For the Big 12, Go East and West

December 11, 2014

by John Furgele

There is a part of me that wished this never happened; that conference expansion, the lunacy that it became never happened. But, it did happen and because college football continues to grow in size and stature—sorry baseball, you’re number three now—it probably had to happen. America is in love with football for a myriad of reasons. The betting and the fantasy leagues are a major reason because football lends itself to gambling with things like the road underdog and the always exciting backdoor cover. Love it or not, football is the king, and one of the many reasons is that women like it. The best reason why football is so beloved is that it is once a week appointment television. Even with the days of the DVR, most Americans can make time on a Saturday or Sunday—or both—to watch at least one football game. The other sports—they never had a chance.

Americans love events and football is event television. You can watch a game on the weekend and then forget about the sport for five or six days. You can get things done like pay bills, pay attention to your kids and much more. It doesn’t require that daily commitment that the die-hard Yankee or Red Sox fan has to devote to.

The inaugural College Football Playoff has the sports world buzzing. Even with another NFL Sunday in the books, college football talk got its share of time on the sports talk shows. That’s how much we like football. Truth to be told, to me, Sundays are a letdown as the college football game is more exciting with more action and more unpredictability. The only drawback with the college game is the 20 minute halftime and the fact that most games take nearly four hours to complete.

Everybody is beating up the Big 12, but they played their hand and they came up empty, but it wasn’t the worst hand ever played. If Florida State would have lost, Baylor likely would have made the field; had Ohio State lost, both Baylor and Texas Christian would have made it in. As far away as they were, they were also that close to getting 50 percent of the CFP field.

All that said, it is time for the Big 12 to expand by at least two teams. The ACC has 14 schools (15 for basketball with Notre Dame), the Big Ten has 14, the SEC, 14, and the Pac 12 has—12. I think the committee in its own silent way was penalizing the Big 12 for being the only conference to not forge ahead and add more teams. There is still room for growth and many around college athletics think that someday, each conference will have 16 teams. The other conferences may not be mad at the Big 12, but when they not declined to expand, they sort of in a snarky way, thumbed their noses at those who did.

If the Big 12 had the right vision, they would take the University of Cincinnati and Brigham Young University. This would give them an east-west footprint. West Virginia would have their old eastern brother back and BYU, with 30,000 students and a national following would also help. And, both the Cougars and Bearcats would be formidable football and basketball schools. In Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure, the Cougars are 17-18 against Big 5 schools, far from dominating, but certainly representative and we already know that they are better than Kansas and Iowa State. They are also perennial participants in the NCAA basketball tournament and with the cache of the Big 12; their recruiting would no doubt improve.

Cincinnati would also fare well, too. With admittance to a Big 5 conference, they might be able to steal some kids that would normally choose Michigan, Ohio State or another Big Ten outfit. Cincinnati would also give the Big 12 some leverage in the Mideast, something that they really don’t have enough with only West Virginia. The Big Ten went east to New York/New Jersey with Rutgers and Washington DC with Maryland, so it behooves the Big 12 to do something similar. The Big Ten announced that it will play its 2017 postseason basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden in a further attempt to expand its brand. And, that’s what college athletics is all about these days; brand expansion.

If you’re a big state university that’s willing to spend money on new facilities, then the Big 5 conferences will be looking. The Big 12 may also want to look at Colorado State. There are plans for a $220 million on campus football stadium, so that could make the Rams appealing to not only the Big 12, but the Pac 12 as well. If the Pac 12 can have Arizona and Arizona State, why not Colorado-Colorado State? It wouldn’t hurt the Big 12 powers to study CSU.

Central Florida is another big public university and it already has a 45,000 on campus stadium. Is Orlando too far away from the core of the Big 12? Perhaps, but if you’re a major conference, having Florida in your league can’t hurt. In Florida, you can fall out of bed and find 150 to 250 Division 1 football recruits walking around.

Memphis would also not be a bad choice. The Tigers would elevate the basketball profile significantly, and under Justin Fuentes, the football program appears headed in the right direction. Having Memphis also dips into SEC country and with that conference being the best of the land, that’s another plus.

It is not an easy decision and it doesn’t have to be rushed, but the Big 12 should act sooner than later. BYU, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Memphis and Colorado State; yes that’s five schools for four or probably two spots and that’s a bit ambitious, but there will be more tweaking to the Big 5 in the future. Football is driving the bus, eventually Notre Dame will have to find a conference and for that matter, Army, too. I could see UCF landing in the ACC or even the SEC and it would shock no one if the Pac 12 had BYU on its radar. If Stanford, a private school can make headway in the Pac 12, BYU could too.

My hunch says Cincinnati and BYU are the top two targets for the Big 12 with Memphis and Colorado State not that far behind. UCF is the wild card because it gives you the Florida breeding ground, but one has to think that the SEC and ACC are all over the Knights. Perhaps nothing will happen, but the speculation sure is fun, isn’t it?

Big 12 Can Only Blame Itself for CFP Snub

December 7, 2014

by John Furgele

There are four spots and five conferences, so naturally, inevitably, something had to give. And, sorry SEC fans, your conference isn’t good enough to warrant two spots, so in the end, one conference was going to be shut out of the inaugural College Football Playoff, and that conference is the 10 team, Big 12. Of course, the fact that a 10 team league calls itself the Big 12 is a problem right away, but nonetheless.

College football is a game where the haves (the Big 5) and the have nots try to play nice enough to make it all work and for the most part, it has worked well enough. Not great, mind you, but well enough. The Big 12 will be in full spin from 1:00 PM today until the bowl games come around, but if they want someone to blame, they need to look themselves in the mirror.

Four of the five conferences have championship games, and call them what you want, these championship games are playoff games. If Missouri beat Alabama, the SEC would likely not have a team in the CFP, no matter what the coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioner said; they would have been out. On the flip side, Alabama’s impressive performance in the title game cemented them as the number one team going into the CFP. So, as you see, there are benefits to playing a conference title game in addition to the money that it generates.

People have been trying to find ways to rip both Florida State and the ACC all year, but their win in the ACC title game helped the Seminoles because trust me, Georgia Tech is no joke. If you were surprised how close that game was then you haven’t been following college football enough to know that the Yellowjackets are pretty darn good. Furthermore, Florida State played a very good schedule this year. They played Oklahoma State, Florida and Notre Dame in their nonconference games; did Alabama do that? Oregon?

Here is what did the Big 12 in. First, they didn’t play a conference championship game. Remember, this is a conference that was burnt by conference championship games in the past when the weaker team beat the heavyweight and took the heavyweight out of the then BCS Championship Game. These losses occurred when the Pac 12 and the Big Ten did not have title games and there was a lot of squawking by Big 12 coaches like Bob Stoops and others saying that it wasn’t fair. When the Big 12 lost Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, they decided to stand pat with 10 teams and because the NCAA requires 12 teams to have a conference title game, the Big 12 had to abandon its title tilt.

The Big 12 then stated that they are the most complete conference because they play a true round robin of nine conferences games and thus, can crown a true champion. The Pac 12 also plays nine conference games but only the Big 12 plays a true round robin, so we’ll grant them that.

Second, they let the round robin format bite them in the foot. By refusing to declare Baylor the conference champion because of its head-to-head win over Texas Christian, they dared the committee to pick both teams, something the committee wouldn’t do at gunpoint. Even Art Briles was furious at the conference by its sitting on the fence, and Texas Christian coach Gary Patterson didn’t do conference solidarity any favors by not taking one for the team and admitting that the 61-58 loss at Baylor should be the tiebreaker for Big 12 supremacy.

The conference title game hurt the Big 12 the most. Earlier this year, the NCAA allowed the Big Five conferences more autonomy when it comes to its football programs. They can pay players and do other things that they see fit to make more money for themselves and their conferences. Because of this new autonomy, they could have hosted a conference title game. The SWAC is a 10 team 1-AA conference that divides its teams into two five team divisions and plays the SWAC Championship Game every December. If the SWAC can do it—and they’re part of the NCAA—then certainly the Big 12 can.

For fun, lets’ say that the Big 12 had two five team divisions and were divided as such:

North: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State

South: Texas, Texas Tech, Texas Christian, Baylor, West Virginia

If this was the setup, Baylor’s win over Texas Christian would have made them South Division champs even though both would have the same record. The Bears would have faced Kansas State (yes, two times in one year, but didn’t Oregon play Arizona twice this year?), for the Big 12 championship and it would have given them the same stage that Ohio State had last night in its dismantling of Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.

The Big 12 comes off as the crybaby here. Their coaches cried and really, they have nobody to blame here. We all think that eventually, this will be a six (my preference) or eight team playoff, and had that been the case, the Big 12 would have two tough teams in the CFP. There is no denying how good Baylor and Texas Christian are, but they were done in by their own conference in the end. As mentioned, Briles’ frustration and Patterson’s silence didn’t help when it mattered most. As my father said, “you can’t be upset at someone for whupping you.”

There are many that call Ohio State’s loss at home to 6-6 Virginia Tech a bad loss and I say nonsense. Virginia Tech has been good for many years and they are a Big Five school, so to me, that’s a game that should be scheduled. Baylor played 1-AA Northwestern State, Buffalo and SMU, a 1-AA school and two Little 5 schools. To me, losing to Virginia Tech is better than beating Buffalo.

College football needs to get its act together. As much as I love seeing FCS schools playing FBS schools to enrich their athletic budgets, Big 5 schools should no longer be able to schedule these games. The SEC does this all the time; Alabama will schedule Western Carolina the week before Auburn if they don’t have an outright bye, and that has to stop—right now. If you have an FCS school on your 2015 schedule, make a call tomorrow and dump the game. Let the MAC, CUSA, Sun Belt, Mountain West and American play FCS teams, but there’s no reason why Baylor and Auburn should be playing the likes of Northwestern State and Samford. The Big Ten has forbidden its schools to do this, so why not make this an across the board policy?

Another thing they should do is require the Big 5 conferences to play nine conference games. College football is hot now, a weekly commodity that brings people to their televisions and isn’t it better to see Ohio State play Purdue rather than Kent State or Navy?

No FCS opponents; 9 conference games; conference championship games. It’s that easy and it’s that simple. And, to me, a five team CFP is not of the question either. In a five team scenario, each conference could send one team, and the opening game of the CFP would be the always exciting 4/5 matchup. I won’t go as far to say that the team should be the winner of the conference championship game because if a 9-3 Wisconsin beats a 12-0 Ohio State, the conference may want to have a say on who they send. Of course, the six team CFP would work best because it would allow room for a Little 5 school to make its way in should they go 12-0 or 13-0, but once again, the CFP is the Big 5, the big boys so let’s not kid ourselves here.

Under a five team scenario, Baylor would visit Ohio State this weekend with the winner advancing to the Sugar Bowl to take on Alabama. Texas Christian would cry but they had their chance when they lost to Baylor.

This will all be forgotten this Wednesday. The controversy will be great for talk radio Monday and Tuesday, but by mid-week, it will be on to Army-Navy, the Heisman Trophy and the Michigan coaching search and of course, the NFL. The Big 12 will get today thru Tuesday to vent, but they should be venting to each other because they did themselves in.

Buffalo Bulls New Coach is Substance Over Style

December 3, 2014

by John Furgele

Nobody knows for sure. The seeds of doubt will always be there until the new coach goes out, wins games, and graduates all his players. It’s that simple, really, for a head college football coach. Expectations are high at every school. For a school like the University at Buffalo, the expectations are division titles, MAC championships and bowl bids. Of course, those are the same expectations at Kent State, Akron and Eastern Michigan. Just because Buffalo has won more in recent years than an Eastern Michigan doesn’t mean expectations don’t exist. And, despite all the bowls that exist, for every 9-3 team, there has to be a 3-9 team.

Until Monday, only the die-hards of die-hards had even heard of Lance Leipold, the man who turned Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater into the proverbial juggernaut. His record is 106-6 and every year, the Warhawks are usually undefeated and most of the time facing Mount Union in the Division III championship game. Perhaps there are some Buffalo State fans who remember when the Bengals visited Whitewater a few years back and pulled off a 7-3 upset. But, even that win didn’t get much attention locally in the Buffalo area.

Each year, the pressure to win at the Division I level is enormous. Will Muschamp was a top notch defensive coordinator, the next big thing, and when he was hired at Florida, great things were expected. Now, after back-to-back down years, he is out. Bo Pellini coached Nebraska for seven years and won at least nine games each year, but no conference titles, no BCS bowl appearances and he was shown the door. Brady Hoke had success at Ball State, then San Diego State and then was dubbed the next Michigan man. Now, after four seasons, the door has been shown to him.

Buffalo could have done the easy thing by hiring an assistant from another mid-major school; the defensive coordinator at Marshall for example. They could have gone to a Big 5 school and tapped a linebacker coach and brought him in to lead the Bulls going forward. There are also those who think hiring a Lane Kiffen type would be the best move, but then forget that Kiffen makes five times the money as the offensive coordinator at Alabama than he would as the head coach at Buffalo.

The hiring of Leipold is a good move. The Bulls tried to nab the top assistant when they hired Jeff Quinn from Cincinnati, and in the end, it didn’t work. There is a difference between being a great assistant/coordinator and being the guy who runs the program. For Buffalo, it was obvious that they wanted their next coach to be a person who was in charge. They could have gone out to the Division 1-AA level and brought somebody in, and they may have tried to do just that. Only the inner circle knows who was offered and who may have turned down the job.

Leipold has had enormous success. He has recruited and he has not only won, but has dominated. No matter what the level, this will be a guy who knows how to organize and set up summer camp, practice, and will use what worked at WW at Buffalo. Players are players, no matter the level. The biggest challenge for Leipold is that he will be recruiting against the other MAC schools and all the other schools, too. At UWW, he could convince the Division 1-AA or II kid to come to UWW and help secure a dynasty. The player who was thinking about Youngstown State might be talked into going to UWW for those reasons.

Leipold no longer has that advantage, the built in advantage. We know that Buffalo’s facilities are not tops in the MAC. Their stadium, though renovated is not a palace and they don’t have the indoor facility that many of their conference brothers enjoy. But, Leipold obviously had better than Division III talent on his Warhawks teams, so he was able to do something to persuade some very good football players to turn somebody down to come and play at a Division III state institution.

What will the expectations be at Buffalo? Every school thinks they should be the next Boise State, that mid-major school that upset the apple cart two times by landing in—and winning—BCS bowl games. But, think about it. How many Boise States’ are there in college football? There are those and that may include athletic director Danny White that think Buffalo could be the next Texas Christian, a school that plays its way into a Big 5 conference.

I’m sure those expectations were discussed with Leipold and only he, White and a few others know exactly where Buffalo wants to be in the next ten years. Many think Buffalo athletics should find a better conference for their teams, such as Conference USA or the American, but unlike the MAC, those conferences don’t require universities to field as many overall sports teams as the MAC. We all know that the MAC is not the greatest conference in the land. In basketball, it’s a one bid league, and in football, they can never pay a high enough salary to keep a great football or basketball coach. The Buffalo sports fan laments the fact that the Bulls play in a stepping stone conference for coaches. When Bobby Hurley was hired to coach basketball, the celebration was muted in part because the fan knows that if Hurley has success here, he will parlay that into a bigger—and better— job elsewhere. And, when that happens, you have to start all over again and hope you get another guy like the one who just left.

Many believe that Buffalo athletics should aim for the Big Ten, a major conference. If the Bulls were to ever get there, a guy like Leipold, if successful, could stay here for 15 years and be a Bob Stoops or Nick Saban type. Despite those ambitions, the Bulls have a lot in common with the other MAC schools. All are public, all are state funded and for the most part on similar footing. This isn’t the SEC with 13 publics and Vanderbilt; the Big Ten with 13 publics and Northwestern or the Big 12 with eight publics plus Texas Christian and Baylor.

Some will think that the Bulls reached when they hired Leipold to direct the ship, but I like the move. They picked a leader, a guy who has won and most importantly a program builder and program maintainer. It’s been done before. Brian Kelly had success at Division II Grand Valley State, then Central Michigan, then Cincinnati and now, Notre Dame. The Bulls could have down the Terry Bowden thing that Akron did; hiring a brand name only to see average results (the Zips also hired the fired Gerry Faust from Notre Dame), but I like the thinking—go after a winner, a proven winner and see if the formula that worked in Division III can work in Division I. Leipold could be the next Bo Ryan, who had success at Wisconsin-Platteville, then Milwaukee before landing the head job at the flagship, Wisconsin.

Time will tell, it always does and if Leipold goes 4-8 in his first two seasons, we may be having a different conversation. But, right now, if you’re a Buffalo Bulls fan, you have reason for optimism

Don’t Forget About the 2014 Grey Cup

November 24, 2014

by John Furgele

The Canadian Football League has been around for a long time, in fact, there was a time when the CFL stole players from the NFL, luring them with more money than they were making south of the border. But, those days are long gone, but there is one thing that the Grey Cup—the coveted prize of Canadian football—has over United States football and that is that this Sunday’s title tilt will be the 102nd renewal compared to just 48 in the four down game.

On Sunday, November 30, the Eastern champion Hamilton Tiger Cats will take on the Western champion Calgary Stampeders for Earl Grey’s chalice, which will be accompanied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And, in a true surprise, the Grey Cup will feature the number one seeds from both divisions, unusual for sure.

It’s been a tale of two seasons in the 2014 edition of the CFL. For the first half of the season, the East was dreadful and the West was superior, so bad that there were calls for eliminating the divisions and going to an English Premier League style table and taking the top six teams in the standings. Right after the words were printed, things changed. The East teams started to turn the table on the West and the East, which at one time had all four of its teams at least four games under .500 started to gather themselves. The Montreal Alouettes were 1-7, then went 8-2 to finish 9-9 at season’s end. The ninth loss was the killer; an final week loss at Hamilton that gave the Tiger-Cats the division title and a bye into the Division Final. Montreal went into that game needing to win or lose by seven points or less to claim the top seed. Hamilton won the game 29-15 and waited for Montreal to beat British Columbia in the Eastern Semifinal to set up the rematch.

The CFL allows the fourth place finisher in one division to “crossover,” and take the three seed of the other division if they have a better record and that occurred this year as the Lions were one game better than the 8-10 Toronto Argonauts. The Lions went East and were pummeled by the Alouettes, which set up a war of words between the Als and the Tabbies. Well, most of the talk came from Montreal. While the Alouette players yapped about going to Hamilton and winning, the Ticats stayed quiet in preparation for the big game.

For years, the Hamilton Tiger Cats played at venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium, but in 2012, the old dog was torn down to be replaced by Tim Horton’s Field, a 24,344 seat state-of-art stadium. The Ticats spent 2013 playing their home games at Guelph University and despite being nomads, won the East before losing to Saskatchewan in the 2013 Grey Cup.

The new stadium wasn’t ready for the start of the 2014 season, so once again, Hamilton played home games away from home. The new digs were ready for their Labor Day clash against arch-rival Toronto, even though the stadium wasn’t fully completed. Call it what you want, but the Ticats were 7-0 at what Chris Berman calls the ‘Donut Box,” and for the first time since 1998 and 1999, the Cats are making consecutive Grey Cup games.

The Cats are led by coach Kent Austin. Austin is no stranger to success in the CFL game. He won two Grey Cups as a player with Saskatchewan (1989) and British Columbia (1994), and also coached Saskatchewan to the 2007 Grey Cup title. The 1989 Grey Cup game, a 43-40 win over Hamilton has been called the greatest Grey Cup game ever, a thriller that ended on a 36 yard field goal by Dave Ridgway at the final gun.

The Tiger-Cats are led by quarterback Zach Collaros, a University of Cincinnati product who came over from Toronto prior to the 2014 season. It’s been a down year for offense and certainly for quarterbacking in the league this year, but Collaros has been steady this season.

The Calgary Stampeders have been the dominant team not only in the west, but in the league. A glossy 15-3 regular season and a dominating 43-18 win over Alberta rival Edmonton (12-6) in the Western Final will make the Stamps a heavy favorite in the Cup. They are led by running back Jon Cornish, a native of British Columbia who comes home to play in the nations’ biggest game. In a league where there are only three downs, it’s tough to commit to the run, but the Stamps do and Cornish, despite missing games with injuries carried 139 times for 1,082 yards, an average of 7.8 yards per carry. In the Western Final, he carried 18 times for just 54 yards, but he caught four passes for 120 yards. He will be Hamilton’s marked man for to be sure.

The quarterback is Bo Levi Mitchell, a name that most of you have never heard of. Mitchell was a star at Division 1-AA Eastern Washington, where he led the Eagles to the championship in 2010, rallying EWU from a 19-0 deficit to a 20-19 win over Delaware. Mitchell won the Walter Payton Award as the best player in 1-AA in 2011 and after not getting bypassed in the 2012 NFL draft signed with the Stampeders. He’s battled injuries in his CFL career, but when healthy, he’s been the best QB in the league, leading all passers with a 98.3 rating.

The Stamps are coached by John Hufnagel, who quarterbacked at Penn State, played three years in the NFL before embarking on a 12 year playing career in the CFL. He coached the Stamps to the 2008 Grey Cup title and was the Grey Cup runner-up in 2012, all with Calgary. The winning coach Sunday will add a second Grey Cup title to their respective coaching resumes.

The game is set for November 30 with a 6:30 PM kickoff. Imagine Dragons will provide the halftime entertainment and the game usually is full of excitement and drama. ESPN 2 will carry the game live beginning at 6 PM, and will use the TSN feed and their announcers, Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor. The CFL is not the NFL and with the exception of ESPN’s Chris Berman, the league doesn’t get much mention in the United States media, but the league has been around for many years and might–just might—deserve a peek to cap off your Thanksgiving football weekend.

What Has Happened to Baseball?

July 9, 2014

by John Furgele

Baseball. The National Pastime. The sport that ushered in the Golden Age of sports in the 1920s, when Babe Ruth was a giant, Lou Gehrig was the Iron Man and the sport held a collective grip on the nation.

What is baseball today? It’s a sport I loved, a sport I still love, but a sport that is really struggling to find its place in these the modern times. Look at ballparks when you watch games on TV and you’ll see empty seats everywhere. The Mets moved into Citi Field in 2009, and really can’t draw flies to their relatively new playpen. Sure, the team hasn’t won on a consistent basis, but there is something happening across the country and baseball better be savvy and ready for it.

MLB officials will tell you all about the good stuff. They’re doing great with MLB.com, their digital offerings are making huge profits, so the bottom line is more than fine. But, that only tells part of the story. Not only is attendance down, but so, too, is relevance. Love it or hate it, sports talk radio continues to grow, and if you listen carefully to it, you’ll find that baseball games get nary a mention.

There was a time when talkers reviewed the previous night’s action in the majors. They would give you the trends, the who’s hot and who’s not, the teams that are surging and those who are floundering, but today, nothing. ESPN can’t be blamed either. No network is more self serving than ESPN and ESPN Radio. They don’t care much about soccer, but when the World Cup gripped the nation, ESPN Radio was all over it, and oh, they broadcasted the games, too. Even Mike and Mike, who five weeks ago, couldn’t tell a soccer ball from a dodge ball, were discussing the games and the sport regularly. In 2018, the World Cup shifts to FOX, so one will wonder how rabid ESPN’s devotion will be? This morning, I listened to two national sports talk stations and the topic was the NFL and should college football and basketball players be paid. Ignored were the 15 games on the MLB scheduled and this is not an aberration, it’s a daily theme.

ESPN also carries baseball, both on radio and television and if you listen to ESPN Radio from 6 AM to 3 PM, they don’t give the sport much love unless there is an issue to discuss such as PED use, the quirks of All Star game voting or some other non-game issue. This illustrates just how far baseball has fallen. Johnny Manziel’s off season national tour along with the LeBron and Carmelo watch garnered far more attention than the old national pastime. If you’re a lover of baseball, you have to be a bit concerned. Except for the NFL, sports talk radio used to be about the games, before and after; now, it’s more about issues and events.

We know that football is king, and we know that college football is more watched than baseball and if wasn’t for New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, college football would be blowing baseball away. We know that those three cities love baseball, but they also have a general ignorance for college football. Could you imagine if just 10 percent of those metros watched the SEC on CBS? Baseball would be buried.

Baseball is not a niche sport like hockey and soccer are, but you wonder how things will look in ten years? We know that soccer will never captivate America like it does elsewhere, but Major League Soccer is moving forward. They play in nice, new soccer specific stadiums, they’re expanding to 24 teams and they’re putting people in the seats. Look around most MLS stadiums and you’ll see them full, while baseball stadiums are half-full at best. And, love it or hate it, soccer’s best feature is that a game that starts at 7 pm is over by 9:15 at the very latest.

Bud Selig has done many good things for baseball, but people remember the bad more than they ever will the good. But, Selig needs to step away as soon as his retirement date comes, because the game needs a new vision, preferably a younger person with that vision. Baseball is timeless, but Americans are in a time crunch. I have less free time than my parents ever did and sitting down for a baseball game that starts at 7 pm and might not end until 11:30 pm is just not in the cards. Americans are drawn ever more to event television, event programming. They’re watching the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes (when a Triple Crown is on the line), the Oscars and they’ve always adored the Super Bowl. Baseball is no longer event television, and that includes the World Series games that often see 3-2 games run nearly four hours. A seventh game is event television and perhaps a Game 6, but the rest, no way. We have seen with the World Cup that Americans like events because, in essence, that’s what we have time for.

Is baseball dead? Of course not, and it’s not on life support either, but as the older generation dies off, where will it be? Young people are on their phones and tablets all night, can they really sit through baseball games? And, what about their kids? When I was eight, I could watch baseball all the time; the Saturday Game of the Week was a must watch as was Monday Night Baseball. My three kids have never watched a complete baseball game and all are over the age of eight.

I may be going too fast here, but as lifelong baseball fan, I’m worried. The sport needs to progress, but it’s very nature, it’s being doesn’t lend itself to progression. For years, that was its charm. In a way, baseball was the class clown in high school. Back in the day, he was funny, charming, and quick witted and the nerds looked up to him. Now the clown isn’t as funny, or charming and the nerds are living in the $800,000 mansions while the clown manages a grocery store. The charm goes only so far and lasts so long. Substance eventually takes over. The clown is doing alright, but what got him by 25 years ago, doesn’t do so anymore.

The baseball officials know that they have to do something and deep down, they’re concerned. They still have a good product, but right now, nobody’s talking about it. There’s too much other stuff to take away from it and they need to act before they slip into fourth place on the major sports landscape.

Sterling Just Part of the Middle Aged White Man Complex

April 27, 2014

by John Furgele

This is not a defense of Donald Sterling, let’s make that clear.   Sterling bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 1981, a franchise that began as the Buffalo Braves, then became the San Diego Clippers before reaching Los Angeles.   Since 1981, the Clippers have been mostly laughable and Sterling has been synonymous with frugality, corner cutting and losing.  In 2013-2014, the Clippers are in the playoffs and are led by two stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.  That makes this peculiar because now that the Clippers are good, bad things continue to plague the franchise. 

Most of us have heard the audio tape of what allegedly is Sterling talking to his girlfriend about minorities, more importantly, Sterling’s distaste and dislike of them.  It must be pointed out that Sterling’s girlfriend is accused of embezzling $1.8 million from him, so one has to wonder why she would record a conversation such as this.  The one thing that’s likely true is that this wasn’t the first racist conversation between Sterling and his former girlfriend.  I’m sure these conversations were commonplace well before the April 26 tape came out. 

The easy thing that everybody is saying is that Sterling should be forced to sell the Clippers or that he should be thrown out of the league.   Folks, you can’t just force somebody to do that, nor can you just kick out an owner of a NBA team.   Sterling has been a wildcat owner since he took over and that was in 1981, that was 33 years ago.  He has been accused of being a racist before and he has been sued for being a racist.  Those charges that he discriminated against minorities in housing were never proven, so for the record, Sterling is clean, though his water is tinged with dirt.  And, despite this, he has never been sanctioned by the NBA, in other words, there are no strikes against him.  By the time Marge Schott was forced to sell the Cincinnati Reds, there were a few pages of transgressions.

Sterling employs black people.  His coach is black, most of his players are black and for many years, his GM, the legendary Elgin Baylor was one of a few black general managers in all of sport.   But, just because he employs blacks doesn’t mean he is not a racist.  The one thing to remember is the black people that he employs are his subordinates, meaning that he had the power, the control over them that racists love to have.   It’s no different than the slaveowner back in 1845.  That owner might have been cordial to his slaves, might have even slept with his slaves, but in the end, he, as slaveowner had the power and control.  Sterling will no doubt use that in his defense, if in fact, that was his voice on that recording.  I can hear it now:  “how can I own a team in a league that 70 percent of the players are black and be a racist?”  He will use that to plead his case, even though that really won’t change the fact that Sterling is likely a bigoted man.  He employed blacks, but he was the boss; they had to kiss his butt to keep their jobs and for Sterling, he probably justified that as his way of keeping him down.   Sure, I’ll hire blacks, but they’re my pawns and they will do what I say. 

Of all the major sports, the NBA has always had it the toughest, which isn’t fair, but it’s always been the truth.   If you look around the arenas of all pro sports, the majority of those in the seats are white, and because tickets are no longer affordable, these fans are middle aged with money in their bank accounts.   How many times have you listened to sports talk radio, heard a white man call in and say “I don’t watch the NBA,” or “I can’t take the NBA?”  Unless you’re under a rock, the answer is many times.  Though these white, middle aged men don’t say it, there comments are tinged with racist tones.   They don’t like the fact that 70 percent of the league is black and that these black guys make more money in one season than they will make in 25. So, rather than appreciate the high level of play, they announce that they don’t like the game anymore, even though as kids, when they spent nights working at Burger King, they watched the game. 

Even though the NFL has a large percentage of black players, these white men watch because the quarterbacks of these teams are usually white guys, so that makes it okay.   And, there are enough white guys on each team to make it acceptable.   They don’t knock Major League Baseball because the black percentages have slipped mightily over the years and even though there are many latino stars, the language barrier and the fact that these players live in their homelands once the season ends makes them less visible.  As for the NHL, 97 percent of the players are white but because the guy in Mississippi doesn’t watch hockey, it really doesn’t register.  

If the NBA had more white players, if the ratio was 50/50 or if there were more Larry Bird type stars in the league, that bitter, jealous middle aged white guy wouldn’t call Mike Francesa and express his disdain for the NBA and its players.   I’ve heard these callers claiming that players are tanking, coasting and not putting out great effort over the 82 game grind that is an NBA season.   These same people never call out NHL players for doing that in their 82 game grind.   I wonder why? 

As sad as this sounds, there are many that probably share Sterling’s sentiments.  Sterling feels that blacks are inferior and that they should be grateful that he employs them in the NBA and for the Clippers.   There is jealously, because the NBA is about the players; they’re the stars of the league, not the owner and that probably doesn’t sit well with slaveowner Sterling.  

Perception is perceived as reality and the perception is that the NBA is too black for America.   The league is full of thugs and bad people, even though more NFL players get arrested than NBA players.   These middle aged white men watch NBA games and complain that the effort isn’t there or complain that the players are overpaid while they work many hours and are more educated than these NBA players.   What illustrates my point the most is that these same middle aged white guys love college basketball.  They will call Mike Francesa and say, “I hate the NBA but love watching college,” and Francesa, to his credit will ask why, and they will come up with the phony reasons that there is more ball movement, more team play and less one-on-one play.  But, the real reason is simple:  money.  The college kids don’t get paid to play, so they play “for the love of the game,” while the black NBA player only cares about the paycheck.   College basketball is a plantation system at its best, and disgustingly, it’s legal.   These college kids make the universities millions and billions of dollars while playing for free, but in the NBA, because they get paid handsomely, it rubs the middle aged white guy the wrong way.  I’ll hear Francesa try to draw that out of the callers and they continue to hide behind what they said earlier.  And, as good as the NCAA tournament is, the games are often close, but they’re filled with low shooting percentages and missed free throws galore.  The NBA, even with two 10-30 teams playing is leaps better than the college game.

These same guys don’t love college football as much as NFL football.   They can get over it, because Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are the stars and the mouthpieces of the league.   These guys know that even though there are lots of blacks playing in the league, the argument can still be made that the best players are white, ala Manning and Brady.  In the NBA, the best players have always been black, from Wilt Chamberlain, to Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan to the present day LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant.  The white middle aged guy doesn’t like it, so they proclaim that they have abandoned the NBA.   Of course, they rooted for Larry Bird and as great as Bird was, he shared MVPs with Julius Erving, Jabbar and Johnson and the water cooler talk often focused on who was better, Bird or Johnson, or as the white guy says, the “good old days of the NBA.” 

What happens with Sterling remains to be seen.   He may decide to sell the team and get out of the league.  He will certainly make a lot of money should he sell.  But, he may become defiant and decide that he’s going nowhere, the NBA be damned.   He knows, like the rest of us, that this will blow over.   In some ways, I’m surprised that nobody brought up the famous Ted Koppel/Al Campanis interview from 1986. When questioned why there weren’t more blacks in management positions in baseball, Campanis said that “they lacked the necessities,” to be in such positions.   Campanis was immediately dismissed, but he didn’t own the Dodgers, he just worked for them.  Sterling owns the Clippers, so we can’t expect him to dismiss himself. 

Once again, this proves that even though we’ve come a long way, we still have a long way to go.   In fact, racism may never go away, so let’s not think that it will.   The middle aged white guy, jealous of the black NBA guy will continue to share his anti-NBA opinions rather than keep them to himself, which would be preferred.   But, remember, this guy likes to watch college basketball and because of that, he’s not showing racist tones.  

The NBA is a great league with great players.   As a white man, do I like to see a white guy do well?  Yes, just like a black guy wants to see Tiger Woods do well.   But, I want LeBron James on my team, whether he’s black, white, green or blue.   I want him and Dirk Nowitzki because if I have them, I’m winning games.   

 

 

 

 

Requiem for the Big East: Cracks Began in 1987

March 22, 2014

by John Furgele

March Madness is here and America again takes notice.   For most, the first four days remains a part of Americana as people who never watch a second of college basketball fill out a bracket—or two—and see if they can be the big winner in the office or online or to Warren Buffet and his billion dollar bracket challenge.  Even President Obama gets involved and truth to be told shows that he actually follows the game a little bit.

Last week, ESPN showed perhaps its best 30 for 30 in a fine series when it debuted Requiem for the Big East.  The Big East was a league that transformed college basketball and just as importantly, made ESPN the four letter monster that sports fans love and cable companies hate.  Devoid of quality programming in its beginning, college basketball, specifically the Big East, gave the fledging network what they call inventory, and by 1982 when Georgetown started winning in its own unique way, both the league and the network were well on their way to stardom.  Soon, Big Monday, the ESPN tripleheader that featured the Big East, Big Ten and Big West (UNLV) was must see television, especially the Big East game.  It looked like the Big East and college basketball was here to stay, a 100 year force, but as we know, change is inevitable and one game changed the fate of college basketball, the Big East and college football.  It might have taken 30 years for the change to surface, but it did change.

The day that changed college sports forever was January 2, 1987, the night that Miami faced Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl for the “national championship.”  With 80 million viewers, it remains the most watched college football game of all time.  Why?  Because both teams were independent, undefeated and because they were, didn’t have to go to a pre-destined bowl game like the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl.   The Fiesta Bowl, which prior to 1987 was played either December 25 or December 26, moved to New Year’s Day (in this case, January 2) and upped the payout to entice both the Lions and the Canes.  It was a risk, but it provided a huge reward and payout.

The American viewing audience loved it.   The rugged demeanor of Miami, the renegade and cocky coach in Jimmy Johnson versus Middle America and buttoned up, conservative Joe Paterno.  The week long build up proved to college presidents and athletic directors that college football, not college basketball was going to drive the revenue bus in the future, despite a riveting stretch of NCAA basketball finals from 1982-1986 that were second to none. 

That game killed the Big East even though it took 20 plus more years for that to actually happen.   The Big East knew right then, that they had to do something for the football schools or eventually the football schools would have to leave.   Penn State had been courted and rejected for Big East membership because they “weren’t a very good basketball program,” and because they weren’t in an accessible metro area, ala Pittsburgh.    But, eventually, the Big East went to Blacksburg, VA and Miami to try to protect all members, the Villanovas and the Syracuses by balancing football and basketball. 

The game sent shockwaves to the leaders of universities because they saw how popular college football was going to be.   Most hung onto the bowl games the way Kodak held onto film.  Why not?  The bowl games, like the film, provided financial security and retirement packages for so many people.  But, hanging on too long can prove to be fatal, and in the case of the Big East, that’s exactly what happened.  

In the end, the Big East, with 16 schools—all with varying agendas and missions—became too bloated to survive.  On one hand, you had Pittsburgh, with Division I football and basketball, on the other; you had Seton Hall with just basketball and a much smaller athletic budget.  And, you had Georgetown a Division I basketball power with a 1-AA Patriot League football team that gets pounded by Bucknell every year?   The differences became too much to overcome, too much to deal with.  Syracuse didn’t want to share football money with St. John’s and St. John’s no longer wanted to feel inferior because they didn’t have a football program.   Villanova was caught in the middle.  They have a top notch Division 1-AA program, one that has won a national championship, but were they really that interested in spending millions of dollars to upgrade to Division 1 to save the Big East conference?  The answer: no. 

Even though it was only 1987, the league knew it would be in trouble long term because its leaders were visionaries.  Dave Gavitt had the original vision and it was he that convinced seven other schools to join Providence College and form a league that transcended college basketball.   Mike Tranghese also had a vision; in fact, he had three of them.   When the members rejected Penn State in 1982, he knew that the league would rue that decision.   He also knew that when the league decided to have football only members like Temple, that it would have repercussions.  Thirdly, when the league expanded to Louisville, Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida to get to eight and eventually nine football members, the divide between basketball only and football/basketball schools would grow and become as wide as the Grand Canyon.

As the 2000s progressed, the league was perceived as weak in football and bloated in basketball.   Though the Big East held its own in the BCS bowl games, the conference was never regarded as strong enough to produce a BCS champion.  In basketball, the conference remained one of the best and toughest in the land and produced national champions with Syracuse (2003), Connecticut (1999, 2004, 2011) and Louisville (2013).  But, the coziness of the league was gone.   With 16 schools, they never really knew how to handle the conference tournament.  Should they invite everybody?  Should they invite just 14?  Should they have everybody play?  Should they give byes to the first four seeds?  It was tough to sell the 5/16 game, but the 8/9 game was kind of fun.  In the end, bigger is not always better.  

Football will continue to drive the revenue bus because simply, it is more popular than college basketball.  People watch regular season college football games; college basketball, not so much.   When all the major football conferences go to 16 schools, that will be tough for college basketball because a 10 team league is ideal with its 7/10 and 8/9 opening round, followed by the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, but money will win out because it always does.  

 

Coming Out Easy for Sam, Next Up is Locker Room Culture

February 13, 2014

by John Furgele

Michael Sam has put down the gauntlet.  By announcing that he is gay and a would be professional football player, he is attempting to change the landscape that is professional football and indeed, professional sports.  You may give Jason Collins credit for being the first player to come out, but I don’t because Collins did it at the end of last season, knowing his career was more than likely over and he never did enter a locker room as an openly gay player.

Sam didn’t wait that long, in fact, he came out before he entered the professional ranks.  He did inform his teammates at the University of Missouri before the 2013 season, and the Tigers were a pleasant surprise, going 12-2 with a berth in the SEC Championship Game and a Cotton Bowl victory.  Give major credit to those teammates; they didn’t care and more impressively, they didn’t leak it out to anybody.

For the most part, in today’s society, most are fine with gay people.  In fact, in today’s high schools and colleges, most young adults don’t give one’s sexuality a second thought.   And, most of today’s athletes are okay with gay people, gay rights and all things in between.  That said, the locker room is much different than the office.  And, having grown men parading around naked is not the reason why it is such.  I don’t believe players will be worried about having Sam “checking them out” as they head to the showers.   But, as the Incognito-Martin fiasco tells us, it’s what is said in the locker room that could prove problematic.

Guys like to joke and clown around.   They make fun of your mother, your sister, your girlfriend and your wife.   When I grew up in the 1980s, the word “fag,” meant jerk.  If your buddy was annoying you, it was common to say, “stop being a ‘fag’ and leave me alone.”   Jeremy Shockey said as much a few years ago when he used the term.  He was blasted for it, but I understood it.  In the locker room, that word is still used, so are other “rough” terms that reference both male and female anatomy.   I apologize for being blunt here, but that’s the truth, the reality and today, the trend is to hide from reality.   Most of the guys who use those terms in the locker room are clowning around.  They don’t mean any harm saying them; it’s just part of the bravado that is the modern day sports locker room.

If Sam is on your team, is that going to stop?   Are players going to stop calling each other fags because Sam is walking around the coveted locker room?  The players really don’t care about Sam.  Once practice ends, everybody goes and does their own thing.   Some go home to their families; some go out on the town, while others do other things.   The fear among the players is not Sam; it’s the sanctity of the locker room, which for years was the only place where a player didn’t have to be politically correct.  Now, if Sam is in the locker room, what happens now?

In 1965 Charles de Gaulle said of presidential opponent Francois Mitterand:  “when you go to confession, it’s to get rid of the devil, but if the devil is in the confessional that changes everything.”  Sam is not the devil, nor his homosexuality, but having him in a locker room does change everything, and that is something that will make the players concerned.   They’re likely going to keep using those above mentioned words and it will be up to Sam to be able to process that they are not reflective of him and his sexuality.

Sam is going to be a pioneer here.   He will have to go through the ordeal.  If he sacks the quarterback, makes important tackles and helps is team win, all will be good.   Sports have always been ahead of its time with regard to social issues.  They integrated long before society did because winning conquers all.   The player that uses the word fag in the locker room will likely be the same player slapping him on the butt after he makes a big tackle on third and one.  They might even be best friends on the team.  What Sam will have to do is compartmentalize.  Can he hear the words and know that it’s nothing more than locker room fodder, or will he be offended to the point that Jonathan Martin was with the Miami Dolphins.

Sam has already tacked the hard part by announcing that he is gay.   I still hope for the day where such an announcement won’t be necessary.   If Sam can adapt and accept the locker room culture, he should be fine.   Once again, the word fag means different things on the street and in the locker room and if Sam realizes this, he and his teammates will be fine.  Maybe I’m wrong, maybe those words won’t be said if Sam is on the team, but they’ve been said for decades and players want and need to be comfortable in that setting.    For the player, the locker room is where they have to be the most relaxed because the sport is hard enough.

AFC Championship Game is the Legacy Bowl

January 17, 2014

by John Furgele

Peyton Manning is two wins away from immortality.  Two wins from telling the world to “kiss off.”   One thing is certain; if Manning and his Denver Broncos get those two wins, he has too much class to tell the world those two words mentioned above.   But, in his quiet time, when nobody is around, he could look in the mirror and grin.

Manning is perhaps the best regular season quarterback of all time.  His numbers are more than spectacular.  The way he audibles has started a new game of taking a sip of a drink every time he yells “Omaha.”  That’s how profound his effect on the game has been.  Because of that, he has the pressure, the pressure of winning another Super Bowl title.  He isn’t the first person or team for that matter that has faced this pressure.  The 1980s Mets, as good as they were in 1986 are often criticized for not winning another title.   The 1988-1990 Oakland A’s are lamented for winning only one title as were the 1969-1971 Baltimore Orioles. Same goes for the 1985 Bears.   Individually, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving have seen their sterling reputations take a bit of a hit for not winning enough.

Manning is 10-11 in postseason games and his QB rating is 88.4 in those games.  Sure, you could say that Manning’s teams were never the best, but there were some years where he and his Colts underachieved.   But, Manning is held to a different standard, a higher standard, like Wilt Chamberlain, who for all his failures did play on two NBA championship teams.

Manning could cement his legacy with two more wins and you know what, in many ways that’s too bad.  He is a human being, he has feelings and emotions and he will feel the pressure, how can he not?  He knows what’s at stake, and in the end, it doesn’t matter, but as long as we take football and sports seriously, it will be there.   I’m sure Dan Marino is a comfortable secure person, but sports people are constantly saying that because he never won a Super Bowl he can’t be considered this or that.  Is it fair?  Of course, not, but it is what it is.

When Manning completes 25 of 36 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, it’s considered a sub-par game.  When Tom Brady goes 13 of 25 for less than 200 yards, it’s called a gritty, tough performance.  People expect Manning to be brilliant, to be dominant and many want him to be the star with that eye popping performance.  They want to see 30 of 41 for 425 yards and three touchdowns and a win.   He is great, so the fan wants greatness, and they want it all the time.   He has a Super Bowl title and a Super Bowl MVP, but people get on him more for the Super Bowl loss to New Orleans than his win over the Chicago Bears.   Tom Brady is 3-2 in Super Bowls but because he won his first three, nobody seems to care about those two losses to the NY Giants, including the 2007 season, when the Pats came in to the game 18-0.

When people think of Brady, they think great, clutch, winner, when they think of Manning, they say great, but not clutch.  They think because of those regular season numbers and those ten playoff wins that he needs to win more than one Super Bowl.   So, fair or not, the pressure will be on number 18 this Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.   And, for Tom Brady, he gets to play this game with house money for the first time since he won his first Super Bowl in the 2001 season.  That’s a dangerous role if you are rooting for Denver and for Manning.

Brady took those Pats teams to two Super Bowls against the Giants and was expected to win.  He didn’t play badly in either game, but the favored Pats lost both.   Now, he comes in with most of the free world rooting against him and that could spell trouble for Denver.

The truth is that Manning has never played on great teams, those Indy teams won a lot because of his greatness.  The year he didn’t play, they went 2-14, so if the NFL keeps a WAR stat, Manning would likely lead the league.   The 2005 team was probably his best, but the hot Steelers got them, and then beat Denver and Seattle to win the Super Bowl.

This Denver team is a not a great team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if New England went up there and beat them.  If Manning plays great and they lose, it might still not be enough to get the critics off his back, but to dismiss the Pats is not wise.   But, if you look at the Broncos, do they come across as a sure thing, a dominant team?  I say no.

That said, the Broncos are at home, they’re the number one seed and they should win this game and advance to the Super Bowl.   That’s how sports are.  Sports anoint the favorite, and if they lose, they destroy the favorite.   Once again, it is what it is.

If the Broncos do win Sunday, there will be relief with many calling this Manning’s destiny, but at the other side in the Super Bowl will be the defending NFC champion 49ers or a dominant Seattle Seahawk team waiting for Manning and his date with destiny.   Remember, Manning is two wins away from cementing his legacy, and each hurdle is a monumental one.   Conventional wisdom tells me he’d play better in the Super Bowl than he does in the AFC Championship Game because he may actually take it all in and relax more.   And, let’s be honest, Tom Brady is to Peyton Manning as John McEnroe was to Jimmy Connors.   Connors recently said that he still gets tense when he sees McEnroe and both players retired from tennis in the early 1990s.   I think Brady has that effect on Manning, but Manning winning two Super Bowls to Brady’s three is much like Connors eight slams to McEnroe’s seven, it’s the company you keep.

This Sunday is the Legacy Bowl in Denver.  The winning quarterback moves to New York to play in the Cement Legacy Bowl.

Message to Alex Rodriguez: Time to Move On

January 14, 2014

by John Furgele

The ruling is in and Alex Rodriguez, barring a federal court miracle, will not play Major League Baseball in 2014.  My advice to the beleaguered Rodriguez is to stop fighting and accept the punishment.  The more you fight, the more you’ll have to pay your lawyers, lawyers that are not cheap. 

 

Let me defend Rodriguez for a moment.  When the Biogenesis suspensions came down and Rodriguez appealed, he had every right to do so.  The public ate him up, and many facebookers and twitters called him a disgrace and assumed his guilt.   They hid behind the “all the other players accepted their suspensions, why didn’t A-Rod?”  That did surprise me that the other 13 players accepted suspensions without appealing like A-Rod did.  Of course, the other players received 50 game suspensions; A-Rod 211.  The Jhonny Peraltas and Nelson Cruzs could have appealed and kept playing, but they took the 50 games and were then eligible for the postseason.  A-Rod’s 162 game suspension handed down by arbitrator Frederic Horowitz includes the postseason, something that Peralta’s and Cruz’s didn’t.  We know that was a joke.  For Peralta, he took the suspension, then came back to help the Tigers reach the American League Championship Series and in the offseason, was rewarded with a four year $52 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.  

 

In a way, I feel sad for Alex Rodriguez.  It’s easy to cast him as the ultimate villain and not to feel sorry for him and to say he got what he deserved, and you are right for saying so.  I don’t feel sorry for A-Rod, I feel bad for him.   When he signed with the Seattle Mariners at age 18, he was tabbed as the next immortal baseball player.   At 19, he made his debut and at age 20, he was an everyday player.  There were enormous expectations and A-Rod, at first, a reflective, fun and thoughtful kid, began to crack at the pressure and those expectations.   In 1997, baseball numbers were going through the roof.  Guys like Rafael Palmerio and Luis Gonzalez went from 15 to 20 homers per year to 47 and 57.  Take Palmerio.  Early in his career, he homered once every 27.6 at bats.  Later, he had a season where he homered once every 10.7 at bats.  

 

What was A-Rod (and for that matter Bonds) supposed to do?  They could stay clean and have those .298, 33, 115 seasons, or they could take some PEDs and have .330 55 147 seasons, like some of their counterparts.  These are competitive players, ruthless competitors.  You don’t make it the majors without being this way.   Everybody is quick to accuse the cheater, call him a disgrace, but what about the sport itself?  Baseball, and football, basketball and hockey today, looked the other way as old records became replaced by cartoon characters and cartoon type statistics. 

 

Rodriguez desperately wanted to keep his place as the best player in the game of baseball.  That and tons of self-doubt, and self-esteem issues seemed to plague him.  He was married to what appeared to be an educated, successful woman with whom he had two daughters with, yet, his insecurities led him to infidelity.  After admitting that he had taken PEDs, once he felt he was slipping, he sought out Anthony Bosch of Biogenesis to help him get strong and healthy again.  I feel bad that A-Rod felt so much pressure, because love him or hate him, that’s tough pressure.   It’s easy to be a fan, who works 40 hours a week for $45,000 and say, if you were making $25 million a year, you’d be clean, but you’re not the player, you’re not Rodriguez or Bonds or any of the others.  

 

These players believed that it was worth it.  Get caught, serve 50 games and next time do a better job and don’t get caught.   The hope was that it would blow over and once they retired, the Hall of Fame would come calling.    But, it doesn’t look like these players are going to get that call.   It seems that the voters, who said nothing as players bulked up, as players like Bret Boone went from nine homer seasons to 37, have awakened and are now punishing the cheaters.  And, the more A-Rod stays in the limelight, the less his chance of getting even 50 percent of the vote.  

 

Baseball is held to a higher standard because those numbers are timeless.   We know that Sammy Baugh would have trouble playing in the today’s NFL, but we think Sandy Koufax would be a 20 game winner in today’s baseball.   Players like Rodriguez and McGwire and Sosa and Bonds have ruined those numbers and there is nothing baseball can do to fix that. 

 

Rodriguez will struggle with life after baseball.  What is he going to do?  He needs the attention, he needs to be in the spotlight and because of this, he will probably report to spring training because it will keep him relevant.   He will be lost without the game he has played at the Major League level since 1995. 

 

The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League are said to be interested in Rodriguez’s services in 2014 and because they’re not affiliated with Major League Baseball, Rodriguez could play there if the Yankees allow him to.  My guess is that the Yankees would and hope that he injures himself so they could void the remaining $61 million on his deal, so the odds of Rodriguez stepping on the field in Islip, NY remains remote.   But, if Rodriguez truly loves baseball, he would think about it.  He would get what he wants:  a chance to play, a chance to put up numbers and a chance to be in the spotlight each and every day.  He has become a sideshow and I worry what he will do when the sideshow is gone.  Some players can leave the game and do well, others struggle mightily. 

 

Rodriguez it appears is at the end of the line.   He says he will appeal, but the federal courts are likely not going to hear his case.   The process seems adequate.  Rodriguez appealed, and both he and MLB took their case to an arbitrator, an arbitrator approved by both the players union and Major League Baseball.  The union says that it has accepted Horowitz’s decision ditto for Major League Baseball.  Both sides did put a but in their statements.  The unions says the suspension is too long, MLB says it’s too short.  However, in both statements, each side has said that they considered the process fair and the case closed and is ready to move on and move forward. 

 

Let’s hope A-Rod feels the same way


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.