Sunday, March 31, 2013

The All Big-N-Where-N>10 Final Four

Remember when that was a thing? When the Big 10 was so dominant that we were looking at the possibility of an all-Big 10 Final Four? When it didn't look like anyone could stop the conference from unleashing the sort of dominance one normally sees in back issues of The Incredible Hulk.
That was, what, a week ago?
The Big 10 still has one team alive and in the Final Four. So does the MVC, and nobody's talking about that conference as being a star-spanning empire of destruction. The Big East - the much-maligned, collapsing in on itself Big East - might have 2. Hell, we may have a rematch of the Big East championship game in our futures, depending on whether Duke can slow Louisville down today.
All of which just goes to show that the desperate hunt for storylines and deep analysis, the quest to find Deeper Meaning and hastily impose saleable narratives, tends to make you look kind of foolish down the road. "Big 10 Dominance" was a great hook for a couple of days' worth of clickthroughs, but we're living in an age where that stuff lives forever online instead of getting wrapped around fish or dropped in the bottom of a birdcage. Perhaps a little less hyperbole and a slightly slower rush to superficial conclusions might serve the evolution of the medium better.
Then again, clicks. And I hear "Wichita State Could Win It All!" is the new hotness.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Seven Years Ago Today

The news out of Philadelphia today was that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. noted he'd used seven year old scouting reports from former Rays staffers working for him before he made the decision to sign Delmon Young. (That, and Young's deceptively mediocre RBI total, which was largely a product of batting with more ducks on the pond than Daffy's porn collection)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Iginla to the Penguins

The Miami Heat's epic winning streak comes to an end? Sweet Sixteen about to begin? Time to talk about a hockey trade!

Some observations on the Pittsburgh Penguins' trade for (now-)former Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla.

First, if you ask anybody outside of the Great White North (or Yinzer Nation) what's going on in the NHL, they will ask, "aren't they locked out this year?" But this isn't just the top story -- it's the top several stories on the Calgary Sun's website. And it's a big deal in Pittsburgh (at least two of the top radio stations in town are non-stop Iginla this morning). Penguins fans are suddenly remembering the great affection they have always had for this guy who helped Sid Crosby win Olympic Gold.

Second, the Boston Bruins went to bed thinking they were getting Iginla. The Bruins apparently offered the Flames a better deal for Iginla than the Pens did, but Iginla wanted to go to Pittsburgh (and with the Miami-Heat-esque assemblage of talent that Pens' GM Ray Shero has gathered recently, it is hard to blame him) (editor's note: now I'm having images of the Miami Heat on ice skates). This deal hurts Boston twice -- by keeping Iginla out of the Bruins' hands and by helping Eastern Conference rival Pittsburgh.

Third, there's some suggestion that this deal costs Pittsburgh by trading away their first-round draft pick for 2013.  Well, look, there's very little doubt that the Pens are going to be near the top of the regular-season standings. NHL draft order is determined by regular-season standings (modulo the lottery). So their draft picks for 2013 are sure to be less-valuable late-round picks. Which means that this is the year to make that trade.

Some Pittsburgh sports talk callers are already whining about where the Penguins will find room for all the talent they have.  I'm sure that this is a problem that Flyers fans would love to have.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

USA Defeats Mexico 0-0

Before tonight the United States men's national soccer team had never beaten the Mexican national team in World Cup qualifying matches held in Mexico.  That record still stands.  But the US MNT had only tied Mexico in Estadio Azteca once, back in '97.

That's changed. Clint Dempsey and a bunch of who-deys just tied the Mexicans 0-0, holding off a 20-minute endgame assault that saw at least four corner kicks and one free kick in the defensive third.

Maurice Edu looked terrible at midfield for the USA; more than once he was caught watching the ball in the defensive third instead of picking a man up. DaMarcus Beasley looked far older than his thirty years.

But there were some bright spots. Graham Zusi -- who I love to see play because it gives me a chance to shout ZUUUUSIII YOU GOT SOME SPLAINING TO DO -- hustled all night. Brad Guzan made some heroic plays in goal.

There were some other, criminal bright spots: the fans at Estadio Azteca persist in shining lasers at players. When will FIFA put a stop to this? It's only slightly less dangerous than hurling bottles onto the pitch.

I don't understand a lot of Jurgen Klinsmann's substitution decisions; it seemed like he kept taking out the guys who were playing well. But to some extent it worked.

The next round starts in April... and in that round, Mexico's national team visits the USA.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Still More NCAA Thoughts

  • OK, now Florida Gulf Coast can bronze their program.
  • Who here picked LaSalle to be the last Philly team standing in the tournament?
  • Who here still had anyone from Philly still standing in the tournament?
  • Imagine what Khalif Wyatt would have done if he'd had both hands working.
  • On the other hand, you probably did have Marshall Henderson listed as first out in your "insufferable beyond belief" player elimination pool. Who's next - Craft or Plumlee?
  • Can we get a Florida Gulf Coast story, just one, that doesn't mention that the coach is married to a former swimsuit model? Please? We haven't hit Easterbrookian levels of creepiness with this one yet, but it's getting close.
  •  So Ben Howland is out at UCLA despite his track record, and the guy who beat him, Tubby Smith, is likely out too despite, you know, winning in the NCAAs. Sad to see that winning the prestigious CarQuest Bowl provides more job security than that, but hey, we already knew the football guys had a better deal. 
  • Is there even still a CarQuest Bowl out there? And what does it say about the bowl landscape that I can't remember?
  • Can we please let the tournament freaking end before the annual "Were will Shaka Smart/Brad Stevens/coach of mid-major team that made a run be coaching next year gets turned up to a boil? Stop anticipating next year's games and enjoy this year's, people.
  • Is there any sportswriter out there who saps the joy out of a thrilling game faster than Darren Rovell? The absolute last thing I care about during tourney time is whether a team is paying for their own uniforms or not. Breaking that sort of story is not like breaking Watergate; it's a desperate cry for attention from the undersocialized nerd at the corner of the party who's decided to dominate the conversation by overwhelming everyone else there with obscure Star Wars trivia. Even if you like Star Wars, you still want to pour a drink on that guy's head.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Get Those Damn Mid-Majors Off My Lawn

So this year's narrative is "mid-majors had a bad day so they don't deserve high seeds!" Which is, of course, arrant nonsense. Plenty of teams from the quote-unquote "power" conferences - and by "power" I mean "plays football" - have gone down like slabs of beef as well. But a couple of uncharacteristic performances - VCU getting run out of the building? Wichita State hitting 7 3s in a row? - have got the BCS cavemen yammering to beat the band.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Random NCAA Tourney Thoughts

  • Thus far, this is the year of the furious second half comeback that falls just short. Sorry, Villanova.
  • Florida Gulf Coast should just bronze its program now. It will never get better thn beating a number two seed in the tournament after beating another 2 seed earlier in the year.
  • New Mexico. Possible 1 seed. Not so much.
  • Selection committee, get on ths - next year, we need an opening weekend matchup between Georgetown and Belmont. The high seed that always loses vs the darling upset pick tht never wins? Must see TV right there.
  • Yet another reason to hate Duke - Ryan Kelly referred to the round of 32 as "the third round". Which it technically is, but NOT THE POINT.
  • Not a good year for The Big East. But we knew that already
  • Where exactly did those "Montana over Syracuse" nonsense picks come from, anyway?
  • Hoping for LaSalle to make a deep run so they go diving into that classic Lionel Simmons footage.
  • Notre Dame seems to have forgotten the "Fighting" part of their name. Or perhaps they didn't have room for it after they packed the green knee socks

Philly vs NC

Head to head matchup #1:
Temple 76, NC State72

Low Seeded Play In Game Participant Status:
LaSalle - still playing
NC A&T - not still playing

Current score:
Philadelphia 2, North Carolina 0

All That You Need To Know Is This

Harvard is still playing meaningful basketball. Kentucky isn't.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Your Team Won't Win The NCAAs, Part I

Right now, there are 67 teams that think they can win the NCAA basketball tournament. (Harvard, on the other hand, thinks they can just buy the entire operation, and so playing in it is kind of pointless.) There are reasons each of these teams thinks they can pull it off, ranging from the perfectly logical ("We're Duke") to the perfectly specious ("Our mascot could eat their mascot"). That being said, only 1 team can be crowned the winner, which means everyone else will fall by the wayside. Here's a look at the reasons some of your favorite squads are doomed:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Your Handy-Dandy Guide To Teams That Think They Got Screwed Out Of the 2013 NCAA Tournament

Every year, there are teams that claim that they got screwed out of a spot in the NCAA mens' basketball tournament. These teams tend to fall into two categories: teams from big conferences mad that teams from little conferences made it, or teams from small conferences mad that teams from big conferences made it. The truth is, once you get to a certain level it's all a crapshoot anyway, and nobody who's on the razor's edge for an 11-seed play-in game has a hope in Hattiesburg of winning the thing. (OK. Except for VCU that one time). But still, people squawk, and as such, it's our responsibility to give you a little information on why.

Without further ado, let's meet the screwed.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Midnight In the Madison Square Garden of Good And Evil

We shall not see their like again. But at least Rollie cleaned up a bit
As I've mentioned elsewhere, rooting for a conference is a lot like rooting for a law firm. For all of the protestations of tradition and competition and everything else, it's a business partnership and nothing more. When the first rumblings of dissolution shook the Big 12, nobody remembered that it had been built on the still-warm corpses of the Big 8 and the Southwest Conference. Coach K might have ranted against Maryland leaving the tradition and the rivalries of the ACC, but once upon a time Duke bid the Southern Conference a hasty farewell. And Louisville, well, Louisville basketball's been a part of 6 different conferences over the years, not that anyone's rushing to hand a nine-figure TV deal to the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. 

That being said, I find myself sad that the old Big East is dead.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Afterlife of Reilly

It would be ridiculously easy to take apart Rick Reilly's meandering jeremiad on how Wrigley Field is preventing the Cubs from winning. After all, it was written by Rick Reilly, and that means you can have your pick of bad data, iffy conclusions, self-satisfied self-referencing, and phrases that look suspiciously like they've appeared in multiple other Rick Reilly columns over the years.
The thing is, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that Reilly's idea of researching an article is mistyping a search into Google and taking the topline result as gospel. It doesn't matter that he's got less of a grasp on causation than my 14 year old Norwegian Forest Cat, who thinks that magical fairies rain kibble from the sky at regular intervals because she scratches at the downstairs closet door. It doesn't matter that baked into his piece is the sublimely ridiculous notion that previous Cubs front office regimes - a collection of refugees from the Island of Misfit Toys whose brilliant ideas include everything from the Soriano contract to the Gang of Four rotating coaches - would take all that imaginary extra money he thinks Wrigley should be generating and do something smart with it. It's not even magical thinking, it's "You're Not My Real Parents!" levels of denial.
The problem with it being, of course, that everyone who can put 2 and 2 together and not come up with "Steroids!" knows this already. No matter how surgical a takedown the Craig Calcaterras of the world perform - and his is pretty good - they're going to keep trotting Reilly out there to spew this nonsense because he is A Name, which simultaneously buys him cred with a slice of readership that wouldn't know a Fire Joe Morgan if it bit them, and frees him from the need to do anything more rigorous that fling an unsourced opinion out there. But it would be nice if once, just once, an editor at, say, Grantland  - assuming they get time off from playing beer pong with Bill Simmons - would look at crap like this and send it back with a note that read: "Do your research".
He might never write another word again. And, judging by the ones he just churned out, that would be just fine.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

All Hail Jordany Valdespin

Try not to think about these
You can in fact successfully find what you're looking for if you Google "Jordany Valdespin hit in nuts".

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, be assured that there will be no more cringe-inducing moment in professional sports this year than the one created by the intersection of a 94 MPH Justin Verlander fastball and the font of future Valdespins. Valdespin didn't stand a chance. He went down like he'd been shot. Which, to a certain extent, he had.

There's always a certain awkward dance around the nut shot in sports. It happens all the damn time but the announcer has not yet been hired who will say "he just took a two-hopper off his two hoppers", not since Dizzy Dean got in trouble for describing a young couple in the stands at Sportsman's Park in slightly too colloquial terms. In hockey, they say "lower body injury". In football, it's "abdomen". In baseball, it's a "hard shot to the stomach". Decorum must be preserved, and if there's something incongruous about something as snortingly testosterone-laden as sports pretending that actual testicles don't exist, well, you haven't been paying attention.

And that's one of the reasons I like young Mr. Valdespin. When asked where he got hit, he said, and I quote, "The dick". No mincing words, no euphemisms. He laid it out there, so to speak, and he owned it. And then he admitted that he didn't wear a cup, which meant that what he'd gone through - no, what he'd survived - was that much more impressive and terrifying. To paraphrase Dennis Miller, "Anything hits my dick that hard, I'm going to spot-weld to it". Yet Mr. Valdespin went into battle with just a few layers of cloth protecting his most prized possessions, and without the sort of agility bonus that might have mitigated his woeful THAC0, and still he lived.

So hats off and cups on to you, Jordany Valdespin. You've livened up a humdrum spring training with the sort of daring that the stars of Jackass couldn't expect to survive, and you did it with enough savoir faire to pull off the press conference line of the spring (NSCW edition). Sportsodoxy will be rooting for you, sir. 

And advising you, next time, to get the hell out of the way.


Ruthlessly stolen from WDVE's Bill Crawford this morning:

"By hiring Bruce Gradkowski to back up Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are definitely winning at Quarterback Scrabble."

(in case you're curious, GRADKOWSKI would be worth 23 points, while ROETHLISBERGER, while longer, is just 20)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame

You know you want to touch it...

The Hockey Hall of Fame doesn't want you to find it.
You can see the outside of its Great Hall from the street, easily enough. Walk down that sidewalk on Yonge and you're mere meters from the Stanley Cup. But that's not where the door is. No, to get inside, you need to go around the corner, into a mall, down the escalator into a food court, reverse direction (without signage) and then and only then will you see the two smiling young ladies who are happy to take your ticket money, sell you a program, and let you into the Hockey Hall of Fame. At no point did I need to wander into a disused lavatory with a sign that read "Beware of the Leopard", but it was a near thing.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Ryan Game

It seems like a no-brainer.
If the Texas Rangers and Nolan Ryan are at odds, then the Texas Rangers do whatever it takes to fix it. After all, if there is one player in that franchise's history who is indubitably iconic, it's Ryan. If there's one guy who's not associated with all the sludge and insanity that this team has been heir to since Bob Short put it on a flatbead and hauled it out of DC, it's Ryan. If there's one guy who genuinely makes people feel good about the Texas Rangers, it's Ryan.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Boeheim At the Grey Havens

Also pictured: Rollie Massamino, John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca

Sometimes, a man knows when to step off the stage.

Check the ending of The Lord of Rings. (The real ending, not the six or seven extras from the last movie). Frodo knows the world is changing. Middle-Earth is no place for him any more. It’s time to move on, and so off he goes to Elfland, or, as those of us not living in the Third Age call it, “retirement in Boca Raton”.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Mercy Rule

You do not expect to hear the words "mercy rule" applied to a game played by anyone over the age of 12.
You don't get "mercy rule" when Creighton runs Longwood out of the gym by 48 points on the hardwood. You don't get "mercy rule" when the Giants lay a 42-7 licking on the the wounded Eagles when it's All Quiet On the Andy Reid Front.
You don't get "mercy rule" when Honduras drops an 8-1 beating on Canada in World Cup qualifiers, though you do ask the coach to resign.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Your Handy-Dandy Guide To NCAA Tournament Jargon

And nary a triple bye to be seen
As we get closer to the NCAA's annual bake sale and Kickstarter disguised as a basketball tournament, the media's fancy turns to thoughts of brackets. Mock brackets, bracketology (which really ought to be the study of the things that hold shelves up), last in the bracket, first out of the bracket, what would it take for someone to use some brackets to pin Joe Lunardi to a wall until, say, August - you get the idea. And with that come certain words that everyone feels compelled to use in conversation to show that They Know What They Are Talking About. As a result, the next week or so will be filled with enough college basketball jargon and ill-informed speculation about who's in the field of 64, no, 65, no, 68 to choke a moa. Most of it will, of course, be used incorrectly.
With that in mind, here's our quick guide to the phrases you'll be hearing a lot and what they really mean:

  • Bad Loss - A loss to a team of vastly inferior talent, which supposedly gets counted against you by the tournament selection committee. Bad losses include losses to schools with directions in their name (that aren't North Carolina), losses to schools from small conferences, losses to teams whose conferences don't have broadcast deals with ESPN, and losses to teams who get bused in so that they can pick up checks to fund their athletic departments for the rest of the year.
  • Bid Stealer - A worthy team from a traditional one-bid league who loses in their conference tournament but gets selected to go anyway, reducing the number of available bids for big conference teams who did stupid things like lose to Boston College. Implied in the name is that the teams in question don't actually deserve their bids, which is why when you get a Lehigh beating a Duke in the first round, it's like a goddamn national holiday.
  • Body of Work - A team's entire season, generally referenced to support the tourney case of a major conference team who has been good but not great, and especially not lately.
  • Bubble Team - A team whose record is generally good enough to attract attention from the selection committee but not good enough to merit automatic inclusion. Bubble teams come in two varieties: big-conference teams who've tripped over themselves multiple times, usually against teams they should have beaten like a drum, and small-conference teams with gaudy records who can't get anyone from the big conferences to play them. Speculation about bubble teams largely exists to keep fan bases of teams with no chance in hell of winning the thing engaged before the reality of an NIT bid and a second-round game at Niagara sink in. 
  • Cinderella - Low-seeded team, generally from a smaller conference, that knocks off a big name or two. Much beloved of the media in the early rounds, when they make a good story. Much less beloved in the later rounds, because they keep knocking off teams guaranteed to draw higher ratings and have more fans travel. In a perfect world, all of them except two lose before the round of 16, where the two survivors will play each other and the victor promptly gets steamrolled by a team from Michigan. An instance of multiple Cinderellas causes panic in television executives, who have not yet figured out that their camera technology can make anyone look like a superstar, even a guy from George Mason, for a thirty second promo.
  • Cutting Down The Nets - What winning teams in the tourney do to get a souvenir, because the stuff they're soaking the tourists for on the concourse is way too expensive for college students to afford.
  • Don't Sleep On This Team - Because it's made up of guys who are probably much more comfortable on the basketball court than being used as mattresses, even after they underachieved this year.
  • Good Win - A win over a strong team, which theoretically impresses the selection committee. Also known as "The three games Duke throws away in conference per season".
  • Hot Team - A bid to look at a team's recent record only when trying to judge their tourney-worthiness. Generally marshaled in support of teams that lost to someone from the MEAC before conference play.
  • Last Out  - The four teams sitting just outside everyone's made up tournament bracket. The fact that they are called "Last Out" conveniently ignores the fact that since they're in a mock bracket, they were never actually "in". Inevitably includes one of the following: Temple, Dayton, or Southern Miss
  • Need To Make Some Noise In The Conference Tournament - A team with a decent record who can pretend to be better than they are by winning a couple of games over conference bottom-feeders to get the winning percentage up. Usually, there are between three and six teams in any given conference tournament that need to make some noise, which leads to second-round eliminations for some of them and what the sound engineers of my acquaintance call "not making noise".
  • One Bid League - A league whose talent level is considered so low that only the conference tourney champion will get an NCAA invite, and then only because it's the rules. Generally, you know if a league is in one bid territory if the league name could apply equally well to either a a prog rock or an Americana (Doubt me? Try this: "Let's have a big Branson welcome for the Missouri Valley Conference!" Alternately, "Playing the hits of Pink Floyd, ladies and gentlemen, the Horizon League!")
  • One Seed - The team on the "top line" of a bracket. The subject of fevered speculation over whether they will be the first top-rated team to lose to a 16-seed when they go down 6-4 after two minutes of play, before turning on the jets and running the SWAC champion out of the building.
  • Play-in Game - Alternately, a game before the round of 64 between two teams that are there because they have to be, and this is a way of getting rid of them before they annoy Kansas, or a game between two underachieving major conference teams added to the tourney to give their conferences an extra water pipe hit of that sweet tourney cash. Designed expressly to irritate the crap out of the guy responsible for putting together the office bracket pool.
  • Pod - A grouping of teams within a bracket that actually isn't grouped, designed to allow higher seeds to stay close to home. In reality, an explanation for why Dayton will be playing New Mexico in East Rutherford, NJ in an South Regional Game at 2 and Arizona will be playing Missouri in a West Regional Game in East Rutherford, NJ at 5.
  • Regular Season Champion - The team with the best conference record during conference play. That, and a couple of bucks, will get you a cup of coffee, but not an automatic bid (unless you're in the Ivy League).
  • RPI - The mystical statistic that theoretically determines how good a team his. Roughly equivalent to WAR in baseball in that it's a rough estimate built of assumptions, unlike WAR in baseball in that the fan base at large has embraced it because they see in it an easy way to lobby for their favorite team. The lower the RPI the better. Not to be confused with Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, which has never qualified for the NCAA tournament. RPI is easily gamed through schedule shenanigans, as the Missouri Valley Conference demonstrates every year. The strength-of-schedule component's also spectacular at rewarding schools in big conferences, even if they get stomped regularly, and penalizing schools in small ones.
  • S-Curve - The model used for seeding teams in the tournament, familiar to anyone who's ever done an online fantasy baseball draft. In theory it results in the fairest matchup of teams in the tourney. In reality, there are so many secondary rules about teams from conferences not playing each other before a certain round and "protected" sites for higher ranked teams and whatnot that the S-curve is really more of a Final Tzadee Curve.
  • Strength of Schedule - Theoretically, how good the list of teams a team played is, with a side of "how good were the teams they played". In reality, a way to get rewarded for getting your head beaten in by Florida twice a year.
  • Triple Bye - What certain high seeds in certain conference tournaments get as a result of having a weird number of teams in their conference after being raided by The Conference Formerly Known As The Big East. Generally, a team with a triple bye doesn't have to play in its conference tournament, they just have to wait around for all the other teams to knock one another off, then accept the conference's automatic bid.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Monday night I attended the first hockey game that I've seen at the Consol Energy Center*. The Pittsburgh Penguins played the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although the Pens have sold out their last 260+ games, tickets aren't too hard to come by (they're downright easy to get online at a minimal markup). It's just that I'm super-lazy.

Random observations:

Pittsburgh fans know their hockey. They cheered when Pascal Dupuis managed to get the puck juuust far enough forward to avoid an icing call when his line was gassed and needed a change.

The steepness of the nosebleed
section gave my wife vertigo
Maybe I watch too much soccer**, but the number of stoppages in play and TV timeouts are far more annoying at the arena than they are when watching on TV.

The in-arena intermission balloons have gotten bigger since my last hockey game. I saw the ghost of Steve Fossett dangling from one of them.

Hockey players are terrible at nicknames.  Kris Letang is "Tanger," James Neal is "Nealer," Tyler Kennedy is "TK." Jordan Staal, when he was here, was known as "Staalsie," and when he left he was replaced by Brian Sutter, who is known as "Sutsie." Really.  If other sports adopted hockey-style nicknames we'd be reading about Strassburger and Beat-a-double-murder-rap-sie***.

I find the nickname "Sid the Kid" annoying, so that leaves us with only two Penguins players with decent nicknames: goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is "Flower," and center Evgeni Malkin is "Geno."  ("Geno" is such a yinzer nickname for the Russian Evgeni that it almost hurts.) Flower and Geno both had great games last night.

Malkin, as you may know, had been out for the last week with a concussion suffered in the Pens' previous game against the Lightning****. Malkin's unassisted tying goal in the third period was one of the most exciting hockey plays I've seen since watching Jaromir Jagr score while sliding on his face in the late 90s.

This was a good time. In theory I'm buying into a season-ticket plan next year and I'll get to five games. Can't wait.

* I saw a few games at the old Igloo. The Consol Center is a serious step up.
** I watch too much soccer
*** And with that the "number of posts since the last Ray Lewis joke" meter resets to zero
**** Fans around me assumed that this concussion, rather than casual barbarity, was the cause of Deryk Engelland's dustup with Pierre-Cedric Labrie about twenty seconds into the game.

A Modest Proposal, Olympic Wrestling Edition

This is how a Lord of the Rings rolls these days, fellas
It has come to our attention here at Sportsthodoxy Central (which, near as we can tell, is a point somewhere in the Monongahela National Forest, based on the main co-authors' respective domicile locations) that the coach of the Bulgarian national wrestling team has gone on a hunger strike to protest the removal of wrestling from the list of "core" Olympic sports. Bulgaria is what you might call a big deal in the world of international wrestling, with a laundry hamper full of medals garnered over the years. So if anyone is going to make the grand dramatic gesture on behalf of the venerable sport of grappling (and no, we don't mean MMA here - that's the not-venerable-sport of a couple of bad tattoo art and a couple of ineffectual kicks followed by grappling) one would expect the Bulgarians to be at the forefront, in a place of honor.
However, there exists one fatal flaw in the plan, namely, that the goal of the strike is to shame the senior nabobs of the Olympics into restoring wrestling to its rightful place. This approach contains within it a logical fallacy, namely, the certitude that the Nazgul of Samaranch's inner circle in fact possess something even faintly resembling a sense of shame. As evidenced by the various scandals documented elsewhere - bribery, vote selling, and suchlike - it is quite clear that these particular Five-ring wraiths would not know what to do with a sense of shame if it sat on their collective face and wiggled.
As such - and as supporters of wrestling's place in the games - we would like to propose an alternate plan, one that we feel has a better chance of restoring wrestling to its appropriate prominence. And that plan is, in brief, a bribe. If we hope to attract the attention of the IOC, we should focus our efforts where it has been demonstrated to have had the most effect in the past, which is to say, in the transfer of filthy lucre. As such, we humbly propose creating a Kickstarer, or perhaps a GoFundMe, the stated purpose of which would be to raise sufficient funds to pay off each of the appropriate officials responsible and thus get wrestling back in the games. We furthermore suggest that the project be called BOOBBOW - Bribing Olympic Officials to Bring Back Olympic Wrestling - in part because any modern movement needs an acronym, and in part because BOOBBOW is just fun to say.
We look forward to your joining us in the fight against Olympic tyranny, and to your standing shoulder to figurative shoulder with us in the forests along the Monongahela of the mind as we raise the banner of BOOBBOW and sally forth into dubiously moral but inevitably effective battle.
Thank you.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Fan Fest

Hit Bull, Get The Snot Beaten Out Of You By Said Bull

Sometimes, it's good to take a break from the snark.

This afternoon, I swung by the DBAP (Durham Bulls Athletic Park for those of you not privileged to live in the greater RTP area) for the annual Durham Bulls FanFest, which, I suspect, is like fanfests everywhere but had the distinct advantage of being located something less than fifteen minutes from my house.  Admission was free, though if you bought a "ticket" in advance you also got a free hot dog and soda (and possibly a cookie - sources were unclear) from a concession stand inside.

Friday, March 01, 2013


Not the Plumlee-McAdoo matchup.
Also, biast.
A little while back, I wrote a piece about attending a Duke-Carolina basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was not my first college basketball game, but it was my first Battle of the Blues, and it was my first trip to Cameron.

By our standards, it got a lot of hits. Some of those came courtesy of a link posted on reddit by a friend of the blog, and with that came...commentary. Sad, angry commentary, especially from one dude (and really, you'd expect a self-proclaimed grad student in statistics to be able to construct a better argument) who dismissed the whole thing out of hand because (and I'm paraphrasing here):

1) He claimed I made the notion of "cheat sheets" for cheers up, because he'd never seen one.
2) The listed stats for Mason Plumlee and James Michael McAdoo make their tussle look like less of a physical mismatch than it was.
3) Where he sits, people in the stands don't behave the way I said they did.
4) I implied that "the Cameron Crazies" and "the student section" were the same thing, instead of explicitly stating so.

To which I can only respond:

1) They do exist, as evidenced by every other commenter in that thread.
2) The listed heights and weights for Plumlee and McAdoo might be close, but anyone who's ever paid attention to sports knows you can trust the "official" stats like you can trust Pravda's latest report on a UFO landing in Murmansk.
3) How this guy - who claimed to be sitting in the grad student section - knows what the folks were doing in the nosebleed seats better than someone who was sitting there does is beyond me. I'd also like to introduce him to the woman who told my father "If you want to watch the game, go downstairs", presumably to the grad student section where people were sitting down.
4) My bad. Next time I'll be clearer.

Now as amusing as it is to see someone two steps away from recording a tearful YouTube video demanding "YOU LEAVE PLUMLEE ALONE!", what's really interesting there is the perceived need to defend Duke and Cameron against even the slightest hint of disapproval. To claim prejudice (spelled interestingly there) against poor, oppressed Duke. To suggest that anyone not already intimately familiar with all the customs and rituals shouldn't be going to a game there.

Now, if you read the piece, you will come across the tidbit that as a Boston College (GS of A&S '94 With Distinction, ThankYouVeryMuch) alum, I have no dog in the Duke-Carolina fight. I certainly didn't come in rooting for anything other than a good game, and I tried to write about what I saw and experienced there. A lot of folks, including some Duke alums I know, said nice things about the piece, and one even bothered to take time to teach me one of the chants. 

But still, there's "this guy was prejudice and misinformed about his visit" presumably because I should have fudged my reporting of the Plumlee-McAdoo tussle to seem like more of a fair fight. (Trust me. It wasn't. Put these two next to each other and it's like Bert and Herry Monster)  There's the need to take any less-than-glowing words about the beloved team as a personal insult, and to react accordingly. Sometimes it's by posting kvetches on reddit. Sometimes it's by claiming earth-shattering bias at the tiniest perceived slight. And sometimes it's just being a jackass to anyone who doesn't love your team as much as you do.

Side note: "Biased", of course, is not to be confused with "biast", which is also commonly referenced but which actually refers to the unique lower back anatomy of the Marvel comics supervillain Bi-Beast, who once notably fought the Hulk atop the SHIELD helicarrier. It should also not be confused with "baised", which is probably some sort of cooking technique, and not to be confused with wrestling legend Ted DeBiase. But I digress.

Here's something very simple: if you reflexively take every less-than-absolutely-adoring word written about your favorite team and decide that it is evidence of "bias" or "prejudice", you need help. If you cannot accept the slightest possibility that someone might have a well-reasoned or observed viewpoint that runs contrary to yours without immediately jumping to the assumption that they have an ulterior motive, then you're out in "the US is using a weather station in Alaska to threaten Bob Woodward" territory. The difference is in details, not in approach. 

So if you find yourself doing this - if your first reaction to a piece that includes your favorite team without consisting exclusively of hosannas of praise, you need to take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and ask yourself, "Do these guys, many of whom will make more money by age 25 than I will in my life and none of whom will ever know my name, really need me to defend them? "

Also, "Why am I looking in the mirror and talking to myself."

If you're really a fan, you're in for all of it - the good, the bad, and the what-can-get-better. To not want to hear anything critical is the sports fan equivalent of eating only candy; nothing that tastes bad, sure, but you're sure as hell gonna be surprised when that vitamin B deficiency kicks in. So eat your vegetables. Calm the hell down. And while you're at it, pick up your cheat sheet. It's real. I promise.

In Which Coach K is Consistent

Last night Virginia beat Duke. Virginia's home fans rushed the court. Duke coach / Polish Yoda Mike Krzyzewski was extremely unhappy about this and, apparently, traded some f-bombs with some Virginia fans. Krzyzewski said afterward that he was concerned about his players', coaches', and staff's safety in the crush.

People are giving him crap about this.

But I have to admire the man's consistency.  When Duke beat NC a few weeks ago, Krzyzewski stopped Duke's fans from rushing the court (by gesture and shouting):

So this isn't merely a case of "don't rush ME if I lose." Good on 'im.