Saturday, December 29, 2007

Spin Doctors

They name streets after guys like that -- One Way and Dead End ... He's just an idiot. ~ Tony Stewart (on Greg Biffle, but it could have been any number of others)
 I don't know if someone at the Montgomery Advertiser has a sense of humor, or it just worked out this way, but they certainly put an interesting pair of articles together. Like most newspapers these days, the Advertiser has cut back on some of its coverages, particularly in the Sports section. What is amazing is that their coverage of NASCAR racing is one of the things that has taken a hit. Given that the Advertiser is published in Montgomery, Alabama, and Alabama is the home of Talledega, the Allisons, and other notables in stock car racing, this is just another indication of how NASCAR is slowing slinking into the sunset.

The nature of the stories in the Sports section was also an indication. Story number 1 was headlined, "NASCAR sees spike in accidents spins." Right next to it was "Rookies got crash course in driving." Hmmm. Seems like there might be a connection there.

In the first story, we learn that the number of accidents and spins is increasing. The Chase alone had 89 incidents (a 14.1 % increase over last year) and there were a total of 240 for the season. What's frightening about the latter number is that it's less than the number in 2005 when we sat through 253 incidents.

If you thought you were seeing a lot of yellow flag laps in the last few years, you were most certainly right. And, remember, this isn't counting those mysterious "debris" cautions.

What could be causing so many cautions? See story number two. Here are some stats to consider:

  • David Regan had 22 crashes in 36 races.
  • J.J. Yeley had nine, which was a significant improvement over the 17 he had the year before.
  • Robbie Gordon, who ain't no rookie, managed to have 16 accidents or spins.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya, who ain't no rookie except in the eyes of NASCAR, had 11 incidents.
In other words, rookies and open wheel guys don't know how to drive these here stock car thingies.

It isn't going to get any better. Next year we're going to be treated to Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, and Sam Hornish spinning and crashing all over the place. Hornish, in particular, should have a lot of shortened races. He already drives like a loon in the Indy cars. Roger Penske managed to settle him down some, so he was able to stay on the track long enough to win a championship a couple of years ago, but don't count on him finishing many races with all his fenders on in Cup racing.

It's not like Penske isn't trying to give him a break. Figuring that Hornish will never qualify on his own, he's gotten permission to apply his owner points to Hornish's car rather than the car of Kurt Busch. What this means is that former Cup champion Busch will have to qualify on speed, while Hornish will be an automatic qualifier for the first five races next season.

After that, of course, he'll have to be in the top 35 drivers to get an automatic entry. Given his rather poor runs this past season, it's likely he won't be around for many races beginning with number 6.

Once upon a time, drivers had an apprenticeship. They raced in ARCA or ASA, often after driving local dirt tracks for a while, and worked their way up to Busch (now Nationwide) racing. They raced there for a few years until they finally looked ready to run with the big guys. Now, all they need to be is photogenic.

The Car of Tomorrow (COT) isn't going to make it any better. Take a bunch of bad drivers and put them in closer racing and what you'll get is even more wrecks. Hendricks, of course, won't be worried because somehow their COTs will amazingly go faster than everyone else's, just like their Chevrolets run faster than everyone else's Chevrolets. Everyone else, though, is going to be getting caught up in Juan's or Dario's or hot-shot-rookie-who-did-one-year-in-Busch's accident. Well, they might get caught up in David Regan's wreck or Robbie Gordon's, since those two accidents-waiting-to-happen will still be driving.


Of course, this all could be part of Brian France's master plan. After all, more cautions means more time for commercials. More commercials means more money. It could be setting the scene for NASCAR's next TV negotiations. "Hey," NASCAR reps will say, "Where else can you get a four-hour event that has enough breaks in the action for 3 1/2 hours of commercial time?"

Sounds like a plan to me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Strange Sort of Moral Character

... an example for what college athletics should be--turning out men of high moral character. ~ BSC Betrayed

Back in May, I wrote in praise of the move by Birmingham Southern to move to Division III athletics. "BSC Betrayed" took serious exception to my opinion in a flame which included the quote above. Well, let's see how those builders of high moral character are doing these days.

Les Miles strings Michigan and LSU along while he tries to get his BCS Championship game bonus and still jump to Michigan. Michigan gets tired of that game and signs Rich Rodriguez, without bothering to get permission from Coach Rodriguez' employer, West Virginia, to even be talking to him.

Coach Rodriguez, who played footsie with Alabama last year to sweeten his contract at W. Va. not only jumps his contract but threatens to sue the university to avoid the buy-out clause that the coach agreed to a year ago. He claims the university has not kept unspecified promises that were made (apparently the gold-plated toilet in the coach's john didn't come through).

Bobby Petrino, who signed a ten-year contract with Louisville only to jump to the Atlanta Falcons and sign a five-year contract, skips out before the end of his first season to sign another five-year contract with Arkansas. He arrives saying all sorts of wonderful things about being in Arkansas. It's safe, I think, to predict that he will be named as a primary candidate for the first big-paying coaching opening that comes along next year.

Jimbo Fisher gets named official coach-in-waiting at Florida State. Guess who's being hyped as a prime candidate for the West Virginia gig?

That's just the college ranks. In the NFL, the current sport seems to be to spit in Arthur Blank's eye. Mr. Blank owns the Atlanta Falcons. After getting figuratively kicked in the head by Michael Vick, he's abandoned by Bobby Petrino. Five of the men of high character who play for the Falcons pulled up their jerseys to reveal t-shirts saying, "Free Mike Vick" (or something close to that). As if that's not enough, Bill Cowher turns him down for the coaching job (despite the fact that I stated quite clearly what a good fit that would be).

Just to add insult to injury, another man-of-character-from-being-in-football, Bill Parcels sort of agrees to be VP of football operations, except that he has no intention of going to Atlanta. It seems that he's merely using Arthur Blank as leverage with the Miami Dophins. Frankly, Parcells and Wayne Huizenga deseve each other.

Speaking of Florida State, they've got 25 or so players suspended for cheating on exams, with the assistance of the tutors assigned to supposedly help them actually learn something. They may well end up forfeiting all or most of their seven wins this season. The only silver lining to this cloud is that a real man-of-character, Joe Paterno, would once again be the winningest coach of all time.

I love watching college football, but it's getting to be harder to enjoy all the time. Coaches jump ship at the drop of a hat; coaches get fired for not having perfect records every year. Players get arrested in bunches at times of day when they should be tucked in bed, if coaches still actually enforced curfews. The "rules" of college football allow players to be on teams so long that they would qualify for a pension if they were pros. We're treated to such terms as "sixth-year senior" (Auburn's Brandon Cox is one) and to the knowledge that some players are taking one course to maintain eligibility (like Matt Leinart taking ballroom dancing or another star who took a course in billiards).

This is character building?

It's not just the coaches, players, boosters, and athletic directors who are at fault here. The presidents of these supposed educational institutions need some character-building, too. The president of Michigan should take a few of the ethics courses offered at his school to remind him that stealing coaches is not an honorable activity (Michigan has now swiped both the basketball and football coaches from West Virginia). The president at Florida State has obviously let the athletic program get completely out of hand. And the president of Appalachian State should stop cavorting around during playoff games with his team's trophies from previous wins. Perhaps if he would behave himself, his student body and fans wouldn't tear down goal posts (a dangerous and expensive thing to do) as if the team had never won a game before.

Enough already. It's time for some real rules. First of all, players get four years of eligibility. Period. If a player gets hurt, they still get their athletic scholarship as long as they stay academically eligible, allowing them to get their degree--which is why they were supposed to be there in the first place.

Second, as I've said before, coaches get one-year contracts with a one-year mutually renewable option. But, let's go one step further. Just as their are rules governing when and how many times a player can be recruited, the NCAA needs to put in rules about contacting coaches or their representatives during the season. Basically, no contact would be allowed from the beginning of fall practice to the last game of the season (including bowls and championships). A school that violates the rule get puts on the same kinds of probation that they get for recruiting violations. A coach who initiates the contact could also be suspended. And these rules would include boosters and agents.

Oh, and the college presidents should concern themselves with the educational aspects of the institutions they run. They hire athletic directors to run the athletic programs. Set a budget for the athletic department and let the AD manage it. The presidents have more important things to worry about.

Like building character, not tearing it down.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

And the Coaches Go Round and Round

Early in his career, Rick Pitino was famously called Larry Brown on training wheels. Petrino isn't Larry Brown on training wheels; he's Larry Brown in a Maserati. ~ Pat Forde, ESPN

Well, well. I wonder who it was that wrote back on November 25: "Oh, and let us not forget Bobby Petrino. The whole Falcons thing has turned into a nightmare, very little of which is due to Petrino. I suspect that every major opening over the next couple of months will have a Petrino angle to it. Which would be perfectly normal, wouldn't it?"

I know, I should have been more specific about where he'd end up, but at the time there were more jobs open.

To say that Bobby Petrino is being criticised by sports writers and talk show hosts is putting it mildly. Petrino is being blistered. Mike Greenberg on ESPN's Mike and Mike In the Morning reminded us that in about 18 months Petrino has signed 20 years' worth of contracts (10 at Louisville, 5 in Atlanta, and now 5 at Arkansas). In the article linked above, Pat Forde describes Petrino in terms normally reserved for former Enron executives. Forde does think Arkansas may actually get to keep the "disingenuous drifter" as he calls Petrino: "
The good news for Arkansas is that it might be the last school willing to give this guy anything more than what he deserves: a one-year contract and a monitoring device on his ankle."

Ouch.

As I said here, the solution is simple. The NCAA should mandate one-year contracts with a one-year option for all coaches. If the school loves the coach to death, they can renew his option early; if the coach loves the school to death, he can accept it. One rule, though: Contracts can only be extended one year at a time, beginning at six months prior to expiration. Otherwise, some bright AD would pick up the coach's option for the next five years.

Which brings us to Les Miles.

You remember ol' Les. He's the guy who swears on the Eye of the Tiger that he's never, ever, ever leaving LSU in one breath while talking about his undying love of Michigan in the next. He's got permission to talk to Michigan, then he's got a new contract at LSU. Then, lo and behold, he's talking to Michigan again.

Now, by the usual rules of the game, Miles have given a denial-denial, which should have him staying at LSU. But, frankly, something stinks in Baton Rouge here. What is really going on is that Miles stands to make a pile of money if he coaches in the BCS game; $2.8 million can put a longing for Ann Arbor way on the back burner.

Now for a little wild speculation with no basis in fact other than some logical thinking. Here's what I think went down.

Michigan secures permission to talk to Miles. As I've said before, this sort of thing is a formality, and it can probably be assumed that someone close to Miles has talked to someone in a position to deal at Michigan. So a potential deal was struck with a huge proviso. If LSU would win the SEC championship and the other dominoes fell into place to get the Tigers to the BCS, then Miles would coach the championship game and collect the fat paycheck.

After that, Ann Arbor, here he comes.

I've got nothing to go on here, except recent history which says that all contracts are signed in disappearing ink. But, I'd put the price of an extra-large diet cola on "Miles goes to Michigan."

Speaking of coaches jumping contracts brings us back to Atlanta and Arthur Blank who has to be wondering what he did to deserve what's happened to him. I've got a solution for Mr. Blank, which is so obvious I'm surprised it hasn't already made the rounds. Hire Bill Cowher.

Yes, I know, Cowher retired. So did Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, and Led Zeppelin. When he called it quits, a lot of people felt it was a sabbatical to recharge the old batteries. Well, he's had a year of TV appearances and sitting around the living room now, and I suspect he's ready to come back. And, for Arthur Blank, he can come back for a whole lot more cash than the lowballing Rooney family was willing to pay.

Frankly, Mr. Blank could do a lot worse than Bill Cowher. Cowher is a good judge of talent, knows how to rebuild a team, and is a player's coach, all of which the Falcons desperately need. The ex-coach's name has been bandied about for college jobs, most notably Michigan (not going to happen; Les is checking out real estate in Ann Arbor), but a successful NFL coach doesn't want to end up like Charlie Weiss. Cowher is smart enough to avoid that. At least, Bill Cowher wouldn't be jumping a contract.

Miles to Michigan and Cowher to Atlanta. It could happen.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Coaches, Playoffs, Heismans (or is it Heismen?)

When in doubt, punt! ~ John Heisman

The story so far:

Coaching-go-round

Coaches are going every whichway, but the two stories that are most intriguing involve Michigan and Arkansas. These major programs are having surprising difficulties landing a new football coach. Apparently, Michigan won't pony up enough money while there's not enough money anywhere to interest anyone in the Arkansas gig.

Michigan looked to have Les Miles all locked up. They asked for and received permission to talk to Miles, normally a good sign that unofficial communications had gone on (translation: the coach's agent has been talking to people in a position to know what the university's deal would be). Miles, after crying great crocodile tears about his love of Michigan, promptly gets a new deal from LSU. Michigan's Athletic Director promptly goes sailing and is unavailable to react.

Up until that last sentence, it all made sense. It does make sense if you consider that maybe Michigan just wasn't willing to pay the kind of dough that SEC coaches are pulling down. The fact that Rutgers coach Greg Schiano turned the Wolverines down would seem to bear that out. No other explanation fits (unless Jim Tressel is that frightening) for a program that is as successful and loaded as Michigan to be having trouble filling Loyd Carr's coaching cap.

Meanwhile, Arkansas is offering millions and getting turned down by everyone (they haven't offered me the job yet; for $3 million bucks, I can do a mean Soooooooooeeeee Pig). Frank Broyles is supposed to be retiring December 31, so the problem of working with a school legend isn't there. Arkansas may not be the plum of all jobs, but it isn't chopped liver, for crying out loud. The problem could be boosters, or course. Houston Nutt may not have been the greatest coach, but he didn't do badly, yet Arkansas fans (and presumably some of the more notable contributors) evidently were tired of him.

On the other hand, anyone who coaches knows that the same boosters that loved him when they were winning titles will disavow him quicker than a captured Mission:Impossible team member. Unless said boosters are already issuing threats, it seems unlikely that this would be a sticking point. It makes one wonder if there is some sort of rumor of an NCAA investigation running around.

What's silly is that there are, no doubt, some very good Division I-AA and II coaches who would jump at the chance to go to either school. The big schools have a thing for trying to find coaches at their level who are willing to jump ship for a bucket of cash. For some reason, these same schools are surprised when such coaches jump ship yet again for a bigger bucket of cash. Hiring a lower division successful coach would seem to be a bright idea.

It certanly has worked out well for Ohio State.

The BCS Stinks Worse Than Ever

I am an Ohio State fan, and even I am sick of the silliness that is the BCS. Okay, it's been a goofy year where no one really wanted to be number 1 -- or 2, 3, 4, or 5, for that matter. Now we can argue about how the poll voters vote all day, but one thing is becoming obvious: The people who vote in the polls, which are currently the bulk of the BCS rating, are clueless. A loss early is forgiven while a loss late in the season is peanalized. OSU lost to Illinois fairly late and dropped to number 6 or 7. But they lost early enough. Beating Michigan and then not playing for two weeks moved them back to number 1.

LSU lost twice, yet they are number 2 ahead of a 1 loss team (Kansas) and an undefeated team (Hawaii). In fact, LSU had been in the top two twice during the season, yet the voters kept putting them back. The Tigers looked really ugly in beating Tennessee, too. In fact, had the Volunteer quarterback not thrown the two worst interceptions I've seen in ages, LSU isn't the champion of the SEC. In that event, Georgia, which lost to that same Tennessee team would have become number 2.

Meanwhile, Kansas is out because they play such a weak schedule. Well, everyone knew about that schedule all season. Well, LSU played out-of-conference powerhouses Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, and Tulane. Ohio State played Kent State and Akron. So, now the Big 12 is a lousy conference? If that's the case, how did they have both the number 1 and 2 teams at one point? And how did Oklahoma vault to number 4 beating a weak sister like Missouri (who was ranked number 1 for beating the aforementioned Kansas team with the weak schedule).

There are only 11 conferences in all of Division I-A. You can't come up with a playoff system with only 11 division winners and an at-large invitee (so Notre Dame can get in whenever they get six wins)?

School presidents go on and on about how it would require so many extra games and that would be bad for the student athletes. Bull. The presidents certainly haven't minded going from 10 to 11 to 12 games, with a 13th for championship games. If a playoff system went in, they'd have to get rid of those cupcake games against Division II opponents that allow them to soak fans for more money for season ticket packages. A playoff would require them to cut back on the regular season, and they aren't about to give up those games. After all, they've got to come up with the money to pay those head coaches (both the ones they have and the ones they fired the year after giving 4 year extensions).

Until the NCAA can figure out a way for the schools to get as rich in a playoff scheme as they get by scheduling Punxatawney Tech, there will be no playoff system in Division I-A, allowing it to continue as the only major collegiate sport where the true champion is not decided by playing the game.

Heisman Ho-Ho's

I wonder if John Heisman would like what has been done with the award that bears his name. I don't think so. The man who once said to players, "Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble this football," doesn't strike me as a man who would care for the fact that the award for the most outstanding player in college football has turned into a PR-driven joke.

Frankly, winning the Heisman is no guarantee of future success. It's also no curse. But, it doesn't really make much difference in where a guy gets drafted or how he does in the NFL (assuming he even gets there). But colleges want to have Heisman award-winners because it makes it easier for them to recruit and gives the school prestige Academics be damned; we've got Heisman winners!

It's not just PR, either. Teams will tailor their offenses (defensive players need not apply to be considered the best player in the land) to showcase a given player. Case in point: Tim Tebow. Now Mr. Tebow is, no doubt, a very good athlete, a running quarterback that can also through. But, when a quarterback scores 21 touchdowns on the ground, the offense is set up for him to score that way. Or consider, Hawaii's Colt Brennan. He plays in an offense that is guaranteed to generate mega-yards for any reasonably talented quarterback.

On the other hand, you have Darren McFadden of Arkansas (school motto: Will someone please come coach for us?). He is the offense because they don't have anything else. Because of that, if I were picking, I'd probably pick Mr. McFadden for the award. But the hype machine is picking Tim Tebow, which has some people's BVD's in a wad because he's a sophomore.

So what? With so many players leaving at the end of their junior year, sophomores are the new juniors. Besides, if a voter really thinks the guy is that outstanding, he or she should vote for him. I don't see the big fuss here.

Let's face it. Individual awards are nice, but football is a team sport. The greatest player on earth cannot win all the games for a team that's otherwise lousy. At least team laurels are earned on the field.

Well, except in Division I-A, where they're earned in the polls.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Coaching Circus

Being in politics is like coaching football. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important. ~ Eugene J. McCarthy

And vice versa.
~ The Gog


All sports have silly seasons, that point during the year or after the end of the season when the rumors start. In pro sports, this is usually about big name players (or drivers in the racing world) moving from one team to another. In college it's about coaches getting fired or jumping ship to follow the money, er, excuse me, follow their "dream jobs." Strangely, the "dream jobs" normally seem to involve getting paid a lot of money.

No, this isn't going to be a rant about misplaced priorities at our colleges. I've done that one already, although I won't say that I won't again some time. There are advantages to having only 2/3 of a reader. Repeating yourself is one of them.

No, I wanted to dwell a little on the annual insanity that is the coaching carousel in big-time college football. Let's see, Dennis Franchione and Les Carr "resigned", along with the Southern Miss coach (whose name escapes me at the moment). Bill Callahan and Ed Orgeron were canned outright. Houston Nutt resigned from Arkansas only to turn up the following day as Ed Orgeron's replacement at Ole Miss.

Tommy Tuberville is the absolutely, positively number one candidate to replace Franchione at Texas A&M, except that they hire someone else and never even ask permission to talk to Tuberville. Meanwhile, Michigan talks about everyone but Les Miles, who everyone knows is their first choice for the job vacated by Carr. Then, they suddenly ask permission from LSU to talk to Miles, which LSU allows very publicly. But such talks are not to begin until after the championship game today.

Then the LSU AD announces today that a contract for Miles to stay at LSU has been hammered out and is only waiting for Miles signature. Then the coach calls a press conference to issue non-denial denials about Michigan, which translates into, "I'm waiting for the counteroffer after the game, but I want my players to think I'm staying for sure so they won't tank today's game."

Meanwhile, Tommy Tuberville goes hunting in Arkansas (a scheduled outing for the coach and his assistants) and an Arkansas media outlet promptly announces he's accepted the job to Replace Nutt. Tuberville, on the other hand, issues his own non-denial denials and continues working on his new contract. Initially, the sticking point is supposed to be facilities and longer contracts and higher pay for his assistants. Now it seems that none of that was at issue; he wants to remove the buyout restrictions in his contract. In other words, he wants Nick Saban's deal.

And Nick Saban is going back to LSU, even though there's no job opening there.

Still with me?

With Saban, it's been all highs and lows with nothing in between. Early on, Bama fans were ready to have him declared a saint (only because Savior might have been presumptuous). Now, he's down to getting lukewarm accolades, (keep in mind, though, that Mr. Finebaum expected Rich Rodriguez to be coaching Alabama this season) basically saying, "Well, he's better than Mike Shula." Heck, anyone would be better than Mike Shula. Well, maybe not Charlie Weis, but most anyone would be.

As usual, yours truly takes a more balanced view.

The problem here is that colleges keep signing coaches to ridiculous long-term contracts when they are willing to drop them in a heartbeat if they have a single off year. The end result is that we have colleges, which should be spending money on education, instead paying people not to coach for them. On the other hand, we also have coaches signing contracts that they have no business of honoring if something better comes along.

Coaches should be signed to one-year contracts with an automatic option year that can be voided by either party. If the school doesn't pick up the option, they owe the coach a year's salary (or some severance amount). If the coach doesn't want the option, he's free to do whatever he wants.

Please don't start moaning about coaches needing security. Their willingness to switch jobs would indicate that security isn't one of their major concerns; making big bucks, on the other hand is. Colleges, meanwhile, are worried they may go a year without a national championship. This way, they can change coaches every year if they want. It's a simple yet elegant solution that leaves everyone doing exactly what they're doing now.

I may copyright the idea.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bummed Out in Bama -- Again

I know you're going to ask me, 'What are you going to do about it?' ... And I'm going to tell you right now, I'm not sure. ~ Nick Saban

Coach Saban was coaching the Dolphins when he said that, but I suspect at some point he will be saying the same thing about the horrid finish of the Crimson Tide. Unlike Alabama, I finished on a high note, picking Auburn (albeit reluctantly there at the end) to win the Iron Bowl. The question is, "How broken is Bama?" The answer is probably, "Not very." After all, they played some excellent games, but they also played some stinkers. Ironically, they played their worst games after playing their best game. The loss to LSU was a good effort by the Tide, despite the ugly finish, but the subsequent losses to Mississippi State and --gasp-- La-Monroe were simply miserable.

And the team did little to redeem itself against Auburn.

I have some suggestions for the coach, not that he would or should care what I think. First, get a real quarterback. John Parker Wilson has the happiest feet this side of Gene Kelly and makes the worst decisions this side of anyone named Bush. Obviously, the Tide doesn't have anyone better, or Coach Saban would have played him. One thing about college football is that coaches will switch quarterbacks at the drop of a helmet. Some teams even have regular rotations, and it seems to work just fine. So one can presume that if the coach had had someone else, he would have used him.

I suspect there will someone backing up Wilson next year who will be able to actually play.

Second, it appears that the Mike Shula malaise infected the Bama players pretty thoroughly, because this was a team that flat gave up. The Iron Bowl was not pretty, but Auburn was clearly the team out there that thought it could win. Alabama players just never seemed to have the intensity -- except for the odd personal foul to help out Auburn. Saban started a couple of freshmen on the offensive line; expect a lot of freshmen and sophomores to be playing next year.

Finally, Coach Saban needs to avoid the Charlie Weis disease. Weiss has forgotten how to teach players. Worse he's surrounded himself with NFL-type assistants who also don't understand that these guys they're coaching don't know all the stuff their professional players did. Saban wasn't gone from the college ranks long, but, given the disciplinary lapses and the general inability to execute fundamentals displayed by Alabama this year, it appears that the coach was expecting more maturity on the part of the players.

Sorry, Coach, but you've got to be the stern parental figure again.

I can't leave the subject of college football with a passing reference to the coaching carousel. To no one's surprise, Ed Orgeron was handed his walking papers. It's hard to imagine who would actually want the Ole Miss job given how badly Orgeron mangled an already down program. And look for Les Miles to turn up in Michigan. He's used up all the Saban recruits at the skill positions, so he's now either got to prove he can recruit or head for Michigan to use Les Carr's recruits for a few years. Given his demonstrated ability to make dopey game decisions, Miles would be welcome in Michigan -- by Ohio State fans.

And then there's that A&M vacancy hanging over the heads of Auburn fans. Tommy Tuberville has most recently said that he and his assistants will stay at Auburn as long as they're wanted, which would normally constitute a denial-denial, except that there are those amongst the trustees who don't want him or his assistants. His upcoming meeting with the brass at Auburn should be interesting. My guess is that he'll stay, but he won't be getting any further extensions if he doesn't improve on this year's performance.

Oh, and let us not forget Bobby Petrino. The whole Falcons thing has turned into a nightmare, very little of which is due to Petrino. I suspect that every major opening over the next couple of months will have a Petrino angle to it.

Which would be perfectly normal, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hearing From A Different Gallaudet Voice

Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf. ~Native American Indian Proverb
I received a detailed comment to my most recent commentary on the goings-on at Gallaudet University, which was followed by another post from the same person with a link to a very detailed open letter written by a Gallaudet faculty member, Dr. Robert Johnson (who, I note is himself a hearing individual). I thank the poster for that link because it's the first detailed commentary I've seen by someone on the student-faculty side of the issue. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in the situation at Gallaudet read Dr. Johnson's letter.

Having read it, I can honestly say that I haven't changed my mind. The mob won, and Gallaudet has serious problems. Dr. Johnson's letter says two things loud and clear: First, the administration of the university has a serious communication problem; second, if they did communicate, it is unlikely that the faculty and protesters (a portion of which apparently aren't even students at the school) would pay any attention to them.

Dr. Johnson is obsessed with the apparent power and genius of the Gallaudet Public Relations department. Allow me to say if the publicity I've been reading is indicative of good PR, I don't want to see a bad example. The obvious rejoinder to this is that I've been taken in by the clever subtlety of the PR machine. All I can say is that I was a student during the protest years of the 1960's, and I've seen schools handle publicity well and handle it badly. I know the diference.

Another one of Dr. Johnson's recurring themes is that the Board of Trustees should be more involved in the processes. This is a mistake. Auburn University is the classic example of trustees micro-managing. Not only did the board involve itself in coaching decisions in athletics, but their meddling in administrative and academic matters resulted in Auburn being place on academic probation by SACS. Gallaudet has enough problems without adding a meddling board.

He is upset that the administration and the board dislike the public airing of internal dissenting opinion. Surprise, surprise. Dr. Johnson should take a job in the private sector where such airing is reason for dismissal. He further complains that the school officials are worried about how Congress might react to such opinions. The school is receiving $100 million per year from the federal government. Without that money, I should think there is no Gallaudet, no school dedicated to the deaf. That should give anyone pause about airing dirty laundry.

When it comes to the shutting down of classes, Dr. Johnson sees no problem because they were only shut down for three days. I can't agree with that attitude for a moment. Shutting down an academic institution is just plain wrong, and for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there is no justification for that action. If students wish to boycott classes, that's their right. To prevent others from going is just wrong.

Dr. Johnson says he saw no act of violence or intimidation (football players barring students from entering the grounds is apparently just friendly persuasion to him). Yet, he mentions President Jordan telling him of vandalism and intimidation, but Dr. Johnson made no effort to confirm or debunk the statement. This is disingenuous.

He finally gets to Dr. Fernandes on page 14 of his document. Basically, he decries her lack of qualifications because she has few publications, if any, in peer-reviewed journals. Her crime, aside from being skilled in PR, a hanging offense to Dr. Johnson, is that she is “a professional administrator.” He says the press has described her as a “scholar of ASL”, although I've not seen her characterized as such. He also seems to place the blame for the lowering of academic standards and declining enrollment at her door, then at Dr. Jordan's. He mentions that Dr. Fernandes championed a program for educational change which fizzled. Interestingly, he offers no indication of why except to say that, “she gave in to resistance to change.” From whom? Perhaps from some of the constituencies who feel that chaos is the only way to appoint a president of a university?

There's a line about a meeting between Dr. Fernandes and the faculty on October 9 stating that she face a “not-yet-opposed” faculty, yet when I first wrote about this in May, it was reported that the faculty was largely against her appointment. Dr. Fernandes was not a favorite from the outset.

Here's what I glean from everything I've read:
  • Gallaudet has some of the worst communication I've ever seen, and I've seen some pretty awful examples. Neither the administration nor the faculty are willing to talk to each other in a constructive manner. The students are caught in the middle of this mess.
  • Too many outsiders seem to be taking part in the mess.
  • If Gallaudet is going to appoint a deaf president, they are going to have a difficult time finding anyone with the qualifications Dr. Johnson wants.
  • The school is becoming so marginalized that deaf people are finding other alternatives for education.
  • ”Audism” is being used as an excuse for deeper problems at this school.
Yes, dear commenter, I did look up audism. For the rest of you, the term “audism” was brought into use by one Harlan Lane from an unpublished paper by Tom Humphries (for more information, look here and here). According to Humphries' original definition, audism is “an attitude that people who hear and speak, or have good English are superior.” Basically, audism is racism directed against the profoundly deaf who cannot communicate verbally readily; audists can be either hearing or deaf. The claim would be that Dr. Fernandes, Dr. Jordan, and the Board of Trustees itself is audistic.

Now, if, in fact, the administration of Dr. Jordan and Dr. Fernandes contends that those who can articulate clearly and read lips (or use whatever other means of communication is available) are superior to other deaf persons, then they are most certainly ill-fitted to lead Gallaudet. However, it is also just possible that those who are crying “audism” are engaging in a sort of reverse racism themselves.

What I see here is a great deal of fingerpointing with few suggestions for real improvement. It appears that attempts to initiate change are met with resistance by one faction or another (or perhaps all of them). It further appears that there is no give-and-take between the faculty and the administration. Each side digs in their heels, realizing that, as long as the Congressional funding comes rolling in, they really don't have to change a thing. The casualties are the students who came to the institution hoping to benefit from the culture, the opportunities, and the resources that should be made available to them.

As Stephen Stills once sang, “Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.”

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Football Peeves

I am delighted to have you play football. I believe in rough, manly sports. But I do not believe in them if they degenerate into the sole end of any one's existence. I don't want you to sacrifice standing well in your studies to any over-athleticism; and I need not tell you that character counts for a great deal more than either intellect or body in winning success in life. Athletic proficiency is a mighty good servant, and like so many other good servants, a mighty bad master. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

A couple of football-related gripes ...

Lost in the midst of all the foofraw about spawn-of-the-devil Bill Belichick's "cheating" (not to mention the lack of foofraw about the NFL subsequently destroying all the evidence) was a more important issue. Why do coaches feel the need to control every aspect of the game?

I mean, this game was originally played with quarterbacks calling their own plays and someone on defense, normally the middle linebacker, calling the defenses. It has degenerated to the point where the NFL placed microphones in the helmets of quarterbacks so the coach could talk to them directly.

Momentary digression: This is what makes the whole "stealing defensive" signals thing so ridiculous. The microphone is turned off with 15 seconds left on the play clock. By the time a team decoded the defensive signals and called a new play to take advantage of it, there probably wouldn't be enough time to get the information to the hapless quarterback awaiting his words of truth and wisdom form the god-on-the-sidelines. Now back to your regularly-scheduled griping.

I blame all this sideline control on Paul Brown. Brown was a great head coach who formed the Cleveland Browns (immodestly named after himself) and led them out of the old All American Conference into the NFL where they won championships and contended for years (before Art Modell decided to dismantle them as an excuse to move to Baltimore; but that's another rant). Brown, despite having one of the most cerebral quarterbacks in history, Otto Graham, sent in every offensive play, shuttling players in and out of the game to deliver his calls.

Now, coaches had sent in plays ever since football started, but they tended to do so only in critical situations or when the sidelines or coaches up in their box saw something that the quarterback might be missing. It was Brown who took sideline play-calling to the extreme. Because he was successful, other teams decided it must be the coach calling the plays that made them that way. The fact that Brown had an excellent eye for talent and had built a team with some very good players seemed lost to those other decision-makers.

Along the way, as coaches made the offenses look more complicated (they weren't but they looked like it) it took too long to give the information to a lineman and send him to relay all this to a quarterback correctly, so signals started. Defenses still relied on their players to call strategy, although situational substitution allowed coaches to pretty much control that aspect as well.

Now, of course, a player can't spit on the field without checking with the head coach first.

The formations aren't really all the complicated. Watch a game and count just how many really different sets the offense takes. If you see more than five or six, you're probably watching Division III, where teams still have some imagination. As for those 700-page playbooks that some teams claim to have, apparently they have a lot of duplication in them because teams run the same plays game in and game out.

Let's face it. You don't need a few hundred offensive plays to win games. What you need to do is run the right play at the right time and execute properly. Vince Lombardi once said that he could tell the opposition what play he was going to run and still gain yardage on the play if his team ran the play to perfection.

The real problem here is that coaches seem to think that, since they are getting all this money these days, the fans must be coming out to see them, not the players. It's worse in college than in the pros, but it's evident in both.

You want to stop "cheating" like Belichick's? Make signs, microphones, semaphores, mirrors, smoke signals, you name it, illegal. Let those college-educated men on the field make most of the decisions. If the NCAA and the NFL want to speed up games, they might be stunned to find out how much faster a team can get to the line and run a play when the players don't spend 30 seconds staring at the bench waiting for Coach Einstein to decide what play from page 635 of the playbook he wants to call.

Then there's the nonsense about paying college players.

Paying college players is so stupid I barely know where to begin. You've heard the moan. The schools and the NCAA are making so much money off the labors of these man-children on the field, boo-hoo-hoo, they should be forced to return some of it to them.

Bullpucky.

First of all, schools aren't getting rich off these programs. Basically, football makes enough to support itself and some other sports programs, but I suspect, generally speaking, that a lot of Division IA schools are happy to be breaking even. As to the big payouts from bowl games, keep in mind that Texas, I think it was, actually lost money on a bowl game, thanks to the expenses of travel, goodies for players, and the like.

Secondly, colleges are educational institutions, not sports franchises. People, including university administrators, seem to have completely lost sight of this, a fact made obvious by news like this. It's bad enough that private schools would be expected to squander funds to pay salaries to football players (and by extension basketball players; minor sports would, no doubt, be exempted). But, the idea of state-funded schools paying for players using my tax money is positively abominable.

Don't even get me started on taxpayer-funded playing facilities. And don't give me that guff about athletic budgets being separate from academic funding. I've discussed that before.

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, college players are paid. They get scholarships which are worth tens of thousands of dollars. Those that actually get a degree will be able to parlay that and connections with boosters into better earning potential than someone who never got into college in the first place.

We need to remember that sports used to be about athletes, not coaches and not money. That's old-school thinking, I know.

Well, sometimes old-school isn't so bad.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Belichick and Bama

What about football? Is it a sport or a concussion? ~Jim Murray

A couple of disparate items, connected by football.

Closing the Belichick Incident


I think everyone is about done bellyaching about New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his video cameras. At least they've moved on to accusing others of similar evil deeds, like Pete Carroll, who to my knowledge never coached under Belichick, and Nick Saban, who did (more on him below). I forget what Carroll was accused of, but the accusation was made solely because he coached the Patriots at one time. Apparently just being associated with the Patriots is enough to mark you for life.

At any rate, the NFL demanded and received all the tapes and "materials" from New England and promptly announced that there would be no further punishments. But, I was rather intrigued by the fact that the league destroyed all those "materials" about as fast as they got them.

Think about this for a moment. Everyone is up in arms about the wicked Belichick and his marauding, lying, cheating, stealing Patriots. He's made these awful illegal video recordings that have enabled them to win all those games over the last few years, "cheating" Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (according to players from those teams) from their rightful titles. So the league demands all the tapes. New England delivers them with an alacrity that would indicate that either a) there weren't very many of them, or b) they had them all boxed up in a corner someplace. If the former, it doesn't seem like they gathered a lot of intelligence in the process. If the latter, it doesn't sound like they were looking at them very much.

But, far more amazingly, the NFL, upon receipt of all this damning evidence, promptly destroys it, with no comment, no "See? Here's how the evil Belichick was cheating". Boom, straight to the dumpster.

Do you people get it now? Belichick violated a stadium game-time procedure, not a football rule. There is no rule against stealing signs, so the Patriots couldn't have "cheated" by doing so. What they did was take sideline pictures of coaches signaling and maybe used that to figure out signs. Of course, they would have had to figure out which of three coaches or players who were flapping their arms like chickens in a flea storm were actually giving the sign. Then they would have to hope that those signs didn't get changed by the time they played that team again.

At least, we think that was what they were doing, because we'll never know since the NFL conveniently torched the goods.

Here's what I think: The Patriots violated a procedure put in place to ensure that NFL Films was the only entity on the sidelines taping or filming the action. What they were doing with it was unclear. Personally, I think they were checking out injured players or something. Whatever they were doing was not against any rule of professional football.

Get over it. The NFL has.

Bama Predictions Redux

First, let me mention the comedy of the Saban connection to the Belichick incident. During the week prior to the Georgia game with Alabama, Georgia coach Mark Richt closed practice. Now coaches closing practice is not exactly a rare thing. In fact, very few practices are open after the first 15-30 minutes, during which the press can watch players do stretching exercises. But Richt made a big deal about it. Now, he didn't say anything, but reports were picked up by the local sports shows that the reason he did it was that Nick Saban used to be an assistant coach to Bill Belichick, so he might be a low-down dirty spy too.

This is funny enough, but it becomes a laugher when you consider this. Virginia Tech played Georgia in a bowl game some time ago (the Sugar Bowl, I think). Frank Beamer accused "someone" of spying on his practices leading up to his game. Now, the only "someone" who would be interested in Tech's practices would be --well, whaddya know -- Georgia, coached at the time by one Mark Richt.

Anyway, what I really wanted to brag, er, talk about was the prediction I made for Alabama's season. As you can see in the linked article, I forecast a 9-3 record for the Crimson Tide. At this point, I predicted they would be 3-1 with one loss, that to Georgia.

Bingo -- so far.

In looking over the remainder of my picks, I'm not as sure about some of them as I was earlier. Actually seeing the teams in action does offer a different perspective (for example, ranking Michigan number 5 in the preseason polls). Now, for the record, the picks I made are the ones I'm going to live with, but I am willing to admit I'd change a couple if I were doing the balance of the season now.

For example, I'd seriously consider giving Bama a win against Florida State. FSU looks seriously mediocre, and Jimbo Fisher may not have the tools to take advantage of what he knows about Saban's defense. LSU, on the other hand, may be able to overcome Les Miles just because they seem to have buckets of talent. Alabama will be hard-pressed to pull out the upset.

Those two games would be a wash, with the team still finishing 9-3. However, it's just possible that the Auburn game might need re-evaluation. Auburn has had a rough year of it, with a weak offensive line, no Bill Lester, and a very confused Brandon Cox. They could be had. Of course, Lester will be back next week, and Cox looked very good against New Mexico, but the team was pretty uneven last year and seems to still be having trouble finding itself.

Of course, Nick Saban's defense has been pretty uneven itself, and John Parker Wilson is a continual accident waiting to happen, so that game is a toss-up.

All in all, I still feel comfortable about a 9-3 season, which would be a considerable improvement for the Tide and a probable harbinger of even better things to come. They look to be a team on the way up.

Of course, a lot of folks were saying that about Notre Dame not long ago.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Crime and Punishment

'Tis my opinion every man cheats in his own way, and he is only honest who is not discovered. ~ Susannah Centlivre

According to all the hue and cry going around about what an evil, wicked, awful person Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, is. Oh, people are also griping about his getting nailed by the NFL for violating a rule involving videotaping the opposition sidelines.

Before we go too far, let it be know that I am a rules person. I think rules are necessary in sports and in society as a whole to maintain order and some sort of level of fairness. I don't think much, though, of dumb rules. And I'm particularly vexed when a rule is said to have been violated when it doesn't exist.

What Coach Belichick did was have a video camera on his sidelines taping the coaches on the opposing side while they signaled in their defensive plays. The rule he violated is contained on page 105 of the NFL's Game Operations Manual, which says, "No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game."

I'd link you to the manual, but I can't find it on the web, but the line has been well quoted all over the place, like here. Note that this is not the NFL Rule Book, which covers the actual rules of play; it's a manual of operations that includes such goodies as how many footballs the teams have to provide. Nowhere in this manual or in the NFL Rule Book does it say that it is illegal to steal signals.

In other words, if you put a guy in row 1 of the upper deck with a video camera, he can record whatever he wants.

Of course, it is widely reported that the NFL head of football operations, Ray Anderson, sent a letter out saying, "Video taping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game." Notice that this isn't what the OFFICIAL manual says.

Here's my problem: What is so bloody awful about stealing signs? If teams simply shouted the information out to their players, would there be a requirement not to listen? Signaling is essentially an unregulated part of the game, so decrypting those signs is not against any rule. It is, in fact, part of the game.

I've heard this argument in baseball for years, where some managers get all bent out of shape because someone on the other team has figured out the third-base-coaching signals. Now it's gravitated to football. It doesn't make sense. The entire reason for signals to fool the other team. The nature of baseball requires that signs be used because it would take too long for coaches to keep running down to the batter and to the runners to say, "The hit-and-run is on."

In football, signs are completely unnecessary. You want to send in a play? Send in a player. Football players used to be smart enough to call their own plays on offense and defense. For some reason, coaches now feel they have to control every single element of play. Okay, then that's the price you're going to pay.

What's funny is that I suspect the rule originally had another purpose altogether. It could have been to prevent a team putting hidden cameras in the coaches' booth or the opposing locker room to pick up strategy information. Technology would make that an easy task; in fact, I'd suspect it's been done and is being done by any number of teams. But the most likely reason for the rule was to protect NFL property. It's not the teams they worry about; it's to prevent anyone from taking images of the game that could be used without NFL permission.

In fact, it used to be common for local news outfits to put a cameraman down on the sidelines to take shots to use for their evening broadcasts, especially if they weren't an affiliate of the network carrying the home team broadcast. I'm sure the NFL didn't like that.

Why the NFL decided that signal-stealing was evil isn't clear to me. Also unclear is why, if signal-stealing is so evil, there isn't a prohibition against it to begin with. Well, actually that isn't so unclear. If a team is thought to be stealing signals, the opposing team has a simple alternative: change the signs. That could make for some exceedingly embarrassing play-calling.

In fact, the whole idea of stealing defensive signals is ridiculous to begin with. Let's say I know your team's signals. You've got multiple people delivering those signs, so I've got to figure out who is live. Assuming I do that, and assuming you never change your signs, I now have to adjust my play call and relay to my quarterback before his radio gets shut off (I think that happens with 15 seconds left on the play clock). It seems to me that a sign-stealer would be easy to mess up.

Moreover, it does appear that everyone and his dog was aware of New England's habit of taping the sidelines. So what took so long to complain? As if that isn't strange enough, the coach who brought this to a head was Eric Mangini, whose New York Jets got their helmets handed to them by Coach Belichick's Patriots in the NFL opening week. But, it gets funnier. It seems Eric Mangini used to be an assistant coach for --wait for it-- Bill Belichick. And, according to some reports I've heard on radio, the Patriots were doing the video thing when Coach Mangini was in New England.

The guy's been gone for, what, three years? And he complains now after a butt-whipping? Sounds more like sour grapes to me. The NFL's reaction seems more like embarrassed over-reaction, given that the taping seems to have been an open secret. And the moral indignation of fans and newscasters is just plain silly.

I don't care much for the Patriots in general or Bill Belichick in particular, but I have to admit that he's done a good job picking players and coaching them. To say that his "legacy" is tarnished by alleged sign-stealing or that victories should be taken away because of it is absurd. A Pittsburgh player and a Philadelphia player who got beaten by New England in the Super Bowl both seemed to think they would have won if the Patriots hadn't been "cheating."

Let's see. The Patriots didn't play those teams during the year, so they couldn't have taped their defensive signals to know what they were. Are these players telling us that their signals were so simple that they could decrypt them during the game? If so, video taping was hardly necessary.

Bill Belichick broke a rule that has its roots in protecting NFL Films more than in worrying about "the integrity of the game." He's also a bit of a jerk, like most successful head coaches. But let's not get all moral about sign-stealing being the equivalent of mass murder. Once and for all, everybody, stealing signs is not against the rules. Never has been. Probably never will be.

That's probably why the NFL came up with such a Mickey-Mouse penalty. The fines are a blip in the finances of the coach and the team. The Patriots have TWO first round draft choices, so taking one of them is no big deal. Ultimately, Commissioner Roger "Judge Roy Bean" Goodell, who prides himself on being the Law East, West, North, AND South of the Pecos, put on a good show but even he knows that all that was broken here was a procedural rule.

I wonder how much he would have fined them if they didn't have enough footballs for the game?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I Am Blog - Fear Me!

When the political columnists say 'Every thinking man' they mean themselves, and when candidates appeal to 'Every intelligent voter' they mean everybody who is going to vote for them. ~ Franklin Adams
The 2/3 of a person who regularly reads this space is aware of my ongoing bemusement with the media's fear and loathing of blogs.

The latest pundit to have hives over blogs appears to be Ellen Goodman, who brings her own brand of hysteria to the discussion. She is most concerned with political bloggers, who according to Ms. Goodman are all Democrats. Evidently, aside from not understanding blogs, she doesn't know how to use Google (tm), because there do seem to be a few zillion conservatives out there blogging as well as a few zillion liberals. There are also one or two middle-of-the-roaders, but who would read them?

Ms. Goodman's problem though is that these liberal bloggers are all white middle-aged men. And those rotten ole men are even having the audacity to link to blogs that are also written by -- gasp -- men! Worst of all, these male-dominated blogs are predominantly being read by --oh, the horror--white males around the age of 43 making $80,000 a year.

Right. And this blog is read mostly by left-handed transexuals who majored in pottery at predominantly west coast universities. Maybe it is; that would explain the lousy readership rate.

"Is it any surprise," wails Ms. Goodman, "that Hillary gets only 9 percent in most online-activist polls, while garnering more than 40 percent in traditional polls?" Frankly, madam, given the long-proven wild inaccuracy of online polls, it would not be surprising if Senator Clinton (with whom I am not on a first-name basis) got 90% on those polls, or 50% or any other number you care to name. The surprise here is that any reasonably intelligent person would put any faith in polls that have no scientific sampling basis in them at all.

Besides, what would you expect since all those 43-year-old middle class white males are the only ones participating in the polls? Aren't they smack-dab in the middle of the Conservative demographic? Which sort of begs the question, what are they doing reading liberal blogs anyway?

As to the authorship of those political blogs, as we all know an author's persona on the web may have nothing whatsoever to do with who that person actually is. For example, I have always portrayed myself as a middle-aged, overweight, klutzy Hungarian male. In reality, I am a twenty-five year-old Nobel Laureate with a body like Charles Atlas (when he was alive, not now) and an IQ of 236. Well, no, I'm actually the dumpy, klutzy guy, but I could be the other guy for all anyone knows.

I quit reading print political columnists years ago because I finally figured out that, when in possession of the facts, I could figure things out as well or better than they do. The trick is getting possession of the facts, something that columnists frequently avoid doing. Let's face it. Conservative columnists are often mean-spirited, totally ignorant of basic freedoms, and willing to sacrifice anyone who makes less money than they do. Liberal columnists are out to get anyone who makes more money than they do, refuse to admit that any improvements in the quality of life have occurred in the last century, and find so many false bogeymen under their beds that the real ones completely escape their notice.

Political blogs are the same except even more polarized. The funny bit with blogs is that they garner their facts by linking to other blogs. It's rather like the Bermuda Triangle books, which use are their "source" for facts other books on the Bermuda Triangle, all of which trace back to some initial book whose author simply made stuff up. If you can actually find original sources, you find that those "source" books, like political bloggers, have played fast and loose with reality, when not going into fantasy land altogether.

I have a hard time understanding why Ms. Goodman is so panicked. It would strike me that the same sorts of people who read political mainstream media commentators are the ones reading political blogs. So, she and her brethren and sistern should be able to overcome any political incorrectness spread by these blogs.

Besides, if she doesn't like it, she can always start her own blog.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stupidities

A word to the wise ain't necessary, it's the stupid ones who need the advice. ~ Bill Cosby

It's almost unfair to discuss stupidity. There's so much of it about that it makes an easy target for the ridicule it so richly deserves. However, some stupidities need to get their just due for going over and above the call of duty.

Everyone has heard about Michael Vick copping a plea to his dog fighting activities and getting suspended from the NFL. Now I could go on for pages about how idiotic it is to put a $130 million contract (not to mention millions more of endorsement money) at risk to enjoy participating in sadistic and cruel activities. But everyone has been doing that, so let's consider the NAACP's reaction.

I am grown weary with having watched the rich and famous getting free passes or slaps on the wrist when they commit crimes. I would have imagined that the NAACP has the same feeling. Evidently, though, if it's a rich black person, the rules change. According to R. L. White, the president of the NAACP Atlanta chapter, we should all be concerned with Mr. Vick's rehabilitation. Furthermore, the NFL and sponsor's should not abandon poor Mr. Vick at this critical juncture. Please note that these are the same people who were telling us not to judge Mr. Vick prematurely. Now that he has admitted his guilt, we should continue not to judge him.

Interestingly, Mr. White doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about the guys that Mr. Vick bankrolled, who copped their own pleas early on and sold Mr. Vick down the river. Of course, they aren't millionaires, either. He does think that we should regard Mr. Vick's own pleas as a matter of convenience to Mr. Vick, not an admission of guilt. Now, history is rife with examples of guys faced with my-word-against-yours testimony who have gotten off at trial. For Mr. Vick to plead guilty is a powerful reason to suspect that the other felons were delivering some evidence that could be substantiated by others.

Let's keep in mind that Mr. Vick is a millionaire already and will still be one upon release from his jail term. I doubt seriously that he will be turning up at Salvation Army stores to buy his wardrobe after getting out of the slammer.

As if that wasn't egregious enough, Mr. White wants us to think that had Mr. Vick killed a human being, it would not have gotten as big a play in the media than killing dogs did. Trust me, Mr. White, murder would have gotten some seriously big press.

The clincher is this statement from Mr. White: "His crime is, it was a dog." No, Mr. White, his crime is that he was a brutal, sadistic human being who enjoyed setting other creatures upon each other and killed those who couldn't perform. You know, the kind of thing Romans used to do to gladiators, all of whom were human, some of whom were Africans.

And let us not forget a time in this country where the murder of an African American would have dismissed by saying, "Well, it was only a n----r."

Mr. White has demonstrated something I keep bringing up and that is that all humans, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity can be really stupid when they put their minds to it.

But the growing self-centered attitudes of modern adults seems to have hit new highs or lows, depending on your point of view. The other morning, I heard a set of tips from the Weather Channel that would indicate that a growing number of people should not have children. The tips were aimed at things parents should do to avoid forgetting that they have a child in the rear seat. That's right, dear reader. Apparently there is a growing problem with Darwin Award candidates going off and leaving their infant children in the car seat in the rear of the car, with the result that the child is left to slowly bake to death in the summer heat.

I've heard of people leaving children in the car to suffer in the heat out of sheer laziness or even out of some misplaced sense of "discipline" but I have never heard of anyone claiming they simply forgot the kid. How stupid would you have to be to do this? How absorbed in your cellphone call or iPod tune do you have to be for the existence of your own child to slip your feeble little mind?

I only remember two of the tips the Weather Channel gave because by that time the wife (who was watching with me) and I had gone into shock. Tip1 was to "put something you need in the back seat," the idea apparently being that if you left, say, your valuable MP3 player back there, when you went to retrieve it, you might notice the kid in the car seat being in your way.

The other tip was to "get into the habit of opening the back door." Someone too stupid to remember their own child is going to open a car door and forget why they're doing it in the first place. Someone this stupid probably forgets to breathe every now and then, too.

As I said, I certainly haven't heard of someone claiming to forget a kid in the back seat, but if someone's done this, stupid isn't a strong enough term for them. But, whether the claim has been made or not, the Weather Channel deserves some sort of stupid award for thinking that anyone that stupid who pay attention to them -- and for insulting the intelligence of viewers who have an ounce of brains.

You know, the Weather Channel is in Atlanta and R. L. White is the president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP.

Is there something in the air over there?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Statue-tory Matters

Horsemanship through the history of all nations has been considered one of the highest accomplishments. You can't pass a park without seeing a statue of some old codger on a horse. ~ Will Rogers

People have weird attitudes toward statues. For instance, when I was going to school in Cleveland, I used to regularly pass by a statue of Some Great Man which portrayed him with arm upraised. He may have had something in that hand once upon a time, but, when I was there, it was empty. Well, it was empty most of the time. Sometimes he held a beer can aloft, until the city maintenance people spotted it and removed it.

At the other extreme, people take out their frustrations on statues. The Cleveland Museum of Art has a casting of Rodin's Thinker, originally cast by the sculptor, at the main entrance. In 1970, some loon or loons decided that, as a sign of protest, to place a bomb at the base of the statue. No one was injured by the late-night blast, but the statue was irreparably damaged. After some agonizing about what to do, the Museum put the statue back, blasted base and all, as a symbol of the endurance of art and the stupidity of man.

Then there's the Rodin figure, Jean d'Aire, Nu, a copy of which resides at the Birmingham Museum of Art. He stands in an enclosed exterior place and is an impressive work (as you can see from this image from a copy in Dallas), especially given that it was created as a study to be used to develop figures for a more famous work, called The Burghers of Calais. For some reason, there were some complaints about his anatomical correctness. It seems that some women were caressing his privates (which based on the above image, were not particularly impressive). Other women were distressed by this and demanded that Jean be, well, neutered. So he was, sort of. He still has testicles but is missing his other equipment.

Interestingly, the same women who so objected to the nude male figure had no problem with a rather corpulent reclining nude female figure in the same area. Draw your own conclusions.

In San Diego recently, a statue of a surfer was unveiled, which, for reasons which are not entirely clear based on the one picture I've seen, was considered an eyesore. Some of the citizenry decided to "improve" Surfer Dude by dressing him in a pink skirt and pink-and-white bikini top. Logically enough, realizing how embarrassing this would be to the statue, they decided to hide his true identity by adding a one of those "masked marvel" wrestling masks. You can see the result here.

Poor defenseless statue.

However, the prize for best statue dressing has to go to the phantom statue draper in Marion, Alabama. Seems that a local convenience store owner decided that a statue of Venus Di Milo would spruce up his gas pumps. So he went to his local statuary seller and found amongst the gnomes, angels, and gargoyles a copy of the classic Venus, complete with no arms and not much in the way of clothing. He placed her out front between a couple of the aforementioned gas pumps. That's when the fun started.

After the statue had been up a while, someone started coming by at night and dressing the statue up. It started modestly enough with a feather boa, but it escalated into a fully clothed Venus. About the only thing Venus didn't wear was blue jeans (there was a song Venus in Blue Jeans; very clever those reporters).Then it got weird.

Venus got pregnant.

One day, she was found to be in maternity dress, with a pillow to simulate her condition. As the days passed, the pillow grew. Recently, Venus was delivered of a bouncing baby Cabbage Patch Kid (or something similar to those creepy things), perched in a child carrier hanging on Venus' back.

Someone is spending a lot of money here. No one knows who that someone is; the owner claims it isn't he, although he certainly gets some drop-in business thanks to Venus' ever-changing wardrobe. One witness claimed to have seen a woman come by in the night to do the deed but couldn't provide any identification.

Now Marion is a small town, so it seems hard to believe that the phantom dresser could remain anonymous. She does seem to be clever about avoiding detection, though.

I'm not sure if statue dressing is about to become a new fad. Lord knows, now that the Internet has got hold of the idea, it may become the Next Big Thing. Apparently wanting to be on top the wave, the guy who sold the Venus did want everyone to know that he had another classical statue, a small copy of Michaelangelo's David, available for just $125.

You know, just in case you want to have a statue-dressing flash mob.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Blame it on Kahn

There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror. ~Orson Welles

It's not often you can look at a disaster that has taken years to unfold and say, "And there's the guy who did it." The disaster I'm considering is the U.S. airline industry.

Setting aside Southwest, whom we will discuss in a bit, the airline industry has been, if you'll pardon the mixed transportation metaphor, a train wreck. Delta and United have done the Chapter 11 thing; Northwester still is doing it. American managed to wangle concessions out of employees in 2003 to keep themselves alive, but you know that won't last.

To make up for the lack of solvency, the airlines have added a lack of service. Lost luggage, pitiful on-time rates, and whimsical cancellations are all part of air travel today. Thank god, I don't have to any more. We owe this state of affairs in great part to the deregulation of the airlines that occurred in 1978. And for that, you can, in large part, blame Alfred Kahn.

Mr. Kahn was a Cornell economist when he managed to con the gullible members of the Carter administration and the always gullible members of Congress to pass the Airline Deregulation Act. He now chortles about how, thanks to him, ariline fares are so low.

Well, to an extent, they are, although the costs due to improper maintenance, canceled flights, and general inconvenience have to be factored in. When they are, I'm not so sure how cheap flights are.

There is also the problem of "you can't get here from there." The one thing the airlines wanted to do was drop "unprofitable" routes. Deregulation provided the means to do that, meaning that a good number of people now either have to pay absurdly large ticket prices to fly out of someplace like Montgomery, Alabama, or they can't fly at all, having to drive long distances to get to an airport that is on a "profitable" route.

Actually, given the airlines current performance, there don't appear to be any profitable routes.

Southwest, of course, is the notable exception, although even their performance is not what it was. Southwest figured out that you didn't need to serve lousy food on a flight, you don't need separate classes, and you don't need to fly twelve different models of airplane. Oh, and you can fly to some of those places that the big airlines didn't think were "profitable."

Southwest employees are a lot of fun (at least they used to be; as I said, I haven't flown in several years). On one flight, the flight attendant was going through the safety drill that no one listens to. Suddenly, she said, "In the unlikely event that we lose cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead compartments. After you've stopped screaming, plut your on like this."

Okay, now she had everyone's attention. If that wasn't good enough, she continued, "If the person next to you is a child or is acting like one, put your own mask on first, then assist the other person in putting theirs on." It was the only preflight instructions I ever heard that got applause.

She got us on the landing, too. We were flying to Brownsville, Texas, not something most people would do if they had the choice. Evidently, the attendant felt that way, too. As we rolled toward the terminal, she said, "Welcome to Corpus Christi!" The entire airplane went, "WHAT?!!"

On another occasion, I was flying back from Houston to Birmingham, and the takeoff was delayed in Houston, through no fault of the Southwest crew, who were ready to leave on time. We took off about twenty minutes late. We had a stopover in New Orleans. Most of the time, when the plane reaches the terminal, there's this annoying wait, while they get the tunnel thingy lined up and do whatever else they do. Not this time. I swear the attendants had the door open before the plane stopped, forming a human chain to grab the tunnel and drag it to the door. They then politely but firmly got everyone off the plane who was supposed to get off. Then they herded the incoming passengers into the plane, stuffing luggage into the overheads and seating about thirty or so people in record time.

We left the gate in under 15 minutes. We got to Birmingham all of five minutes late; the pilot evidently knew a shortcut. When we landed, the pilot got on the intercom and apologized for being five minutes late!

When was the last time anyone apologized to you for not delivering on a promise? More importantly, when did anyone last apologize to you and take responsibility for something that wasn't their fault?

Southwest mirrors the personality of its boss; the other airlines probably also mirror the personalities of their bosses, who only travel first class and get huge bonuses for coming out of Chapter 11. Perhaps deregulation gave us Southwest, but I think a Southwest could prosper in any environment. I do know that overall, deregulation has given us an embarrassing airline industry.

So let's re-regulate the airlines. This time, though, everyone has to run their outfit like Southwest. Low fares, on-time flights, no movies or plastic food.

Alfred Kahn won't care; he's 89 and stays home now.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Losers

If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out. ~George Brett

Bent

All right, we've had our orgy of Beckham-mania, brought to you mostly by ESPN. Enough. David Beckham earned the first few thou of his multi-millions by playing 12 pathetic minutes in a game where Chelsea beat his Los Angeles Galaxy 1-nil, as they say across the pond.

Let's get something straight right off the bat: David Beckham is essentially over the hill. He looked like it in the World Cup and was such a non-factor for the English national team this year, they told him, "Thanks, but no thanks, old boy. We can muddle on without you." His other team, Real Madrid actually won a championship but fired their coach because he didn't do enough to try to keep Beckham.

Perhaps he realized there wasn't much point.

Understand this: I grew up a soccer fan. My father played the game as a high-schooler in Hungary and knew the game exceedingly well, thank you. My father also though that soccer as played in the various American leagues was pretty pathetic.

You have to realize that in the post-war era, many teams adopted the English style of play, which is very, very defensive. With the exception of the Germans, Argentines, and Brazilians, everyone seems to have adopted the style, which leads to an utterly dull game. I used to watch German soccer on PBS. Two things stood out. First, the German teams play aggressively; even a low scoring game would have a lot of scoring chances. Second, Europeans know how to televise the game, utilizing long shots most of the time so that you can see play developing.

In the good ol' US of A, of course, we are into closeups. Most of the time you can't see anything but the player with the ball. David Beckham can't do much about that, but he will be bringing that awesomely dull English game he's grown up playing to the MSL.

Oh, yeah, he also brought Posh Spice.

Of course, Beckham is in it for the money. If he can find a sucker to pony up $30 mil plus a couple of hundred mil for his endorsement packages, more power to him. But, he ought to at least make an attempt to rehab his ankle. So far, he hasn't even practiced with the team, other than in the Terrell Owens manner of sitting on the sidelines with a trainer. Perhaps a little less time spent taking skin pictures with his wife and a little more time getting some physiotherapy might have been in order.

American soccer leagues have tried bringing in big names past their prime (Pele and Beckenbauer come to mind). There was always a surge of interest, followed by the same old crowds made up of family, friends, and a few passersby. I'm not the only one who feels that this whole Beckham thing will do little or nothing to help the pathetic state of American professional soccer. Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times does a very nice job of summing it up:

"At least he'll have our attention until Lindsay Lohan's next rehab visit. After that, I'm making no promises."
 


Broken

There was a lot of todo about how the Philadelphia Phillies reached the 10,000 loss milestone last week. That is, the Phils have lost 10,000 major league baseball games since their inception in 1883. Now, a lot of sports types had a lot of fun with that, but I couldn't help thinking that their have been some teams that went for long periods without doing very well. The classic example to anyone my age would be the Washington Senators (who are now the Minnesota Twins; don't confuse them with the Senators that ended up as the Texas Rangers). The Senators were bad, really bad, for a really long time. A joke that has probably been around since Will Rogers used to go, "Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

That, brother, is institutionalized losing.

Then there's the Cubs, the lovable losers. Or the Indians. Or the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles). I mean really now, how far ahead (or behind, depending on your point of view) could the Phillies be?

So, after a bit of searching, I located this lovely site (looks like a must for any baseball stat freak) that had, in a nice concise table the all-time records of all the major league teams. After a perusal of the records, I came to one inescapable conclusion.

The Phillies are that bad.

They have the worst win percentage of any of the long-time teams. Only the Rangers, Rockies, Padres, and Devil Rays are worse, but they haven't been around very long (and the Rangers were owned for a while by George W. Bush, so they had an unfair additional burden to carry).

As for my other candidates for mediocrity, only the Cubs are "close" to the Phillies--and they're 575 losses back! It would take them 5 years of losing 115 games a year to catch the Phils, and that's assuming that the Phils didn't lose any games.

The team closes to the Phillies was actually a surprise to me -- Atlanta. The Braves have lost 9686 games to the Phils 10003, a mere 317 games behind. I suppose the success of the last 10 or 15 years for the Braves has led me to forget that, prior to leaving Boston, they were pretty awful. But, then, the Phillies really haven't been that bad in my lifetime. I can remember Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn during the 50's and 60's. I can also remember the legendary 1964 collapse, which I reminisced about here. But to collapse to third place, you still had to win a bunch of games. Evidently, over time, they lost 'em in bundles.

It gets worse. When people think of World Series futility, the Cubs, once again, leap to mind. They haven't been there since 1945. So the Phils must have the edge in World Series appearances, right? Sorry, of the original sixteen, the Phils have the fewest appearances in the Fall Classic. Even the Indians, who I thought wouldn't be in the Series in my lifetime have been there one more time. In fact, the Mets, who started 79 years after the Phillies, have one more appearance in the Series than the hapless Philadelphia team.

No wonder those people boo Santa Claus.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

After Sports Center -- Competition Sudoku!

The attempt and not the deed, confounds us. ~ William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Oh, lawsey, lawsey, lawsey, what has become of ESPN?

I've watched ESPN since it's inception. I enjoyed Australian Rules Football, demolition derby, track meets, guys in kilts tossing telephone poles, and all the other weird and wonderful sports that were liable to turn up. ESPN actually took ABC's Wide World of Sports and turned it into a 24-hour-a-day festival of the thrill of victory and agony of defeat.

But those days are gone.

It started really when things like Aussie Rules Football vanished. Why, I'll never know. The Australian game is a whirlwind, roughneck combination of rugby, soccer, and a gang fight. But, for some reason, ESPN decided to eliminate it years ago. Maybe it was the goal judges wearing those white coats and fedoras; perhaps the thought was that they were too cultural.

Once they had all manner of motorsports. True, they've finally gotten NASCAR back, at a time when stock car racing is becoming more and more non-competitive. Perhaps they got it back because coverage is so much easier now. Show the Hendricks cars and whoever might have snuck up front; that's so much easier than trying to find where the actual racing is happening on the trak.

Then they started doing the drama thing, producing docudrama tripe about Pete Rose, Dale Earnhardt, and now the New York Yankees. And we won't even mention the "Desperate Football Players" series.

Then came the poker tournaments and billiards. To some extent, this hearkened back to the good old oddball days. But, after a while, the poker tournaments consisted mostly of building up some smartmouth to get the audience rooting against the jerk. Billiards, after brief flings with straight pool and eight ball, are now only nine-ball, and women's nine-ball at that, which, frankly, is pretty damn dull.

But at least they have some resemblance to sport.

Somehow, the folks at ESPN decided that the National Spelling Bee fell into their purview. One would think that Public Television would be a more likely venue, but ESPN got it and handed Mike Green and Mike Golic, of Mike and Mike in the Morning to handle the "play-by-play" duties. Now I happen to like the two Mikes, but I dread to think of what their coverage must have been like. I didn't watch it because, despite being an absolute spelling nazi, I'd find watching my lawn grow -- at night -- more exciting than watching some kid spell acetylcholinesterase.

As if that wasn't bad enough, we were recently treated to the Hot Dog Eating contest. Now, I'm an immigrant and my parents, coming over in 1949 from post-war Europe instilled a horror of wasting food in me. Watching people stuff pounds of food in their maws, in some cases only to upchuck it, does not strike me as "entertainment" or "sports." And they showed it about a dozen times.

But now they have gone too far. This very afternoon, after watching the Rolex GT race in Iowa (which is the kind of thing that should be on ESPN), I was scanning the on-screen program guide when I came to the ESPNs. One of them, ESPN or ESPN2 was showing the ... Lord, I don't know if I can even type this...They were showing the Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship.

I swear that this is true. I couldn't make up something like this.

With a mixture of curiosity and outright fear that this might be true, I switched over to the channel. There on the screen I saw a man and a woman staring intently at one another, when suddenly they slapped their fists into their palms and extended their hands toward one another. A guy standing between them screamed, "Paper! Paper! Tie!"

That was as much as I could stand.

Years ago, there was a Tank McNamara cartoon, in which the likable ex-football player cum broadcaster had gotten a gig with ESPN to cover the National Egg Toss Championship. In the last panel, Tank, who is thrilled with his "big-time" assignment, looks out and says, "The thrill of victory and the agony of broken eggs."

It doesn't seem so funny any more.