Tag Archives: sports

Top 25 Letdown

The Wall Street Journal recently had an interesting item about the win-loss records of the football coaches in all the major conferences against AP top-25 teams. Here’s the current ACC coaches’ records:

School Coach W-L Career W-L Current
Boston College Steve Addazio 1-6 1-4
Clemson Dabo Swinney 9-18 9-18
Duke David Cutcliffe 9-26 3-14
Florida State Jimbo Fisher 12-6 12-6
Georgia Tech Paul Johnson 10-22 10-13
Louisville Bobby Petrino 14-19 4-7
Miami (FL) Al Golden 3-13 3-8
NC State Dave Doeren 1-4 0-3
North Carolina Larry Fedora 3-9 1-5
Pittsburgh Pat Narduzzi 0-0 0-0
Syracuse Scott Shafer 0-7 0-7
Virginia Mike London 4-9 4-9
Virginia Tech Frank Beamer 45-50-1 45-50-1
Wake Forest Dave Clawson 1-9 0-2

Add it all up and these guys have won 39% of their games against Top 25 teams while coaching at their respective schools (the current number above), which is only nominally better than the 36% collective career average. Why’s that important? Because many of these coaches came from head coaching positions at smaller schools and you would expect them to have more losses there since they would have been homecoming/early season fodder for larger football schools. You would think that once they got to the larger schools their records would have improved with access to more resources, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Of course you can also look at it this way: it takes time to build a winning program and in today’s “win now” culture these guys just don’t get the time to lay the groundwork needed to have a strong sustainable program. That’s why Virginia Tech stands out. Beamer might have a sub-.500 record, but he’s had almost 100 games against Top 25 teams which indicates that they don’t run away from a tough schedule and they also give their coach plenty of opportunities to build and rebuild.

Love it or hate it, the reality is that college football is big business on college campuses and the head coaches are among the highest paid people on campus. And to be clear the ACC isn’t the only conference with coaches with numbers like these – the vast majority of coaches have losing records against Top 25 teams – so you have to wonder how so many keep their jobs right? That’s why we have the FCS which is chock full of teams from smaller football programs willing to take a beating in exchange for some cash. Everyone wins – the big schools get two or three almost-guaranteed wins a year, the coaches get to pad their records and the small schools get their biggest paydays of the season before playing their peers. It’s the American way.

48 Years of Sewing Balls

The whole “Deflate-Gate” kerfluffle from this year’s AFC Championship Game put the most focus on the actual footballs than we’ve seen in years. That makes this five minute video about the making of the balls, and one lady who sewed them for 48 years, seem super-appropriate as we get ready to watch Super Bowl XLIX.

BTW, have you heard that the powers that be don’t like the idea of identifying the 50th Super Bowl as Super Bowl L? Instead it will be Super Bowl 50, which kind of irks me because I was really looking forward to getting all kinds of schwag with my last initial on it.

Support “The Beast”

When it comes to sports I’m generally what you’d call an “old school” kind of guy. Basically I believe in good sportsmanship – I’ll let you define that – and I don’t much care for showboating. That probably explains why I have what probably looks like contradictory opinions about two very good football players: Marshawn “The Beast” Lynch and Cam “Superman” Newton. I love watching Lynch play and Newton just makes me shake my head.

Here’s my reasoning in a nutshell: Newton is know for his “Superman” pose that he strikes after scoring a touchdown. That does indeed irk me, but touchdown’s are hard enough to come by that I long ago accepted touchdown celebrations as part of the game and I definitely understand why people do them. On the other hand, Newton has a habit of doing this goofy pointing thing (seen here) whenever he’s gotten a first down and that just drives me around the bend. Getting a first down is kind of a minimum expectation of a quarterback’s job – it’s like getting a √ on your report card when you were in kindergarten. Celebrating it is like me running around my desk after sending a fairly well written email.

Another thing that gets me about Newton is that he can seem so disengaged and sometimes just looks like he lacks a fire in the belly. Certainly some of that can just be outward appearances – some players are truly so gifted that they look like they aren’t trying because they’re literally so good that they make it look effortless. Newton, however, has some fairly significant swings between his good and bad games and those bad games seem to coincide with those instances where it looks like he’s not 100% there.

Then there’s The Beast. While he will do his share of smack talking during the game he most certainly is always 100% engaged on the field. He seems to relish playing hard, initiating contact with the defense and never taking a down “off.” The guy’s earned his nickname and if you like football then you have to appreciate how hard he plays. He definitely defines an “old school” or “throwback” runner who resembles players like Walter Payton who play with a fire in the belly that’s apparent to everyone watching.

Off the field is where this comparison gets even more interesting, and where I think people might find my opinion of these two players to be contradictory. Newton is personable, affable and seems to generally be a “good interview” with the press. Lynch, on the other hand, can appear surly and dour, and most definitely is not a favorite of the press. Hell, Lynch is becoming just as well known for his non-answer-answers as he is for his play on the field, but to be honest that’s one of the reasons I like him and also why I think he defines “old school.” Over at The Week Sarah Jaffe explains why better than I ever could:

Having been fined $100,000 over the last two seasons for refusing to play nice at press conferences, Lynch showed up at Media Day in a cap and dark sunglasses with one answer for reporters’ questions: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” He gave that same answer some 25 times.

Rumor had it that Lynch was threatened with a $500,000 fine if he didn’t show up for the conference; instead, he made it very clear that his appearance was compelled, and that there was only so far the NFL could push him…

There is no doubt that Lynch gives the game everything he’s got and more — we should always remember when we watch football or any other physical, contact sport that we are watching people literally putting theirsafety and lives on the line for our entertainment. So why, on top of all that, does the NFL demand that its players show up at press conferences and answer the same inane questions with a ready smile?…

After many in the media branded him a “thug,” Richard Sherman embarked on a press tour in which he mostly made mincemeat of his critics, but public debating is a particular skill that few people have mastered. It’s not surprising that Lynch, who has heard the T-word a few times in his life (and even, when playing in Buffalo, was stopped so routinely by police that he finally called a meeting with a local chief to discuss the problem) wants no part of it. His job, as he sees it, is on the field. When he wants to give back to the community, to the fans, he does it with his charity in his hometown of Oakland.

That, my friends, is why I’ll be cheering Mr. Lynch during the Super Bowl. I just like the way he rolls and I also like that he’s found a way to expose the NFL brass’ hypocrisy and general crappiness.

Fixing Tennis?

I love tennis, both watching and playing it, which is why Scott Adams’ suggestions for fixing it in his Sports are Broken post caught my attention:

For example, when tennis was invented, serving was just a way to start the rally. One player bunted the ball into the service box and it was on.

Fast-forward to 2014.

Now the pros are 6’8″, their rackets and strings are made from exotic materials, and they are trained to serve at 140 miles per hour. As you might imagine, that creates a lot of double-faults and aces. Both are boring.

To fix tennis, eliminate the serve. That is already happening where I live. A group of folks in my town already play without the serve. Under the no-serve rules either player can start the rally and the point is live on the third hit. You play to 21, win by two, so no more funky tennis scoring with the 15-30-40 ridiculousness. This version of tennis is about twice as fun as playing serve-and-miss while wishing you were getting some exercise.

As someone who relies heavily on his serve this would not be good for me – when I’m practicing with guys at the same level as me and we play games that don’t involve serving I lose more often than I win – but I tend to agree with his assessment. I also really like the first to 21, win by two, idea. That rewards fitness due to less breaks in the action and helps reduce the likelihood of losing to someone who hits a hot streak like you see in regular seven- or ten-point tiebreakers.

On another note, even if we keep the serve I think the “let” call should be eliminated as John McEnroe has suggested in the past. That will speed up play and add an element of adventure to points just as regular net cord shots do.

Even if the pros don’t do it I think amateur play would be greatly enhanced by these kinds of changes.

Tennis and Life – A Wonderful Story

Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay has written the finest story involving tennis you’re likely to read:

For 40 years, my father, Ward Gay, was a tennis coach, at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Mass., the city where he grew up. When he started, rackets were wood. The No. 1 men’s player in the world was Ilie Nastase. My dad studied tennis bibles written by Rod Laver, Bud Collins and Harry Hopman, and taught himself the rest through years of little victories and mistakes.

He liked natural gut string, one-handed backhands, the serve-and-volley, the chip-and-charge. He was also a science teacher at the high school, and he enjoyed how tennis was a game that rewarded mental acuity as well as physical skill. His favorite tennis maxim was the well-known adage he borrowed and passed on to every player: You’re only as good as your second serve…

My dad admired the pristine grass at Wimbledon and the red clay at Roland Garros, but the kind of tennis he really adored was city tennis. Cracks in the hard court. Rusty chain-link fences. Holes in the nets. Trucks howling by on the street. Country clubs weren’t his thing.

Tennis was for everybody, he felt…

In early March, just days away from the first tennis practice of the season, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He resigned from coaching the team. He told me about it matter-of-factly, but stepping away after doing this for so long had to have been devastating. Spring afternoons on the hard court had been a ritual for him, a sanctuary…

Last Thursday, Aug. 21, in a Boston hospital that overlooked a pair of beautifully ragged tennis courts on the Charles River, my dad died. He was 70 years old.

The next day, my brother and I walked down the street to the courts we grew up on. We pulled out a couple of our father’s old rackets we’d uncovered in the garage, and hit like we used to hit when we were young. Dad had given us and so many others a sport we could play for the rest of our lives, but his reach was much more than that. We ran with our rackets back, ready for anything.

Sports vs eSports

My kids never really got into watching sports like baseball, basketball, football, etc. When I was their age (teens to eary 20s) my life revolved around watching all manner of sports whether it was live or on TV, but my kids would probably rather have their toenails removed than to be forced to sit through a couple of hours of game watching.

Actually I need to revise that last sentence; at least one of my kids LOVES watching video of other people playing the newest "sport" – eSports aka video games. According to this article he's not alone:

In October, some 15 million people tuned in to watch Major League Baseball’s World Series in the United States. But that’s nothing compared to the other big sporting tournament that took place around the same time: In late September and early October, 32 million people watched the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship, according to a new report (pdf) from SuperData, a games research company.

Indeed, the finals of the competitive tournament for players of the online multiplayer game resembled a major physical-world sporting event, with the 18,000 tickets to watch it live at the Staples Center in Los Angeles selling out in one hour. On the day, the capacity crowd gathered to watch teams do battle against each other as they spawned minions and unlocked glyphs.

I really am so0000 last-century.

Saving the ACC from Itself

Dan Collins shares a great plan to help the ACC restore some of its historic luster:

But there’s still a way to retain the rivalries that have made the league what it is—or at least what it was before expansion. I wish I could say the idea was mine, but really I stole it from my buddy Al Featherston, the long-time ACC writer and historian. Like is said in songwriter circles: amateurs borrow, but professionals steal. Featherston’s proposal is to divide the conference into seven-team divisions, as is done for football. That would allow at least most of the rivalries to remain intact.

Each team would play teams in its division twice, of course, for a total of 12 games. And each would play the teams in the other divisions once, for seven more games. That’s 19 games, if my public school education hasn’t failed me.

The one flaw in the system could become its biggest selling point. The seven games against the other division would leave some teams with 10 home conference games and others with only nine. That is, unless one of the games against the other division was played at a neutral site.

So the way to make it all work for everybody—the fans, the media, the league and of course the television networks—would be to set aside a long weekend between mid-December and Christmas when all 14 ACC teams would congregate at a neutral site. One year it could be Greensboro, the next Atlanta, the next Charlotte, and the next Madison Square Garden. And over those three days the odd game against the other division could be played. It could be marketed and sold as an Early Bird Special of what fans can expect to see over the next 2 1/2 months and it would build up tremendous energy and enthusiasm at a time of the year any league—even the ACC—could use all it could get.

Coolest Thing Ever for a Bunch of Weekend Warriors

I've played in rec leagues (basketball, tennis, soccer, softball) for as long as I've been able to bounce a ball and have continued doing so to this day (much to the consternation of my wife). I can tell you without hesitation that if I'd been one of these guys I'd have had the time of my life:

Thanks to Kristen Daukus for sharing this on Facebook.

Priorities at My Alma Mater

Okay, I love my alma mater and I was as proud as anyone when its men's basketball team made the Final Four a few years back, but I cannot say that I'm at all happy that according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch GMU's new basketball coach, Paul Hewitt, is the highest paid state employee in Virginia while the school's president, Alan Merten, is the 11th highest paid.  I'm not gonna argue whether or not anyone working at a state university should be among the highest paid employees in the state, but I am gonna argue that there's no way a coach should make more than the school's president.

The way big time college sports work I'm willing to bet that Hewitt's state salary is probably a small part of his overall income package – who knows what he's getting from endorsements and other sources, but I'm willing to bet it's more than the almost $660k the state is paying him.  (Looky here, thanks to a link at the GMU Hoops blog we can see that the coach is getting $7.5 million over five years thanks to his severance package from Georgia Tech). Major college sports like football and basketball generate a lot of income and, right or wrong, the coaches are able to make a great living regardless of their base salary, so it's ludicrous to have a coach making more in salary than the person in charge of the whole educational enterprise. After all there wouldn't be a team without the school right?

You don't have to be an expert on the college sports industry – and that's what it is, an industry – to know that it's seriously out of whack.  I love what the teams can bring to the campus in terms of school spirit and alumni engagement, but I don't think you have to have a multi-million dollar enterprise to get what I think are those core benefits.  College sports have become a big business and in the process they've totally skewed the priorities on campus.  WTH kind of signal are we sending our kids when we tell them that running one sports team with 12+ kids on it is worth more than running an entire university that serves over 32,500 students on mutliple campuses?  

I'd hate to think what we'd be paying a football coach if we had more than a club team.