Monday, December 5, 2016

Make Up Your Mind, Dude!

"Make up your mind, dude, is he gonna shit or is he gonna kill us?!?"
Jeff Spicoli was taken aback by his friend's contradictory statements.  After this weekend, I'd like to ask the same thing of the College Football Playoff Committee!

On Sunday, the CFP released their final rankings, setting the teams that will play for the chance to win a National Championship: #1 Alabama, #2 Clemson, #3 Ohio State and #4 Washington.  Certainly these are among the top college football teams in 2016 and are deserving of a spot.  But are they the most deserving?  And by what criteria?

As I wondered aloud in this column before, the committee faced a challenge in weighing Ohio State vs Penn State.  Yes, Ohio State was one of the top teams in the nation, losing only once against good competition.  An 11-1 team from a major conference is usually a solid choice for the playoffs.  But that one loss: it came at the hands of Penn State!  A Penn State team that, by virtue of that head-to-head-victory, played for and won the Big 10 Championship.  Certainly the committee had to struggle with leaving out a big-5 conference champion?  Apparently not.  Penn State -- Big 10 champs, winners of 11 games, the only team to hand Ohio State a loss -- finished 5th.

Don't get me wrong: I absolutely think Ohio State is a better team than Penn State.  In fact, I don't think Penn State is a very good team at all.  In fact, the real reason why I'm ticked off is that IF the CFP doesn't particularly value a conference championship, how is Penn State ranked ahead of Michigan?  The Wolverines, who finished what feels like a distant 10-2, placed 6th in the final rankings, behind a Penn State team that they absolutely throttled to the tune of 49-10.  That was no squeaker.

If not playing for a conference title doesn't matter, what does?  Head-to-head apparently doesn't count for much, as both Ohio State and Penn State (both ways) can now attest.  So now we're left to guess just what makes one team rank higher than another.  Make up your mind, dude.

The reality is that it actually didn't matter where Michigan finished in relation to Penn State.  As the winner of the Big 10 that is not in the playoffs, the Nittany Lions get an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl.  There they will face USC, who didn't win the Pac-12, didn't play for that title, but is the next-highest-ranked team from the Pac-12 at #9.

I, for one, will enjoy the Orange Bowl.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Controversy By Committee

It's Monday, the Monday after the Saturday that shook up the college football rankings again.  In The Game, #2 Ohio State beat #3 Michigan in thrilling (if not entirely satisfying) fashion.  In the AP Poll released on Sunday, Michigan fell, but not far, from 3rd to 5th.  That allowed both Clemson and Washington to move up to #3 and #4, respectively.  It stands to reason that the rankings from the College Football Playoff Committee would follow suit.

Which is all well and good... until next weekend.  On Saturday, Penn State will take on Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game.  Yes, even though Ohio State sits at 11-1, the lone blemish on their schedule came at the hands of 10-2 Penn State.  So while the Nittany Lions have a lesser overall record, both teams have the same 8-1 conference record.  Penn State wins the tie-breaker by virtue of having beaten the Buckeyes.

So let's play this out a little further.  Penn State wins the Big 10 Championship and has 11 wins against 2 losses.  Per the committee guidelines, they "place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree".  Ohio State, though probably the better team, has the same number of wins but lacks a conference championship and lost head-to-head.  Could that mean Penn State squeezes into the playoffs?  If so, who would they squeeze out?

It's hard to make an argument to keep out Clemson.  Assuming they beat Virginia Tech for the ACC Championship, a 12-1 Tigers team that had been ranked #2 earlier in the season by the CFP has a very strong case.  What about Washington?  The Huskies have been hanging around the peripheries of the playoffs since the first rankings placed them 5th.  But a win against Colorado in the PAC-12 Championship gives them a 12th win and that coveted conference championship.  Their lone loss was to a resurgent USC team that now ranks #10 in the AP Poll.

So it would appear to come down to PSU vs OSU.  In spite of their records, it would be hard for Ohio State to make the case that they are more deserving considering their loss to Penn State.  The opposite is true for Penn State: how can the team that they beat be going to the playoffs instead of them?

Of course, this is all speculation.  If this college season has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected.  Well, except an Alabama loss.





Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An American Eulogy

I typically don’t write about anything other than sports in this space, but today is different.  And yet, today I have the same feeling I had after the unbeaten Patriots lost in the Super Bowl.

That night, and the following morning, I reeled at the notion that everything I knew about football, about talent, organization and expectations, were somehow wrong.  That all the knowledge and experience I’d accumulated in my life were worthless.  If a team not expected to play in that game, a team so overmatched and so long on odds could somehow defeat a team chasing perfection, how could I make sense of it?  For all those reasons, it was the last NFL game I ever watched.

Now I sit here this morning, again overwhelmed by what just occurred.  How could all the polls and all the pundits have been so terribly mistaken?  What was their knowledge suddenly worth?  How could a candidate with no organization, no ground-game, and no political experience compete against a Clinton political machine?  How could a man who ran a campaign hobbled by scandal after scandal, a human anti-PC sound bite, not only survive but triumph?

These are questions we are all asking today.

Yes, America is divided, but not like before.  It’s not a division of left versus right, a squabble over over tax policy or education reforms. America is divided by basic human decency, as those who would stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves are drowned out by those who care for none. Nothing born of the basest instincts of man turns out well.

I have read the history books. They tell us there was once a Roman empire. A British Empire. That history also tells us that all empires must fall. America was founded on a core set of beliefs. Last night, those principles were fatally upended. The era of American exceptionalism is at its end. To borrow a line from last night, this feels like a funeral for America.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

You Can't Put a Price on Stupid

Kevin Durant's goodwill tour continues in style.  Not content to simply skip out on OKC to join a pre-made super-team in Golden State, Durant is determined to be the biggest heel in the NBA since LeBron headed south.
Sports Illustrated -- July 18, 2016
Fortunately for Durant, a man in the NBA must be measured by the size of his shoe, not by his heart.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Adventures of a Blind Squirrel

Brian Cashman has been busy. A flurry of deals before the MLB Trade Deadline has left heads spinning in Yankee-land just trying to keep up with all the comings and goings. Much praise has been heaped upon Cashman for his haul of prospects, and rightfully so.

So while I've never been shy to criticize Cashman in this space, this won't be a Bash-Cashman piece. Give the man credit for taking a bunch of mismatched parts and turning them into pieces to build a foundation for the future.

However... I did find it interesting that in his post-deadline press conference, Cashman had this to say about the 2016 Yankees. Talking about a team that was swept by the last-place Tampa Bay Rays after a stretch of good play:
A true playoff contender, you know, not a playoff pretender, wouldn't do that.
Sure, Brian, that's true. It's also what most Yankee fans have been saying about this team all season long. Nice of you to come around.

It's also an interesting choice of words to describe a TEAM THAT YOU PUT TOGETHER. One thing that always frustrates me about media coverage of Cashman is that he somehow seems to get the credit for all the things he does well but never seems to get blamed for the mistakes he often makes. I'm not sure who Cashman thinks brought all these pretenders together, but he sure was glad to see them go.

An under-performing middle of the lineup? I don't suppose it was Cashman who signed Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Oh, right, it was. Nor was it Cashman who benefited from their unlikely success in 2015 and did absolutely nothing to bolster the offense should they not reach their 2015 levels. Wait, right, that was Cashman, too.

Were it not for the resurrection of Carlos Beltran -- a player who has put up better numbers through July than he did in full seasons in 2014 and '15 -- the Yankees offense might be the worst in baseball. (Even with Beltran, the Yanks were 24th in MLB in runs and 29th in extra-base hits.) That Cashman was able to flip the free-agent-to-be for a top pitching prospect is as much luck as skill.

Though the Yankees have raised the white flag on 2016, no one will miss Chapman, Miller, Beltran or Nova -- not, at least, as far as wins and losses are concerned.  However, it will be some years before we know how successful this deadline swap session has been. Prospects, even elite ones, often take time to develop into solid major leaguers. The 2016 Yankees might be worse off, but by most measures the 2017 Yankees and beyond have taken the first steps towards improvement.

Time will tell if this particular squirrel has stashed away enough nuts for a snowy winter ahead.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Playing the Heel

Bwa-ha-ha!
The Golden State Warriors' fall from grace was rapid: from the NBA's feel-good story as a team of destiny to chokers in the NBA Finals. Yet it seemed that before we could even wrap our collective heads around their dramatic tumble, the Warriors signed Kevin Durant. The rich get obscenely richer?

Mark Cuban, Shark Tank denizen, Mavericks' owner and never one to shy away from controversy, is at it again. Cuban had an interesting take on Durant going to the Warriors:
"Just like when LeBron James went to Miami, I loved that there was a villain. They become the villain. I'm fine with that. Everybody's going to root for them to lose."
But could it be that the Warriors could go from everyone's favorite team outside of Cleveland to the NBA's version of Steinbrenner's Yankees?

It's doubtful that league fans can muster the same level of hatred they felt the day that LeBron made his "decision". From that point forward, we all had two favorites: your NBA team and whoever was playing the Heat. That the Heat appeared in the NBA Finals all four years that James was in Miami was made somewhat palatable by the fact that they lost twice in those finals.

Have the Warriors squandered their good will?  Absolutely. It was very easy to root for the Warriors' Wild West Show and their band of merry men. But when fans put all their eggs (and energy) into one basket and then get left holding said basket in epic fashion, that's gonna leave a mark. Besides, once you've won 73 games and have nothing to show for it, people will be wary to jump back on that bandwagon.

As for Durant, it surprised many that he'd adopt an "I'm taking my ball and going home" attitude by signing with the ready-made champions. A title won with Golden State now proves nothing. Unfortunately for Durant, he might have made it more difficult to win.

The Warriors had remarkable team chemistry. Like any science major can tell you, though, when you start switching out chemicals, the results may not only be different, but volatile. Starting center Andrew Bogut, whose Finals' absence was often cited as one of the reasons that the Warriors lost, was traded to Cuban's Mavericks to make cap room. Harrison Barnes, a member of the Dubs' so-called "Death Lineup" and a key ingredient to their success, was also left out and coincidentally signed with the Mavs.

Regardless of whether the Warriors turn out to be NBA villains or simply last season's news, it won't be the same in Golden State. Steph Curry will still excite. Klay Thompson will still launch from everywhere and Draymond Green will still drive people nuts. But winning games won't be news any longer.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Modest Proposal

Well, that was fast.  Mark Teixeira is hurt, again, and was placed on the DL this morning with torn cartilage in his knee.  It comes as little surprise, considering Teixeira hasn't played over 125 games since 2011.  Once thought to be Teixeira's replacement when this inevitably occurred, Greg Bird was lost for the season over the winter.  Last night, Rob Refsnyder took over at first base when Tex left the game.  But with Teixeira out for an extended period of time, the Yankees are scrambling to find a replacement.

A modest proposal: put Carlos Beltran at first.  I know, Beltran has only played first base once in his career.  But he was a gold-glove caliber fielder before age and his knees changed that.  Maybe you don't put him there tonight, but in a week's time, Beltran should be able to handle the position.

Why Beltran, you ask?  Here's why.  For starters, it gets Beltran the hell out of the outfield where he no longer belongs.  While first base is not quite DH, it certainly cuts down on the wear and tear of the outfield.  That should allow Beltran to keep swinging a hot bat.

It also gives A-Rod the full-time DH role.  While he has struggled, A-Rod remains one of the few sources of power in this anemic Yankee lineup.  They'll need him to produce from that DH spot, especially with Teixeira now gone.

Lastly, it keeps Refsnyder in the lineup.  Since his return, Refsnyder has played all over the diamond, but has looked good at the plate in a limited role.

I hear the names of Nick Swisher and Chris Parmalee being thrown around.  Whoopee.  Though Parmalee has been playing well of late and was called up to replace Teixeira on the roster, I don't see him as a long-term fix.  Perhaps he'll hold down the fort until Beltran is comfortable enough to play first base.