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Fans Have It Easier than Players and Coaches Do

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

Heard yesterday afternoon on the extremely popular ESPN show, Pardon The Interruption (PTI), Jason Whitlock answer the question, “If Kentucky were to lose to Wisconsin in the Final Four, would 38-1 be considered a successful season?”

Whitlock didn’t even pause before his reply. “No,” the fill-in host said, adding that the expectations were set early for this team and, so far, the year had gone as planned – although no one ever gave any consideration to how absurd a 40-0 season would be to achieve. I mean, a start-to-finish undefeated season hasn’t occurred for nearly 40 years. Granted, there have been some close calls, but none of them ending in storybook fashion – and that was before social media and all the distractions players and coaches have been forced to deal with.

Tony Kornheiser disagreed with his colleague – although that’s one of the basic premises of the show, isn’t it? In addition, saying that a 38-1 record in Division I basketball (at least on the men’s side, Geno) is, in fact, a major accomplishment, is not exactly sticking one’s neck out.

Fans of Wildcat Nation, however, will undoubtedly side with Whitlock in this argument. They would probably have been satisfied with UK going 39-1 – as long as the sole loss was during the regular season. And it wasn’t against Louisville. Or to an SEC opponent. Or in Rupp.

Supporters of other schools aren’t nearly so rabid (with the exception of Alabama fans – on the football side). That means a loss here and there – but nowhere else - can be tolerated. Loyalty is an overrated quality anyway. Do you think it’s possible fans have been spoiled just a tad?

The difference between fans and coaches & players is that, at any time during the season, fans are allowed to quit being fans without any negative consequences. Maybe they’ll receive a little verbal abuse but they know there will always be room on the bandwagon when the team becomes the type of winner they want to be associated with again. Unfortunately, that’s not an option that’s afforded to coaches and players.

“Even though there are times they wish it were.”

What’s the Best Approach to Take Leading Up to the NFL Draft?

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

All professional teams want to get better, if not from week to week, certainly from one year to the next. Basically, there are three ways of improving a team (other than “coaching ‘em up”) – 1) free agency, 2) trades and 3) the draft. For the fan on the street, more information is divulged about the third method than either of the others, thus creating more interest in the draft.

Prior to it, the fans are inundated with NFL draft information. Next follows the NFL combine as well as individual “pro days” at various universities, some of which are televised. Personal interviews are held for higher selections – and, much to the fans’ dismay, those are never televised. What viewers can see on TV or read in magazines, newspapers and online, are mock drafts. Finally, of course, the draft itself is a three-day TV affair.

One mock draft for 2015 I saw had six NFL analysts selecting their first round picks. One of them, Charles Davis, was a frequent visitor in my office at the University of Tennessee in the early 1980s as, although he was a defensive back for Johnny Majors at that time, he was a close friend of our point guard who, along with Charles, hailed from Buffalo. In addition Charles’ dad was a high school basketball coach and the younger Davis loved coming by and talking hoops strategy. While Charles was a very good DB on some terrific Vols teams (led by Reggie White, as genuine a person as I’ve ever met), he’s made quite a nice living for himself on the air. He was always bright, personable and articulate so it’s not surprised me at the tremendous success he’s had as a football analyst – both in-game and in studio.

Enough (or maybe too much) name-dropping. What follows is a (somewhat edited) blog I posted many, many years ago that I believe still applies. Football, possibly more than any other, is a copycat sport meaning, for this topic, the manner in which teams draft hasn’t changed significantly throughout the years. There are mounds of vital stats gleaned from the combine – Wonderlict scores, 40 times, vertical jump, how many times a guy could bench press 220 pounds (I think there’s an offensive lineman out there who might still be going) and standing long jump.

That last one absolutely slayed me – the quarterback who had the longest standing long jump. How in the world could a team pass up a quarterback who possesses such an important skill? Think of all the games that are lost because the losing team’s QB couldn’t long jump from a standing position! Undoubtedly, some helmet head out there will read this (or have it read to him) and say, “Huh, the general public – what the hell do they know about how to put together a winning football team?”

And he’s right. Football people know infinitely more than I, a casual fan, do.  Here, from years gone by, is (with a few changes) what I wrote.  Read it and tell me how much improvement has been made in the evaluating and drafting process.

Forever and ever, we’ve heard that draft day is so difficult for football teams. That’s probably a true statement due to the fact that no one is sure which list is longer – first rounders who became busts or low draft picks (and free agents) who became All-Pros.

Each year, greater technology is used (and vast amounts of money spent) yet it never ceases to amaze us how wrong certain picks can be. This has to be due to the human element – or, maybe, a player might be a bad fit for the club who drafted him (begging the question, “Why did they draft him?”). Way back when, guys were selected because of what the decision-makers, e.g. owners, general managers, coaches, player personnel directors heard about the players from their friends, other coaches, confidants and, who knows, maybe even fans or sportswriters close to the guys writing the checks. Now, we have combines (I thought that’s how wheat was harvested, not players) and tests, both psychological and written.

It would seem that watching a player play would be a better indicator than how fast he runs a 40, i.e. if a guy has a great 40 time, you’ll want him in the game in case the other team has someone really fast who breaks away and needs to be caught – except when that happens, it’s too late to sub, or how many times he can bench press 220 lbs (“Boy, he looks awful on video but how can we pass on somebody so strong?”), or how high he can jump (jumping doesn’t seem to be in the top 5 talents needed to play football), or how well he scored on a test (remember, many of these guys haven’t taken a test without the help of a tutor in years).

Coaches always say, “The film doesn’t lie,” yet film be damned when it comes to evaluating talent (“Just let me see him at the combine or, especially, at one of our individual workouts”) – where there are no screaming fans, there’s no “team” scoreboard lit up and the only competition is the stop watch, free weights and sticks coming out of a pole.

Call me old-fashioned (because I probably am), but watching a player in person or on film if being there isn’t possible, has to be a more reliable test of how he’ll perform for your team. Naturally, who the opponent is has to be taken into account, as well as getting in touch with people you can trust (the relationships made throughout a long career – guys who wouldn’t lie to you because they know bad advice could cost you your job). Even with a plethora of knowledge, there remain some guys who are magnificent performers “until the lights go on.” That’s why, with the money being invested, you want to be as certain as possible. A mistake can destroy a franchise’s future (and place you among the unemployed).

In today’s world, one-on-one interviews are a must, but, even then, some people can fool you. Using all the modern methods of information gathering isn’t a waste, but the greater variety of these tools used, the increased number of egos become involved. Older coaches and scouts (“football guys”) clash with computer geeks who lean on analytics. A psychologist has tons of empirical data from a test (s)he’s developed, along with accuracy of prediction of success – but no one’s rate is 100%. Not yet anyway. Having things you can trust (a pair of eyes which have watched thousands of hours of video) and an experienced mind (comparing him to somebody from years past) and the opinions of people you would select to be in a bunker with you if a war broke out, used to make the decision-makers more comfortable than a new breed of “experts.” That’s mostly because the newer evaluation techniques are conducted in much more sterile environments than a true football player has to deal with. Unless the decision-maker is from today’s generation, then he’ll put more stock in the “advanced” methods of evaluation.

Still and all, the truest measure of whether a draft was a success or not remains the same: 

“Check back in about five years.”

Who Is Really the Cause of Skyrocketing NBA Players’ Salaries?

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

As the college hoops season winds down (we still have, arguably, the most anticipated Final Four ever – which becomes even more so should Kentucky prevail Saturday), the NBA is poised to take over the nation’s sports fans. Baseball is still 162 games from drawing interest from all but its most ardent supporters and, other than the NFL draft, football will take a back seat interest-wise as well. What about hockey, you ask? Hockey fans and basketball fans are, for all intents and purposes, mutually exclusive groups.

As the NBA playoffs start the best-of-seven, best-of-seven, best-of-seven, best-of-seven, there certainly will be plenty to speak, write and sideline report about but, due to the fact the media has grown exponentially (including social media), rumors, gossip and innumerable “back stories” will surface as each individual attempts to out-do his or her competition. One topic that is always of interest is NBA players’ salaries.

The money NBA players make is, to use the current slang, stupid. With a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon, players’ salaries are going to go higher. Quite a bit higher. Why is that? The reasons are as numerous as there are teams in the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at what NBA guys get paid. First of all, if anyone wants to know what a particular player is pulling down (and all are pulling down a ton more money than they are rebounds – with the possible exception of DeAndre Jordan), all that’s necessary is to Google your favorite (or in some cases, least favorite) player. As you’re doing so, think about how violated you would feel if discovering what you make was so simple.

In no particular order, the following reasons are what drive players’ income through the roof. Those in the financial know commented that when Steve Ballmer shelled out what was, at that time, 1/10th of his net worth for the Los Angeles Clippers, i.e. $2,000,000,000 (still amazed at what it actually looks like “written out”), he enabled Michael Jordan entry into a club who, until that time, refused to allow His Airness membership. It’s called The Billionaire’s Club.

Ballmer’s bid seemed extremely generous – since it was $400 million more than the second place bid. With $400M you could buy “17 NHL franchises, … book a trip to space, fund a major movie or buy all ten of the most expensive cars in the world,” according to a piece penned last year. So Ballmer might have overpaid a tad but when you have $20 billion (allegedly a few B’s more after last year’s stock market boon), why leave getting what you want to chance?

Steve Ballmer is no fool. He didn’t inherit his wealth and, while he does act like the ultimate fan, obviously he didn’t just buy the franchise for the great seats that came along with the price tag. Typically, professional franchises in the four major sports in the U.S. increase in value. Certainly, Ballmer isn’t planning on making a windfall this year – or maybe this decade but if or when he decides it’s time to part with his club, rest assured, he’ll be making a profit. How can that be? The answer is due to multiple revenue streams.

Start with the nine-year, $24 billion media-rights deal with ESPN and Turner Sports. $2.6 billion a year seems like – no, it doesn’t seem like, it is an unbelievable amount of money. Even if you work in Congress. How can television afford to spend that kind of dough? You can bet it’s not just to keep the product off of their competitors’ airwaves.

No. It’s because the TV people know they can recoup (and then some) the money from advertisers. You can almost see this coming, can’t you? Advertisers plan on getting rich(er) because we, the consumer, are influenced by what we see while watching games on the tube flat screen. (They used to make money on us when games were on the tube. Now they make more. But how much sweeter is the picture!)

It’s not that simple. The NBA also makes money off of ticket sales, both seats and sky boxes. Remember how the line used to be, “A family of four can’t afford to attend a game?” Teams don’t care; the public isn’t who’s buying most of the seats anyway. It’s corporations, who use the tickets they buy to woo clients. However, it still eventually comes back to the consumer. Us. On that rare occasion a dad can bring his kid(s), he has to pay to park (ouch!) – and have you noticed that the concessions are quite a bit pricey (ouch!ouch!)? It’s just more money helping ease that two bil poor Steve Ballmer is in the hole.

Speaking of prices, NBA authentic jerseys have been slashed from $75 to only $60 (except for the “vintage” jerseys and, you know, the real good players). And what better way to tell your children you love them than to plunk down a C-note (a piece) for a personalized jersey? Your kid’s name on the back of his favorite team. Chances are that will never happen so you’d better buy it before the prices go up.

The minimum salary an NBA player makes for a season is a half a million dollars. The highest salary was Kobe Bryant’s $23,500 although LeBron James made close to $65M when endorsements were included. And why do companies pay athletes (and other entertainers – because, believe it, professional athletes are exactly that – entertainers) so much money to endorse their products? It ain’t because they need tax write-offs.

So the next time you hear somebody complain about how much money players make (even if that person is sitting to the left of the person sitting to the right of you), speak up and say:

“Hey, watch what you say. I’m partially subsidizing his net worth.”

 

Does Anybody Think Myles Turner Is Ready to Play in the NBA?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Recently, I had an NBA coach tell me that Frank Kaminsky won’t be a very good pro because he’s too slow and won’t be able to guard anybody. Although having watched “Frank the Tank” quite a bit this (regular and March Madness) season – and think he would be a difficult match up because of his ability to play inside and out with great footwork and shooting touch, AND pass so well – I defer to someone who has a more intimate knowledge of the professional game and has seen it up close and personal.

Then, last night, I saw where Texas’ freshman, Myles Turner, who just recently turned 19, decided he will leave college for the NBA. Granted, he’s 6’11” and, apparently, several NBA executives claim he is a likely lottery pick. I have not yet spoken to my NBA friend about Turner, but can’t wait to hear his opinion on the former UT (semi-)star. Let’s take a look at Myles Turner.

His stats for the season were as follows. He started seven games and averaged 10.1 points, 6.5 rebounds in 22 minutes for the Longhorns who barely made it into this year’s NCAA tournament field, then got bounced in their first game, likely the final straw that got UT’s coach, Rick Barnes, fired. So it can’t he’s leaving because he’s bored with the college game and doesn’t feel he’ll be challenged. There was a report that Barnes’ dismissal may have been a factor in Turner leaving but the coach only played him 22 minutes a game and I’ve never heard of a player who is a potential lottery pick being enamored with a coach who plays him only half the game. Besides, does he really think the University of Texas is going to hire some schlub to lead their program?

Coaches, especially those with their jobs on the line, tend to play the guys who give the team the best chance to win. If a guy couldn’t help his team any more than Turner did the Longhorns, does an NBA team think he’s, if not the answer, at least one of them. Teams that usually select in the lottery because they weren’t very good. Do they truly believe a 10 pt, 6.5 reb, 22 min, 19-year-old is going to significantly help them move into next year’s playoffs? He was competing against older players in the Big 12 this year. Next year he’ll be on the court against even older, more mature players who take the game, aka their job, much more seriously.

Maybe Turner is hoping for some deja vu. A decade ago, there was another Texas frosh (6’11”, 240 – almost identical height and weight to Turner’s) who averaged 9.9 pts, 5.9 reb in 22 min – but he only played in the first 16 games because of a hip injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. So he came back for one more season. Who? You guessed it – LaMarcus Aldridge.

Turner, though, is most likely leaving because of the money – and, not living in his shoes, how can anybody blame him? What puzzles me about the NBA is that, it seems, if a player doesn’t make an immediate impact, he likely will be destined for, at best, a back up role for his career. In a few cases, maybe the third best starter on his team. So if a guy like Turner, who I don’t think anyone believes is of NBA All-Star caliber player right now, leaves early, does that mean there aren’t very many really good future NBA players in college? And if that is true, why are there so many bad, really bad, NBA teams?

Jay Bilas doesn’t work with in the NBA but he certainly has seen enough of the college game to be able to evaluate prospects. His opinion of Turner? “Terrific prospect, terrific talent.” But:

“If he went into the NBA right now, he would be in the D-League.”

 

Scoring May Be Down But Don’t Think It’s Because the Game Is Too Slow

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

One of the most discussed topics of this basketball (post)season is speeding up the game/increase scoring. That might sound like two items but, really, if scoring was to increase, no one would give a flip about the pace of the game. It’s just that when anyone brings up additional scoring, the first thing that comes to mind is “speed up the game,” i.e. the 35-second shot clock is entirely too long.

Let’s, for a moment, assume that’s correct. Does that mean that if the shot clock were shortened to, say, 10 seconds that games would be in the 100s? How about 5 seconds? Ludicrous ideas, don’t you think? I recall reading an article in a recent Sports Illustrated (long since given to a friend) in which it stated that, while scoring is down the past ten years or so, there was actually more scoring before the 45-second shot clock was introduced (in 1985). What frightened the rules makers into a shot clock was an embarrassing game in the 1968 ACC tournament between underdog NC State and powerhouse Duke which ended 12-10 because the Wolfpack held the ball to bring the Blue Devils’ big man away from the basket (a move Duke refused to make) and a 1973 contest between heavy favorite Tennessee and visiting Temple which ended 11-6 (because of a similar situation). Other than those outliers (and no more than a handful of others), scoring was quite a bit higher than it is now. As is often the case, fear ruled the decision-making process.

The problem isn’t the length of the clock; it’s the teams’ inability to score – combined with the (extreme) possibility that today’s coaches are better at devising and teaching defense than they are at designing offense that will give players opportunities in which they can get very high percentage shots.

Why is that? Take a look at the differences between defense and offense. Technically speaking, the main goal of every defensive possession is when the opponent doesn’t score. Any coach would be foolish to think an uncontested lay up that doesn’t go in is good defense. Yet, the goal was accomplished.

Conversely, if the team with the ball executes its offense precisely as they practiced, and gets an uncontested lay up which the shooter happens to miss (even if it was missed by the team’s best player), nobody is feeling too good – especially if it was at the buzzer of a game in which the team was down by one.

The point is this. Good defense is made up of proper stances and techniques, all-out effort, communication, rotation and, finally, rebounding. Add in anticipation and it becomes great defense. Good offense is based upon skills, timing, execution, recognition and, in usually more than half of the possessions, also rebounding. The former tactics (excluding anticipation) are much easier than the latter, i.e. on offense players have to be able to do something positive.

If a defender gets beaten backdoor, many outcomes are possible. 1) The passer doesn’t see the move. 2) The passer makes a poor pass that goes out of bounds. 3) The pass is good but the cutter fumbles it away for a turnover. 4) The pass is good, the cutter catches it, but travels. 5) The pass is good but the cutter catches the ball and commits an offensive foul. 6) The pass is good but the shot is missed. Only if everything is done correctly – and the ball goes in the basket – is the team rewarded. Even if the defense fouls, the offense still must make the free throws in order to claim a positive offensive possession.

The opposite occasionally occurs, e.g. good defense combined with bad offense can lead to scores. But the only time that happens is when the ball ricochets off of a defender, say an arm extended in the passing lane, and finds its way into the basket. Obviously, that doesn’t take place nearly as often.

Other reasons scoring is down is the amount of information available to coaches, e.g. more televised games, easier access to opponents’ game video (beyond TV), more statistics (analytics) which coaches can use to thwart offenses and offensive tendencies. This means coaches can take away more scoring opportunities.

Wouldn’t it, then, stand to reason that there are increased opportunities for teams to put points on the board? The answer is yes – with a caveat. As stated previously, offense takes more skill – and the more skilled players aren’t staying in college as long as they once did. This means one of two changes need to be made. The first is to mandate players, aka student-athletes, stay in college longer. Since that idea has been floated and shot down (something about being unconstitutional or against the last CBA of the players association), let’s disregard it. That means the college players must improve their offensive skills (or coaches have to design offenses that are harder to guard than the current ones). Some coaches employ that philosophy, namely Bo Ryan’s “swing” offense and Mark Few’s “flotion.”

If the players are to make marked improvement in their offensive games, either the NCAA needs to alter its rules and give coaching staffs more access to the players (an action flying directly in the face of recent NCAA rule changes) or schools need to be able to use outside help – in the form of independent “player development coaches” – to work with the players during the off season, be it pre, post or summer. The NCAA has shied away from this idea, as it would lead to the dreaded lack of institutional control situation. Additional staff , i.e. non-institutional employees and all the potential problems they bring, is an area of which the NCAA tries to steer clear.

To wrap up the “get more scoring in the game” controversy (since forcing players to stay in school is off the board), either have coaches become more creative or have players improve individual skills. Unless we want the officials to call more fouls on defenders.

But, then, wouldn’t that lengthen the game?

Words and Phrases that Have Actually Become Part of Our (Basketball) Vocabulary

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

It’s only been a year but, because this new hoops jargon has hit epidemic proportions, I felt a duty to reprint a blog from last year (which I originally posted, albeit a somewhat edited version, way back in 2009). You should enjoy the humor, as well as recognize the increased widespread use of these words as entertainment.

The game of basketball is relatively simple, i.e. put the ball in the basket and keep your opponent from putting it in his (or hers). Today’s coaches, analysts and talking heads, presumably in an attempt to create more of a mystique about the game (or sound smarter), have expanded the dictionary of basketball terms. Why people feel this is necessary could be due to the popularity of Dick Vitale (“diaper dandy,” “PTPer”) or Clark Kellogg (“stat sheet stuffer,” “squeeze the orange”). Or maybe it started when Hubie Brown, lecturing at a clinic in the South in the late ’70’s, spoke about “sticking the J.” I was actually at that particular clinic, in which Hubie was interrupted by a coach in attendance who asked the question, “What’s a ‘J’?”

It was kind of funny at that time seeing Hubie try to conceal, unsuccessfully, a smirk at the question. Earlier in his career, Hubie’s retort might have been, “How the f… can you coach basketball & not know what a ‘J’ is?” but he’d mellowed somewhat by then. I have to admit the guys in my group felt bad for the coach who asked the question, but felt relieved – although not as relieved as the coach should have been – had Hubie answered with the response we anticipated.

Players in this era have so many terms running through their heads, the only two groups that can be effective are the “thinkers who can play” and the “players who can think (some),” i.e. something along the lines of the NCAA’s sliding scale. To some coaches, namely my late Hall of Fame boss, Jerry Tarkanian, thinking was a detrimental skill when it came to being a basketball player. Tark’s mantra always was, “The more a player thinks, the slower his feet get.” While today’s game is quite similar that of Tark’s day, the “lingo” has certainly changed.

For example, players now “score the ball.” The first time I heard that phrase, an immediate question came to mind. “What the hell else can you score?” I mean, have you ever heard, “Manny is really having a tough time scoring the ball tonight, but he’s been on fire finding the bottom of the net with several pairs of socks, a few rolls of athletic tape and three Gatorade cups he found lying around.” For the more sophisticated announcer, the term has recently morphed into, “score the basketball.” They must think listeners had to pause for a moment to recall exactly which sport they were viewing – and, of course, to ponder their brilliance.

Today’s players are no longer accomplished dribblers. They have great handles. I thought for a minute I might be able to make a comeback as a point guard because my wife keeps telling me I have great handles, but as it turns out anybody can get those – as long as a person has enough discipline to overeat on a daily basis. Another new term is touches, meaning how many times a player gets the ball in scoring position. Coaches now talk about the need to get their best player “touches.” Players, often not the best ones, have been heard to complain they don’t get enough touches. Usually the reason is because, when they do, they don’t score the ball.

In the past, when players used dribbling to score the ball, they were very good at “driving” it. Today, when a player’s strength is driving, the scouting report will tell the team he can really put the ball on the floor or, if a coach wants to show off his knowledge of the absolute latest verbiage, he can really deck it. When I was in college I saw one of my friends “deck it,” but it was right after some guy insulted his girlfriend at a bar. “Deck it” was the phrase used, but “it” was the guy who unwisely opened his mouth about my buddy’s girl. Seemed like my buddy objected to him trying to get too many “touches.”

Also, guys who used to be great shooters are now considered wet. In years past those same shooters were called “silky smooth.” Apparently, silky smooth has been replaced by wet although you’d think a player would rather be smooth, especially of the silky variety, than wet but, with more and more announcers and people in the studio attempting to carve their own niche, it’s become a way to separate one personality from another. It’s certainly easier than actual studying to become more knowledgeable about what they’re covering – for a living.

When a shot goes up, the coach no longer tells players to “rebound” but to board it. Playmakers don’t get “assists” for passes that lead to scores, they drop dimes. The more dimes you have, the more guys want to play with you – especially wet guys. It’s evidently the same story in the inner city, i.e. people want to hang with the guy who has the most dimes, but they’re of a different variety. And when that guy gets his picture taken, there’s a better than even chance it’s going to be both front and side views.

There are those who wonder how anyone understands anyone else. No one is clear when they speak today. That wasn’t the case, however, when Harry Truman was asked why he felt that Dwight Eisenhower was struggling when he switched careers from the army to politics. Harry did his best “Give ‘em hell” answer to a question most politicians would have waxed poetic or sidestepped altogether. Instead, Truman’s response was:

“Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t used to being criticized and he never did get it through his head that’s what politics is all about. He was used to getting his ass kissed.”

Anatomy of the Mountain West – and How One of Its Members Got Shafted

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Maybe it’s been said by others – it probably has but since I usually stay away from newspapers (and any news, sports, weather) when I’m on vacation I didn’t see nor hear it – but the committee who selected the field of 68 made a mistake so obvious, there ought to be an investigation.

There are four of each of the seeds, i.e. four #1s, four #2s, four #3s, etc. with the exception of two seeds – #11 and #16 – of which there are six each. Why? Time for a little history (of March Madness) lesson.

Maybe you are aware of why extra teams were added. I actually lived it. It was in July of 1999. There was a clandestine meeting among half of the schools that made up the Western Athletic Conference (nearly all of them original members). Their thought was the WAC, which at that time was comprised of 16 teams, was entirely too big (or maybe they were just ahead of their time) and the model was causing more problems than it was creating opportunities. Incredible as it may seem, there never was even one “anonymous source” allowing the cat to escape the bag.

At the time I was working at Fresno State, one of the schools left out. Since, legally, it was decided nothing could be done to prevent the break up, the institutions agreed there simply would be two leagues. The universities that left wanted to keep the WAC name since nearly all of them were part of the original conference. The shunned group claimed they, in fact, should retain the name because they weren’t the ones who left. The latter argument won out and the “traitors” (as the side Fresno State was on referred to them) needed to find a name. While the “Mountain West” was agreed upon, the new group faced another problem. A real big problem.

The NCAA tournament, aka “March Madness” was made up of 64 teams. Since the new conference, the Mountain West, had a “history” with the NCAA tourney, it wanted the conference’s automatic bid to The Dance. Yet, the WAC maintained the bid, according to the NCAA, went to the WAC, and there was no way they could be stripped of it. The Mountain West felt the issue could be solved by awarding them an automatic bid to them as well.

Not so fast, my friends, said the power schools (although they didn’t have the formal designation then that they do now, everyone knew who they were). Adding an automatic bid would mean taking an at-large bid away – and who got nearly all of the at-large bids? The power schools. So, an extra automatic bid was added and the field was expanded to 65 (which has since been expanded again to 68 because, call it whatever they wanted, 64 & 65 didn’t feel a part of the tourney). Having four games at the same site would make it feel more like the rest of the tournament.

The site they decided upon, originally, was the University of Dayton because basketball was so popular there and it was relatively easy to get to. Here’s the rub: this year the Flyers were actually in the field. They were given an #11 seed. Since the four “first round” games were two pairs each of the #16 seeds and #11 seeds, it meant Dayton would essentially get a home game. This just didn’t give UD a “competitive advantage” but would put its opponent at a “competitive disadvantage.” Isn’t that the criteria for how referees call fouls?

How much of an advantage? It was the first time a team played at home since 1987. Additionally, UD was 16-0 at home this season and had a 22-game winning streak heading into the game. Their opponent was Boise State, coincidentally, from the Mountain West. For Boise’s fans it would mean a long trip for, win or lose, one game.

The Broncos were ahead most of the game and held a seven-point advantage with 3:43 to go. So, did the home crowd really mean that much? “They were electrifying,” senior guard Jordan Sibert said of the crowd. “I don’t think we would have won that game without them.” Oh yeah, the game ended with a non-call of a Dayton player who may, or may not, have made contact while defending a Boise shooter’s three-point attempt at the buzzer.

The shame of the matter is that it could have been avoided. If the committee thought so highly of Dayton, then make them a #10 seed. If they felt the Flyers had gotten in by the skin of their teeth, make them a #12 seed. If you were to put this logic to a committee member, you’d hear the same old, tired gobbledegook: travel concerns, strength of schedule, strength of non-conference schedule, RPI rating, last ten games, sperm count, yada, yada, yada. It’s the general consensus the committee did an outstanding job this year, of what is, pretty much, a thankless effort. With one glaring exception.

Regarding the Dayton-Bosie State fiasco, only one conclusion can be reached:

“While there can be many reasons why it occurred, there is no excuse for it.”

Apparently, There Are No Days Off for Coaches

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Back from Charleston, SC and the wedding of the son (to his lovely bride) one of my college roommates. Beautiful ceremony, fabulous event, great getting to see so many old friends. That happening was followed by a week in Myrtle Beach. Kind of like the spring break everybody had back in the day, that we missed. So we made up for it this past week – 45 years later. Jane’s younger sister, Susan, joined us from Nashville, as did (for a couple days anyway), Nancy, one of Jane’s former co-workers at TVA – and one of her best friends from Knoxville. The girls shopped and caught up while I watched, non-stop, March Madness.

Lost among the buzzer beaters, earth-shattering upsets and crazy celebrations is the insane life college basketball coaches lead. Come to think of it, maybe all coaches.

Exhibit #1 Where else would a 74-year-old guy who has struggled with relatively severe health issues over the years, go to work with a bad case of bronchitis? A man who, when the television cameras were on him, looked like he should have either been home in bed or in the hospital in bed. Yet, there, on the SMU bench, sat Larry Brown, the man who fit perfectly the prior description.

In the press conference the day before the game, he sounded like a person who should not have been at a podium, apologizing to the assembled media that he’d had a case of hiccups for the past couple days. Like that’s normal. Then, in the condition he was in, to have to sit through a rather poorly played game by his squad, who then made a monumental run to take control of the first round NCAA tournament game (OK, powers-that-be, second round), only to squander it – and lose on, possibly, the worst call in tourney history. Well, nobody in good health should have to experience that ordeal. Making matters worse was hearing officiating guru John Adams trying to justify the call: “It might have hit the rim and bounced in.” Undoubtedly, Adams failed high school physics – and every other class in which common sense needed to be used.

Exhibit #2 Your team, which lost in the conference finals last year and was kept out of the NCAA tournament, made amends by winning the Sun Belt championship a couple weeks ago. Naturally, you were thrilled. Your first reaction, as the horn went off, was to jump – but as you did, you tore your Achilles tendon. Still, you rolled around on the floor, in excruciating pain, hugging your son who had just hit two free throws moments before. That’s exactly what Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter did.

As the NCAA tourney got under way, Hunter was rendered to a, for lack of a better term, one-legged, four-wheeled scooter. How about you, Ron, are you going to call in sick – like Larry Brown should have? In a word – hell, no! It’s March Madness, baby! So he scooted on out to coach the #14 seed GSU Panthers against the #3 seed Baylor Bears.

And wouldn’t you know it, his star son, R.J., knocked down a deep three at the buzzer to vanquish Goliath. Of course Ron wanted to celebrate this crowning achievement. And he does so by falling off of his new means of transportation, admittedly breaking the cast and now has to be re-casted. He said he didn’t know what re-casted meant but he definitely understands what it’s doing to his pain level.

Exhibit #3 In the morning you find out your 84-year-old mom had a heart attack – and didn’t make it. If you didn’t show up for work that day everyone would certainly understand. But you’re Mike Brey and you coach the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, trying to get to the Sweet Sixteen. You count on your guys and they, in turn, count on you.

So, not only do you show up to coach the game but you have enough class (obviously taught to you by your mother) not to mention it to your team – to use it as a motivational tool. Even though you coach at the school that made “Win one for the Gipper” famous.

Then your guys go out and win. Over in-state rival Butler. In overtime. And what does Mike say about it? “It was kind of a tribute to her. It was really a special night.” Can you imagine how heavy his heart must have been during that game? How heavy it must still be?

Why would guys go out, under circumstances that any other employee would take off – maybe even should take off – and put in the day’s work? Although he was talking about the life of an NBA coach, Pat Riley’s comments on coaching sum it up perfectly:

“It’s not a good, healthy life. It’s a LIFE. It’s a very intense, competitive life that’s not really normal.”

Sending Boosters in Every Direction

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Younger son Alex’s basketball season is over and that can mean one thing for sure – vacation season begins. Heading to Charleston, SC for the wedding of one of my college roommates; then on to Myrtle Beach for some R&R (which even us retired people need).

The following is a story from my book, Life’s A Joke. If it seems like these never end, they actually do. And . . . that’s when the sequel comes out. That’s right. Life’s STILL A Joke will be making its debut. Fear not; it probably won’t happen until 2016. And it will be an eBook. Now for the story.

One recruiting pitch most basketball coaches have in common is they’ll take their teams to exempt tournaments. These tourneys offer good competition (usually), get some swag for the travel party, add extra games to the schedule and give fans an opportunity to travel to nice destinations and root on their favorite squad – akin to a bowl game for the hoops team.

One year a team I was with went to the Puerto Rico to play in the eight-team Puerto Rican Shootout. One of the main questions that’s asked on any of these type of trips is, “Do you know where there’s a good restaurant?”

Sure enough, one of our boosters asked exactly that to our director of athletics. Naturally wanting to please the donor, he told the guy he had just gone to one and it was terrific. The booster mentioned he had rented a car and asked the AD for directions.

The AD told him, “You get on this highway and take the ‘Salida’ exit. Then you turn right at the bottom of the hill and you’ll see the restaurant right there.”

The only problem with these directions is that Salida in Spanish means “exit.” The sign at every exit on the highway said, “Salida.”

Gracias.

A Golden Goose that Cannot Be Killed

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Some people might call the rash of injuries in the NBA this season an aberration. In just the first half of this season alone, there were over 2200 games lost to injuries. Yet, according to the 2/2/15 post by Jeff Stotts of the website In Street Clothes, should these numbers hold true for the second half, “the league is on pace to finish below last season’s record setting total and below the league average over the last nine seasons.”

From a fan’s viewpoint, a great game such as this past Sunday’s Warriors-Clippers battle was made, if not insignificant, certainly far less entertaining, than it would have been had Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford suited up for LA. Don’t get me wrong. The game featured some of the best players in the world and was better than anything else going on in the Bay Area – if hoops is your thing. But it just was a mere shell of what it would have been had both teams been at full strength. The fact that the next time they meet, the injury situation might be reversed doesn’t even things out, just further proves my point.

This season not one NBA fan has gotten to see either Steve Nash nor Paul George, although there’s hope the latter might be returning prior to season’s end. In Nash’s case, no one really expected to see someone with the health problems he’s had to endure throughout his career, and if the Lakers didn’t owe him so much money, he might have retired. Consider this season’s salary a severance pay for a future Hall of Famer. George, some say, got hurt for asking too much of his body, only for a different team than the one that pays him.

Since I’m retired, I felt I ought to devote some of my free time to solving this problem (although no one from the league office, to my knowledge, requested my assistance). Whether or not my solution would have enabled Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, A’mare Stoudemire, Joakim Noah, Ricky Rubio or Blake and Jamal to avoid prolonged time in suits is irrelevant, this is my blogspace and I’ll use it as I see fit.

One thing that’s for certain is that it would definitely not have aided in either Joel Embiid, who was out of commission before the season ever began, nor Jabari Parker, who played only 30% of his rookie year. My proposal is the league shorten the 82 game season. It’s a difficult answer – the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy – but someone needs to notice that, in fact, something is broke. The players. My idea is to lessen the number of poundings an NBA body must take.

Here is where I came up with this concept. I have heard everyone I have known who is close to the NBA scene (and believe me, that number is well over 100) – be they players, head coaches, assistants, trainers, GMs, VPs, or former members of those groups – describe the NBA season using the same word: grind. And what’s being ground are the bodies and minds of the players, who each year get bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled.

The main reason this won’t happen is, naturally, money. When Steve Ballmer shelled out two billion dollars (the absurdity of that price has been repeated so many times, it almost sounds sane), everything escalated – including the demand the league put on the bodies of their golden geese, undoubtedly because the owners realize there are an unlimited number of geese. Should a player play in every game for his team – exhibitions, regular season and playoffs – there is a possibility he would play in 118 contests. 119, if he was an All-Star. That’s 8 exhibitions, 82 regular season and 28 post season (should every playoff series go seven-games).

With the proliferation of pick-and-rolls being used (because they’re the hardest to guard, certainly from a wear-and-tear aspect), the players’ bodies are subject to more and more punishment, leading to an increased number of injuries. And injuries are why so many regular season games lack 1-2 stars from each squad. Therefore, wouldn’t it make for a better product to cut back the number of, certainly exhibitions, but mainly regular season games? Purists will say statistics will be skewed but weren’t they done so with the introduction of the 24-second clock, three-point line – and, even, the change in defensive rules, e.g. no hand checking?

I proposed this idea to a friend who’s currently in the association and his reply was succinct – and probably unanimous as far as those in the NBA are concerned:

“Never happen.”