Last night’s NHL game between the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets promised to be an exciting hockey match. Both teams were battling for a playoff spot and, true to form, the game began with a fast pace and hard-hitting action.
About seven minutes into the contest, Dallas sped through center ice in attack mode and changed lines on the fly. To the bench went 31-year-old Rich Peverley, a well-traveled center who won a Stanley Cup playing with the Boston Bruins in 2011.
It’s not clear what happened next, but Peverley apparently keeled over on the bench, and lay still. Immediately, Dallas players hopped over the boards to give the medical staff room to treat him, looks of panic and concern on their faces. As the rink gets quiet, you can hear calls for a paramedic, but by that time the doctors had carried Peverley out of the rink back into the hallway behind the benches.
There, in the narrow confines of a corridor underneath American Airlines Center, doctors worked frantically to save Peverley’s life. They put him on oxygen and started an IV drip. They gave him “chest compression,” pushing on his heart trying to get the rhythm back to normal. Peverley suffered from a pre-existing heart condition for which he was operated on last summer. He missed the entire preseason and the first game of the year due to the surgery on what one doctor described as a “quivering heart.”
Working through the treatment checklist, they then used the defibrillator to steady his heartbeat. He responded immediately and began to communicate with the doctors. He told one physician, Dr. Gil Salazar, in typical tough-guy hockey fashion that he wanted to go back in and play. He was taken to the hospital where he remained awake and was pronounced in stable condition.
As for the game, it was immediately postponed. The NHL said in a statement, “As a result of the emotional state of the players on both teams caused by the medical emergency, the game is being postponed. We apologize for any inconvenience and we thank the fans.”
Indeed, most of the players looked absolutely stricken. There was never any question that the game would have to be postponed. Hockey is a game of 60 minutes — three 20-minute periods. But for the players, it is an extraordinarily intense game of 30-45 second shifts where they skate 20 MPH and throw their bodies around with abandon, only to come back a few minutes later and do it again. The mental and physical exertion to play the game at a professional level requires exceptional concentration and conditioning. In this case, both teams appeared emotionally devastated and cancelling the rest of the game was the only choice.
There was a general shuffle in the AP poll of the top 25 college basketball teams this week — except at the top.
The Florida Gators at 29-2 received 1610 first place votes to hang on to number one. Wichita State — the first undefeated team to enter post season play since 1991 at 34-0 — came in second.
The rest of the top 25 saw numerous changes from last week, as 18 of the top 25 teams lost — many to vastly inferior teams. These losses may actually hurt more this time of year than they would have a month or two ago. Teams are fighting for seeding in the national tournament and a lower seed – the result of a bad late season loss — that forces you to play a number one or two seeded team in the second round could mean an early exit.
An example of a late season bad loss hurting a team’s seeding; Virginia. The Cavaliers were sailing along, ranked number five and coming off a good win against number seven ranked Syracuse. They have won the regular season championship in the tough ACC and were looking for a number one seed in the tournament.
Then, an inexplicable stumble against a mediocre Maryland team, losing 75-69 and the dream of a number one seed is slipping away. Nothing less than a run to the ACC championship final will redeem them. The Cavaliers dropped to 6th in the AP poll.
Other teams also saw their top seed dreams crumbling. Duke went from 4th to 7th in the AP following a very bad loss to a weak Wake Forest team. Arizona, ranked number three last week fell to 4th following a tough road loss in Oregon.
The poll musical chairs had some winners. Villanova climbed from 6th to 3rd with solid wins over Marquette and Georgetown and a tough road win over Xavier thrown into the mix. And Louisville shot from 11th to 5th on the strength of two good wins against ranked opponents Connecticut and SMU.
Who will be the top seeds in the four regionals? It would seem that Wichita State, who already won the Missouri Valley Tournament, is a lock for one of them. And unless Florida loses early in the SEC tournament, they’re a good bet for another top regional seed.
Beyond that, any two of five teams could fill out the top of the brackets; Arizona, Villanova, Duke, Louisville, or Virginia. The ACC tournament is going to be a wild one with the winner all but guaranteed a top regional seed.
No doubt “March Madness” will live up to its moniker this week as a couple of teams playing in the conference tournaments surprise the experts and play themselves in to the Big Dance. Others, will disappoint.
The only certainty is that if you’re a college hoops fan, you are going to be vastly entertained.
I suppose this is better than visa restrictions.
U.S. officials have embraced sanctions and visa restrictions to punish Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. Now, two U.S. senators want to hurt Russian President Vladimir Putin where it could really sting: on the soccer pitch.
Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Dan Coats (R., Ind.) on Friday wrote to the head of soccer’s international governing body requesting that Russia’s membership be suspended and the country not be allowed to participate in the upcoming World Cup in Brazil later this year.
Citing FIFA statutes that bar discrimination against any country based on politics or ethnic origin, the two lawmakers asked FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter to also strip Russia’s right to host the 2018 World Cup. They cited FIFA’s decision to prevent then-Yugoslavia from participating in the 1992 European Championship and 1994 World Cup as a precedent.
“Since Russia has similarly displayed a brazen disrespect for fundamental principles of FIFA and international law, I hope you will agree that it doesn’t deserve the honor of either hosting the World Cup or participating in one,” the senators wrote.
FIFA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The U.S. is currently ranked 13th in the world in FIFA’s world rankings, while Russia is 22nd. The World Cup, which kicks off in Sao Paulo in June, has the potential to pit the U.S. and Russia in an on-field clash if both teams make it out of the tournament’s group stage. They could then meet in the World Cup round-of-16 matches.
I suspect that FIFA will do nothing unless Ukraine becomes a shooting war. Then, I believe they would give a proposal to ban Russia from Brazil serious consideration. As the Journal points out, there is precedent for such an action. Although claiming to be a global organization, FIFA is actually run by the Europeans, who are desperately casting about for a way to sanction Russia without causing themselves any pain. Keeping the Russian national team home this summer is about as far as they would go to punish Putin for his actions in Ukraine.
The World Cup tune up match between the US and Ukraine was originally scheduled to be played in Kharkiv. But with protestors currently occupying the provincial building and the general unrest in the region, the game was hastily moved 600 miles away to the island of Cyprus.
Only 1500 fans showed up to watch a lackluster performance by the US side, who lost the match 2-0.
In truth, most of the best US players stayed home or weren’t released by their European club teams. Coach Jurgen Klinsman decided to give some European based US national players a chance to excel, thus improving their chances of making the 23 man roster that he will take to Brazil in June.
It was not to be.
The match was billed as a golden opportunity for the Yanks’ many European-based bubble players to make one final push for a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man tournament roster. Instead, the under-strength Americans were thoroughly outclassed during a 2-0 defeat, with few players raising their stock.
It’s hard to see defenders John Brooks, Edgar Castillo or Oguchi Onyewu making the plane to Brazil after struggling so profoundly on Wednesday. Those three were long shots to begin with, of course, even if Onyewu made January’s list as a backup. Then, the hope was that a healthy Onyewu — a two-time World Cup vet who was finally playing regularly after battling injuries for much of the last four years — would lend valuable experience to a mostly untested back line. Now, it looks as if Geoff Cameron, who on Wednesday lined up at right back once again, will be called on to provide cover in the event still-green central defenders Matt Besler or Omar Gonzalez aren’t quite up to the task in Brazil.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan also failed to take advantage of what was probably his last chance, while youngsters Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd and Danny Williams barely got enough time off the bench to make a compelling case.
Still, several players helped — or at least didn’t hurt — their chances.
Brek Shea remains in contention for a reserve role on the left wing after another active performance off the bench. Alejandro Bedoya, with a spirited display, kept the pressure on MLS-based right wing Graham Zusi. And surefire starters Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones showed why Klinsmann will rely so heavily on them this summer.
The lack of experience and depth on the back line spells big trouble for the US in Brazil. At this level of competition one mistake — one misplay of the ball or bad pass — and your tournament is over. That’s the cruel reality and for the US it’s doubly true since they are going to have a hard time scoring goals as it is. Their mid field does not lack talent, but even against inferior competition, they have trouble maintaining a flow to their offense. Individual talents like Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey are excellent in space, but World Cup matches aren’t like MSL games with room to operate and set up plays. A premium is placed on short, crisp passes that move the ball forward deliberately, relentlessly. Frankly, American players in general just don’t possess the ball skills to play that kind of game.
This will make the US vulnerable to the counter attack, which is why your back line has to be rock solid. At this point, this crucial aspect of the game appears to be the greatest weakness of the US squad.
It doesn’t help that the Yanks are playing in a genuine “Group of Death” with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. To advance, the US will need to beat Ghana and get a result of some kind — win or tie — against Germany or Portugal. A tall order that. Germany will be one of the favorites to win it all while Portugal has a bevy of quality offensive players that will give the US fits.
Perhaps the low expectations will work in America’s favor. They’re going to need all the help they can get.
The NCAA Rules Committee has decided to table a motion that would have required college football offenses to wait 10 seconds between plays. The recent move by some coaches toward super-hurry up offenses had some schools claiming that the increase in the number of plays put players at risk for injury.
The real problem was that some coaches couldn’t figure out how to consistently stop those light speed offenses and wanted a respite. Some teams like Oregon snap the ball so quickly, it is impossible for the defense to make substitutions — extra defensive backs for passing downs, for example. The speed of the game also puts enormous pressure on defenses to make the right call and get players in the right position. More often than not, the ball is snapped, the defense isn’t ready, and gaping holes open up for running backs, while receivers run to daylight.
But some powerful coaches didn’t like going up against these offenses and wanted to change the rules. Some coaches were referring to the proposed rule change as the “Saban Rule,” after Alabama’s hugely successful coach Nick Saban, who has been a strong critic of the hurry up, or “spread” offense, saying that it’s “logical” that the more plays there are, the better chance for injury there is. Most coaches — whether they run the up tempo offense or not — believe that’s nonsense, pointing to the lack of evidence for any such contention:
Coaches opposed to the proposal suggested other possible motives, including a philosophical divide over how football should be played. They noted the participation of Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Alabama’s Nick Saban – who have both been vocal about the trend toward ever-faster pace – in the rules committee discussions before the proposal was initially approved.
At the time the proposal was announced, Sumlin called it “an attempt to limit the creativity of the game.” South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier called it “the Saban Rule”, suggesting his counterpart was simply attempting to advance his own aims.
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez called the rule “ridiculous”, saying: “It’s a fundamental rule of football that the offense has two advantages: knowing where they’re going and when they’re going. The defense has one advantage: they can move all 11 guys before the snap.
“What’s next, are you gonna go to three downs rather than four downs? It’s silly.”
The debate devolved in that direction, too.
On Monday, Arizona’s official Twitter account released a video parody of the movie “Speed,” in which Rodriguez said, “I think there’s some coaches that have a hidden agenda. … They’re holding college football for ransom. … People want to see action. They don’t want to see huddles, people holding hands and singing kumbaya.”
In a text message, Rodriguez told USA TODAY Sports the video “might be a little over the top but it only took an hour of my time!”
Last week, Saban told reporters, “I don’t necessarily have an opinion on the 10-second rule.” But he added his primary concern was safety and reiterated a question he had asked before: “Was football intended to be a continuous game?”
It is well and good that the NCAA has developed rules to protect players. One proposed rule change would adopt the NFL’s “Brady Rule” to prevent quarterbacks from being hit below the knee. That’s a likely rules change that will occur next year.
But in a game where a player’s season or even career can end on the next play, does Saban have a point?
“The fastball guys (up-tempo coaches) say there’s no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic,” Saban told ESPN. “What’s the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there’s no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, ‘Yeah, there probably is.’”
It is doubtful that any meaningful study will “prove” that running the spread offense is necessarily more dangerous than a normal offense. You’re going to have to prove that the specific style of play contributed to the injury. Otherwise, who’s to say that if the team had been running a normal offense, the injury wouldn’t have occurred anyway?
I say, let ‘em play. Eventually, some smart defensive coach will simplify things to the point where defenses will be able to stop the up tempo offense on a regular basis. That’s the way its been with every offensive innovation that’s come down the pike. From the forward pass, to the “T” formation, the swing wing, the wishbone — eventually, defenses were developed to counter all those formations and plays.
Coach Saban would do well to concentrate on finding a way to stop the spread offense on the field rather than in the rules committee.
Lebron James dropped 61 points on the Charlotte Hornets last night, going 8 for 8 from the 3-point line and proving why he’s a near shoo in to repeat as MVP.
When LeBron is hitting his jump shots, he becomes the most unfair player on the planet. We know this. What’s frustrating is that sometimes he’ll hit his jump shots and take only like 16. He can still score 25 a game that way — and average something like 10 boards and six assists, and dominate on defense — and get his teammates involved, and it all makes him the best player in the league. But it’s not as fun. There are so many times you watch LeBron and it looks like he can do whatever he wants on the floor, only it almost never translates as scorched-earth scoring.
What he said. Kevin Durant is a superstar who’s had a very nice run the last couple of months, but when Lebron ups his level of play as he did last night, he does stuff like this:
LeBron James’ eighth 3-pointer splashed through the net about 30 feet away from where the reigning MVP stood, which was just a few feet in front of Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, who watched from his normal courtside spot at halfcourt.
Once the nylon snapped in the air, James turned his head and roared through a plastic mask toward the incredulous AmericanAirlines Arena crowd as he trotted back on defense. James had taken eight 3s at that point and all had gone in. None had even grazed the rim.
The game clock ticked down from 1:19 … 1:18 … 1:17 remaining.
In the third quarter.
James had 49 even before the fourth quarter began.
“When that one went in, I knew,” James said, “I was in a really, really good groove.”
James wasn’t done. He opened the fourth quarter with a swooping layup past three helpless Charlotte Bobcats defenders. Fifty-one, his first 50-point game of his career in front of his home crowd. Nine 50-plus in his 11-year career, all previously on the road.
That’s when the Bobcats started sending double teams on James before he even crossed halfcourt.
“First time it happened to me probably since high school,” James said of the radical coverage.
No matter. Pull-up jumper from 20 feet. Fifty-three. Another layup, this time cutting off the ball to the rim. Fifty-five. Isolation from the top of the key, dribble right, spin past two Bobcats, lay it up off-balance, glass. Fifty-seven. Career-high, franchise record. More. This time, a high pick-and-roll, past one defender, split three more, fading jumper, glass. Fifty-nine.
Double-team off the catch in the left corner, curl past off the dribble to the right, bump into a sliding third defender, over a fourth, whistle. Two free throws: sixty and sixty-one.
“It felt like I had a golf ball, throwing it in the ocean,” James said.
All told: A career-high, franchise-record 61 points on 22-of-33 shooting, one shy of Carmelo Anthony’s 62 points against Charlotte on Jan. 24.
Amazing. Being from Chicago, I’m often asked to compare Lebron to Michael Jordan. It’s useless. They are two entirely different players, playing in entirely different systems. Michael has it over Lebron in pure athleticism while Lebron is stronger and faster. I give the edge to Lebron as a pure shooter. Give the nod to Michael when it comes to creativity. Both players are equally fabulous in getting the ball to the basket.
Both players had to learn how to make their teammates better. Both had to push themselves to become all-NBA defensive players. Does it matter who was better? They’re both a joy to watch.
If you’re a fan of the Chicago Bulls, November 22, 2013 is the second worst day in the history of the franchise. The fact that the cause of the worst day in Bulls history — April 27, 2012 — was exactly the same as the second worst day speaks volumes about the fortunes of the team over the last 3 years.
On both those dates, former MVP Derek Rose went down with serious knee injuries. The 2012 injury happened in the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia. The Bulls never recovered from that blow, losing in 6 games to the 76′ers after entering the post season as the top seed in the East.
After a full year of rehab, Rose returned to the game rusty, but apparently none the worse for wear. He was struggling, but improving when tragedy struck again, a torn meniscus shelving him for the season. It was a cruel blow for a team aching to prove themselves against two-time champion Miami Heat, who defeated them in a memorable conference championship series in 2012, and the rising Indiana Pacers who proved they could compete with anyone.
Once again, the body blow of losing Rose laid them low. By December 9, they were 8 games under .500 and some fans were openly urging the team to “tank” the season — deliberately lose games so that they could have a better chance at a high draft pick.
But the Bull’s mercurial coach Tom Thibideau wouldn’t allow such nonsense. Taking their cue from their fiercely competitive leader, center Joachim Noah, the Bulls began to claw their way back to respectability.
But then, another blow fell when team management couldn’t sign all-star forward Luol Deng to a contract extension, and traded him to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum — who they summarily released — and a couple of mid-level draft picks. It was a salary dump, nothing more.
Perhaps even more than Rose’s injury, the trade of Deng hurt the team psychologically. It was a sure sign that ownership had given up on the season and was pointing to adding pieces next year to make a run for glory.
For Noah, it was close to heresy. Deng was one of his best friends on the team and for a week following the trade, the usually outgoing center refused to talk to the media. Speculation was he couldn’t trust himself not to go off on management and create a rift that would be hard to heal.
Finally a week after the deal, Noah opened up with a few beat reporters for the local papers. Yes, he was upset, but that didn’t matter.
“The trade definitely hurt,” Noah said, adding that he had spoken to Deng about it. “But we got to move on. I feel confident in this team; we’re working really hard. A lot of people say this is a business and all that but this game is more than a business to me. I put everything I got into this. I feel like Lu was the same way so it was hard for me to digest. But that’s just my perspective, that’s just my side of the story. Everybody has a different job. I’m not mad at anybody. I’m not mad at the organization or anything like that. It’s just that my brother isn’t here anymore. So I just needed a little bit of time to digest that.”
Noah has shrugged off the Rose injury, the Deng trade, the pundits and reporters who say the Bulls can’t win, and the fans who were asking him and his teammates to quit on the year, and has raised the level of his play beyond anyone’s expectations to carry the Bulls to the best record in the East since January 1, 2014.
How the Bulls are doing this having the 30th – and worst — ranked offense in the league is astonishing. But there is sorcery at work here — the rarest kind of magic one can find at the professional level.
This group of middling talents, rejects, youngsters, and veterans actually like each other. They play for each other. They believe in each other. And perhaps most importantly of all, they have bought into their coaches’ belief in them and are currently playing some of the best basketball in the league.
It’s not always pretty. They have no one on the team that can create their own shot, although their candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, Taj Gibson, has developed a nice little low post game. But with the 24 second clock winding down, they’re just as likely to take a wild, 3-point attempt as they are to get a bail out jumper.
It doesn’t matter. Noah has become one of the top passing centers in the league, and in recent games the Bulls have begun to work their offense through him. This has meant fewer bail out shots and more pick and pop jumpers from reasonable range. The results are impressive, at least in the short term.
What of the near future? If the past is prologue, it’s a good bet that no team, no matter where they are seeded, are going to want to play the Bulls in the playoffs:
“When you deal with all the adversity we’ve been through this year, it makes your group that much tougher and stronger,” Bulls leader Joakim Noah said Friday night. “We’re going to be that resilient group, that tough group that is going to be very, very tough to play in the playoffs.”
It’s easy to talk that way now, the Bulls assuming the postseason. That looked uncertain in the first week of January after the Deng trade, when it looked like the team was preparing to head into the lottery. But primarily because of the leadership of coach Tom Thibodeau and especially Noah, the players never questioned where this season was headed.
They were disheartened when Rose went down again in November. They were downright mad when Deng was salary-dumped. But they’ve never done anything but give everything on the floor, and it’s led to win after win. The talent and the luck aren’t like it was back in 2010-11, when everything went their way and they racked up 62 wins before getting beat in the conference finals, but their execution and effort is the same.
They had seven different players average double figures in scoring in February, when they went 9-4 despite playing nine of those 13 games on the road. Noah is the team leader in rebounds … and assists, a pairing you will find nowhere else from the center position. Taj Gibson is having a career season. Midseason pickup D.J. Augustin is resurrecting his career. Accused of running his players into the ground in seasons past, Thibodeau doesn’t have any Bull averaging more than 36 minutes per night
Noah, who at one time in his 7 year career was thought to be something of a goof, with his pony tail, and antics on the court. But the mature Noah is less carefree, more careful in his statements, and very conscious of the leadership role he plays on the team. His intensity is frightening, and he’s not shy about calling out a teammate if he isn’t pleased with their play — or their enthusiasm. Just recently, Noah glowered at rookie Tony Snell who didn’t perform an enthusiastic “chest bump” to his satisfaction.
No, the Bulls will not win an NBA championship this year. They probably won’t get past the second round, given that either of their likely opponents — Indiana or Miami — can most assuredly beat them in a 7-game series. But whoever they play, their opponent will know they’ve been in a war. And who knows? When a team possesses magic, anything can happen.
Eighteen year old soccer phenom Julian Green has a big decision to make in the next few months. Green holds dual citizenship with the US and Germany and both national teams would dearly love to have him in their future.
At 18, Green has already been called up to play for current European champion Bayern Munich. Perennially one of the best club teams in the world playing in what is acknowledged as one of the top leagues in the world, The Bavarians have been developing Green for three years, bringing him along on their youth squad while the youngster also played on the German national Under 16 and Under 17 teams. He is currently on the German Under 19 team, which presents a problem for the US national squad.
Under international rules, Green can’t play for both the US and Germany. But he can ask FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, for a one time waiver to play for the US. This is what US coach Jurgen Klinsman is hoping for and to that end has invited Green to practice with the US national team prior to a March 5 friendly with Ukraine.
Green, a dual national who holds both U.S. and German citizenship, will participate in a two-day training camp with the U.S. next week ahead of Wednesday’s friendly with Ukraine. Green is currently tied to Germany due to his participation with the German U-19 team, and thus isn’t eligible to play in Wednesday’s match.
But he could file a one-time switch with FIFA should he decided to pledge his international future with the U.S. team. Next week’s training stint will give Klinsmann a chance to convince Green to do just that.
“We’re thrilled that [Green] is coming in actually” said Klinsmann, who was speaking at a USSF-sponsored Google Hangout. “He’s coming in for the two days of training with team, and we get to know him. More importantly, he gets to know us a little bit. He meets his teammates, he meets the coaching staff, and we have time then to explain a little bit how the U.S. national team program works.”
Klinsmann made it clear that he won’t be applying any high-pressure sales tactics on Green. Instead, he’s hoping that the benefits of playing for the U.S. will become clear to the Tampa, Fla. native.
“We kind of approach [Green’s visit] very casual, very easy. But at the end of the day, we hope down the road that he decides to go with us, and like in many cases of the dual citizenship players, we hope more and more that they want to play for the U.S. because we are just getting better.”
With just a little over two months remaining until Klinsmann names his preliminary 30-man roster for this summer’s World Cup, there had been speculation that the U.S. manager might be saving a spot for Green.
But Klinsmann insisted that there is no deadline for Green to make a decision.
What is there to get excited about if Green chooses the USA? Here’s a sample of some of his play:
He’s got a field presence off the charts for his age. He is said to have a powerful leg and is strong with the ball — both qualities that are somewhat lacking among US forwards. And he appears to have a nose for the goal — an innate ability that can’t be taught. Further,
If Green does pick the U.S. over Germany, he has the ability and talent to become a focal point of the next generation of U.S. stars. Watching video clips of him playing for Bayern’s reserve side, he has poise, possesses a lethal shot, has skill, bags of pace and an eye for a pass. He has scored 15 goals and added six assists in 18 games for Bayern II this season, and at the age of 18 he has everything you’d want to see from a professional soccer player. Plus he’s being developed at the reigning European champions Bayern Munich where he’s highly thought of. This kid has star potential, no wonder the U.S. are so desperate to get him on board as the Olympics, Gold Cup and future World Cup qualifying tournaments hover on the horizon.
Grabbing Green from Germany would be a massive feather in the cap for Klinsmann and his squad. The two day training stint in Frankfurt later this week could have a huge impact on the future of the U.S. national team, as the USA roll out the red carpet for Green in hope he’ll chose to play for his homeland.
Landon Donovan, the face of US men’s soccer for more than a decade, recently announced that Brazil would be his last World Cup. There are several fine, young US-born players just now coming into their own with some of the best European teams. The future of US soccer looks promising.
But if the USA is ever going to reach the next level of international competition where they are actually mentioned in the same breath as the top sides in the world, they are going to need a superstar. No one knows if Julian Green will pan out to reach the potential he appears to possess. But if he does, and if he chooses to play for America, soccer in this country will never be the same.
With the NCAA basketball season heading into the home stretch, there’s the usual gaggle of teams from major conferences who, for one reason or another, could find themselves on the outside looking in when March Madness rolls around.
Most bubble teams have only themselves to blame. They’re chances of making the big dance usually hang on doing well in their conference tournament. Their record alone won’t get them an invite. Chances are, they’ve had what the NCAA Selection Committee refers to as “bad” losses — a stumble or two against clearly inferior teams.
But where there’s hope, there’s life and several of the most prominent bubble teams can improve their chances immensely with a strong finish to the regular season and a good showing in their conference tournaments.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi takes a look at 10 bubble teams who have some work to do (subscription only):
(Note: RPI, or Ratings Percentage Index is a complicated formula that takes into account a team’s winning percentage, their opponent’s winning percentage, and their strength of scheduled or SOS).
Brigham Young Cougars
The Cougars (20-10, RPI 35, SOS 21) have hung around the bubble longer than expected thanks to their off-the-charts SOS rankings and a pair of very solid nonconference victories (at Stanford, neutral against Texas). Last week’s home-court win over Gonzaga should keep them in the conversation.
What they need: A win in the regular-season finale at San Diego and nothing less than a run to the West Coast Conference tournament title game.
The Tigers (19-9, RPI 49, SOS 70) haven’t distinguished themselves either outside the league or within a mediocre SEC. The long-ago win over UCLA is only going to go so far, especially now that Mizzou has been swept by the likes of Georgia.
What they need: Win out (regular season) and probably no less than a berth in the SEC tournament title game.
The Friars (18-10, RPI 60, SOS 68) represent the muddled middle of the new Big East. With its best wins at home, Providence clearly has more work to do. I’m not optimistic given two of the Friars’ remaining three games are on the road (at Seton Hall, at Creighton), the second of which is Doug McDermott’s senior night.
What they need: Three more wins, regardless of opponent or location. The Friars are going down to the wire.
St. John’s Red Storm
The Red Storm (18-11, RPI 63, SOS 30) and Providence have each won on the other’s court. It could be we see an elimination game between the two at the Big East tournament. Conveniently that would also be a home game for St. John’s, but it was Tuesday’s home loss to Xavier that made this much harder than necessary.
What they need: Same as Providence. The Red Storm need three more wins, regardless of opponent or location.
The Volunteers (17-11, RPI 56, SOS 10) will live to fight another day after a workmanlike road victory at Mississippi State. Tennessee is now third in a two-team SEC pecking order, but with a very favorable schedule the rest of the way. I actually like the Vols’ chances.
What they need: Tennessee can and should run the table to reach 11-7 in the conference. Avoiding a bad loss in the SEC tournament might be enough.
A minimum of 20 wins is necessary to even be considered for selection to the tournament. At least, for the major conferences. But what about teams from weaker conferences?
Sam Houston State might be considered a true bubble team. Their overall record is 19-7 and are second in the Southland Conference to perennial power Stephen F. Austin. SFA is currently 25-2 and is a near shoo-in for the tournament.
But Sam Houston State might end up winning 23 games and be frozen out of the tournament. Their paltry SOS rank is 274 and their opponent’s SOS is even worse — 320. They have played only 2 games against teams in the top 50 RPI — Toledo and SMU — and been blown out of both.
The only way Sam Houston State is going to make it into the tournament is if they beat Stephen F. Austin to win the Southland Conference. The smaller colleges and universities in Division I have been complaining about this for years, but the NCAA has turned a deaf ear to them. The big conferences bring in the big bucks and that’s the way it is. The lion’s share of slots in the 68 team tournament will go to teams in the top conferences.
The teams mentioned above being on the bubble basically have their fate in their own hands. For a few of them, their efforts are likely to come up short.
Oh well, there’s always the NIT…
The trickle of Cuban defectors who have made it to baseball’s Big Leagues the past few years is about to become a genuine flood — and pro ball is going to be the better for it.
The recent relaxation of rules by the Cuban government that allows their athletes to sign contracts and play for foreign teams means a potential bonanza for Major League Baseball. Scouts say that there at least a dozen players of varying ages who could be signed in the next few years. And their impact on the game is expected to be large.
The first “wave” of the Cuban invasion were defectors who took advantage of the Cuban national team’s entrance into international tournaments to arrange their escape. Cuban stars like Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez, known during his playing days as “El Duque” fled Cuba and found great success in MLB during the 1990′s.
More recent defectors include Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, and Oakland’s power hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Last year, the defection of the Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig astonished baseball as he helped propel the Los Angeles Dodgers into the playoffs. This year’s best chance for a breakthrough star lies with 27 year old defector Jose Abreu who signed with the White Sox. Abreu had some eye opening years in Cuba hitting 35 home runs in 2011 in what amounts to half a major league season.
The process of defecting and finding their way to the US was a long, onerous journey. Loved ones in Cuba had to be left behind. Many times, the players arrived in the states with little more than the clothes on their back.
No longer. Now that Cuba has opened the door, MLB should see a wealth of talent from that island nation make an immediate impact in the Majors. Although clubs are able to sign players, they must jump through a lot of hoops to get him eligible to play here.
That Cuban ballplayers will have to pay taxes on foreign salaries isn’t going to fly with MLB salaries. Because of some things that happened a few decades back, the American government doesn’t like the idea of money going from U.S. soil to Cuba, and has laws in place to largely prevent it from happening. Just because Cuba has a new policy doesn’t mean Uncle Sam has to follow suit.
Another complication is the fact that the new policy prohibits Cuban ballplayers from severing ties with their native country. Part of the agreement is that ballplayers will still be required to fulfill playing commitments in Cuba.
That means being available for international tournaments and the Cuban National Series, and the latter’s season runs from November to April. The latter end of that window overlaps with spring training and the early days of the regular season in Major League Baseball.
No doubt the process will work itself out, eventually, In the meantime, ESPN highlights a few of the better prospects who may make it to our shores soon:
One of those players is Alfredo Despaigne, a powerful slugger who holds the record for the most home runs in a single Cuban season, with 36 in 90 games. In that same season, he also accumulated 105 RBIs and batted .326.
Together with Cespedes, Despaigne, who is 27 years old, formed one of the most powerful offensive pairings in the history of the Cuban National Series. Many experts consider him a much better hitter than Cespedes, although perhaps not as complete a player.
Another who dazzled onlookers during his participation in the 2013 World Baseball Classic is the second baseman Jose Miguel Fernandez. A left-handed batter and stellar fielder, he is called by many the Cuban Robinson Cano, because of his similarities with the great Dominican second baseman who played for the Yankees and just joined the Seattle Mariners.
Fernandez, who is 25, is the current batting champion, having won the title with an astronomical average of .393 in 2013. A good judge of pitches, the Matanzas second baseman is also a cold-blooded batter who seems to thrive under pressure, a quality reserved only for a chosen few.
The outfielder Yasmani Tomas, who plays for Industriales, the most famous team in Cuban baseball over the past five decades, is only 23 and has huge potential. Physically powerful like Yasiel Puig, Tomas thrives on fastballs, in the style of Gary Sheffield, although he needs to work on hitting breaking balls.
Tomas began the 2013 World Baseball Classic as a reserve player for the Cuban national team. But on the strength of his batting, he became a lineup fixture as the tournament progressed.
Cuba has a long, rich tradition of developing great ballplayers. For most of the past 50 years, they’ve been stuck playing in the rickety stadiums built by Batista during his dictatorship and before. Now Cuba’s best have a chance to shine on the biggest baseball stage of all.
If what we’ve seen from Cuban players so far is any indication, they won’t disappoint.
Mixed Martial Arts has been fighting the image that it isn’t really a serious “sport” since its inception. This Outside the Lines investigation by ESPN probably won’t help.
At least 15 MMA fighters have gotten a testosterone exemption from various state athletic commissions, all for low lab values due to a condition known as hypogonadism. One of the common causes of hypogonadism is previous use of anabolic steroids.
In the past five years, at least 15 mixed martial artists have been issued exemptions to use testosterone, the vast majority revealed or confirmed through public records requests filed by “Outside the Lines” with the major state commissions or athletic bodies overseeing the sport. The sport itself has had more than 20,000 pro fighters over the past five years, according to record keeper mixedmartialarts.com, although fewer than 1,800 MMA combatants are under contract to the sport’s dominant promoters — Zuffa (UFC) and Bellator, which account for 11 of the fighters on TRT. Although only a small fraction, the number of exemptions still dwarfs what can be found in other sports:
• The International Olympic Committee did not issue a single testosterone exemption for the 2012 London Olympics, which featured 5,892 male athletes.
• The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued one testosterone exemption last year among the thousands of elite-level athletes under its jurisdiction.
• Major League Baseball has issued six exemptions to athletes over the past six seasons — an average of 1,200 players populate its rosters each season.
• National Football League officials say testosterone exemptions are “very rare” and only a “handful” have been issued since 1990. Nearly 2,000 players circulate through rosters each season.
• No pro boxer is known to have had an exemption issued through a state athletic commission, and Nevada officials said they have never even received an application.
“It’s a huge number,” said Dr. Don Catlin, the country’s leading anti-doping expert, of the MMA testosterone exemptions. “I am on the IOC committee that reviews [therapeutic-use exemptions for testosterone] requests. We essentially grant none. But in boxing and MMA there is no central control. There is no set of rules that everybody has to follow.
“There is a set of rules for each [state athletic commission], but they are kind of Mickey Mouse rules. So the route to being able to take testosterone is wide open. … You go in and say ‘I have these symptoms.’ The doc says, ‘Oh yeah, you got low testosterone.’ You get a TUE.”
Along with exemptions, several MMA fighters and officials also described to “Outside the Lines” widespread use of performance-enhancing substances in the sport. One top contender labeled PED use in the sport “rampant,” and a prominent state athletic commission chairman matter-of-factly acknowledged: “We got some doping going on in MMA.”
As purses and contracts have skyrocketed, the temptation to juice up has become too great. We saw in baseball when even utility infielders could demand million dollar salaries, the use of PED’s got out of control. Clearly, the fighters get it — juicing up becomes part of the racket and rather than play it straight and be left behind, fighters will go with the flow and take their chances being tested.
They aren’t taking much of a chance. Some states don’t even test for PED’s. And others only test post-fight — long after the vestiges of the drugs have been flushed from the system.
If the UFC wants their sport, and their organization, to be taken more seriously, some kind of out of the ring testing regimen has to be created to crack down on the cheaters and protect the health of the fighters.
Somewhere in Punxsutawney, PA, Phil the groundhog is weeping.
Harold Ramis, the brilliant comedic writer, director, and actor, died today at age 69. He suffered from ill health for the last three years and finally succumbed to “complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, his wife Erica Mann Ramis said. He was 69.”
His astonishing body of work included some of the most iconic Hollywood comedies of all time, including directing Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, producing Multiplicity and Bedazzled, and acting in memorable roles for Stripes, Ghostbusters, and National Lampoon’s Vacation.
But it was his writing that got him his first break. His wicked wit and sweet sense of pathos endeared characters like Groundhog Day’s Bill Connors and Caddyshack’s wacky groundskeeper Carl Spackler to audiences. It’s no accident that both characters were played by Bill Murray, who collaborated with Ramis on six projects. Allahpundit expounds on the Ramis-Murray team:
There are endless salutes to the subtle genius of “Groundhog Day” online, from National Review to the Atlantic to the Guardian and beyond. Murray was the perfect Ramis hero, never more so than in GD: Seemingly shallow but with great depth, and tenderness, underneath. How many mainstream comedies can seriously be parsed for hidden religious meanings? That’s the level Ramis had reached. RIP.
Ramis was a key player in the Chicago comedy scene in the 1970s with the advent of the improvisational troupe Second City. Ramis wrote for both the stage shows and the successful TV project SCTV, where he honed his improvisational skills and collaborated with Murray, John Belushi, and other future comedians.
As zany as Ramis’ early comedies were, they rigorously pursued a theme close to the heart of someone who grew out of the 1960s counterculture: characters rebelling against institutions, be they authoritarian college administrators and pampered rich kids (“Animal House”), a stuffy golf club (“Caddyshack”) or the military (“Stripes”). After the collapse of his first marriage and the flop of his 1986 comedy “Club Paradise” (with greedy developers as the institutional villain), the Jewish-raised Ramis immersed himself in Zen Buddhism.
“It’s my shield and my armor in the work I do,” he said. “It’s to keep a cheerful, Zen-like detachment from everything.”
Ramis’ later directorial efforts, starting with “Groundhog Day” and including “Stuart Saves His Family” (1995), “Multiplicity” (1996), “Analyze This” and his “Bedazzled” remake (2000), reflect a spiritual striving, exploring individuals’ struggles with themselves more than outside forces.
Comparing his later to earlier comedies, Ramis told the Tribune: “The content’s different, but it comes from the same place in me, which is to try to point people at some reality or truth.”
He recalled that at the “Analyze This” junket, a writer told him his genre had become “goofy redemption comedy,” to which Ramis responded, “OK, I’ll take that.”
Ramis had been living in Los Angeles since late the ’70s before he returned to Chicago, basing his production company in downtown Highland Park.
“In L.A., you’re much more aware of an artificial pressure, just that you’re in a race of some kind,” Ramis recalled one morning over a veggie egg-white omelet at the coffee shop downstairs from his office. “You know, if you’re not moving forward, you’re dead in the water, because everyone around you is scheming, planning and plotting to advance themselves, often at your expense.
“I’ve compared it to high school: Am I popular? Am I cool? Am I in? Who’s the in crowd? How do I get into that party? These are not things I ever wanted to worry about. Here I’m so liberated from that.”
Like his contemporary John Hughes, whose comedies of teen angst and romance spoke to audiences in special ways, Ramis’ films did more than make us laugh. They were, at bottom, films about the human condition and how all of us manage to muddle through despite life’s challenges.
My favorite Ramis film is one of his first efforts at writing. Meatballs was a sweet, sentimental, uproariously funny film designed to evoke memories of childhood summer-camp experiences. A bit overplayed by Bill Murray as head counselor Tripper Harrison, the movie nevertheless portrayed the mysterious passage from child to young adult in an intelligent, inspiring manner.
It almost seems as if the 1980s has finally died along with Harold Ramis.
China has become the third nation to land a spacecraft on the moon. It was the first soft landing of a probe on the moon in nearly 40 years.
The achievement marked the next stage in an ambitious space program that aims to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon.
The unmanned Chang’e 3 lander, named after a mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, touched down on Earth’s nearest neighbor following a 12-minute landing process.
The probe carried a six-wheeled moon rover called Yutu, or “Jade Rabbit,” the goddess’ pet in the myth. Within hours of its landing on a fairly flat, Earth-facing part of the moon, the rover was slated to separate from the Chang’e lander and embark on a three-month scientific exploration.
The achievement marked the next stage in an ambitious space program that aims to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon.
The unmanned Chang’e 3 lander, named after a mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, touched down on Earth’s nearest neighbor following a 12-minute landing process.
The probe carried a six-wheeled moon rover called Yutu, or “Jade Rabbit,” the goddess’ pet in the myth. Within hours of its landing on a fairly flat, Earth-facing part of the moon, the rover was slated to separate from the Chang’e lander and embark on a three-month scientific exploration.
China’s military-backed space program has made methodical progress in a relatively short time, although it lags far behind the United States and Russia in technology and experience.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third nation after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently. In 2007, it sent its first probe to the moon, named Chang’e 1. A follow-up mission, called Chang’e 2, was launched to study the moon in 2010, and then left lunar orbit to make a close flyby of the asteroid Toutatis in 2012.
China plans to open a space station around 2020 and send an astronaut to the moon after that.
Space entrepreneur Dennis Wingo sees more to the Chinese space program than mere nationalistic pride:
China is spending billions on resource acquisition in Africa, South America and other places around the world,” he told FoxNews.com. “If you look at the design of their system for this mission, it is very much a mineral prospector as much as a science mission.”
The strong possibility that there is water on the moon in the form of near-crystallized ice located in craters at the lunar poles opens up exciting possibilities for permanent mining operations on earth’s satellite. Water is not only vital for cooling machinery and drinking, it’s oxygen molecules can be separated to make breathable air. The hydrogen can be extracted and when combined with small amounts of other elements, an efficient fuel for rockets, vehicles, and machinery — methane — can be created.
In short, any viable, self-sustaining mining colony can be profitable if water ice existing on the moon can be tapped and the resource exploited. China is going to have a head start on private US companies who also have been eying the moon for its minerals.
NASA is not going back to the moon, which is as it should be. From here on out, the space “race” is for those who seek to gather the riches that can be found out there. Our government has no interest in joining this race, and NASA is better suited to helping facilitate the private space industry’s development of hardware that will assist us in the commercial exploitation of resources on the moon and elsewhere.
image illustration courtesy shutterstock / Bruce Rolff
Did ESPN knuckle under to pressure from the NFL when they withdrew their cooperation from a controversial PBS documentary on concussions in pro football?
ESPN’s ombudsman Robert Lipsyte (who knew ESPN even had an ombudsman?) investigated the charge and was unable to determine the truth of the matter. What he did find was that there is compelling evidence that pressure was applied to executives at the network by both the NFL and ESPN’s parent company, Walt Disney, Inc. to distance the network from the documentary project.
The PBS film, produced by Frontline, is titled “League in Denial: The NFL Concussions and the Battle for the Truth.” Not exactly a title that would get the NFL’s legs tingling. ESPN’s role in producing and making the documentary is extremely hazy — “sloppy” says Lipsyte. Indeed, the extent of the network’s involvement appears to vary depending on who you speak to. An executive producer with Frontline told Lipsyte the relationship was more of an “editorial exchange.” However it’s characterized, the New York Times reported on August 23 that ESPN was pulling out of the project, denying Frontline the use of its brand.
So, what happened? The ostensible reason for the change of heart comes from ESPN President John Skipper, who pointed to the lack of “editorial control”:
“Because ESPN is neither producing nor exercising editorial control over the Frontline documentaries, there will be no co-branding involving ESPN on the documentaries or their marketing materials.”
Skipper saw a trailer for the documentary and began to have second thoughts. The tagline for the film — “Get ready to change the way you see the game” — was particularly upsetting, as was a sound bite from a doctor who commented on the extent of brain injuries in the league: “I’m really wondering if every single football player doesn’t have this.”
This is the background to a story that now becomes a familiar push-pull narrative in the news business. ESPN makes enormous amounts of money by carrying NFL games, and running other NFL programming. Eight days prior to Skipper’s announcement, there was a meeting between the league and ESPN executives, after which, Skipper also talked to Disney Chairman Bob Iger.
The New York Times reports on the pivotal meeting between the league and Skipper:
The meeting took place at Patroon, near the league’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters, according to the two people, who requested anonymity because they were prohibited by their superiors from discussing the matter publicly. It was a table for four: Roger Goodell, commissioner of the N.F.L.; Steve Bornstein, president of the NFL Network; John Skipper, ESPN’s president; and John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president for production.
The meeting was combative, the people said, with league officials conveying their irritation with the direction of the documentary, which is expected to describe a narrative that has been captured in various news reports over the past decade: the league turning a blind eye to evidence that players were sustaining brain trauma on the field that could lead to profound, long-term cognitive disability.
Aside from the obvious bad publicity that the NFL is getting on this story, there is also the matter of more than 4,200 named player-plaintiffs in lawsuits over concussion-linked injuries. This is a huge story that has repercussions for every team, every player, and the league itself. It is a big deal that ESPN pulled its cooperation with Frontline, after the two organizations participated in 9 other similar projects, according to Sports Illustrated.
But the move by ESPN to distance itself from Frontline because a project angered one of their “partners” is troubling to say the least. It brings to mind other incidents going back to the beginnings of television where corporations sponsoring programming or buying ad time on network news shows would put pressure on the network to “drop it or else.”
General Motors, General Electric, Ford, Monsanto, Northwest Airlines — all of those and many more in the 1950′s — 1970′s found it necessary to confront TV executives about the way news about their companies was handled. And it hardly mattered if the companies advertised on the network. Both CBS and ABC eventually killed projects that would have exposed the tobacco industry for their lies about nicotine not being addictive and the cancer-causing additives they used. The threat of being sued for billions in damages was a good deterrent.
But there is a major difference between the controversies in those days and the current one involving ESPN. The news divisions used to be loss leaders for the networks. Now, they’re profit centers. Beginning in the 1980′s it was determined that rather than being a separate division answerable only to the chairman of the network, the news division would be folded into programming and have to pay its own freight. The result was a slaughter — closed bureaus, staffs slashed, and the proliferation of 60 Minutes type shows that seemed far more like entertainment than news. Nowadays, corporations don’t have to browbeat news executives to cover a story a certain way. The news people know where their bread is buttered and act accordingly.
There seems little doubt that ESPN wanted to do the right thing. The producers and writers who worked with Frontline make that absolutely clear. And staffers at ESPN knew that something bad was going to happen in the days leading up to the pivotal announcement by Skipper:
Staffers at ESPN had let this column know over the past month that they were fearful something like this could happen with the Frontline-ESPN collaboration. They suggested pressure was being exerted by the NFL at levels well above Outside The Lines management. Said one ESPN staffer last week: “I’m hearing of stuff I never thought I’d see at our place.”
“We had collaboration credit in two different places in their broadcast,” Aronson-Rath said of the Pellman story. “My feeling is, and I can’t verify this, it appears to me that it was not their [OTL management's] decision. Nobody confirmed that for me but clearly [ESPN senior coordinating producer] Dwayne Bray was with us at the press tour a couple of weeks ago. That is as public as you can go with the TV critics announcing this and being asked all these same questions that are emerging right now.
Outside the Lines, ESPN’s excellent and illuminating show about sports in society didn’t deserve this kind of treatment from its own network brass.
What effect this will have on staff morale can be imagined, but its effect on programming at ESPN may be even more profound. The network has made it pretty clear through it’s actions that it doesn’t much care for boat rockers. A pity, that. If any segment of our society needs to have its boat rocked, its sports. It’s hard to imagine how the games kids play — now with billions of dollars at stake — have achieved such an exalted status in America. Cutting the sports culture down to size would seem a worthwhile endeavor.
An endeavor that ESPN has stepped back from engaging in.
If you haven’t been following the baseball scandal involving a Florida anti-aging clinic that dispensed performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) to at least 13 Major League ballplayers, there’s some background here. It’s a black mark on the game and has initiated some introspection on sports and society that is long overdue and may, in the long run, actually do some good.
The biggest name caught up in this mess is the New York Yankees superstar third baseman, Alex Rodriguez. The man who signed a quarter of a billion dollar contract — the richest in professional sports history — has denied taking any PED’s knowingly. But the doctor at the center of the controversy, Tony Bosch, had documented proof that A-Rod was a cheat. Each player who used the clinic to get steroids was carefully monitored with dosages and the kinds of drugs being taken written down in ledgers. A-Rod was toast and he knew it. And in a shocking display of arrogance, Rodriguez purchased most of the records revealing his steroid use from a business associate of Bosch who started a bidding war between players and MLB for the evidence of wrongdoing. The league considered this an effort by A-Rod to hinder the investigation, for which he got a penalty of 211 games — twice that of any other player.
But the scandal has also touched the game of professional baseball in ways that other scandals have not. For the first time, the Major League Baseball Players Association, the owners, and the league office have all agreed that the scourge of PED’s must be eradicated if the integrity of the game is to saved. And this has led to players speaking out forcefully against their brethren whose “bad choices” threatens to undermine the game of baseball.
Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster took “speaking out” to the next level in a game against the New York Yankees on Sunday. In the second inning of a game at Fenway Park with Rodriguez leading off the inning, Dempster whistled a 89 MPH fastball behind the knees of the Yankee slugger.
In baseball, this is a no-no. It is a message to the batter that he has done something the pitcher doesn’t much like. Usually, the throw behind the hitter gambit is used if the opposing pitcher has hit one of your players. But in this case, Dempster wasn’t being very subtle. In an old school sort of way, he was expressing his — and most ballplayers in the league – displeasure at A-Rod’s steroid use and his attempts to cover his tracks.
The next two pitches were “brush-back” pitches — sometimes designed to force the batter back from the plate but in this case, another means of expressing Dempster’s outrage.
Then, on a 3-0 pitch, Dempster reared back and fired the ball right at the batter, hitting A-Rod in the elbow and the ball caroming off his back. It is extremely rare for a batter to be plunked on a 3-0 pitch, which gives even more credence to the idea that Dempster knew exactly where he was throwing the ball.
What happened next, courtesy of ESPN:
After the hit-by-pitch, home plate umpire Brian O’Nora issued the warnings as an enraged Girardi charged out of the Yankees’ dugout, gesticulating wildly. Girardi was kicked out after one of his gestures, which looked like a left hook, nearly hit O’Nora.
After the more than-four-hour game, Girardi was still fuming, pointing out that Dempster had hit only five batters in 145 1/3 innings. He said that he will be “disappointed” if Dempster isn’t suspended a long enough period by MLB that he misses a start. And that he wishes that Dempster had to bat for himself.
You can’t start throwing at people,” Girardi said. “Lives — people have had concussions. Lives are changed by getting hit by pitches. Whether I agree with everything that’s going on, you do not throw at people and you don’t take the law into your own hands. You don’t do that. We’re going to skip the judicial system? It’s ‘My Cousin Vinny.’”
Rodriguez was asked if he agreed that Dempster should be suspended.
“I’m the wrong guy to be asking about suspensions,” Rodriguez said with a chuckle. “Holy mackerel.”
After he was hit, Rodriguez stared out at Dempster before slowly walking to first base, trailed by Yankees trainer Steve Donohue. Groups of players from each team’s bullpen spilled onto the field, as well as a few players from the Yankees’ dugout, led by a clearly agitated Brett Gardner. But no punches were thrown and order was quickly restored.
Rodriguez has been insufferable since the league handed down his suspension. He is fighting with the Yankee front office. He is fighting with some of his teammates. He is fighting it despite the fact he doesn’t have a prayer. The league has him dead to rights and he knows it. The 12 other players suspended have already apologized and accepted their punishment without appeal. But Rodriguez, who admitted taking steroids from 2001-2003, refuses to acknowledge the obvious and take his punishment.
Manager Girardi is right — theoretically. Yes, a baseball is a weapon. But players today wear a lot of protective equipment. The batting helmet is engineered to absorb 100 MPH fastballs. Players wear shin guards and toe guards to protect them from foul balls that ricochet off their legs. And the ball that Dempster hit A-Rod with smacked him right on his heavily padded elbow guard, probably preventing an injury that would have kept him out of the lineup for at least a couple of games.
Everyone in baseball knows that Dempster deliberately tried to hit Alex Rodriquez, and they know the reason why. And yet, the league, perhaps sensing the mood of the players, suspended Dempster for only 5 games — a ridiculously small punishment for what ordinarily would be a serious offense that might have garnered a suspension of 10 or even 20 games under different circumstances.
Dempster used an old school device to send a message to a modern day cheat. And with it, baseball may have turned a corner toward a better future.
It took about 20 years, but the people who run baseball have finally gotten serious about the game’s drug problem. Twelve players caught up in a performance-enhancing drug (PED) scandal involving a Florida clinic have been been severely punished with suspensions ranging from 50 to 212 games.
Among those suspended are three players who participated in the All-Star Game last month: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers outfielder; Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres shortstop; and Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers shortstop. Cruz and Peralta are on teams contending for a post-season berth, and their loss for most of the rest of the season may impact the race for a playoff spot.
But the two biggest names caught up in the scandal are Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun, who accepted a suspension for the rest of the year last week, and the New York Yankees’ superstar third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended for 212 games — the rest of this year and all of the 2014 season. Rodriguez will be allowed to play while his appeal goes forward, but it seems hopeless. That’s because Major League Baseball has him cold on the PED charges.
The scandal involves a quack clinician with a fake medical degree named Tony Bosch who has been supplying major league ballplayers with steroids for years. At his Biogenesis clinic in Coral Gables, Florida, Bosch kept voluminous records on his customers. Various investigations uncovered the names of Rodriguez and Braun, as well as Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who was not suspended despite being prominently mentioned in Biogenesis records. (Gonzalez passed a drug test and cannot be directly tied to using PEDs.)
Rodriguez had admitted using PEDs previously — from 2001-2003. But the reason his suspension is so much longer than the others is that MLB investigators believe he was actively hindering the investigation. That, and the fact that he refused to take his medicine and will appeal the decision caused MLB to lengthen his suspension considerably.
After the news broke today, Rodriguez refused to comment on whether or not he used PEDs:
The last seven months have been a “nightmare,” he said.
It “has been probably the worst time of my life for sure,” said Rodriguez, “obviously for the circumstances that are at hand and also dealing with a very tough surgery and a rehab program, and being 38.”
Asked directly whether he had used performance-enhancing drugs, he declined — repeatedly — to comment.
“I think we’ll have a forum to discuss all of that, and we’ll talk about it then,” Rodriguez said.
Earlier in a written statement, he said that he was disappointed with the penalty and intends to appeal. He thanked family, friends and fans for their support and stressed that he was eager to get back on the field with his teammates.
His suspension is set to go into effect on Thursday, the league said. But officials also said that Rodriguez could keep playing if he appeals.
He arrived Monday in Chicago, where he was scheduled to play in a game against the White Sox. The Yankees’ roster lists him in the starting lineup, batting in the fourth spot and playing third base.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Rodriguez’s suspension won’t affect the team in Monday night’s game in Chicago.
“He’s here. He’s going to play,” Girardi told reporters. “It really doesn’t change anything for us.”
Ten years after his debut in the NBA as a gangling 18-year old playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James has done something that few ever thought he would. He has exceeded the high expectations set for him by the sports commentariat and now owns the league.
James, whose Miami Heat took the title 95-88 in a thrilling seventh game with the San Antonio Spurs, finds himself in rare company, indeed. Only two players have won back to back league MVP and Finals MVP — James and Michael Jordan. The temptation to compare the two superstars should be resisted, however. They belong to different eras — two entirely different games. Besides, how can you quantify pure athleticism? Both men had skill sets that fit the times in which they played, both competed ferociously, and both possessed the gift of making those around them better players.
But LeBron James, like Jordan before him, is now the unquestioned owner of the National Basketball Association. He wrested that title from the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant whose aging body is beginning to betray him. Bryant, who succeeded Jordan as the dominant superstar of his era, won 5 championships during the first decade of this century. James, still a relatively young 28 and with 2 titles already under his belt, seems destined to surpass Bryant and perhaps even Jordan’s 6 titles.
And James has the opportunity to dominate the game in ways that Jordan and Bryant never could. At the moment, there is no one on the horizon who could challenge James for supremacy. He’s too big, too fast, too talented for any defender currently in the NBA to consistently guard him. Every other superstar in the league today clearly suffers by comparison. And as long as the Miami ownership is willing to build teams around him that can compete — and barring serious injury — his run as King of the NBA may last a while.
But James may end up being the most unpopular superstar ever to own the league. Since his ill-conceived live show to announce his free agent plans in 2010, LeBron has become the athlete everyone likes to hate. This is a trifle unfair given his charitable and philanthropic activities which are legion. But the image of James “taking his talents to South Beach” while his Cleveland fans wept with rage and disgust, has proven to be a lasting impression on the sporting public.
As for the seventh game of the NBA finals, the line for James reveals how much he was able to dominate the Spurs; 37 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists. He plunged the dagger into San Antonio with less than a minute to play with a sequence of plays that achieved instant legend status. San Antonio’s future Hall of Fame center Tim Duncan took one of his patented sweeping hooks that failed to go in with 50 seconds to play.
James followed with a jumper — the shot the Spurs were daring him to take earlier in the series — to make it 92-88, sending San Antonio to a timeout as Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On” blared over the arena’s sound system.
He then came up with a steal and made two free throws for a six-point lead, and after Ginobili missed, James stalked toward the sideline, knowing it was over and that he was, once again, the last one standing.
The great ones always seem to come through at crunch time. That’s why they’re considered great. And that’s why LeBron James has been able to slough off the criticism and mount the dais to receive his just reward as the unquestioned owner of professional basketball.
I don’t know exactly why the idea that a school is promoting a “toy gun exchange” bothers me. Perhaps it’s because it plays into the false meme that guns are bad, bad, bad and that children shouldn’t be playing with toy guns. Perhaps it’s the insufferable moralists who actually think that a kid trading in a toy gun is going to curb violence, or make the kid a better human being.
How many generations of boys grew up fighting outlaws or indians, or played “soldier” in the backyard?? Were they any more or less violent than this generation? How did it happen all of a sudden that toy guns promote violence, or are somehow bad for kids?
A school in Hayward, CA thinks it’s a grand idea:
Strobridge Elementary Principal Charles Hill maintains that children who play with toy guns may not take real guns seriously.
“Playing with toys guns, saying ‘I’m going to shoot you,’ desensitizes them, so as they get older, it’s easier for them to use a real gun,” Hill said.
Huh? This horse’s ass is a principal? That statement brings to mind the song “Little Known Facts” that Lucy sings to her little brother Linus in the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown:
D’you see this tree?
It is a fir tree.
It’s called a fir tree
Because it gives us fur
And it also gives us wool
In the winter time
This is an elm tree
It’s very little
But it will grow up
Into a giant tree
You can tell how old it is
By counting its leaves
Where’s old Lucy when we need her.
Enter Schroeder, the rationalist. Or, in this case, a gun rights advocate:
A gun rights advocate questioned the idea that playing with toy guns desensitizes children to real weapons.
“Having a group of children playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians is a normal part of growing up,” said Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for Responsible Citizens of California, a group whose goal is to educate the public about the facts behind gun rights.
“While the intentions are obviously good on the part of the school administration, this doesn’t really educate children about guns or gun safety,” he said. “Guns are used in crimes, but they are more often used in defensive ways which prevent violent crime from occurring in the first place.”
Chang also questioned whether toys can look like real weapons.
“Toy manufacturers are forced to paint guns in bright colors, usually orange or yellow, that make it virtually impossible for an officer to mistake it for a real gun,” Chang said.
Not half as sexy as guns “desensitizing” kids so that when they grow up they want to shoot policemen, but it has the virtue of at least being rational.
I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on the school administration. They’re going to have a gun safety lesson as well as a fire safety lesson in conjunction with the toy gun exchange which is information most kids could use. But it’s attitudes like the one held by that principal — glorying in their own ignorance and being so smug in their supposed moral superiority — that really gets to me.
image courtesy shutterstock /de2marco
I think Allahpundit hit a home run in his analysis of the impact that pro basketball player Jason Collins’ self-outing will have on the country:
Easy prediction: 75 percent of the public will be casually supportive or casually disapproving but either way almost entirely indifferent. Fifteen percent, including lots of pols, celebrities, and the media, will support him enthusiastically. The other 10 percent will hassle him on the court or from the stands either because they dislike gays or just to spite the 15 percent of “opinion leaders” on the other side. Collins will get a standing O at his first home game next year — if he ends up being signed — and some fans on the road will get nasty with him when he fouls someone too roughly. He’ll do a few ads. Then, after a few months, with rare exceptions, everyone will get bored with it.
I’m already bored with it and it’s been just a few hours since the story broke. I am happy that Mr. Collins is at peace with himself and can now live his life freely. But is he a “hero” for coming out of the closet? Anyone with half a brain could have predicted the outpouring of love, support, and sympathy from most of the country who cares about these things. Everyone wanted to rush out their statement, or Tweet, or Facebook posting, trying to be first in proving just how tolerant they are. I suppose this is better than the alternative, but really — can we try to be a little more realistic and place Mr. Collins’ action in perspective?
A marginal pro athlete at the end of a solid career (you don’t last 12 seasons in the NBA without being a good contributor) admits to the world that he’s gay. I’ll admit it’s a novelty — the first active pro athlete to publicly declare himself a homosexual.
But what does it change? How many bigots will alter their views of gays and come to embrace them? If the reaction from some haters is any indication, not too many. Within minutes of the story breaking, ESPN sportscaster Chris Broussard was telling the world that Mr. Collins wasn’t a Christian:
Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it maybe, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the bible would characterize them as a Christian.
And American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer couldn’t help himself, I suppose:
“I will guarantee you,” said Fischer, “if the ownership of whatever team is thinking about bringing him back, or thinking about trading for him, and they go to the players on that team and they say ‘How do you feel about an out active homosexual being in the same locker room, sharing the same shower facilities with you?’ they’ll say no way. I don’t want that. I do not want some guy, a teammate, eyeballing me in the shower.”
A little projection by Fischer?
There was a time when Opening Day of the baseball season was one of the most anticipated annual events in America. For most Americans, the significance of the day transcended sport, marking the welcome change of season, and the arrival of warm weather and an alteration in the landscape from burnt umber to a glorious green. The day also rekindled hope in the breasts of baseball fans everywhere. Everyone had a favorite team whether you lived in a city with a pro franchise or not, and before any wins or losses were tallied, the dream of post-season glory was alive in every beating heart.
For those born after 1970, it is difficult to describe the hold that baseball had on the national consciousness. Today, despite record-setting attendance at ballparks, gigantic television contracts, and four 24-hour sports networks, Major League Baseball has fallen from its perch as the most dominant game in America, replaced by football in the hearts and minds of sports fans.
There are a plethora of reasons why this is so. Overexposure is a big one. When baseball was king, there were only one or two nationally televised games a week. Even if you were lucky enough to live in a city with a pro franchise, roughly half the games would be televised. I have fond memories of taking a transistor radio to bed, hiding under the covers to listen to Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Elson call a West Coast game, or sitting on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon with the game on the radio and the family gathered around.
Today, every single game is televised, with the all-sports cable networks broadcasting replays and highlights all day long. Something special went out of the game when baseball became so ubiquitous. It lost some of its mystique, its perception as a special event.
I wrote this back in 2005, while the White Sox were making their magical run to a World Series crown:
While there are many that bemoan the fall of baseball from its preeminent position as the number one sport in America, you cannot escape the fact that the game has fallen victim to what is the essence of America itself: an unalterable and inexorable fact of life in this country that things do not remain the same, that society and culture are in a constant state of motion.
America has changed. Baseball hasn’t.
Baseball couldn’t change. The game itself is draped in tradition, in memory. There is no other game seen through the prism of remembrance quite like baseball. Sitting on the back porch in 1950s and ’60s suburbia listening to the hissing, static filled play-by-play on radio while the fireflies blinked to announce their presence and the sweet smell of Jasmine filled the nostrils with the scent of summer, of family, of a shared passion. Or perhaps in the city you sat on the front stoop with every other house on the block blaring out the call of the game, a broadcast legend conducting a city wide symphony of sound, mothers with babies, fathers with sons, and the young, the old, laughing, talking, arguing, loving. A neighborhood, a community united around a passion so intense that enmities were temporarily forgotten as “the boys” or “the bums” performed extraordinary feats of effortless athleticism with both the workmanlike attitude of the blue collar hero and the pizazz of a circus performer.
Yes, that America existed at one time. And while memory may skew some of the details and gloss over much of the unseemly realities from those times, there is no doubt that baseball for much of the country occupied a privileged position in the hearts and minds of the people. In a time before the total saturation of sports, before ubiquitous replays, before free agency made players into hobos, before steroids turned the players into Frankenstein monsters, before rape trials and murder trials and divorces and scandal after scandal there was the pitcher, the batter, and the lovely dance of strategy and possibility. To bunt or not to bunt. To swing away or hit and run. To pitch out, or put the rotation” play on, or simply to play “straight up.” This was actually part of the national conversation when baseball was king.
Ed Schultz, the bombastic host of MSNBC’s The Ed Show, has been dumped from the network’s weekday lineup and exiled to the weekend.
I suppose if screaming at the camera and conjuring up bloodthirsty deaths for your political opponent is your thing, you will probably miss Mr. Ed and his strident, take no prisoners liberalism.
For the rest of us, relief that we can remove the cotton from our ears that we used when listening to his show.
Allah captures exactly the right mix of haughty disdain and astonishment at Schultz’s reaction to the humiliating demotion:
Rarely will you see a crap sandwich devoured with the sort of gusto displayed in the video below. If prior media reports are accurate, this is not a guy who’s reacted well in the past to seeing his profile at MSNBC lowered. Last November, when the whispering began that he’d soon be replaced, he handled it … predictably. And yet there he was last night, practically ready to high-five the cameraman over his banishment to the Island of “Lockup” Re-Runs. If he’s feeling bold, he should end tonight’s show with the clip of Ian Faith talking about Spinal Tap’s appeal becoming “more selective.” Have fun with it!
Dylan Byers at Politico:
Like former MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan, Schultz suggested that the move was his choice: “I’m very proud of the work our team has done here at 8 PM, but sitting behind this desk five nights a week doesn’t cut it for me,” he said. “I want to get out with the people and tell their stories. This show has been a show that has been a voice for the voiceless. That really was my mission when I came here and it remains.”
Sources at MSNBC told POLITICO that that was a very generous interpretation of events. Schultz was pushed out to make way for new talent, they said.
Media Decoder points out that the real reason for the decision was demographics:
The change is predicated on the belief that MSNBC can win a wider audience with Mr. Hayes than it did with Mr. Schultz, a champion of the working class whose bluster didn’t always pair well with Ms. Maddow and the channel’s other prime-time program, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” Mr. Hayes, on the other hand, is just as wonky as Ms. Maddow and Mr. O’Donnell, and is a regular contributor to both of their programs.
“Chris has done an amazing job creating a franchise on weekend mornings,” said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC. “He’s an extraordinary talent and has made a strong connection with our audience.”
Mr. Hayes, 34, will be the youngest host of a prime-time show on any of the country’s major cable news channels, all of which seek out youthful viewers but tend to have middle-aged hosts and a core audience made up of senior citizens. Of Mr. Schultz’s one million viewers last year, for example, only 249,000 were between the ages of 25 and 54.
At least when Hayes savages conservatives he does it quietly. That will be a huge improvement from Schultz who now gets to exercise his vocal chords on a virtually empty stage over the weekend.
John Hawkins penned an article for PJ Media advancing the notion that cats are inferior to dogs “in every way.” He gave five reasons trying to prove this theory — tried and failed. In fact, though Hawkins’ entertaining article was written largely tongue-in-cheek, the underlying bias against cats came through loud and clear.
We cat lovers are used to this. Forget everything you know about race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, or political affiliation. The great schism in humanity is between those who love cats and those who don’t, and it’s been that way going on 5,000 years.
I suspect John really doesn’t hate cats. If he does, it’s because cats don’t like him very much. Felines have an unerring ability to size humans up and decide if they can be properly enslaved to do their bidding. In short, unlike with dogs, humans don’t choose cats. Cats choose them. Dogs have absolutely no dignity or discernment when it comes to giving their love and loyalty. Anyone who feeds them, pats them on the head, or, best yet, throws a stick that they can mindlessly fetch earns their ceaseless — and boring — adoration.
It’s been this way for tens of thousands of years. Genetically speaking, dogs are failed wolves. It is probable that the first wolves domesticated by man were Omega wolves — the lowest-ranking wolf in the pack — that hung around human campfires hoping to get a few scraps of food. The Omegas were kicked around by their own pack and this complex carried forward through the ages so that a dog today will do anything to please its master.
Not so, cats. From the cat’s point of view, it is we that should do anything to please them. Do they turn their nose up at the food we put in front of them? Try a different dinner, stupid human.
Busy and don’t want to be bothered petting them? Try ignoring a cat determined to have you pay attention to him. If you do, he is likely to deliberately knock over that glass of soda on your desk right on to your keyboard. Those who think it an accident are delusional.
As for Hawkins’ 5 ways that cats are inferior to dogs, I will make short work of his thesis.
1) Dogs are much smarter than cats.
Scientific studies prove that dogs are smarter than cats. But this is silly. There isn’t a scientific study that has been devised that can hold a cat’s attention for more than two minutes. Any test a dog can pass, a cat has no use for. It’s like asking an MIT grad to take the same math test as a second grader.
Besides, cats have a vested interest in keeping their superior intellect hidden from humans. The absolute worst thing that could happen to cats would be if we started to take them for granted.
2) Your dog loves you. Your cat couldn’t care less if you were murdered by clowns.
What appears to a dog lover as indifference is actually a sign of a cat’s psychological health. Dogs have massive insecurities and feel they must constantly demonstrate their love. Cats are totally secure in the knowledge that they have you by the short hairs, so to speak, and feel absolutely no need to give any outward manifestation of their affection. They believe it says volumes that they allow you to exist in almost the same space as they do, although not on the same plane of the universe.
The National Football League issued a statement today confirming what anyone who’s not a Seattle Seahawks fan and who wasn’t masquerading as a professional football official already knew; Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate committed blatant, obvious, and criminal interference on the last play of the game that cost the Green Bay Packers the contest.
As for the other egregious error by the Pop Warner officials — the sure interception by Green Bay cornerback M.D. Jennings — the league stood behind the decision of the referee who decided that one hand by Tate on the ball constituted “simultaneous possession,” despite the fact that Jennings was clutching the ball to his chest and clearly had sole possession of the rock.
For those who missed it, a brief summary:
On the final play of “Monday Night Football,” Russell Wilson heaved a 24-yard pass into a scrum in the end zone with Seattle trailing 12-7. Tate shoved away a defender with both hands, and the NFL acknowledged Tuesday he should have been penalized, which would have clinched a Packers victory. But that lack of a call cannot be reviewed by instant replay.
Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings then both got their hands on the ball, though the Packers insisted Jennings had clear possession for a game-ending interception.
“It was pinned to my chest the whole time,” Jennings said.
Instead, the officials ruled on the field that the two had simultaneous possession, which counts as a reception. Once that happened, the NFL said, the referee was correct that no indisputable visual evidence existed on review to overturn the touchdown call.
That’s nonsense. Replays clearly showed Jennings in possession of the ball before Tate managed to get a hand on it. By the time the referee sauntered over to take a look-see, Tate had wrapped both hands around the ball — while it was still glued to Jenning’s chest.
In a perfect metaphor for the abysmal officiating that has plauged the games this season, the referee raised both arms to signal a touchdown for Seattle while the line judge, who was actually closer to the play, waved his arms to stop the clock — a signal for a change of possession. Here’s the pic:
Every once and a while, a discovery is made that throws previous theories into a cocked hat and sends scientists scurrying back to the blackboard to try and explain the new information and tell us what it means.
NASA’s Kepler Telescope has made such a discovery and our theories of how planets form will never be the same.
Coming less than a year after the announcement of the first circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b, NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered multiple transiting planets orbiting two suns for the first time. This system, known as a circumbinary planetary system, is 4,900 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.
This discovery proves that more than one planet can form and persist in the stressful realm of a binary star and demonstrates the diversity of planetary systems in our galaxy.
Astronomers detected two planets in the Kepler-47 system, a pair of orbiting stars that eclipse each other every 7.5 days from our vantage point on Earth. One star is similar to the sun in size, but only 84 percent as bright. The second star is diminutive, measuring only one-third the size of the sun and less than 1 percent as bright.
“In contrast to a single planet orbiting a single star, the planet in a circumbinary system must transit a ‘moving target.’ As a consequence, time intervals between the transits and their durations can vary substantially, sometimes short, other times long,” said Jerome Orosz, associate professor of astronomy at San Diego State University and lead author of the paper. “The intervals were the telltale sign these planets are in circumbinary orbits.”
The inner planet, Kepler-47b, orbits the pair of stars in less than 50 days. While it cannot be directly viewed, it is thought to be a sweltering world, where the destruction of methane in its super-heated atmosphere might lead to a thick haze that could blanket the planet. At three times the radius of Earth, Kepler-47b is the smallest known transiting circumbinary planet.
The outer planet, Kepler-47c, orbits its host pair every 303 days, placing it in the so-called “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet. While not a world hospitable for life, Kepler-47c is thought to be a gaseous giant slightly larger than Neptune, where an atmosphere of thick bright water-vapor clouds might exist.
The reason that this discovery is causing such excitement in the planetary science community is that Kepler 47-B and 47-C defy current theories that tell us how planets form. The standard model for stars like our sun is that a ring of gas and dust called an accretion disk orbits the young star and inside that ring, grains of dust are attracted to each other, gradually forming larger and larger bodies until planet size balls emerge.
But a circumbinary system was thought to be too unstable an environment for the dust to eventually form into planets. The likelihood that one of the stars would act like a bowling ball, careening through the accretion disk scattering any nascent planetary bodies thus not allowing the planets to coalesce makes the Kepler discovery something of a mystery:
“The presence of a full-fledged circumbinary planetary system orbiting Kepler-47 is an amazing discovery,” said Greg Laughlin, professor of Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the University of California in Santa Cruz. “These planets are very difficult to form using the currently accepted paradigm, and I believe that theorists, myself included, will be going back to the drawing board to try to improve our understanding of how planets are assembled in dusty circumbinary disks.”
The Kepler Telescope has already revolutionized our notions of extra-solar planets. Kepler was “specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.” It’s a remarkable scientific instrument:
The Kepler instrument is a specially designed 0.95-meter diameter telescope called a photometer or light meter. It has a very large field of view for an astronomical telescope — 105 square degrees, which is comparable to the area of your hand held at arm’s length. It needs that large a field in order to observe the necessary large number of stars. It stares at the same star field for the entire mission and continuously and simultaneously monitors the brightnesses of more than 100,000 stars for the life of the mission—3.5 or more years.
The telescope is able to determine the size and orbit of a planet by observing its transit across the face of the star, measuring the infinitesimally small decrease in brightness — likened to being able to measure the brightness of a firefly flying in front of a spotlight from 2,000 miles away.
So far, Kepler has confirmed the existence of 116 new planets in 67 systems with thousands of candidate bodies still being looked at. Several planets have been confirmed to orbit in the habitable zone — where water can exist as liquid. Kepler-22b is a little more than twice the size of earth and represents the best candidate body found so far where life could exist.
The Kepler Telescope is expected to be in operation through 2015.