Sports: Officiating, Part I

The football season ended the way a lot of seasons end with people talking about the officiating. A couple of calls and non-calls at the end of the game provided a sure-fire way for the Rams to win the game. Officiating across all the professional sports just seems to be pretty bad and no one really seems to do much about it. Nobody wants to talk about how much the officials determine the outcome of a game. Often times they are the main reason that a team wins the game. As in a previous blog, I stated that no pregame analysis ever includes, how the officials are going to do. What really determines who wins the game is the official’s competency, luck, and team ineptitude. Everyone on the outside of sports looking in, mainly the fans and media, knows that officiating is at it’s all time worst. Before we can look at ways to improve officiating, we need to look at the current state of officiating in each league.

What are the officials getting paid? They seem to be getting paid pretty well. In fact, officiating is not a bad gig to do, if you can be one of the lucky few who make it to the top. Most of this has just happened over the last twenty years but everybody is doing pretty well. The average salary of refs and officials in the various sports is around $200,000 a year. The highest paid are in the NBA, and the lowest in the NHL, but veteran officials are making well into 6 figures. Only the NFL refs do not receive a benefit package, since they are considered part time employees. We all know that the NFL refs hold down a full-time job during the week. This seems perfectly all right to the NFL, and even have shills in the press, to endorse that this is fine to have officials decide outcomes of games, with lots of other pressing issues on their minds during the week. The salaries are not all the same. The more experience and responsibility you have on the job, you will be paid more, sometimes considerably more, around twice the average league salary. The so-called better refs that do playoff games, get quite a bonus. The Super Bowl refs got a $30,000 to 50,000 bonus, and all the other leagues give $10,000 to $20,000 bonuses to work each playoff and championship series. They get travel expenses and obviously there is lots of travel. All and all, you can say that the referees and officials in pro sports are compensated quite nicely, for all the abuse that they sometimes have to take.

Then there are three factors that are all related and entwined with each other. Are professional officials, trained, do they regular go through performance reviews, and is anybody fired or demoted for incompetence or poor performance. There is very little or no training for officials in each league. What there is, is usually in the beginning of the season, and is more related to being in shape, than trying to hone judgement and refereeing skills. Obviously, none of the professional leagues thinks that practice makes perfect should apply to officials. Performance reviews are something else that is not high on the list of priorities in the various leagues. The NBA has none, and the other leagues only have periodic reviews, with baseball having most, which includes umpires going over their balls and strikes call. That leads to the not so surprising finding that hardly anyone ever gets fired or demoted for making bad calls that determine the outcomes of games. Not only do officials get paid well, but they also have job security second to none. Most of the firings, demotions and suspensions have had to with situations off the field, unrelated to job performance. There was one instance of an NFL official getting fired for missing an offside call, but that has been it. For whatever reason, the NFL just seemed to want to make an example of him. Nothing happened to ref who blew the pass interference call that most likely cost New Orleans a trip to the Super Bowl. As a general rule, leagues think that not allowing a ref or official to do post season games in the future is punishment enough.

That is the work environment of professional officiating. There are some basics that need to be changed, that could help improve officiating, which will be in part II of this blog. There is no question that officiating and umpiring games is a thankless task, where one must suffer a lot of abuse, while performing one’s duties. Instant replay was supposed to right the bad calls and it seemed like such a simple concept. Again, professional sports have screwed that up so bad, that it has become more of a pain in the ass, than what it has been worth. I am an advocate of replay and there is an easy and simple way to use replay, that does not cause the game to come to a grinding halt. Even though I think the solutions to improve officiating are quite simple, there won’t be any improvement until each league admits that it is terrible and then cares enough to do something about. That day has not arrived yet.

Sports: Things We Will Never See Again

I have been watching and observing sports for over 60 years. Over those years many things have change in each of the major team sports. Most of these changes have been for the better. Better training, better equipment, and better playing fields have helped all the sports be more entertaining. There are some things in each sport, that will never be seen again, that made each sport unique and were outstanding athletic accomplishments. I feel sad that the younger generation of sport fans will never see these things, that were almost common, from the late 50’s, to the late 70’s. It was a different way the sport was played, that made the sport a little more fun and inspiring. Today each sport is pretty much thriving, so I don’t think any of these things will ever be seen again, even though they would help their respective sport to be better. Some will never be seen again, because the players just cannot perform the tasks anymore, and probably never will. Let’s take a look at each sport.

Baseball will never see these pitching performances ever again. Going back to 1960, on opening Don Drysdale pitched an opening day 11 inning complete game beating the Chicago Cubs 3 to 2. In the greatest pitching duel of all time Warren Spahn, 42 years old at the time, battled Juan Marichal for 16 innings, 0-0 until fittingly Willie Mays hit a home run in the bottom of the 16th, to end one of the greatest games in Major League history. Each pitcher threw well over 200 pitches. Mickey Lolich of the Detroit Tigers, in 1971 threw 376 innings and completed 29 games. Today pitchers don’t complete 29 games in their career. The last time any pitcher threw 300 innings was Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980. This year in the American League nobody threw 200 innings. We will never see a base stealing, superior defensive and great pitching team win a World Series ever again. The Los Angeles Dodgers played in 4 World Series, won 3, from 1959 to 1966 with this type of team. This type of team will never exist in baseball again, even though that formula could still win.

Football will never see the Wishbone offense, one of the most exciting and explosive offenses in the history of college football. It had its peak in the late 60’s up until the early 80’s. The company line has been that defenses devised ways of stopping the Wishbone. In reality the NFL put the clamps on the Wishbone. The Wishbone required a quarterback who was athletic, quick and deceptive with the ball for the attack to be formidable. He had to have some throwing ability but did not have to be tall. He needed to be able to read the line of scrimmage for the Wishbone to work. This was not the prototype QB the NFL was looking for. Being the minor leagues of pro football, colleges had to start producing what the NFL wanted. Then when the pro spread offense became popular in the NFL in the 80’s, the college game just followed suit to keep the NFL happy. We will never see an NFL quarterback call all his own plays. It wasn’t by accident that in the 50’s, 60’s, and most of the 70’s the quarterback was called the field general. Every quarterback in the NFL, with exception of the Cleveland Browns, called his own plays. Rarely was a play sent in from the bench. On rare occasions, when a play would be sent in, many times it would be ignored. We will never see the two-back offense in the NFL,again. There were some historic tandems in the 60’s and 70’s. Cleveland had Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell. The list of great running tandems can just roll off the tongue: Taylor and Hornung, Kiick and Csonka, Harris and Blier. Everybody knows who they played for. This all ended in the 80’s thanks to Bill Walsh. You could call it, the end of deception in pro football. It is the main reason you see so many 3rd, 4th and 1 yd. to go failures.

In basketball you will never really see fast break offense again. This was the most exciting basketball ever. The 60’s 70’s and 80’s was the fast break era in basketball, led by the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Today the fast break is only run when the opportunity presents itself. The 3-point shot may have something to do with this, but most of all, I think it is just an easier way to play the game, having some sort of half court set offense. Then there is hockey, God love them. You will never see players in hockey play without helmets or goalies without facemasks. In the sixties and seventies your manhood was challenged, if you thought about wearing some kind of face and head protection. Many players were either embarrassed or afraid to ask for a helmet or mask. It was not until 1979, that helmets were mandated in hockey and that was only for the new players coming in. If you did not wear a helmet up to that point, you could continue to play and get your head bashed in by another player or the puck. Hockey’s version of keeping players safe.

I feel quite fortunate that I did get to see all the things that I mentioned, that will never be seen again. The list is not complete, but it will do for now. I think that for the most part these sports have suffered, with the exception of hockey, for these things that will never be seen or done again. Yes, the athletes today, are bigger, faster, and quicker than their counterparts of times gone by. However, players in the past have done things that none of them will ever do. The athletes of today will never experience some of the tactics and strategies that had made their particular sport great.

Sports: How to Blow a Lead, NFL Championship Weekend

The Super Bowl is set, with the Cincinnati Bengal to go up against the L. A. Rams. Both games followed a similar pattern, with the Chiefs and the 49er’s blowing leads in both games. The Chiefs were ahead by 11 at the half, and the 49ers had a 10-point lead going into the 4th quarter. The Chiefs made one of the biggest bonehead plays in the history of the playoffs, and the 49ers had a total meltdown in the 4th quarter. Before we get to the specifics of the games, there was one thing that was very clear. The powers to be of the NFL made the decision to let the boys play, baby, let the boys play. These two games had more non calls than any two games this year. First of all, the most popular penalty in the NFL, holding, on plays from the line of scrimmage, was called only once in both games and it was declined. In the KC game, there were two pass interference penalties that weren’t called against the Chiefs. A solid hit out of bounds by the Bengals was not called. A couple of face masks calls were missed on both sides, and an intentional grounding by Mahomes was not called. Things got even worse in the SF game. Two helmet to helmet calls were ignored, a late hit on Samuels was ignored, and LA should have been flagged twice for delay of game, but instead was allowed to go ahead with the play. I think the non-calls were balanced, so I do not think any team got a major advantage, but it was obvious the NFL did not want these games to be penalty filled. I think this did contribute to the low number of sacks in each game. Burrows was sacked the most, 4 times but compared to last week’s number of 9 sacks, this had to be a walk in the park. The Rams did not even get a sack but did come up with a big pressure and game sealing interception in the end. These lack of calls in both games were not a coincidence, and I guess that is one way to run a game, just let the players beat the crap out of one another. So much for player safety.

The Bengal game boiled down to one of the biggest bonehead plays at the end of the first half by the KC Chiefs. With 5 secs to go in the half- and no-time outs, and the ball on the Bengals one yard line, the Chiefs elected to do one more play, rather than get the sure 3 points. The decision was ok, but the execution of the play, by one of the premier quarterbacks in game was horrendous and wound up costing the Chiefs the game. He did not throw the ball into the endzone but threw to Tyrek Hill at about the 2-yard line and he was immediately tackled in the field of play, which ended the first half and no score by the Chiefs. The lack of three points cost the Chiefs the game. If they had kicked that field goal, then the field goal at the end of the game would have won the game, rather than just send the game into overtime. Both head coach Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes seem contrite about the play. Reid said he PROBABLY gave Mahomes the wrong play and Mahomes said he got greedy. Nobody mentioned the word stupid, brainless, or moronic, that kept the Chiefs from scoring any points at the end of the first half. It also had to give the Bengals a much-needed psychological lift. All the other plays that did affect the outcome of this game, seemed minor when compared with that bonehead play. The Bengal are Superbowl bound, and I have to admit, Joe Burrows is about as impressive as they come, in only his second NFL season.

The Ram-49er game came down to a monumental collapse by the 49er’s. The Rams came back but the 49ers handed it to them on a silver platter. After the Rams cut the lead to 17-14, the 49ers got the ball 3 more times. The first time, they moved the ball to the LA 45-yard line, where they had a 2nd and 1 for a first down. Like so many teams, they could not make that yard in two plays and then did not have enough guts to go for it on 4th down. The next time they got the ball the score was tied 17-17. This time the SF offense wound up getting a delay of game penalty, sandwiched around 3 terrible incomplete passes. Their last possession, they got the ball trailing 20-17 with 1:46 remaining in the game. Three plays later, after losing 3 yards on the first 2 plays, Jimmy Garoppolo threw the game ending interception, just trying to get rid of the ball. Before all of that, the 49ers caught a kick-off that would have either gone out of bounds or into the endzone, had a taunting penalty, an interception drop, that was more like catching a punt, and an obvious helmet to helmet hit, all of which, would ensure the Rams comeback would not be in vain. The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Franscisco 49ers turned blowing a lead into an art form. An art form that cost them both, a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

Sports: Not So Home Sweet Home

The divisional playoff games more than made up for a not so wild card weekend, the week before. All four games ended with a field goal, winning the game in the first 3 games, and sending the 4th game into overtime. My game deciding factors went 4 for 4 in deciding who should win the game. I did not fare as well, thinking that the home team would win all four games. The home team in fact would have lost all 4 games, if the Buffalo Bills would have not blown the game in the last 13 seconds. Even though all four games ended similarly, each day’s games had their own identity. Saturday’s games were defensive struggles, and Sunday’s games were closer to offensive shootouts. Let’s delve into each game as they happened this weekend.

The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans 19-16 with a field goal on the last play of the game. Tennessee had only 3 deciding points in the game. One I considered luck the interception that was held up by replay. I considered it luck because it could have gone either way. If it had been called an incomplete pass on the field, I am sure that it would have held up also. Cincinnati had two incompetent plays, the kick catch interference and one significant dropped pass. Cincinnati had 7 deciding points to help them win the game. Luck when a delay of game penalty nullified a sack. An officiating blunder when they missed a Cincinnati false start that the Bengals had a big gain on. Tennessee had 5 incompetent plays that aided in the Cincinnati win. Two critical dropped passes and the biggest in the 4 quarter when they could not make 1 yard, on two plays, around the Cincinnati 30-yard line. Then, there was what I called the bizarre double blunder, in the first half when Cincinnati had too many men on the field on the extra point, following Tennessee’s first touchdown, blunder number one. This moved the ball to the one-yard line. The Titans then decided to go for two points, which they did not make, blunder number 2. Assuming that they would have made the extra point, which would have given them the lead, this strange sequence actually contributed to Cincinnati winning the game.

The San Francisco 49’s beat the other no. 1 seed, the Green Bay Packers, 13 to 10 on a game ending field goal. The officials and luck had very little to do with the 49er win. This was all about the Green Bay Packer’s incompetence. They made 8 bonehead plays ranging from dropped balls, blocked field goals, false starts and the biggest, a blocked punt that led to the only SF touchdown. Then we are going to give a whole game incompetent award, to Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur. He seems to be more interested in revving up the crowd, than paying attention to what is going on in the game. The early fumble by the Packers, that stopped their second drive, when it seemed like Green Bay was having their way with 49er defense, should have been challenged. It was a lot closer to being an incomplete pass than it looked, and it would not have hurt to challenge such a big play. They might have lost, but I have looked at that play over and over again, and the tight end barely got to the third step, and he was in the process of transferring the ball when he was hit. I am not saying that it would have been overturned, but it was worth a shot in my view. LaFleur was probably too busy thinking about when it would be a good time to try and fire up the crowd again. The 49ers only made 4 blunders which helped the Packers stay in a game, that the Packers had no intention of winning.

Speaking of having no intention of winning the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Bucs made that into an art form. The announcers gave the impression that the Rams did everything they could to lose the game, but in reality, the Bucs did more to make sure that they would lose. Some luck and the officials did play a role in this game, to some degree. Tampa Bay was recipient of a very close replay reversal that cost the Rams another first half touchdown, when they were dominating the game. L. A. was fortunate, when a late hit was barely after the play, which would have allowed Tampa Bay to keep the ball deep in L. A. territory. Tampa’s incompetent plays included 2 kickoffs out of bounds, 3 Un sportsman like conduct penalties, 2 dropped passes, and allowing the best receiver in football to run free downfield to set up the winning field goal. Besides all of that, Tampa Bay did not take advantage of all of the Ram’s miscues. In the game deciding plays, the Rams had an eleven to seven lead over the Buccaneers, which of course contributed mightily to their narrow 30-27 victory over Tampa Bay.

By far the best game of the weekend was the Kansas City Chief’s overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills 42-36. This was the lowest of the game deciding plays with Kansas City having a 5 to 3 edge over Buffalo. Both teams played well with very few incompetent plays until that fateful 13 secs at the end of the game. The first mistake that the Bills made, is they did not make the Chiefs field the kickoff. I would have kicked a ball high and hoped it would have come down around the 10-to-15-yard line. Any kind of return would have taken at least 4 to 5 secs off the clock. The Bills called a time out just before each play, that the Chiefs ran in that final 13 seconds. You have to wonder, what in hell, were they talking about. Were they getting ready for overtime? Did they not realize that a field goal would tie the game? They should have had much tighter coverage on the receivers and not allowed them to run, after the catch. The bottom line was, the Kansas City Chiefs went 49 yards, in about 10 seconds, to kick the tying field goal. Then they took the opening drive, in overtime, down the field to score the winning touchdown. Josh Allen threw a go-ahead touchdown pass with 13 seconds to go in the game and lost the game without ever taking the field again. It was one of the best football games of all time, but it was an ugly collapse of the Buffalo Bills defense and their brain trust.

Some final thoughts about the games, in general. If I am an offensive or defensive coordinator, I am going to work on these two things in the off season. Come up with a way to consistently make one yard. Tennessee could not do it 3 times and it cost them the football game. There were many other examples, this weekend of teams failing to make a yard. Find a way to stop the two-minute offense. Kansas City and Buffalo failed miserably at doing this, and they are not alone. Next week will be what I consider the final two football games of the year. The winners will go to the Super Bowl, but as you all know I do not consider the Super Bowl a football game, more of a 3-ring circus.

Sports: Things I Would Like to See Happen, but I Know Won’t

The 4 major professional team sports and the one individual sport, golf, are all looking fairly good right now, with everyone raking in a lot of cash. But the games themselves seemed to be bogged down in non-action, that are long drawn-out events. There are things I would like to see change in each and every one of them. I would like to see some big changes in some sports and some tweaks to other sports. These changes would streamline a lot of the games, and some would make the games more exciting. Some of these things will seem pretty bizarre at first, but at least give them some thought, before you write them off as some deranged old man’s delusions. One thing I am not delusional about is that none of these suggestions are going to happen. There would need to be a lot of desperation in a particular sport, for any of the things I am going to propose to come to pass. Let’s face it, the resistance to real change in any organization is extremely high. I am going to include hockey, which you know I don’t consider a sport, but I have to, in order to make the changes in the game I want. Let us begin.

I would like to see the foot removed from football. At least, 90% of the foot removed from football, anyway. I would eliminate the kickoff and the punt from the game. The start of the game would open from the teams own 30-yard line. They would have to make a first down in 4 downs or less and failure to do so would result in them having to give the ball over on downs, in other words, no punting. Let’s face it, the kick-off and the punt are the 2 most boring plays in today’s football game. Every once in a while, you will see a good return, or a blocked punt, but they are few a far between. The fear of injury has taken these plays out of the game. The best way to eliminate injuries from these plays, is to stop punting, and kicking off. We will still allow field goals, and extra points to be part of the game. Let’s change the timeout rules to 6 a game and not 3 a half. If a team preserves their time outs and scores with let’s say a minute to go, trails by one score, and has 5 timeouts, then the other team gets the ball at their own 30, and they have to make a first down, or the other team will get the ball back around the opponents 35-yard line. By eliminated the punt and kick-off, it puts a whole new light on the game, and trying to protect a lead. The game will become a lot more exciting with no punting. Now, a new way to eliminate ties, which has been a hot subject lately, with the way the NFL season just ended. If a team is trailing by 3 points and there is under 2 minutes to go, they must score a touchdown, no field goal allowed. If a team is trailing by 7 and scores a touchdown with less than 2 minutes to go, then they must go for a 2-point conversion. The only lead that would be vulnerable to a tie would be 6. A team could score a touchdown and then miss the extra point, which would result in a tie. Another way to help end the tie game, would be to continue the game if the score is tied. In other words, no clock would be used if the game is tied late. If a team is around the 50 late in the game the game would just continue until somebody scored. No more kneeling to send a game into overtime. All of these things would just about eliminate the tie game, and there would be no need for the traditional overtime game. Football without the punt or kick-off would be a much better game.

I have written about this before, but in baseball, something has to be done about the foul ball. There is nothing more boring or time consuming, than to see a batter foul off, pitch after pitch after pitch, with pitch counts reaching well over 10, on one batter. I feel the best thing is to simply say 3 fouls and you are out. I also feel that we only need 3 balls for a walk. That would limit all at bats to 7 pitches max. That, and using the pitch clock would speed the game up immensely. The game has slowed down to a snail’s pace. Another idea would be to not allow the batter to step out of the box between pitches. Also, why does the manager have to go out to make a pitching change. Just signal from the dugout and let the guy come in. I think we need to extend the rule to 5 batters that a pitcher must face when he enters the game, unless he gets the last out of the inning. The game needs to speed up, end of story.

Hockey the game I like but the sport I hate, could do one thing to make their game become Americanized. Simply eliminate the offside rule. This would increase goal scoring at an unbelievable rate and let’s face it the American sports fan loves scoring. The more points the merrier. Hockey games that would routinely reach double digits would fill arenas everywhere. What would the NBA look like, if that was a rule, where the player could not go past half court before the ball. It would look a little ridiculous just like hockey does now, with players having to race back out of the zone to get back on side. Let’s see a totally different look to that game on skates.

Pro basketball probably needs the least tinkering with, since it is a fast-paced exciting game already, with plenty of scoring, thanks to the 3-point shot and players that can make them often. The only thing I would suggest is to put in a 4-point line about 10 feet outside the 3-point line. The 4-point shot would make for even more exciting finishes. The only thing I wish about basketball is that the fast break would come back to the game. No one really pushes the ball up the court anymore, like they did in the 60’s, 70’s, and most of the 80’s. It was a thing of beauty, to watch those Celtic and Laker teams, run the break so well. We will probably never see that again.

Finally, we come to my beloved game of golf. There is no question golf needs an enforceable shot clock. The amount of time these players take to figure out a shot is pretty bizarre. This is another sport where the pace of play has slowed even more than baseball. Golf has never been that fast of a game to begin with. Jack Nicklaus was always being criticized for being a slow player, especially over the amount of time he stood over a ball or putt before he hit it. Today’s player, with the way they discuss each shot and look over the putts from every angle, make Jack Nicklaus look like a speed demon. The clock should start when the player reaches his ball and is his turn to hit. On putts the clock should start the second he puts his ball down after he marks it. The time should be set at about 60% of whatever the average time is now to hit a shot or putt. After much complaining, I am sure the players would get use to it. Failure to get the shot off in the proper time would result in a one stroke penalty.

There you have it, the changes I would make in games, that I watch and play. I think the games would be more entertaining with the changes I have suggested and would create a lot more interest in those games. There would be a lot more action rather than inaction. I know none of this will ever happen, but it is nice to dream about games that would be more streamline and entertaining to the fans that pay the big bucks, that contribute heavily to the success of all sports leagues.

Sports: The College Football Final 4, Unfortunately not 8

We have a final 4 for the College Football Playoffs. The teams, in order of their ranking, are Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, and Cincinnati. The other 4 teams, that should have a chance at the National Title, are Pittsburgh, the ACC Champ, Baylor, The Big 12 Champ, Utah, the Pac 12 Champ, and Notre Dame. In my view, Notre Dame should be in the final 4. How a team can lose a championship game by 17 points, and it wasn’t even that close, can still have a shot at a National Title, is beyond me. I do not care what you did previously. Getting your face stomp into the ground, should just eliminate you. Georgia is even in the third spot. This is the way I would have ranked the 8 teams, to meet each other, the weekend of Dec 17 and 18. Michigan, Alabama, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Georgia, Baylor, Pittsburgh, and Utah. Notre Dame and Georgia would have played on Friday night. The noon game on Saturday would be Michigan and Utah, followed by Alabama and Pittsburgh at 4. The finale on Saturday night would be Cincinnati and Baylor. I have it all figured out, except for one thing, the NCAA stupidity. It is a shame that such a great product, does not really have a legitimate playoff system, that can determine a true National Champion.

You would think having an 8-team playoff system could be the main cause of global warming, the way the NCAA talks about it. Come to think of it, if it was the main cause of global warming, then we probably would have 8 teams. With the way the conferences are set up and then having 3 at large berths, this 8-team playoff would just seem to jump right out at you. What a great weekend, of meaningful games, that would be played. Do I think that Pitt, Baylor, and Utah have a legitimate shot of being National Champion? No, I do not, but it would be nice to find out. This playoff formula would make winning a conference title very significant, which now is pretty much meaningless. It would also give a team that has found itself toward the end of season, like Utah, a shot at real glory. The NCAA is only interested in showing that they are a powerful brainless organization, that cares little about the health of the programs they oversee, or the athletes that they rule over. This organization is well known, for punishing student athletes for crimes that were committed by coaches and alumni, when they were not even attending the university. The biggest reason that the 8-game playoff has been nixed in the past, is the too many games argument. This can be easily solved by eliminating the massacre game. Alabama does not have to play Mercer. Michigan does not have to play Western Michigan or Northern Illinois. Cincinnati does not have to play Murray St. Georgia does not have to play Charleston Southern. The big excuse for these games is that the small schools get to share in the big gates that these large stadiums hold. Forget the fact that many of their players could be seriously injured. There is an easy solution. Just give them the money that would have been made on those four mythical games, if 8 teams are in the playoffs. There is also the lure of the big upset, that does happen once in a while. But really, is that enough, not to have a real playoff system.

Despite my disappointment in a sport, I love to watch, I will be watching when the 4-team playoff starts. I won’t be watching much of the other almost 40 meaningless games that are bowl games. There are a few interesting match ups but are any of them worth a career ending injury. ESPN and the NCAA certainly think so. Remember, player protection is their number one priority, besides ratings, money, and forming moronic committees and broadcast teams. Boy, do I feel better.

Sports: Only in NCAA College Football

Tonight, starts the Championship weekend in college football, when Oregon plays Utah in the Pac 12 Championship game. There are 4 other Power 5 Championship games and the AAC Championship game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Houston Cougars, which has playoff significance. Before we get to the, only in NCAA football, part of this blog, let’s look at the current playoff standings. The top ten from top to bottom are Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Mississippi, Baylor, and Oregon. Ohio State and Mississippi do not play this weekend and have little or no chance of getting into the top four. Notre Dame does not play either this weekend, but could move into the top four, depending on the outcomes of the championship games. It basically boils down to 8 teams for 4 spots. From here on in we will refer to this happening only in college football, leaving out the NCAA part, even though we know this is all their responsibility.

Only in college football would a major conference champion not have a shot at the national title. There are no Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the top 10 with Pitt being the highest ranked at no.15. There is no scenario that will put either Pitt or Wake Forest in the final four. It is very possible that as many as 3 conference champions will not have a chance at a national championship and remote possibility that only one conference champion will be in the top 4. If Alabama beats Georgia, and all the underdogs win, Alabama will most likely be the only conference champion in. College football really knows how to devalue a conference championship. Even if Oregon would win big against Utah, they have only a very slim chance of getting into the playoffs. At minimum two conference champions will not get in.

When it gets down to playoff time, other sports love the saying, it’s time to win or go home. Only in college football does that saying get changed to win and go home. This could easily happen to the Cincinnati Bearcats. If they have a real nail biter against Houston and win, and Oklahoma State wins big against Baylor, they could easily move up to the fourth spot, and push Cincinnati right out the door. Let’s face it, the pressure on Cincinnati this week is enormous on all fronts. To make the final four would be historic for a non-Power 5 Conference team. Their coach, Luke Fickell is being considered for many top coaching jobs, and there can be no movement on that until Cincinnati is out of playoff contention. It would be one of the great coaching accomplishments of all time, if Cincinnati wins the National Championship. Let’s hope if they win, they’re in, will come true. I am not too sure in the crazy college football world, that this is going to happen. On the other side of the coin, Georgia can lose, and still be in the top 4. I do not even think there is a number they could lose by, that would throw them out of the playoffs, even though I think there should be. If Alabama wins by 21 or more, which is highly unlikely, would that be enough to make the SEC prejudiced committee, remove them from the top 4. My guess is no.

Only in college football could not playing to make the playoffs be a good thing. Notre Dame, who refuses to join a football conference, does not need to have many things go right for them to make the playoffs. If Alabama loses that may be all that is needed. If Cincinnati and Oklahoma State do not look good winning, and again you could only write something like this when discussing college football, this would only solidify their position. The final four would then be Georgia Michigan Notre Dame and the toss up would be between Oklahoma State and Cincinnati, instead of Notre Dame being in the toss up equation. All Notre Dame is going to do this weekend, is to watch football just like I am. Unless there is total chaos, Notre Dame chances of playing for a title should be as remote as the other teams not playing this weekend.

Only in college football would people wonder, what is going to happen if there is total chaos. In any other sport, Iowa, Baylor, Oregon and Pitt/Wake Forest would be in the playoffs and playing for a national title if they won this weekend. The only team that might sneak in, would be Oregon, with other three teams having no chance at all. If that scenario happens then Alabama might lose and still get in, with the way the committee thinks. The above results are very unlikely to happen, but if by some chance it does, the four teams that do get in, will only get in, because it can only happen in college football. It’s a shame, because college football is one of the most entertaining team sports to watch. it is much more fun to watch than the pro game. It is a shame that the NCAA does nothing to help it out and makes a mockery of the playoff system. It is a sad commentary when the best thing you can say about the college football playoff system is that it is better than nothing. Despite that, I will enjoy the games this weekend, with a secret hope for chaos, just to see what happens in the goofy world of committee football.

Golf Stories: The 2000’s

The 2000’s saw my golf game go into a basic decline, that made me start the blog, so I would keep on playing golf. It is not to say that good things did not happen, in the first 10 years of the new century. I acquired holes in one number 4 and 5, and did play some good golf periodically, but for the most part, things did not go all that well when it came to my golf game. I did go down to Florida for one winter, and taught at a golf school, and have tried to find the answer to this goofy game, since around 2010. While I think I have learned a lot about the game, and myself during this time, I have not come close to finding the key, to this game called golf. I thought I had it a couple of times, and it is all documented in the blog, but I have really never been able to play, up to what I consider, to be my true potential. But enough of the present, and lets look at some of the things that happened in the early 2000’s.

My fourth hole in one took place at the Club of Nevellewood, on November 2, 2003. It was by far the best of the five. It was on the 17th hole, a 180 yard par 3, with a green that was wider than it was long. The pin was on the right side of the green, which was the toughest pin placement, because you had to carry the trap, in order to shoot at the pin. I was having a good back nine, after a mediocre front of 40. I came to the 17th hole one under on the back nine. I decided in my typical fashion, what the hell, to shoot at the pin. I hit a 6 iron perfectly, and it hit about 3 feet in front, and to the left of the pin. Even though I had played the course a few times, I was not that familiar with that part of the green. There was an upslope on that side of the green. My balled rolled to the very top of the slope, and started the slow trickle back to the pin. We could see from the tee box that the ball was still moving back to the pin. In what seemed like an eternity, it just kept moving slowly down the hill, until it disappeared into the cup. It was a very pleasant surprise, and quickly got me to 3 under on the back. Even with all the excitement of the hole in one, I managed to par the last hole, and shoot a very nice 33 on the back. My fifth, and final hole in one, came in June of 2005 at Castle Shannon golf course near Steubenville, Ohio. It was another hole in one I did not see go into the hole. The hole was playing 200 yards downhill and I again hit a 6 iron. With the sun glare, I could not see the ball hit the green and thought it was short. This was further confirmed in my eyes, when my playing partner Pete hit a beautiful fade, that hit just short of the green, and bounced up about 15 feet short of the pin, which we saw all the way. Driving down to the hole, we could not see a ball short of the green, but when we got closer, there was a ball mark about 8 feet short of the hole. I took one look at Pete and said, “That SOB is in the hole”, and sure enough I was right. The back tees on the hole list the hole being 245 yards and when they put the notice in the paper, they listed hole 245, and it said I had hit a 6 iron. I got some calls on that one, wondering how I had hit a 6 iron 245 yards, and into the hole, no less. I gave out very little info on that one, because it was fun to let people think I had really done that. Other than the some other spectacular shots, one time I went 2, 3, on a par 3 and 5, and almost holed both shots, my golf was for the most part disappointing.

My winter of teaching was fun, and I went through a major swing change myself. I met a lot of interesting people down in Florida, but none more interesting than Babe Belagamba, who was the head of instruction at the school that I taught in Orlando. The Babe was the definition of a character. He was an inventor and had many of his inventions at the school. I still use some of his quotes to this day. He gave me many a lesson and I remember him telling me “Your body is not doing what you think its doing, trust me, you’ll see it on the video”. Of course, he was right. His swing principles, were to make sure your right elbow was digging into your side at address, have your weight pressed into the right side of the left heel, and take the club pretty quickly to the inside to help you turn on the take away. He was not a big believer in visualizing the shot, but more in controlling the body. He wanted you to feeling a stretch up the left side at the top of the swing and release it like a sling shot. I do not do a lot of what he taught me, back then but maybe I should. My favorite quote of his is ” Several years of school, can produce a good brain surgeon, but golf is a lifetime education in frustration. He was right, golf is not brain surgery. Unfortunately Babe passed away in 2006, just a little over a year, after I had met him, and I never got to hear enough of his golf wisdom.

The decade ended with me about ready to quit the game, for the second time, and I thought that this time, it would be for good. Then I happened to see in the local paper, a listing of golf courses, in the area. I started to count them up, and all of these were all public courses, that were at least 6000 yards long. In other words, no par 3 or executive courses. I noticed that there were around 100 golf courses, within 90 minutes of my house, and I thought, why not try to play them all, and start a blog about it. Rate the courses, including the hot dog at the turn, and see if I might be able to figure out this game, in the process. The blog has evolved in to it’s current form where I discuss various subjects involving the necessities of life. Yes, golf is a necessity of life. The non golfers, non meditators, non foodies, and non sports nuts, really don’t know what you are missing. It’s never to late to find out what life is really all about. See you on the links.

Sports: Pirates, Just One More Month To Go, Thank God

The Pittsburgh Pirate 2021 season is winding down, with August not being very good to the new look Pirates. Yes, I know they have one more game this month, but I wanted to get this over with, and I have the time today. For the month of August, they are currently 8-19, and if they lose to the White Sox tonight, it will tie them for the worst month of the season. It could have been even worse, were it not, for some stirring comeback wins, along the way. The Pirate offense, literally hit rock bottom, as they are last in runs scored, slugging and OPS+. A great time to fire your batting coach, which the Pirates did. In all the other important stats in pitching and fielding, the Pirates are in the bottom 2/3’s of the league, with their Defensive Efficiency being the best at 22nd. They finally cut ties with Gregory Polanco. You can’t say that the Pirates didn’t give him every chance to succeed. He was fourth in plate appearances, and wound up with a negative war, most of which was do to atrocious defense. It did not help that his offensive slash line was .208/.354/.637, and it was only that good, because he had a pretty good last week. Most of the year his average hovered around .200. The fired batting coach made him a pet project in spring training. With those kind of results, that may have been enough to get him fired right there. The most concerning thing about this team, is the way so many players have seemed to digress. I will delve into this more, in the season wrap up blog.

There is a month to go in the season, so some of these players could make a late season surge to bring up some of their pathetic numbers. What do we have to look forward to, in this last month of the season? One thing, it does not look like the Pirates are going to break any records for games lost during a season. They would almost have to lose every game. They are going to play a big role in whether the Reds make the playoffs, since they are going to play them 9 more times, including the last 3 games of the season. It would be nice to see them ruin the Reds chances, after all the things that have happen in previous games and years. Will Bryan Reynolds continue on an MVP pace, or will he collapse in September, like he did in 2019? Can any starting pitcher go 6 innings, and look like he might belong in a big league rotation next year? Will Yoshi Tsutsugo and Michael Chavis, just be another, in a long list of flash in the pans? Could by any stretch of the imagination the Pirates have an above .500 month? If the pitching really stinks in the last month, will they fire the pitching coach? It can be tough being a Pirate fan, but how would you like to be following the Angels and the Padres, seeing them spend all that money, with the Angels not making the playoffs, and the Padres, fighting for their playoff lives. So much for the Padre-Dodger rivalry. After all the analysis and break downs, it all boils down to one thing, you are either in the post season or not. See you for the end of the year wrap up, and the beginning of the post season, where I will finally get to see Major League Baseball being played. Whoopee!

Sports: Baseball’s Economic System Is Just Fine.

When Major League Baseball proposed some changes to teams payroll structure by lowering the luxury tax ceiling about 30 million and raising what the minimum payroll could be to 100 million, there were many complaints, that this was not enough to save a broken system. This was particularly true, here in Pittsburgh, where the “unfairness” of the system has kept the Pirates from competing. The only thing that has kept the Pirates from competing is an owner, who has refused to spend money, and some horrible decisions by the Neal Huntington regime. It is amazing, how everyone is for free enterprise, and the American way, until there is this perceived unfairness of the situation. In this case, the large market teams have an unfair advantage, because they have much more revenues, and therefore can spend more money. The salary cap has always been presented as the solution to the problem, since the other three professional leagues have one. Salary caps are basically an abomination, that causes teams to make hard decisions on getting rid of good to great players, to stay under the cap. Fans are always complaining, about how free agency causes players to move around, and not stay on one team. The salary cap forces them to move on, when they may have many more productive years for that team. There is no proof that this helps improve competition. In the other three sports, the teams that make bad decisions, continue to be bad, and the teams that are better at evaluating, and developing talent continue to play well. So let’s take a look at the current payrolls of all the Major League teams, and, at least according to Fangraphs, their chances of making the playoffs. These are the payrolls when they started the season.

Los Angeles Dodgers 267 mil. 100%

Chicago White Sox 141 mil. 100%

Milwaukee Brewers 98 mil. 99.5%

San Francisco Giants 160 mil. 99.0%

Houston Astros 192 mil. 94.3%

Tampa Bay Rays 70 mil. 94.2%

New York Yankees 204 mil. 81.1%

Atlanta Braves 148 mil. 73.5%

Boston Red Sox 182 mil. 72.4%

Cincinnati Reds 126 mil. 44.9%

San Diego Padres 176 mil. 41.5%

Oakland A’s 89 mil. 37.7%

Philadelphia Phillies 184 mil. 22.5%

The rest of the teams have a less than 20% chance of making the playoffs. Here they are in descending order to make the playoffs, with the last 12 having no chance of making the playoffs. Toronto Blue Jays 151 mil. New York Mets 198 mil. St. Louis Cardinals 169 mil. Seattle Mariners 81.4 mil. Los Angeles Angels 181 mil. Baltimore Orioles 57.4 mil. Texas Rangers 95 mil. Cleveland Indians 47.9 mil. Detroit Tigers 85 mil. Kansas City Royals 85 mil. Minnesota Twins 117 mil. Miami Marlins 58 mil. Washington Nationals 149 mil. Chicago Cubs 141 mil. Arizona Diamondbacks 90 mil. Colorado Rockies 114 mil. Then there is our beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, with the second smallest payroll at 55 million dollars, with 11 million of that going to one, Gregory Polanco. I will say one thing for the Pirates, they are making him earn the money, by playing him as much as possible, which can be the only reason, he is getting so much playing time.

Of the 13 teams that are still fighting for a playoff spot, according to Fangraphs, 3 of the teams are in the bottom half of payroll expenditures. Six teams that have little of no chance of making the playoffs are in the top 15 in total payroll. The Phillies who are fifth in payroll, most likely will not make the playoffs. The Mets, 3rd in payroll, are fading fast, with their chances rated at about 10%. There are lots of things that baseball needs to fix, pace of play being the no. 1, but the way players are paid, is not one of them. Teams spending money is not a guarantee for success, not even close. Everyone deserves to make what the market will bear. Baseball does a good job of spreading the wealth around to the small market teams. When good baseball decisions are made, and players are properly developed, a baseball team will thrive, and contend for championships. One of the final arguments for making change in the economic structure of baseball is, yes, small market teams have great regular seasons, and will make the playoffs, but they will never win a World Series. Looking back over the World Series of this century, the small market teams have had their moments, but there is no question, the big boys win most of the World Series titles. Some of that, may be due to the fact, that the smaller market teams are reluctant to spend the money on late season rentals, that can make a big difference in a short series. Even giving some credence to the World Series argument, it is not enough to change a system, that works quite nicely, in the long run, and gets players the money they deserve, with the exception of Gregory Polanco, of course.

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