A Word Of Caution On The Penn State Ruling

A rare double column day at Gen Y!  I’m overextending myself, obviously.  I promise not to write again for three weeks…

It’s hard not to be fascinated by what took place this very morning when NCAA president Mark Emmert took unprecedented measures against Penn State University. The school will be forced to pay $60 million to be given to child abuse causes, will be banned from bowls for four years, and will slowly vacate increasing numbers of football scholarships over that time period. Furthermore, the NCAA erased all of Joe Paterno’s wins from 1998 until 2011 meaning he will no longer go down in record books as the all-time winning-est coach in college football history.

I even dare to broach this subject in the first place because of the shocking reactions I’ve seen on both sides of the fence on this issue. You’re either really, really happy about what the NCAA did this morning or you’re really, really pissed off about it.

Admittedly I’m a weak person and can’t really decide what side I want to side with on this one.

I confess that I felt a sick sort of pleasure this morning knowing that all of the Penn Staters out there basically suffered the post-modern version of the NCAA death penalty. By all accounts, one could easily argue that what Emmert did was far worse than anything suffered by SMU back in the 80s. I smiled when he read his penalties out loud. I do believe that this was a problem with a college, a city, and an overall culture. Whatever side you agree with, you have to admit that the NCAA did make an attempt to punish that whole community with this ruling. I liked that, sadly.

On the flip side though, I can’t stand the idea of the NCAA as an entity in the first place. If you ask me, the whole notion of college athletics really is a modern day version of slavery. It’s a bunch of rich white dudes making vast amounts of cash for doing nothing whatsoever and not deserving any of the ridiculous amounts of money that they earn.

If you’re not familiar with the history of the NCAA, you may not know that they used to wield almost no power whatsoever. They only gained their modern day authority thanks to Walter Byers doing some savvy political moving back in the 1950s. It was then that the schools kind of agreed without knowing it to let the NCAA have authoritative powers.

For the first time since those early days when none of the schools actually paid attention to the NCAA, these last five years have seemed to finally show the general public that we need to get rid of the idea of amateurism and the NCAA once and for all. College sports, bowl games, all of it. Until the athletes are compensated there is simply no justification for its existence, no matter how enjoyable it is to root for your alma mater.

My fear is that what we just witnessed this morning is the second most important event in the history of the NCAA since Walter Byers was hired all the way back in the 1950s. I’m afraid that Mark Emmert just rebranded the NCAA as a moral authority in the eyes of the public and that they’ll use this new position to continue an unjustified existence. So long as they keep the blood-thirsty public satisfied, the public will drop this notion that the organization needs to be terminated.

The sad reality is that those saps at the NCAA don’t care about the victims at Penn State. The only thing they’ve proven to care about in their entire history is self preservation. As satisfying as it was this morning to see that program get what it deserved, there’s a danger in the amount of power the NCAA just attempted to demonstrate. So I urge you all caution.

Don’t be fooled by their sudden amount of empathy for the plights of the student athletes in letting all the kids transfer immediately and without penalty. Don’t be fooled by the NCAA using the fine money for charitable causes. And don’t be fooled by Mark freaking Emmert who once used his power as NCAA president to prevent a kid from playing at Kentucky, simply because the kid reneged on an offer to play at Washington while Emmert was the president there. He’s a petty sap who makes $1.6 million for the stupidest, most pointless job in the entire country.

This is the NCAA version 2.0 and they’re coming to a campus near you.

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Good Morning Generation

The NBA season is still very, very young.  A lot of people would rightly call any gross assumptions thus far as being extremely premature.  Stat nerds always lean towards mentioning a “larger sample size” and they’re mostly correct.  However, there’s one thing I can’t shake about a certain famous player on the league’s most famous franchise.  The man: Kobe Bean Bryant.  The team: the Los Angeles Lakers.

The issue?  The Kobe dilemma.

I touched on this in a roundup NBA column I wrote the other day, but it’s become increasingly clear that Kobe is intent on winning his way or no way at all.  I mentioned a shocking incident I witnessed the other night between the Rockets and Lakers (more on that later), but then came this Rick Reilly piece yesterday on ESPN.com which made it clear that Bryant is dead set on maintaining the status quo.  The status quo being that he is the Lakers primary scorer and that the offense must be run through him.

Listen to what he says to Reilly.  “Look, I’ve played 15 years. I’ve won world championships. I’ve done all these things. And people still want to talk about this stupid-a** [stuff]? I’m a scorer first … I’ll try to make the good play, the good pass, kick it out when my teammates are open, but I’m a scorer first. I may shoot 27 times. I may shoot 20 times. Nobody complains when I shoot 10 times. You don’t hear ME complaining when I shoot 10 times. It just depends on the game, you know?

There are two sides to this argument.  The first is the completely defensible position that Kobe is hurting his team by taking up too many possessions and utilizing so many of the Lakers’ shots.  Anyone who watches the Lakers right now can see that Andrew Bynum is the Lakers’ best player.  He has length that simply cannot be guarded by his peers in the NBA and we all agree that it’s far more efficient to give a guy 20-30 shots from the five foot range than have a shooting guard take 20-30 shots from fifteen feet.  There’s obviously a higher probability associated with converting a shot the closer it is to the basket.  It seems to be a no-brainer that a team would rather have Bynum leading the offense.

It’s not a no-brainer though (is it a brainer?), and thus comes the other side of the argument which is far more complex than one might imagine.  Unfortunately, because of how tight-lipped Kobe is off the court, we can only speculate as to what’s really going on for this side of the argument which leads to zero conclusions.  From the small amount that Kobe has given us, it’s increasingly clear that he views himself unquestionably as being the Lakers’ best player.  The easy argument is to say that it’s because he’s a stubborn, past-his-prime, aging star that refuses to give up his role.  For most players out there that would probably be true.  But this is Kobe Bryant, one of the ten greatest basketball players who ever lived and the second greatest shooting guard of all-time.  Why do we still doubt when he insists that everything is going to be okay?  Why do we refuse to acknowledge his point that about winning five championships?

The complex aspect is that with Kobe, almost everything he says or does seems to prove true with time, although he bears an unholy amount of criticism before it does.  Do you remember how ostracized he was after forcing the Shaq trade?  Turns out he was right there.  Shaq quit working hard years before he was shipped off to the Heat, choosing to party and binge eat rather than commit himself to win like Kobe.  Bryant saw all that.  He realized they easily could have added two or three more rings, if only the big fella could have had some discipline.  At the time we blasted him for being selfish enough to ruin what could have been the greatest dynasty ever.  But it’s only now that we see that Kobe was right.

Is it possible that the exact same thing is going on here with Bynum?  That the current Lakers center isn’t putting in the work that Bryant knows it will take to win a title?  Is it possible something deeper went on during last year’s horrific playoff collapse that will prohibit Kobe from ever trusting Bynum (as well as Gasol) again?  History proves that we should probably lean towards this conclusion.

I’m really worried for the Lakers though.  There are two things that have happened thus far that I can only describe as shocking.  The first was this admission by head coach Mike Brown: “I think this is a players’ league and I don’t care if you’re Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich or whoever. Your best player has to allow you to coach him.  Right now Kobe Bryant allows me to coach him.  And I don’t have any problem saying that. It makes it easier for me to coach this team.

What kind of a head coach admits that? Red Auerbach is rolling over in his grave after hearing that.

The second incident is the aforementioned conclusion to the Lakers-Rockets game the other night.  For those who already know what happened, I apologize for the redundancy, but it’s worth reexamining.  In the final five minutes of that game the other night, the Lakers were clearly going to beat the Rockets, it was only a matter of getting a couple baskets to close it out.  Obviously you have no problem with Kobe taking those initial shots to shut the game down.  He made them on two straight possessions and the ballgame was clearly over.

Except the game had some special significance.  Andrew Bynum just so happened to be within a point or two of achieving his first 20-20 game of his NBA career.  And for those out there who think nights like that don’t matter to players, you’re an idiot.  It’s also worth noting that if you think Kobe Bryant wasn’t aware of that possible statistical milestone, you’re an even bigger idiot.  So with the game in hand, clearly closed out by Kobe, what did Mr. Bryant decide to do?

He proceeded with one of the most shocking exhibitions of keep away I’ve ever witnessed on a basketball court.  He practically assaulted the Lakers point guard to give him the ball when they’d reach their half court offense and intentionally took the shot on six or so straight possessions.  At one point it became clear that he had his own shot at 40 points, which only encouraged him to freeze out Bynum at an even more alarming rate.  Up by at least ten with very little time left, Kobe actually chucked a three within the first ten seconds of a shot clock.

It was so clear that something else was at work that night, that a message was being sent.  This is Kobe Bryant’s team and anyone that didn’t like it could get the f—- off his court.  It was as if Kobe was flipping Bynum the double bird after each shot attempt, letting him know who his daddy was.  Only a miracle full-court, fast-break heave by Matt Barnes allowed Bynum to convert the 20-20.  The damage was done though.  The message was sent.

The Lakers are going to live and die by Kobe Bryant this year.  That is an undisputable fact.

In the black mamba they must trust.

So why is it so damn hard to believe in him?

Generation Y, where we’d like to be the next offensive coordinator of the Patriots, best launching pad ever.

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Good Morning Generation

I’ve had this theory in my head for the last three days and it’s time I finally unloaded it on the tens of people who visit the site.  If you were coming up with some witty thesis/title for the idea it would go something like this – How the Philadelphia Eagles became the Dallas Cowboys or: the trap of the celebrity football team.  My basic premise is that the Eagles, tired of seemingly always falling short in the NFC playoffs, decided to move a different direction as an organization this year, seemingly going “all in” on an attempt to finally win a Super Bowl.  The manner in which they went about it?  Signing nearly every free agent whose name you could recognize before the season began.  This is not a good thing.

Think back to the Dallas Cowboys circa 2007.  The big tuna abruptly left Dallas after making the playoffs in two consecutive years, tired of dealing with Jerry Jones’ shenanigans and a team that he no doubt felt was mentally weak.  It was widely agreed in that locker room that they needed a “player’s coach” because Coach Parcells was definitely too “old school” for the modern game and the modern athlete. Enter Wade Phillips and their shocking 13-3 record the next season with a roster mostly assembled by Parcells.  The team had star power coming out of their ears, with a record 13 players being named to the Pro Bowl that season.  At the time, it wasn’t far fetched for an average fan to be able to name every single player that started for the Cowboys.  Despite the disappointment of a divisional round exit to the Giants, Dallas entered 2008 with even higher expectations, eventually just missing the playoffs after a blowout loss to the Eagles in the 17th week of the season in the final home game at the old Texas Stadium.  You might best remember that team for its appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks and the annoying way they were discussed single day on ESPN, despite never achieving anything. 

It didn’t help that they had Terrell Owens at the height of his media-seeking powers, a version of Romo that wasn’t quite ready to take over as the leader, and like we’ve discussed before, a ton of egos and “names” in that lockerrom.  Think of all the bizarre incidents those teams produced: the TO alleged suicide attempt/overdose, the TO weeping press conference where he defended Romo as his quarterback, the alleged favoritism shown to Jason Witten over TO, etc.  Ed Werder likely slept for a total of only 12 hours in all of his years covering those bizarre teams.  And as we all witnessed and can no doubt agree, the perceived talent and star power of those teams is exactly what caused their demise.  The team eventually got lazy, believing that their talent alone would allow them to reach the promised land, and this was especially reinforced by Wade Phillips’ loose coaching style, which I’m pretty sure will show up in a thesaurus as the antonym for disciplined.

Look at the Philadelphia Eagles right now.  Look at why they keep losing.  It’s all the little things.  Last week they had a huge opportunity to blow open the game against the 49ers.  They put big name signee Ronnie Brown into the game to finish off a touchdown drive.  What did the former star running back do?  He panicked after one of his blockers fell down, attempted to throw a pass while getting spun to the ground, and turned over the ball on the one yard line.  It was a huge blow that eventually cost them the game.  Look at the week before when they failed a number of times to punch it in for a touchdown in the red zone, when big name corner Nnamdi Asomugha inexplicably allowed Victor Cruz to outjump double coverage for a touchdown, when former Giant Steve Smith, another big signing, tipped a ball he should have caught in the red zone to Giants corner Aaron Ross for an interception.  It’s all those little things that add up over the course of the season and cause a team to just miss the playoffs.  I don’t know why it happens but with teams that have a lot of big names on the roster, there seems to be a trend towards letting the little things curtail the season’s goals.

It was with that thought in mind that I picked the Eagles to underachieve this year and just miss the playoffs and it was with that thought in mind that I successfully predicted they’d lose a bunch of close games.  Sure, it’s fun as hell to draft the Eagles players for your fantasy team.  They always produce, like clockwork.  It was the same way with all of those Cowboys teams with TO and the like.  The problem is that the allusion of statistical fantasy success doesn’t translate to playoff victories.  You might notice that in the Eagles lone victory this season against the Rams, Michael Vick actually had his “worst” game, by your basic fantasy measures (his line that night: 187 yards passing for 2 TDs, 97  yards rushing).  It’s because the Eagles won the possession battle that day and ran for 236 yards as a team.

I’m not saying it’s too late for this Philadelphia team to get it together.  Michael Vick certainly has an eff you edge to him that Tony Romo never had, has, nor will ever have.  However it is interesting that you need only look at historical trends for rosters that are assembled based on name recognition to see how they turned out as a team.  Dan Snyder’s Washington Redskins, anybody? 

What the Eagles need to do is somehow become the NFL version of The U, becoming so physically and psychologically dominant over opponents that the result is a series of blowout victories that leave people shaking their heads, wondering what the hell just happened.  For some reason the Eagles confidence just quite isn’t there yet, in much the same manner the Cowboys were never that way once they hit the field.  Playing like those Canes teams is the only proven way a collection of confident, talented football players like the Eagles roster has ever succeeded at any level. 

The problem is Andy Reid is no Jimmie Johnson.

Generation Y, where we’d like to start the movement to call Adrian Beltre Senor October.

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Here’s Proof Of Baseball’s Decline

I wasn’t lying earlier when I said this sport is dying a slow death.  Remember when I said this upcoming generation of kids is the most impatient group of people to ever exist?  Turns out it’s true.  American youth are playing baseball in smaller and smaller numbers every year.  The biggest reason?  It’s too slow.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Hank Crone is the grandson of a major leaguer and the son of one of the top scouts for the Detroit Tigers. Growing up in north Texas, one of the world’s great breeding grounds for baseball talent, there was no question he’d play the family game.

But after a few seasons, the athletically gifted 13-year-old said he found himself absent-mindedly kicking the outfield grass during travel-team games. The problem: he was bored. “I like baseball,” he said, “but it’s just too slow for me.”

Two years ago, Hank dropped baseball for hockey, a game that feeds his love for speed and constant movement. He now plays wing and center for a Chicago-based select team that has traveled to tournaments in Russia and Sweden. “Look, if anyone would want him to play baseball it would be me,” said Hank’s dad, Ray Crone, Jr. “But you’ve got to follow your heart in this sort of thing, so let him do what he wants.”

As the 2011 Major League Baseball season begins Thursday, the national pastime has a problem. Too many kids like Hank Crone are choosing to dedicate themselves to other sports.

With 11.5 million players of all ages in the U.S., baseball remains the fourth-most-popular team sport, trailing only basketball, soccer and softball.

But over the last 16 years, numbers for Little League Baseball, which accounts for about two-thirds of the country’s youth play, have been steadily dropping. And there are signs the pace is accelerating.

From 2000 to 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of kids aged 7 to 17 playing baseball fell 24%, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an industry trade group. Despite growing concerns about the long-term effects of concussions, participation in youth tackle football has soared 21% over the same time span, while ice hockey jumped 38%. The Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, another industry trade group, said baseball participation fell 12.7% for the overall population.

Time to fix something MLB.

[Wall Street Journal]

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