Friday, December 14, 2007

Drugs, Drugs

Baseball is a talking sport. This blog didn’t even acknowledge the Red Sox’s recent sweep of the Rockies in the World Series because, well, frankly, it was such a dud. However, baseball is now on front pages everywhere due to yesterday’s Mitchell Report.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell was commissioned by Major League Baseball to investigate the prevalence of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball during the last two decades. Mitchell released his report yesterday, with much fanfare and many familiar names. Among the names mentioned in the report were Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Gagne.

My first reaction to the report was: Duh! Of course these guys are doing the juice. How else would statistics be flying through the roof, and older players would be having career years in their 40’s?

The Mitchell Report was primarily based on the testimony of Kirk Radomski, a former Mets clubhouse attendant, and Brian McNamee, a former strength and conditioning coach for the Yankees. These guys were compelled by the federal government to spill the beans, as they are under investigation for drug trafficking. Most players, obviously, were not cooperative with the Mitchell investigation. Only two of 750 active players cooperated with the investigation. The players’ union, not unexpectedly, was a roadblock to any more meaningful results of the investigation. That’s not the first time the players’ union has blocked progress in the great game of baseball.

It is obvious, after the lockout of 1994, that the lords of baseball looked the other way as players were juicing their way into the record books. Attendance skyrocketed and TV rights were selling for record prices. The owners were making money hand over fist. It was not in their best interest to police the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs.

There were 89 players named in the Mitchell report. The majority of them were role players, some marginal players doing whatever it took to stay in the major leagues. For most of these players, the health risks of steroids were outweighed by the potential of big contracts. A player can make more money off of one contract in major league baseball than they could make for the rest of their lives. So, the players took the risk. There’s a big difference between playing for the New York Yankees and making a Triple-A salary playing for the Columbus Clippers, or being stuck on an independent league team somewhere.

As Sen. Mitchell said yesterday, this was just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many more players guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs. We’ll never know the extent of the usage of such drugs. We may not want to know.

I’m afraid this report is just window dressing, designed to make the commissioner look good. There are changes being made to baseball’s drug policy, but the union will stonewall most reasonable changes for the benefit of the game. The players’ union does not have the best interests of baseball in mind, but only exists to protect the players’ gravy train.

Baseball is a great game. If nothing else, it is resilient. It has survived a point-shaving scandal, two world wars, clueless commissioners, numerous strikes, and a lockout. It will survive this. It is yet to be determined in what shape the sport will survive.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

College Picks: Bonus Edition

Ok, the college picks took last week off due to a dearth of games. This week, we have four national championship games. Using a foreign concept, the rest of college football uses a playoff system to determine a national champion. Imagine that! No BCS, no computer rankings, no guys in loud bowl blazers controlling the college football post-season. It's all decided on the field. In keeping with this blog's respect for football at all levels, here are picks for this weekend's national championship games:

Weekend of Dec. 1: 9-5
Season: 180-94

NCAA Division I Championship Subdivision, Delaware vs. Appalachian State, at Chattanooga, TN: This game will be better than half the bowls. Delaware has a win over Navy, while Appalachian State has defeated Michigan. The Wolverine thread runs throughout this game. Delaware has helmets that look like Michigan's, only with a lighter shade of blue. Also, Michigan has expressed interest in Delaware coach K.C. Keeler for their vacant head coaching position. Delaware has a chance to do what Michigan didn't: beat the Mountaineers. Appalachian is playing for their third national championship in a row. They get it. Pick: Appalachian State

NCAA Division II Championship, Northwest Missouri State vs. Valdosta State at Florence, AL: Xavier Omon lit up the field last week for Northwest Missouri as they defeated Grand Valley State, ending the Lakers' 40-game winning streak on national television. The Bearcats face the Gulf South Conference champions from Valdosta, playing in their third national championship game in six years. Tough pick. Pick: Northwest Missouri State

NCAA Division III Championship, Mount Union (Ohio) vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater at Salem, VA, aka Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl: Mount Union seems to always be in this game. They have a current winning streak of 37 games. They take on Whitewater in the national championship game for the third year in a row. This is Mount Union's 10th appearance in this game in the last 12 years. As always, go with the Purple Raiders. Pick: Mount Union

NAIA National Championship, Sioux Falls (SD) vs. Carroll (Montana) at Savannah, TN: Sioux Falls brings a 27-game winning streak into this game. Carroll is also undefeated, and won four consecutive national championships from 2002-2005. Something has to give in this one. Pick: Carroll

NFL Picks, Week 15

Can you believe it is Week 15 of the NFL season? There’s really not a lot of suspense out there. All of the divisions are pretty well spoken for, as are the first wild card spots in both the AFC and NFC. The only playoff races left are for the final wild card spot in both the AFC and NFC.

The Patriots are 13-0 with three games to play. Conversely, the Dolphins are 0-13 with three games to play. There is a very good chance that the Patriots could finish undefeated, and that the Dolphins could finish winless.

Here are the picks for this week’s games:

Last week: 12-4
Season: 139-61

Philadelphia at Dallas: The Eagles stumble into Dallas with a 5-8 record, not much hope of making the playoffs, and are at a crossroads as a franchise. The Cowboys got a big comeback win last week in the Motor City, adding to the legend of Tony Romo. The Cowboys are still playing for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Pick: Dallas

Denver at Houston: The NFL Network Thursday night game comes to us live from Houston, where the Texans will wear their Battle Red uniforms to take on the Broncos. Both teams are 6-7. With the injury problems of the Texans, that’s a miracle. Denver won big last week over Kansas City, 41-7. That only means they can’t do it two weeks in a row. Pick: Houston

Cincinnati at San Francisco: Earlier this year, when the NFL Network was looking for Saturday night games, this game looked like a good matchup. Instead, it’s one that makes cable operators glad they’re not signing customers up for that channel. The 49ers are putrid unless they’re playing the Cardinals. The Bengals are just mediocre. Mediocre beats putrid. Pick: Cincinnati

Seattle at Carolina: Two teams going opposite directions. It’s hard to believe these franchises played each other two years ago for a trip to the Super Bowl. The Panthers are injury-riddled and are playing out the string. The Seahawks have clinched the NFC West. Pick: Seattle

Buffalo at Cleveland: There will be plenty of points scored in this one, as these teams battle for bragging rights to Erie, Pennsylvania and possible playoff position. The Browns are the surprise team of the year. The good fortune continues for another week on Lake Erie. Pick: Cleveland

Tennessee at Kansas City: This one is quickly turning into a stinker. The Titans blew a lead last week against San Diego, and probably kissed their playoff hopes goodbye. The Chiefs are turning plain awful. They’re a different team at home, though. Pick: Kansas City

Baltimore at Miami: Double yuck. The Ravens, losers of seven in a row, have had their hearts and guts ripped out the last two weeks, losing to the Patriots and Colts. They head to sunny South Florida for a game with the hapless Dolphins. The Dolphins, believe it or not, have a chance to beat the banged-up Ravens this week to get win #1. I’m not going to bite on it, though. Pick: Baltimore

New York Jets at New England: Yuck. The Jets lost the first meeting, which became better known as the time Jets coach Eric Mangini turned in his mentor and former boss, Bill Belichick for illegal camera work. Needless to say, the Patriots have been on a rampage as a result. If the Patriots get a chance to run up the score, they will. Be surprised if there’s a post-game handshake. Pick: New England

Arizona at New Orleans: The Saints are still in playoff contention, and host the always inconsistent Cardinals. The Cardinals aren’t always good, but they’re never dull. The Saints are getting it into gear. Pick: Saints

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh: Two playoff teams hook up in the Steel City. Go with the home team. Pick: Pittsburgh

Green Bay at St. Louis: Mismatch city. The Rams have nothing to play for. The Packers do. Pick: Green Bay

Atlanta at Tampa Bay: Yuck. The Falcons were left at the wedding reception this week by ex-coach Bobby Petrino, who took the Arkansas money and ran for the hills. The Bucs have clinched the division, and are most likely locked into the fourth playoff position. The Bucs are much better. Pick: Tampa Bay

Indianapolis at Oakland: Mismatch city, AFC edition. The Colts make quick work of an outmanned and outgunned opponent. Pick: Indy

Detroit at San Diego: The Lions have lost five in a row, and head to California to take on the resurgent Chargers. The Chargers continue on their roll, and clinch the AFC West this week. Pick: San Diego

Washington at New York Giants: The Giants are the ugliest 9-4 team out there. They have been squeaking out wins week after week. The Redskins will make this a good game, but the Giants win in the end. Pick: New York Giants

Chicago at Minnesota: The Vikings are making a surge behind QB Tarvaris Jackson and the RB tandem of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. The Bears also have a RB named Adrian Peterson, but he’s no match for the Vikings’ Peterson. Pick: Minnesota

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Coaching Carousel, Part 1

We are past the coach firing season, and are well in the middle of the coach hiring season. Schools with disappointing results and upset boosters are scrambling to find themselves a coach who will win a championship and make all stakeholders of a university happy. A lot of schools have made news with their searches, their hires, or their lack of hires to this point. This blog will have periodic posts over the next few days on the implications of some of these hires.

Arkansas: The Hogs listened to a large portion of their fan base and cut a deal with Houston Nutt for his resignation. Nutt was calling the Hogs one day, and showed up in Oxford the next day to take the Ole Miss job. Nonetheless, it was a move that needed to be made. Now, the Razorbacks are bringing in Bobby Petrino from the Atlanta Falcons. Petrino left the Falcons with three weeks left in the season, leaving a train wreck of a team. It wasn’t his fault Michael Vick got in trouble with dogs, but he apparently wasn’t a good fit in the NFL, regardless. Petrino comes to the SEC after a good run at Louisville, finishing third in the nation with the Cardinals last season. This will be interesting, as Petrino (a former Auburn assistant) was the coach interviewed for the Auburn job on an airport runway in 2003 by Auburn czar/booster/trustee Bobby Lowder, while the job was still held by current coach Tommy Tuberville. Petrino was finishing his first year at Louisville. Also, Tuberville had his name in the hat for the Arkansas job, but the Hogs were unwilling/unable to pay the huge buyout required for Tuberville’s services. The Arkansas/Auburn game will be a scene this year, with two coaches that once worked with each other and wouldn’t mind having each other’s jobs. In the meantime, the Falcons are in even more of a lurch.

Michigan: Lloyd Carr retired effective at the end of this season. The Wolverines find themselves in the market for a coach, but are unwilling to break the bank for it. They’re Michigan, and many of them feel that a coach should pay them for the privilege of coaching Michigan. There is a Michigan Man at LSU, Les Miles, who is repeatedly stating that he will remain as head coach at LSU. I don’t buy that. There is a vocal minority at UM that does not want Miles to become the coach. However, judging by the way feet are being dragged there, it appears the Wolverines are killing time until after the BCS championship game, when Miles returns home to Ann Arbor.

Baylor: Baylor lured Art Briles from Houston to replace the departed Guy Morriss. Briles doubled his salary to $1.8 million in the process. This is a good move for both parties. Baylor gets a good coach, and Briles gets to build a program in the Big 12. Not many would be capable of making Baylor a winner. I believe he has the background and skills necessary for the job there. The downside: He and his wife have to live in Waco.

Ole Miss: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One day after a farewell press conference in Hogland, Houston Nutt was introduced as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. Talk about a win-win situation: Nutt gets paid to leave Arkansas, then takes a job with a rival down the road. Whatever one may think of Nutt, he is an improvement for Ole Miss over the fired Ed Orgeron. Nutt becomes the third head coach in the SEC West to have previously served as head coach at a rival division school, joining the aforementioned Tuberville (Ole Miss, Auburn) and Nick Saban (LSU, Alabama).

In addition to those coaches, Sylvester Croom of Mississippi State played at and was formerly an assistant at Alabama, and Petrino was formerly an assistant at Auburn before taking the circuitous road to Fayetteville. Throw in Steve Spurrier, who grew up in Tennessee, played and coached at Florida, and now coaches at South Carolina, and we see that there is some serious inbreeding in that conference. No wonder Les Miles wants to go back to Michigan!

More coaching comments later, including remarks on SMU, Georgia Tech, UCLA, and others..

Monday, December 10, 2007

Turning Back The Clock

This video was previously posted on this blog several months ago. The video fell off of YouTube, but is now back. This is the cheesy intro that CBS used for NBA games in the 70's.

This is from the 1975 Western Conference finals between Chicago and Golden State. Chicago was once in the Western conference, while Houston was in the East..go figure. That was fixed long ago.

The lyrics:

Give it all you got,
Take your your very best shot

And may the best team win.

The time is now, the name of the game is action.

They're on the floor,

And they're ready to score,

So let the game begin,

And let's see how the ball's going to bounce today

Welcome to N-B-A

Come on, and join the roar of the crowd"

Here's another classic about,

To come your way...

You'll see the best in basketball

When you watch the N-B-A,

When you watch the N-B-A on C-B-S.

(N-B-A on C-B-S, N-B-A on C-B-S, ... etc. fading out)

NFL Highway, Week 14

Another week on the NFL highway brought us a titanic comeback and several teams solidifying playoff position. There are a few good teams, and a few really horrible teams. Overall, the league is surprisingly predictable. Let’s look at what happened this week.

Was there any doubt, with two minutes to go, the ball deep in Dallas territory, no timeouts, and trailing 27-21, that Tony Romo would bring the Cowboys back for a win over Detroit? Of course not. Detroit had led by as much as 27-14 before the Cowboys stormed back, using a Romo to Jason Witten touchdown pass with 18 seconds left to sneak past Detroit, 28-27. The Lions lost their fifth game in a row to fall to 6-7. The Cowboys are now 12-1. Dallas is looking like more of a team of density. Or, that’s what George McFly would call destiny. The Cowboys clinched the NFC East, and need to win two more games to clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Last Thursday night, the Washington Redskins bounced back from the burial of teammate Sean Taylor to beat the Chicago Bears, 24-16. The Redskins retain a slight chance of making the playoffs, while the Bears slide to 5-8, slipping farther away from playoff contention.

There is a unwritten code in the NFL that teams will not run up the score on other teams. What goes around definitely comes around, and coaches know they could easily be on the other end of a whipping. The Buffalo Bills owned Miami for a half. That’s all they needed. The Bills led 31-7 at halftime, and cruised to a 38-17 win. The Dolphins remain on a collision course with 0-16.

The Cincinnati Bengals earned their fifth win of the year, beating the injury-riddled St. Louis Rams, 19-10. The Rams will have a high draft pick this year. The Bengals are probably playing for coach Marvin Lewis’ job during the last three weeks of the season.

The Oakland Raiders reverted to normal on Sunday, as the Green Bay Packers pounded them, 38-7. Brett Favre continues to have a career year in the Great White North.

If the Houston Texans were in the NFC South, they would be a playoff team. The Texans rode three touchdown passes from backup QB Sage Rosenfels to a 28-14 win over NFC South leader Tampa Bay. The Texans have 17 players on the injured list, and are still 6-7. Sounds like a shakeup may be in the offing in the strength and conditioning department.

There was a good team playing on Sunday in Jacksonville. It was not the Carolina Panthers. The Jaguars pounded the Panthers, 37-6. The Jags clinched one of the wild-card spots in the AFC. The Panthers will be drafting relatively early next spring in New York.

The New York Giants continue to find ways to win road games. For the second week in a row, the G-men came from behind on the road, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, 16-13, and earning bragging rights to the New Jersey Turnpike. It is looking more and more like Donovan McNabb is no longer a premier quarterback, and Eagles coach Andy Reid could be in trouble. The Giants will most likely be in the playoffs as a wild card team.

In Music City, the San Diego Chargers played like dog doo-doo for three quarters. They then rode the legs of RB LaDainian Tomlinson to come from behind and defeat the Tennessee Titans, 23-17 in overtime. If the Titans miss the playoffs, they’ll look back at this one as one they should have won. The Chargers find themselves a win away from winning the AFC West for the second year in a row, in spite of their inconsistent play this season.

There is a good team developing in Minnesota. The Vikings won their fifth game in a row on Sunday, pounding the San Francisco 49ers, 27-7. The Vikes did not need Adrian Peterson this week, as AD only rushed for three yards. Chester Taylor did the damage for Minnesota, rushing for 101 yards, including an 84-yard touchdown run. The 49ers are returning to the ranks of the woeful.

For the fourth year in a row, the Seattle Seahawks are NFC West champs. They crushed the Arizona Cardinals, 42-21. They’ll always fly under the radar playing late games in the upper corner of the country, but the Seahawks are a force to be reckoned with.

Did anyone really think the New England Patriots would play three bad games in a row? Not hardly. The Pats rode the arm of Tom Brady to a 34-13 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It would take a major catastrophe to keep the Patriots from going 16-0. The Pats have home games with the Jets and Dolphins, and finish the season at the Meadowlands in New Jersey to play the New York Giants. 16-0 is definitely in the cards for this team.

As said earlier in the season, the Denver Broncos sometimes look like the ’07 Dolphins. Other times, they look like the ’72 Dolphins. The latter was the case on Sunday in Denver, as the Broncos beat the stuffing out of the Kansas City Chiefs, winning 41-7. The Broncos are too inconsistent to make the playoffs, but are capable of pounding teams on occasion. Brandon Marshall caught two touchdown passes for Denver.

The Cleveland Browns moved another week closer to the playoffs, with a 24-18 win over the New York Jets. Derek Anderson continued to make his case for a starting QB job in Cleveland or another city with two more touchdown passes. Next up for the Jets: a trip to Foxboro to play the Patriots. Good luck with all that.

In the Sunday night extravaganza, the Indianapolis Colts scored early and often in a 44-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens. The Colts led 37-7 at halftime and emptied the bench in the third quarter. The Ravens may be forced to blow their entire team up and start over. Injuries and age are catching up with them this season.