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The Death of Moneyball

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Robert Spencer

I have just watched the Athletics blow a 7-3 lead all the way to hibernation for the winter, and as that last Royals run crossed the plate, it sealed the deal: Moneyball is dead.

You have seen the movie. Brad Pitt as the general manager of a baseball team. No money, no stars, just smarts — extreme smarts — and a willingness to buck baseball tradition and assemble a team no one – not even its field manager, in the Hollywood fable that also gave him an untrue-to-life beer gut and sour mien – thought would work. But it could work and it did work. By the numbers.

The numbers. WHIP and WAR and BABIP and CERA and DERA and all the Bill-Jamesian glut of incomprehensible statistics that have overwhelmed the game just as Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco and their butt injections rendered HR and RBI and BA essentially meaningless, and (along with Brad Pitt) made Billy Beane into a cult figure, a demigod, an F. Scott Fitzgerald character – The very rich, they are different from you and me. The Pitt/Beane version is The very knowledgeable about arcane baseball numbers, they are different from you and me. And Beane (and Pitt) got very rich playing on this.

To be sure, Beane has done all right by the Athletics, who are anything but very rich. Their small but passionate fanbase has held its own amid his repeated attempts to abandon the unloved Coliseum (or Mausoleum, as Bando, Jackson, Rudi and Tenace – ah, there were baseball players in those days — dubbed it) for presumably greener San Jose pastures, and he has with immense ingenuity parlayed the small budgets he has been handed into on-field success that the small but passionate ones have lustily cheered and magnificently appreciated. 

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Rihanna Beaten Up Again (by NFL and… Debbie Harry?)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Kathy Shaidle

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“Singer” Rihanna is having a crap week:

There’s more fallout from the Ray Rice domestic violence incident and the turmoil it has caused for the NFL – CBS and Rihanna are splitting up.

The network said Tuesday it was permanently editing a song featuring Rihanna’s voice out of its Thursday night NFL telecasts – after the singer issued a profane Tweet about it.

CBS issued a statement saying that it was “moving in a different direction” with different theme music.

The song was one of a handful of elements CBS cut out of its inaugural Thursday night football telecast. At the time, CBS Sports president Sean McManus said Rihanna’s own history as a victim of domestic violence was one part of the decision but not the overriding one.

Had the NFL kept the song in rotation, they’d have been torn apart on Twitter and elsewhere for “bad optics.”

(There’s a “broken occipital bone” joke in there somewhere…)

The league is currently in full hair-shirting mode, pantomiming “outrage” and “concern.”

It doesn’t need another black eye these days.

But of course, some will now scream that the NFL is “punishing the victim” by “silencing a battered woman’s voice” or something. (See below.)

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The NFL Borrows from the Iliad’s Playbook: Ray Rice and Achilles

Monday, September 8th, 2014 - by Spencer Klavan

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did a rare thing earlier this month — so rare it’s hardly ever been done since the 1200s BC. In cracking down on Ravens running back Ray Rice for a savage act of domestic abuse, Goodell (begrudgingly, after getting backed against the wall by public outcry) plunked for morals over talent. That, as the ancient Greeks knew from reading the war stories of their cultural icon, Homer, is easier said than done.

It shouldn’t have been a hard choice. Rice seems to have been caught dead to rights on camera, beating his fiancée senseless in a public place. Even the snippet of the video that’s been publicly released by TMZ is difficult to watch: with the casual unconcern of a man used to being treated like a demigod, Rice drags the unconscious woman out of an elevator like a rag doll. He takes his time, as if daring anyone to stop him.

Worst of all, no one did stop him. Rice was right to assume that starting running backs with Super Bowl rings and solid rushing averages can do what they want and get away with it. Rice is a star; he sells seats. So for an offense that may put him behind bars, the league suspended that naughty, naughty boy for two whole games. It looked like Rice was in line to join the ever-growing complement of suspected criminals and potential felons to be slapped gently on the wrist before returning to their adoring fans and multi-million-dollar contracts. Ray Lewis, Leonard Little, Andre Smiththe list goes on.

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Top 5 Things to Watch in College Football’s Opening Weekend

Friday, August 29th, 2014 - by Lyndsi Stevens

Top 5 Things

We’ve already seen a huge upset when the Johnny Football-less Texas A&M Aggies destroyed the ninth-ranked University of South Carolina Gamecocks. What else can college football fans look forward to this weekend?

1. The College Football Playoff System Goes Into Effect

It’s a new era. Goodbye BCS; hello CFP. College football fans have been begging for a playoff system for years, and it’s finally here.

2. Florida State Seminoles Go Head to Head with Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Cowboy Classic

Will the defending national championship team show up to prove that they are “True Champions” in this College Gameday featured game? The Seminoles lost some of the key members from the championship team, including Kelvin Benjamin, the 6’5 wide receiver who caught the game-winning pass from Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston to beat the Auburn Tigers in the last seconds of the national championship game.

3. Will Ohio State’s Backup QB Handle the Pressure?

Braxton Miller, Ohio State’s Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, is out for the year because of a torn labrum. The backup QB will start, but what does this mean for Ohio State’s chances of a slot in the new College Football Playoffs? We’ll see how the team is shaping up as the Buckeyes go up against Navy this Saturday at Noon Eastern.

4. Who will secure the starting quarterback spot at Alabama?

Heisman nominee AJ McCarron graduated and moved on to the Cincinnati Bengals NFL team. Blake Sims has been named the starter for this weekend’s game against the West Virginia Mountaineers, but it’s still considered an “open audition” as former FSU backup quarterback Jacob Coker is expected to play.

5. Maryland, Rutgers, and Louisville Debut in New Conferences

Maryland and Rutgers are ready to play in the Big 10, with Maryland moving from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers switching from The American. Louisville also left The American to join the ACC.

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A Casual Reason Football (Ours) is Better Than Football (Everyone Else’s)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 - by Rich Tucker
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BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL – June 17, 2014: Marc wilmots, head coach of Belgium is seen during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Group H at Mineirao Stadium

The Belgian soccer team apparently doesn’t worry about excess baggage costs. Sports Illustrated reports that the team packed 674 home shirts and 878 away shirts for its trip to the World Cup in Brazil. Since it’s only guaranteed three games, that’s quite a wardrobe. Maybe they’re afraid the Brazilian dry cleaners might lose their items.

One thing’s for sure: None of those shirts will be worn by team manager (we might call him coach) Marc Wilmots. He’ll be on the sidelines running his team, but he’ll be wearing what might be called street clothes: dress shoes, slacks, oxford shirt and a blazer. And he’s not alone.

At the World Cup, tens of thousands of fans come to games wearing crazy costumes, flag-themed pants and, for the less adventurous, replica team jerseys. But when the camera pans to the team managers they seem always to be dressed as if they’re on their way to work at a bank. Most, as in the recent South Korea-Russia contest, even wear a tie.

It’s just another reason American football is better than the rest of the world’s football.

America football coaches created “casual Sunday” many years ago. Perhaps the last man to coach in a tie was Dan Reeves, and he retired from coaching in 2003 when the Falcons fired him.

Since then, the sidelines have been filled with nothing but men in comfortable clothes.

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Why Americans Shouldn’t Embrace Soccer

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 - by Dennis Mitzner

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There are many signs suggesting that America is changing. In fact, to an outside observer America is starting to look a lot like Europe on many fronts.

One indication of the Europeanization of America might be the growing interest towards soccer. (For the purpose of this article and to avoid confusion, I will, albeit reluctantly, refer to football as soccer.)

The New Republic, once the torchbearer of American liberalism – the classical kind – and now largely a progressive voice, dedicated a whole section for the ongoing soccer World Cup taking place in Brazil.

Granted, I have always been uneasy about Americans and soccer. I love soccer and see it as part of being European. But in my murky soul, soccer represents nothing more than the same lightness and irrelevance of European cultural novelties and indulgences as coffee shops, fashion and high-speed trains.

Of course Americans love sports, but should they embrace a sport that has a bloodier history than any other sport in modern times?

Football and its all-pervasive fan culture is yet another example of the tribalism that Europeans – excluding the euro elites – are sinking into. Western Europe today is defined not by a coherent set of values, but by its identity crisis and deep divisions between lawmakers and the public, Brussels and local governments – and of course between the secular and the religious.

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Star Wars: Retribution Debuts July 5

Saturday, June 21st, 2014 - by Chris Queen

A few months ago, I brought you the story of Chris Conley, a football star at the University of Georgia (my alma mater – Go Dawgs!) who was putting together a Star Wars fan film. The finished product, entitled Star Wars: Retribution, is set to make its debut July 5. Here are the trailers:

Conley’s production company will soon begin work on a new film, Volition, soon.

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5 Suggestions to Make Soccer More Palatable for American Audiences

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

There are legions of soccer haters in America, including some on this site. As I’ve said in the past, there’s nothing wrong with this. Many soccer haters know the game as well as I do and still can’t stand it. Others don’t know the game at all and hate it, which is illogical. Either way, the haters have their reasons and who am I to try and convince them otherwise?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news for the haters, but the World Cup has actually generated some interest in soccer. The ESPN broadcast of the U.S.-Ghana match drew a 7 share overnight, or 8 million viewers. By contrast, a usual broadcast of Monday Night Football draws an 8.6 share, or 9.3 million viewers. Somebody out there in America likes soccer and loves the World Cup.

But it is my belief that a few rule changes would go a long way to getting even more Americans interested in the game. Hopefully, these suggestions wouldn’t alter the character of the game, but simply make it more accessible to American audiences.

1. Injury, or “stoppage” time

The timekeeping problem in soccer is incomprehensible. Are the officials too stupid to keep accurate time? Why not stop the clock for an injury instead of adding on an indeterminate amount of time at the end of the half? (They’re rarely close to being right.) Why can’t they stop the clock after a goal is scored, or when there are long periods of time wasted on arguments with the officials? They rarely stop the clock, except in the case of very serious injuries.

There is nothing exact about timekeeping in a soccer match which is ridiculous in the 21st century. Either keep time or don’t. Add an official timekeeper as they have in football, basketball, and hockey. The ref can control when the clock is stopped and when it starts again. None of this nonsensical, subjective, inaccurate guessing about how much time was lost during a half.

No injury time. No stoppage time. Just 90 minutes of action. Isn’t that what they’re after in the first place?

2. A lack of precision on ball placement and out of bounds plays

How often do you see a foul called and, instead of the player placing the ball exactly where the foul occurred, he advances it 5 or 10 yards and puts it in play? Or you may have noticed when a ball goes out of bounds, the throw-in might eventually occur far from where the ball left the field of play.

The referee will occasionally blow his whistle and force the player to move the free kick back, or motion the player throwing the ball in to play to move closer to where the ball went out of bounds. But there’s no precision, no exactitude. (On throw-ins, I’ve seen players dance 20 yards down the sideline before putting the ball in play.)

It offends the American soul to see this demonstration of inexactness. It’s vaguely unfair. We’re used to games where precision makes a difference between victory and defeat. It can in soccer too.

I understand the attraction in not requiring the referee to handle the ball before putting it in play. It keeps the flow of the game going and maintains an advantage for an attacking team if they can quickly put the ball in play. But there are plenty of times when this rule is abused. Penalizing a team for abusing the practice by awarding a free kick to the opposing team should get players to be more exact in ball placement and out of bounds throw-ins.

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Chuck Noll: The Coach that Saved a City

Monday, June 16th, 2014 - by J. Christian Adams
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Dejan Kovacevic has this poetic and wonderful piece at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on the passing of Chuck Noll, the greatest NFL coach, ever.

Ever? Kovacevic:

Noll won not just by being the greatest coach in football history, with all due nods to Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Bill Belichick and all others whose ring count is lower than four. He did so by being the quintessential Pittsburgher.

But Kovacevic’s piece isn’t about comparing the greatness of NFL coaches against each other.  It’s about describing the greatness of a man, an introspective, brilliant and understated man who saved a city.

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Saved a city?

If you don’t see a correlation there, chances are excellent you don’t have first-hand familiarity with what truly made those Steelers of the 1970s so Super.

It was a terrible time. The steel mills that employed nearly half the city were closing en masse. The surrounding businesses were failing with them. Pittsburghers were out of work, out of luck and, soon, out of town: From 1970-80, the city’s population was slashed by 96,179, per the U.S. Census. Almost 20 percent! Some fled for the D.C. area and government jobs, others for new economies in the South and West, others just for sanity’s sake.

We were Beirut without the bombs, Chernobyl without the radiation. . . . This was just how it was going to be, they’d say. Pittsburgh had its time. Now that was done.

Crazy thing would happen every Sunday during football season, though.

Yeah, on those days, all was well. Because Pittsburgh ruled.

Kovacevic is right. On Sundays during football season, a city stopped and witnessed an amazing run of four Super Bowls in just six seasons – a feat that no team is ever likely to match again. It wasn’t just that the Steelers had a swarm of Hall of Famers starting – Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, the ferocious headhunter Jack Lambert, Mel Blount and Joe Green – and more. They also had a coach who was unlike any other. They had a coach who tapped the best in players and called them to find the purpose of their life, even if it wasn’t football.

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‘Never Let Anyone Tell You that Sports Doesn’t Matter’

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Long time Sports Illustrated columnist and ESPN commentator Rick Reilly is retiring from the business at age 56.

Reilly didn’t invent the human interest sports story, but he may have perfected it. His “Life of Reilly” columns at SI were full of ordinary athletes performing with incredible handicaps. He wrote of their families, their teammates, and their communities with love and respect.

And man, could he write. Reilly and P.J. O’Rourke are the reasons I decided to try my hand at writing so late in life. Reilly had an ability to boil down the essence of a story until nothing but shining truth remained.

Reilly reminisced about some of the people he wrote about along the way at ESPN.com:

I’d notice how Michael Jordan never appeared before us until his tie was tied, his $3,000 suit buttoned, his silk pocket square just so. From him, I learned professionalism.

I watched safe after safe fall on John Elway’s head — Super Bowl losses, divorce, the loss of his twin sister and his beloved dad — and yet he refused to allow himself one ounce of self-pity. From him, I learned grit.

I’d see how Jim Murray would get up out of his chair in the press box to greet each of the dozens of people who just wanted to shake the great sports writer’s hand, even though he could hardly see his chair, much less their hands. From him, I learned humility.

I wrote about the teammates of high school cross country runner Ben Comen, who would finish their 3-mile races and then double back out onto the course to run with Ben and his limping cerebral palsy gait. From them, I learned love.

I discovered the athletes of Middlebury College, who would pick up a severely handicapped fan named Butch, load him into the car and take him to every game, where they’d provide a hot dog, a Coke and a buddy. From them, I learned service.

Never let anyone tell you sports doesn’t matter. Never let them tell you it’s all about the wins, the losses and the stats. Sports is so much more than that. It’s your grandfather and you and the way a Sunday Bears game bonds you like Super Glue. It’s what you ask of yourself to break four hours in the marathon. It’s the way your softball buddies can still laugh about you hitting the ump instead of the cutoff man 30 years later.

From his perch at SI, Reilly brought readers into the world of sport like no other writer of this or any other generation. Using the drama and sweep of sports to tell the most intimate of stories was inspired writing and the fact that he could pull it off most of the time speaks to his talent and his heart.

Reilly has not been forthcoming about his plans for the future except to say he’ll be living in Italy. His fans will look forward with anticipation for whatever genius flows from his pen.

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Seeking Relevance, Networks Broadcast Live

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

David Bauder at the AP reports:

Networks are adjusting to the changed world of how people watch their programs: hours or weeks later on DVR, online or on-demand. But the industry’s financial structure hasn’t caught up yet, so viewers who watch when a program is first aired – once the only way to watch – are considered more valuable.

That’s why Fox is putting on a live production of “Grease” and NBC is remaking “The Music Man.” Fox is recreating an Evel Knievel motorcycle jump. ABC touts its Oscars telecast and other awards shows. NBC locked up Olympics rights through 2032, and CBS won a bidding war to show NFL football on Thursday night.

Sports usually gets little or no attention in network sales pitches to advertisers. Not this year. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all gave sports a starring role. Why? Very few people DVR sports events.

ABC made the point explicit with a message on a wide video screen: “Your DVR can’t handle live.”

“We’re obsessed with trying to eventize everything we can – even episodes of our scripted shows,” said Robert Greenblatt, NBC’s entertainment chief.

“It’s about the urgency to view,” said Fox’s Kevin Reilly.

When Lucy and Desi went live to tape in the 1950s, the audience revolved around the celebrity’s schedule. Now, with the power of recording in the hands of the viewers, the networks are scrambling to get their celebrities ready for something TV actors haven’t needed to do in a long time: Go live.

Reality TV changed the way networks styled television in the early 2000s. Now, social media is changing the way networks market their product. Being a part of the “cultural conversation” is paramount; unfortunately, it also means a steady diet of imitation and near-naked chicks, as Bauder’s quick quiz illustrates:

QUICK QUIZ

Which of the following lines was NOT uttered at a network presentation last week:

A) “A lot of people called `Battlestar Galactica’ one of the best shows ever.”

B) “This series is `Game of Thrones’ meets `The Borgias’ meets `The Bible.’”

C) “We have two hours of bloody, sexy drama.”

D) “Some of our new shows will disappear before you even realize they’re on the air.”

If you answered anything other than D, then you have something to learn about the atmosphere of hype and hope that accompanies this week every year.

Can the Big Three really compete with streaming services like Netflix who are willing to invest in original programming and dish it out in an a la carte fashion? Or, will the thrill and nostalgia of live television force even the most radical of new service providers to push the Internet to its streaming capacity?

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Why You Should Not Be Running

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 - by Mark Rippetoe

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If you are a competitive distance runner or cyclist who is serious about your sport, this article has not been written for you. This highly informative discussion is intended for those people who have taken seriously the advice of doctors, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, and the popular media’s dutiful reporting on these sources of common misinformation about what kind of physical activity is best for your long-term health and continued ability to participate in the business of living well.

Endurance exercise is the most commonly recommended form of activity for health and “wellness.” Every time you see an exercise recommendation denominated in minutes, you are seeing a recommendation for long slow distance exercise — LSD, or “cardio” in the modern vernacular. Running, bicycling, rowing, or their health-club analogs on machines at the gym are what they mean when they say “exercise.”

Depending on who you listen to, 20 minutes per day, 3 hours (120 minutes) per week, or any permutation thereof as a prescription for fitness/health/wellness is the standard in both the fitness and health care industries, and getting stronger is always of secondary importance.

The endurance exercise approach ignores several basic facts:

1. Strength is the ability to produce force with your muscles against an external resistance, like those with which we interact in our environment as we go through our days, living our lives productively. And endurance exercise is directly antagonistic to strength, because an endurance adaptation occurs at the expense of strength.

The body’s basic response to a stress of any type is to recover from that stress in a way that makes it less likely to be a stress when next exposed to it. In other words, we adapt to stress by becoming better able to withstand it. This means that the adaptation to the stress is specific to the type of stress. An endurance stress is low-intensity and highly repetitive, meaning that each of the individual physical efforts that make up the run is easy — none of them are physically difficult from a strength perspective. If they were, you couldn’t do them over and over again for an hour. This means that the hard part is the cumulative effects of the run, not the strides themselves, which are easy.

Since the individual efforts that compose the run are easy, they do not depend on, nor are they limited by, the runner’s strength. Therefore, running cannot make you stronger, since it does not stress your ability to produce increasing amounts of force. Rather, it only depends on your ability to keep producing small amounts of force for an hour.

But more importantly, since running for an hour requires a different adaptation from the muscles, that adaptation will be favored by the muscles and will actively compete for precedence over a strength adaptation — especially if you’re not doing any strength training, or doing it wrong.

Quite literally, the more you run, the better you are at running and the worse you are at being strong.

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How’s That New Replay System Working Out For Ya, Major League Baseball?

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

As a conservative, a traditionalist, and a baseball fan for 55 years, I can say that I hate instant replay. I used to hate the designated hitter but eventually, grudgingly, accepted it so chances are pretty good about 30 years from now, I’ll get used to the game being taken out of the hands of flawed, mistake-prone umpires and placed in the hands of technology.

I always saw mistakes made by the umps as simply the “rub-o-the-green” — thems the breaks, boys and over 162 games, the bad calls tend to even themselves out. But the powers that be in baseball didn’t quite see it like that, so they built a huge “war room” in New York — the Replay Operations Center — with dozens of TV feeds for league officials to view a play and make the right call.

I am probably a little more gleeful than I should be when I report that the plot to destroy baseball via replay is not going according to plan. In fact, at this rate, the fans will be screaming for the wires to be ripped out of the ROC and by mid-season, the league go back to relying on human beings to make the right call.

Fox Sports:

I can tolerate the growing pains of expanded replay, the flaws in the challenge system, the awkward delays as managers decide whether to seek reviews, the debates over what constitutes a proper transfer, a proper catch.

But no one should tolerate calls that are blatantly incorrect after review — not now, not with a system that supposedly was designed to help baseball avoid egregious mistakes.

Something is terribly wrong when television viewers are getting better access to conclusive angles than the umpires at the $30 million Replay Operations Center in New York. And it happened twice Saturday, first in a game between the Yankees and Red Sox, then in one between the Braves and Nationals.

If it’s any consolation to Red Sox manager John Farrell, I spent Sunday trying to get a better explanation for Anna-gate from Major League Baseball, and none was forthcoming.

Farrell became the first manager to receive an automatic ejection for arguing a replay decision later that night, contending that the out call on the Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli at first base should not have been overturned because the replays were inconclusive.

The essence of Farrell’s argument is that the ball needed simply to enter first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove, not hit the back of it. The confusion alone over what qualifies as an out is embarrassing to baseball, but Farrell would not have been nearly as hot if not for the shenanigans of the day before.

Clearly, Farrell was still seething over the missed call Saturday — the one in which replay conclusively showed the Yankees’ Dean Anna had his foot off second base when he was tagged by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts with one out in the eighth inning.

At least, the replay on FOX Sports 1 and other networks broadcasting the game conclusively showed that. No one is quite sure what the umpires at the Replay Operations Center were quite watching, but evidently their 12 feeds were not good enough.

The promise of this expanded replay was that it would be quick (90 seconds or less), and the calls would finally be correct. But, like football replay which came in making the same promises, the reality is quite different. What we found with replays in football was that even multiple angles and several minutes of examining tape, there were many inconclusive outcomes. The standard of “incontrovertible proof” necessary to overturn a call is, after all, arbitrary, and you end up adding a human element anyway.

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The 5 Most Overrated Sports Movies

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 - by Kyle Smith

5. Draft Day (2014)

It’s currently at 57 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s not highly rated. But it is highly amazing that anyone at all liked this football-illiterate soap about a Cleveland Browns general manager (a sullen-looking Kevin Costner) simultaneously having girlfriend problems (with Jennifer Garner, who plays his team’s salary-cap guru), dead-dad problems and personnel problems on the biggest day of year for general managers.

Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) trades three first-round draft picks at the annual NFL draft of top college prospects in order to move up six spots and select the hottest college quarterback in years. But then he worries he’s made the wrong decision because of a rumor that none of the jock’s teammates attended his twenty-first birthday party. Also he gets jittery because of a game in which the QB got sacked four times, though even a non-expert looking at the tape can see how the sacks were entirely the fault of poor blocking by the offensive line, not the quarterback.

In short, no one who knows anything about football can take this film seriously, and the romance between Costner’s character and Garner, is flat and tepid. Their arc? They’re having difficulties because he’s not very nice to her. But then he decides to be nice. The end.

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How Can Parents Fight Back Against Federal Bleacher Bullies?

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

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Rhonda Robinson wrote earlier this week about the school district in suburban Detroit that dismantled the bleachers from the boys’ varsity baseball field so they would be in compliance with Title IX regulations after a complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR had determined that the boys had better facilities, including better bleachers that had been paid for by parents on the team’s booster club. Rhonda wrote:

In an attempt to make everything fair and equal all it could do is bring everything down to the lowest level–in this case quite literally. The men and women that worked to rise above their circumstances, by building something better, were punished. Their work is completely destroyed. The moral of the story for the everyone-goes-home-with-a-trophy generation: When you expect the government to make everything fair then everyone becomes equally impoverished.

You have to actually read the OCR’s onsite inspection report to fully grasp the enormity of the federal reach into our local public schools and the extent to which their attempts to make everything equal have devolved into a mess that would be hilarious were it not so serious. Woe to the unfortunate school district that receives a visit from these federal genitalia counters with their clipboards and unhealthy interest in urinals and shower curtains. With respect to the availability and quality of the locker rooms, the genital counters who visited the Plymouth-Canton schools wrote:

All School athletes are permitted to use the locker rooms at the School, although some athletes prefer to change elsewhere. The school has varsity locker rooms for both the boys and the girls. The locker rooms are of nearly identical square footage and layout. The boys’ locker room has 236 lockers while the girls’ locker room has 218 lockers. The additional lockers in the boys’ locker room are larger lockers used for football equipment. Each of the locker rooms has eight showers of regular size, and one accessible shower; the only difference noted between the two shower facilities is that the girls’ locker room showers have curtains. The boys’ locker room has two toilet stalls, two urinals, and eight sinks. The girls’ locker room has four stalls and eight sinks. Both locker rooms have a whiteboard in the offices for coaches to use.

Oddly enough, the genitalia counters didn’t seem to have a problem with the disparate toilet facilities, which inadvertently gives us a glimpse into the insanity of these laws. Boys and girls are not the same.  Girls cannot (in the absence of advanced gymnastic skills or large quantities of liquor) use urinals (trust me, I know this … I have a cousin who tried it once). The girls’ swimming facility used by the Plymouth-Canton schools has eight wall-mounted hair dryers — presumably because they recognize that women have different grooming needs than men (the guys are stuck with a few hand dryers, surely violating the rights of those with long tresses). And not to be all sexist or anything, but girls (especially those of the high school variety) need want mirrors. It’s written in the female genetic code that there can never be enough mirrors when a gaggle of girls is present and performing grooming activities. No amount of genital counting and forced gender equality can alter these biological —  and cultural — differences between the sexes.

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NCAA Women’s Final Four Set

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

While the NCAA men Final Four teams await their trial by fire set for Saturday, the women are preparing for Sunday games that feature two unbeaten squads, along with two traditional women’s powerhouses.

The first game on Sunday will see unbeaten Connecticut against the Stanford Cardinal while the late game has undefeated Notre Dame against Maryland. UConn took care of 3 seed Texas A&M 69-54 to earn the trip to Nashville while Stanford handled North Carolina 74-65. The two teams played early in the season with UConn winning handily 76-57. The Lady Huskies will be making their 7th trip to the Final Four in a row. They’ll be going for their 9th national title while Stanford has won it all twice.

In 2010, Stanford ended UConn’s 90 game winning streak with a 71-59 victory. Their All-American, Chiney Ogwumike was a freshman on that squad and after suffering some health set-backs during the year, is now fit and in fighting trim. UConn will have all they can handle trying to contain Ogwumike who is expected to be the number one choice in the WNBA draft.

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Countdown to Selection Sunday

Friday, March 14th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The NCAA Tournament Selection Show is less than 48 hours away and for a dozen teams sitting on the bubble, it’s crunch time at their conference tournaments.

So far, March Madness has lived up to its billing with several high seeds losing in early round conference play. The most significant surprise was Villanova’s heartbreaking, last second loss in the Big East tournament to lowly Seton Hall. The loss probably takes Villanova out of the conversation for a top regional seed, but the Selection Committee will probably take into account their tough schedule and several good wins on the road to give them a 2 or 3 seed, probably in the East regional.

As always, it’s the bubble teams that attract the most curiosity from fans and give the Selection Committee indigestion. Who is playing themselves into the Big Dance by doing well in the conference tournaments and who is in line for an NIT bid?

SI’s Michael Beller is on the Bubble Watch:

6:30 p.m. — Big Ten: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin

The Golden Gophers had just three wins in 10 tries against conference rivals that are headed to the NCAA tournament. Can they get three in the next three days? That might be what it takes to get in, and the road starts against the Badgers. (Follow along here.)

7:00 p.m. — Big East: Providence vs. Seton Hall

Providence surely thought it would be getting top-seed Villanova if it got this far but Seton Hall’s upset scuttled those plans. A semifinal win over the 17-16 Pirates won’t help as much as a loss would hurt.

9:30 p.m. — Big East: Xavier vs. Creighton

The Musketeers appear to be well within the field of 68, but they would remove any doubt with a win over Doug McDermott and the Blue Jays.

11:30 p.m. — Pac-12: Stanford vs. UCLA

Stanford has to be feeling good about its case for the tournament after routing Arizona State on Thursday. The Cardinal split their season series with the Bruins.

EARLIER GAMES

ACC: Florida State vs. Virginia

It was simple: A win would have gotten the Seminoles into the field. A loss would keep them out. They lost.

FINAL: Virginia 64, Florida State 51

SEC: Missouri vs. Florida

The Tigers’ only really impressive win this season came at home against UCLA back in early December. They couldn’t add another one Friday against the nation’s No. 1 team, getting routed by the Gators in the SEC quarterfinals.

FINAL: Florida 72, Missouri 49

ACC: Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina

The Pirates were probably going to make the tournament anyway, but their lack of signature wins was cause for concern. After knocking off No. 15 North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals, they move into the lock category.

FINAL: Pittsburgh 80, North Carolina 75

Beller is keeping on eye on these bubble teams this weekend:

Illinois: The Fighting Illini needed to advance to at least the Big Ten championship game to entertain hopes of a bid. Their upset bid of Michigan on Friday came up just short in a one-point loss, so they’ll have to settle for the NIT.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack pulled away late to beat Miami on Thursday, and though they struggled to a .500 finish in the ACC this year, they could create a little bubble chatter with a win over Syracuse in the quarterfinals.

Georgia: The Bulldogs are the No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament. Could a trip to the finals get them into the field if it includes a semifinal win over Kentucky? Not likely.

LSU: A win over Kentucky on Friday would be their second over the Wildcats this season, but the Tigers likely still need to win the SEC tournament to go dancing this year.

N.C. State may be the one team that falls victim to the Selection Committee’s sensitivity to charges that they fill out the brackets with too many middling teams from big conferences. How many teams from the ACC really deserve to go? 5? 6? Same for the Big 12 and Big Ten. Some teams like Minnesota who didn’t do well in a conference loaded with quality teams might “deserve” to go the Big Dance based on strength of schedule and non-conference record. But most conferences will only be guaranteed their conference tournament champion will make it.

There will be a lot of nail biting by players and coaches on Sunday afternoon.

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Why Tennis Is The Best Life Sport There Is

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 - by Roger L Simon

Folks who know me know I am a tennis geek.  It’s the one sport at which I am at least so-so.  I am miserable at most others. (Okay, I’m not bad at ping-pong and squash, but they’re related.)

I’m also a huge fan of the game, so I have been attending matches most of my life at such venues as the US Open and Wimbledon, and lesser spots like UCLA, even watching them endlessly on the Tennis Channel from places like Doha and Rotterdam.   But I had never  made the two and a half hour trek from L.A. into the desert for the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, aka the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Yesterday, however, thanks to the kindness of an attorney friend with a pair of spectacular leftover box seats, I got into the pajamamobile with Managing Editor Aaron Hanscom and highed us down to the low desert to ogle some top-level racquet play.

Oh, what I had been missing.

Forget Wimbledon, forget Roland Garros, forget the scorching hard courts of Melbourne,  Indian Wells is THE place for tennis today.  The stadiums, old and new, are fabulous, the palm-lined grounds gorgeous, the atmosphere exciting yet relaxed, the March weather heavenly, the margaritas free flowing and the food exceptional.  Well, I assume it’s exceptional.  There is now a Nobu pop-up restaurant in the grandstands, but the lines stretched to the Mexican border, so we passed. Besides,  we could get plenty of sushi in L.A.  We were there for tennis.

And tennis we had, great tennis, about twelve nearly consecutive hours of it.   We watched four top ten players in the world play, Andy Murray losing to Milos Raonic,  Stan Wawrinka losing to Kevin Andersen and the great Roger Federer breaking the trend and defeating Tommy Haas.  Interspersed were some terrific women’s matches, but I was waiting for my personal favorite, Novak Djokovic, to play.

The magnificent Serb — who had been world number one for a couple of years to be recently overtaken by Rafa Nadal, who has been having problems of his own lately — hadn’t been at the same peerless level he was in Fall 2013, when Djokovic won 25 matches in row, many of them against top ten players.  But I was hoping he would return to form.

Due to a remarkably long women’s match Nole, as he is called, finally appeared on the court at 10:20PM to battle the surging  Croatian Milan Cilic, who stunningly dismissed Djokovic in the first set 6-1.  By this time it was nearly 11PM and, groggy, I had visions of flying off the freeway somewhere west of Magic Johnson’s beloved Morongo casino.  So we left.  But as we drove home, Aaron kept tabs on the rest of the match on my iPhone.  Not unpredictably, the DJoker turned it around and won 6-2, 6-3, setting up a possible Federer-Djkovic final.

If it happens, that should be a classic.  Too bad it will only go three sets, because Indian Wells is just a 1000 Masters event.  Three out of five are played at the slams. Speaking of which, Tennis.com’s Peter Brodo recommends that the BNP Paribas Open be made the fifth Grand Slam.  I’m right with him.

Before I end, kudos should go to Larry “Oracle” Ellison for sparing no expense in making the Tennis Garden so fantastic,  and to the Ukraine’s Alexander Dolgopolov who, now in the semi-finals, is standing tall for his country against Putin on the courts, even if our administration isn’t anywhere else.

And… don’t forget to teach your kids tennis, or get someone else to do it.  It’s the best life sport there is.  And play yourself.  Just think, besides that extra fitness boost you get over golf, you won’t have to run into a retired Barack Obama on the course.

*****

Cross-posted from Roger’s blog

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NFL Free Agency in Full Swing

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The NFL has never seen anything like it. There has been a frenzy of free agent signings since the window opened Tuesday afternoon. That first 24 hours saw 64 players sign contracts worth more than a billion dollars. And that was only the beginning.

There are still some big names out there, but so far, most of the top players have inked their deals and pocketed their fortunes.

The most active team appears to be last year’s Super Bowl losers, the Denver Broncos. They bolstered their defensive backfield by signing safeties T.J. Ward from Cleveland and Aqib Talib from New England. Then they hit the jackpot by signing sackmeister DeMarcus Ware from Dallas. Ware may not be in his prime, but there’s still plenty in the tank.

As far as which position players have been in demand, offensive linemen have been a popular choice:

Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, Jared Veldheer and Rodger Saffold all signed big contracts shortly after free agency started. (And if you don’t know where they went, just go here. I’m tired.) Zane Beadles was the first guard to go, landing in Jacksonville. Our friend Evan Silva noted that Saffold got a better contract from the Raiders than Jake Longgot from the Rams a year ago. Yikes.

Veldheer was my favorite value of the bunch, upgrading an awful left tackle situation in Arizona. Saffold looked like the most overpaid player in all of free agency by Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. That was until the Raiders gave New York Jets right tackle Austin Howard $15 million guaranteed on a $30 million contract after midnight.

There are still some D-line studs available, including former Pro-Bowler Julius Peppers who was released by the Bears, and Minnesota’s unrestricted free agent Jared Allen. Both players are getting a little long in the tooth but should have two or three productive years left in them.

Another name rumored to be let go that should draw monster interest is Carolina’s WR Steve Smith. The diminutive wideout is versatile, being able to line up in the slot, or outside, and has superior hands. With Baltimore re-upping Jacoby Jones and Detroit grabbing Seattle’s Golden Tate, the rest of the receiver market is pretty thin. Green Bay’s speedster James Jones expects to find a home, perhaps with Indianapolis. And New England’s Julian Edelman, coming off a 105 catch year, should command a lot of attention.

As for running backs, Vic Tafur of the Raiders blog, tweets all you need to know:

Only $100,000 of Darren McFadden’s deal with #Raiders is guaranteed … Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be running backs

Not much action involving quarterbacks either. San Francisco traded a 6th round pick for Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert. And Chicago back up QB Josh McCown, who performed well when Jake Cutler went down for several games last year, has landed in Tampa Bay. Manwhile, Cleveland — a place quarterbacks go to die — released two quarterbacks in 34 minutes. The Browns have parted ways with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, the team announced. They join a long, non-illustrious list of failed QB’s since 1999: Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Tim Couch, Colt McCoy — damaged goods and with confidence destroyed.

One other bizarre move; the Bucs have released Darrelle Revis, the 4 time pro-bowl cover cornerback who they traded for just last season. After sending a first-round pick in 2013 and a fourth-rounder this year to New York for him, Revis, coming off a severe knee injury, had a mediocre season. He won’t get the $16 million a year he was making with the Bucs, but he’s far too talented to not land a sweet deal somewhere.

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College Basketball Polls Unsteady Going into Conference Tournament Week

Monday, March 10th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

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.

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USA-Ukraine Soccer Friendly Exposes American Vulnerabilities

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

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.

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NCAA Decides Not to Ruin College Football

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

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.

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For the Chicago Bulls, a Season that Defies Reality

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

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.

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Is Julian Green the Future of US Soccer?

Friday, February 28th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

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.

ESPN:

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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.

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