Archive for March, 2009

The Shame of Bobby Bowden

March 19, 2009

by John Furgele

The Florida State Seminoles may have to forfeit 14 wins over previous seasons because of an academic scandal that is plaguing the university.  And, their coach, the patriarch, the grandfather, the godfather of FSU football, Bobby Bowden, says the sanctions are “too harsh.” 

Why are they too harsh?  Your program, under your watch, has recruited some unsavory characters, and some of these characters were caught cheating.  Now, we all know that many college athletes, partcularly football and basketball players don’t often follow a rigorous academic program.  For many, the majors are easy and the courses easier, but I’ve never had a problem with that.  If these players are going to make a university millions of dollars, then they should be given a college degree in General Studies for what they do to the university’s revenue stream.  They may not be the best of students, but nobody is better at fundraising than football and basketball players.  For that alone, they should be rewarded.

The requirements for athletes need not be demanding.  Register for courses, attend class when on campus, and participate in those classes.  If they try, then they should be able to graduate with a college degree.  They may not have earned the degree by taking serious classes, but they did their part by selling out arenas and stadiums for four years, and for pumping monies into the coffers.   That degree might get them a job as an assistant manager at Target rather than a sales associate, and because of that, they can be trained by Target, Famous Footwear or whatever other endeavor they choose and make a few more bucks along the way. 

There is one requirement to this plan and it’s called compliance.  Compliance means that the players must go to class, must put forth an effort and must not cheat.  That didn’t happen at Florida State.  The players cheated, and because they can’t be fined, the leader of the program, Bowden must be held accountable.  Bowden could send the right message and accept the punishment like a man, but he wants to catch Penn State’s Joe Paterno for the most victories in Divsion 1-A football, so he will fight it until the wins are maintained. 

There used to be a time when bad programs were put on probation, meaning that they couldn’t go to a bowl game and couldn’t be seen on television.  The last team to be put on probation were the 1993 Auburn Tigers.  They went 11-0, but were barred from being a poll champion and were forbidden from playing in a bowl game.  The coach was Terry Bowden, son of Bobby, who inherited the mess, so he was not to blame.  If oyu find irony in that, good for you. 

SMU cheated so much that they were given the death penalty, meaning they couldn’t have a football team for two years, a penalty so severe that the Mustangs still haven’t recovered from.   The NCAA sent a message, but oddly, they really haven’t sent such a stern message since this or 1993.

Perhaps the NCAA is afraid to administer such severe sanctions because they don’t want another SMU, so instead, they take away wins and bowl wins and NIT titles, and so on and so forth.  Normally, schools accept the takeaways, because we all know that Michigan won the 1997 NIT title and we all know that the football team went 8-4, even though the “official” record is 0-12.  But, there is much more at stake here and that’s Bowden overblown win total.  Bowden wants the record for wins and if he loses 14 wins, it won’t happen. 

Bowden, though, should step up and be the man.  Admit that you lost control of the program in this instance.  Admit that it’s time to move on.  Turn the program to coach-in-waiting Jumbo Fisher and retire gracefully.

It’s the right thing to do, but because of the entitlement society we live in, it probably won’t happen.  Bowden reminds me of the late Senator Bill Roth of Delaware, creator of the Roth IRA.  He had served in the United States Senate for decades and was urged to retire before the 2000 election.  His followers told him he wasn’t going to win, that he should gracefully walk into the sunset.  But, Roth, like Bowden, felt like he had one more act in him and ran anyway and was trounced.  In the end, he still retired respectfully, but it could have ended better. 

Sadly, it won’t end well for Bowden.

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Dance Time and Other Random Thoughts

March 19, 2009

by John Furgele

March Madness begins today with 16 games and by the end of today, many an office pools will be shredded up in tatters because there is bound to be upsets today and the other three days of the first and second round.

For the record, a sleeper has to be a team seeded five or higher.  Don’t tell me a team like Syracuse, a three seed is a sleeper.  As a three, they are supposed to win two games and when a three or four makes the Sweet 16, it is not considered a surprise.  A five seed is supposed to win one game, then lose to the four seed in round two, so to be official, a five is where the sleeper starts.  And, just for nice, 11 seeds seem to make runs in the Big Dance with two of them (LSU, 1986) and George Mason (2006) making Final Four runs.

Using that criteria, I am taking Arizona State, a 6 seed, as my sleeper in this year’s tournament.  I will pick the Sun Devils to make the Final Four.  They have a tough first round game with #11 Temple, but if they can survive, I see them beating an overrated Syracuse in the second round.  Picking the chalk, like Clark Kellogg and Dick Vitale (there would be 99 teams in the tournament if Dickie V had it his way) do every year is boring and uninteresting and should not be tolerated by their respective bosses.  Have some fun, fellows!

To me, the Big East is overrated, but we’ll see over the next three weeks.  Jim O’ Connell has every Big East team in an regional final.  That would be something if it happens and would cement the Big East’s claim as the toughest conference in the country.   In 1985, the Big East got three teams to the Final Four in Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova with Villanova beating Georgetown in an epic 66-64 final. 

Villanova was the highest seed ever to win the NCAA title, doing it as number 8 seed in the year that was 1985.  Two number 6 seeds have won it (North Carolina in 1983 and Kansas in 1988) and number 4 Arizona won it in 1997).  Villanove barely beat number 9 Dayton in the first round, then eked out close ones against Michigan, Maryland, and North Carolina to make the Final Four.  After beating Memphis State in the semifinals, they shot 78.9 percent to beat Georgetown in the finals.  As my dad said, if they shoot 70 percent, they get blown out.  But, that is the fortune you need to cut down the nets in three weeks time.

The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups and preparation.  As Coach K properly says, it is three two game tournaments.  Matchups are important.  Last year, Siena entered as a number 13 seed, and the Saints were quick and very athletic.  Their opponent was number 4 Vanderbilt, a slow, big, plodding team.  Based on the matchups, they were ripe to be beaten and Siena toyed with them and ran them out of the gym.   Two days later, Siena played themselves in Villanova, but this time Villanova was more athletic, quicker and faster.  Throw in the elation factor of pulling a first round upset and the Saints were no match for Nova in that game.

This year, Siena is a 9 seed and I don’t like their matchup with number 8 Ohio State.  The Buckeyes are bigger, athletic and just as quick as the Saints and the game is Dayton, only 75 miles from the Ohio State campus.  Siena is better this year than last year, but their matchup is not as good. But, this is the madness, so you never know….

Preparation is also the key.  You win today or tomorrow, you get one practice to prepare for your next opponent.  That is not a lot of time, especially in this day and age where coaches like to watch film until their eyes bleed.    John Chaney’s Temple Owls always did well in second round games because it was very hard for his opponents to figure out his matchup zone in one day.  Moreover, it was even tougher for the opposing players.    Nobody wanted to play Temple in the NCAA Tournament to be sure.

Get your brackets completed and get them submitted to the proper organizers and enjoy the next four days.  The NCAA Tournament is kind of strange.  As it progresses, interest wanes as one pool after another is blown up.  Because of this, many pool organizers allow individuals to submit “more than one sheet.”  Whether that’s right or not is not for me to decide, but if playing your seventh sheet keeps you interested, so be it. 

Enjoy the Madness, but please, get your office WORK done.

Buffalo, My Buffalo

March 15, 2009

by John Furgele

If I was sports talk host in Western New York, I could throw this topic out on a Sunday; “Is Buffalo jinxed as a sports city?”  I could take calls for hours about the Sabres and their playoff failures, the Bills going to four Super Bowls and hear people say that “by dumb luck, they should have won one Super Bowl.  Even my friend’s grumpy father, the legendary and ornery Bob Jellinick would call in and complain about the JoJo White call in the 1974 NBA Playoffs(Buffalo News columnist Milt Northrup put it in his Top 10 Aud memories). 
 
Deep down, I really don’t believe in that stuff, but I know many sports fans—in all cities—do.  Okay, maybe Florida Marlins fans don’t.  They don’t support that team, they don’t really care about that team, they don’t talk about that team on the radio, but in 17 years, they have made the playoffs only twice and of course, are 6-0 in postseason series with two World Series titles
 
We know that there is no such thing as the Sports Gods, and why would God let the Akron Zips make the NCAA Tournament over the Buffalo Bulls and let a 28 year old die of cancer?  Makes no sense.  Never has, never will.  God has way more important things to worry about.  But, if he could do something about the economy…..
 
But, I am starting to reverse my thinking.  Now, I am beginning to wonder if Buffalo sports teams, like the city itself is destined to be second rate.  I say this with no disrespect.  Had I gotten a teaching job in Buffalo in 1991, I would have never left the area—never—and I love the area as much as anybody.  Case in point:  what other idiot drives 290 miles on the first  Saturday morning in March to run a road race and drink beer?  I do and as long as I can, will continue to do so.
 
Buffalonians do not like to be referred to as second class, second rate, second anything.  It offends them, but here, in my current hometown the natives refer to Albany, NY as Smallbany and the moniker doesn’t offend them at all.  Jim Rome calls Rochester “Crapchester,” and in 20 years, I don’t think a Rochester caller has ever called in to complain about it. 
 
But, there I was watching Akron “zip” past Buffalo last night, and it did make me think, after Siena beat Niagara on Monday night; is Buffalo destined to get close and fall short—-forever?  Why can’t Buffalo fans experience that run on the court sensation that many programs do.  In Albany, the Great Danes have made two NCAA Tournamentsand Siena just qualified for the second straight year and fifth overall.  Yes, Niagara and Canisius have made the NCAAs, but they are small private schools, with small alumni and because of the high cost of attending, in the elite category.  If Niagaramakes the NCAA Tournament, much of WNY is happy, but I believe that if the Bulls, a team with “BUFFALO” stitched across the uniforms made it, all of WNY would be happy, because when BUFFALO appeared in the NCAA brackets, the region would feel the pride of seeing the city’s name up in lights.  It just isn’t the same to see Niagara, Canisius, or St. Bonaventure. Why?  Because the average American doesn’t know where these schools are, but most know, or have heard of Buffalo, NY.
 
Philadelphia fans feel that their city is jinxed, but they did have their heyday from 1974-1983.  In that span, the Flyers won two Stanley Cups, the Phillies won a World Series, a National League pennant, and four more times played in the playoffs.  The 76ers played in four NBA Finals and won it all in 1983, and the Eagles won the 1980 NFC Championship.  Yes, they had a 25 year drought before the Phillies rang the championship bell in October, but they had their halcyon days, something Buffalo really hasn’t had.  The Bills did win four straight AFC Championships, but during that time, the Sabres really did nothing.  In Philadelphia, all four teams were really clicking and they won four overall titles in a nine to ten year span, something Buffalo can only long for.
 
Buffalo is decent at getting to championship events, they’re just not very good at winning them.  The Bulls played in the 2005 MAC Championship Game and lost with seconds to go.  Niagara made the 2009 MAAC Championship Game, but with the score tied 50-50 late, couldn’t make the plays to make the Big Dance. 
 
Buffalo’s loss to Akron didn’t upset me, because like most Buffalonians, I expected them to lose and expected to be disappointed.  But, there is hope and for that, we can look to Boston.  The Red Sox were cursed, for 86 years, but have risen up and won two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.   The Patriots went from laughingstock to elite, and the Celtics shook off the death of Len Bias and conquered the NBA in 2008.  This year, the Bruins have caught the fever and are number one in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.  If they somehow win the 2009 Stanley Cup, then maybe a city can truly overcome its insecurites and turn fate around. 
 
Even in Buffalo.
 
 

A-Rod Retires

March 5, 2009

by John Furgele

Alex Rodriguez has decided to retire from baseball at age 33.  It has been a tumultuous off-season for the third baseman and now that his hip is ailing, Rodriguez has decided that retirement is his best option at this time. 

Obviously, he is not retiring, but maybe he should.  Since arriving in New York in 2004, A-Rod has been one distraction after another.  He purse slapped Bronson Arroyo in the ALCS, then stopped hitting in the postseason altogether, dressed up like Derek Jeter to earn the Single White Female moniker from his teammates, and was called A-Fraud by more teammates.  There was a the Toronto stripper, Madonna, a messy divorce from Cindy, right after the birth of his second daughter no less. 

He is a very talented player, but what would the Yankees give to get out of his contract, and if they had it do all over again, do you think they would have signed him in the first place?  When Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, the Red Sox waited over 80 years to win the World Series.  Since acquiring Rodriguez, the Red Sox have won TWO world championships and the Yankees have not even played in one. 

There was a time that the Yankees aimed to build a team, a comprehensive unit that had chemistry—yes it is important—but once again, they have gone after the marquee names.  To a fan, almost every Yankee follower would trade Rodriguez for Scott Brosius straight up right now, even though the latter retired after the 2001 season.  Now, the Yankees are desperate to win again so they go get Sabathia, Burnett and Texiera.  These are three star players, but will they have what it takes ala El Duque, David Wells and Tino Martinez? 

The Dallas Cowboys just cut Terell Owens and thus far, I haven’t heard Tony Romo cry through he shades saying, “That’s my wide receiver.”  Is A-Rod more of a diva than Owens?  Is he more of a distraction?  More high maintenance? 

The answer is that he is at least the equal of Owens.  Maybe A-Rod just isn’t a good dude.  It doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy, but one gets the feeling that he is the nerd that tries so hard to be cool, he comes off even more nerdy and even dorky as well. 

Now, he is having hip problems, and speculation will run rampant that this hip injury is the result of steroid use.  Others will say that Rodriguez is still using PEDs and this is what happens when you use them.  Whether it’s true or not, Rodriguez has brought this all on himself.  I’m still amazed at how fragile these athletes are.  They train for hours and months and many seem to get hurt doing the smallest of things.  I’m probably not being fair here, but when you get paid millions to be in top shape to play a sport such as baseball, these tweaks that keep players out for two weeks are inexcusable.  What specifically did A-Rod do to tweak his hip.? It is almost impossible to fathom this, even though most say that the everyday players really don’t need spring training anymore because they come to camp in such fine shape.  I’ll argue that they need it more than ever. 

Here’s hoping that Rodriguez enjoys his retirement and I applaud him for saying that “he no longer wants to be a distraction for his Yankee teammates anymore.” 

Best of luck, A-Rod, unfortunately, we’ll see you in a few weeks.