  And the back line, which looked to be settled, has gone through some rough times because of injury and a rough time on Tuesday.

Are the Gunners' chances gone?  Slim?  Fading?

Hardly, as it is just too early. 

But they will need to win the games that they are supposed to -- in addition to the ones they are not -- in order to win the title.  One data point does not make a trend, as the Everton game was just a bad game for them.