It’s Groundhog Day…

It’s Groundhog Day…

… so enjoy some ground hog…

… then get in your ground hog…

…and this weekend, root for the team with a grounded Hawg.

Eagles offensive lineman Jason Peters, a 14-year veteran who played tight end at the University of Arkansas, tore his ACL in October. 

 

 

Meet the new boss… same as the old boss

In the Antebellum South, in states such as Alabama, a white plantation owner a would make a fortune based on the back-breaking, involuntary labor of African American slaves, who got nothing.

In 2018, Nick Saban earned $11.13 million for leading the University of Alabama to the national championship in football. His players, the vast majority of whom are African American, did the back-breaking labor, risking injury on every snap, and got nothing.

Some will argue that the players are “paid” via their scholarships. But ‘Bama played 14 games (their opponent, Georgia, played 15) from September through January, and if you throw in off-season conditioning, Spring practice, summer two-a-days and fall practice, it’s virtually a year-round sport.

Under current NCAA rules, during a playing season and while school is in session, athletes are supposed to spend no more than 20 hours a week on required athletic activities… However, NCAA surveys of athletes have shown – and school and conference officials readily acknowledge – that athletes spend much more time than that on their sports. (Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2016/11/02/ncaa-rules-student-athletes-time-academics/93164832/)

So essentially college athletes are holding down a demanding full-time job while also constantly traveling, and they’re still expected to keep up with their classwork. Would you want to trade places with them? Did we mention you’ll get tackled by 320-pound linemen? Oh, and if your grades slip, your “guaranteed” four-year scholarship can be revoked.

Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (#13 on the roster) entered the game at halftime and rallied his team to victory.

 

No doubt the University of Alabama bookstore has been doing a brisk business in #13 jerseys this week.

Who gets that cash… and the cash from the billion dollar TV contracts and ticket sales? The NCAA, the schools, the coaches… everyone except the players. Read more here.

For 2011-12, the most recent year for which audited numbers are available. NCAA revenue was $871.6 million, most of which came from the rights agreement with Turner/CBS Sports. (source: http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/finances/revenue

Back in 1982, legendary Marquette basketball coach and TV color commentator Al McGuire spoke at Xavier University. I remember him saying that college athletes should get some sort of stipend, a bit of cash so they could buy a slice of pizza when they were out with their friends. Here we are nearly 40 years later —  or 160 years later if you count from the plantation era— and nothing much has changed.

 

 

Still high on the Hogs

This is my favorite Sports Illustrated cover of all time:

Sure, it’s a fantastic photo, capturing Sidney Moncrief’s great elevation and determination, with a helpless Texas defender looking on. It’s fun to study the crowd too, and see the looks on people’s faces. This lady is my favorite:

She knows Sid’s about to throw it down…

But it’s also my favorite cover because in February of 1978, when this came out, I was a 13-year-old kid living in Arkansas, and I was definitely high on the Hogs. (HT to my Aunt Virginia for getting my brother and me an annual subscription to Sports Illustrated back then.) I loved those Eddie Sutton-coached teams, playing in Barnhill Arena. They had a very talented trio, nicknamed “The Triplets”: Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief. Steve Schall and Jimmy Counce rounded out the starting lineup. They made it all the way to the Final Four that year before losing to eventual champ Kentucky by six points in the semis. Back then, they still played a third-place game, and the Razorbacks beat Notre Dame 71-69 on a last-second turnaround jumper by Ron Brewer. I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was nearly 40 years ago.

Arkansas begins conference play this afternoon, with a home game against #19 Tennessee. I’m a Xavier alum and season ticket holder so I’ll be at the Muskies game, but there will always be a special place in my heart for my Hogs too. Woo Pig Sooie!

 

 

 

Baller status

My oldest son wrapped up his football career this past weekend, on Senior Day at his high school.

He had never played organized football before his sophomore year. His school is small to begin with, and the number of players trying out for football keeps shrinking (the specter of CTE looms large, plus lacrosse and club soccer are gaining in popularity), so during his sophomore year they couldn’t field a JV team. That meant he spent his entire first season busting his butt in practice with zero chance of ever being on the field. In his junior year, he played for the JV squad. It would be easy to get discouraged when you’re older than most of your teammates, but he kept working. Off-season lifting. Two-a-days. Practice virtually the entire year… in addition to holding down two jobs this summer.

This past season, he started at right tackle for the varsity, played every offensive snap, and wound up making 2nd team all-conference. I’ve always been a bit anti-football as a parent… I DO worry about concussions and other injuries. But I have to admit that his football experience will serve him well in the game of life… you have to be patient, you have put in the hard work before you can reap the rewards, and there will be setbacks along the way… the ol’ “nothing good comes easy” adage. And I’m sure some of the friendships he formed on the gridiron will last a lifetime.

I’m super-duper proud of him (but not proud of the fact that I just used “super-duper” in a sentence). And I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the kid who was #76 in the program, but #1 in our hearts.

Win or go home… actually more like win AND go home

Sorry to have back to back blog posts about baseball (you’re getting very sleepy….), but the recent spate of manager firings seems preposterous.

Dusty Baker – you finished first in your division in both years as manager of the Washington Nationals.  Congratulations! Oh, and one other thing:

John Farrell – you made the playoffs 3 of the 5 years that you managed the Red Sox  – including this year (and one of the other years you were out with lymphoma) – and won a World Series. Great job. P.S.:

P.P.S. We’re replacing you with someone who has zero managerial experience. Here’s some salt for your wound.

Joe Girardi – your Yankees made the playoffs in 6 of your 10 years at the helm, you won a World Series, and you lost in 7 games to the AL champion Astros this year. Fantastic. Here’s a gift for you:

Seems like anything short of winning the World Series is grounds for dismissal these days. That’s absurd. You can do a masterful job managing 25 millionaires over a 162-game season, but if your team is edged out in a 5- or 7-game playoff series by another squad that’s slightly better, slightly luckier, slightly hotter or all of the above, you get the axe?

I hope the Yanks, Red Sox and Nats all stink next year… that would be karma.

 

Wake me when it’s over

“One of the craziest games you will ever see” said the TV announcer

“Wasn’t that the best game ever!?” said the Astros’ third baseman.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster” said the Dodgers’ manager.

“This is an instant classic and to be part of it is pretty special” said the Astros’ starting pitcher.

“The craziest game that I’ve ever played in” said the Astro who hit the game-winning two-run homer in the 11th inning.

8 home runs – a World Series record – including three by the Astros in extra innings, also a postseason record for any team. A game-tying home run on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the 9th against a closer who was previously untouchable.

And I didn’t see a lick of it.

My dad was a huge Dodgers fan, so I’m happy they’re in the World Series. I spent several summers in Houston and have relatives there – even went to one of my first MLB games at the Astrodome waaay back when – so I’m happy they’re in too. But the games start past 8 p.m. and typically go until midnight (or later when it’s extra innings). I know I won’t be able to see the ending, so why bother with the early innings? It’s like walking out on Star Wars before Luke flies toward the Death Star.

I know TV ratings (and revenue) rule the roost, but if MLB wants to capture the attention and hearts of the next generation of fans, they need to figure out a way to start the at least a couple of the World Series games earlier, or else it’s just the sound of one hand clapping.

 

Cheaters never prosper… except at the University of North Carolina

Tonight the University of North Carolina will take on Gonzaga for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. The Tarheels are favored to win. And speaking of favoritism, there’s been very little press about the UNC decades-long cheating scandal where hundreds of athletes (especially in the revenue-generating sports of basketball and football) took sham/non-existent classes to boost their GPAs and maintain their eligibility.

News of the scandal broke way back in 2011, thanks to Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper, which reported that an incoming freshman football player had been enrolled in an upper-level African studies class and received a high grade. That transcript ultimately exposed 18 years of fake classes, most of them created by Deborah Crowder, a clerical employee in the African and Afro-American Studies Department. UNC’s internal investigation blamed Crowder and a “rogue professor,” Julius Nyang’oro, and claimed that no one on the athletic side (AD, coaches, tutors, athletic advisors, et al.) knew anything about it. Which just ain’t so. The latest NCAA allegations (which came out in December of last year) say UNC and the athletics department “leveraged the relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to obtain special arrangements for student-athletes in violation of extra-benefit legislation.”

“Many at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men’s basketball, used these courses for purposes of ensuring their continuing NCAA academic eligibility,” the notice said.

But the only current article I can find about it is from the New York Times – it’s a great read. You’d think there’d be more talk of it, especially in light of the fact that UNC won two national championships during the years in question. This year’s group of athletes wasn’t part of the scandal, but you could rightly argue that if the NCAA had handed down any sanctions (postseason bans, scholarship reductions, etc.), this year’s team might not even be playing.
Funny how the NCAA is so quick to slap penalties on players and programs for the most minor of infractions, but in this case, with widespread, systemic cheating, it’s been radio silence. “Too big to fail”?
 

 

 

X Marches On!

My beloved Xavier Musketeers pulled off another upset last night (actually one a.m. this morning for most of us), rallying from 8 down in the second half to knock off #2 seed Arizona, 73-71.

Speaking of Bill Murray, his son Luke is an assistant coach for XU, and Bill has attended every tourney game, cheering on the Muskies. After they won last night, Bill celebrated by giving a good-natured “noogie” to the elderly woman in front of him…

That woman happens to be a nun – Sister Rose Ann Fleming, who as the longtime academic advisor to Xavier athletes, has as much to do with their success in the classroom as the coaches have to do with their success on the court.

Xavier has graduated every senior men’s b-ball player since 1986. (That’s the year I graduated… concidence? I think not!)

After the game, Bill Murray summed up how the game played out very well.

Beating Arizona in the Sweet 16 was pretty sweet too. Their coach, Sean Miller, left Xavier for Arizona several seasons ago. He was, and still is, a fantastic coach, and I have a ton of respect for him. Xavier coach Chris Mack was an assistant under Miller and they are great friends. Mack was less than thrilled about having to face his mentor for the 2nd time in 3 years:

But there’s one comment Sean Miller made that sticks in the craw of many XU fans. After he left Xavier for Arizona, he told a recruit it was like going from a Buick to a Lexus. Grandma has a message for him:

Now Xavier plays Gonzaga in the Elite 8. Two small Jesuit schools that have had great basketball programs for the past couple of decades… and one of them will finally reach the Final Four for the first time. So either way, I’ll be happy, but I’ll be happier if X marks the spot.

 

How Sweet 16 it is

Xavier pulled off another upset in the NCAA tourney last night, trouncing #3 seed Florida State 91-66 to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. It’s been a rough season for the X-men. Senior guard Myles Davis started the season with an indefinite suspension, missed the first 15 games, returned for 3 and then left the program for good. Their super soph point guard Edmond Sumner blew out his ACL halfway through the year, and leading scorer Trevon Bluiett hurt his ankle and missed a couple of games and was ineffective in a few more after returning. Not surprisingly, those injuries led to a six-game losing streak toward the end of the regular season in the brutal Big East.

However, the Musketeers showed signs of life in the conference tournament and squeaked into the NCAAs as a #11 seed. They upset #6 Maryland in the first round, and yesterday they played what was easily their best game of the season.

 

It’s so true that in college basketball, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Now Xavier will take on Arizona, coached by Sean Miller… who left XU for ‘zona about 8 years ago. The odds are against them once again, but I don’t care, because they’re playing with house money now.

I don’t know why they call it “March Madness”

Taking two days off work and setting up 4 TVs (and a laptop) in your living room to binge watch college basketball games for 12 hours straight each day sounds perfectly sane to me.

Just remember to root for the team favored by award-winning actors everywhere:

So far, so good…