Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 8/30/14

It is time to resuscitate my college football Mythical Picks. I closed last year’s set of collegiate mythical picks saying:

“Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise; I’ll do these again next year.”

Well, I am still vertical and taking nourishment; and the last time I looked, the creek remains within its banks. So, away we go…

For new readers, here is what goes on in Mythical Picks. I will start by making a few comments about last week’s games and how the Mythical Picks turned out and/or some general commentary on college football. I will keep everyone abreast of the Linfield College Wildcats in McMinnville, OR – not because I have any ties or association with the school but because they have not had a losing season in football since 1956. If they win 5 games this year, it will be their 59th consecutive winning season; that is amazing…

I will identify games I call “Ponderosa Spread Games”. These games all have spreads of 24-points or more. I picked that number out of the air and since it is a “big spread”, I named them after the “big spread” owned by the Cartwright family in the old TV series, Bonanza. I find it interesting that in most years, neither favorites nor underdogs cover sufficiently regularly to earn a profit over the season. I track this just because I feel like doing so…

Starting around the end of October – after there is some on-field evidence on which to draw conclusions – I will begin to try to identify the 8 worst teams in the country. The reason I do that is that in the final iteration of these weekly “things”, I will place those teams in a mythical tournament to identify the single worst team. That tournament would be single elimination where the loser has to continue to play; the winner can go home and avoid further ignominy. I call it the SHOE Tournament because SHOE is my acronym for the ultimate losing team; they would be:

The Steaming Heap Of Excrement

Then I will identify “Games of Interest” for the week. These might be games involving two top teams; these might be games involving two bottom-feeders or they could be games where the spread makes the game interesting. I will make a wagering prediction for some – but not all – of the “Games of Interest”. The important thing to keep in mind is that these are games that are interesting to me. If I do not have on the list a game that is interesting to you, I apologize in advance.

Let me take a moment to speak to the issue of gambling on college football games. I know that the subject will cause NCAA folks and loads of politicians to lapse into hysteria with regard to how gambling pollutes the purity of amateur athletic endeavors. That is patent buncombe [Hat Tip to H. L. Mencken for that word.]. Here is a simple fact that the NCAA mavens and the politicos can never come to grips with:

    People will always gamble on college football games because people want to do so and there is nothing that the NCAA or the pols can do to stop them.

I am not here to try to convince you to wager real money on actual football games. My selections against the spread and commentary on spreads and “over/unders” merely reflect the reality that I am not opposed to gambling and I am willing to offer my opinion on various games.

Having said that, I assure everyone here that I have exactly no “inside information” or “well-placed sources” inside or near various football programs that serve to funnel information to me for these picks. I do this for fun. No one should assign any weight to my Mythical Picks because they are indeed “Mythical”; I am NOT making wagers on all of the games I mention here.

To drive that point home, no one should take any information here as even a small part of the basis for making a wager on a college football game. For anyone who might do so, I have one question:

    Just how big a bowl of “STUPID” do you eat for breakfast every morning?

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats play their opening game on September 13th. The Wildcats will be on the road for their first three games; the first two games will be in Southern California. I will pick up on their season in a couple of weeks…

    [Aside: When I was on my month-long road-trip this summer, one of the stops we made was at Maxwell Field where Linfield plays its home games. It was only a minor detour from our travel path and we stopped to look and get a few pictures. It is certainly not a big stadium – I would guess it could hold about 3500 folks – but it was interesting to see the place where Linfield has amassed and continued its streak of winning football seasons. If I knew how to post pictures on this platform, I would put one here…]

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle is a most insightful person in addition to being an outstanding writer. Recently, he had the following suggestion; and if it were adopted, it would be a step in the right direction for college football:

“How about if we make this adjustment in college stats: Any individual stats are null and void if you ring ‘em up in a game your team wins by more than four touchdowns. You shouldn’t win a Heisman Trophy for throwing seven touchdown passes against Schmidlap State.”

I mention that suggestion because it relates to this next observation. Many folks are worried about how badly the injury to Ohio State QB, Braxton Miller, will hurt the Buckeyes’ chances at getting into the college football playoffs at the end of this year. Remember, only 4 teams will be invited. So, I went to look at the Ohio State schedule for this year and my conclusion is that Ohio State ought to be ashamed of itself. Out of conference, they play:

    Navy (on a neutral field)
    Va Tech (in Columbus)
    Kent State (in Columbus)
    Cincinnati (in Columbus)

Too bad Comatose State dropped football last year or they would surely have been on the Ohio State dance card here. Moreover, it does not get a whole lot better once Ohio State begins Big 10 Conference play. Check out the remaining schedule:

    Maryland (at College Park): The Terps are not a good team.
    Rutgers (in Columbus): The Scarlet Knights are not a good team.
    Penn State (at State College): The Lions are improving, but still…
    Illinois (in Columbus): The Illini are good about once a decade.
    Mich St. (at East Lansing): The Spartans are a good program
    Minnesota (at Minneapolis): The Gophers usually stink.
    Indiana (in Columbus): The Hoosiers always stink.
    Michigan (in Columbus): The Wolverines will be up for the game.

It is difficult to see how Ohio State can do worse than 9-2 for the season and they could run the table against that schedule given the absence of even back-to-back difficult games. And so, even before the kickoff for the college football season here is something I would wish for come December:

    1. I would want Ohio State to have a 12-1 record having won the Big 10 Championship Game.

    2. Then I would want the Playoff Selection Committee to leave them out of the playoff tournament to play in a meaningless bowl game AND for the Committee to say directly that it was “strength of schedule” that left the Buckeyes on the outside looking in.

If anyone involved in the College Football Playoff structure cares about minimizing games against sacrificial lambs, that would be a message immediately received and understood by school athletic directors who might be hearing from alums who would not want to be “left out” sometime in the future because of a cupcake schedule.

It is not going to happen, of course. But I can wish for it…

Now before someone accuses me of “hating on Ohio State”, the same could easily be said of Oklahoma (weak out of conference schedule and a mediocre conference) and of Baylor (pathetic out of conference schedule and a mediocre conference).

Speaking of the College Football Playoff, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Gene Wojciechowski of, on the new college football playoff format: ‘I’m going to miss the Bowl Championship Series — much the same way I’d miss second-hand smoke, cellphones at dinner and people who examine their own earwax.’ “

Here is a note from Charlie Walters in the St. Paul Pioneer-Post that will give you an idea of what you should expect from Big 10 football officials this year:

“Big Ten football officials will receive $2,700 per game this season and add an eighth official to the backfield.”

The officials are taking down $21.6K per game; remember that as you watch those games and decide for yourself if you – or the conference – is getting its money’s worth…

Something to keep watch on this season will be the Boise State program. Chris Petersen is gone to the University of Washington and the Broncos’ former OC, Bryan Harsin steps up to the head role. It is not easy following a coach as successful as Petersen had been at a place like Boise St. but at least Harsin has a bunch of Petersen’s recruits on hand to man the starting positions for him. This season – and next year’s recruiting efforts – will set a tone for Harsin’s stint in Boise.

One more thing to look for this season is an evolving debate as to the best conference in the country. The SEC has had that distinction for quite a while now; but this year, do not ignore the teams in the PAC-12. Here on the East Coast, TV viewers who choose to stay up late on Saturday night will get to see some very good games.

Did you know that Western Kentucky has a DB on the roster named Prince Charles Iworah? Maybe W. Kentucky should have found a way to play one of their games in London this year. They could win by “royal decree”… The Hilltoppers also have a DB on the squad named Wonderful Terry; I wonder if he has a brother named Beautiful Bobby?

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

This week we have 10 Ponderosa Spread Games:

(Fri) UNLV at Arizona – 24 (60): UNLV was much improved last year but find themselves in the NCAA penalty box now. They are over their heads here and Arizona’s offense is not one to let up and play ball control late in the game.

Florida Atlantic at Nebraska – 24 (51): I do not think the Owls showed great wisdom putting this game on the schedule…

Marshall – 24 at Miami (Oh) (59): Miami was the #1 seed in last year’s SHOE Tournament; their record was 0-12; the average margin of loss was 26 points. They have to be better this year, right? The Miami defense needs to be a lot better here because one thing Marshall can and will do is score points. I like Marshall to win and cover here.

Idaho at Florida – 36 (51): If Florida merely wins this game by 20 points, there will be calls to boil Will Muschamp in oil…

N. Texas at Texas – 25 (52): If Charlie Strong wants to see how fast a honeymoon can end, all he has to do is lose to N. Texas this weekend…

So. Miss at Miss St. – 31 (56): Last year, So. Mississippi was 1-11. Mississippi State was only 6-6 last year but three of their losses came in successive weeks to So. Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama. Later this season, So. Miss will play Alabama; who thought that would be a good idea?

Appalachian St. at Michigan – 34.5 (54): It is not going to happen here, but recall that App.St. has gone into “The Big House” and won outright on the opening weekend of the season. This looks like a “payback game”…

Alabama – 26 at West Virginia (55.5): You probably recall the look on Nick Saban’s face as Auburn ran back an unsuccessful field goal attempt for a TD to win their game. You will not see that same look on his face this weekend…

La Tech at Oklahoma – 38 (52): Another shame of a game…

(Sun) SMU at Baylor – 33 (73): Neither team plays a lot of defense but both teams do play offense. Art Briles offense at Baylor has been spectacular the last couple of seasons; SMU plays June Jones’ “Run ‘N Shoot”. Lots action for the scoreboard operator here…

Games of Interest:

(Thurs) Texas A&M at South Carolina – 10.5 (58.5): This game matches the Aggies “new QB” against the “ol’ Ball Coach”. If the Aggies’ offense is tentative and adjusting to someone other than Johnny Football at QB, this could be an easy UNDER because Steve Spurrier teams tend to start slowly and get better as the year goes on. Of course, the Aggies will not have to contend with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney on defense for the Gamecocks this week. I’ll take the UNDER here.

(Thurs) Ole Miss – 10 vs Boise St. (Atlanta GA) (54): An interesting opener for both teams… The Rebels have won bowl games in each of the last two seasons and their offense should be very good this season; as noted above, Boise State has a new coach at the helm. I like Ole Miss to win and cover here initiating a mass case of agita in Boise.

(Thurs) Wake Forest – 2.5 at La-Monroe (45.5): Wake’s teams have fallen on hard times in recent years so there is no way I would take them on the road and giving points. Just for fun, I’ll take La-Monroe plus the points here.

(Fri) BYU – 17 at UConn (50.5): If you like hunch bets – which I do not –, consider that this game will happen on the 137th anniversary of the death of Brigham Young himself. More often than not, such occurrences are more coincidence than omen. I prefer reason to omens… UConn was not very good last year; BYU was not as good as they have been in previous years but not as bad as UConn. This is long journey for the Cougars and they will play without their best RB, Jamaal Williams who is suspended for this game. I think this will be a low scoring affair so taking 17 points is the way I would play it. I’ll take UConn plus the points.

(Fri) Colorado State at Colorado – 3 (60) (Denver, CO): This game is “interesting” because you are not going to see Colorado installed as a favorite very often this year…

(Sat) Penn State vs. Central Florida – 1.5 (48) (Dublin Ireland): Penn State begins the James Franklin Era “across the pond”; UCF’s history is that it plays up or down to the level of its opponent. UCF had Blake Bortles at QB last year; he will be playing on Sundays this year. Christian Hackenberg was a most pleasant surprise for Penn State fans last year; the question now is how much better he can become. The most interesting thing about this game is that it ought to give an indication as to the capabilities of Penn State for other games later in the season.

(Sat) Ohio St. – 13.5 vs. Navy (Baltimore, MD) (55.5): In terms of athletic abilities, this looks to be a mismatch… Navy runs the ball more than just about any other college team and Ohio State’s front 7 on defense is going to be very good. I like Ohio State to win and cover.

(Sat) UCLA – 21.5 at UVa (57.5): The Bruins are a good team. Mike London is a coach on a hot seat in Charlottesville. If UVa gets stomped here, it could set a negative tone for the rest of the season for Virginia; and if that happens, Mike London will be job hunting in December. Watch this game for indications of future performances by these teams…

(Sat) BC – 17 at UMass (48): Last year was a down year for BC. Last year was a disaster for UMass. Their record was 1-11 and that lone win came over Miami (Oh) who was abjectly awful. Watch this game for indications of the future for both teams. My hunch is that neither of them will be very good and that UMass will be terrible. We shall see…

(Sat) Rice at Notre Dame – 21 (51): Given all the suspensions and investigations – talk about the “dreaded distractions” – at Notre Dame you can understand why this line opened at 24.5 and dropped like a rock to this level in no time flat. Notwithstanding all that, Notre Dame is bigger and faster than Rice and should win this game. I’ll take Notre Dame to win and cover.

(Sat) Arkansas at Auburn – 20.5 (57.5): Auburn is not going to be as good this year as they were last year when they played in the BCS Championship Game. They do have QB, Nick Marshall returning and that means they will still be very good. The only thing to say about Arkansas right now comes from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“The University of Arkansas has trademarked ‘Woo Pig Sooie!’ OK, Charlie Rose, no more leading off your show with the phrase.”

(Sat) Clemson at Georgia – 7.5 (58): Purely a hunch here but I cannot see where 58 points will come from in this game. I like the game to stay UNDER.

(Sat) Florida St. – 17.5 at Oklahoma St. (63) (Arlington, TX): Florida State is going to be “real good” this year but OK St. is not a bunch of stumblebums. Perhaps the best game on the card this weekend? I’ll take the Cowboys plus 17.5 points here.

(Sat) LSU – 4.5 at Wisconsin (50): Both of these teams will run the ball at one another until one of the defenses shows it can stop the other guy. If Fla St/OK St is not the best game of the weekend, then this one is. I like Wisconsin at home plus the points here.

(Sun) Utah St at Tennessee – 6 (51.5): The Aggies were very good last year before QB Chuckie Keeton went down. Well, he’s back now and he is a difference-maker. I like the Aggies plus the points here. In addition, I’ll take Utah State on the money line at +200.

Finally, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News recently about Utah St. QB Chuckie Keeton:

“Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton on whether he’s bigger than he was last season: ‘Yeah, I am. ‘ I got up to 207 this summer, so seven pounds more. Thanks for noticing.’

“He has a point.

“How come nobody notices when an O-lineman gains seven pounds?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Football Wagering Season Cometh…

Tomorrow will bring the first of many “Mythical Picks” communiques as the college football season is about to happen. Over the last several months – actually one of the inquiries came from last December – several readers have asked for my opinions regarding various issues surrounding gambling on football games. Anyone who reads these missives even irregularly has to know that I favor legalized gambling on college and pro football games throughout the US and that I am certain that such gambling will occur in an illegal marketplace if a legal one is forbidden. The gendarmes will not be able to stop football gambling.

    Q: Do you play parlays on the cards in Las Vegas or other parlays that you design yourself?

    A: Yes, I play both kinds of parlays but never for any sizeable amount of money. Parlays are bad bets – but they are fun. Simple example here … if you hit a 3-team parlay against the spread, you will get either 6-1 odds or perhaps 6.5-1 odds. It should not take an advanced degree in math to realize that the odds payout ought to be 8-1. That is a big vig to have to pay. It gets even worse with more teams in the parlay. A 10-team parlay should pay 1024 to 1; most places will pay out 700-1. Nevertheless, parlays are fun – especially if you do 7 or 9 or 10-team parlays for small amounts. I have never hit a 10-teamer but I did have 9 right on a card once. Just rooting for that tenth game was worth losing a small wager.

    Q: I like to buy half-points if that is offered; do you do that too?

    A: I certainly would not do that for every game because that would mean that I was wagering against a -120 line instead of a -110 line all the time. To beat the -110 line I have to win 52.4% of my picks; to beat the -120 line I have to win 54.6% of my picks. Will the “half-point buy” make a difference 2.2% of the time? Not likely. The only time I am tempted to do this is when I am taking 6.5 points and have the opportunity to round it up to 7 points. Seven is a common differential in a football game and by buying up to that level, I can possibly salvage a push out of a game that would be a loser.

    Q: What do you think of “hunch bets”?

    A: I think they are fun and if you use them the way you use parlay bets you can enjoy them. I once bet – and actually won – a three team parlay that I called the “Dick Enberg theme parlay”. I took the Lions, and the Bengals (Tigers if you please) and the Bears because that leads to “Oh my…” which is Enberg’s signature phrase. As I recall, I had $20 on that card and won $120. It was fun but it is not a way to wager seriously on football games.

This is not a question that I was asked, but since I am on the subject let me throw my response out here.

    No, I do not follow or subscribe to any of the goofs on TV every Saturday morning who offer guaranteed picks or claim that they have a verified 72% success rate with their picks. Let’s do some math here and assume that one of those “gurus” – call him Hyperventilating Harry – could actually pick 72% winners. If he made a call on 3 college and 3 pro games a week – not a big deal considering there are probably at least 60 games per week on which one can bet – he would make calls on about 40 college games and 51 pro games. Just to make the math easier, let me round this up to a total of 100 football games of wagering interest. If Hyperventilating Harry bet 1100 per game on his own picks and won 72% of the time he would collect win $72,000 on successful picks and lose $41,800 on his unsuccessful picks. He would be up $30K. Two questions:

      1. If he has that kind of success rate, why would he tell you what he is doing?

      2. When they hold football handicapping tournaments in Las Vegas as they do every year, how come Hyperventilating Harry or his colleague, Calculating Cal do not win every time? The winners of those tournaments rarely go over 56% in their picks. Last year’s winner took down $557K.

Gambling on football games is fun for me. It is not – and has never been – my livelihood. The mortgage money never went down on a team to cover a spread. But betting on a game gives you a rooting interest sometimes when the winner and loser have already been decided. I absolutely reject the notion that you have to have some action riding on any game you might watch on TV; that kind of thinking nudges up against “addiction”. However, when you have a reasoned opinion on the outcome of a specific game – not a hunch and not wishful thinking – putting down a wager you can afford to lose will make watching the game a more emotional experience.

Out there in Las Vegas, they are going to get an Arena League franchise for the third time. Vince Neil – a rock star with a band called Motley Crue – supposedly bought the Jacksonville Sharks and Robin Leach of the Las Vegas Sun says that Neil told him back in April 2014 that the team would be in Las Vegas within 2 years. Recently the Las Vegas Review-Journal said that the team will play as the Las Vegas Outlaws and that it will be an expansion franchise. No matter what the team lineage may be, the outcome is that Arena League Football will test the waters in Las Vegas for the third time. The LV Sting and the LV Gladiators had stints in Las Vegas and never managed to keep themselves in the black. At issue is where the Outlaws will play their home games.

Finally, Greg Cote had this in his column in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“The Dolphins continue to talk to Dan Marino about a front-office position that would be more than a figurehead role but have little real authority. Suggested title: Senior Vice President of Good Old Days.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Sports Hash…

Yesterday, I mentioned that the Phillies had some “untradeable contracts” and received a note from a fan of the Texas Rangers that said in part:

“ …unless he does a 180, Shin Soo Choo will be stuck on the Rangers like stink on [excrement].”

Choo was injured in a game and the Rangers announced that he will be out for the rest of the season so his stats to date represent his productivity for the 2014 season.

    This was not a banner year for Choo. His slash line is .242/.340/.714

    This year’s OPS is down .122 from his career average.

Now, here are the terms of the free agent contract he signed with the Rangers last winter:

    7-year deal (through 2020) for a total of $130M. He will make $14M next year and then $20 or 21M for each of the next 5 years.

    Limited no-trade clause allowing him to block trades to 10 teams each season.

    Minor bonus structure for MVP All-Star etc.

Looking at those numbers, I would have to agree with my correspondent. If those are the numbers Choo produces – or worse yet if his downward trend in production continues – there is no way a team will take him off the Rangers payroll. Those are not $20M per year numbers. Oh, to make things worse, Choo turned 32 last month so it is not as if he is “a kid with loads of upside…”

In last weekend’s iteration of Keeping Score, Greg Drinnan had this gem:

“On Wednesday night, with the Los Angeles Angels playing the host Boston Red Sox, ESPN’s Dan Shulman tweeted that announcers Dave O’Brien and Aaron Boone were having a good discussion on ‘speeding up the game. (Boston pitcher Clay) Buchholz giving them plenty of time between pitches to discuss.’ “

Last weekend, Greg Cote had this note in the Miami Herald. It sent me to the Internet to verify:

“The WNBA playoffs are under way, surprising analysts who had forgotten the league still existed. I kid. Only wish I were kidding about this: Five of the eight WNBA playoff teams have losing records.”

Indeed, Prof. Cote is correct.

    In the Eastern Conference playoffs, only the Atlanta Dream has a record over .500 (19-15). The other three teams in the East had records of 16-18 or 15-19. That is sad.

    In the Western Conference playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury (29-5) and the Minnesota Lynx (25-9) are well over .500. The other two participants made the playoffs with 16-18 records. That too is sad.

Last weekend, Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“With a twist : Don’t you just love that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin played running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount on Thursday against the Eagles after their arrests for marijuana possession, in part because sitting them down for a preseason game would have been a reward. A different twist on discipline.”

I think this is more than just a “different twist on discipline”. I think this demonstrates the unimportance of NFL exhibition games and the fact that players recognize that degree of unimportance. When “not playing in a game” becomes “not having to play in a game”, that means “the game” has no significance.

The idea of cutting down the number of exhibition games in the NFL schedule has become affixed to the idea of adding more regular season games to the schedule. I would like to suggest that those two ideas can be decoupled; it would not upset the harmony of the universe for the NFL to keep a 16-game schedule and continue to work with the NFLPA and the TV networks on the possibility of extending the regular season schedule AFTER cutting out two of the four meaningless exhibition games. If someone offers that as a motion, I will immediately second it.

As the NFL season approaches, I can anticipate with great certainty that I will see hundreds of camera shots focused on the head coaches of the teams involved. Sometime in the past, I suggested that the network directors put a ceiling on the number of times we would have to look at the coach adjusting his headset or gesticulating wildly at something or someone on the field. I know that will never happen. Therefore, might I make this suggestion to the NFL:

    If a coach wants to wear a coat and tie on the sidelines – consider it a coaching version of a throwback uniform – let him do it. Many coaches do not look all that good in “team gear” and when the coaches and assistants all dress alike they tend to look like a barbershop quartet and not a football braintrust.

A couple seasons ago, the league gave special permission to two coaches – Mike Nolan was one of them and I think Jack Del Rio was the other one – to wear a suit and tie on the sidelines during a game. I can understand a “dress code” for players; all the ones on the same team have to look alike; that is why they call it a “uniform”. However, the idea of a “dress code” for coaches – purportedly “leaders of men” – is inane at best.

Finally, here is a note from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“The Rockies’ Michael Cuddyer became just the third player in MLB history to hit a single, double, triple and home run in a game — in both leagues.

“In other words, he hit for the bicycle.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Dick Bavetta Calls It A Career…

NBA official, Dick Bavetta, is calling it quits after 39 years on the whistle in the league. He began his career in 1975; to put that in perspective for you, the NBA/ABA merger did not happen until 1976. Bavetta is 74 years old; he has earned some peace and quiet in his retirement years.

Sports officials are not always held in the highest esteem. In the World Cup Game between Brazil and Colombia, many people opined that the officials on the field let the game get way out of control. I did not see that game because I was on my road-trip, but I did see a few “highlights” that indicated there was extremely rough play in that game. Now comes news that a Colombia fan, Aurelio Jiminez, has filed suit against FIFA and Sepp Blatter seeking $1B Euros. He claims “moral damages” based on the “sub-standard refereeing” in the match, which “caused him distress and saw him taken to the hospital with heart problems as a result.”

Speaking about his lawsuit, here is what Jiminez told the BBC:

“I decided to sue FIFA in the Colombian judiciary system because in the past world soccer championship in Brazil, there were many wrongdoings related to referees who damaged many countries and their selections, among them the Colombia team.

“Moreover, FIFA’s referees caused big moral damages and distress to Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, England, Uruguay, Mexico and Costa Rica.

“I have testimonies of football stars Pele, Diego Armando Maradona, David Ospina, James Rodriguez and international referees who examined the videos of the game between Brazil and Colombia.”

You can read more about this lawsuit here. I wish that trial would take place near where I live because I think there could be a huge entertainment value to sitting in the courtroom just listening to the testimonies.

Last week, MLB upheld a game protest for the first time in about 30 years. The game was called because the field was unplayable after the Cubs’ grounds crew was unable to get a tarp onto the field to protect it from a monsoon like rain. MLB said that the Cubs could not win a game for that reason and ordered the game to be classified as a suspended game and resumed at the point where play stopped. [Aside: The Cubs eventually won the game but did so after playing a full 9 innings.] That is enough of a story to point a finger at the Cubbies as “loveable losers” and say that even their groundskeepers are inept. However, there may be more to the story…

According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the inability of the grounds crew to get the tarp out effectively stems from a major reorganization that occurred within the Cubs last winter. According to that report, the fundamental reason for the reorganization was to be sure that the seasonal workers on the grounds crew stayed under 130 hours of work per month because if they got to 130 hours per month they would then be classified as “full-time workers” under the Affordable Care Act and … well, you can fill in the blanks here.

Is that really the reason for the failure of the grounds crew to be able to put out the tarp? Obviously, I have no inside information on that but let me assume for moment that the Sun-Times’ report is correct. If that is the case, then the folks who own the Cubs should be put in the stocks and publicly shamed. Please do not interpret that last statement as an endorsement of the Affordable Care Act; the utility or futility of that law will become self-evident sometime around 2017 or 2018; there is no need to worry about it now. What I mean is that the Cubs as an organization is a high revenue operation that operates in something called “Major League Baseball”. That kind of behavior is anything but “Major League”

The Cubs are in last place in the NL Central with a 58-72 record. Over in the NL East, the Phillies also reside in the basement with the same record. The Cubs seem to be pinching pennies with the support staff; the Phillies seem to be squandering lots of dollars on players who once were very good but who are now well on the downside of their careers. On Opening Day, the Phillies’ payroll projected to be $177.7M; that was the third highest in MLB on Opening Day; for that, the Phils are looking at losing about 90 games once this team staggers to the finish line.

Much has been written and reported about the various contracts for Phillies’ players that make them “untradeable”. A friend told me that the Phillies have another “ticking time bomb” (his wording) in their contract mix related to Jonathon Papelbon. His “basic contract” calls for him to make $13M this year and next year. If the Phillies were a contender, having a top-shelf closer would be an asset worth $13M; given the state of the team, having a $13M per year closer is about as appealing as a dinner date with Nancy Grace. However, it could get worse…

Papelbon has a vesting option in his contract that will give him $13M for the 2016 season if:

    A. He finishes 55 games in 2015 – or –
    B. He finishes a total of 100 games in 2014 plus 2015.

Note that these are not “save totals”; these are merely games finished. And as of this morning, he has finished 41 games. Given that Papelbon has made it clear that he would prefer to be on a much better team, the Phillies do not need him to hang around for the 2016 season too. The Phillies brain trust – if that is not an oxymoronic phrase – needs to deal with this issue before it becomes a problem.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment regarding another baseball oxymoron:

“The Marlins lead MLB in walk-off wins, one-run wins and games won on the last at-bat. If it isn’t an oxymoron, they might be The Most Exciting .500 Team In History!”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

6000 Calories Per Serving…

If I were one of the folks who thinks they need to wear a tinfoil hat to protect against the mind-reading and mind-control waves emanated by the government, I would start to worry about now. I write about valuations of franchises and the next day Forbes comes out with a whole new list; I write about a monstrosity of a culinary option at the Texas Motor Speedway and the next day the Green Bay Packers trump that. After all, the bacon beer milkshake in Texas does not come close to 6000 calories.

You have jumped to the correct conclusion; the Packers will offer their fans the chance to consume 6000 calories in a single order at the concession stand. That would be the 22-inch Kielbasa that comes in a semi-circular bun with “beer cheese” and “fried sauerkraut”. Anyone reading this who is related in any way to a cardiac surgeon is sending this info along with the idea that the whole family is going to relocate to northeastern Wisconsin and make enough money to buy Warren Buffett out of BNSF. AYFKM… [Are You F***ing Kidding Me]?

Oh, but the good folks who provide the victuals at Lambeau Field are not done yet. In addition to the “Kielbasa From Hell”, they will also allow you to order – and presumably consume – an order of “Bratchos”. Folks who are facile with English will conclude that this is a dish that marries bratwurst and nachos; they would be correct. This bad boy will come to the consumer in a tub that is about half the size of a football and contains all the ingredients you might imagine would be in bastardized nachos that had bratwurst in them.

EMTs are standing by at Lambeau Field in case anyone is foolhardy enough to order and consume both of these items on the same day. The human circulatory system did not evolve to survive that level of stress and strain…

Dean Blandino is the head of officiating for the NFL. Earlier this week, he said that there are going to be changes in the “extra point play” and those changes will be coming soon. He said that proposals will be presented to the NFL Competition Committee after the 2014 season ends. During the Exhibition Season, the NFL has “experimented” with moving the spot of the ball for the point after TD from the 2-yardline to the 15-yardline. Based on a small sample of exhibition games where some of the attempts came from guys who will not be on the field for any NFL team once the games count for real, the conversion rate for PATs from the 15-yardline was 94.3%. That does not sound like much until you consider that last season NFL kickers converted 99.6% of their point after TD tries. Not only do I “not have a problem” with this kind of a rule change, I think there are myriad options to make the game better by making the play that follows a TD into something where the outcome is questionable.

Moving the ball back to the 15-yardline (making the try for a point a 33-yard attempt instead of a 20-yard attempt) is insufficient as far as I am concerned. Here are the kinds of rule changes I would like to see considered seriously enough to have them as part of an “experiment”. [Aside: I put “experiment” inside quotation marks because I simply do not believe that Roger Goodell and his minions on mahogany row in the NFL suites go around every day wearing white lab coats and plastic pocket protectors.]:

    Bill Belichick suggested that the kick should come from the 42-yardline. I could live with that.

    I would love to see the NFL squeeze the uprights more than just a foot or two. Currently, the width of the goalposts in the NFL is 18-feet 6-inches. In the Arena League, the goalposts are only 9 feet wide. I would love to “split the difference” and make the NFL goalposts 14-feet wide. By the way, if they did that, it would also make long field goals more “dicey” and might add more actual football plays to the game instead of placekicking plays.

    I have also advocated – for at least the last 25 years – putting a bar across the top of the uprights and declaring that a field goal or point after TD is only good if it goes into the rectangle inscribed by adding that top piece.

    I read about one idea where a TD would be worth 7 points. Then, the scoring team would have the option to add 2 points to the TD with one play from scrimmage at the 5-yardline. The scoring team can opt to take that chance or just go back and kick off with 7 points on the board. However, if they opt to “go for it” and miss, then their TD is only worth 6 points. That rule might be fun for fans but so long as there are coaches on the Competition Committee, that proposal is Dead On Arrival.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle was wondering if fans had reached a tipping point with regard to staying home to watch NFL games as opposed to heading out to the stadium to root for the local heroes. You can read his full “analysis” here – and I recommend that you do so – but to get to the bottom line, staying home is the clear winner. Here is the opening paragraph of that “analysis” to whet your appetite:

‘The 49ers have a museum in Levi’s Stadium stocked with precious relics of the team’s past. I haven’t seen the museum yet, but I hope they have a special display for the $5 beer.”

Finally, there has been a lot attention to the Notre Dame football players who have been suspended while an investigation goes on regarding academic fraud and cheating. No matter what the findings of the investigators and the school’s tribunal, that situation will not end well. When one juxtaposes that story with the monumental hypocrisy of the NCAA with regard to exploiting athletes in the revenue sports, it is pretty easy to get to a point where one’s gag reflex is initiated. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel looked at that situation and came to this conclusion:

“Notre Dame supposedly has sidelined four football players because of academic fraud. My question: Is there a bigger oxymoron in college football than “academic fraud”? Don’t kid yourself, all of the big-time programs — by hiding their dozens of scholastically challenged players in gut courses and pointless majors — are academic frauds down to their very core.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

No Inside Info – I Swear…

I have a confession to make… When I wrote yesterday’s rant about the valuation of sports franchises and how Forbes might react to the Clippers having sold for $2B, I had exactly NO IDEA that Forbes was about to come out with new valuations for NFL franchises. No matter what it might look like, this is a perfect example of either serendipity or blind luck.

The new valuations are out and Forbes now thinks the Dallas Cowboys are worth $3.2B; that is a cool $900M more than Forbes thought they were worth just about a year ago. Jerry Jones’ credit rating just went up. According to Forbes the two least valuable teams in the NFL are the Rams (worth a mere $930M) and the Bills (worth a tidy $935M). These skyrocketing valuations are all in response to Steve Ballmer paying $2B for a “middle-of-the –pack” NBA franchise.

By the way, if Forbes is even close to correct, their franchise valuations say something very direct regarding the NFC East. Even if it is not the toughest division in the NFL – which it has not been for quite a while now – it is certainly the most valuable division. Here are the Forbes ranks for the four teams in the NFC East:

    Dallas 1st
    Washington 3rd
    NY Giants 4th
    Philly 7th

Here is a data point for you. Since 1997, the Dallas Cowboys cumulative record is 136-136. So, that is “America’s Team” and the franchise that is the most valuable in the NFL? Looks to me as if the Cowboys’ fans – as with the Oakland Raiders’ fans – are living in a world of past glories…

Notwithstanding any of the above, I also had no special insight into the NFL’s thinking regarding the halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl next February. I had no idea they were contemplating Rihanna, Katy Perry and Coldplay for the “job” or that the NFL would suggest to the performers that they (the performers) pay for the honor of being the halftime entertainment in front of potentially 100 million folks (give or take a couple of million).

    For the record, I do know the difference between Rihanna and a rhino.

    I could probably tell Katy Perry from Gaylord Perry just on the basis of gender.

    I do not know Coldplay from cold fusion or the play-of-the-week.

Speaking of NFL “stuff”, Mike Ditka responded to questions in the Chicago Sun-Times recently regarding Bears’ coach Marc Trestman’s ability to take Bears’ QB, Jay Cutler, from his current stature in the league to an “elite QB”. Here is what “Da Coach” had to say:

‘Marc can help him. He’s an outstanding coach and has a brilliant offensive mind. But Jay has to do it. He has to put the time and the work in, and he has to have the discipline to do it. He knows that. Can Marc make him? No. The only person that can make him is him. You can set up an offense to take advantage of his talent, and Marc has done that. But Jay has to perform on the field. That’s the bottom line.”

I have nothing to add here…

Later in whatever discussion Ditka had with the Sun-Times reporter, the subject turned to domestic violence and how it seems to becoming a more commonplace issue with NFL players. Here is what “Da Coach” had to say about that issue:

“There’s no excuse for domestic violence. None. If you have a problem, go outside and walk around the block. If that doesn’t work, keep walking.”

I cannot find any reason to argue with Ditka on this point either…

Moving on to the English version of football, Huddersfield Town – located northeast of Manchester and Liverpool – has a team in the English Champions League. That league is one level below the English Premier League. Huddersfield Town began this season with a loss to Bournemouth by a score of 4-0; their manager, Mark Robins, described the game as “a disgrace”. A couple of days later, the board of governors for the team fired manager, Mark Robins. Somewhere in the cosmos, George Steinbrenner nods in approval and wonders why he was so patient with all of his managers…

Baseball teams usually take the lead in creating outrageous culinary concoctions for their fans. However, the some folks involved in motor sports seem to have taken up the challenge and the Texas Motor Speedway will now offer its patrons:

    A beer and bacon milkshake.

NASCAR will be at the Texas Motor Speedway the first weekend of November for the Texas 500. [Aside: Since everything is purportedly “bigger” in Texas, why isn’t this race the Texas 750?] If you show up there you can have one of these bad boys and here are the ingredients:

    6 oz. Texas vanilla ice cream
    6 oz. Rohr & Sons Ugly Pug Black Lager
    2 oz. Bacon-infused Maple Syrup
    2 oz. Candied bacon bits
    Topping is whipped cream and more bacon bits

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I would not eat that with your mouth. If you even mention this to your cardiologist, my guess is that he will tell his staff to book you for bypass surgery sometime in the next 12 months…

Finally, Greg Cote had this item in the Miami Herald:

“Oregon State’s new men’s basketball coach is Wayne Tinkle. If I were him I’d hand out business cards that read: ‘Yes I have endured a lifetime of teasing. Whatever you’re thinking, I’ve heard it.’ ”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

A Franchise Bubble?

On Monday, I suggested you might want to read a report in the Seattle Times about Steve Ballmer and his involvement with the basketball program at Lakeside School in suburban Seattle. That report got me thinking about Ballmer and his purchase of the LA Clippers for $2B and what that might mean for the future of sports franchises.

Periodically, Forbes puts a value on each of the franchises in the major US sports. I have no way to judge the methodology by which they do that but I assume that they use a consistent yardstick across all the teams and all the sports since the bottom line is a common unit of measure – the dollar value of the enterprise. Using 2013 as the source of data, here is how Forbes put a value on NFL franchises. Remember, the NFL is the 800-lb gorilla with regard to US sports enterprises:

    1. Dallas Cowboys $2.3B
    2. NE Patriots $1.8B
    3. Wash Redskins $1.7B
    4. NY Giants $1.55B

In other words, only the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise in the NFL is worth more than the $2B that Steve Ballmer paid for an NBA team. Stunning…

Now the good folks at Forbes are devotees of free markets and one of the tenets of a free market is that a product or a service is worth exactly what someone else is willing to pay for it in an arms-length transaction. According to the Forbes methodology, here is what they thought various NBA teams were worth the last time they went through the exercise:

    1. NY Knicks $1.1B
    2. LA Lakers $1.0B
    3. Chicago Bulls $0.8B
    4. Boston Celtics $0.73B
    18. LA Clippers $0.43M

Well, the free market value of the Clippers just jumped to $2.0B; and so, the question now comes down to this:

    Will Forbes adjust all of the values upward for franchises in the NBA such that most of them will be more valuable than the Dallas Cowboys?

More importantly, perhaps someone far more knowledgeable about economics should address this:

    Did the $2B purchase of the LA Clippers signal a bubble that could burst for franchise ownership – or – was this just one super-rich guy going slightly beyond his petty-cash drawer to buy an expensive toy?

The NFL Exhibition season is in full-swing; and after playing those meaningless games and using guys who have no prayer of making the team once the games count, the coaches have to stand up to press inquiries. Those interviews can be tedious after a real game; during the Exhibition Season, they are painful. As I see highlights of coaches answering questions when they simply do not want to be in the same room with their inquisitors, I imagine what is really going through their minds that they have to be sure not to say. Here are a couple of examples:

    Jason Garrett: “I have been quizzed by professors at Princeton; you guys are so junior varsity…”

    Rex Ryan: “My last statement wasn’t nearly bombastic enough. Get a load of this next one…”

    Chip Kelly: “Gotta make sure to get out of here before the sugar high wears off…”

    Bill Belichick: “I’d like to see all of you boiled in oil…”

    Jim Harbaugh: “Hope I can follow doctor’s orders and keep my blood pressure under 310/265 until this is over…”

    Gus Bradley: “If we stink, I am going to get fired – but the fact is we are going to stink…”

    Mike Tomlin: “Must not smile; if I do, these guys might think that football is less important than world peace…”

This is a fun game; you can play it in your living room all season long. No need to thank me…

I saw a report saying there is an Internet petition out there demanding that the Super Bowl halftime headliner be “Weird Al” Yankovic. That sounded bizarre enough to check out; indeed, there is such a petition; you can see it here.

I think this would be great halftime entertainment. “Weird Al” might lead off with Dare To Be Stupid followed by Like A Surgeon and then leading into White And Nerdy. Then they could have a surprise appearance by Placido Domingo who might join “Weird Al” in a hearty rendition of The Nasty Doorman – the Nessun Dorma.

Hey, even I would watch that halftime show – and it would be the first one.

Finally, Scott Ostler had this lament recently in the SF Chronicle:

“Man, I have the world’s most boring bucket list. Nothing on it but buckets. Last week I crossed off ‘driving range balls’ and ‘KFC’.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Ex-Jocks Behind A Microphone

Last weekend, I had a chance conversation with someone in the neighborhood who is a displaced Chicago White Sox fan. I mentioned something about a recent Nats’ game that had been on the local cable network. That led my neighbor to express displeasure with the Nat’s color announcer on the local cable telecasts, F.P. Santangelo; my neighbor said he was too bland to listen to. Then my neighbor said he wished the Nats would get someone as good as “Hawk” Harrelson to do their local games…

In no way would I put F.P. Santangelo in any pantheon of great color commentators in the history of the game. Nonetheless, I do not find him objectionable in any way. He is like vanilla ice cream; you may not love him but there is no way you can dislike him.

“Hawk” Harrelson is not that way at all. Harrelson is about as big a “homer” as anyone you will have ever heard or will ever hear. Therefore, if you are a White Sox fan – like my neighbor – you will love him. If you have no particular affiliation with or affection for the White Sox, you might wonder if this guy even knows that the word “objective” exists in the English language.

Personally, I can take Harrelson in very small doses but his “homerism” quickly gets to me and I start to tune him out. However, that chance conversation got me to thinking about ex-jocks who have migrated to a position behind a microphone on radio and TV. Some of them are – or were – very good but there are some who just do not provide me with listening pleasure:

    Troy Aikman: He is good working with Joe Buck; he is good on his own. I like him a lot.

    Charles Barkley: I think the lack of a 10-second delay line between his brain and his tongue provides for the possibility of real entertainment when he is on the air. I enjoy him; nevertheless, I recognize that there are lots of folks who would prefer that he get laryngeal surgery – today.

    Cris Collinsworth: I think he is excellent.

    Kirk Herbstreit: I have no idea if this guy does anything in his life that is not connected to college football, but he is really good at that one thing.

    Michael Irvin: What he does to the English language is what workers in an abattoir do to the carcass of a steer. I fear that my 12th grade English teacher – wherever she may be in the cosmos – gets a twinge in her spine every time Irvin goes off on one of his expository flights of fancy. As often as not, I change the channel mid-way into one of his commentaries.

    Daryl “Moose” Johnston: I used to enjoy him but he is too repetitious. He harps on things over and over. His repetitiveness drives me nuts. How come he says the same things all the time? Enough already…

    Shaquille O’Neal: If Shaq is an acquired taste, all I can say is that I have not yet acquired same.

    Warren Sapp: Many folks say he is a wonderful person who would give you the shirt off his back. I cannot speak to that but I do wish that he would say something important more often than he does.

    Curt Schilling: He is destined to make Sominex an unnecessary product.

    Shannon Sharpe: Just because he speaks loudly does not mean he has something important – or even interesting – to say.

    Phil Simms: It took a while for me to get used to his voice, but once over that hurdle I came to enjoy hearing from him.

    Tony Siragusa: He tries too hard to be the latter-day Art Donovan.

    Kenny Smith: He and Charles Barkley obviously have fun working together and I enjoy being part of that upbeat environment.

    Joe Theismann: Five words apply here:

      Fingernails scratching on a blackboard

    Chris Webber: One word will suffice here:


Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list; it just happens to be a few folks who came to mind as I recalled the conversation with my neighbor. I am sure others can add folks to the “really like this guy list” and to the “get this guy off the air list”.

Finally, here are a few of the best malapropisms from the late Ralph Kiner – a former jock who got behind a microphone and provided entertainment albeit not always in the way he meant to provide it:

“All of his saves have come in relief opportunities.”

And …

“If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

And …

“The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is that they have the best home record in baseball.”

And …

“The Mets have gotten their leadoff batter on only once this inning.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Recommended Reading

Mike Baker has a report in the Seattle Times about new Clippers’ owner, Steve Ballmer, and his involvement with the basketball program at Lakeside School in suburban Seattle. The story is well researched and well written.

In case you might wonder how someone who could afford to spend $2B to buy an NBA franchise might affect a high school athletic program, I suggest you should read this in its entirety.

The New Commissioneer Of MLB

With the election of a new Commissioner of MLB, there has been an outpouring of “advice” for Rob Manfred regarding things he needs to do to improve the game. Some of the “moldy oldies” get dragged out of the storage shed and into the sunlight one more time in these words of advice such as:

    Make a final decision on Pete Rose’s reinstatement one way or the other.

    Put the DH in the National League or remove it from the American League.

    Make the “replay rule” work better.

    Keith Olbermann wants MLB to force all team mascots – especially Clark the Cub – to wear pants at all times.

I do not want to disparage any of those kinds of recommendations; it would be very good for MLB to do all of those kinds of things. I prefer to focus on what I think is a much bigger issue facing MLB. I think that Rob Manfred needs to figure out why TV ratings for the nationally televised “Game of the Week” have tanked and are continuing to go down. I think that is a far more important issue for baseball than most of the other things that have been thrown around. Here is why:

    The major networks will not continue to pay “top dollar” for TV rights to games if ratings continue to drop. The so-called “Mendoza Line” exists for baseball hitters; there is an analogous “Ratings-version Mendoza Line”; it determines which sports get the big bucks and which get chump-change.

    The national TV contracts are vital sources of revenue for “small market teams”. Big market teams get big revenue from local TV deals – unless they get into a spitting match with cable companies over the rates they want to charge to those cable companies a la the Dodgers at the moment. Small market teams do not even generate chump-change in local TV revenue.

It does not matter nearly as much when/if ratings for the All-Star Game or even the World Series are lower than they were 15-20 years ago. Those are singular events and the networks will always bid on them; the revenue danger for MLB lies in the declining ratings for the “Game of the Week”. I suggest two reasons why those ratings are in serious decline:

    1. Pace of play: I know that some folks are tired of hearing about this but baseball games take too long. Moreover, there can be significant stretches of the game where not a lot happens even though time marches on. I – and others – have made lots of suggestions on ways to increase “pace of play” in the past; I seriously think that Rob Manfred needs to consider ways to do that without damaging the game itself.

      Suggestion: Why not put a “pitch clock” in as an experiment in a couple of the minor leagues and gauge fan reaction and player/manager reaction from it. If that is “positive”, do the same experiment in Spring Training. Then, …

    2. Interleague play: This was a great idea when introduced in 1997. It boosted attendance and heightened interest in the game. It may also have outlived its usefulness. A return to the days where the only “interleague games” that mattered were in the World Series would create space in a team’s schedule that could be filled with games against division rivals.

No one should read the above and conclude that I think MLB is on a precipice and about to go down in flames. It is not. However, with a new commissioner comes a chance to look at some issues differently than they have been observed in the past; I think MLB should avail itself of that opportunity.

By the way, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this suggestion for amending the replay rule. I do not know if this would make the game better or move faster, but it might be very entertaining:

“How to fix baseball replay: It’s stupid that managers protest replay decisions by barking at the umps on the field. If the skipper has a replay beef, put him on a Skype hookup with the replay ump in New York, and beam the discussion to the ballpark video screen.”

The Dallas Morning News reports that the players in the bullpen for the Texas Rangers have created a new “game” that they play to pass the time out there. The game is called:

    Fart-bottle Roulette

In case you think I am making this up – I am not nearly that creative, by the way – here is a link to the report. Even though you probably cannot guess the rules of the game, I can assure you that it is about as disgusting as the name might suggest.

Finally, Mike Bianchi had this comment in the Orlando Sentinel recently:

“With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy: How can you tell if a Mississippi State fan is on vacation in Orlando? He’s the one trying to take his fishing pole into Sea World!”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………