John Calipari, hero anti-NCAA crusader?

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Kansas v Kentucky

Those who oppose the NCAA as an old-fashioned, draconian regulatory body designed for the sole purpose of maintaining profit-driven financial control over a highly valuable workforce are praising yesterday’s comments by University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, who addressed a basketball-related change in NCAA rules that will allow college players to declare for the NBA draft and, if invited, attend the NBA combine before they have to decide whether to withdraw from the draft in order to maintain their collegiate eligibility as follows:

Met with our team today. Told them that during the season it’s about the team and sacrificing for each other – which they did this year. When the season’s over, it’s about each individual player and what’s right for them and their families.

With that being said, every player who is eligible for the draft, including our walk-ons, will submit their names for the NBA Draft in hopes of being invited to the combine in May. The new rule states they can submit their name a total of three times. If they choose to withdraw, they have until 10 days after the combine. It’s a true win-win for the student-athlete.

Just so you know, having every kid put their name in the draft is about all players getting the right information. Players not invited to the combine know what that means. Players invited to the combine and told to go back to school know that that means. As I said, it’s a win-win for the student athletes. I like the rule.

(Emphasis added.)

On one hand, Calipari is right to encourage his players to gain as much information as they can about their professional prospects, especially where there is no penalty to the player for seeking that information. The new regime– allowing players to wait until after the combine to decide whether to withdraw from the draft– provides players considering continuing their basketball careers on a professional level a valuable option.

Calipari isn’t merely praising this change as a beneficial option for “student-athletes,” however. Continue reading

Extra! Extra! Read all about what you’ve already read!

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What’s with all the newsletters? Last week, I wrote about Bill Simmons’ new, post-Grantland website, The Ringer, which launched not with a splashy homepage prepopulated with articles, but with an email newsletter. Over a week later, TheRinger.com still exists as a simple placeholder page with little more than a button for subscribing to that email newsletter and podcast download links. As of this afternoon, Simmons & Co. have released a total of six newsletters.

Two days ago, FanGraphs announced that it too would introduce an email newsletter, and, later that day, the first issue arrived:   Continue reading

The Phillies have given up, finally

Back in February, before the 2015 MLB season started, I wrote that the projected-to-be-terrible Philadelphia Phillies should just give up and put themselves out to pasture. They did not immediately heed my advice. Nearly four months later, the team found itself with a 22-44 record, the worst in all of baseball. Cue the terminal sequence: Continue reading

The moral implications of StatCast

moralitycastIf your neighborhood baseball nerd is nerding out a little more than usual today, it’s probably because Pluto’s in retrograde right now or something, and it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with tonight’s television broadcast debut of StatCast, which will go far beyond showing balls and strikes by tracking things like player movements and batted-ball data. Ben Lindbergh has a good preview of the technology and its chief implications for expanded baseball analysis here.   Continue reading

Lions-Falcons Non-Preview

Detroit football fans living in Atlanta were treated to a fleeting moment of excitement upon the release of the 2014 NFL schedule, which showed the Lions and Falcons meeting in a Week 8 home game for Atlanta. That moment of excitement fleeted as those fans noticed the kickoff time, 9:30 am, and further investigation revealed the location of the game to be London, England, Great Britain, United Kingdom. Remind me again why we fought the Revolution?

After a hot start, the Falcons aren’t looking too good lately. Up in Motown, it’s the Lions who are looking like the UGA Bulldogs, putting together the pieces and winning with their best player on the sidelines. The Lions still should consider the Falcons a dangerous opponent this week– that is, assuming the Falcons even make it to the game:

The truth is, after their team’s disappointing start, Falcons fans probably are less worried about their team showing up in Spain for a game in London than they are about the fact that there apparently are no direct flights from Hartsfield-Jackson to Heathrow.

(HT: Deadspin)

Book Review: Paul Finebaum’s Conference has Beaten Your Conference (Probably)

IMG-20140814-00138For someone who spends twenty hours a week on national airwaves as the host of an eponymous radio show, now simulcast on cable television, and makes regular television appearances on a major network, Paul Finebaum sure does manage to keep himself hidden.

I am not a longtime listener of Finebaum’s show by any means. I first remember hearing about him when I moved back to SEC country during the 2012 football season and he was still broadcasting on Birmingham’s WJOX. Due largely to my own preconceived misconceptions, I was surprised when I first heard the show following its move to ESPN Radio in 2013 to find that it was an extremely caller-driven show, to the point where Finebaum rarely asserted his own voice for purposes other than briefly sparring with or otherwise egging on his admittedly bombastic callers. At that time, the majority of those callers remained Alabama-based, and the Alabama-Auburn football rivalry served as nearly every item on the host’s go-to menu.

While a lot of this struck me as fairly standard cheap talk radio tactics, I remained intrigued by this person, who had risen to such prominence and reported influence, despite, I thought, hardly taking active steps to exert much in the way of influence. I therefore read the then-recent and still-surprising long feature on Finebaum in The New Yorker with great interest and anticipation. I found the piece to be more an introduction for Manhattanites to the other SEC and its attendant culture than a deep dive on Finebaum himself. Finebaum as access point, rather than Finebaum as subject. (A long Deadspin feature from the same year had a similar effect.) It’s a worthwhile read if you like college football. Still, I did not feel like I knew or understood this man, though, or why he was so widely regarded.

Fast forward (the lazy blogger wrote) to August 14, 2014. The SEC Network, an ESPN entity, launches (on Tim Tebow’s birthday, naturally), and Finebaum’s book, My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football, arrived in my mailbox.

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Ray Rice’s suspension in context

In news today that was mostly (but not totally) condemned as tone-deaf and inappropriate, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games, but no preseason games, practices, or training camp activities, and docked his pay for a third game, for beating his then-fiancee, Janay, until she was unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator at an Atlantic City casino this February. That the NFL has a serious domestic abuse problem became frighteningly clear at Rice’s post-beating press conference (which I unfortunately had to highlight here). Today’s mild sanction did nothing to change that nauseating narrative.

Deadspin put together a list of “other notable NFL suspensions,” which offers some context for Rice’s two-game sanction. If you want to read the list, with all of the details and circumstances, it’s available here. I’ve attempted to distill the list to the basics below.    Continue reading

The “unkillable” Detroit Red Wings make the playoffs again

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When a late goal sent their game into overtime and then a shootout against the Penguins in Pittsburgh last night, the Red Wings earned a point in the standings and secured a playoff spot for the twenty-third consecutive year, keeping alive the longest postseason streak in professional sports. As Deadspin put it this morning,

“the Red Wings sneaking into the playoffs” sounds like an underachievement. But this is a team that has absolutely no business being where it is, and it’s a triumph as big as anything Detroit’s achieved in years.

More on the Red Wings soon.

Don’t drag me into this Richard Sherman thing

Knowing roughly how the internet works, I had a pretty good idea that Richard Sherman’s postgame interview with Erin Andrews would elicit a substantial amount of “discussion” as I watched it on Sunday night. I also had a reasonable suspicion that that discussion would become a discussion about the discussion. That’s because, as I wrote here the next morning, Sherman’s interview was not all that remarkable when compared with other works in the same genre.

In the immediate aftermath of his comments, a lot of people said racist things about him, including labeling him a “thug.” The new online sports media critics (shorthand: Deadspin), collectively about which I’ve attempted to write before, preemptively steeled themselves against charges of racism by 1) labeling Sherman’s critics racists and 2) wholly endorsing Sherman’s comments.

It’s important to take the nation’s temperature on race issues periodically, but the race element of this discussion isn’t particularly interesting or nuanced, even though it does come with an Ivy-League-esque twist. However bluntly they did so, Deadspin et al. are right to stand up against racist tendencies in our discourse. Does that mean they need to go all-in with Sherman, though? No.

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Mike Shanahan channels Brady Hoke, Falcons hang on to win 27-26

redskins-falcons 2013As reported, I was on hand to watch the Falcons host the Redskins (Monuments?) yesterday afternoon, and it was everything you’d hope a late-season pairing of three-win teams would be. Atlanta’s offense was boring but effective in the first half, relying primarily on Steven Jackson, back in action after an early season injury, and Tony Gonzales, who in the second half became just the fifth NFL player ever to tally 15,000 receiving yards. On the other side of the ball, Kirk Cousins’ performance was a mixed bag. Against Atlanta’s soft defense, Cousins posted better passing numbers than Robert Griffin III– spotted wearing warmups on the sideline– has this season, but a couple of interceptions proved costly. Washington nevertheless was in a position to take the game to overtime, or win it outright, thanks to a late touchdown that ran the score to 27-26. Opting to go for the regulation kill on the road, Mike Shanahan made like Brady Hoke and called for the two-point conversion, which failed. Atlanta recovered the sloppy onside kick to seal the one-point win.

Having read about far more NFL games than I’ve attended, the game experience was a bit odd. Even taking into account Atlanta fans’ reputation for lacking a feverish commitment to their teams, the vibe was beyond mellow in the Georgia Dome on Sunday. The noise level was somewhere between a Braves game and the Masters. One fan in our section who caught a free t-shirt used it as a pillow to rest. Another took a nap without similar support. And these weren’t alcohol-induced rests– the only even semi-drunk person we saw was a mom indulging in too much smuggled adult fruit punch– it really was that quiet. Our entire row, and most of our section, including the man pictured above who stood with his back to the field and wouldn’t get out of my picture even though I didn’t ask him to, left before the end of the third quarter, when the Falcons led by only four.

We didn’t find any of this upsetting, and our people-watching experience was further enhanced by the skilled camera operators feeding the nice video boards with fun fan shots. (The ushers probably could stand to lighten up a bit, though. 3-9 vs. 3-9 in December deserves a lighter touch from the regulatory folks.)

falcons-redskins 2 Continue reading